Graphic / Graflex FAQ

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William Caloccia and Timothy Takahashi

with additional material from

Table of Contents

Introduction: History of the Graphic and Graflex Cameras

There is a tendency for the name ``Speed Graphic'' to be used to denote any ``press'' style camera. The Speed Graphic was manufactured by Graflex, a Rochester, New York based camera producer. It was the dominant portable professional camera from the 1930's through the end of the 1950's.

The Speed Graphics and their brethren, the ``Crown Graphic'' and ``Century Graphic`' are remarkable cameras capable of the highest quality of work. The Speed Graphic has not been manufactured since 1973 and most photographers today are unable to make a direct comparison*. In many ways, the Speed Graphic was America's first and last great camera.

The Speed Graphic was engineered for general purpose commercial photography such as wedding, portaiture, product, documentary, advertising and landscape photography. Otha Spencer writes in Shutterbug,

After the war, I bought a Pacemaker Speed Graphic and started a commercial and portrait studio. With the Speed Graphic, a 4x5 Super-D Graflex, one reflector flood light, one background light and a primitive darkroom, I became a commercial photographer.

The Speed Graphic camera has two shutters - focal plane and in-lens; three viewfinders - optical, wire frame and ground glass; interchangeable lenses; a rise and fall front; lateral shifts; a coupled rangefinder; and a double extension bellows adaptable to lenses from 90mm to over 300mm.

The Speed Graphic looks complicated, but is a one of the simplest and most flexible cameras made. Afflicted by a ``Rube Goldberg'' variety of features - three viewfinders! - you prove your skill everytime you use it. Nothing in the Graphic is automated; if you don't pay attention you can double expose, shoot blanks, fog previous exposures or shoot out of focus images. However, once you get used to it, it is amazingly easy to use.

The older Graflex SLR with its patented focal plane shutter and reflex focusing had been so successful as a press camera that the Graflex company set out to design a camera specifically for the emerging ``press'' photographer. The result was the original Speed Graphic of 1912.

The concept of having two separate shutters was a new idea. The focal plane shutter was the same as used in the Graflex, the front in-lens shutter provided extra versatility. Because both shutters can not be used at the same time, there is possibility of confusion. Experienced Speed Graphic users find selection of shutters second nature.

In 1940, Graflex announced the Anniversary Speed Graphic with Kodak Anastigmat (or the then all-new Ektar) lens. The new features included the coupled rangefinder and flash solenoid to use the then popular flashbulb. The bed would drop past horizontal, allowing the use of the then new wide angle lenses.

The Speed Graphic was the still camera of World War II, and took many famous images striking today for their technical and artistic beauty. On the home front, Arthur Fellig, aka. Weegee, prowled the streets of New York with his Speed Graphic. He writes in his 1945 monograph Naked City:

The only camera I use is a 4x5 Speed Graphic with a Kodak Ektar lens in a Supermatic Shutter. All-American made. The film I use is Kodak Super-Panchro Press B. I always use a flashbulb for my pictures which are mostly taken at night...

If you are puzzled about the kind of camera to buy, get a Speed Graphic.... for two reasons.... it is a good camera, and moreover.... with a camera like that the cops will assume that you belong on the scene and will let you get behind police lines.

In 1947, the Pacemaker Speed Graphic was introduced bristling with new features such as a body mounted shutter release and simplified focal plane shutter (now with 6 normal speeds rather than the 24 speeds possible before).

The ``Graflok'' back, with a metal focusing hood and removable ground glass was introduced in 1949. This back, the standard for 4x5" view cameras today accepts sheet film holders, roll film adaptors, the now obsolete film pack, cut film magazines (the Grafmatic) and the Polaroid back.

The Speed Graphic, like other ``press'' cameras is designed to be operated either handheld or on a tripod. In this sense, there is a kinship between the Speed Graphic and 35mm gear. In the larger format world ``kinship to 35mm'' can not be considered equivalence of features or toys. The 4x5" Speed Graphic could not be farther from modern 35mm gear in terms of construction or configuration. Yet with a Grafmatic one can go shoot six successive images handheld using shutter speeds as high as 1/1000 sec.

The company name changed several times over the years as it was absorbed and then released by the Kodak empire, finally becoming a division of the Singer Corporation and then dissolved in 1973. The award winning Graflex plant in suburban Pittsford, New York is still standing and is home to the MOSCOM Corporation.

