Making a Calumet C1 lighter? : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I have recently upgraded to 8x10. After having tried four cameras, it seems that I will stick to a Calumet C1, which seems to be able to gladly withstand the harsh conditions of my outdoor shooting. However, although I am not a person who usually complains about the weight of my equipment, I have to admit, sadly enough, that the C1 with the rest of the gear is really too heavy for joyfull backpacking in the Swiss Alps or similar locations, where the slopes to swallow in one day are higher than several Empire State Buildings one on the top of another. In despair, I am thinking about consulting a machinist and drilling (reasonably) large and (reasonably) spaced holes all over these over-sized metallic parts. Did anyone make a similar experience or heard about it?

-- Emil Salek (, June 06, 2001


I've not heard of anyone else doing this with a C-1, but I have two C- 1's as it to use and one for parts. I've been thinking about making swiss cheese out of a few selected pieces myself. The front standard seens to be a good place to start. I'd probably start out conservatively and not over do the process. If you get started with this before I do, please post your experiences. I'll do likewise and maybe we'll start a trend. I'm also very interested in any ideas for making the front standard focusable. When using short lenses, that long focus rail assembly hanging out the back makes me wish I was Stuart Little so I could get closer to the gg. Any ideas?

-- Robert A. Zeichner (, June 06, 2001.

There were two models of the C1. The green model is magnesium and the black is aluminum. The green is about 13 1/2 lbs and the black is about 16 lbs I understand.

Magnesium is a strong metal but somewhat brittle. The properties of the metal should be taken into account when making modifications.

I sold mine to a friend who figured out how to reverse the standards and put the metal extension on the front. He has since sold the camera.

-- Bob Eskridge (, June 06, 2001.

Hi Emil, I've been having exactly the same thoughts. This must be one of them cosmic things you read about. It seems to me that the offending weight lies mostly in the structure that supports the back. I think a great deal of the metal frame which the bellows attaches to is unnecessary, as I figure the handle can go. Also, if you look closely at the truck that the frame rides and swivels on you see metal that is unnecessary. Now, it also seems to me that for a back packing field camera, you don't require 36" of extension. I think all that stainless and the rail adjustment can go, and the rear rail can either be screwed or glued to some fixed length, like 24". At that point, at lot of those cross braces are redundant, likewise they can go. Now the problem, how do you get the front standards on the rear standard's truck and the support for the back where the front standard used to be? That's the trick. I've had mine all apart, and although any weight removed were metal is not needed is a step in the right direction, the front standard doesn't weigh that much.

I have two models, the green and the black. It is a fact the green is lighter, but you still aren't going to be running a four min. mile while carrying it and a tripod.

The black model I have was a reconditioned job I bought at a used camera fair. A repairman had taken an abused studio camera, rebuilt it, and I bought it. He did not have the original metal back, and he took a back from a B&J. He squared up the surface and cut a grove in it so it would mate with the C1. Having both, I can tell you the wood back is much lighter and the performance is the same. So switching to a wood back is a start, and they can be found.

One source of weight is the plate that receives the lens board. If you are using only one lens in the field or if you can screw your lenses into the same mounting ring, a piece of model/avaiation quality plywood can replace that heavy slab of metal and you will still have rise and fall. You don't need the recessed parts which are molded into the current structure, they can be functionally replaced with a caulking or a beading which has little weight.

At this point you're ready for the drill, but I don't think there will be much that can be drilled if you see the frame with the stainless removed.

It would be nice to know how the one person successfully switched the front and rear standards.

I have had success in the field with a Eastman 2D. Mine was very light and I carried it all over the place. I found the only limitation was it didn't have front tilt. I didn't need the tilt often, but when you need it you need it. I think the C1 modified could be an excellent field camera. It should be rugged enough, and it has great movements. For myself, I don't think all that extension is neccessary. I do use a convertable, and that is why I got the C1, but I found out that you can put the single elements on front of the shutter and save considerably in the extension. I think a lot of the weight can be cut from the extension.

Please let me know of any of your ideas for this project.

Thanks, David

-- david clark (, June 06, 2001.

Hi Emil, Living in Switzerland, you should probably get in touch with a cheese maker and see if he has a recipe for you. Or get a can of these transgenic worms that eat magnesium for their breakfast and try convince them not to eat through the bellows of your camera. Ultimately, you could perhaps try a helium baloon to lighten the weight of your bag. But then, a pair of sunglasses might not be enough to avoid being spotted by other photographers who long after finding your secret shooting locations... Or get your whife to offer you a free pass for a fitness club near you for Xmas. Hope that helps! ... Your friend :-)

-- Paul Schilliger (, June 07, 2001.

If I had to bring the "green monster" into the field, I would try one or more of the following:

(1) As noted above, substitute a 1/8 wood lensboard. (2) Remove the lensboard holder from the front standard and build a lightweight u-shaped standard of wood or aluminum. (3) Replace the focusing bed system with a simple friction focusing setup. The new bed would be made from a 1x3 piece of hardwood with a 1/4" slot. The front and rear standards would be attached to the bed with 1/4-20 threaded knobs. (4) Build a new wooden groundglass/film holder to attach to the rear standard using parts from the old bailing system.

