For sources (besides eBay!) for cameras, holders, lenses, tripods, darkboxes, tanks, and tips on such gear, look here. For chemicals, go to “Chemicals“‘ for glass, metals, acrylic and other miscellaneous supplies go to “Supplies.” To add more sources or your tips, please submit below!
Sources for Gear:
Current offerings from John Alex in India
Black Art Woodcraft (cameras, tripods, darkboxes, tanks, trays)
Star Camera Company (cameras,lenses, tripods, chairs, tanks, plate adapter backs, tanks, trays)
Wet Plate Wagon (darkboxes, holders, tanks, and other supplies)
Lund Photographics (plate holders, tanks, and other supplies)
In Camera Industries (plate holders)
Tips on Gear:
Portrait Lenses à la Batârde (Gerald Figal)
Portraits and landscapes are the two main traditional genres of wet plate photography (and, historically, photography in general). In theory you could use any lens for either, but given the very slow speed of collodion (perhaps iso 0.25-1), wetplaters are perpetually in pursuit of fast glass (and/or headrests!) for portraits. Mathematician Joseph Petzval helped this pursuit in 1839 by designing — through mathematical calculations, a first for lens design — a fast portrait objective of an approximate f-number of 3.7. Its utility for portraiture was immediately recognized and it became a very successful lens design (despite the fact that Petzval himself did not properly patent the design and instead sold it far too cheaply to Peter Wilhelm Friedrich von Voigtländer, who made a killing with it, much to Petzval’s lifelong irritation and chagrin). Petzval-formula lenses are still prized today for their speed, center sharpness, and signature swirly bokeh. And they are usually expensive, especially at longer focal lengths. However, if you are a cheap Bastard like me who doesn’t care much for brand names like Voigtländer, Darlot, Hermagis, and Dallmeyer, you can often nab a Petzval-formula lens in the form of an old (magic lantern) projector lens or even in certain modern projection lenses (such as Bausch & Lomb Cinephors). What you’re looking for is a lens with a cemented doublet front lens group and an air-spaced doublet rear group:
Some modern variations include a negative element to flatten the field and “correct” the typical aspherical distortion (curvature) of the original design, but still offer speed and a bit of swirl if that’s your thing. And they cost nowhere near the name brands. At the same time, however, the name brands are typically better quality glass so don’t expect eye-popping Hermagis sparkle from your B&L Cinephor. For me, it’s all about bang for your buck (or euro or yen or whatever) and I’m willing to compromise a bit on quality to have more bucks to blow on other gear….
Another Bastard non-Petzval portrait lens tip is to hunt for an old British Air Ministry (“AM”) WWII aerial recon lens. Some of these (contracted by the Air Minstry) were based on designs by Dallmeyer and Ross (such as the f/2.9 Pentac and f/4.5 [5.6] Serrac), but were typically subcontracted to “lesser” third-party manufacturers for mass production during wartime urgency. QC was therefore not as tight as at Dallmeyer or Ross, but sometimes it was. So, you can get lucky with such no-name AM at relatively cheap prices. If you get really lucky (as Mark Voce and I did with an AM Serracs), you might even end up with one actually manufactured by Dallmeyer. Now, if you have more $€¥, you might want to look for larger Ross aerial lens or the legendary Kodak Aero-Ektar (from 7″ on up to 48″ — talk to Josh Blumental about those huge ones).
Finally, you might play around with one of those huge lenses ripped out of an overhead projector. I recently acquired two, both Charles Beseler projector lenses (14″ f/3.7 and 18″ f/3.6 — as fast as the faster Petzvals) for $25 and $50. A bit tricky to mount (see the DIY section for friction mounting tips), but boy howdy talk about bang for your buck. I’ve yet to shoot with mine but the 14″ looks sweet in the ground glass for 8×10 (and beyond) portraits. I’m still working on a lens board for the 18″.
My bottom line tip for Portrait Lenses à la Batârde is to look past the name-brand frenzy and into the lens design and its attributes. Photo-image is everything. Your bank account will thank you and your spouse or partner might let you continue your obsession….
Long Landscape/Still Life Lenses à la Batârde (Gerald Figal)
I actually have to credit Josh Blumental for putting me onto process lenses for use on larger format cameras for landscapes. It’s really no secret — many have been doing it — because process lenses are incredibly sharp and relatively inexpensive compared to “normal” taking lenses at lengths that can cover 11×14 and beyond. But they are relatively slow (typically f/9, occasionally f/8 or f/10-11), thus are better suited for landscapes and still lifes. Popular modern process lenses include Apo-Nikkors, Kowa Graphics, Computars, and Konica Hexanons, but there are also vintage process lenses too, such as the 14×17 1903 patent Bausch & Lomb-Zeiss Apo-Tessar I have. A search on eBay for “process lens” on any day will turn up candidates. Once you find something that looks like it has potential, research it via photo forums, including Collodion Bastards — there are a lot of knowledgable lenshounds among us….