Building a 20×16-Inch Ultra-Large-Format Camera by Hand


South East England-based photography student Mark Hilton came up with an ambitious New Year’s resolution this year: he’s in the process of building his own 20×16 “ultra-large-format” camera by hand. It’s a camera that’s designed to expose Ilford Harman Direct Positive paper.

Hilton is documenting build process through step-by-step posts over on his blog.

Construction kicked off last month when he began cutting and assembling the front and rear standards. There’s a circular hole for the lens in the front one, and inset frosted glass in the rear one.



Hilton’s camera uses a 240mm lens meant for 10×8 photography, but a -2 diopter turns it into a 500mm equivalent lens that works well as a portrait lens.


Hilton also spent a good deal of time putting together and folding bellows for the camera. The bellows compress to 50cm and extend to 130cm.



After putting all the pieces together, Hilton successfully made a photograph using the camera (it’s a 50 second exposure at f/5.6):



Hilton is planning to begin shooting with the camera soon. You can follow along with this camera’s progress and the resulting photos on Hilton’s blog.

Image credits: Photographs by Mark Hilton and used with permission

  • Leonardo Abreu

    Can you do street photography with that?

  • Syuaip

    perhaps street with no people

  • Jamie MacDonald

    We’ll be seeing that at the next Olympics.

  • DamianM

    Ambitious very ambitious

  • taxee


  • Samcornwell

    Go Mark!

  • Mandy Hilton

    So talented, well done Mark!

  • simon kidd

    Nice. I did something similar last year but as a 16×20 box camera because I’m terrible at woodwork.

    I’m making paper negatives and then contact printing them because direct positive paper is too expensive (I’m trying Kentmere at the moment and it appears to be a wee bit faster, maybe ISO6) for me at the moment but I’ve only made about 4 images with it so far.

    The bellows look really beautiful, I love it!

  • Pete

    “The bellows compress to 50cm and extend to 130mm”

    So extended it’s shorter than compressed? ;)

  • NA_Rules_33

    Very cool Simon!

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  • Guest

    Thanks for posting! Keep up the good work!

  • Mark Hilton

    Hey thanks for the comment, the box camera looks pretty nice would be interested in seeing your results from it. The paper negatives sounds a good way to go, the harman is very expensive, I’m planning on doing plenty of test strips to make sure I don’t waste any. I have 20 maybe 30 sheets max that I can work with.

    The bellows were perhaps the cheapest part! But I’m really pleased with them too lol, card and gaffa tape… so not the most waterproof.

  • Jane Elizabeth

    Well done Mark, looks great! Loads of nice comments, worth the effort you put in. D & J

  • Virginia Solomon

    who cares what the camera looks like that photo is awful! If that’s what the camera does, it’s a failure. There are some stunning photos on the web made from homemade large format cameras, this one is just awful.