Kanta box camera project is about building the camera with found materials, upcycling, mostly used and/or discarded, simply everyday objects that are widely found or easily made. Some exceptions are made for this experiment, for example, the lenses which provides the quality of light for the image. However these are options to create a more diverse and interesting result. Some other components are used one-off objects as well. But with the basic fundamentals understood, an alternative can easily be found. It is the experiential process of building the camera which makes up the primary objective of the project.

Here are some of the major components that make up the box camera, namely;

  • Materials
  • Body & frame
  • Lenses
  • Lens board
  • Film plane
  • Focusing mechanism
  • Viewing & accessibility
  • Printing utensils 
  • Tripod
  • Hardware & building tools

The project will attempt to document each component and process from a builders perspective, also documenting the people and places involved. Check out theories page for a better understanding why and how each component works.

Recycling wood mill– more or less a junkyard for anything wood. usually torn down wooden village houses or shops from around the area or in the KL vicinity. some from really old houses, interesting types of wood, quite aged and weathered. perfect for the project and perfect place to source materials for upcycling.

the scrap yard, where wood salvaged from torn down houses are processed and categorised, choosing suitable types

cut to 2 meters to fit in car, off cuts and interesting plywood
ceiling skirting, interesting find, not sure how to use it yet, but it does look promising

lip planks, usually used for flooring or some walls, great as a light-proof sealer, here matched together

BODY– The body of the camera is basically a box, a sizable one, considering that the focusing and film (paper negative) is big, and the printing process has to be done in the box as well. A few options were considered, using the principles of upcycling, reusing, repurpose found, or waste objects. Styrofoam cool boxes at markets for fish or perishable vegetables (too fragile for field use, but light), Wooden box crates (not very well made to withstand field use, but can be reinforce with internal framing), Oil can so far the best choice, easily found and has multiple types (hard to find good condition ones, and is not as strong, needs internal framing to reinforce) of the three choices, the oil can was chosen as they have many variations and is in itself upcycled from other metal sheets. They are also known as Flimsies.

Flimsies– "a paper thin metal rectangular box designed to carry liquids. Standard container used by the British standards, they come in assortment of sizes and are more appropriately called oil cans."

They are widely used for commercial purposes, found easily, and highly reusable. Considering the heritage value and origins of these cans, plus the interesting 'upcycled' versions, from dust pans for sweepers, post box and many more uses. It will form the outer shell of the camera. the project has amassed seven of these flimsies from various places, biscuit suppliers, cooking oil cans from restaurants, kerosene & thinner from furniture factories.

petrol cans/ flimsies used in WWI & WWII in the British Army

upcycled oil can into a dustpan
Oil cans/ flimsies, all almost the same dimensions, widely used and easily found
use a good geared can opener

clean edges and no sharp edges, the cutout reusable

FRAME– there are several sketches to the internal frame. so far four prototypes are drawn up, each with it's own different type of lens and internal focusing mechanism. but three of them share the same internal frame which will be braced onto the metal shell / oil can. Still figuring out the rest of the construction, can't figure it out till the lanes board and the focusing plane is put within box camera. It's a design-as-you-build process.

cutting a 45° angle along the connecting frame

left and right connecting frame

lining up the vertical and connecting beam, will need to shave down to the curvature of the oil can corner

trimming planar to shave down the wood to fit the curvature of the corners

the basic internal framing, will act as the skeleton to additional fixtures

the internal frame, minimal structure to allow other additions later
here are some of the cut pieces put together and sketches of the four prototypes
basic internal frame fitted to reinforce the biscuit tin, this prototype No.1 with the fold camera
for more indepth look at each individual frame finishing look up prototypes chapter

here are a few studies on types of lenses explored for this project. each with their own characteristics, the project will try to achieve producing an image from a lens that is made of materials salvaged from readily found materials.

— pinhole
unable to produce an image to the naked eye, exposure with the pinhole would go into the hours and is not a viable choice to take portraiture. however, will make a lense plate with a pinhole as an option.

a diagram from an old photography book
on a pinhole setup with multiple placement
for view setup

the pinhole in comparison to
an 8mm hole

Ulrich Schwedes, a photographer in
pinhole gave me a specific measurement
for the optimum size for a pinhole which
is at 0.34 mm

the lense board with 8mm pinhole attempt at getting an image

— convex
these lenses produce a brighter image, easily seen, it actually magnifies or reacts like a magnifying glass. although it does have problems in reference to just the centre of the image being sharp, the dropout of the image and astigmatism. it's quite handy and simple. salvaged most of these lenses from old multi zoom lenses (135 format) that were beyond repair. there were quite a number of concave lenses as well, perhaps if there is a good combination, it could be used together. will be using convex lenses from telephoto as it had the biggest image area.

lenses salvaged from old multi-zoom lens

the convex lenses going through a series of test to find their focal length and image circle

a convex lens on a little clip holder
a quick made lens diaphragm
or aperture (placed either
in front or behind the lense)

series of images showing the projection
of the image on a transparency, using
the lens diaphragm to help with the imaging

— spherical

— large format lenses;
these lenses are the most suitable for this project. they project an image size of a radius above 5"/127mm. however they are not easily found or sourced locally, alternatives can be old projectors– old overhead paper projectors, or even digital ones. lenses from these devices are good enough for an acceptable image. for the purpose of sourcing and connecting with old masters, the project has sourced two lenses from Master Chan, a retiree who has a passion in large format photography and old odd-size formats. a 210mm barrel lens Russian-made with aperture Ø 60mm and an old fold camera Centrop from the 1930s with a shutter lens (shutter mechanism No. 0, with speed and aperture) at 100mm, 2 x 3" format. Master Chan has been restoring and modifying old cameras and formats for modern use, with interesting techniques and ideas on the camera & photography. He also custom makes lens boards which will be highly useful for the project to have interchangeable lenses.