Years Manufacturer
188?-1904 Folmer & Schwing Manufacturing Co., NY, NY
1905-1927 Folmer & Schwing Div., Eastman Kodak Co. Rochester, NY
1928-1946 Folmer Graflex Corp., Rochester, NY
1946-1955 Graflex Inc., Rochester, NY
1956-1968 Graflex Inc., Div. General Precision Equipment, Rochester, NY
1968-1973 Graflex Inc., Div. SINGER CORPORATION
1973 Tooling bought by Toyo Co.

Post 1940 Graphic style cameras may be considered usable cameras, rather than antique or collectible cameras. The Speed Graphic was manufactured in a number of sizes, 4x5" being the most common, but also in 2.25x3.25" 3.25x4.25" and 5x7"

Produced Model name and description
1958-1973 Super Graphic
1961-1970 Super Speed Graphic (Graflex-1000 1/1000 front shutter)
All metal body, including flash computer, electric shutter release, front standard had swing capability, & featured revolving back. [NO focal plane shutter !]
1947-1973 Pacemaker Crown Graphics (4x5, 3.25x4.25, 2.25x3.25)
1947-1970 Pacemaker Speed Graphics (4x5, 3.25x4.25, 2.25x3.25)
1949-1970 Century Graphic (2.25x3.25)
Post war brought coated lens and lenses in shutters, body release, folding infinity stops. The plastic bodied Century Graphic and mahogany/metal Crown Graphic were w/o focal plane shutters. Imported 2.25" cameras led to the design of the roll film holders, and the Graflok back (1949). Flat bar viewfinder, followed by flexible wire viewfinder. Side mounted rangefinder replaced by top rangefinder on 4x5" Graphics in 1955.
1940-1946 Anniversary Speed Graphic (3.25x4.25 and 4x5")
No grey metal exposed, satin black with chrome trim. Wartime model: no chrome. Bed and Body track rails linked, allowing focusing of wide angle lens w/in body. Solid wire frame viewfinder.
1939-1946 Miniature Speed Graphic (1st small 2.25x3.25" model)
1928-1939 ``Pre-Anniversary'' Speed Graphic (3.25x4.25, 4x5, 5x7)
4x5 - wire hoop viewfinder has curved top
1912-1927 ``Top Handle'' Speed Graphic 3.25x4.25, 4x5, 3.25x5.5, 5x7

Where to Get a Speed Graphic?

Since we are talking about 30-50 year old equipment, you can't buy one at your local K-Mart. The best way to find a Speed Graphic or related camera is to purchase a copy of Shutterbug Magazine and peruse the ads, or visit your local camera flea market.

Recent prices vary widely from $300 and up for a beat Speed Graphic to $150 for a Crown Graphic in great shape with Kodak 127mm f4.7 lens, filters, 11 normal 4x5 film holders; 1 4x5 film pack adaptor, flash, bulbs, and case.

Similar cameras by other manufacturers

The Wista 45RF and Linhof Master Technica are more suitable for ``Press'' camera use than the others, as both have range finders. The Wista has a revolving back (a la the Super Graphic). While the Linhof is similar to the Pacemaker Crown Graphics, and it has much more movement available and any ``Press'' Graphic did.

The Toyo 45a Field Camera ($1550) and Horseman 45FA Camera ($2700) are also similar. There are other 4x5 Field Cameras, but they are more of the classic wood box tradition, and are generally not constructed so as to be suitable for hand-holding.

Lens Buying Guide

Lenses for a 4x5" are specialized.

The major American view camera lens manufacturers are Kodak, Wollensak (OEM supplier for Graflex), and Ilex. Bausch and Lomb was a manufacturer in the pre-war period. Other common manufacturers are Carl Zeiss Jena, Schneider-Kreuznach and Meyer-Goerz-Optik.

In discussing the various post WWII coated lenses mention should also be given to German suppliers. Due to manufacturing, supply, and legal problems, there were relatively few post-war Zeiss Tessars made.

