Review of Gowland Pocket Camera
By Jared Radin for
the Large Format Page
I have used the Gowland Pocket Camera for several months, and so far
I'm very happy with it. I do a lot of hiking and travel, so size and
weight are extremely important to me. I've made a few simple modifications
to the camera and I have learned how to better use the camera with time.
I am not an "expert" so as with everything on the Internet, please take all
opinions with a grain of salt. I am interested in feedback, so please let
me know if you have a differing or the same opinion.
Notes about the camera design.
- Many of the movements depend on the specific features ordered.
- Loosening the two bolts on the side on the lensboard allows rise, fall,
and tilt. The same bolt allows replacement of the lensboard.
- Swings and shift are obtained by loosening the bolt with the large metal
handle on front standard (The handle is barely visible in second picture).
- The handle at the back of the camera allows rear tilt.
- The film back can be moved into a horizontal or vertical position
by loosening four screws in the rear frame .
- The standard MONORAIL consists of one or two 8" tubes.
The front tube has a grove for the focusing mechanism.
- Reasonable cost of around $600, but it's gone up to $700.
- Light weight, 2.75 Pounds (more details follow)
- Small size, approx. 6" x 8" x 2.75" (more details follow).
- Especially for it's weight, if feels very solid and rigid.
- Friction focusing feels good.
- Tilts, swings, etc. are easy to adjust.
- There is a greater range of movements than with many folding field
- With the exception of the groundglass and bellows the camera is
100% metal, mostly aluminum, so the camera should withstand a lot of
- If you are mechanically inclined, it's relatively easy to make
design changes (replacing Allen head screws with hand-turnable screws,
WEAKNESSES WHICH CAN EASILY BE FIXED BY THE SEMI-MECHANICALLY
- Many items I consider to be weaknesses can be eliminated by making
at least some of simple changes outlined in the next section.
- I feel changing the back between vertical and horizontal is a bit clumsy.
The back is held on by four screws, which need to be loosened for the back to be repositioned.
- Getting the camera into neutral positions is not fool proof as on
other cameras. The camera does not snap into any of the neutral
positions and they are not marked. When assembling the camera one needs
to always visually check the front rise/fall, front tilt, rear tilt, and
rotation (on the monorail axis) of the camera back relative to the front
of the camera, and the front swing/shift. In my opinion a small price to pay
to save a few pounds.
CUSTOMIZATIONS FEW WOULD WANT, MAY ADD CONSIDERABLY TO THE COST, OR
- On the rear block, I replaced the Allen head bolt with a levered
bolt Peter Gowland mailed me. Now I can detach/attach the back of
the camera to the monorail without a tool. To me it's well worth
the $10 and the extra weight (probably less than 1/2 oz.).
- On the focusing block I replaced an Allen head screw with a screw
with a small knob so it can be turned by hand. Now I can adjust the
friction without a tool.
- This applies especially if you use a 210mm to 300mm lens. Instead of an
8.5" tube I strongly recommend special ordering a tube longer than the focal
length of your longest lens if it will fit in your camera case. For a 210mm
lens I've been much happier since ordering a 10.5" tube, which
allows me to focus to about 7 feet. (a 12" tube would have been better if it
had fit in my camera case). To me connecting the two 8.5" monorail tubes is
clumsy. It's especially clumsy if the camera is already set up with a single
tube for wide angle shooting, and you switch to a longer lens. I don't mind
connecting the two tubes for the rare close-up shot with my 210mm lens.
- Neutral positions are not marked. Setting up is easier after I marked
the neutral position for rise/fall on the front standard.
- Had a MAJOR problem with the focusing block. One screw came out.
Tightened the other three screws and then could not insert the
monorail in the focusing block! Went to a good hardware store and got
four longer screws, and reassembled putting a washer under the brass
strip between the focusing block and screw heads. This solved the
problem. This is the only example I found of sloppy workmanship
and/or design, leaving the screws very loose so focusing will work.
Since then I got a new 10.5" monorail, and I had to remove the washers,
and leave the screws slightly loose. Since the replacement screws were
longer than the originals, I've had no problems, even without the washers.
I'm planning to get some very thin washers.
- I suggest that camera owners assemble a spare part kit of each of
the small screws that could fell out. Most of the screws cost about
20 cents. A trip to Ace hardware and/or Home Depot resulted in usable
parts, but I a large local hardware store might have a better
selection of parts. The only screws I've had problems with are the
four holding the camera back on for V/H adjustment (replaced three screws)
and the small screws on the focusing block (replaced one, and none after
replacing with longer screws). There is potential for a few other screws
and knobs getting loose. In all my cases of lost screws, the camera was
usable even if the screw replacement had been delayed, and the lost screws
were sometimes found in the bottom of the camera case.
- To save on cost the camera does not have a grid on the ground
glass. Mr. Gowland suggested penciling in a grid with a pencil on the
dull side of the ground glass.
- A company that took over Graflex makes the camera back, and the
back has been on the market for at least fifty years, so it's a solid
design. But to me, with four screws to adjust, changing between V/H
is very rough compared with my Tachiera camera.
- A customization a few lightweight freaks would desire would be to
make the camera thinner by offering a 12" bellows instead of the 16"
bellows and/or making the bellows out of an expensive thinner
- The camera is small enough as is, but too me, it would be nice if
the camera when packed could be made a little smaller by easily
rotating or removing the rear block.
As received it was 2.7 pounds, a little less than I expected, as the
camera without rear tilt and no V/H back is advertised at 2.5 pounds,
a little less if you only need the 8" monorail (good for a 150mm lens
when not doing close-ups).
This gets complicated, as there are several ways of measuring the
- 6 x 6.25 x 2.75 is the size quoted to me by Peter Gowland.
- 6 x 9 x 2.75 is my measurement for the basic camera. The
additional measurement is due to small projections including (a) four
screws sticking out to allow V/H adjustments. (b) Two projections
allowing easier lifting of the film back when inserting film holders.
(c) Two 2" (semi-removable) blocks that attach the camera to the
- It seems to take up far less room in the camera case than my
measurements would indicate, as even though a 6" x 9" x 2.75" box is
necessary for the camera, other accessories can be stored within this
volume. Also if the rear and front blocks are unscrewed (which in my
opinion is difficult), it can be made darn close to 6" x 6.25" x
2.75", a few thin 8" tubes, and the three small blocks.
More Information and a brochure can be obtained from:
Peter Gowland, 609 Hightree Road, Santa Monica, CA. 90402
Phone 1-310-454-7867 Fax: 1-310-454-6779
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