Ross A. Alford
I don't like using a focusing cloth. Where I live it tends to be very warm, and it gets hot and sticky with your head under a focusing cloth. Using a focusing cloth is also a pain in the neck when it's windy, and the cloth acts like a sail if you leave it on the camera, increasing vibration. I find that I get a lot more smart-aleck remarks from random passers-by when I'm using one, too. To summarize, I really detest the things.
I have always thought it would be nice if the focusing hoods that typically accompany 4 X 5 cameras were more like the hoods on the old Graflex reflexes; those were deep enough so that you could put your face up against them, cutting off outside light, and focus quite effectively.
I recently built a focusing hood for my 4 X 5 Super Speed Graphic that works along similar lines. It has revolutionized my feelings about using that camera with ground-glass focusing; from a pain in the neck it has become a joy. All it takes is a smallish (44 X 21.5 cm in my case) sheet of corrugated plastic, 5 mm thick (this is the sort of stuff that real estate agents tend to have their signs made out of, at least where I live, it looks like the corrugated cardboard that shipping cartons are made from, but it is plastic and a lot more durable than corrugated cardboard), some flat black spray paint, and a piece of solid steel or aluminum (would be better, I suppose) wire about 2 mm thick by 21 mm long.
Simply use the pattern that accompanies this article. Cut out a rectangle of the material, oriented so that the corrugations in the plastic are parallel to the shorter axis of the piece. The exact measurements you need to use may vary somewhat from the ones I used; mine fits, with some pressure, into the space for the viewing hood of my Super Speed Graphic, other cameras may require slightly different sizes. Make the three half-depth cuts so that you can fold the ends to be dovetailed around next to one another. Trim those ends so that there is no extra plastic sticking beyond the end of the last corrugation. Cut the dovetail joints as indicated. Spray paint the whole thing with 2 coats of flat black paint on both sides, and be sure to bend the 3 cut joints while painting so that paint gets into the cracks and lightproofs them as well. Finally, when the paint is dry, fold it around, join the dovetail joint, and put the piece of wire through it, forming a hinge. The whole thing is now rectangular box, open at both ends, with cutouts for a better fit to your head at one end and a flat surface at the other to mate with the back of your camera. Remove the regular hood from your camera, press the new one into place, and enjoy focusing-cloth-less large format photography. The new hood will fold flat for easy carrying when it is detached from the camera.
Several modifications are possible to improve this device: