Colossal Analog Camera: Size Does Matter, After All

It will be like the circus coming to town. The negatives are so large they have to take them to a window for inspection:
Meet Dennis Manarchy, a digital photography anarchist as his name seems to suggest. Ever smaller cameras are all the rage, the classic DSLR with mirror and prism looks like a dinosaur in today’s world that’s driven by Moore’s Law.

But there comes Manarchy and builds a camera that uses the good old analog technique: a bellows camera that’s over ten meters long.

And Manarchy wants to travel the U.S. with his photographic colossus to portray the last members of disappearing cultures; Native Americans, Inuits, war veterans and the last cowboys.

Vanishing Cultures is the name of his project, as if he’s talking about himself with his analog photography that’s on the brink of extinction.

If you’re a pixel peeper Manarchy’s camera is a wet dream come true. Each human pore, each eyelash is shown in most graphic detail.

The classic full-frame size – what we call 35mm – is about 34mm x 23mm. Manarchy’s negatives measure 1.8m x 1.3m, that’s 2700 times the area of conventional film. You can plaster a 4-storey house with a portrait shot. And it’s much sharper than pin sharp. Manarchy went through hundreds of lenses before finding the right one.

The negatives of the super-sized working prototype have 1,000 times greater detail than an average digital photograph |

“The sharpness is unbelievable,” Manarchy told the blog Film’s Not Dead.

He calls his Leviathan the “absolute reality” camera:

With photoshop and with digital there is nothing real. I understand why they are banning photoshop in England because people don’t believe anything any more, it is all phony. How many pictures have you seen of anybody that haven’t been heavily retouched? With everyone’s pictures on places like Facebook they can all give themselves a new face-lift. This camera is absolute reality and the closest we can get to reality through the abstraction of the camera.

But money is needed to kickstart his project, and so far only a camera prototype, the third one, is built. And don’t think about handling the massive thingy just by yourself. While Manarchy’s job is to get the proper light in front of the camera, an assistant inside the apparatus is busy trying to focus the shot.

Connected via 2-way radio it’s all about finding the right moment to fire the shutter. Exposures are done electronically at 1/1000th of a second.

Plan is to mount the XXL camera on a mobile vehicle and tour the U.S. Manarchy aims to portray at least thirty different regions and their vanishing cultures.

A portrait from Dennis Manarchy's super-sized working prototype camera |

The tour shall be concluded by 2014, right in time for the 200th birthday of the camera when Frenchman Joseph Nicéphore Niépce achieved the first photographic image with camera obscura.

However, the image required eight hours of light exposure and later faded.

Not a problem for Manarchy. His photography is here to stay, forever, before the vanishing are vanishing before our eyes.