Back in August my friend Steve, who is also a keen film photographer, decided to visit me in Brighton for the day.
We try and meet up every few months and have a ‘photography themed’ day together. More recently I have met up with him in London but now I felt it was my turn to arrange a day with our film camera’s out in Brighton.
Steve had recently been talking about large format photography and how he was possibly considering buying a vintage large format camera.
This got me thinking about The Intrepid Camera Company in Brighton who produce brand new large format cameras at an affordable price.
Since I heard about Intrepid Camera last year through my film photography journey, I knew at some point I would possibly consider blogging about them, especially as they are based in my hometown of Brighton!
However, if I’m completely honest, the thought of large format photography scared me. From what I’d researched, it seemed to me that so many mistakes could be made and I didn’t quite understand it fully.
Anyway, since Steve was visiting, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to arrange a visit to their workshop and he could see what they were currently doing in the world of large format photography.
In the first instance, I contacted The Intrepid Camera Company about the possibility of visiting them with the intention of learning more about what they do and blogging about it.
I spoke to Max on the phone who was very happy to have Steve and I visit them. He was also very supportive of me blogging about their company and taking my own photos. I decided to take my Olympus Pen FT camera and flash as I would be using it indoors. I also knew I wanted to take colour photos, so I used the Portra 160 colour film, which I think works quite well with the flash.
I decided to surprise Steve and not tell him about our visit until he arrived in Brighton. Thankfully he was very happy about our plans for the day.
Once we arrived, we were greeted by Max who introduced us to Naomi who is in charge of The Intrepid Camera’s digital communications and branding:
Naomi made us both feel extremely welcome and gave us a tour of the workshop. She was also very helpful whilst I asked as many questions as I could think of about large format photography and a walk through of their camera’s since I really was completely clueless about how it all worked! Steve had a better understanding than me and was also able to help me out with some of the questions.
We got the opportunity to see the whole team in action, doing their various parts to make the camera, which was really exciting to see.
Naomi told me that they sustainably source high quality Birch Plywood from a supplier in Worthing.
Once the wooden camera frames are cut, they are then weather sealed with a plant based wax/oil and here is a photo I took of the wall where they hang all the wooden frames to dry once they’ve treated them:
I also learnt that Intrepid Camera do their own 3D printing for most of the plastic parts using PLA filament derived from plant starch.
The coloured bellows are made from Nylon with a special super-thin lightproof coating inside and they have a special laser machine to make the folds:
I also saw a large metal dish with what looked like water on the floor and I was curious to know what it was for. Naomi explained to me that the dish was used for grinding the glass.
There are several parts to a large format camera and these parts are purchased separately.
First of all there is the actual camera shell with the glass focusing screen and Intrepid Camera sell two types:
- Intrepid 4×5 MK 4
- Intrepid 8×10 MK 2
As far as I understand, since the original model, there have been some improvements as they’ve tested and listened to customer feedback over the past few years since they began.
I asked intrepid if they plan to make any further changes to the Intrepid 4×5 since this is now their 4th version. They told me how they were really happy with all the tweaks they had made to the current model and couldn’t foresee changing anything further on this camera anytime soon.
You also need to add extras to be able to take a photo and some of these items can be purchased through Intrepid Camera. These include a lens board (there are three types depending on the Copal size of lens used), a film holder (to place the film in for taking the photo) and 4×5 or 8×10 film.
One final important thing that you need to purchase to make the camera work (which Intrepid Camera do not supply) is the actual Lens. The lenses need to have a Copal style shutter to enable them to work with this camera. Plus, you would need a shutter cable for taking the photo.
As you can probably already tell, this isn’t a ‘technical’ blog and further information regarding specifics of the camera and lenses etc can be found on The Intrepid Camera Company website.
I’d always associated large format cameras as being really heavy (just by looking at them!) so was really surprised when I held the 4×5 camera and realised just how light weight it was even with a lens attached!
However, it felt sturdy in my hand and not at all flimsy so I have every confidence that on a decent tripod, it would still work ok in windy weather (which is quite common in Brighton).
Naomi showed me how you would load the film back, how it would attach to the camera, how you would check the lens then close it again before removing the dark slide to take the photo.
Once I had been walked through the process by someone in person, it suddenly didn’t feel like such a scary camera to use.
Don’t get me wrong, there are a fair few things you require for this camera and the process in set up and taking a photo alone is not for the faint hearted!
The film backs take two 4×5 or 8×10 photos (depending on the film back you purchase) and the sets that Intrepid Camera sell come in packs of two which means that you would potentially get 4 shots on an outing, unless you were feeling more extravagant and wanted a few more film backs. Alternatively you could bring a film changing bag with you, and remove/reload whilst on location!
The film is quite expensive (prices seem to start from approx. £1 per sheet upwards depending on the film type) so there is again, that apprehension of messing up the film whilst starting out and not getting any decent shots.
However, after looking at example photos that had been taken on the camera, I was absolutely blown away by the amount of detail in them!
I thought my medium format photos were detailed but this is a whole other level! I can see why all that hard work of camera set up etc would definitely be worth it!
The best thing about the 4×5 camera is that it could be put in a rucksack and taken on a hike if landscape photography is your thing.
Lastly, I was also impressed by the price. I always associated large format cameras as being very expensive, even second hand ones. If I was to go online at the time of typing this blog and purchase the 4×5 Camera, film holder and lens board, it would cost me approx. £405.00. I personally think this is an achievable goal to save for and buy. Admittedly, you also need to consider purchasing a lens and probably some other items (such as a tripod) that aid taking photos in large format but still, I think the price is extremely achievable. I love the fact the camera is brand new so less risk of things going wrong like with a vintage large format camera. I also like the fact that you have the security of help and support from an active company.
Whilst also there, I noticed that some timers were being assembled which looked really cool with their coloured buttons and wooden casing.
When I asked what they were for I was told that they also sell Enlarger Kits, which are designed to be used with the 4×5 camera and you can buy different size negative frames (4×5, 35 and 120) which I thought was great.
I vaguely remember the enlarger kits being on Kickstarter last year but at that point, I was still really new to learning about darkroom photography, plus I didn’t own one of their camera’s so I didn’t back it.
The enlarger style has been really well thought out in my opinion and although they were unable to give me a demonstration of using the enlarger in the workshop, I subsequently watched one of their videos on their website after my visit and I was very impressed by the image quality of the print from something so compact which I wasn’t expecting at all.
My mate Steve took some great photos during our visit on his Leica M4 camera using Ilford HP5 film which he pushed to 3200 and he has kindly given me permission to share them:
I’d highly recommend checking out Steve’s Instagram @stevejackson_photography where you can see more of his photos.
If you had asked me prior to my visit if I’d ever consider doing large format photography, I would most likely have said no because it seemed too complicated to me and I’m not good at carrying heavy equipment around.
However, since my visit and after more research I’m totally smitten. Needless to say, I’ll be ordering a 4×5 Intrepid Camera and all the necessary accessories.
At the point of writing this blog, I believe the current waiting time is 6-8 weeks. All of their cameras are hand assembled and the parts are manufactured in-house or locally so this is the time it takes them to produce a camera and keep up with the demand.
I’ve since purchased a lens which I shall blog about in the future when I get the camera.
I’m also considering purchasing the enlarger kit since it seems that this particular enlarger wouldn’t take up much room and I also love the fact this enlarger isn’t restricted to one negative type.
Here is a link to The Intrepid Camera Company website https://intrepidcamera.co.uk/ where you can find out loads of information about their cameras and the world of large format photography!