The Instant Box Camera is a large format camera and darkroom in one

Mar 2, 2023

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

The Instant Box Camera is a large format camera and darkroom in one

Mar 2, 2023

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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Box cameras are one of the most unique and fascinating types of cameras you can play with if you’re into analogue. Also referred to as Afghan Box Cameras, they’ve been around for over a hundred years, and there are still some in daily use today. Building one from scratch, though, can be quite daunting. While they are fairly simple in their construction, there are lots of little details to take into account.

The Instant Box Camera is a portable, lightweight box camera that’s available as a DIY build kit by Lukas Birk. Like the Afghan Box Camera, it’s large format and features a built-in darkroom, allowing you to shoot and develop your direct positive (or negative) prints right out of the box, so to speak. It’s currently running on Kickstarter, where it’s already beaten its goal with 28 days left.

How does it work?

You can see the campaign video on the Kickstarter link above, but here’s an explanation from Lukas himself on how the Instant Box Camera works.

YouTube video

The camera comes with Soviet-made 110mm f/4.5 Industar enlarger lens. The camera has an M39 mount on the front designed specifically for the included lens, although it should work with any M39 lens with an appropriate image circle for the paper you’re exposing onto. Lukas says that he’s been collecting such lenses for many years and this is the most affordable lens with an f/4.5 aperture that he typically shoots around f/5.6-8 for a good depth of field on his subject.

As with many box cameras of this type that have been made over the years, there’s no shutter mechanism. Your shutter is essentially the lens cap. When you want to expose the scene, you remove the lens cap. When your exposure is done, you put the lens cap back over the lens. That’s it. your shot’s made and your direct positive or negative paper is exposed. Then it’s on to the developing, which is all done inside the camera.

Direct positive paper is generally going to be the easiest method. Once you’ve shot your photo and developed it, you’re done. If you’re using standard negative darkroom paper, however, you’ll need to shoot your photo, then photograph the negative, turning it onto a positive on a second sheet of negative paper. So, it’s going to use twice as much paper to get the final result and ultimately it’ll be a photograph of a photograph. Lukas also has videos available showing how to use it with both direct positive paper and how to use it with regular negative darkroom paper.

While generally designed for shooting with paper, you could also use the Instant Box Camera to shoot film or even wet plate onto glass or tintypes. You could even make your own photosensitive paper from scratch. This also means you’re able to shoot either black and white or colour. You will, obviously, have to change the developing chemicals depending on what you’re doing, but all of these should be possible.

By default, the Instant Box Camera takes standard paper up to 4×6 inches, although there are a couple of adapters that allow the use of half 5×7″ (5×3.5″) and quarter 5×7″ (3.5×2.5″) sized images. These adapters mean you can buy a box of 100 sheets of 5×7″ paper and have it stretch out to 200 or 400 images.

The Tripod

As well as the camera itself, the kit comes with all of the materials to build your own wooden tripod, too. The tripod is 42cm long when pushed short and 102cm when extended. Lukas says that it’s lightweight yet sturdy, with a leather strap. You’re not limited to just using the supplied wooden tripod, though. The Instant Box Camera features a 1/4-20″ threaded socket underneath, letting you use it with any tripod you may already have.

So, if you’ve got a good solid video tripod with a bowl head that lets you level the base independently of the legs, use that. It would be an ideal tripod alternative to the one supplied – especially when shooting on somewhat uneven ground. After all, you need your horizon level and you definitely don’t want to spill any of those chemicals!

The Materials

The Instant Box Camera is made from poplar plywood with composite wood on the bottom of the tripod legs. The sleeve to access the darkroom is made from a high-quality light-tight fabric to ensure there are no light leaks inside the camera. The hinges, screws and bolts are made in Germany, while the plastic trays are sourced in Austria. The leather for the strap is sourced from a tannery in Italy.

Lukas says the choices were all made to make a great-looking functional camera that is lightweight, affordable and durable as possible.

How to get it

At the moment, the Instant Box Camera is currently running on Kickstarter, where DIY kits are available for a €395 pledge. If you don’t want to make your own and would prefer to have a fully pre-assembled and working camera delivered to your door, those are available for a €650 pledge. The cameras are limited with only 80 total DIY kits and 20 total pre-assembled cameras being made available.

No consumables (paper or chemicals) are included with the camera, so you’ll have to source those yourself separately. But with the resurgence of analogue film over the last decade, they’re much easier to get hold of today than they were a few years ago.

It’s a very interesting camera, as is the case with most all box cameras. To learn more, head over to the Instant Box Camera website.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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