2x3 Cameras : a round-up

By Q.-Tuan Luong for the Large Format Page

Summary: a discussion of the 2x3 format, and a survey of 2x3 field and view cameras arranged by category and prices.

This survey is about cameras of 2x3 format which operate like 4x5 and larger view/field cameras, with bellows, movements, and ground glass. Although technically those cameras are Medium Format, the techniques and mindset that are required to use them make them an integral part of the Large Format photography experience.

Some of the cameras described here are just scaled-down version of a 4x5, so look at the 4x5 round-up for more details and links which are omitted here.

Advantages of 2x3

Drawbacks of 2x3

Flatbed/Field/Technical cameras

Monorail/Non folding cameras

A few comments

by G. Hugh Song

Cambo SC I: To my surprise, you can buy one new from Calumet as a special order. I'd rather buy Toyo 23G view at that price, though. The latter is also a special-order item, I think. Really the same as current-model Calumet 45NX except the size. Focusing knobs are exceptionally smooth although they do not have rack-and-pinion. I think it has a roller-type mechanism which is as good, if not better, as the rack-and-pinion. Universal back. It means that you have to take out the ground glass in order to attach the Graflok back. It also means that, if you can obtain a Graflarger lamp assembly, you can convert the camera into an enlarger. (I don't know the detail.) Interchangeable bellows.

Galvin View. There were two models. One has a combination of 9 cm and 5 cm monorails, the other only has a 9 cm rail. Actually, they are the same. Galvin himself described the 9 cm model a bust. You set up the camera on the 5cm rail for transport. It is then so small that you might even hand-hold the camera for landscapes. Maybe the smallest view camera ever made. Bellows are not intechangeable. No wide-angle bellows were made, although the one at which I took a look had a modified bellows. A bag bellows was transplanted in the middle of the standard bellows after incising a good portion of it. Rail holders of the front and rear standards have a teflon-like material so that the teflon can wrap around the rail rod in order to make the slide smooth. The one at which I took a look seemed to have worn teflon. The two standards were wobbly. Focusing is by rack and pinion with a knob on the front standard. Some has a Fresnel focusing back, which was an upgrade item. I saw an advertizement which included the polaroid back.

General Caveats of 6x9cm view cameras: Not many lenses are specifically designed for view cameras of this size. For example, suppose that you want 47mm, 75mm, 125mm, 210mm (which correspond to your favorite set of 75mm, 135mm, 210mm, ? for 4x5"-size view cameras.) Among the new lenses on the market, only Schneider makes 47mm Super Angulon. Note that most 75mm lenses are of wide-angle formula design, which are about twice as expensive as the planar-design lenses if we compare the same speed lenses. There is Horseman-brand Super ER 75mm f/5.6 of planar-type design (multi- coated) with a focusing cam specifically designed for Horseman's VHR and ER. Note that many 4x5" users prefer Symmar-type lenses for their 135mm applications. Note also that the focal length of 135mm is the most used, most popular among 4x5 users in rec.photo land. Rodenstock makes 75mm f/6.8 6-element wide-angle-formula lenses which are cheaper and has slightly less image-circle than f/5.6 or f/4.5 wide-angle lenses of 7 or 8-element designs. Two good points of using a 75mm wide-angle lens with a roll back or a 6x9cm view camera are that you do not need a center filter which is about $200 in addition to the price of the lens itself, and that you still have a huge image circle even with the f/6.8 lens. Obviously, you lose on the on-axis sharpness. Unlike the case of 4x5" view cameras with the spring mechanism, There is no problem with a Graflok back scratching the ground glass of 6x9cm size. The Graflock back touches the frame area of the ground glass. You just have to make sure that the spring opening has enough clearance in case that 6x9cm view camera you are considering has a spring back. Galvin fits this description. Cambo SC I has a universal back. So you remove the ground glass and attach the Graflok back.

Polaroid backs: The usual polaroid backs for 4x5" cameras do not fit on the 6x9cm-camera Graflok back. Horseman's polaroid back needs an adapter for its polaroid back whose film plane is not at the same location as the location of non- polaroid films. The whole back assembly which has rails for the Graflok back has to be removed. This means if the original manufacturer (in my case, Cambo) does not supply the adapter, then you are out of luck.

