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A while ago I converted a 1934 folding camera into a USB web cam. I brought it with me to Maker Faire Austin 2008 and a lot of people seemed to like it. In fact, a lot of people wanted to know how I made one. I promised them I would do a how-to on the blog, and I always keep my promises, so let’s get started.

The best part about this project is the availability of the cameras. I was able to pick up a USB web cam for $10 at a local bigbox store. The antique cameras I picked up on ebay for $1. Actually, I picked up (2) cameras for $1 each and the shipping was only $5. That was a great deal. You can easily pick one up for less than $10 online or a local antiques shop.

What you need:

  • Antique folding camera – Available on ebay for $1 – $10
  • USB web camera – Available for $10 – $20
  • Heat-shrink tubing
  • Rosin core solder

Tools you need:

  • Soldering Iron
  • Glue Gun
  • Arms of Assistance – Make you own
  • Fume extractor – Make your own
  • Miscellaneous hand tools – screw driver, needle-nose pliers

Step 1: Purchase the cameras

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First you need the cameras. Scour the Internet, check local antique shops, or ask your friends. These types of cameras, both the antique camera and web cam, are readily available and they are very affordable.

Step 2: Remove the lens

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Start by opening up the antique folding camera. There is usually a switch somewhere that slides over so you can load the film.

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Inside, you will find a retaining ring. This holds the lens assembly in place. You will need to remove this ring. It is much easier to hack the lens assembly when it is off the camera body.

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You can use some needle-nose pliers to unscrew the ring.

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Now the lens assembly will drop right out of the camera body.

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There are several rings that you can unscrew and try to pry the lenses out. However, it’s a lot easier to just put a screwdriver on them and give a slight tap with a hammer. The lenses will shatter and you can scrape out the remaining parts with the screwdriver. Make sure you wear safety glasses!

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Now that the lenses are removed, go ahead and attach the lens assembly back to the camera body.

Step 3: Hacking the USB wire

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Now you need to do a little hacking of the USB wire. The plug will not fit through the hole in the camera, so we need to cut it and splice it back together. Cut the wire about 12″ from the USB plug of the web cam.

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Next, remove the red plastic window from the antique camera. This is where the USB wire and the microphone wire will pass through. If your camera doesn’t have a window, you can feed the wire through the tripod mount or just drill a hole in the case.

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Next, feed the USB wire through the hole in the antique camera. Don’t forget this step, I almost did!

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Now you can solder all the wires back together. The USB plug has (4) wires and a braided shielding wire. Solder each one back together and use a little bit of heat-shrink, or electrical tape, so there aren’t any shorts. Make sure to add a larger piece of heat-shrink to the USB wire prior to soldering all the smaller connections.

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Once they are all soldered, go ahead add heat-shrink the larger piece of tubing over the entire splice.

Step 4: Adding the microphone

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Now it is time to add the microphone. My web cam came with a combination headphone/microphone plug.

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All I had to do is cut the headphone wire completely off and crack open the microphone’s plastic case. This left me with a nice little microphone.

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Feed the microphone through the hole in the back of the camera! Using a small screwdriver, poke a hole in the camera’s bellows. Next, feed the microphone through the newly created hole.

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Use some hot-glue to attach the microphone wire to the camera’s bellows.

Step 5: Adding the USB camera

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Now it is time to add the USB camera to the antique camera. First, plug the USB camera into your PC. Adjust the lens so you are in focus. Now, mark the lens with a small line. Finally, add a dab of hot-glue to the focusing ring. Make sure the lens is still on the mark!

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Now it’s time to hot-glue the web cam into the antique camera. Add a healthy amount of hot-glue to the focusing ring of the web cam. Quickly place the camera inside the antique camera. Look through the front of the camera to make sure the web cam is aligned properly.

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As a final step, I added a little extra hot-glue on the sides for good measure.

Step 6: Plug in and enjoy

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Set the exposure to bulb and click the lever to the open position. It should stay open. If not you can make a slight bend and it will “stick” open, or just add a dab of glue.

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Now I have (2) antique USB web cams. Maybe I should give one to a friend so we can videoconference using these fun little vintage USB cameras.

In the Maker Shed:
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High-Speed Photography Kit Version 4

Marc de Vinck

I’m currently working full time as the Dexter F. Baker Professor of Practice in Creativity in the Masters of Engineering in Technical Entrepreneurship Program at Lehigh University. I’m also an avid product designer, kit maker, author, father, tinkerer, and member of the MAKE Technical Advisory board.


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