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The Neretta
The Neretta
A 4x5 Point & Shoot
Published by Sandeha Lynch
7th November 2008
Default The Neretta

Over the past couple of years I have probably spent as much time fiddling with the mechanics of cameras as actually shooting. I get into obsessions about what should be possible, work on it, test it, and before long get fired up by something else. The Neretta is a product of this process.

Itís a box camera Ė an empty black box with a film holder at one end and a lens at the other. Nothing precious, no fancy gizmos. However, since the negatives are 4Ēx5Ē it is a practical and tolerant device to use in the field.

The principle is as simple as possible ... wide-angle lenses display great depth of field, and with a wide enough lens you can use the aperture alone to control the focus. Just like the oldest box cameras really, only now with advanced lens technology and fast modern emulsions you can handhold and capture the action. The camera lacks subtlety, but it can be built very easily Ė a matter of hours if youíre handy with woodworking tools. The only major expense is to find a good lens and to feed it with film.

The camera box originated as a 4x5 pinhole several years ago, and it was a lucky accident that I made the focal length 90mm, long before I actually had such a lens. I use a 90mm Schneider Kreuznach Angulon f.6.8 lens made in 1964. These are fairly common in good condition and at reasonable prices. It gives ample coverage on 4x5, has speeds from 1s to /500, as well as B and T, and stops down to f.45.

The plane of sharp focus is set at 3 metres by the position of the lensboard. A different make of lens might require a shim under the lens or a thinner lensboard to achieve the same. The zone of focus is dictated by the aperture. At f.22, everything between approximately 1.5 metres and infinity is in focus.

Itís more fun than a Holga (probably cheaper, too) but there the comparison ends. With a good lens and the right film, this camera can give you the ultimate in image sharpness if you want it. And you donít have to focus the camera, just stop down the lens.

I used limewood (aka linden or basswood) to make the Neretta because itís a smooth hardwood. Itís quite easy to work with glues and screws and can usually be found at craft or hobby suppliers in cut strips and sheets. Harder woods, like cherry, mahogany, or walnut, also make very fine cameras, but they are denser than lime, heavier, and a little harder to work and finish. Balsa wood is too weak and lets too much light through.

Some parts, like the view finder and side grip, were picked up second hand. Other bits and pieces, like the cold shoe and the tripod socket, were salvaged from scrap 35mm camera bodies.

The Neretta weighs around 2 lbs, less than a kilo when loaded, most of the weight being the grip and film holder. One of the things that I like most about the camera is its light weight, especially if you compare it with lugging around a Speed or Crown Graphic. It may not be as versatile as an MPP, but then thereís also far less to go wrong. And there are very few cameras around that you can convert from lens to pinhole in a matter of seconds.

Neretta doesnít have an established meaning. Neretto in Italian means bold-face print, but the feminine of the word doesnít exist (well, till now) though Iíve discovered that a few people have used the name for their cats !! Translated it might be ďcute little black thingĒ which came about as the first box was black.

070505_era100_03_copy by Sandeha Lynch, on Flickr

If you do a Flickr search you'll find a few shots taken with a Neretta, built by others who have shown an interest. (Just ignore the cats.) The instructions are available for purchase if you contact me directly.
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By Dave miller on 7th November 2008, 09:56 PM

Fascinating article Sandeha, I hope it inspires someone here to have a go at building one.
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By Trevor Crone on 7th November 2008, 10:20 PM

Indeed very interesting article and camera, shows what can be achieved. Thank you.

Sandeha I think B&W Photography mag. would be interested in an article about this camera.
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By Mike O'Pray on 8th November 2008, 12:30 AM

I'd second Trevor's sentiments about B&W mag's interest. The kind of people who read it are I would have thought, just the sort of people to be interested.

Depending on price and your ability to get hold of the lenses and bits and bobs have you ever considered going into small scale production against specific orders. Might be a good way in for those interested in LF.

Mike O'Pray
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By Barry on 8th November 2008, 07:57 AM

Great article Sandeha. You always amaze me with your home made and modified camera's

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By Sandeha Lynch on 8th November 2008, 08:18 AM

Thanks, guys. I'll have a word with Liz.

Mike, I have thought about it, but really wouldn't want to go into production mode myself. You're right that it's a good entry to LF, but it's my hope that anyone with a genuine photographic interest would benefit far more from constructing their own than from buying one.

It's in the blood, Barry. Though all too often there's blood on the woodwork.
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By StanW on 13th September 2009, 09:15 PM

Very interesting. It remind me of my Sinar Handy, although it's heavier and a little more sophisticated.
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By Phil on 14th September 2009, 08:40 AM

Well done Sandeha - that looks like just the sort of thing I have been after for a while - must get my tools out and get working on something (could you send me the info).
With regard to the 90mm Angulon - oft criticized, but you know it is probably my favourite lens - they were designed for press cameras, which I guess is really what you've built, albeit fixed focus!
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By Alan Clark on 15th September 2009, 05:58 PM

Great stuff Sandeha! Do you have any details about how the film holder fits into the back? And how you made the viewfinder?
A few years ago I made a 5 x 4 box camera for a 90mm Super Angulon, and have had great fun with it. I have just completed a 10 x 8 box camera for a 121mm Super Angulon, made from 1.5mm birch ply and limewood-by coincidence! This is a great wood for lightweight camera building.

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By Sandeha Lynch on 15th September 2009, 06:20 PM

Alan, I have a couple of spring clips to hold a DDS but if using a Grafmatic (6 shots) I use a pair of bungees. The viewfinder above I found on eBay, and that sits in a salvaged coldshoe screwed on the top, though I also have a groundglass to check composition.

121mm on an 8x10 sounds good!!
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