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A modular, open camera system capable of shooting any format (medium and large format film, digital, Instax...) and using any lens.
A modular, open camera system capable of shooting any format (medium and large format film, digital, Instax...) and using any lens.
A modular, open camera system capable of shooting any format (medium and large format film, digital, Instax...) and using any lens.
212 backers pledged $52,438 to help bring this project to life.

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Mercury: The World's First Universal Camera

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What if you could shoot old Polaroid film, Fuji's current Instax version, huge medium format negatives, large sheet film, and digital, all with the same camera?  What if that camera could take any of the hundreds of amazing professional lenses that have been produced over the past century and longer?  What if that camera were light, portable, and inexpensive?  And what if it could be easily reconfigured and adapted to do just about anything?  Welcome to the Mercury.  The world's first universal camera.  It's time to rediscover and redefine photography.  Anywhere, anytime.

Side view of a Mercury showing one possible configuration (most Kickstarter rewards don't include the lens/shutter, strap, rangefinder, or film back; these are shown for illustrative purposes only).
Side view of a Mercury showing one possible configuration (most Kickstarter rewards don't include the lens/shutter, strap, rangefinder, or film back; these are shown for illustrative purposes only).

The Mercury is capable of adapting nearly any lens ever made, can use numerous backs from numerous manufacturers (as well our own Mercury backs), and can shoot film or digital, in nearly any format from 35mm to 4x5".  The following video demonstrates the various modules of the Mercury and how they work together:

The Mercury is also the best (and only) way to shoot Instax and Polaroid formats with a complete choice of lenses and fully manual controls. All designs will be open sourced and fully modifiable by Mercury users. A completely modular system, it is extensible in nearly every way, and will remain compatible with emerging technology well into the future, as well as technology from the entire history of photography.

Here are a few sample photos taken with different film backs:

Photo taken with Mercury prototype on Ilford HP5+ sheet film (4x5)
Photo taken with Mercury prototype on Ilford HP5+ sheet film (4x5)

 

Photo taken with Mercury prototype on Kodak Portra 400 medium format roll film (6x9)
Photo taken with Mercury prototype on Kodak Portra 400 medium format roll film (6x9)

 

Photo taken with Mercury prototype on Instax Wide instant film
Photo taken with Mercury prototype on Instax Wide instant film

 

Photo taken with Mercury prototype on expired Kodak Tri-X medium format roll film (6x7)
Photo taken with Mercury prototype on expired Kodak Tri-X medium format roll film (6x7)

 

Photo taken with Mercury prototype on Kodak Portra 400 sheet film (4x5)
Photo taken with Mercury prototype on Kodak Portra 400 sheet film (4x5)

 

Pinhole photo taken with Mercury prototype on Arista orthochromatic sheet film (4x5)
Pinhole photo taken with Mercury prototype on Arista orthochromatic sheet film (4x5)

The Mercury is extremely light for maximum portability. Finally you can shoot medium and large format without a heavy, burdensome camera, or a specialty camera that can only utilize one lens, one format, etc. The Mercury's default configuration is 6x9, medium format. Its default "back adapter" is 2x3 Graflok, which accepts medium format (120) roll film backs from Graflex, Mamiya, Horseman, and Mercury, as well as (with slight adaptation) sheet film holders. We are developing a sophisticated 35mm panoramic back (the first ever made for a removable back) as well as simple, inexpensive roll film backs in 6x9 and 6x6 sizes. The Mercury also has a 4x5 Graflok back adapter, which accepts all 4x5 Graflok accessories, including instant film backs, Grafmatics, 6x12 roll film backs, and (with a slight re-configuration) sheet film holders. The Mercury is entirely modular, consisting of a Front (which accepts the “lens stack”) and a Back Adapter (which accepts film and digital backs of a certain format), as well as Front Spacers and Rear Spacers to extend the camera for various formats and lenses, the Mercury Focus Unit for view camera lenses, lens tubes, lens adapters, and a modular Sportfinder system that can be reconfigured for various lenses and formats. We also adapt Instax and Polaroid backs for use on the Mercury. Other back adapters will be available for Hasselblad V backs (film or digital), as well as digital backs for the Contax and Mamiya mounts (in the future).

Mercury prototype configured for large format (4x5)
Mercury prototype configured for large format (4x5)

 

Working prototypes of the Mercury have been 3D printed and machined. While many specialty parts (such as lens adapters and certain specialty backs) will continue to be 3D printed, the main body panels of the Mercury require injection molding in order to perfectly meet our specs with regard to dimensional fit, finish, strength, and mass-producability. This requires expensive tooling to be manufactured. The only way to raise the necessary capital for these basic parts is to crowdfund it. This will ensure the future availability of high quality Mercury components for the entire community. Kickstarter also allows us to create this community, which will be key to the future innovations and expansions of the Mercury system. By supporting this campaign, you not only get the world's coolest camera at a low introductory price, but you join our very special community of photography enthusiasts, and ensure that the Mercury system will be able to expand in the future. The crucial first step toward making a Universal Camera a reality is to back this campaign!

Our goal is not to make money on this campaign, but simply to pay off the significant costs of development thus far, pay for the injection molding tooling (which is very expensive to produce), and to actually make and ship these to you.  If we actually bring in more money than we spend, it will go directly toward further development of the Mercury.

The goal of this project is to start a community of camera enthusiasts of all experiences levels who can utilize a non-corporate camera to do exciting and creative new things.  Because the system will be open source, anyone will be able to modify and create parts for their own uses (and we'll help you do that!).  Those parts will be shared throughout the community.  Ideally, this camera will continue to grow in ways that we never even anticipated.  This Kickstarter is mean to form that community and raise the money necessary to produce the camera with optimal materials.

In some ways it isn't easy to capture the essence of a universal camera. That's why we decided to cook up something a bit more creative as our campaign video: a narrative film that dramatizes the concept. We hope you enjoyed it! Many more technical details, photos, and instructional videos will be posted on the official Mercury website (www.mercurycamera.com) moving forward. Meanwhile, the Rewards offered via Kickstarter are based on the characters in the film.

Photo taken with a Mercury prototype on Kodak Ektar medium format roll film (6x6)
Photo taken with a Mercury prototype on Kodak Ektar medium format roll film (6x6)

 

  • Anyone of any experience level who wants to get back to manual controls and rediscover photography (or discover it for the first time). We will produce a series of videos and fun suggestions for the many things you can do with your Mercury (hint: just about anything available in the world of photography). We think that this camera is more fun to use than any other camera out there.

  • Photographers who wish to shoot true medium format (up to 6x9cm) or large format (4x5”) for the absolute highest quality, but who also want their camera to be light, portable, and inexpensive. Few cameras exist that can shoot such huge negatives, and they all weigh so much that you wouldn't want to bring them very many places with you.

  • Connoisseurs of wide angle photography.  The best wide angle lenses are true wide angles, not retrofocus lenses.  Unfortunately, SLR-style cameras and most digital cameras can only accept retrofocus lenses.  The Mercury is thin enough to accept legendary true wide angle lenses that were previously only usable on extremely expensive technical cameras.

  • Tinkerers who want a camera that is fully modular and can be modified to suit their needs, whatever they may be. This is the ultimate camera for experimentation and design. The community wants your ideas; we all benefit when new Mercury parts are designed and shared.

  • Photographers who want to free their components from proprietary camera systems. Use your Hasselblad lenses on an Instax camera, unlock the larger image circle of your Mamiya or Pentax 6x7 lenses, use a nineteenth century lens with a Hasselblad back, etc. Just about any combination is possible with the Mercury.

  • Anyone who wants to contribute to a fully open, non-corporate camera system designed (mechanically and conceptually) for the future. 

  • Anyone who wants to shoot instant film (Polaroid/Impossible Project or Fuji Instax) but is tired of those horrible, fully automatic, flash-driven cameras that take such lousy photos. The Mercury is, without a doubt, the best camera for instant photography, allowing you to choose whatever lens is best for your style (super wide angle, portrait lens, etc.), have fully manual control over how your photograph is taken, and still retain the option of changing to other formats without having to lug around a completely different camera.
Photo taken with a Mercury prototype on Velvia medium format roll film (6x8)
Photo taken with a Mercury prototype on Velvia medium format roll film (6x8)

 

Every Mercury package consists of components that are injection molded (such as the main body parts), components that are 3D printed (using only professional materials, no PLA or low-grade plastic), and components that need to be sourced from 3rd parties. The injection molded parts require time for the tooling to be made. Once we have the molds, we can start to manufacture these parts. We anticipate that these parts will be available by December 2016. Meanwhile, the 3D printed parts take a long time to manufacture. This, along with assembly work, dictates that we will have to ship Mercury packages in batches. The first two packages below (“Rezza” and “Rich”) each have multiple batch numbers. The earlier you pledge, the earlier batch you can get in on. The other packages have their own set delivery date.

 

All Mercury rewards include your name on our web site, access to Kickstarter updates (which will be for backers only; updates for the general public will be announced on our web site), and our undying thanks for supporting a fully open camera system!

This basic reward gets you the backer privileges listed above.

For those who really want to support the project but don't have any use for a camera. As our thanks you will receive a unique, numbered 6x9cm Velvia transparency photograph shot on a Mercury camera.  This is a very large positive or "slide" that you can hang in a window, mount, or just save until it becomes a collector's item.  ;-)

 

Rezza loves the cinematic, and shoots the Mercury with a medium format back. 6X7, 6x8, and 6x9 negatives (on standard 120 medium format film) are up to six times larger than 35mm, with an image at least that much better! All the beauty of film, plus insane resolution and amazing depth of field, all in a light and fairly compact camera system that can easily be shot handheld: that's Rezza's formula, and the Mercury's standard configuration. This package includes the Mercury with a Graflok 23 back adapter (capable of accepting countless vintage backs from multiple companies, as well as future Mercury offerings, in formats from 35mm up to 6x9), the Mercury Focus Unit (to which hundreds of lenses can be mounted), a 20mm Front Spacer for lens versatility, a Universal Sportfinder for framing, and one Lens Kit that includes a lens adapter, lens tube, sportfinder reticule, focus scale, and depth of field scale, all matching a view camera lens of your choice from the Mercury Lens Database. This kit includes everything you need to shoot Imax-sized photographs except the lens itself and a film back (an inexpensive rangefinder and shutter release cable are also recommended).

 

Rich shoots landscapes, with the occasional still life and portrait, and he needs the highest quality format available: large format. With a 4x5 inch negative and a large format lens, photos leap to life. Because Rich's Mercury utilizes a standard 4x5 Graflok back, it is capable of accepting hundreds of current and vintage accessories, from the fast-shooting Grafmatic sheet film holder to 6x12 roll film holders (which shoot enormous panoramas on medium format roll film) to various instant film formats. This camera can shoot Polaroid and Fuji peel-apart film, the amazing New55PN film, Instax Wide (via a future Mercury kit), and much more. The Mercury is the smallest and lightest 4x5 Graflok camera ever made, so you can actually take it to those remote locations that beg to be photographed! This package includes the Mercury with a Graflok 45 back adapter, the Mercury Focusing Unit (to which hundreds of lenses can be mounted), two 20mm Front Spacers for lens versatility, a Universal Sportfinder for framing, and one Lens Kit that includes a lens adapter, lens tube, sportfinder reticule, focus scale, and depth of field scale, all matching a view camera lens of your choice from the Mercury Lens Database. This kit includes everything you need to shoot large format except the lens itself and a film holder or film back (an inexpensive rangefinder and shutter release cable are also recommended).

 

People matter most to Nina, and photography is her favorite way to bring people together. Instant photography is particularly magical, not only for the funky formats and magic of watching a photograph develop in front of your eyes, but because you can give away the resulting print. If the digital world is pulling people apart, instant photography can bring the magic of physical connection back. Unlike Fuji's Instax cameras, shooting Instax on a Mercury means you have full manual control over your photographs, as well as complete choice over your lenses: instead of a crappy plastic lens, you can use a high end Zeiss, a special portrait lens, a wild distortion lens, or anything else... Nina's package includes a Mercury camera with a standard medium format back (which can be used with any Graflok 23 film back, from Mercury or vintage suppliers), a Mercury Instax Mini back, a Mercury Focus Unit (to which hundreds of lenses can be mounted), a 20mm Front Spacer for lens versatility, a Universal Sportfinder for framing, and one Lens Kit that includes a lens adapter, lens tube, sportfinder reticule, focus scale, and depth of field scale, all matching a view camera lens of your choice from the Mercury Lens Database. This kit includes everything you need to shoot Instax Mini with a professional lens except the lens itself (an inexpensive rangefinder and shutter release cable are also recommended). With the addition of a medium format back, this configuration can shoot medium format film as well.

 

Max likes to experiment: with lenses, film formats, film processing, etc. He's tried it all, and found that the most versatile way to experiment is to shoot sheet film. While most people associate sheet film with large format, medium format sheet film exists as well, and is the format of choice for experimenters who want the small size and weight of a medium format camera. Brand new film from Ilford and Arista is available in this format. You can also cut down any 4x5 film to this format; this is the only way to shoot Arista's amazing orthochomatic film (Ortho 3.0) in medium format. Unlike roll film, sheet film is perfectly flat and can be developed immediately if you wish—no need to wait for the end of the roll! Because sheets can be individually processed, they are ideal for experimenting with different development times or formulas. You can also rate each photo at whatever ISO you need, for the equivalent processing later. In addition to everything included in the standard Rezza kit, this package includes two specially-machined 2x3 (i.e., 6x9) sheet film holders (each capable of holding two sheets of film) that conform to the Graflok 23 standard and can thus be mounted to the Mercury without the use of rubber bands to hold them in place. It also includes a plastic developing insert that can be used with any standard 16oz stainless steel film developing tank to easily develop up to four medium format sheets at a time (this is the easiest film format to develop; much easier even than roll film).

 

Here's a classic Max-configured Mercury camera. It includes everything you need to get out and shoot: This is a complete medium format Mercury kit (see the Rezza package) configured and calibrated to a vintage Kodak Ektar 101mm lens or a Trioptar 103mm lens--two of the best medium format view lenses we've tested. It also includes a Mercury 6x9 roll film back, a trigger release cable and a calibrated rangefinder. This ultimate medium format kit shows off the Mercury at its best! (Note: Because these lenses and shutters are used vintage gear, they are only guaranteed to work at shutter speeds between 1/10 and 1/200 of a second (in the case of the Trioptar, this is the complete range of its shutter speeds.)

 

Dave is a freak for precision. He wants the highest quality digital images, but also wants complete control over what he is shooting. Only a Mercury allows him to shoot on huge digital sensors with any lens he wants--no more being tied to one corporate brand! Plus, a Mercury configured for digital can always be modularly upgraded in the future, unlike expensive integrated digital cameras that become useless as soon as you want to upgrade one component. The modular Mercury accepts any professional digital back made for medium format camera systems (Phase One, Leaf, Hasselblad, Sinar, etc.). This kit includes a standard Mercury camera with a Contax back adapter and a Leaf Valeo 11 digital back. This digital back, which once cost over $15k, sports a full-frame 35mm CCD sensor (11 megapixels) that is significantly sharper and richer than most CMOS sensors produced for $4k cameras today. You will see the difference immediately. (Note: it's real limitation is in ISO: it is best at 50 or 100 ISO, and thus not as good as CMOS for low light photography.) This back can be tethered to any firewire capable Mac computer for full software control (as seen in the film), or can be used as a portable system with the included custom portability unit, which clips on your belt and records on the included compact flash card (not pictured). (Note: To power the back if not tethered to a computer, you will also need any portable 12 volt battery pack, readily available.)

This is a single camera that includes everything in the Dave 1 kit, but is upgraded to a Leaf Valeo 22 digital back, mounted on a metal Hasselblad H back adapter.  This is a "full frame" 645 digital sensor, designed for the most demanding professional work (magazines, billboards, etc.)  We pretty much consider this the ultimate digital camera.

What do you want the Mercury to do for you? This kit includes everything in both the Rezza (medium format) and Rich (large format) pack, plus two lens adapters, PLUS the design and fabrication of a custom part for you. Do you have a crazy, totally non-standard lens that would require a special adapter? A special format you want to shoot that isn't included here? Any other unique need? We will consult with you to create the part you need, as long as it is a reasonable size (no larger than the medium format Mercury itself) and possible to make. Materials will be 3D printed, or possibly machined, depending on the application.

Every Mercury camera has certain “highlight” components (the front bolt spacers, the sportfinder reticule, and the lens focus scale) that are available in several colors: blue (as pictured), black, yellow, and green. When we are near to ship time, you will receive a questionnaire on which you will give us your current mailing address and your highlight color choice.

Photo taken with a Mercury prototype on Fuji Velvia medium format roll film (6x8)
Photo taken with a Mercury prototype on Fuji Velvia medium format roll film (6x8)

In addition, various Add-On components are available. To purchase one or more of these, simply increase your pledge from the package price by the amount listed for the add-on, and email us to let us know what you would like to add to your reward.  Full details for Add-Ons are available on the Mercury site.

