Here’s the business end of the largest camera I ever used on a regular basis. It was a two-room Robertson copy camera. The camera back and digital controls were in a small lightproof room behind this one. The camera could take 48″ x 48″ sheets of film on its vacuum film plate.
The front end of the camera, seen here, had a 10-foot bellows that extended on the overhead beams and the vertical image/copy holder (not shown because I was standing right in front of it) could hold a paper or film sheet between glass, vacuumed flat, up to 15 feet wide by six feet high. The halogen lights shown illuminated the copy. This camera was at Martel Labs in St. Pete, Florida, where I ran the 26-person photo lab for a few years. The camera operator is shown changing lenses.
If you needed to shoot onto a piece of film larger than 48″ x 48″, you could reverse the lens to turn the camera into “blowback” mode, but I personally never used the thing that way.
This was a super-expensive piece of gear; we used it for copying engineering or cartographic imagery. Our sister company, Chicago Aerial Survey, had a larger camera, believe it or not. Made by the Brown Camera company, it was vertical and two or three stories high. At the time I worked for Martel, my understanding was that the vertical camera at CAS was the largest camera in the world.
Here’s another piece of gear most folks have never seen: a vertical emulsion whirler. Because of the weird photographic stuff we did at Martel, much of which was classified, we often had to make our own film. You can’t imagine the exotic chemistry we cooked up in this room. The film emulsions were so sensitive that we couldn’t use red lights, as in most darkrooms; we had to use dim green lights to work in.
Anyway, this vertical whirler wasn’t completely vertical, but it replaced a horizontal one we had been using earlier. The sheet film shown is probably 80″ x 64″ and hasn’t been vacuumed totally flat yet; that took about 15 minutes to do.
Once the plastic sheet was absolutely flat, the operator could flow the custom emulsion onto the rotating sheet and the slow rotation of the film bed would flatten the emulsion on the substrate. The tubular arm shown would blow a gentle flow of heated air onto the gummy emulsion, baking it onto the sheet and, after 45 minutes or so, you’d have a piece of film ready for whatever you needed it for. Usually it was used in a giant contact frame for duping large images from negs or positive film.