Some Assembly Required: Kevin Kadooka’s SPUD Camera

This series focuses on those who take the making of pictures a step or two further, creating their own photographic tools.

SPUD Camera

Kevin Kadooka, Seattle, WA

Kevin Kadooka had been building cameras since high school, all of which were analog. When Fuji announced it would cease production of its instant pack film, Kadooka took matters into his own hands to devise a camera format that would offer the same convenience and fidelity. He came to a tough realization that, “the analog formats that we take for granted nowadays may not be round forever.” The demise of the beloved instant film made Kadooka questions what DIY camera enthusiasts will do when there aren’t any film formats left to work with. Kadooka says, “People will be making wet collodion plates until the sun explodes (and I respect that) but I wanted to try something just a little different by getting my feet wet in homebrewed medium format digital photography.” Striving for a compact, self-contained device that could be tossed into a camera bag with ease, he built his own medium format digital camera, the SPUD.

SPUD Camera touchscreen

SPUD Camera touchscreen

The camera took three months from proof-of-concept to the final product. Kadooka’s background is not in programming or electrical engineering, so he spent a large amount of that time learning how to design the camera’s circuitry and write the code. The invention of single-board computers like the Raspberry Pi, the possibilities for homemade digital cameras with small image sensors are vast. However, large sensors are still hard to come by and they don’t come cheap. Kadooka’s goals were to improve on the image sensor and he did so with a basic grayscale scanner and scanning mechanism which is a motor and a piece of string. The development of the user interface was the most time consuming as Kadooka developed a touchscreen to preview, focus, adjust the exposure, and review images.

He made a few prototypes, the first was made from a piece of Ikea furniture with a brown paper bag pulled over it. The next two versions were made from basswood and then sustainable bamboo plywood. The final project, SPUD, produces medium format (65 x 48mm) image with 1024 x 768 (0.8MP) resolution in 16-bit grayscale. Kadooka currently uses a Mamiya 80mm f/2.8 lens originally intended for its 645 series for its soft renderings when wide open and its distinctly sharp results when stopped down. Of all of his efforts, Kadooka says, “To be fair, I never sought out to make a Hasselblad-killer, but to make something that's cheap, attractive (-ish), easy-to-use, and accessible to any photographer who doesn't mind putting in a little elbow grease to build a camera. It's been fun to learn about all the quirks and foibles of building a scanner camera, and the images that resulted really aren't half bad.”

Photo made with SPUD

Learn more about Kadooka's work on his website.

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