DIY – Adapting Instax Back to Tachihara 4×5


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Large format photography is a particularly slow and contemplative practice that often calls for a different state of mind than the ‘run-and-gun’ style more typical of street and/or documentary photography. A big reason for this is that, with few exceptions, the large format camera has to be set on a tripod, and since that already precludes snapshots, the practitioners go to the other extreme and employ a level of control over the image that borders on the insane. The large film size also ensures that a lot of detail can be captured on the film, thereby necessitating great care in capturing the image.

One challenge for users of large format cameras before the digital age (and for the most part, after it) is that despite the care and control taken in setting up the image on the ground glass, what happens at the moment of exposure remained guesswork. From the 50s, photographers quickly found that the then-new technology known as instant Polaroid film can be used for previewing their shots. No less distinguished a photographer than Ansel Adams himself was a proponent of this use for the new instant medium (though one should note that he was employed as a consultant by Edwin Land!).

Polaroid Sheet
4×5 Polaroid Sheet Film Holder
Polaroid 4x5
4×5 Packfilm holder

Over time, two types of Polaroid film – sheet film and packfilm – saw popular use in large format photography. These were reasonably high quality film, and were able, with some control for the latitude, to provide valuable feedback to the discerning photographer for adjusting the lighting. However, the third film type – the integral film – remained almost exclusively in use by amateurs for snapshots, despite being very convenient (no messy goop to deal with, as is the case for other Polaroid film), in part because of the slightly lower resolution. Nevertheless, a relatively rare film back for 4×5 cameras exists, which is essentially a Polaroid camera without the entire lens assembly.

CB70 Polaroid Integral Film
This rare CB-70 holder is a film processor for integral films.

Because of the rarity of this film back, it soon became an overpriced item. When I was shooting the Impossible Project (now called Polaroid Originals) film, I desperately wanted to get my hands on one of these film backs. In any event, these films were experimental and pricey, and I decided to stop shooting them some time back.

The only other company still making integral films is Fujifilm, under the Instax banner. The Instax Wide film is of excellent quality, with a relatively large image area. However, the cameras are ‘plastic fantastics’, that is, cheap, low quality camera, without any meaningful exposure control. For a long time, no film back existed for large format cameras. Until Lomography came onto the scene. Say what you will about the company’s appeal to hipsters, they have certainly helped make film cameras and accessories more accessible to everyone.

The Lomography Belair Instant Back is a manual processor for the Instax Wide film.

One of their product lines is the Belair 6×9 medium format cameras, and for that series, they developed an Instant Back, as pictured above. This is a manual processor, that runs the film through a pair of rollers for processing. It is very overpriced for what it is, but I bit the bullet and bought one a few years ago, intending to modify it for my 4×5 camera.

Now, I have a 4×5 Tachihara camera that has seen little use in the past couple of years. This is due in large part to the difficulty of getting the sheet film developed, especially when I feel like shooting color images. In the past, getting around this involved using the Fujifilm sheet film or packfilm, but in recent years, all these film types have been discontinued, and I am hesitant to open up what film packs I have to shoot carelessly.

My underutilized Tachihara 4×5

On the other hand, Instax film can be had for reasonable amounts of money, and this prompted the current project. What I needed to do was to adapt the Belair Instant back onto the Tachihara. Of course, I’d have preferred to make this a generic instant back for use with any 4×5 camera, but its thickness meant that this was always going to be difficult.

Parts removed from the Belair

What the mod amounts to is the removal of the parts protruding from the film side of the instant back, as seen above. Next, careful measurement of the Tachihara interface, as well as what remains of the Instant Back yielded a 3D model of what the adapter plate needs to look like. Since my 3D printer isn’t big enough to print the whole thing in one piece, I split the model in three, and build screw holes into the design to allow the pieces to be securely fastened together. Furthermore, the dark slide (obtained by savaging a 4×5 film back) needed for this film back has to sit in a groove that is too small to print directly – the amount of support material that needs to be put in, and removed from the groove makes it unlikely to succeed. Printing in parts allows me to sand away material if the groove proves to be too small.

3D Model.JPG
Three-piece 3D model for adapting Instant Back to Tachihara.

After assembly, and with a bit of epoxy and black silicone, this is what I have.

There were teething problems in the form of light leaks, but these were reasonably easy to solve. Here’re some results from the camera and Instax back.

2018-03-07 14.42.29
Instax back with results


It’s been a quite few months since I’ve written anything here, because work has been hectic. Despite having left my Leica M2 in the car this whole time, I have barely shot a single roll in 6 months. Today, I reached a bit of a breaking point in terms of stress. It’s nothing major, but I realized that I have been living without any access to good ol’ fashioned aesthetics for the past couple of years, and it’s taking its toll on my psyche. I decided to do something about it, and broke out some photography books (notably, Life of a Photograph by Sam Abell), and just let the beauty of the photographs wash over me. And it was also at this time that I took a look at the types of photography books I own. Recently, Mike Johnston at The Online Photographer discussed in an excellent post (“Mini-collections can be a clue”) about our photographic passions, and how the books in our libraries tell us what our true passions and inclinations are.

