Camerhack: Bringing Vintage Cameras Back To Life

By Paul McKay

Today I'm delighted to introduce Claudio - the man behind the Camerhack adapters designed to get vintage cameras off the shelves and back into photography! They're small, smart, and a great way of solving the issue of legacy film formats that are no longer viable for people to produce. So let's find out how they came into existence...

Claudio! Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Let’s start in the classic way: what is your personal journey with photography and film photography in particular?

Thanks for having me 😀. Well, I started photographing when digital didn’t even exist, so film is quite a natural choice: I shoot film in most of my personal projects. The first camera I ever used was my father’s Mamiya 4B, a popular rangefinder he bought in India in the early 60s (I still have it and use it sometimes). It has a very nice gauge on top, that shows the amount of light hitting the selenium cells meter. The indicator gives a number that you have to select on the lens by combining ASA, time and aperture. With this camera I learned the concept of EV values. When I was a teen this camera looked like a very old brick to me: all my friend had those black shiny compact superzoom autofocus cameras and I felt a bit embarrassed with this steel Mamiya. Now I smile when I find myself shooting with an 85 year-old folding camera!

Camerhack: Bringing Vintage Cameras Back To Life

What is your absolute favourite film camera (and adapter?!) combination?

My favourite camera-lens combination is the Pentax 67II with the legendary Super-Takumar 105 lens. I have a complicated relationship with this tank because I tend to prefer small cameras, easy to carry and fast to use. The 67 is very big and heavy: not the kind of thing you drop in your bag before going for a walk. But when you use it, oh man. It is the kind of camera that requires attention, time, concentration. Shooting with this camera is a contemplative activity, and still it’s very straightforward (I mean, it’s an SLR in the end). And should I describe that lens? Simply incredible. There must be some kind of magic involved in the creation of that glass.

Another camera that I love is the Kodak SIX-16 C, a 616 camera that can shoot 120 film with my FAK616 adapters. This is the camera for which I developed my first adapters. It was given to me by a friend: at first he thought he scored a very valuable camera and asked me for a rating. But the camera was a very popular model, had some dents, the bellow was detached from the body and the folding mechanism needed to be fixed, so I told him it had not a very big value and he gifted it to me. I repaired it, and then I decided that I wanted to use it because the lens and shutter group looked perfect. So that’s it, the whole Camerhack adventure started with a gift and a film format I never heard of before.

Kodak SIX-16 C Camera

Clever! So you tell your friend that the camera isn't worth anything, keep it as a present, and then bring it back to life :-D Genius. And that's where the original concept for Camerhack came from?

Yes exactly - I had this 616 camera that I wanted to use, but couldn’t find the proper film so I had to use the 120 rolls. I found some tutorials about making adapters out of empty 120 spools, so I was quite confident that it was possible to make some camera hacks to put back to life these neglected cameras. But I also wanted my adapters to be intuitive, durable, easy to use and cheap. At first I had very limited runs and used online 3D printing services, but after I published a video on YouTube showing how the adapters worked, requests started increasing. Users left comments requiring similar adapter for other formats (116, 122, 118, 130…) So I made the jump and bought my own printer (now I have two). Having your own printer gives more possibilities in prototyping, testing, developing new things. With the latest products I have printed dozens of different components and variants before having a working prototype: this kind of process is impossible if you don’t have a printer.

Camerhack: Bringing Vintage Cameras Back To Life

What about a favourite film to go with these cameras?

I shoot both colour and BW. My favourite colour films are Kodak Ektar and Kodak Portra in 120, I love their tones and dynamics. For 35mm I stick to more basic films and I am more keen to experimentation with expired films, X-process, unusual or just strange stuff that shows up in the interwebs every now and then… In the black and white domain I tend to use very traditional films like Ilford HP5Plus or Tri-X, FomaPan and the likes. I develop my own films, most of the times with Rodinal because I like the contrasty fine-grain it renders. Also, it is a good choice if you have to push/pull those films: a practical advantage if you shoot with old cameras that have no aperture settings or strict limitations on shutter times.

Ha - yes. Flexibility must be key! I see you have a 'day job' in graphic design. Looking at the products, I can see the benefits! What inspired the branding of Camerhack?

I work for a creative agency in digital media communication. My skills range from graphic design to video making to web development to social network management, and obviously photography. I understand that design is not enough to make a good product, but I also know that aesthetics and communication have their important roles in the game. This is true also in the film photography community, where so many users have a knowledge in technical and scientific aspects of photography, but also are artists and have their own vision and aesthetic tastes. [Ed: this topic came up in our interview with Gray Levett as well - the unusually strong combination of technical and artistic that comes with photography]

The branding is very clear by itself: the hexagon is the shape of the bolts and reminds of the tooling required to make or assemble the adapters. It is not just sketching and 3d modelling, there’s a lot of hardware involved in the making. The hexagon is also the shape of many of my adapters, and that shape comes from a particular orientation in the printing machine that make the plastic layers stronger. And finally, it is also the shape of the aperture in the very popular six-blades lenses’ diaphragm…

And for the geometry nerds reading this, the regular hexagon has some particular properties like symmetry and triangular tiling that make it stand on its own league as one of the purest forms of perfection.

What has been the most challenging adapter to create?

