Ian Kasnoff's TrailerCam, a very large DIY camera obscura on wheels
May 15, 2017 2:39 PM   Subscribe

While sitting in a hotel bar, photographer Ian Kasnoff came up with the idea of turning his small box trailer into a working ultra-large format camera. After some cocktail napkin sketches, the idea for Kasnoff’s TrailerCam was born. He turned his 5×5.5×8-foot trailer into a camera obscura with an old enlarging lens as an initial proof of concept. When he saw his property projected with “crystal clarity” on every surface inside his trailer, the TrailerCam passed the first test. Since then, he's upgraded the "camera" lens a number of times, and it now features two lenses: a wide-angle and a telephoto.

The image is then
projected onto a 20- by 24-inch sheet of ground glass, which serves as a focusing screen inside the darkened trailer. He moves the wooden stand back and forth to focus the image. Then he slips a sheet of light-sensitive photographic paper into the frame and makes an exposure. The average exposure time for a portrait in daylight is around two seconds.
He’s used a total of eight lenses on his three iterations of the TrailerCamera.

The forward section of the trailer houses the darkroom. After Kasnoff makes an exposure, he carries the photographic paper a few short steps to process it.
posted by filthy light thief (17 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
I ordered a telephoto lens for my DSLR last week. I feel so inadequate.
posted by TedW at 2:50 PM on May 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


Don't feel inadequate, your DSLR produces higher quality images and is a little easier to take on the go than a trailer.
posted by demiurge at 3:03 PM on May 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


Do not kid yourself that your DSLR has anything like the quality of an ultra large format camera, even one using print paper instead of film as its recording medium. Kasnoff is using roughly 500 millimeter on edge "negatives." At a conservative 80 dots per millimeter, that gives a resolution of around 40,000 pixels squared, or 1.6 gigapixels. Using 120 speed "film" paper, that might seem slow and limiting, but he is actually getting spectacular light-gathering power for such high resolution. High pixel density digital sensors have notoriously poor low-light sensitivity because the pixel sensors are so small.

And if he were using actual film... well, Kodachrome 100 is was considered to resolve at least 1000 dots per millimeter, so that would give you 250 gigapixels, in color. And the surplus copy lenses he's using (particularly the aerial surveillance one) would probably do this justice. Of course it would be very expensive and complicate the handling and developing, but it would be do-able.
posted by Bringer Tom at 4:04 PM on May 15, 2017 [7 favorites]


Don't feel inadequate, your DSLR produces higher quality images and is a little easier to take on the go than a trailer.

Do not kid yourself that your DSLR has anything like the quality of an ultra large format camera, even one using print paper instead of film as its recording medium.

Just when I was already getting a huge Star Wars vibe off this post and starting to think of this trailer as some sort of photographic Death Star, demiurge and Bringer Tom had to open the thread with near-appropriate dialogue.

Congratulations!
posted by RonButNotStupid at 4:32 PM on May 15, 2017 [5 favorites]


It's like the daikaiju of camera obscuras!


You could call it his Gamera Obscura!


I'm so sorry. I'll leave now.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:37 PM on May 15, 2017 [10 favorites]


A friend of mine made a portable camera obscura out of a tent as an art project. It doesn't use film though, it just projects.
posted by Rumple at 5:06 PM on May 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


If he got everyone to stand on their heads when posing, would that mean he would not have to flip the image in post production?
posted by greenhornet at 5:21 PM on May 15, 2017 [3 favorites]


And if he were using actual film... well, Kodachrome 100 is was considered to resolve at least 1000 dots per millimeter, so that would give you 250 gigapixels, in color. And the surplus copy lenses he's using (particularly the aerial surveillance one) would probably do this justice.

No. The 24-inch Ektar lens has an aperture of just about 6cm. The maximum possible information throughput of an aperture that size is on the order of 10-20 gigapixels. That's if the lens is diffraction limited, which it's not. Looking around a bit, the Ektars seemed to have on the order of 4-6 elements, which is nowhere near enough to get close to diffraction limited across the entire field (lithography 'lenses' have 10-100s of individual lens elements). Hard to say without the detailed performance specifications of the Ektar, but it probably tops out with a max. optical throughput of about 20-100 megapixels (and probably on the low-end of that range given its age). A good, modern SLR lens will have a much smaller aperture, but have much better aberration correction (thanks to computer-based lens design that didn't exist for 1950s lenses). Again, hard to say without detailed specs, but probably a wash vs. the Ektar, or maybe even a slight win.
posted by BlueDuke at 5:30 PM on May 15, 2017 [6 favorites]


A few of those are of John Wells, the "bucket" video guy.
posted by shockingbluamp at 6:13 PM on May 15, 2017


I wasn't particularly concerned about resolution when I made my earlier comment (although I have long been fascinated by large format photography and agree that even a 100 megapixel Hasselblad can't match the image quality and focus/depth of field control of an 8x10 view camera. Which only costs as much as a cheap car, as opposed to a cheap house.) I was just impressed by the fact that he built something amazing from scratch and continues to evolve it, while I just go online and click a few times. Looking forward to the next iteration, where he adds a bellows to the camera.
posted by TedW at 6:53 PM on May 15, 2017


Ian Kasnoff on Instagram -- "Built me an UltraLargeFormat camera out of a trailer. Though, I'll shoot with anything."
posted by filthy light thief at 7:09 PM on May 15, 2017


Ahhh, BlueDuke is right. Forgot about the diffraction limit. Was thinking more of the high depth of field, but yeah, to get all those pixels for real you'd need a bigger lens. They did make 'em, but not sure you can get them yet in military surplus.
posted by Bringer Tom at 7:12 PM on May 15, 2017


I was just impressed by the fact that he built something amazing from scratch and continues to evolve it, while I just go online and click a few times.

Oh, absolutely, and I wasn't in any way knocking the coolness of the trailer-cam. A large camera-obscura is a very neat thing to experience. Back when I regularly taught imaging science, I would always have a day when I would cover all the classroom windows with aluminum foil save for a small region where I could place apertures of different size. The bright Arizona sunshine was sufficient to fill the walls and ceiling of the classroom with stunning images of blue sky, palm trees, mountains, and students bustling back and forth between the buildings. Changing the aperture size would simultaneously change the brightness and sharpness of the images.

If you've never tried it, I heartily recommend it. Just pick a window that looks out on a sunny location, and be really careful to seal up all the light leaks (use painters tape to secure the foil all the way out to the edge of the window frame or wall inset).
posted by BlueDuke at 7:27 PM on May 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


I've seen this one near Roanoke, VA; very neat. I also like looking for accidental pinhole cameras in leafy shadows. I predict an increased image in pinhole cameras as August 21 approaches.
posted by TedW at 6:25 AM on May 16, 2017 [2 favorites]


(I meant interest, not image. Interesting failure of autocorrect.)
posted by TedW at 7:08 AM on May 16, 2017


>>I've seen this one near Roanoke, VA

TedW beat me to it, but I want to call out Ian Ruhter (Insta) a little harder. He's doing wet plate collodion on gigantic glass negatives using a truck (and a house!) as his camera.
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 7:20 AM on May 16, 2017 [1 favorite]


Also, check out Abelardo Morell's camera obscura hotel room images. Mind. Blown.
posted by photoslob at 9:54 AM on May 16, 2017 [1 favorite]


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