'The Mask' Homemade Camera Concept (Part 1)


I can’t get enough of using masks, so I decided to build a dedicated camera. It should allow me to change mask without opening the camera, bringing unlimited possibilities to compositions, colors, multiple exposures, etc. I’m dreaming of it!

Since I started using masks, I feel like it multiplies the already unlimited possibilities of analog photography! But I still feel limited by the difficulty of changing masks during a roll and shoot multiple exposures with different masks.

Credits: aguillem

So, I imagined a camera which would have a “mask strip” stamped or drawn on a transparent sheet, which could slide between the film and the lens to choose the mask I want. Combined with multiple exposures, it would allow dividing a shot like some kind of an “advanced splitzer” and make room for more experimentation!

My first idea was to modify an existing camera: this mask strip could pass vertically between the camera body and the back cover. I would have used special foam to avoid light leaks where the body is open to let the mask stripe pass through.

After a while I didn’t find the right camera. And the more I thought about it, the more a dedicated camera would make sense:

  • The mask strip could be embedded inside the camera body to reduce light leaks problems, be more convenient and elegant, and protect the masks.
  • The active mask could be seen inside the viewfinder to help composing the pictures.
  • I like to invent and build stuff.

So, I started to sketch ideas about the camera architecture:

I decided to use medium format film spools to roll the mask stripe, which would run horizontally thanks to two knobs, similar to the ones used to wind and rewind the film of the sprocket rocket.
The mask stripe path allows it to be seen through the viewfinder, over the 35mm film spool. The lower part of the stripe will be used for the real masks, and it upper part for a preview of the mask through the viewfinder. This has multiple functions:

  • Choosing the mask
  • Aligning the mask with the picture frame
  • Compose the picture

To simplify the design and building, I want to use a lens which includes all the mechanics (shutter, shutter speed and aperture). This kind of “all in one” lens is used in the Lubitel, or the Holga and Sprocket Rocket if I want to go simple.

Most of the work remains to do, so I found how to pass the long and dark winter!

Have you ever built a camera? Do you have any remarks, suggestions, ideas to improve, or problems to avoid?

written by aguillem on 2013-11-05 #gear #tutorials #diy #mask #filter #homemade #tipster #lomography #plan #concept #camera-tipster


  1. bsdunek
    bsdunek ·

    This is a very interesting concept. Hope you will keep us updated as you progress.

  2. cheeso
    cheeso ·

    Been there, done that! About 2 years ago: www.lomography.jp/homes/cheeso/albums/1733980-really-stupid…

  3. aguillem
    aguillem ·

    @cheeso cooo idea! Did you use a neg or slide to make the mask?

  4. boredslacker
    boredslacker ·

    Wish you luck! It's a great idea!

  5. phalanx
    phalanx ·

    Wow! What a project! I like the idea of excangable masks and especially tha preview-part in the Viewfinder.
    You have to be really careful, to separate the open viewfinder from the film-chamber though. Maybe you wanna try a pinhole camara first, this would have several advantages:
    - you dont have to deal with the lens/focusing problem
    - you dont have to deal with the shutter/exposuretime problem
    - you could built a viewfinder that is closed, while you take the picture

    I tried a mask once in my Holga, using transparent plastic in front of the film. turned out quite well www.lomography.jp/homes/phalanx/albums/1789223-holga-005-b-…
    I built several pinhole cameras, maybe you can find some inspiration

  6. cheeso
    cheeso ·

    @aguillem I used a negative. I actually taped developed film negatives to a new roll, while in a film changing bag, then rolled it back up into the roll. It worked for a few frames then ruined the camera. I have a broken sprocket rocket I'm modifying to work with a mechanism like yours: one set of rollers for the processed film, another set of rollers for the unused film. I will roll the processed film back and forth as I take pictures.

  7. aguillem
    aguillem ·

    Let us know about your project! So you want to reduce the exposing area and use this space for the mask rolls?
    I think the results would be better if you use a slide film developed in E6 chemicals for the masks. It would avoid the brown color of the neg.

  8. aguillem
    aguillem ·

    In my project, I'm thinking about using a mechanism to the one of the Sprocket Rocket to count the frames, so I could come back to a previous frame for Mx.
    Then if you have pictures of the Sprocket Rocket disassembled could you please let me see them?

  9. aguillem
    aguillem ·

    @phalanx Thanks for the advises!!

    About the viewfinder: I know the problem and I did a preliminary 3D drawing of this part. I don't have it now but I'll post a picture asap, so you can tell me what you think.
    If this doesn't work well enough, the viewfinder could be closed when I don't use it.

    About the lens/pinhole: I already bought a camera for the lens: an Ilford Sportsman 300 L.
    I still have to disassemble it, but I think I can extract the assembly lens-shutter and use it directly. So I should just be accurate on the film-lens distance.

  10. aguillem
    aguillem ·

    As promised, here is how I plan to avoid light leaks through the viewfinder:
    Do you think it would work?

    And as a bonus, a picture of how the camera should roughly look like:

  11. lorenzo1910
    lorenzo1910 ·

    You should look for a spare lens with leaf shutter (taken from a Voigtlander Vitoret for example) and then build the camera (lightproof) around it...

  12. lorenzo1910
    lorenzo1910 ·

    ...there's no need to have the viewfinder inside the camera if you go for "zone focus"...

  13. aguillem
    aguillem ·

    As I said in a previous comment, I already bought an Ilford Sportsman 300 L. It has a leaf shutter and seems extremely similar to the Voigtlander Vitoret.
    About the viewfinder, I think you didn't understand my concept well. I want the mesk stripe to pass through the viewfinder to choose the masks, align them and have a preview of the masked picture. Then the viewfinder has to be inside the camera body.

  14. phalanx
    phalanx ·

    Well, I think you spotted the "weak spot" of the system and if you have that in your mind, you should be able to get it light-tight. I'm pretty confident :)
    Sth else i was thinking about when i was thinking about your movable masks, is that if cut holes into the mask-paper and (re-)wind it in front of the "exposure window" you wanna make sure, that it will not get messed up or torn apart when passing all the corners inside your camera. Maybe a layer of sth transparent to cover the cutouts in the masks could be beneficial but you'd probably have to try what works best (and is not making the masks too thik).

  15. aguillem
    aguillem ·

    Thank you for the feedback!
    I don't plan to use paper for the mask stripe, but transparent plastic sheet (the kind used for overhead projectors).
    So I could stamp them, or hand draw the masks. Moreover, it allows colored masks.
    I know it's not perfect regarding light diffraction, but it's a kind of toy camera, so who cares?

  16. lorenzo1910
    lorenzo1910 ·

    "I want the mesk stripe to pass through the viewfinder to choose the masks, align them and have a preview of the masked picture. Then the viewfinder has to be inside the camera body."
    Oh...overlooked that... Brilliant idea!

  17. maxvann
    maxvann ·

    Why did you not kickstart this?!?! it doesn't seem immensely expensive so there will probably a fair bit of buyers!

  18. aguillem
    aguillem ·

    @maxvann Thank you for the advise!
    But the issue isn't financing the project, but to find the time.
    I haven't work on it for months, so that would be no respect for the buyers!
    Also, I'm fortunate to work in a company where I could build most of it for free or cheap (I planned to build the body from carbon fiber and aluminium).

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