I realize that this sounds like rebuilding the entire camera. It certainly would be a great deal of work and you would lose the current focus adjustment on the rear. The advantage would come from reduced weight, having the ability to focus the front/rear, and being able to disassembe the camera for transport. Building a new back might also insure against light leaks with the old groundglass/filmholder system. I'm not sure about all C-1 holders, but mine leaks in bright sunlight. This may be a function of the old felt seals, but it seems as if the filmholder mechanism was not designed well for outdoor use. The side rails of the holder are about 1/4" and they probably should be at least 1/2-3/4." This is particularly interesting since the 8x10 to 4x5 C-1 reducing back does not share a similar design.


-- Dave Willison (, June 07, 2001.

Emil, I am full of remorse for writing such silly answers above. To help you forgive me, I am ready to take care of your tripod, which represents half of the load! next time you head up for a photo trip... I am sure you know some nice spots out there where we havn't been together! Arn't they?

-- Paul Schilliger (, June 07, 2001.

Wow, I did not expect so many answers so fast! Thank you very much! We will perhaps find a solution together in a kind of Internet brainstorming.

My first concrete step will be to have made a custom Linhof Technika adapter to get rid of four heavy lensboards. I already found a machinist that will do it for acceptable money. I will also seriously look at the possibility to replace the plate that receives the lens board. It seems to be an excellent idea but must be carefully executed.

I also looked at the whole construction and it is true that some parts cannot be much drilled. Some other however can easily be drilled without a big risk to fragilize the camera. I think about the front standard, the extension rail to some extent, the whole base and the two boomerang-shaped pieces that hold the rear standard. I presume that I will be able to do it myself using an appropriate tool.

I also investigate the possibility to have some simple parts made of titanium. A balance must of course be kept between the final result and the cost of the operation. I heard that titanium is pretty expensive, but I do not have any direct experience.

Replacing the rear frame by a wooden one seems to be an interesting idea provided the bellows will fit. There are 8x10 rear frames available on ebay from time to time. I am concerned by the light leaks. Although I have not had any so far on the C1, I had some important ones on another, brand new and much more sophisticated 8x10 camera. On the other hand, the seemingly primitive (but so beautiful that I cannot resolve myself to take it to the field)Gandolfi 8x10, which even doest not have any felt seals proved perfectly light tight in bright sun.

My longest 8x10 lense is the Nikkor 450, so I would not need the whole extension, but I cannot see how I could get rid of the extension bed. I could perhaps cut off a half of it but I would like to buy a Fujinon 600 mm later, so ....

I am not an engineer, so what I see as the most realistic and cost effective but perhaps not the cleverest solution is to patiently drill one little hole after another, and then to file or better mill away all oversized and therefore unnecessary pices of metal on the beast. I estimate that it should allow me to get rid of 10 -15% of the weight, which would be a good start.

It would be beyond my means and motivation to rebuild the whole camera, and I would not like to lose some of its movements, given that I precisely like it because of them.

I am sure that the project will be an interesting experience and even more with the help of yours. I will regularly keep you posted (but please do not expect that I will do everything tomorrow)and will be looking forward to read from you again. Best regards Emil

-- Emil Salek (, June 07, 2001.

The subject of reducing the weight of the “ C-1 “ is not one that I can relate to ( If I can’t reach it from the the comfort of my F350 extended cab with the air or heat on as needed, ITS AN EXPOSURE FOR SOMEONE ELSE!!) Ok,so maybe I’m the one needing to reduce weight here... Just joking!! But I would like to pass along some experience I have had modifying the C-1. I would like to also state that I do have a fairly extensive background in Instrument Making and I’m comfortable in the Machine Shop. The C-1 was the first 8x10 I purchased. I wanted to add a few bits and pieces here and there that required very minor machine work. Specifically small flats for mounting Indicator points and Scales and a different style of Compendium Shade. This camera for all basic discussion is just a bunch of average quality sand castings. These parts serve their purpose very well! Now the point I want to bring up is that the nature these castings (and most other materials ) is such that they are not as stable as we want them to be. And they age and change (season) over time. I had hoped that this would not be a problem. But when I machined the parts they distorted so much that the rise and fall on the front standard, would not function without remachining the standards. This was a miserable job without the benefit of the factory holding fixtures, and it would have been an economical disaster had I not owned a Machine Shop. So I would consult a competent Machinist and discus this problem. One other point is that on the “Magnesium” Model, I would add that this material has some well documented Hazards, ( I will assume that you won’t eat it ingest it or feed it to your wife and children) but this material does BURN! And when it burns it is VERY IMPRESSIVE!!! Especially if moisture (Water) is present. These fires are very common and are usually a result of,Dull Cutting tools, High Machining Pressures, Improper Cutting Fluids, and Poor Housekeeping. Please do not let this decourage you in your endeavor. I meet a fellow in Kansas who polished one of these beasts and then had it Red Anodized. He claimed it cost over a thousand in remaching just to get it back together. But I must say I think it was well worth the effort and expense. It was a work of art and most impressive. But that Damn Tailboard has caused me to really like my “Wisner”, Plus I can safely control the fire with a can of beer should my Wisner ever catch on fire. ;-)

-- R. (Mac) McDonald (, June 07, 2001.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