By chance I happened across an article written by a photographer using a hand held 4x5 camera for a journalism assignment. Shooting 4x5 handheld has always been an interest of mine, but more importantly having a method to focus the camera and correct for parallax would be ideal.
I have been shooting an Ebony 45SU for a number of years. When I travel, I usually want a lightweight and convenient package that is minimalist in nature and does not bog me down with lots of gear. Funny how things change, years a go I loved the backpack with 6 lenses, bellows, meters, and stuff. Now I want lightweight, minimalist and quick. I wanted a camera that would have "karma" and the right feel for my projects.
There is a guy named William Littman who converts old Polaroid 110B cameras to accept 4x5 film and make a full frame image. His conversions are unique with respect to others on the market. His solutions are elegant, well engineered and rock solid. Prices are very high and not for the faint of heart. Unfortunately my heart summoned and my wallet is much lighter to the tune of almost $3,000.00. There are a variety of Littman variants and models, all of which carry various price tags.
After a 3 month wait, my new Littman 45 Single II arrived. Despite the fact that the camera is constructed from a Polaroid 110B camera of unknown age and origin, I was pleased with the overall clean appearance and condition. The model that I ordered came complete with a 4x5 Graflok back and a ground glass. Although there are a half dozen lens alternatives available, I ordered Option I that included the original Polaroid Rodenstock Ysarex 127mm f/4.7 lens. This lens has an "old time" feel with a good amount of light fall off and a special softness at the edges. I had Mr. Littman modify the lens to improve the look of out of focus highlights sometimes also known as bokeh. The Rodenstock Ysarex is modified for option 1 in such a way to maintain its natural bokeh but sharpness is dramatically increased at focus point and the Rf cam is customized to interpret perfect focus at all distances.
Focusing is simple and accurate by means of a circular knob on the fold down bed. After pulling out the lens board and bellows, all one has to do is look thorough the coupled viewfinder and turn the knob. There is a split image bright yellow area in the viewfinder that allows for easy alignment and accurate focus.
I shoot 4x5 Polaroid Type 55 positive/negative film primarily with this camera. Although the Littman 45 Single is easily hand held, my choice of film almost always necessitates the use of a lightweight tripod. Shooting Tri-X TXP is another story and I recently wandered the streets of Nogales, Mexico with the Littman 45 Single handheld with excellent results.
Disaster recently hit when I inadvertently held the Littman 45 Single by the Polaroid sheet film holder I had inserted into the ground glass. My stomach cringed as I felt the camera slip from the holder and fall two feet to the asphalt parking lot as I was unloading my gear. As I picked up the camera I felt and heard parts freely moving about inside the rangefinder. A few pieces of glass fell from the camera and the focus mechanism would bind as I tried to move it. Here I was on the first day of a 10 day shoot along the Arizona/Mexico border. Serious depression was creeping in as I had only brought one camera with me on this shoot. Horror turned to depression, which turned to hope and panic as I loaded a sheet of T55 into the camera. I made a test shot and despite guessing at the focus as there were now two distinct split image focus areas, the resulting image looked fine. As it turned out, I had to make some tests to figure out where the actual focus was, the parallax coupling was not working and the shutter timing was now off by 1 stop.
After 7 days of shooting, I sent the camera back to the manufacturer with an embarrassing letter explaining what happened. I was told that I caused approximately $1000 of damage, but the camera would be repaired under warranty. Three weeks later the camera arrived at my office and I am once again making pictures.
The Littman 45 Single is not for everyone due its high price tag. There are other conversions on the market that less expensive. I have tried two of these and found that they do not perform as the Littman 45 Single does. If you are looking for a hand held, light weight, coupled rangefinder 4x5 camera with parallax correction, I would suggest that you give the Littman 45 Single a shot. I have found that this camera is very special and has that karma that tells me things are just right.
Palladium 4x5 made with Littman 45 Single