FRANKENSTAX

Before I get into the meat of this blog post I’d like to acknowledge and thank J.J. Lee of www.theshuttergoesclick.blogspot.com, without whom I’d have stood no chance of achieving my ultimate goal; putting a real glass lens on my Fujifilm Instax Wide 300 camera.

The idea behind this blog post is to document my frankenstax journey. It is not really to provide a how-to guide as such (Largely because I forgot to photograph some things and others are still in need of tweaking). In any case, you’ll find a more concise how-to guide on the J.J’s website.

The Donor Camera (Lens)

When searching for a lens for this project I knew I needed four key things:
1. 6x9 coverage - Instax wide film is approximately 6x9cm - similar to a 6x9 film negative.

2. Full manual control in the lens - This lead me to look at 6x9 folding cameras

3. Front cell focusing - the ability to focus the lens with the front glass element rather than movement of the bellows

4. A fast shutter speed - Instax film is ISO800 so if I was going to have success shooting in daylight without stopping all the way down to f22/32 or using filters, I needed a fast shutter. The fastest out there seemed to be 1/500th so that’s what I went with.

Luckily for me, an Agfa Billy Record II with Agfa Solinar 105mm 4.5 lens showed up on gumtree, so for $80 AUD I jumped on it. I would later learn that this particular lens was in need of some TLC, but i’ll get to that later.

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The Demolition

It was time to take the hacksaw to the old instax camera. This felt weird at first but quickly became pretty fun. First I turned the camera on and extended the lens to the fully-out position (3m-infinity I think) before removing the batteries and sawing the barrel about halfway along. The photograph below shows where I sawed the lens off but it’s worth noting that I eventually completely gutted the inside of the lens barrel and hollowed it out completely after experiencing strong vignetting in my test photos.

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Next on the chopping block was [almost] all of the internal electrical cables and boards.

Before:

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After:

Only the battery positive and negative cables remain.

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Wiring

Time to break out the soldering iron. I had never soldered anything before so as you can tell from the image below I absolutely butchered the soldering job, it works though!

BAT+ > GND - Solder the wire from positive side of battery pack to GND on board where shutter trigger switch is

SP > Positive contact on motor - Solder a wire from SP on board to positive side of motor (motor will have a indicator on it to tell you which side is positive)

BAT- > Negative side of motor - Solder the wire from the negative side of battery pack to negative side of motor

Sounds difficult but it really isn’t.

At this point I essentially have control of the shutter and aperture using the lens, with the original shutter button used only for ejecting the film (hold down for approx 5seconds).

How J.J. Lee wired his

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The Reconstruction

The tricky part here was mounting the lens to a 52mm filter ring (glass removed). It took a couple of attempts but basically I cut a ring out of a plastic which then went inside the filter ring. I didn’t take photos of this stage so again if you plan to do this yourself i’d recommend heading to J.J. Lee’s blog - I copied his method almost exactly. I then used a second filter ring (glass removed) as a spacer to get the lens a bit further away from the film plane and closer to where it is supposed to be. Finally, the second filter ring (52mm) screwed onto a 52mm lens hood (metal style) which can then be pushed snugly over the top of the lens barrel. I did wrap the lens barrel with a little bit of black electrical tape to make it a really tight fit. It works perfectly.

As for the photo below: I ended up sawing more of that lens barrel off, I only used 2 of those 3 filter rings and the step down ring 58-52mm wasn’t used.

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Rebuild complete

Camera reassembled, it was time to dial in focus (adjust front element) and do some test shots

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Focus adjustments

To adjust/fine tune the focus I took an old empty instax film cartridge and used it as a housing for a home-made ground glass. To make the ground glass I took an old plastic CD case, cut it to the size of an instax film and lightly sanded it with sandpaper. I then placed it inside the cartridge at the front (In the film plane where the instax film will be) and used some tape to hold it in place. It was then a case of turning the front element of the lens until I found infinity focus. When I found infinity focus I adjusted the scale markers on the front element accordingly (held on by 3 small screws).

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Test Shots

I headed out to see if it had worked

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 original results showed heavy vignetting but overall I was happy, my creation had worked!

original results showed heavy vignetting but overall I was happy, my creation had worked!

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I realised that my front element wasn’t focusing properly and the shutter wasn’t accurate at slower speeds, so I send the lens off for a CLA. While the lens was away I hacked out some more of the lens barrel in an attempt to get rid of some of that vignetting.

I got the lens back and went out to shoot some test shots

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A win and a loss

After my most recent testing i’ve found that while the vignetting is still there, it’s definitely not as bad and is bordering on manageable, though I will keep trying to get rid of it altogether.

The bad news is that I have developed a bad hotspot right in the middle of the film. I don’t think it was there before I sent the lens for a CLA so I did a quick light leak test which showed that the light is coming in through the shutter somewhere. I’m not skilled enough to open up the lens/shutter and diagnose it myself so I sent the lens back to Jake who did the original CLA in the hope that he can find the source of the leak and fix it for me.

I’m determined to make this work. I’ve had a taste of whats possible with this setup and there is definitely potential for it to be my daily camera; its surprisingly lightweight, quiet and has all the fun of shooting analog along with the tangible, instant gratification of instant film. I always disliked having to develop and scan (or print in the darkroom) to get to the point that I can hold the image. This is probably because I typically only shoot one or two images when I go out with my camera.

So this is where I’m up to now. I really hope that I get the lens back and all is good to go; I definitely don’t want to have to start over with a new lens!

Fingers crossed..

I hope this post was interesting to someone out there and if you have any questions fell free to email me via the website or find me on instagram at @jakeseyes or @kalimnaleather