Spencer Lange: Converting a Voigtlander Bessa to Shoot Instax

All images by Spencer Lange. Used with permission.

“I have sizeable collection of old folding camera that I don’t ever use, and a lot of Instax Wide I was given by family members who thought it would work in mSX-70,” says photographer Spencer Lange in our emails previous to this interview. “Needless to say it doesn’t, so I went about trying to find other ways to put the Instax to use. I found the Belair instant back on Amazon, and the snap on section looked about the right size for a 6×9 folder, so I had to go around picking one to basically tear apart.” That’s how this whole Frankenstein project began.

The decision was ultimately between the Voigtlander Bessa and an old Ansco Viking. Ultimately, Spencer went with the Bessa. “I opted for the Bessa because it had the shutter release on the top of the folding gate, so when it’s open and held landscape, the shutter release would be on the left side,” says Spencer. “After that I basically just tore the back off the camera, sanded it down, and glued it to the camera so as much of the Instax was covered, but there are still black edges so I may opt for a LC-A or Diana instant back instead, and just get a Wide camera itself (or adapt the wide back to the rear of my Graflex, which would certainly cover the entire frame but would be a bit of a pain). I’ll probably take photos of the process if I decide to go the LC-A/Diana back route.”

Yes, we know what you’re thinking: why Instax Mini? Well, Spencer makes a good point there. He’s more after the autoeject feature rather than the film size. Instax Mini does well in terms of sales, and Wide doesn’t really. Plus, a 6×9 format camera will easily cover the format.

Phoblographer: What cameras are you considering if not your Graflex and since the LCA and Diana Instant backs are for Mini?

Spencer: I have a Kodak Autographic that I might choose for the sole reason that it’s easier to figure out the focus ranges for it, or to change them as I can cut notches in the rails for the focus stops. I would likely need to graft a ND filter to the front though as its top speed is only 1/100.

Phoblographer: What did the images look like when you shot them? I always thought that 6×9 was what covered that area? Could you show us scans?

Spencer: The images were very blurry, and I didn’t scan any in. I might scan some in after I sand the back, but it might be easier to make a monorail with notches to focus it more easily. The original camera’s only real use at this point is portraits, as infinity focus simply isn’t possible

Phoblographer: So how will you get the camera to eject the film?

Spencer: I just use the manual ejection for the wide. The mini has the auto ejection, so there’s one less tap there.

Phoblographer: How did you get into photography?

Spencer: I got my first film camera at the end of my last year of high school (I went to military school, so no digital cameras were allowed). It was a Universal Mercury II- not the best for a beginner. I noticed quite quickly that most of my images were crap, so I started reading up on how to use a camera, and eventually figured out how (after a good few months of “testing”), and have been hooked ever since.

Phoblographer: What got you into analog cameras?

Spencer: The weight and build I guess, there are also many visual-type things that digital cannot match with film, no matter how hard people try. I particularly like the look and massive negatives of large format, and the gratification and memorability of instant photos.