You can group view camera lenses into 4 broad categories:

  1. General Purpose lenses

    For work 4'-infinity - mostly older lenses, these are usually of the ``tessar'' type and can be fairly fast (f/4.5)

    Manufacturer Lens Brand Shutter Typical Focal Lengths
    Kodak Ektar Supermatic 127, 152
    Schneider Xenar Syncho Compur 127, 135, 150, 180
    Graflex Optar Graphex 135, 162, 210
    Graflex Optar Synchro Compur 135
    Wollensak Raptar Rapax 127, 135, 162, 190, 210
    Ilex Acutar (various) 165
    Rodenstock Ysarex Prontor 127
    Schneider Xenotar Synchro Compur 135
    Zeiss Planar Synchro Compur 135

    Kodak, Schneider, Wollensak made lenses of approximately the same focal length. Thus there are equivalent choices in a given focal length between a Ektar, Xenar or Optar.

    Most Graflex Optars are made by Wollensak, but later (post 1965) Optars are manufactured by Rodenstock.

    These lenses are 3 group/4 element "Tessar" type lenses with a 55 degree circle. The Ektars were probably the best all around quality, with Xenars next, and Raptars and Acutars third. They are fairly close if in good repair and not mistreated.

    The Polaroid 110,110A and 110B roll-film cameras can often be found very inexpensively. They are fitted either with a Rodenstock Ysarex 127/4.5 or Wollensak Rapter 127/4.5.

  2. Non Tessar Type General Purpose Lenses

    Non Tessar type - usually 3/5 type - post war lenses of superb quality include the Voigtlander Heliars and Apo-Lanthars, the Schneider Xenotar and the Zeiss Planar. However, they are extremely expensive for a lens with a 50-degree image circle.

  3. Symmetrical (wide field) lenses

    Useful for closeup and landscape work.

    General Purpose Lenses: 4-element/4-group, 6-element/2-group, etc.
    Manufacturer Lens Brand Shutter Typical Focal Lengths
    Kodak W.F.Ektar Supermatic 80, 100, 135
    Kodak Ektar Supermatic 203
    Schneider Symmar Syncho Compur 100, 135, 150, 180, 210
    Schneider Angulon Synchro Compur 90, 120
    Graflex Optar W.A Graphex 90
    Wollensak Raptar W.A. Rapax 90
    Goerz Dagor (f6.8) 5",6",6.5",7",8.25",to 14"
    Goerz Super Dagor (f8) 3 5/8", 4 3/8", 6.5"

    English/Metric Focal Length Conversions
    Focal Length (mm) 90 100 127 135 150 180 203 210
    Focal Length (inches) 3.5 4 5 5.25 6 7 8 8.25

    Notes About Symmetrical Lenses

    • Schneider Symmar

      Symmars (coated, post-WWII) come in 100, 135, 150, 180 and 210, all in Syncho Compurs. Even though these are "convertible", they are poor when used that way. Later 'Symmar S's from the 70s, more expensive, have even better coating and wider circle of illumination, but are much more expensive. However the Symmars are still excellent lenses.

    • Kodak WF Ektars

      The two Kodak WF Ektars need to be stopped down considerably to equal in sharpness to the General Purpose Tessar lenses mentioned the the first section when used as wide-angle lenses. They are less even in illumination across the same field of view in comparision to a Symmar. Sharper at wide apertures than the 90mm Angulon, etc. The 135mm WF Ektar was reccomended for General Purpose use on 4x5 monorail view cameras..

    • 90mm Wollensak W/A, Graflex

      The Graflex W/A Optar, really a Wollensak Raptar W/A is another older wide-angle lens. Acceptibly sharp when stopped down, f/6.8 is for focusing only. Use at f/11-32. Of similar design to WF Ektar.

    • Kodak Ektar 203mm

      The Kodak Ektar, 203mm/f7.7, has a 50 degree angle of coverage. It is a very old 4-element air-spaced design and has remarkable sharpness from infinity to close up. Being slow, f/7.7, it is fairly small and light. Sharpest wide-open.

    • Dagor/Angulon

      The Dagor and the Schneider Angulon are true symmetricals (f6.8) but can cover over 70 degrees at f22 and 80 degrees at f45. They are of six-element, two-group construction. With so few air-glass interfaces they are resistant to flare - uncoated Dagors will be acceptible.

