Tuesday, March 26, 2013

New Camera-Rochester Optical, Empire State View 1880's

A period image of my camera. Taken from "http://piercevaubel.com/cam/roc.htm"

The "Flea-Bay" stars finally aligned and I was able to get a antique view camera. For awhile, I have been researching alliterative photography processes and decided that I wanted to work with glass negatives. One reason is that I wanted to get away from the expense of film, especially large format film. And two I want to add a more creative look to my photos, adding a level of physicality. I thought about trying wet plate, but I was definitely turned off by the challenge. It looks like just to many steps and specialized chemistry for me to play with and learn. While I am a fan of "process", wet plate seems just to cumbersome, time consuming, and expensive for me now.
Looking at simpler methods of creating my own negatives, I found that Liquid Light makes a emulsion product that has a higher silver content than regular liquid light. It's called "Liquid Light Ag". I believe it is was developed for photographers to make tin types, but it can also be used for creating "ambrotypes" on glass. The product is simple to use and you use it dry. That way I can make up some plates ahead of time, expose them, and develop them later.  I think this would be an perfect way or me to go,  but the first thing I need is a camera to shoot with.
This is a before photo of the camera as I received it. It is over all in usable shape. The bellows, lens and rear focusing glass are all intact.
The camera I ended up with is a Rochester Optical, Empire State in "full plate" size. Meaning that it will take a 6 1/2 X 8 1/2 image. The camera came with a nice wide angle lens. I am really happy with the camera because it doesn't need a lot of work to restore. The bellows are nice and light tight. The rear ground glass looks original. The wood work is messed up in a couple of areas that I will have to address later. But aside from those areas the camera is good to go, after a good cleaning that is.
For that I broke down the camera totally and washed all the wood with hot water and scrubbed it with Murphy's Oil Soap. This took off 100+ years of dirt. The next step I did was polishing up all the brass hardware. I couldn't help myself, but I think the end results look spectacular.
A close up of the lens. Note the dile with different size holes. These are the F-stops. The holes are numbered 16, 32?, 64, 128, 256, and 512. There is no shutter. I will have to make a lens cap for it and use it as my shutter.
The lens was made in Boston, Mass. by Andrew J. Lloyd & Co. It's also labeled as "Lloyd Special". I hope this lens will work out perficly for shooting landscapes.

I have also been assembling my materials for creating the glass negatives. Another major part I will have to make is a light tight plate holder. This is the part that will hold the glass plate and mounts to the camera when you are ready to take a picture. There is a company that will make custom plate holders, but one holder is more than what the camera cost. I could adapt some 5x7 or 4x5 holders for glass, but I would like to go full plate size. My plan is to build a holder or two that work and change out the glass plates in the field using a changing bag.
More on that later as it will be an on going project. I can't let this grand project distract me from working on some painting ideas. Below are some more photos of the camera in the restoration process.

After cleaning and polishing.

View of the front.

View of the back. I still need to attach the glass focus frame. That frame opens on the two brass springs seen below. The plate holder slides between the rear frame on the camera and the glass focus screen. That means that my plate holder must hold the glass negative in the some plane as the ground focusing glass.
100+ years of dust and dirt.
The bellows assembly removed from the rear.
Focus frame detail before restoration. Note the joint doesn't fit tightly or square.
Old repair to the wood frame. I was able to take it apart and re glue the frame so it is square again.
This is the tripod mount. I will have to add a nut that will take a modern tripod screw mount. I will probably fill in the hole with a wood dowel and mount my T-nut in the dowel.
Wood damage. The wood has been split off here on both sides and need to be repaired.


  1. Glad I found your blog. Found it googling for info on the Empire State Rochester Camera. Was excited to see your resto pics. I found the exact same camera at an estate auction and knew it was worth well over the 20 bucks I paid. Looks like they had a common weak spot in the wood near the pinion gears. Mine is split off too. I'm not a camera buff, but love to restore. Mine will likely be a shelf-sitter. Have started the breakdown process and many parts are in labeled bins. Mine had the tripod mount on the base. Has a different lens but has a shutter on the inside with a rubber hose connection on the outside. It needs freed up but looks interesting. I will need a ground glass plate. Would frosted glass do?
    I have no photo plates but could make some if i had a pattern sample. Any info or suggestions on restoring the bellows. Mine is tite but faded. How about just flat black spray painting?

  2. Did you just clean the wood or did you put a finish on it? I got so excited to disassemble I neglected to take pics til well along.

  3. Did you just clean the wood or did you put a finish on it? I got so excited to disassemble I neglected to take pics til well along.