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The dSLR to large-medium format DIY build: Nikon D800e on Sinar P camera

One of Photigy forum members, photographer Darren Coleman, has posted a great walkthrough of his DIY project, dSLR to large-medium format build. He modified Sinar P large format camera to make it work with Nikon D800e like with a “digital back”.

This is a really nice build, and Darren was so nice to let me to re-post his forum topic as an article here to let other curious photographers to see it. First, lets meet Darren:


Darren ColemanHi, I’m Darren, sometimes known as ‘colda’, no this isn’t me having a gangsta name or anything like that, it’s simply a concatenation of the first letters of my last and first names put together that’s stuck over time. A photographer and a bit of an engineer, spend much of my photographic time alongside Lisa (my wife) at our studio in the south west of England.

Originating from the Black County (the industrial heart of England) and never been much of an academic, I’ve got my way through life with a ‘get it done’ attitude and a logic based mindset. Self-taught tends to be more fun anyway!

Always had a fascination with photography for as long as I can remember but life had other plans and I found myself in the world of IT, although in the mid 90’s this gave me the opportunity to take on digital photography with a Kodak DC25, roughly 10 years later I got my first dSLR (Nikon D70) and starting taking things more seriously.

Done a lot of music photography, some sports and of course studio work. The strong passion for engineering tends to drive me towards creating non-standard solutions to achieve what I want.



Nikon D800e on Sinar P camera DIY conversion build by Darren Coleman


Ok, there’s a story behind this, over the past few years I’ve been a bit of a wide angle addict but recently needed to produce some more ‘correct’ images i.e. buildings with straight vertical lines. So, using my trusty 14-24mm I found myself feeling rather uninspired by the results and thoughts quickly turned towards a desire for a 24mm tilt-shift.
At roughly the same time there was also a food assignment which got me considering all the benefits of having an 85mm tilt-shift to hand in the studio and that was it, I wanted something that could do tilt-shift and not cost me the earth, so the mind wondered about other solutions.

I’ve known of the concept of bolting a dSLR on the back of a 4×5 system for a while but only really considered it in terms of replacing a polaroid, although, not being a large format guy I would just look on with envy at the movements but appreciate the convenience of a digital 35mm system (don’t get me wrong, I love film, just can’t justify losing a day at a time to develop-scan-refine to be at the same point as when I upload digital raw files). There is also a very nice Mamiya RB67 setup in the studio that never gets used, so in the mixing pot of the mind the elements came together and ‘The Contraption’ idea was born

After more thought and a healthy amount of googling I found that there were are few out there that had done similar things (Alex Koloskov being a strong point of reference), with plans in my head, some knowledge of engineering and a large dose of ignorance, I was sure it would work ;)


Nikon D800e on Sinar P camera, a complete build


Firstly I needed a monorail camera and managed to get a very nice Sinar P

from the usual online auction site, this came with 4 lenses and some other goodies, oh how tempted I was to leave it untouched and just enjoy it as intended. Right, to work, task one was to mount the D800e on the rear assembly; this was done by removing the rear standard and disassembling the mount from the frame (also took the opportunity to replace the front standard with the better condition frame from the rear standard).

The build:

Using some aluminium square section I drilled and tapped (M4) 4 holes as per the removed frame such that the section could fastened to the rear standard mount, also in the section I drilled an 6.5mm hole so I could pass through a 1/4″ BSW machine bolt (oh, and a 10mm hole on the other side of the section to allow for the head of the bolt), the bolt is then fastened into a Manfrotto 394 Plate Adapter (using a 3/8″ – 1/4″ thread adapter)

Sinar P Rear Standard modification


Having read somewhere on the internet (so I know it must be true) that large format lenses are really not that great and the large format folk more than make up for this shortcoming with huge detail filled negatives, something about the fact that medium format and 35mm are hard fixed boxes so tolerances and calibration are tight but the move-around nature of large format make such things less critical – dunno but I want to use my Mamiya glass anyway :)

