If you’ve seen any of the content over on my YouTube channel, you’ll know I’m passionate about film photography.  I love shooting both film and digital cameras. Recently I learned about a company in the UK making brand new 4×5 and 8×10 large format film cameras off the back of a successful kickstarter campaign. It’s wonderful to see a company promoting this great medium and I was fortunate to have the opportunity to interview founder/director Maxim Grew at they Brighton workshop in the UK.

Here’s the video with the interview text and some of my early sample images from my first test shoot below.

Thanks for having me in Maxim. Can you tell me, what was the idea behind Intrepid Camera?

You’re welcome, pleasure to meet you! So it all started back at university, I was looking into what would happen if large format cameras continued to be really expensive, the film continued to sort of slowly disappear, lenses continued going up in price and what that would mean for the loss of skill and knowledge if people weren’t getting into it.

At the time I was very much interested in open source technology.  3D printing was becoming a bit of a big thing, so we started looking down the route of how you could make a large format camera accessible and open, and that became my dissertation project at university, making some prototypes.

Then someone said to me “why don’t you put this on kickstarter, see what happens?”. I put some time into that, wasn’t really sure how it would go and then it was really successful which was fantastic. It got great support from the community, and we ended up moving away from an open source idea, and actually just thinking about how we could build a camera on those principles and provide an affordable high quality camera to everyone that wasn’t available at that time.

The train ride along the UK's south coast is one I always enjoy

Were you a large format photographer?

I had shot 4×5 and 8×10 before, but I spent a lot of time building cameras and shooting paper negatives and things like that. I realised that I was more interested in the process of building cameras then taking a few pictures and moving onto the next build rather than the actual pictures I was taking. Basically you have to realise where your, where your hobbies are!

How much interaction do you have with your customers?

Lots, which is fantastic! There’s a really great community of users on Facebook who we get a lot of feedback from and they really inform what we do. A lot of the bigger and smaller changes we make on the cameras as we go forwards are informed by the community.

We also have a friend of the company, Justin, who’s out in the US, always testing our new products putting them through the harshest conditions in the desert. He’ll send a big report back saying “this is what you can do better, this is works really well, rebuild on this”, and more often that not we implement what has come back as feedback from the customers. That sort of informs every incremental change we make – because we make everything in house from the tiniest bit to the whole camera we can make all these little changes really quickly, which is quite a unique position to be in.

So it’s like in-field quality control in a way! That was actually going to be my next question; how much of what you hear from your customers drives innovation and design?

Loads! For example the spirit level bubbles in the top of the 8×10 were a request from a customer and we though yeah – we could work out an easy and affordable way to implement that, and we did! The way the front standard works on the 4×5 was also improved recently and again that was feedback from a customer, sort of a thing we hadn’t necessarily thought to do and were like ‘oh, that’s a great idea’, so you can literally, you know, email us and become part of the team for a brief period and we’re always incredibly grateful for the feedback.

What was the biggest challenge for you in taking this from an idea in the pub to reality?

When we launched the first Kickstarter, it was very much a prototype we presented – unlike the kickstarter we’ve just launched [for the 8×10]. We needed some money to figure out how to do it, and the biggest challenge was figuring out how to take our prototype into full-on production. That meant learning a lot of new skills, and that went on for about a year when we were in a garage just down the road in Hove. That was without doubt the biggest challenge.

Tooling the lens boards with automated machinery

It’s one thing to have the idea isn’t, but then to actually bring that and to implement that and to learn about what it is to build a studio and a workshop, putting it into production is another thing entirely!

Yes! It’s like, we’ve got a prototype but we now need 350 much much better ones and we need to ship them all over the world, that was, you know, that was a huge task but… we did it!

I was pleased to find you so busy, with back orders and a waiting list!

Yeah, as soon as your order comes in we start building and that takes around a month, and at the minute we’re sort of a month back ordered [as of Jan 2018]. They are completely hand made out of the sheets of wood that you can see behind you here.

Hand gluing and quality checking the laser-cut bellows

(Me) Just holding one here and seeing how lightweight they are, it’s perfect for someone like me who wants to hike with this gear. I’ve been put off by the bulk and the weight of it in the past and just to see something that is not only affordable but really well designed and lightweight, it’s great.

That’s really interesting. Initially were just trying to market this to people who couldn’t afford the camera at no point we thinking well we’ll also market to people who want a lightweight 2nd camera. Then as we went through the design process we spotted an opportunity with the design that we had that actually this was an incredibly compact lightweight camera. The fact that you’ve bought it for that reason just is fantastic, ‘cos that wasn’t our original goal so it’s nice that we’ve been able to reach a lot more people.

What do you foresee for Intrepid now, what’s ahead for you in 2018 and the years to come?

The biggest thing we’ve got in the pipeline is an enlarger device that goes on the back of the camera and clips on using the graflock clips. That essentially allows you to use the camera as an enlarger so you can make prints. We’re trying to close the loop on the whole system so you can take pictures and make prints rather than have to send it off to be scanned,  and then get digital prints. We want to be able to have the whole kit, and it’s a really small nice little device that goes on the back and gets rid of the need of a huge 4×5 enlarger taking up the whole of your bathroom.

Stable-mates! The 4x5 mk.II and the new 8x10 mk.I

(Me) A lot of people have this hybrid workflow at the moment where you have an analogue kind of front end and then you scan everything, but to actually make the printing stage more accessible and require less bulky gear and investment in equipment…

I think that’s the big gap, and as soon as we’ve finished off the commitment we’ve made to our our 8×10 customers and we sort of get everything a bit more in order we’ll be jumping on that next.

And that maintains the philosophy of what you’ve done here which is kind of to bring this type of camera to people who perhaps wouldn’t have used it before or make it easy to access.

Yes, bringing printing to people who would have thought well I can only go the scanner option because that’s all I have room for. Well… maybe not any more!

Inspecting a front standard

That wrapped up our interview, and I then took a tour of the workshop. It was interesting to see the way cutting edge tech in the form of laser cutters and 3D printers fit into a production line that also involved many stages that were approached entirely by hand. Machines whirred and buzzed away in every corner cutting lens boards and making mounts for spirit levels, whilst a small industrious team grafted away varnishing, gluing bellows and fitting it all together.

Since the interview my camera has arrived. Lacking a lens, I borrowed one to take the camera for an test drive. Whilst I’d usually be out shooting landscapes, I couldn’t turn down an invitation to see a local working letterpress studio called Porchlight Press. They do amazing work and the space in the studio is filled with historic heavy machinery that makes for a great place to shoot. Below are a few of my early samples. I’m excited to be sharing landscape and travel photography with you very soon and will be covering a full introduction to 4×5 photography over on my YouTube channel, so stay tuned!

Putting my 4x5 through it's paces - first shots
My good friend Ryan and his bonkers Deardorff 8x10! Lovely camera... just maybe not for hiking!

I said my thanks and goodbyes and left them to build people’s cameras. Orders were set to go all over the world… mine would soon be among the piles iI saw around the workshop,  and I was excited!