Thursday, June 26, 2014

Good Bellows are Hard to Find, Black or RED

If you're like me and you are new to wet plate photography - you'll need to get a camera - I opted to get a couple of used vintage large format cameras. Older used cameras are cheaper then new cameras, and they have a certain old-world charm that I love. 
Black 8x10 tokyophoto bellows

Many of the older cameras have worn-out deteriorated bellows. I had one that came apart in my hands, practically crumbled before my eyes. 

I've had the opportunity to search for well made bellows and had the good fortune to find a seller in Japan that makes a great bellows, in my opinion. On ebay the seller ID is tokyophoto.
Very well made - Did I tell you it came with frames installed

Frame already installed - a wonderful thing!
The bellows arrived promptly and seemed strong.  It came with wooden frames already attached, which others sellers don't usually supply. Trust me when I say having the wooden frames already attached to the bellows is wonderful. 

I ordered a traditional black bellows. On their eBay listing the description reads "made out of a nylon rip-stop material" that they claim to be "coated with several layers of proprietary waterproof fabric similar to Gore Tex." Like they claim - the fabric is tough yet pliable and lightweight. 

I thought it would be difficult to remove the old bellows and install new ones, I 
didn't know what to expect. I was surprised and impressed with the Deardorff design. Deardorff bellows are glued and stapled to wooden frames. The frames are pre-drilled, and all you have to do is screw them onto the front and rear standard - many vintage large format cameras have their bellows directly glued to the front and rear standard which means you have to, pretty much, destroy the bellows when you remove them - unless you are meticulous and careful and use some solvent to remove the glue.

I removed 8 screws on the front standard and 12 on the rear standard and the bellows slipped out nicely. I was happy. I placed the new bellows in position and the fit was perfect - not too tight - just right. After screwing the 20 screws back in I was happier. The look is great, and the bellows stay firm and don't sag at all. tokyophoto has come up with the right materials and design to create a bellows with the right amount of stiffness to stay put.

Leather bellows might look better to some - but these bellows, made out of modern materials, look mighty good to me.

After having the black tokyophoto bellows installed on my 8x10 Deardorff, and using the camera for three months I contacted tokyophoto and asked if they could make me a red bellows. Joy, from tokyophoto told me it would take some time for them to find the right red fabric - I told her to take her time and see what she could do. I figured I could use the black bellows on another camera I have. What can I tell you, I like RED.

Red tokyophoto bellows installed on my Deardorff 8x10
Bellows will not sag at any extension

Shortly afterwards Joy contacted me and told me that they had experimented with a few different red fabrics unsuccessfully, but that they had finally come up with a combination that would work.

What a great bellows. Red, just like I like it (it's always the small stuff that makes you happy). It turns out that the red bellows is just as good as the black version.

Minimum extension

It's a little thicker, but compresses adequately and allows the camera to be folded with just a hair more force. Just like the black one they sell, this one doesn't sag at all. Tilt, shift and swing can be done quite effortlessly. I have to admit I don't use much of these adjustments, because I mostly do portraits, but if I need movements I can accomplish them easily with my red bellows.

BTW, Deardorff did make red leather bellows for their 8x10 off and on from 1923 -1938, I believe. Google it and see if I'm right. They are very rare nowadays. My Deardorff was made after 1950, so it should have a black bellows - I'm no purist, and I like red. In conclusion - I give tokyophoto five stars ✭✭✭✭✭ great service, great product and just the right color, at least for my taste. I liked it so much I even got one for my 5x7 below.

8x10 at full extension
RED bellows on my 5x7

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