Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Making a custom negative carrier

So, back when I got my Beseler 23CII enlarger (a screaming deal if I've ever seen one), I was stuck to working with 35mm format. Not only did I lack a big enough lens to cover the 120 format negatives (more on that later), but I also lacked a negative carrier. Dorking around on eBay turned up a few, ranging in conditions from unused to abominable. Still, I'm a true DIY-er, and yes, while I could have just purchased one, I did what any self-employed geek with too much free time would do; I made one.

Now, to be fair, I did have a friend later on who loaned me one made out of green mat board.

I'm sure it could have been pressed into service just fine, but it definitely lacked the exacting tolerances that you get from a metal negative carrier. Also, I much prefer the "full frame" effect you get when the negative carrier opening is larger than the image size on the negative. This one cuts into the image area too much for my taste.

So, I had some plastic stock left over from fabricating my custom lens boards (props to the guys over at Tap Plastics). I quickly learned that it is one thing to drill out holes and score and snap straight lines in plastic, and quite another to try and use a roto-zip to bore out perfectly clean lines. Also, it's just a fucking mess. And I'm still finding little black plastic bits all over the workroom.

And, as you can see, the edges got pretty ragged. I'm not generally opposed to ragged edges, per se, but this thing scratched the hell out of my negatives on a regular basis. No bueno.

At the art supply store yesterday, I found some double-thickness black mat board. I figured that, while not possessing the rigidity of metal, at least should hold up well enough to service as a negative carrier. I also surmised that using a mat cutter would bevel the edges away from the negative, keeping light from bouncing around and reflecting down onto the print, a problem with my metal negative carrier.

So here's my solution: A black negative carrier, custom fit to a size that I like, with beveled edges that should help keep reflection down.

So here's how I went about it:

1. Make a pattern. I feel better planning things out on paper first, but you do what you want. For the Beseler 23CII, starting with a 7" x 7" square, plopping the hole right in the center, and nipping the two corners off works really well. (This walkthrough is for a 35mm carrier with sprocket holes showing. You can make these things in any size or aspect ratio you want.)

2. Now, start cutting down your mat boards. Get them as perfectly squared as you can.

3. Lay out your grid lines on the negative side of the mat board and get out your trusty mat cutter. Make sure that bad boy has a blade sharper than justice. You're gonna have to cut through some thick shit. Shown here is the Logan "pull" style mat cutter. If you don't have a mat cutter, do yourself a favor and get one. Trust.

What you can't see in those images is the scrap piece of mat board underneath the soon-to-be negative carrier. That part is important, because those self-healing mats don't take diagonal cuts all that well. They're better used for cuts that go straight through.

Anyway, this is what you should have:

What step are we on? Oh, right.

4. Make another one of these. Hopefully you do it perfectly enough that the two windows line up as so:

5. Now we're gonna hinge these two halves with some gaffer's tape. I friggin love this stuff. It's strong, flexible, and matte black.

So here's what it looks like:


Here's what we get with a negative loaded between the panels:

The only thing else I've contemplated doing is to spray some sealant on the insides and then some matte black paint to really smooth out the insides and keep any errant paper fibers from scratching the emulsion. Also, I tend to overcut quite a bit (as you can see), and I think the paint will help seal over the cuts. I'll try it and let you know. For now, though, these work great. They can be cut into any shape or size that you want, say if you have some panoramic shots or if you shoot your Holga with the 4x6 insert.

Here are some more gratuitous shots of the 120 negative holder all loaded up...

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