Camera Eccentrica – Handmade Large Format Cameras by Pete Swann

“I became obsessed with larger and larger formats. I started thinking about building an 8×10 camera. Then Lockdown happened, and I thought why not?..” Pete Swann.

By Christopher Osborne.


 A Handmade Large Format Camera in the style of a Greek Temple. One of  Pete Swann’s Camera Eccentrica.

“I started shooting on film in about 1979”, explains Pete. “I shot on a Pentax MX for about twenty years. I even had a little darkroom. I wanted to be a photographer when I was at school. My parents did not see that as a viable career”.

When digital photography came, Pete traded his Pentax for a compact digital camera. “The images were terrible. As a result, I lost interest in photography for about ten years”, Pete reflects.

The staff in a local photography store suggested that Pete get back into film. He was not convinced that this was “still a thing”. But it did sow a seed. He bought a Nikon FE. Then he started buying medium format cameras that would once have been completely out of his price bracket. He started shooting on a Hasselblad and then a Rolleiflex.

Detailing on Pete Swann’s Greek Temple camera.

“I became obsessed with larger and larger formats. I bought an Intrepid 4×5 camera and liked the results. I started thinking about building an 8×10 camera. Then Lockdown happened, and I thought why not?”, Pete recalls. “Because of Lockdown, I had to use the materials and tools that I had to hand. This camera was made from 18mm plywood, so it is big and heavy. I did manage to purchase a lens and a film holder over the internet”.

The result was a sliding box camera that resembles a beach hut in sky blue. Pete was curious to see how people would react to a camera that looked like another object, and this led him away from the traditional bellows and brass aesthetic.  The box camera allows more scope for creativity, and besides, Pete wasn’t confident that he could make a bellows!  He describes the result as a ‘statement’ camera with an imposing presence.

A portrait shot with a Camera Eccentrica large format camera.

When the first lockdown in the UK was lifted, Pete put the camera to work. He was exhibiting paintings in an exhibition in Richmond. The camera was on display as part of the exhibition. Pete took around fifty photographs of the visitors, sometimes taking 7 or eight images a day. “People were very curious, and seemed almost privileged to have their portrait taken with the camera.  The images turned out beautiful and I sold around 30 contact prints”.

The portraits, shot on Ilford HP5+, were lit by natural light coming through an adjacent window and supplemented by a reflector. “There’s a special look coming from the sharpness combined with shallow depth of field offered by large format lenses”, says Pete.

Pete built another camera during the second lockdown.  “I wanted something lighter that could fit into a backpack”.  The result is a pink camera with a tiny wide-angle Cooke Primoplane lens and he started using the camera to make street portraits in December 2020.

A Handmade Large Format Camera under construction.

The next project was an 11×14-inch camera in the style of Strawberry Hill House, a gothic fairytale folly close to where Pete lives. This did not get much use until 2022 when he collaborated with a local charity, INS (Integrated Neurological Services) to make portraits of staff, volunteers and clients. He used a store cupboard in their premises as a makeshift darkroom, and this is where he developed the negatives. He used an app on his phone to show sitters what their portrait would look like when printed. Prints were made later in Pete’s darkroom, and thirty of these images were displayed at INS in July 2022.

Pete managed to convince Deborah Meaden (from the UK TV series Dragons Den) to come to the opening, and he made portraits of her and her sister outside. He made portraits of other visitors in the sunshine throughout the day.

A landscape shot on one of Pete’s large format cameras.

Pete has now made ten cameras, the latest a 5×7-inch that looks like a Greek temple. He has quietly been collecting lenses and now has around 24 interesting examples, from the tiny Cooke Primoplanes to a gigantic 16” portrait petzval by Bausch and Lomb, and several Ross and Dallmeyer lenses. He has also created a guillotine shutter design that scales and can be adapted to any of the lenses in the collection.  In 2022, he created a website to showcase the cameras. See

In 2023 Pete shifted his focus to wet plate collodion. At an exhibition of large-format landscape images held this summer, Pete made portraits of the visitors using a dark box for development. There was a queue for his 5×7 tintypes, and this has in part led to his next venture.

Pete has teamed up with a photographer at Teddington Photographic, Simon Whitehead, and together they have created Teddington Tintype (, making use of the studio at the back of the store. They are using Pete’s Strawberry Hill Camera which can make images up to 11×14 inches. He has built reducing backs so that the same camera can be used for 4×5, 5×7 and 8×10 inch plates. “The business is still at an early stage, and we’re working hard at marketing the service to customers. The reaction to both the experience and the finished product has been extremely positive, with many clients being blown away by the experience”, he explains.

I asked Pete what the future would bring. He has begun working on a series of layered still-life images. The front image is an ambrotype (a glass substrate), and the rear image is a tintype (blackened aluminium base).

“Wet plate is the ultimate form of analogue photography”, enthuses Pete. “It is also the most difficult. It satisfies my nerdy engineering tendencies.  I’d love to build more cameras for other photographers, like the one I made for Dave Shrimpton.  That’s probably the thing that gives me the most satisfaction”.

A wetplate portrait shot on a handmade large format camera.

You can see more of Pete Swann’s Camera Eccentrica cameras on Instagram at @cameraeccentrica or at

Teddington Tintypes can be found at

Images © Pete Swann 2023.

You might also be interested in this article on Denis Kreig who sells antique lenses through his Wet Plate Dreams store. Denis has provided Pete with several lenses for his Camera Eccentrica .




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