  4. Extreme Wide Angle lenses

    Name Focal Length Aperture
    Schneider Super Angulon 90mm f/8
    Schneider Super Angulon 90mm f/5.6
    Schneider Super Angulon 65mm f/8
    Rodenstock Grandagon
    Zeiss Biogon

    These lenses are much more expensive than any lens in either the General Purpose or Symmetrical category sections. This is especially ture for the Biogons which are magnificent but totally out of sight in terms of $.

  5. Special effects lenses

    • Telephoto

      These long focal length lenses are not ususally hand-held.

      Name Focal Length Aperture Shutter
      Graflex Tele-Optar 270mm f6.5 (Graflex-1000, 1/1000 shutter)
      Graflex Tele-Optar 380mm (15") f/5.6 (barrel)
      Graflex Tele-Optar 250mm (10") f/5.6 (barrel)

      The lenses list are only a small selection of what is available. Telephoto lenses have a small image circle and use proportionally less bellows draw than their focal length suggests. The only way to get 380mm of lens onto a Speed Graphic.

      Generally this type of lens does not really allow for movements on a 4x5. But this issue of what lenses for what purposes on a 4x5 is a much broader issue not really appropriate to go into further in this FAQ.

    • Soft Focus

      Rodenstock Imagon

A used Graphic will typically be found fitted with a General Purpose lens. The Kodak Ektar or Graflex Optar are common. These vintage lenses (127mm Ektar, 135mm Optar) do not have sufficient coverage to allow the use of movements when focused at infinity.

Beware : Sharpness falls off much faster than illumination.

When checking out an older shutter note that there are separate springs for slow(<1/30), medium and high speeds (over 1/250). Check all speeds and exercise the shutter. If you desire to use a flash, be sure to check for flash synchronization. 'X' mode is for electronic flashes, while 'M' mode is for flash bulbs, there may be other synchronization positions on the switch. Many camera repair shops can clean and check shutters for accuracy.

Notes about the Ektar Lenses

Ektars are generally considered to have better QC than the Optars.

Kodak's professional lens line was labelled "Ektar" beginning around 1940. There are a few Ektars to be found on roll film camera, the art-deco Bantam Special had a six element f/2.0 50mm Ektar, and used 828 roll film. The better-than-Leica Kodak Ektra used an array of Ektar lenses. And the solid-as-a-tank Kodak Medalist used a 5-element f/3.5 100mm Ektar.

The 105/3.7 is similar to the 100/3.5 Medalist Ektar, a fine lens of the Heliar type.

The 100/4.5 and 152/4.5 are solid performers.

The 127/4.7, the word comes from Kodak insiders, was the best corrected on axis. Though nominally a lens for 3.25x4.25 press cameras, it is fairly common on 4x5" Speed Graphics. I've found it to work admirably on 4x5" w/o movements.

The 203/7.7 is similar to the old Kodak Anastigmats from the 1920's. It is a 4-air-spaced element design. It is symmetrical. It holds corrections quite well even in extreme closeups.

Notes about Ilex Lenses

Ilex was based in Rochester, NY. They originally produced older Kodak designs and rather large shutters.

1950's Ilex Paragons were typically coated versions of the 1940's Kodak Anastigmat f/4.5 (tessar type).

I'm rather uncertain of what hapened to them later on, I too have seen Ilex branded lenses similar to formula to the Super Angulon.

Lens Storage

It is generally recommended that lenses be stored set to their lowest speeds, or 'T' (when available), as this leaves the springs in an uncompressed state.

Focal Length Equivalence

Focal Lengths as given are nearly equivalent, and may represent available lenses.

Film Size 35mm 120 2"x3" 4"x5"
Image Format 24x36mm 56x68mm 2"x3" 4"x5"
Film Type roll roll sheet sheet
Focal Length 18mm 37mm ---- ----
Ex. Wide Angle
Focal Length 20mm ---- 65mm
24mm 50mm 47mm ----
28mm 65mm 53mm 90mm (3-1/2")
Moderate Wide Angle
Focal Length 100mm (4")
35mm 75mm 65mm 127mm (5")
40mm 75mm 135mm (5-1/4")
Focal Length 50mm 110mm 100mm 152mm (6")
65mm 127mm ---- 203mm (8")
Moderate Telephoto
Focal Length 85mm 150mm ---- 250mm (10")
Medium Telephoto
Focal Length 100mm 210mm 202mm ----
135mm 250mm ---- 380mm (15")
Long Telephoto
Focal Length 250mm 500mm ---- ----
500mm ---- ---- ----

Camera Movements: How Much Is Enough?

It depends.

The Speed Graphic is not really a view camera: you can't tie it up into a pretzel. Depending on the sort of photography one is interested in, this may or may not be limiting. The rigidity of the Graphics make them very useful for high-speed, wide-aperture shooting (the sort of shot where extreme depth of field is not important). If you are interested in a 4x5" to pursue photography suitable for 35mm or 2-1/4" equipment, the motions are an extra, not an essential. There are other large format photographers who disagree, their personal vision requires the use of considerable amounts of perspective control.

To utilize movements, the photographer must use a lens that has ample reserve covering power. In the vintage lens field, the 135mm WF Ektar, the 120mm Angulon, or the longish 203mm f/7.7 Ektar are possibilities.


Focusing Back

The pop-open focusing back can usually be removed from the holder by two clips on the side. This exposes the ground glass retaining clips. The preferable set-up is to have a fresnel lens as with out it the image when viewed will get darker as you one views from the center out to the corners.

Always remember to watch the corners !

If you have a fresnel lens (circular grid on the glass), and the corners are darker than the center, then you may have adjusted the camera in such a way that the lens is not covering the area of the film plane. Many of the standard 'Graflex' lens cover the area of a 4"x5" sheet, but not much more. Wide angle and wide field lenses should be clearly marked with WA or WF, indicating they have a greater coverage area than the diameter of the lens.

Also remember to switch from preview to shutter mode, and stop down the lens as necessary before pulling the dark slide.

Depending on lighting, you may find a magnifier and dark cloth or light coat handy (to block out light while focusing on the screen).

Infinity Stops

The infinity stops are small tabs which fold over and are located within the rails, held in place by two extremely small screws. By folding over the tabs, the lens can pass by the Infinity Stop, which allows one to use multiple infinity stops, one for each different focal length lens.

With the rails adjusted to the rear of the bed, and the lens focused on infinity, you may set the infinity stops for each particular lens.

Focusing Scales

Focusing Scales are attached to a moving portion of the sliding rails, and to a fixed portion of the bed, in front of the lens. The scales, depending on the lens, will generally have alignment marks for intervals from 6 to 25 feet, as well as 50, 100 and Infinity.


Cheesey Viewfinder
Parallax adjustable, with various templates for different lenses. Subject too small to see details while viewing.
Hoop Viewfinder
Parallax adjustable, allows viewing of the subject while taking pictures.
Kalart Rangefinders
Side (steel) or Top (plastic) rangefinder which is connected to the moving rails, see below.

Speed Graphics: The Focal Plane Shutter

In a genuine Speed Graphic the focal plane shutter is the only part that might be trouble, but is reliable and there are shops dedicated to fixing them.

Because of the Speed Graphic's focal plane shutter, is slightly heavier than the similar Crown Graphic, also the depth required for a focal plane shutter may preclude the user of certain very-wide-angle lens (below 80mm), where a Crown Graphic may be able to use a 65mm WA lens.

The focal plane shutters operate as a curtain with different sized openings, and can be set to two speeds with three different openings, producing speeds of 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250, 1/500, and 1/1000. Most lenses with internal shutters will have speeds up to 1/400 or 1/500, while the Graflex-1000 goes to 1/1000 seconds, there are some some older ones only go as high as 1/200.

Be careful to know when the curtain is open and closed, as mis-use of the focal plane shutter will keep film from being exposed (if you're using a lens shutter), or leaving the curtain open (such as for focusing) will fog film, if exposed to it.

An advantage of having a focal plane shutter is that you can also use barrel lenses (w/o a shutter). A 15" (380mm) Graflex Optar Telephoto, in a barrel mount is much less expensive (~$90) than the equivalent in a shutter, which seem to go for $250-300. Also, many vintage (1920-30's) soft focus portrait lenses are only available in barrel.

Use of a slow speed focal plane shutter should produce noticeable "lean" when you pan to follow moving objects.

Are the large focal plane shutters accurate ?

I checked mine out. 1/1000 sec is dead on. Your average modern SLR it is probably no more accurate.