The most problematic product to project, develop, and produce is the 127 film cutter: it has many components that have to be manually cut, assembled, refined, glued... every one of them take some time. It is a kit that cuts 120 film in two strips, one the size of 127 film and the other is 16mm. The 127 film is then rolled on 127 spools to be used with a large number of cameras. The 127 format was launched in 1912 along with the Kodak Vest Pocket, a little technology jewel that was often used by British soldier to document the military life during WWI. I live on the 1918 WWI Italian fire line and near a British Army cemetery and memorial, so I have some personal relationship with this camera and format. But I digress…

The first version of this kit made the cutting and respooling possible in a single run, but this required a very tiny 16mm spool to receive the spare part of the film. The interlocking and the many moving parts proved to be too fragile for some users, so I made a new version that has stronger components and is easier to operate even if it requires a two-phase process to cut and then respool. I’m still improving it with every production run, thanks to the very detailed feedback and suggestions coming from the users. I’ll never thank them enough for their support: the social networks and the possibility to exchange ideas and information along with pictures and video play a critical role in the improvement of the products: sometimes they show me how they use the adapters in cameras I didn’t even know existed, or sometimes they report the breakage of a component and then I realised that I didn’t consider some particular issues, so I get back to the desk to correct that part of the product…

This will be added to your next shipment for Analogue Wonderland customers, by which time I hope to have the issues all sorted!

What has been your proudest moment of Camerhack so far?

I had many rewarding moments with Camerhack (a good outcome of not having too ambitious expectations, ahaha). No, seriously: in the first stages of development I studied a lot on dedicated websites and photography forums because it’s impossible to have all the cameras and test all of them. So obviously I read all the possible information, and two of the benchmarks for me were The Brownie Camera Guy (Chuck Baker, who runs a very informative website, kind of Kodak Brownie encyclopedia) and the Orphan Cameras website (probably the world's best cameras’ user manual site, managed by Mike Buktus). At one point those two sites listed me in their useful link resources, and that was a blast for me, I had the feeling that Camerhack was starting to became something bigger than expected.

Then the launch of the Fakmatic came and I still can’t believe it. Minutes after I released the reusable instamatic film cartridge there were posts about it in magazine such Digital Trends, Lomography, DIY Photography, Le Monde de la Photo... That day I had the all-time record of visits in my site. I was over the moon! The Fakmatic is even linked in the English Wikipedia page for 126 Film.

Another great moment was when the Film Photography Project started distributing my adapters and made a Youtube video to present the Fakmatic. They also have a very useful list of the most compatible instamatic cameras.

This same interview is another milestone for me. I am so proud to be here!

We're honoured to have you! Do people send you photos that your adapters have allowed them to take - what is your favourite?

Yes, sometimes they send me the results and I am always happy to see what they come up with. When they are very good and accept being featured, I put their images on my site to give them some reward. For example, have you checked the double overlapped exposure photo that Emily Crombez made with an instamatic + fakmatic? It’s on my homepage. Sometimes the photographers are so kind to mention me in their Instagram or twitter posts, and when I see them I like and repost. In my IG pages you can see some very good photography made with the help of my adapters 😊

Is there a camera format you have not been able to help bring back to life that you wish you could?

The damn APS. I am asked all the time but as far as I know it’s impossible (or too difficult) to make a cartridge for that format. At least with my machinery…

Another project that is buzzing in my head but didn’t have time to work at seriously is a film perforator to make 126 film and 16mm film for 110 cameras.

Oh that would be amazing!! Sign me up 😊

Apart from making people happy with new photos from old cameras, do you have a particular goal in mind for Camerhack?

I don’t know, I didn’t have any particular goals at all initially. I was quite surprised that so many people wanted to use vintage cameras (sometimes really old and strange cameras) and were interested in using my adapters. I started to list them in a simple web page where it was possible to submit an order. But shortly after that, I realised that I needed a proper website, with some sort of inventory management and a possibility to interact more directly with customers, manage shipments, and go through all the fiscal paperwork. Running a website is time-consuming and there’s a lot of technical and bureaucratic details that must be addressed. Fortunately this is something that I normally do in my real job, and the website is another thing that I manage on my own. I try to keep it as simple and basic as possible so I have more time for developments, tests, try new ideas and so on. To make it short, I keep it going and we’ll see what happens…

Is there anything else you want to say to our community that hasn't naturally come up in our conversation so far?

I’ll tell what was my new year’s resolutions even if one month is already gone and I still have to catch up with 2019 😨. I have a couple of new adapters in the making, and I am making a couple of variants to the 127 film cutter in order to cut other formats.  

I recently did a film scanning mask for 127 and 16mm. They are two formats that lack in the EPSON scanner film frames that I have, so I made them just for me, but perhaps someone else in interested. The most ambitious project for 2020 is a pinhole camera: sounds simple, it’s not. Being a coffee lover and avid drinker, I’ll probably start making caffenol, but I’m still testing the recipe. No, I’m not going to drink it. And last but not least, I want to restart darkroom printing: my little Durst is making dust and we don’t want this to happen.

Claudio - thank you so much. A wonderful explanation of a fantastic project.

You can head to his Camerhack website for local (Italian) purchases as well as tons of extra information and some lovely film-related t-shirts as well! If you have technical questions about your adapters please contact him directly via the site or through the Camerhack accounts on Twitter, Instagram and Youtube where you will also find an active and inspiring vintage camera community!

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