Convert a Plaubel Makiflex to 4×5

A Plaubel Makiflex, if you are lucky enough to own one, is a versatile (if heavy!) camera which exists somewhere between the worlds of medium and large format. The focal plane shutter makes it ideal to use with a variety of large format barrel lenses. The single lens reflex design allows you to nail focus and shoot much more accurately than rangefinder or ground glass focusing, especially when using fast lenses.

Although a Makiflex is larger and heavier than a Linhof Technika 4×5 large format camera, most of the Makiflex in existence are equipped with only a primitive Plaubel 6×9 roll film holder. And while the camera itself is capable of making a 9×9 image, in reality very few native Plaubel 4×5 backs have survived to make it easy to add this feature to your Makiflex.

These considerations drove me find a way to add a Graflok international back to my Makiflex. I used a commonly available Toyo 4×5 field camera back, so if I made a mistake it would not break the bank. Using some strategically placed holes drilled into the Toyo back and some standard M1.6 screws, this mod does not require that the Makiflex body be altered in any way.

Adding a Graflok international back allows me to shoot my Makiflex with modern 6×7 or 6×9 roll film holders from a variety of makers like Toyo, Horseman, and Linhof.

It also allows me to shoot on 4×5 sheetfilm with standard double darkslides or a Grafmatic 6 sheet holder, to achieve the 9×9 format image that crowns this camera the Super Hasselblad.

Tools and equipment

  • Plaubel Makiflex
  • Toyo 4×5 rotating back with ground glass
    • Available on eBay for $100-200
  • 3 x M1.6 countersunk head screws 10mm
  • 1 x M1.6 countersunk head screw 6mm
  • 2.0 mm drill bit
  • 4.0 mm drill bit to countersink holes
  • 2.0 mm blackout foam with adhesive backing
  • Dremel with thin metal cutting disk
  • Small metalworking files: rounded and triangular
  • 10x loupe

Prepare the Makiflex body

  • Remove the lens plate and viewfinder if attached.
  • Remove the existing rear plate and back from the Makiflex by undoing 8 flat head screws. You will need to rotate the back to reach all the screws.
  • Remove the back and the two metal baffles from each edge.
  • Observe the existing screw holes in the metal bars which held the back on. They take M1.6 standard screws. We will make use of the four outermost holes in each corner to hold the Toyo back.
  • Cut a template out of clear plastic, exactly sized so it tightly fits inside the Toyo back. Use a permanent marker to mark the top left corner of the template with an arrow. You will use this template to transfer hole positions from the Makiflex body to the Toyo back.
  • Once you’re happy with the size of the template, use a fine point marker to carefully mark the positions of the outermost back holes on the Makiflex. Also make a hole for the Makiflex back lock pin on the left side.
  • The holes will be countersunk, and an accuracy of ±1mm is required.
  • Make 2.0mm holes in the plastic template in these positions so you can drill through it. I used a 2.0 tapping bit, but any sharp object will do.

Preparing the back

  • Disassemble the Toyo back so you have the baseplate alone. This means unscrewing 8 small and one large screw which hold the rotating mechanism. Also disassemble the corner lock mechanism.
  • Position the baseplate from the Toyo back at the back of the Makiflex. Note how it is a few mm larger in height and width than the rear of the Makiflex. Convenient!
  • Note that it does not sit completely flat against the body due to the viewfinder frame at the top. Our job is to make the back sit flush against the body. You’ll need a dremel with a metal cutting disk, and a small file.
  • Mark out the width of the viewfinder housing with a marker on the top of the Toyo baseplate.
  • Use the metal cutting disk to remove material from the top of the Toyo to the width of the viewfinder housing and to the depth of the lip. Use a metal file to finish.
  • Test the fit, and keep removing material until you have a perfect fit.
  • The baseplate should fit snugly and parallel against the back.

Drill the back

  • Flip the template so the arrow is in the top right corner and position it inside the Toyo baseplate.
  • Using the template, carefully mark the correct position for the holes on the Toyo baseplate using a 2.0 bit. Alignment and square are critical. Double check and be 100% sure before you drill!
  • Once you’ve taken time to get the positioning right, drill 4 x 2mm holes through the Toyo baseplate. One of these holes will be in the well for the rotation lock mechanism, so it sits higher than the others.

Attach the back

  • Use the 3 x 10mm M1.6 screws in the top left, right and bottom left positions. The 1 x 6mm M1.6 screw goes in the bottom right position.
  • Test that the screws align and your back sits flush by attaching the baseplate to the back of the camera. Hopefully everything is lined up and you get a nice square fit.
  • Be careful to not overtighten the screws! Always stop screwing when the baseplate is flush.
  • Assuming all is well, remove the screws and countersink the holes with the 4mm bit. Be sure not to go too deep. Test with the screws and repeat until the heads are completely flush. This is important, otherwise the back will not rotate freely.
  • Reassemble the Toyo back by reuniting the baseplate with the rotation plate. Use the 8 flathead and one philips head screws to reassemble the rotation mechanism.
  • Flip the Toyo over and affix strips of 2mm black foam to the inside of the baseplate to ensure no light leaks.

Light gate

  • I had an aluminium plate machined to form the 9×9 gate so my images are masked. This step is optional, you could make a baffle out of cardboard or plastic, or have no light gate at all.
  • Finally, screw the Toyo back onto the Makiflex.

Calibration

  • Set up a test target – I use a piece of blue tape on a white wall about 4 m away.
  • Attach the Toyo ground glass and focus on the test target using a 10x loupe.
  • You’ll need to set the camera to B mode and hold the shutter/ mirror open while you do this. Release the shutter and check the focus in the viewfinder. It’s is likely to be slightly out of focus.
  • Observe the calibration screws in the corners of the Makiflex viewfinder. They sometimes have red wax on them. You will need to adjust these with a number 1 flathead screwdriver, move all 4 of them, one at a time, the same number of turns, until the viewfinder is in focus as well.
  • Confirm focus between the Toyo and the viewfinder as in step 2 and 3.
  • Repeat for infinity and close focus distances.

Finishing up

  • Finally, remove the Toyo back and reattach the viewfinder hood.
  • Reattach the back and check focus hasn’t gone out of calibration.
  • Reassemble the rotation lock mechanism in the corner of the baseplate.

Happy shooting!

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