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Camera Anatomy - Plate Cameras, Part 2 - plate carriers

The heart of the plate camera is the Plate Carrier. A plate carrier is a device that contains the plate before and after exposure in the camera, it has a sliding hatch called a 'darkslide' that is used to protect the plate up until the point where the photographer is ready to make the exposure when the darkslide is withdrawn. The advantage of this system was that the image could be projected on a ground glass screen in the back of the camera to compose and focus the image precisely, the ground glass screen was then replaced by the plate carrier, a light tight seal being created in the process. The darkslide would then be withdrawn and the exposure made, after which the darkslide was slid back and the plate carrier returned to the safety of the photographers bag. Below are a selection of the common types, all shown with their darkslides partially withdrawn. In the centre is a pile of three mahogany double sided plate carriers in various sizes. They are generally hinged at the bottom and have two side clips that when released allow the plate carrier to be opened for loading or unloading. A lot of the wooden types are double sided, that is they each contain two plates, just flip the carrier around to use the other plate. The mahogany ones in the picture have animal bone inserts with etched numbers so the photographer can keep track of which plates have been used. To the left is a black coloured wooden double plate carrier with an aluminium darkslide, this one is from the Sanderson from the previous page, unlike the hinged type this one can be loaded through the front when the darkslide is withdrawn. On the right is a metal single plate carrier, which were much slimmer. They all follow the same broad principles in use.

Plate carriers

wooden Plate carrier with dark slide withdrawn Wooden plate carrier opened up

Returning to the double sided wooden types, the darkslides are usually hinged, as shown in the image at left. It has to be remembered that plate cameras were generally used under a hood, the hinge prevented the weight of the hood snapping the darkslide and also helped make withdrawal a little easier.

The right hand image shows the plate carrier hinged open, the two darkslides partially withdrawn and also shows the central pressure plate that served both to keep the plates pressed hard against the frame and also to stop light passing through one plate and into the one behind during exposure.

Loading a wooden plate carrier

When loading plate carriers, the plate had to be inserted in complete darkness making sure the emulsion was facing outwards. In the dark room the difference could be felt, the uncoated side offering more drag when you ran your finger along it close to the edge, Caution needed to be used as the glass plates were often fairly roughly cut with sharp edges.

In this picture note that the side with the pressure plate already fitted, has two tiny rotating stops, this is to stop the plate falling out when this side is swung over to close the plate carrier.



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