2011, one of the first few meetings with Master Chan
210mm barrel lens Russian-made with aperture Ø 60mm
prontor II shutter mechanism No. 0, 100mm
german-made centrop / bee bee fold camera 2 x 3" format, missing viewfinder, removed handle strap

german-made centrop / bee bee fold camera 2 x 3" format, interesting rear mount
the fold camera, and extra close-focusing capabilities

LENS BOARD— interchangeable
lens board usually for large format cameras, makes it possible for the same camera to have multiple lenses mounted on a plate. prototype no.1— interchangeable and possibly no.4— wooden box will both built with a mounting for using lens board. these boards will be custom made to size and thickness, diameter hole and threading too depending on the lenses. the project has commissioned Master Chan to make seven such plates for a variation of lenses. the plates will be < 4 x 4 inches (101mm) at a thickness of 1mm ± 0.5 to 1mm for felt.

  • Ø 29mm — size -0
  • Ø 35mm — size 0
  • Ø 39mm— size 1
  • Ø 59mm— barrel lens x 2pc
  • Ø 0.1 to 0.3mm— pinhole
  • Ø 27mm— convex & spherical lens

calculations and measurements with a caliper to the 50th of a millimeter! 

Master Chan is his little workshop, rotary mitre machine, explaning the process of making the boards 

Master Chan it's in the precision, explaining the process of making lens boards

alloy lens boards ± 4" square, explaining that camera mountings are not 10/10 precision. hands of a craftsman and his craft

alloy circular board, one of the more complex machine part, hands of a craftsman and his craft

FILM PLANE— ground glass, alternatives and holder

ground glass— is an integral part of this camera. it is where the light channeled through the lens is projected on a flat surface, the ground glass, the film plane. This surface where the image is projected will be where the focused light is captured on a light sensitive photo paper/ substrate. The ground glass for this project was sourced from a framer, offcuts, at 2mm & 3mm thickness. these glasses are easily found soda-lime glass (greenish). cut to size of 90 x 140mm.

lady from framer shop cutting offcuts glass to size
soda-lime glass, easily found, 2mm & 3mm thickness
using easily found sandpaper of various fineness
from 150-300 with water
crude ground glass, good enough for
image to be projected on, wear gloves
testing image clarity, clear enough to see sharp focus, even to edges for composition

alternatives— to ground glass are simply transparencies, or tracing paper, butter paper is also a choice but might not be durable for extensive use. Alternatively using a light (thin) wood-free paper and adding oil to create transparency is also an alternative. Acrylic sheets can also be used as an alternative to glass, adding a matte sticker instead of grinding with sandpaper.

holder, ground glass & negative holder— acquired some interesting strips of wood, with grooves, it probably was meant for sliding glass panels.

strips of groove wood to use as holder for the ground glass & negative, cut to size
trying hard to construct the frame, 45° connection is not suitable, need to figure out another solution
the ground glass, grooved wood strips, 1st & 2nd attempt, and the successful 3rd.

holder, correct angle alignment is the most challenging. need to do some modifications to have easy access to negative 

sliding in the glass plate, ground glass and paper negative. fits almost snuggly 
for more indepth look at each individual holder, look up prototypes chapter

figured out one of the system, using a mic boom stand as the mechanism, giving some tilt and swing movement to the film plate. read on theories about the effect.

working on a custom made film plate using waste and salvaged materials as well, from the wood mill and also a framer's shop for glass, some sketches soon.


Only the simple dev & fixer for kanta project. CHEMICALS; ILFORD Multigrade Developer 1 litre, Rapid Fixer 1 litre. (Note, the photoemulsion was for another project).PHOTO PAPER;  ILFORD negative paper— 5x7" RC matte 100 sheets, 5x7" Art paper 50 sheets, 3.5x5.5" RC gloss 200 sheets, IMAGO positive paper, 5x7" RC gloss 50 sheets

PROCESSING TRAYS; drink packs made from tetra packs, light weight, waterproof, highly reusable and widely found. Perfect size too!

BOTTLES; sealed bottles & measures, repurposed expired medical containers for storing concentrate chemicals for mixing 'in-the-field'. for reference; 5ml, 10ml, 70ml, 80ml, 130ml, 160ml, 170ml & 225ml.


HARDWARE— screws, joints, hinges, latches and brackets, must of any woodwork project, although will try to source old used hinges and latches as well if they;re in working condition.

brackets, joints, latches, hinges, wood screws assortment of lengths

BUILDING TOOLS— some of the acquired woodwork tools to speed up the process, and specialised adapters/ extensions etc. Here are some of the tools acquired and used, the studio workshop has some additional tools and machinery.

degreaser for the oil cans, jig saw, saw blades, trimming planar, circular cutter, wood chisel, coping saw