Now, for me, I decided a long time ago to avoid taking photographs that didn’t contain people, because I had seen landscape and cityscapes and thought that they were pretty sterile and meaningless. No doubt this was also partly the result of my decision, upon graduation from middle school, to take a whole roll of photos of the school premises without a single picture of my school mates, to my lasting regret. This desire to image subjects in their normal setting led me to assume that I was interested in Street Photography (I am), and nothing else. But looking at my photo books collection, it dawned on me that what really drew me to taking street or documentary photos were the human stories, some of which I told myself in my head. And furthermore, the photos that I love the most may even qualify as (environmental) portraiture.

Photo from "On this earth"

Photo from “On this earth”, by Nick Brandt, of an elephant. Despite having no humans in this image, Nick Brandt manages to capture the personhood of the animal.

Take the famous image by Nick Brandt of the elephant, shown above. Obviously, there isn’t a human being in it, and yet one cannot deny that the elephant seems oddly… human. In other words, this was a portrait of the elephant (and not in the loose way the term “portrait” is used, but rather a proper portrayal of some essence, for lack of better word, of the subject). And sometimes, the image is a mirror that is held up, so that a portrait of the photographer is created (and I must emphasize here that few photographs ever attain this level of introspection). One of which is a W. Eugene Smith image below:


I have always dreamed of taking great portraits, and have even, on a few occasions, attempted the feat. However, I find that my personality is not well-suited to this genre, so perhaps I will continue to be a spectator. And thankfully, we live in what some have called the Golden Age of Photobooks, and the access to great portraits, despite my own ineptitude in the genre, will continue to be available. And yes, it did relieve much of the stress that I was experiencing.




During my long hiatus, I started getting interested in astronomy. It’s pretty ironic, considering that, when I was in the US, had access to clear, dark skies, and cheap telescopes, I did not think to visit this old interest of mine. Instead, after I got back to light polluted Singapore, I got to know a few local amateur astronomers and really got into the hobby. Anyway, although not my usual style of photography, I was interested in capturing those amazing views my eyes beheld (one look in the telescope at Jupiter, and I was hooked). In fact, in many cases, the images far surpass what the human eye can see. So here, I present a short summary of the state of my astrophotography adventures.

2017-04-21 State of my Astrophotography.png

Week 5: Fuji GS645S w/ TMAX 400 @ 320


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Week 5 will feature a nice little rangefinder that I purchased a long time back – The Fuji GS645S. This camera is all-plastic. And it feels pretty cheap. However it’s certainly a capable little shooter. This medium format rangefinder shoots 6 x 4.5 cm frames in portrait format. It features a useful over/under meter with LED indicator in the viewfinder, activated with a half-press. I had previously written about fixing the low contrast of the rangefinder patch on this camera. Something that surprised me was that despite having left the batteries in the camera for almost four years, they are still not flat. Looking forward to using this!

Week 4: Olympus OM-1 with Neopan 400 @ISO320


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Alright. Chugging along, this week I’ll be shooting the venerable Olympus OM-1 with one of my last rolls of Neopan. This is camera is one that I particularly like, but haven’t shot with much. Part of the appeal of the camera is that it reminds me of the Pentax, but much more refined. The film winding is smooth; the shutter sounds great; there’s little mirror slap. Just very well-dampened motion all round. I only have a single OM-series lens so I’ve not shot with it nearly as much as I’d like. Despite having owned it for around 5 years, this is just the second or third roll with it!

Week 2: Pentax Spotmatic, SMC Takumar 50/1.4, Fujicolor 100


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Week 2 of the project features the camera that started it all – the Pentax Spotmatic (old readers may recall the tale of woe associated with this camera). Or at least, it would have featured said camera if it hadn’t developed a mirror flip down problem. So I am using the Honeywell Spotmatic – a virtual copy without hotshoe (who needs flash anyway?!). It’s a hefty piece of gear so I expect slightly more difficulty, but I am optimistic!

On a related note, I was recently asked about some old M42 lens, and came across some sites that mentioned that the SMC Takumar 50/1.4 is quite radioactive. Does anyone know for sure? Would love some help with verifying this information!

Update on Blog Revival


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I’ve completed week one! Leica M4-P was used to shoot half a roll of Neopan 400 @ 320 (this project was started on a Friday, and all things considered it’s not bad that I have it shot within two days). I will be developing and scanning these in batches, but I’m excited about restarting film photography!


A sampling of Szarkowski’s wisdom



Read this while leafing through my copy of “William Eggleston’s Guide”.

[I] have observed that the poem or picture is likely to seem a faithful document if we get to know it first and the unedited reality afterwards – whereas a new work of art that describes something we had known well is likely to seem as unfamiliar and arbitrary as our own passport photos.

 – Szarkowski, introduction to the Guide.