Upgrading Fotoman 617 Panoramic Camera

Fotoman 617 offers great flexibility and affordability, relative to other 617 makers. There are many great lenses out there that may well suit the 617 film format and these can be purchased, new or used for much less than a Linhof Technorama, Horseman SW617pro or a Fuji GX617 lens-cone assembly.  I have been using Fotoman 617 rather intensely for the last two years, and I must say that although I once or twice had to tighten a loose screw, the camera served me well and I am rather pleased with the results.

panoramic 617 close up scale

Banias river – Northern Israel

During these last two years, I have made a few modifications to the camera which I am happy to share.


Close Range Focusing: Switching to a longer helical focus mount
Close Range Focusing: Back spacers as extension tubes
Removable neck strap
Refining hyper-focal scale
Avoiding Flare: Lens hood/Shade
Avoiding Flare: In cone masking
Tripod mounting for long lenses

This short article focuses on how to improve a Fotoman 617 camera, and not on how to use it. Here is a general review of the Fotoman 617 panoramic camera with some useful tips.

Close Range Focusing: Switching to a Longer Helical Focus Mount

long helical mount for fotoman camera

Schneider Apo Symmar 150/5.6 Mounted on a Fotoman HFM-LT – Long Helical Focus Mount

Since these cameras are initially intended for panoramic landscapes and not macro shooting, most 617 film cameras won’t allow close range focusing. However, many of the LF lenses (such as the Schneiders) are recommended by the manufacturer for usage at ratio as close as 1:3, and close range images may well suit the 617 format, as long as a ground glass is used.
For that reason i have replaced a previous short Fotoman helical mount with a longer one which enables a much closer minimal focusing distance that is still well within range of what these lenses were designed for.

Close Range Focusing: Back Spacers as Extension Tubes

For an even closer focusing range, I sometimes stack multiple back spacers between the camera body and the lens cone, using longer screws purchased from Fotoman Cameras.

back spacers for fotoman camera

Stacking Back Spacers as Extension Tubes for Closer Range Focusing

panoramic 617 close up scale

Sticker for Extension Estimating

To help estimate the required back spacer length for a given vertical object length, I have printed a PVC sticker.
Ground glass is obviously a necessity for such work.
Click to Download editable (by Adobe Illustrator) pdf file:

Removable Strap

camera strap for fotoman camera

Removable Strap

One of the advantages of a 617 camera is the ability to use a handheld large format camera in tough conditions. As we all know, sitting in the shade, on a flat rock with the camera mounted on a tripod right in front of you is never the case, and wind is a great contributor to a fascinating image and… ..camera shake.  Therefore, a lens hood should be small and effective (unlike a sail), and a a camera strap is recommended to be removable (also to prevent clumsiness). There are few such straps models out there, just make sure to protect your glass by avoiding models with metal hinges.

Hyper-focal Scale

For some reason new DSLR lenses do not have hyper-focal charts. This is rather amazing, although most hyper focal scales were off anyway – even Leica and Nikon ones. I have followed Ken Rockwell’s tips and advice on re-creating focal charts. So far so good!

Hyperfocal chart

Schneider 80mm f4.5 with a Ken style hyper-focal scale

Ken’s DOF article and instructions.
To download sticker pdf (editable with Adobe Illustrator).

Avoiding Flare: Lens Hood/Shade

300mm lens flare

Shot against the sun – 300mm lens flare.

I love flare, ghosts, vignetting in photographs, but sometimes you simply don’t want these in your photo. For preventing unwanted light from entering the film, use a lens hood – preferably one that is measured to fit the exact frame measurements (unlike the one in this picture..)

lens hood for 617 panorama

Wide hood over center filter and Cokin P hood for a longer lens

Avoiding Flare: In Cone Masks

in camera flare

Crop of the top center of the same 300mm scan

Since 617 lens cones have large internal space, in-camera reflections may cause unwanted flare.  Horseman were particularly careful with this by creating a double mask for their 250mm f5.6 617 lens cone.
After a few frames of an undesired flare, I added masks inside the lens cones – between the lens cone and the back spacer. At first, I am using dark matted plastic, cut with an exact O knife; at a later stage, I may switch to a sheet metal.

Here is how it’s done:
Measure the required mask hole size by stretching cellophane between the lens cone and the space while mounting it to the camera.

617 mask

Stretching cellophane between cone and its back spacer

Make sure the aperture diaphragm remains open all the way and the focusing ring with its maximal extension.

617 mask

The X marks the marking point. Takes some practice..

617 lens mask

Measure the square between the dots

617 lens mask

Found in an office supplies store

Once marked, take out the transparency and measure the distance between the four dots and add an extra mm for security.  Write down the measurements.

Black matte mylar can be found in any office supplies store, but may require some sanding to eliminate glossy surface. Thin black metal may be preferred.

Once you got that right, Download this pdf (editable with Adobe Illustrator), add your frame measurements centered on both the horizontal and vertical axis and print both A4 pages at actual-size. Use the print as a guide for cutting the masking material with a ruler.
Watch your fingers!!

617 lens mask

Masks should look like this (possibly a bit more accurate). At the side is a back spacer.

617 lens mask

Or like this. Some black velvet may be useful for reducing reflections.

617 lens mask

Or like this 80mm wide-angle

Please note that after adding masks, you may want to re-adjust your lens’ focus ring, as shown here.

Tripod Head

To properly balance a long heavy lens you need the tripod mounted on the lens, and not the camera body. Since Fotoman cones do not incorporate tripod mounts, I have debated whether to drill one or to purchase a longer plate and chose the latter option as can be seen below. It works great.

617 lens mask

Long tripod mounting plate will enable a great balance even with a lightweight tripod-head combo.

If you have further questions please feel free to drop me a note or add a comment below.
If you happen to come to Israel, I am guiding photography tours and will be happy to show you some vistas and shortcuts.

A note for the Fotoman makers:
1. Please improve your website. The previous one was easier to navigate through.
2. A 617 shift adapter would be greatly appreciated.

Disclaimer: This post is meant to share my experience as a camera user. The author is not responsible for any damage which may occur by following the advice or recommendations posted here.

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