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A custom made dark cloth

Focusing a view camera in bright daylight can be as much as a pain as in low light conditions, when light directly hits the ground glass. The lower contrast that it causes, makes the image on the ground glass hard to see and focusing a pain. A good dark cloth is in my opinion not a luxury, but a necessity. There are probably plenty people that disagree with this statement, however. Some prefer no dark cloth at all, or use a black t-shirt instead.

Figure 1: The elastic band in makes that the cloth easily wraps around the back of the camera.

If you are in the market for a dedicated dark cloth there are currently three popular options available on the market: the BTZS dark cloth sold by Fred Newman from the ViewCameraStore, the Harrison style dark cloths and BlackJacket by QuietWorks. Although these are all fine products and all have certain following in the large format photography community, they are expensive. Especially when overseas shipping and import duties are included in the price. A 60 USD dark cloth, can then easily end up costing more than double of that by the time you get to put your head inside it. For that reason, I decided to design my own and get it made by a local tailor.

Figure 2: The back opening is large enough to pull the entire cloth over the camera to protect it from rain.

The dark cloth is made of two layers. There is a dark blue 100% light tight fabric also used to make bed room curtains on the inside. I would have preferred black, but dark blue was the only one available to me at the time. As you can guess, this serves to create a completely dark environment. On the outside is white parachute fabric. This is partially translucent, but is water repellent, and reflects the larger part of the light. This is not so much to keep it dark inside, but to prevent it from excessive heating under bright sunlight. It also doubles for a rain cover as the dark cloth is large enough to cover the entire camera fully extended (Figure 2). For 45 euros I got sufficient fabric to make two of these cloths.

Figure 3: The underside of the cloth has two openings. The one on the left is velcroed shut, and the seams overlap fully. The created openings allow for ventilation. The one on the right partially overlaps and allows quick access to the ground glass.

The design is based on the BTZS dark cloth and to a lesser extent the BlackJacket. It is a tube design with a front opening of 22 cm in diameter and a back opening of 30 cm. Both ends are lined with an elastic band. The elastic allows the front to wrap around the back of the camera easily and stay in place as shown in Figure 1. The size of the back opening is such that my head fits through it easily, yet drapes over my shoulders to seal off the back. At a length of 82 cm in total it is long enough to keep a comfortable working distance, in which I can still reach for all the camera controls without taking my head out of the dark cloth.

The under side of the cloth is open in several places, but the seams overlap as you can seen in Figure 3. These openings serve several purposes. The front opening allows access to the ground glass such that a loupe can be held in place as shown in Figure 4. The openings in the back are for ventilation and allow some fresh air to come in while you are working. As the seams overlap, I have not had any problems with too much light leaking in.

Figure 4: The opening in the front allows for quick access to the ground glass.

The cloth is at 340 g not light weight, but not too heavy either. It packs relatively small and fits neatly behind the ICU in the F-stop Ajna. If I were to make a new one, I would look for a lighter fabric for the light tight lining, because this is by far the heavier of the two.

The tailor of Prestige in The Hague made this dark cloth for me for 25 euros. In total this adds up to 47,50 euro/cloth, which is in the same order of magnitude of the commercial options. This one is, however, completely made to my specifications, and I don’t have to pay for shipping. If you want to make one too, feel free to use mine as your inspiration and make sure to send me a photo! I’d be very interested in seeing what you come up with!

Published in Large Format Photography