Much more information is available at graflex.org.
William Caloccia and Timothy Takahashi
with additional material from
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.
|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|
|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|
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.
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:
|Manufacturer||Lens Brand||Shutter||Typical Focal Lengths|
|Schneider||Xenar||Syncho Compur||127, 135, 150, 180|
|Graflex||Optar||Graphex||135, 162, 210|
|Wollensak||Raptar||Rapax||127, 135, 162, 190, 210|
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.
|Manufacturer||Lens Brand||Shutter||Typical Focal Lengths|
|Kodak||W.F.Ektar||Supermatic||80, 100, 135|
|Schneider||Symmar||Syncho Compur||100, 135, 150, 180, 210|
|Schneider||Angulon||Synchro Compur||90, 120|
|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"|
|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|
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.
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..
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.
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.
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.
|Schneider Super Angulon||90mm||f/8|
|Schneider Super Angulon||90mm||f/5.6|
|Schneider Super Angulon||65mm||f/8|
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 $.
These long focal length lenses are not ususally hand-held.
|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.
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.
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.
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.
It is generally recommended that lenses be stored set to their lowest
speeds, or 'T' (when available), as this leaves the springs in an
|Ex. Wide Angle|
|Moderate Wide Angle|
|Focal Length||100mm (4")|
|Focal Length||50mm||110mm||100mm||152mm (6")|
|Focal Length||85mm||150mm||----||250mm (10")|
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.
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).
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 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.
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
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.
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.
Repeat the infinity check! (this may take several iterations)
Repeat the infinity check! and 15ft.
Approximate points of adjustment
|CAMERA||LENS||Long Scale (Rear)||Short Scale (Front)|
|105mm f/3.7 Ektar||13.5||2|
|CAMERA||LENS||Long Scale (Rear)||Short Scale (Front)|
TOP --------- | \ | | \ | | 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 ---------
The cams are tricky to locate and are set up for specific lenses (a caveat if your camera has a mismatched cam).
The Grafmatic holder (not to be confused with the Graphic Pack Film holders), will hold size sheets of film in one container. The sheets are held in individual steel widgets referred to as ``septums.'' As of early 1994, the going prices were advertised as high as $80-$120, but many individuals report sale prices less than that for holders in good condition.
It is reported they made Grafmatic's for the older Graphics, which have a slot instead of ridges for a light-trap on the film-plane side, buyer beware. Also, watch out for bent film holders, and don't force the septums in or out. Try practicing loading and unloading in the light, with spent film or developed sheets to get the hang of it.
They aren't difficult to use, but there are some subtleties in the loading.
Once you put a negative up front, and pull the slide it will be set to take the photo because when you put the slide back it, it will be behind the front one, and then it drops to the back. Thus, if you prepare the Grafmatic for use, and then decide to re-frame or whatever, the unexposed negative is still up front. Leave the holder in the camera and cycle through the septums, back to the one you were on except don't pull the darkslide on it. That way it's back on top, but not exposed.
Operation and packaging seem similar to a Polaroid Pack Film back.
4"x5" 16 Exposure Pack Film (Tri-X, etc.) is no longer available.
There were 3 negative sizes, RH-8 (2.25" sq), RH-10 (2.25x2.75") and RH-8 (2.25x3.25") and holders were made for 2.25x3.25,3.25x4.25 and 4x5" cameras with either Graflock or Graflex backs. Early film holders, with the knob wind do not hold modern film flat, it bowes approx. 3/32" towards the film - blowing focus at shallow f/stops.
It seems that lever wind units have the rollers and the knob wind version do not.
A conversation with WD Service about this revealed that there were no roller types made for 3x4. The problem may be subtle, hard to deduce at first because you figure it was just field curvature or some aberration.
It also seems that there's a slight overall difference in the film plane between my non-roller and roller versions (at least sometimes) - but they measure the same. May be an artifact of the same problem.
Also, Horseman has current production Graflok roll-film holders, while Calument sells non-Graflok roll film holders.
Three flavors exist.
|405||3.25x4.25 pack film|
|550||4x5" pack film|
|545i||4x5" sheet film (ABS plastic, lighter, supposedly improved)|
|(545)||4x5" sheet film (steel/brass, black enamel)|
Warning:Avoid the Type 500 sheet film holder, which was last made in 1969 and is incompatible with current film. It won't engage the dark slide catch.
An advantage of the 545(i) sheet film holders are that they allow you to choose any film for any shot, and not be stuck with the same film for a full pack (8 or 10 shots). Useful if you're shooting 100 then 400, and want to use the same speed test Polaroid. Ditto for color vs. B&W.
|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)|
(prices subject change)
with additional material from
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