By Bill Glickman

Beware to all potential 2x3 view camera buyers. There is one thing quite often over looked with this decision - lens sharpness of med. format vs. large format. I shoot large format 4x5 and 8x10 and have noticed when I use my 6x9 roll film back on my 4x5 with the best lenses made, Super symar XL's for example, they still do not compare in sharpness with shots from my Mamiya 7 camera in 6x7 format. Large format has better detail due to the size of the format, however, when you use inferior lenses on smaller formats such as 6x9, you loose a lot of sharpness. Good medium format lenses are much sharper than all large format lenses compared on the same format. After seeing these results with my loupe many times, this is what prevented me from going to the 2x3 camera. It probably is one of the main reasons that this format has become very rare relative to 4x5. In addition, it still seems better in every way to just go 4x5 and then buy a roll film back, it gives you the option of either format, and if you buy the right field camera, there is little difference in size. In addition 4x5 field camera will usually offer better movements as well as accessories. Of course I am not overlooking the one benefit of 2x3 view cameras vs. med. format, movements.. Some med. format cameras now incorporate some movements, but are very expensive. I hope this adds some insight to anyone thinking of going 2x3...? Good luck..

by Glenn C. Kroeger

I would like to counter Bill's warning with another viewpoint. I don't doubt Bill's observation that his Mamiya 7 images show better sharpness than his SymmarXL. But it is not because MF lenses are inherently sharper than LF lenses AT THE APERTURES USED IN LANDSCAPE photography. MF lenses are designed to reach diffration limits at fairly wide apertures, like f/5.6 to f/8 since they are often used at these apertures (few weddings are shot at f/22). The tradeoff is coverage and edge performance. LF lenses are designed to reach diffration limits at apertures generally from f/16 to f/22, some of the newer Apo wide angle and "digital" lenses from Rodenstock and Schneider reach diffraction limits at f/11. Thus, if you are shooting at f/22 all of these lenses will have the same resolving power in the "center" which, for the LF lenses, will cover your entire frame of roll-film. The Mamiya is exceptional because it is a rangefinder design. Thus, like LF lenses, its wide angle and normal lenses don't have to be retro-focus designs to clear a swinging mirror. Comparing wide-angle LF lenses to wide-angle MF lenses for reflex cameras at the same aperture shows no advantage, and in some cases a noticible disadvantage to the MF lenses at apertures smaller than f/11. There is a reason Hasselblad makes the SWC! The problem with using roll-film on a view camera is that diffraction also limits resolution as you stop down. Thus, while f/22 is great on 4x5, you want to avoid it if possible when using shorter lenses and smaller formats. For roll-film, anything smaller than f/16 will cause your LF lenses to produce less than their optimal performance. Luckily, assuming you use lenses about 2/3 as long on roll-film (ie a 75mm instead of a 110mm in 4x5) you gain about one f-stop of depth of field (assuming constant ration between radius of circle-of-confusion and film diagonal). So you can and should use f/16 or wider. This takes practice if you are used to using f/22 to f/32 in larger formats. The Mamiya, at f/8 or f/11 will be sharper because of less diffraction effect, and the fact that its lenses are already diffraction limited (at least in the center) by those apertures. Another factor is film flattness. The Mamiya has an excellent film path. Many roll-film backs have real flatness problems. It really pays to use good (Toyo, Horseman or Sinar if your loaded) roll-film backs. With the standard Horseman back, you should waste the next frame if the film has been sitting in the back very long since the last exposure as it tends to acquire a curl on the rollers. You also need to carefully and OPTICALLY calibrate the alignment between your groundglass (gg) and the film plane. You do this optically using the technique described by Robert Zeichner in View Camera a few years back. This is the only way to properly take fresnel screens into account. Accuracy of focus is more critical in the smaller film size, and again the Mamiya has an advantage here with its rangefinder. Finally, you need to buy the best LF lenses made. No warm fuzzy blasts-from-the-past allowed. The newest apo designs pay off in roll-film work. And, by the way, it is also not a general truth that larger coverage equals poorer central performance. In lens design, central performance is usually not a trade-off for corner performance, but rather a pre-requisite for corner performance. MTF curves for the f/4.5 series wide-angles from Schneider and Rodenstock all achieve diffraction limits in the field center by f/16, and in some cases by f/11. In summary, don't be scared of roll-film with LF cameras and lenses. Scanned on a Tango and printed on a LightJet5000, color roll-film images are virtually indistinguishable from 4x5 images at print sizes less than 20x24. For B&W zone work, stick to sheets! If you do use roll-film on a view camera, follow these steps: 1. Buy the best, latest-design, apo lenses you can get. 2. Get high quality roll-film backs. 3. Optically calibrate your groundglass to your roll-film backs (if they aren't the same, get new ones!) 4. Change your shooting technique if you are coming from 4x5. Avoid apertures smaller than f/16 if you can and remember you get about one extra stop of depth-of-field. 5. Enjoy more portability, not loading sheetfilm holders, not paying for QuickLoad, not cleaning sheetfilm holders, not trying to find good used Grafmatic backs, not cleaning Grafmatic backs, Velvia Provia IIIF, faster shutter speeds with Velvia on windy days, less camera cross-section on windy days, f4.5 wide angles that don't break your back, the 55mm Apo-Grandagon lens, and bracketing like crazy on that once in a lifetime sunset.

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