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Thread: Using a variety of lenses on a 4x5 rangefinder/press camera

  1. #1
    Corran's Avatar
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    Using a variety of lenses on a 4x5 rangefinder/press camera

    So I was thinking today about doing some specialized band/club/event photography using 4x5. I really love shooting b&w band shots and there seems to be a burgeoning market for both high-quality images and especially more unique ones...

    Anyway, I was looking at Speed Graphics, Busch Model D, and other press cameras with a rangefinder for focusing. The rangefinder is only going to work for the focal length of the lens provided, so is it at all possible to reconfigure the RF "on the fly" for using different lenses?

    I'm thinking a simple 3-lens kit would be enough for my needs, of course being wide/normal/long.

    Is this at all possible? Or am I just fantasizing?
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    Unwitting Thread Killer Ari's Avatar
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    Re: Using a variety of lenses on a 4x5 rangefinder/press camera

    A Wista RF will do what you need.
    There is rangefinder focusing for 135mm, 150mm, and 180mm lenses, and you don't have to change cams or anything; just turn a knob to the appropriate FL.
    It's more expensive than SGs or their ilk, and it really works best with newer Nikon lenses, but that would be the best way to go, financial considerations aside.

  3. #3
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    Re: Using a variety of lenses on a 4x5 rangefinder/press camera

    Cool, I will check that out. Problem is I was hoping to use slightly more varied lenses, something like 90-150-210 or possibly even wider/longer. I know from research very wide lenses can be used on the Graphic. I guess I could simply guess for wider lenses after marking various focus distances from testing since I'd have more DOF to play with.

    I have this image in my mind's eye that will require my 58mm Schneider....
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    Re: Using a variety of lenses on a 4x5 rangefinder/press camera

    Quote Originally Posted by Corran View Post
    Is this at all possible? Or am I just fantasizing?
    It is possible.

    The late Pacemaker Speed and Crown graphic cameras with the top rangefinder use drop-in cams to allow the rangefinder to be reconfigured for different lenses. But the cams are small and fiddly, in addition to being hard to find.

    The Super Speed Graphic, which followed the Pacemaker, had a larger and easier to find cam system.

    Linhof Technikas also use replaceable cams in their rangefinders, though the cams are custom-ground for each lens and may be hard to find for any given lens without getting Linhof to grind a new one. There is no doubt that this was the best of the cam-configured rangefinders, though.

    Most other press cameras used a Kalart rangefinder, which can be calibrated for any lens but cannot be reconfigured in the field. Some older rangefinder, such as the Hugo Meyer, cannot be reconfigured even on the bench. They are designed for the supplied lens, usually a 135mm.

    The standard trick, though, is to provide several focus scales, one for each lens, on the focus rail. Then, focus using the rangefinder, read the distance from the focus scale calibrated to the rangefinder, and transfer that distance to the focus rail for the lens in use. This is cumbersome for me.

    I have a top-rangefinder Speed Graphic that I've been playing with. The current project (sort-of on hold until I have time to fabricate a couple of pieces I can't seem to find) is to mount a Kalart on the side to go with the top rangefinder. The top rangefinder is already cammed for the 127 that came with the camera, and it's accurate. I will calibrate the Kalart for the 8-1/2" Paragon that I will use for people pictures. I also have a 90 for that camera, but that one is short enough to scale focus. That gives me 90, 127, and 215, which is about what you are describing. But it requires some surgery. The top-rangefinder box already has the openings and screw holes for mounting the Kalart--that part is easy. But it does not have the screw holes for the follower on the focus rail in which the RF actuator arm sits. That's what I need to fabricate when I get around to it. Round tuits are hard to come by these days.

    If I was prepared to spend real money, I'd probably research which Linhof would provide the cheapest way to get into a cammed RF for which the cams I need can be found. Technikas have always been too expensive for the goofy applications I have in mind for a press camera, though, so I just don't know which model to suggest.

    Rick "who really ought to buy a 4x5 Speed with a Kalart already on it to get the right pieces" Denney

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    Re: Using a variety of lenses on a 4x5 rangefinder/press camera

    Another thought might be an old Rollie with f2.8 lenses.


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    Re: Using a variety of lenses on a 4x5 rangefinder/press camera

    Quote Originally Posted by Corran View Post
    I have this image in my mind's eye that will require my 58mm Schneider....
    Not many press-style camera will handle a lens that short. Maybe a Technika, but I'd doubt any others. The problem is whether the bed will drop far enough to get out of the picture. The drop bed on a Graphic was designed to avoid a 90mm, not something as short as a 58.

    Rick "who didn't know about the Wista" Denney

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    Re: Using a variety of lenses on a 4x5 rangefinder/press camera

    Ah, of course! I don't have enough experience with RFs to think up that "trick." Perhaps this isn't such a bad idea...

    I will also look for a Super Speed + cams and see what I come up with.

    I'm also not prepared to spend the money on a Linhof for this idea.

    By the way Rick, I noticed many busted-up Graphics on ebay, some with Kalart RFs, so you might check that out for parts...

    I didn't think about the bed, I was just looking at minimum flange-focal distance. Dang. Well still perhaps there are other options.
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    Re: Using a variety of lenses on a 4x5 rangefinder/press camera

    Cameras like the Mamiya Universal/Super Press with a 6x9 back can make a more practical system. For live action (instead of posing) there is a reason smaller and smaller formats have been successful....

    You might do best with the standard 135mm set-up and sneaker-powered zooming. More reliable, the cameras and rangefinders are really designed for that focal length, that's why the press photographers of their day used them like that. With butt-kicking flashbulbs that pumped out f/16 ala WeeGee. With ISO 400 film you might be able to stop down even more and that would forgive a lot of errors.

    I have my doubts that a Kalhart or top rangefinder Crown can accurately focus a wide-open 210mm for reliable, consistent portraits, especially of "real people" instead of static models. Maybe a Linhof, but not only does the rangefinder need to be right on, but your technique and where you choose to focus really matters a lot (triangulating the distance gives you at least a little - inches - of flub).

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    Re: Using a variety of lenses on a 4x5 rangefinder/press camera

    Good points Frank. I know smaller formats are the smart way to go, but I want to do something crazy...

    Flashbulbs are another thing to think about. I am researching WG's methods and such.
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    Re: Using a variety of lenses on a 4x5 rangefinder/press camera

    Quote Originally Posted by Frank Petronio View Post
    I have my doubts that a Kalhart or top rangefinder Crown can accurately focus a wide-open 210mm for reliable, consistent portraits, especially of "real people" instead of static models.
    I agree. The f/4.5 of that Paragon is fun to play with, but probably only for tripods and ground glass. It's one of those "f/8 and be there" sorts of situations when hand-held. But it's a fund project even if it doesn't work out.

    I have made Fujiroids with the camera using that lens, but not wide open and not with rangefinder focusing. That f/4.5 makes using the ground glass a lot easier, though. Of course, Fujiroids are no test of critical focus.

    Rick "trying it just for fun" Denney

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