I’m ready to admit my new addiction. The Kodak Autographic 3a. I can’t have just one. The first one was free. So was the second one, come to think of it. But the third one I had to pay for.
I transformed the first two into Gala edition cameras. I was beginning to get into collodion wet plate, which got me to really looking at these cameras. Say you want to start making the old tintypes, but your lack of a large format camera is holding you back? Maybe you haven’t the funds to purchase a plate camera? I’ve found that, with a little bit of ingenuity (and some tape) the 3A is a great candidate for use as a wet plate camera. I call it the “poor man’s wet plate camera”. In a world where “4G and be there” has taken over “f8 and be there” , wet plate carries us back to a time when photography moved at a slower pace. My whole purpose in life is to force cameras to work. Cameras whose film is no longer produced, or something else holds them back from actually functioning. Maybe they just never really worked in the first place, like the HIT, or the Nikon EM? Wet plate opens a whole new world for forlorn, discarded cameras.
The fancier 3a’s have a little focus plate on the bed – sort of a rangefinder – that helps to set the bellows for focus. The plate has the settings for film and, when you flip it up, underneath is the setting for plates. This is what got me to thinking about using it for wet plate. The “plates” the little focus plate is referring to are dry plates. There is a combination back available for this camera, though I’ve never actually seen one, that allows use with dry plates. As far as I know, it won’t work for wet plates though. Anyway, the camera doesn’t focus close enough for what I want to do, so I’ve taped an old Kodak portrait lens to the front. (Pictured below.)
I order my aluminum plates from Main Trophy Supply. They’re inexpensive (way less than sheet film) and they cut them to exact size. Plus, they’re really nice folks. A 3 3/4″x 6 3/8″ plate fits perfectly into the backside of this camera. The camera back has these little spring pieces that hold the plate in place.
I’m not going to get into how to make a collodion wet plate. You can visit the Bostick & Sullivan website for that. But if you want to use this particular camera for wet plate, check this out. To set up my shot, I cut a piece of wax paper and taped it into a mat that fits the inside of the camera at the “plate plane”. (see below)
You can also simply set your focus and trust the viewfinder, but the wax paper method will help to truly see what your plate will eventually see.
You’ll need to take your entire camera into the darkroom or changing bag to sensitize and load the plate.
Some samples of collodion wet plate I’ve taken with this camera:
I’ve got three Autographic 3A’s that I’ve converted to Gala Edition 3A’s.
A self portrait with the Phoenix: