Is a DIY WeeGee Era Flash possible?
July 23, 2009 8:49 AM   Subscribe

How can I fake the tools of the 1930/40s paparazzi trade? You know what I mean, those wonderful speed cameras with the huge flashes. Assuming I can come up with some kind of land or speed camera, all I need is the flash. But flashbulbs are expensive, and vintage flash equipment is hard to come by - thanks, Star Wars fans! So might it be possible to build my own WeeGee-esque flash gun? Perhaps the body could be steel or copper tubing, plus a scavenged reflector of some sort. Where I'm stuck is the flash itself and the means of making it pop.

Above all that, it would be a bonus to simulate the classic snap-and-sizzle sound. (You'd think there'd be something of this sort on Make or Instructables, but so far I'm coming up empty.)

Oh, and this is primarily for use as an on-stage theatre prop, though if someone could actually make this thing work as a for-reals flash, all the better.
posted by grabbingsand to Technology (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
this might offer a starting point. You could use an actual reflector if you had the guts of it down. I'd imagine the sound would just be that faint whine and pop of disposable camera flashes, though.
posted by peachfuzz at 9:06 AM on July 23, 2009

ha! I'm one of those star wars fans. But seriously, the star wars folks are only interested in three or four types of flash holders, and the rest you can still find cheaply at camera shows and flea markets.

As far as making one... you could probably use chromed sink parts for the handle (star wars folks regularly make hardware lightsaber [example] hilts out of sink kits).

As far as the flash reflector goes, a small, shallow metal bowl would a pretty good start. Maybe check a kitchen specialty store for something like this. Or, you can buy a cheap work light at a hardware store that has a similarly shaped reflector. It would be a little oversized, but that may work in your favor for theatre.

The cockeyed article linked above is great for reusing flash components. If you wanted to go high tech, it wouldn't be too hard to build and program an Arduino circuit that fires an array of white LEDs while playing a sound effect. There are tons of tutorials online for this sort of thing, but it definitely helps if you (or a friend) has some background in these things.

Good luck!
posted by mattybonez at 9:42 AM on July 23, 2009

I see you are near Atlanta; you might want to check out KEH, one of the largest used photo dealers around.
posted by TedW at 9:42 AM on July 23, 2009

FYI, you do realize that you can buy a working Speed Graphlex, with accessories, and real flash bulbs, from dealers like Classic Camera, US for about $375.00, don't you? See the "Commercial Sites" section of for additional sources.

As opposed to the time and hassle of engineering a convincing substitute yourself, and since you're not needing film, or processing, and just plan to use it as a prop, it might be easier/cheaper/more authentic to just buy the real thing, pop some real flash bulbs in front of your audience, and then sell the camera at the end of your run, recouping most of your outlay.
posted by paulsc at 11:59 AM on July 23, 2009

For the actual flash, it shouldn't be hard to gut a regular old photo flash and use it. Mount the flash tube in the bowl, the guts in the tube, and run the test button to wherever you need it. If there's no test button on the old flash you find, you can fire it by shorting two of the hotshoe pins together.
posted by chazlarson at 12:01 PM on July 23, 2009

You could rig up the flash unit from a disposable camera, if you're handy enough. Be sure to remove the battery and discharge the capacitor before touching the circuit board, or else you'll get zapped. (Short-circuit the capacitor contacts with an insultated screwdriver -- be ready for the possibility of a big pop and sparks if it's fully charged.) Wire up a AA battery, short the "charge" button, and then you just have to short the trigger contacts (two metal strips that protrude into the camera shutter) to flash. The Kodak Powerflash cameras have a heftier flash, as the name implies (120µF cap instead of 80µF).
posted by neckro23 at 3:11 PM on July 23, 2009

Oh yes, and I haven't (yet) tried actually doing anything with those flash units after defanging them, so it's possible that shorting the capacitor will damage it. The alternative, as I understand it, is to get a high-watt power resistor (you know, the funny-looking ceramic type) and bridge the capacitor leads with that.
posted by neckro23 at 3:15 PM on July 23, 2009

« Older Professional Writing Program   |   Tattoo in Philly Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.