What materials for building Bellows?

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The time is rapidly coming to replace bellows on more than one LF camera. I sure would like leather again but am not having much luck finding really thin leather to work with. I am having similar luck with synthetic materials. Has anyone information on where I would find very thin leather or a good, durable, flexible & light-tight synthetic material for a try at making a new bellows?

-- Dan Smith (shooter@brigham.net), September 06, 2001


I suppose everyone wants to try this at least once. I don't recommend it for any camera of value. If you have an old field that you don't want to spend any money on, it might be worth it, just to be able to shoot a few frames. Otherwise........

I have built some 8 or 9 bellows for various cameras, from Kodak 2D's to 2x3's to Century's, and have used a variety of materials - with acceptable results. BUT, I can tell you this from experience - it is NOT worth it. I started making my own out of a desire to "do it all myself". The problem is, unless you do it a lot, it will take quite a bit of time and effort in order to ensure everything is accurate, and minor mistakes loom large in the final product.

My cost for an 18" tapered bellows for a 4x5 was $40-$45 USD on top of a half dozen hours of planning,calculating, layout etc. And 6-8 hours of actual construction/gluing/folding time. Weigh that against a new, professionally made bellows for the same camera at $120 US = not worth the effort to me.

That's my $0.02

I have had the best luck using a very thin vinyl material I purchased from JoAnne's Fabric House (I think they are a chain store) as the outer layer, cut the ribs from glossy poster board, and used shutter curtain material as the inner liner. The vinyl doesn't have to be light-tight, as the shutter curtain takes care of that. When I made my first bellows, everything that I could find said to use a "good" adhesive like "plyobond". Forget it. It is the worst! You need to coat everything, let it dry - coat again, let nearly-dry, then press together. I have gotten the best results using a product called "Tear-Mender". It is basically liquid latex. Brush it on a few rows of ribs at a time - cleans up easily.

Good luck !

-- Matt O. (mojo@moscow.com), September 07, 2001.

I've never done this, but I just happened to see an article on this subject last night, "How to build a Camera Bellows," by Mike Robinson, in "View Camera" magazine, July/August 1996. A glance at the article shows that the author used a "thin neoprene cloth", but he didn't procure this material himself and doesn't know who the supplier is. Hey, but there's always www.google.com for finding things materials like this. Good luck!

-- Christopher Campbell (cbcampbell@mediaone.net), September 07, 2001.


I remember seeing an add in the classified section of Shutterbug that advertised Morroccan leather for camera bellows. You might give that a try, although I suspect that it could be very expensive. Also, I read somewhere (perhaps in this forum) that others have used the shutter curtain repair material available from Micro Tools. (see http://www.micro-tools.com/Merchant2/restore.htm). Micro Tools' web site lists small sheet sizes, but I believe you can special order larger sheets. The other possibility is to search for the vinyl impregnated cloth used to make awnings or boat tops. This might be a good alternative if you live in an area with a large number of marine suppliers.


-- Dave Willison (dwillisart@aol.com), September 07, 2001.

A traditional bookbindery is about the only place you'll find leather or vinyl materials of a suitable thickness. Or try Camera Bellows Ltd.

-- Pete Andrews (p.l.andrews@bham.ac.uk), September 07, 2001.

I remember talking with several seasoned photographers about their venture into the camera bellows experience. Not one of them said that the results achieved were both cost effective and highly functional after one considers the the time learning a "craft" and experimenting with new or unique bellow materials. Remings me of the time I acquired a tool for synchronization of the carbeurators on my older Volvo. A week later and $200 poorer I was able to get someone over to straighten things up so I could get the car running again. That was a lesson that I never forgot. My point - focus (no pun intended)on what you know best.

I got new bellows from Camera Bellows for my Linhof Technikardan for $175. And I think that they are on the higher end of the cost scale because of the double taper.

-- Michael Kadillak (m.kadillak@home.com), September 07, 2001.

I recently made a bag bellows for my older Omega 4x5. I couldn't justify spending several hundred dollars for a lightproof bag so I gave it a try. I used a material from Freestyle Sales which I think they list as black-out fabric. It is not 100% lightproof in a single layer so I used a double layer glued together. In retrospect that was a mistake since with the two layers glued together across the whole surface the material is not as flexible as I would like. I may try again with only gluing the two layers together at the seams and a spot or two in the middle. The homemade bag works well with lense from 90-305mm. I'm not sure I would want to try a pleated bellows when you can but a third party one for $100-150.

-- Dave Schneider (dschneider@arjaynet.com), September 07, 2001.

Here is a site you might find helpful. Good Luck and have fun!


-- James Christian (jcc928@aol.com), September 07, 2001.

For a OK, cheap material, (but not the most pretty) material for bellows on working cameras, I have used thin black flocked paper(sold at art stores for painting "velvet" Elvis and Jesus paintings on)... It folds well, and is pretty strong!!! Also, buy a roll of artist's acid free 2" wide black tape...(the real thin stuff) Plan on the flocked side to go inside the bellows, and use the tape on the paper side, in strips along the line where the corners will fold... (the paper side will be outside) The tape will make a strong corner, when bellows are folded... You do not have to tape the inside of bellows... These single layer bellows do not leak, and are easy to work with... One can try to cover the paper outside with an attractive fabric, or leather, but I say "why bother"!!! These look OK and work well!!! The flocking inside acts as a light trap, and the outside looks techno- industrial/ fine for a working camera... Also, the black tape is good for many other bellows repairs...

-- Steven Kafcsak (kafsaki@yahoo.com), April 23, 2002.

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