W. Watson & Sons 12×15 “field” camera restoration project – step 1

Well, here’s a piece of ambition for you- getting this 12×15 W. Watson & Sons 12×15 inch “field” camera restored and up and running again. The W.Watson & Sons dates to around 1880. Once it is up and running, I’m planning on putting a nice 16″ (405mm) Kodak f4.5 Portrait meniscus lens on it.

The biggest hassle will actually be getting new film holders made for it, since it’s a bit of an exotic size to begin with, and it was originally designed for glass dry plates, not film. I’ve got someone lined up for the film holders – it’s just a matter of negotiations and finding the time to have them made.

I’m shopping around for new bellows for it because I’m just too damn lazy to make my own – this would be a simple case to do because the bellows are square and not tapered (I had a fragment of the original bellows but they were too rotted to use for anything, and they stank something awful).

Making the new ground glass will be easy – I just have to get some reasonably accurate measurements from the ground glass frame, go to the hardware store and have them cut me a piece, then get busy with the valve grinding compound. By the time I’m done with it, I’ll have a very buff left arm.

I was very lucky really, that the camera was in as good a shape as it is – when it arrived from the UK, it was quite filthy and looked like it needed a complete stripping and rehab. With a bit of cleaning and some olive oil, the mahogany came back quite nicely, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the brass hardware was originally gilded, and that much of the gilding remained.

2 thoughts on “W. Watson & Sons 12×15 “field” camera restoration project – step 1”

  1. Two thoughts. Neither may be an issue.

    (1) Ground glass is usually thinner than window glass. Will the extra thickness cause issues with focusing and composing?

    (2) Is olive oil, the proper oil for wood? I hate to see it go rancid. I think a high quality furniture oil, would be more appropriate.

    1. The thickness of the glass is not an issue- so long as you can get a good, even frosting on the focusing surface, you’re good to go. Remember, the image is formed on the lens side of the ground glass.

      As to the olive oil, it serves as a cleaning and polishing agent. It’s not something you apply in such quantity that it would go rancid. You should have seen the camera BEFORE the cleaning!

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