Kalart Side Mounted Range Finder [Up to 1955]

Side mounted Kalart rangefinders without interchangeable cams, can be adjusted for a particular lens, if the proper (tedious) procedure is followed.

Operation: The two images in the Kalart are the same color. The split portion shows up as a center spot. This may become more apparent if you place a colored piece of gel in front of one of the openings to the Kalart. [If the half silver mirror is abraised or otherwise lost silvering, this image may be very faint.] In general bring the split image into alignment, and if the camera is in focus through-out the scale, then the rangefinder is cammed or adjusted to the lens. Here are some instructions for adjusting the Kalart.

Adjusting the Kalart Rangefinder

The following 4 steps are to be followed in adjusting the Kalart Rangefinder
  1. Check focus of lens at infinity - if necessary re-adjust infinity stops
  2. Set Rangefinder for infinity
  3. Adjust Rangefinder for 15ft
  4. Adjust Rangefinder for 4ft.
  1. Checking Focus of Lens at infinity
    The 1st step in synchronizing the RF is to establish the correct infinity position for the lens - if necessary relocating the camera infinity stops.

    Use a tall building, chimney, etc. at least 1/2 mile away as a target.

    Note: on Pacemaker Graphic (incl. Century) cameras - the track must be racked forwards to bring the image into focus at infinity.

  2. Setting RF for infinity
    1st remove the cover over the RF, exposing the innards. In the event the RF is out of adjustment re-set it as follows: the infinity adjustment is made by turning the eccentric screw attacked to the rear of the right runner of the camera track. (this is where the long lever from the RF on the inside of the bed contacts the focusing track). You can use a dime to turn this screw. (the screw becomes visible when the track is raked very far forwards).

  3. Adjusting 15ft.
    Focus the camera on something approximately 15ft away. use a magnifier to make absolutely certain of the sharpness of the image. to adjust, adjust the rear scale (loosen screw which protrudes through a slot immediately above the words "to loosen <- -". this is a left-hand thread!! move the indicator on the rear scale. then tighten.

    Repeat the infinity check! (this may take several iterations)

  4. Adjusting 4ft.
    Focus the camera to approximately 4 ft. to adjust loosen the two screws which hold the indexed slider on the front of the rangefinder and slide the indicator to adjust. retighten screws.

Repeat the infinity check! and 15ft.

Approximate points of adjustment
CAMERA LENS Long Scale (Rear) Short Scale (Front)
101mm Optar 9.5 2
105mm Tessar 10.5 2
4 3/8" 13.0 2
105mm f/3.7 Ektar 13.5 2

CAMERA LENS Long Scale (Rear) Short Scale (Front)
127mm Ektar 13.0 3
135mm Tessar 15.0 3.5
152mm Ektar 17.0 5

                     | \     |
                     |  \    |
                     |  o \  |  <- 1/2 silvered mirror, screw to adjust align
                     |       |       coincidence
                     : o     |  <- screw to loosen rear scale
 Rear scale pointer  # to    1  <- front scale numbers
                     : loosen2  
                     :       #  <- front scale slider
                     |       o  <- screw to loosen front slider
                     |       #
                     |       o  <- screw to loosen front slider
                     | \-    #
                     |  \|   |  <- prism

Kalart Top Mounted Range Finder [1955 and later]

Featuring interchangeable cams and Parallax Correction.

The cams are tricky to locate and are set up for specific lenses (a caveat if your camera has a mismatched cam).

Graflok Back [1949 and later]

The ``Graflok Back'' is a feature which IS desirable, and is a relatively ``late'' enhancement to the Graphic line of camera. These have the removable focus panel and locks to hold various filmbacks.


Catalog Number Description
2747 Graflex 7 in Reflector (large lamp socket for #11 or #22 bulbs)
2749 Graflex 5 in Reflector (small lamp socket -to large lamp socket right angle converter, for #B5 bulbs)
2712 Graflex Side Lighting Unit (large lamp socket)
2773 Graflex Synchronizer Battery Case (3 D-Cells)

Filter Kits:


As of 1993, Speed Graphic Western Division sold their stock of parts to Midwest Photo Exchange (614-261-1264, fax 614-261-1637)

(prices subject change)


Useful Accessories


Editors: William Caloccia and Timothy Takahashi

with additional material from

Revision History

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