  • 6x9 Focus Calibration Back: $12
  • 6x9 Ground Glass Back: $40
  • 4x5 Limited Ground Glass Back: $45
  • Hasselblad V Back Adapter: $65
  • Mercury 23 Back Adapter: $45
  • Mercury 45 Back Adapter: $100
  • Mercury 6x9 120 Budget Back: $45
  • Mercury 35mm Panoramic Back: $45
  • Additional Lens Kit: $20
  • Lens adapter for Pentax 67, Mamiya 645, or Pentax 645 lenses (requires Ilex No. 4 shutter):  $80
  • Ultra wide angle lens board (for ultra wide view lenses): $25
  • (By popular demand) Instax Wide back for Graflok 23: $230
  • (By popular demand) Instax Wide back for Graflok 45: $250

  

Far more information, including sample photos, detailed specs, lens and back info, and eventually instructional videos will be posted on the official Mercury web site in the coming days, weeks, and months: www.mercurycamera.com

 

Photo taken with Mercury prototype on Kodak Portra 400 large format sheet film (4x5)
Photo taken with Mercury prototype on Kodak Portra 400 large format sheet film (4x5)

 

Risks and challenges

The Mercury system has been designed and tested over a two year period. We are quite confident that this camera functions as intended. Working prototypes of the main 6x9 and 4x5 configurations exist. There is little risk of the product failing entirely. Some of the Add On items are still in development, but we don't anticipate any major problems with those. In any case, if an add-on component doesn't turn out as expected, we can refund purchasers of that add-on without endangering the camera system as a whole.

More significant risks exist in the injection molding process. Mold companies can make mistakes and cause delays. We have carefully selected some components to be molded, and some to be 3D printed using high-end machines and materials. Items that would likely cause injection molding delays (anything with threads or insanely low tolerances) have been slated for 3D printing; items that cause 3D printing problems (warping, stress loads, etc.) have been slated for molding. We've done our best to make this easy to manufacture, but delays can and do frequently happen.

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    Supporter Circle- Your name on the Mercury website and exclusive backer-only updates on Kickstarter.

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    Super Supporter: Regular backer benefits plus a unique, numbered 6x9cm Velvia transparency photograph shot on a Mercury prototype.

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    REZZA: MEDIUM FORMAT MERCURY, Earlybird Special

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    REZZA: MEDIUM FORMAT MERCURY, Batch One

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    RICH: LARGE FORMAT MERCURY, Earlybird Special

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    MAX 1: MEDIUM FORMAT SHEET FILM KIT

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    RICH: LARGE FORMAT MERCURY, Batch One

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    RICH: LARGE FORMAT MERCURY, Batch Two

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    RICH: LARGE FORMAT MERCURY, Batch Three

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    NINA: INSTAX MINI

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    INSTAX WIDE BACK FOR GRAFLOK 45

    This is a back only--no camera is included! This is a heavily modified Belair Instant Back with a custom Mercury conversion to a standard Graflok 45 mount, usable on the Mercury large format back adapter and any other camera that uses this standard mount. The back sits 20mm farther back than the standard film plane, so spacer or bellows compensation is necessary. This back includes a full darkslide system. Now you can shoot Instax Wide on large format cameras!

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    NINA 2: INSTAX WIDE (not pictured)

    Includes the full Rezza package, plus an Instax Wide Back. Be aware that the back (for Graflok 23 mount used by the medium format Mercury) doesn't contain a darkslide. Photos and details to be added in an Update.

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    MAX 2: THE COMPLETE MERC PERK

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    MAX 3: THE COMPLETE MERC PERK- 127mm
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    The same as Max 2 (complete camera + rangefinder + lens + shutter + film back), but includes a Kodak Ektar 127mm f/4.7 lens instead. This longer lens also covers 4x5 (large format) if you want to shoot both formats.

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    MAX 4: THE COMPLETE LARGE FORMAT MERC PERK
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    The same as Max 2 and 3 (complete camera + rangefinder + lens + shutter + film back), but includes the full large format 4x5 kit instead of the medium format kit, and a Graflex 135mm lens.

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    DAVE 1: 35MM DIGITAL MERC

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    CUSTOM MERCURY

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    DAVE 2: MEDIUM FORMAT DIGITAL MERC

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Funding period

- (30 days)