A Mamiya extension tube donated it’s mount to the project, the only lens boards that came with the Sinar has holes in them that were too large for the Mamiya mount (apart from a recessed board that might well be used in the future), to resolve this a spare barn door was sacrificed, this was cut down, marked, drilled and tapped (M2.5) to suit the mount and the lens board (which was also drilled to allow it to be bolted to the ex-barn door). As this was all done by hand I didn’t have the means to cleanly machine the large hole, please excuse the rather messy hand file finish

Mamiya Lens mount on Sinar front standard


This only leaves the bellows, the camera to bellows adapter is made from a neoprene laptop sleeve, a section was roughly cut out and a hole carefully made in the center. An M42 mount is pushed through the hole with an M42-Nikon adapter then screwed on the other (red) side and tightened to sandwich the neoprene between them. Then using the fixings inside the bag bellows I made a template to mark out on the neoprene precisely where the 2mm holes should be such that I could fasten the neoprene inside the bag bellows


Ready for use 35mm DSLR to large format system

Nikon D800e “naked” sensor view

That’s about it, just need to get on with taking some pictures with it!

~Darren Coleman

9 responses on "The dSLR to large-medium format DIY build: Nikon D800e on Sinar P camera"

  1. It sounds great,,i am looking for a long time for a good solution. But..i have i Nikon D800 and a Sinar F..?! What do you think?..Possible?..Thanks for sharing ! Keep in touch.

  2. Hi Darren – really nice story and great pics of the project – I have just bought a 4 x 5 Horseman and about to start playing with a conversion project. I was very interested in you using the Mamiya lenses? I just happen to have some lying around – do they work well and if you have used them for still life what focal length do you get the best results with. Would love to see some pictures if you have them – thanks again for the story.

  3. The biggest problem with DSLR on Sinar is the mirror box from your camera. It blocks some of the angle from the lens which makes it less tiltable than digital backs.

  4. I have a question for Mr.Darren Or Mr. Alex….. I know I might sound stupid, but how do you fire that lens ?! cock it or release it ?! I have the same lens and I’m wondering how can this be done. Please?! How do you capture using that lens?

    • Noor,
      You do not fire the lens in this case: the lens has no shutter (or if it has, it does not file, stays open), but the camera shutter (DSLR has it in the body) fires. This is how I’ve used similar setup with Canon… Was using camera shutter, and lens was w/o shutter at all , I’ve used enlargement lens.

  5. Thank you. Great article and good idea. I just used it to do the same for a D4, and it keeps the throat of the camera to a minimum. Incidentally, Sinar used to make a fitting for a 35mm camera (and others) called
    Camera support code 519.21 – fitted onto the rear standard base, and fortunately I bought one years ago. Don’t see any of those on e-Bay.


  6. Hey Alex,
    I’ve tried the adapter plate for 4×5 and had an obvious issue wich I hadn’t anticipated wich was the inability to focus on infinity or even mid range.
    The plate wouldn’t let the sensor get close enough to focus.
    I wanted to know if with your rig that issue is solved.
    I really liked your rig, would only change it to adapt the bello straight to the body of the camera without the original frame.
    Thank you.

  7. Other than the ability to use LF lenses, I don’t get it because the media is DSLR size, right? I’m thinking one of THESE
    could be converted to be able to attach the larger lenses and without all the time and expense –
    On the other hand, I dig the fortitude, ingenuity and the DIY spirit.

    URL Ref: http://www.ebay.com/itm/Macro-bellows-Nikon-F-mount-lens-film-digital-SLR-D5200-D3200-D3100-D7000-/330779834462?pt=US_Lens_Adapters_Mounts_Tubes&hash=item4d0403b85e

  8. Would love to hear more about the lenses you are using and of course what sort of results you are getting. I have the D800e so I’m very keen to see how you get on. I did make a similar system when I had my D300 and used Mamiya lenses, but never got great results with it. The D800 of course is a different proposition. Thanks for sharing, hope to hear more soon.

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