Busch Pressman: first impression

By Darin Cozine © 2003 for largeformatphotography.info

Recently I decided to enter large format photography. I researched many different entry-level 4x5 models and decided to buy an old press-style camera. The graflex graphics were most common. The speed graphic was interesting because of its focal plane shutter, but lack of movements turned me away. The crown graphics had more movements, but apparently no forward tilt. The super graphics were made of aluminum, had substantially better movements, but were also too expensive for my budget. I decided on the Busch Pressman, which had more movements than the crown graphic, and were inexpensive compared to the super graphics.

I purchased mine on Ebay for 100$, which included a 137mm wollensak raptar in a rapax shutter. They normally run about 75-150$, but some later models in pristine condition I have seen go up to $300. It was advertised ‘with extras’ but did not specify the details. Turned out that I got the case, flashgun, 7 double-sided film holders, grafmatic, pc sync cord, and 6 Kodak series VI filters. The camera was in great shape, I’d say 9 or of 10. The lens was also in great shape; clean with no scratches or cleaning marks, although the shutter was not functioning properly.

The Busch pressman 4x5 "Model D" is a fairly common press camera dating from the 50’s and 60’s. It is an all-metal construction so it is more rugged than wood cameras, but also heavier. It is very well constructed and it should withstand a great deal of abuse. Some of the parts are not as finely machined as they could be, but I think those areas do not need to be perfectly smooth. All of the gears and sliding parts are fine precision work. The exterior is a mix of black leatherette and black-painted textured metal.

Movements are ample, but not anything close to a full-featured monorail. Bellows draw is about 12 inches. Focusing is performed by knobs on either side of the bed. Sandwiched next to the right focus knob is a 2nd knob that locks the focus. There is about 2 _ inches of front rise with locking nuts on both sides. The front standard tilts from the base about 30 degrees both forward and back. There is one locking nut to hold the tilt and a second that locks it straight. The geared shift is about _ inch, but no swing. The bed drops for use of wide-angle lenses or back tilt.

I read some posts warning that the lensboards were unusual and hard to come by. However they are no complicated at all. They are a 3 inch square lensboard with rounded corners. They have an L-shaped bracket on the backside which allows a single thumb-screw to lock them into position —pretty slick! Someone on Ebay regularly sells new lensboards for about 50$, but one could construct one for much cheaper than that. The real drawback is the small size. I bought a 90mm super-angulon and the rear element just barely fit into the opening. Id say 58 mm would be the maximum diameter that would fit through the opening.

The Busch pressman, like the Graphics, come with eather a side-mounted rangefinder or a top-mounted ones. Mine is a side-mounted version, which I think is useless so I removed it to reduce the weight of the camera. The top-mounted rangefinders are supposed to be better. Also on the camera is a glass viewfinder, which has really cheep parallax compensation. And finally there is the wire-frame ‘sport’ viewfinder. The front portion of the wire-frame swings up from the front standard. I was debating removing that as well, but I found a great use for it. I folded a piece of black cardstock in half and taped it closed on the sides. The card then slips over the wire frame and can be used as an adjustable lens-shade!

The Pressman comes with a rotating spring back, so it is easy to switch from horizontal to vertical composition. The spring back makes it easy to use 4x5 film holders. Unfortunately most roll film holders like those made by graflex and singer, require a graflock back and so will not work on the Busch without modification. Someone posted that all it required was a pin to keep the accessory in place, but they did not leave clear details. Also available are the Calumet C2 roll film holders that will work on any 4x5 camera with a spring or graflok back. Anyway the whole point in getting a 4x5 camera was to use 4x5 film and movements, so I did not see an issue. The ground glass seems a little dim to me, but I am new to LF. I may replace it with a new screen. The pop-up hood on mine is slightly different than the ones I have seen on ebay, but in great shape. I had a hard time focusing with the pop-up hood, so sometimes I remove it (it comes off with a thumb screw). I think this is true on all pop-up hoods from what I have seen.

The normal lens included is a Wollensak Raptar 137mm f6.8. the lens is coated and is fairly sharp according to the lens tests I have read. The lens was mounted in a Rapax shuter, which needed a CLA but now works reliably. The Rapax shutter is very well made and I would compare it to the compur-rapids I have seen.

Overall I am very happy with my purchase. The Busch Pressman is rugged, but not too heavy. It folds neatly into a very portable box. There are sufficient movements for a novice to learn on (how many movements do you actually use anyway??). The real disadvantage is the small front standard, but if you are buying the big Grandagons and Symmars you already have a more expensive camera. Also the spring back limits your accessories, if you want to use them. I have practiced with the camera quite a bit, but I have yet to expose a sheet of film. I can’t wait!

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