View Full Version : Vintage Camera Choices?

22-Sep-2013, 16:05
For the past three years I've been going to the threshing shows held in the Upper Midwest. These feature steam tractors and sometimes horse drawn equipment. The machinery is generally vintage 1890 to 1930. I've been photo'ing with a variety of cameras--Nikon D7100, Nikon D5100, Leica IIIc, Rolleiflex, Voigtlander Bessa RF, Brownie No.2 Model A, and a Chamonix 045n. With digital I only shoot color; with classic cameras mostly b&w (FP4, Efke 25.) The people are generally dressed in vintage style as they thresh wheat, oats, corn and plow fields. I've got some great shots using vintage cameras. These have begun to attract the attention of the people running the events and I've been the "official" photographer at some of these. For next year I'd like to start wearing some vintage-ish clothing and use a wooden tripod rather than my excellent Gitzo 1325. (I have a Berlebach but it's heavy!)

That's the background, now for the question. The Chamonix is superb for what I'm doing. It's very light, sturdy, and easy to use when speed is important. I use lenses DAGOR ~90mm, Heliar 150mm, and sometimes a Tessar 165mm, all uncoated vintage 1906-1922. (Love that Heliar!) I'm thinking of looking for a vintage LF camera to go along with everything else. I want something "fancy" and eyecatching. My first thought was a Thornton-Pickard field camera, but they don't come in 4x5. They are also somewhat larger than what I think I want. I was really liking the looks of the black & nickle Seneca Chautauqua camera, but then I read the black bellows may be a problem (holes), it's made for glass plates not film, the ground glass has been called "murky at best", and I'm not sure it can take interchangable lenses (lens boards.) Dang, they are pretty though, and plentiful! So, that is leaving me with other "cycle" cameras such as the Premo, Poco, and etc. Another camera that I've long been after is a ICA/Zeiss Juwel in 9x12, but those are hard to snag. I would consider a 9x12 if it was "pretty". I might also consider a quater plate, but that might mean I have to snag a couple of new lenses too, including another Heliar. (Like I said, love that Heliar!) I'm looking for, in order: small, fancy, takes multi-lenses, ground glass focus. There is no "best" camera, but what are some options? I rule out the RB Graflex with chimney finder--wrong look. The Chamonix may be tough to beat.......

Mark Sawyer
22-Sep-2013, 16:27
The Chamonix is a very nice camera, but "modern Chinese" doesn't seem to fit with your stated aim. I'd look for a Kodak 2D, Korona, or the like. Film holders and plate holders were standardized to the same size (with a few exceptions), so a 4x5 plate camera will still take a 4x5 film holder. Whether the bellows will be a problem varies from camera to camera, and of course, age is a factor, but I use several 100-year old cameras with the original bellows with no issues. Just start searching "4x5 camera" on ebay, at least for ideas, if not to buy

22-Sep-2013, 16:35
Pre-Anniversary Speed Graphic (with a modern Fresnel ground glass installed).

22-Sep-2013, 17:20
Not knowing your work-flow, a 5x7 "might" be the ticket. Just to show off a Seneca No. 9 (5x7, self-casing, circa 1913). It's large enough to be noticed yet light enough (4.5 lbs) to transport easily. Another plus is that it takes the original plate holders and/or the more modern 5x7 wooden film holders (in my case the Eastman film #1 holders). I can flip the ground glass around depending on whether I want to use plates or film. Currently I am in the process of coating 5x7 plates, so I'll soon be flipping the glass the other way. The back also rotates on this model, Portrait/Landscape. You could shoot hand-held, or on a tripod. This one doesn't have the focus distance scale yet, but I'm working one. I'm sure there are similar cameras in smaller sizes also. Don't you think a 4x5 would be a tad small?


John Kasaian
22-Sep-2013, 19:49
Wood finished Agfa Anscos are neat looking---they accept both 4x5 and 5x7 backs. The 4x5 Graphic Crown View is also a very handsome looking 4x5s

22-Sep-2013, 21:23

If you are perhaps? thinking of purchasing a 'New' Camera.
I believe that all of the following Manufacturers... Can build you a more 'Period' or 'Vintage' looking camera -- For use with a 'conventional' Sheet Film Holder.

(*This may/or may not involve 'Custom Work'/Price Upgrades)...
Please be guided accordingly!

In 'Alphabetical' Order...

Black Art Woodcraft.
Guillory Cameras.
Star Camera Company.



23-Sep-2013, 05:30
Wood-and-brass cameras, like Tachihara, Wista Field, Zone VI look 'vintage', even if they are more modern than one may expect. They are also very eye-catching. Burke and James, especially when stripped from grey paint, may also suit. But, from technical point of view, they are less advanced than Chamonix (think of minimum and maximum bellows extension, camera movements). If you're looking for something actually coming from the period - rather forget about anything that accepts standard, double-sided film holders. And don't expect it to be as rigid as a brand new camera.

Old press cameras, like Graflex - they may be old enough, but I am not sure if they were in use in rural areas (bar when there was an event important enough to make The Morning Post or The Evening Star to send a photographer to the spot).

Size also matters: vintage cameras would be rather quarter-, half- or whole-plate than 4x5, 5x7 or 8x10 (to say nothing about metric formats).

23-Sep-2013, 06:52
Century 1 field camera, of course! :) Not necessarily the Century View Camera No. 1.

For clothing, should you ever find yourself near McGregor, Iowa you could stop in here (http://www.riverjunction.com/). All their clothing is not Victorian era. I've visited often because it is just down-river. Work and field clothing in that era was what people might call Amish-like today. Of course, as a photographer you would want to distinguish yourself by dressing a bit more formally.

23-Sep-2013, 07:00
That Seneca is a beauty! I was looking very closely at the 4x5 "Chautauqua version, but read the GG isn't very good, and I'm not sure it takes lens boards. The more I think about it, the more I want to stick with 4x5 size. I scan the negs on an Epson v700 and only have a 4x5 holder. I also don't really want to start buying film for yet another format. Finally, I already have a great selection of lenses that play nice with 4x5. That Crown View is also very pretty--I never took a close look at one before. It certainly is eye catching. The older Korona is as well. I'm OK with buying dedicated holders for the camera. I have a DAGOR 3 5/8 in., Heliar 15cm, and CZJ 165mm Tessar and those work very well on a small 4x5. I'm thinking of adding a ~5 inch Velostigmat. I love the look given by those too! I think the Seneca is designed so you can fold the camera up with a lens in place, not sure about the Crown View/Korona. I have over half a year to dig a little more and look for a camera. Below shot made with an E&HT Anthony 4 in. rapid rectilinear (mounted in Copal 1) on Efke 25.

Drew Bedo
23-Sep-2013, 08:06
.Kodak Eastman View 2D, Agfa/Ansco and Burk & James all are view cameras from that period. .Any model ZoneVI will look “right” as will any Deardorff. Although not a view camera, Graflex Reflex RB (LF SLRs) models in 4x5 are actually from that period. Pre Annaversary Speed Graphic press cameras are too. Various "bicycle " cameras from Folmer & Schwing and Korona will also work out for you and are correct for the period

23-Sep-2013, 08:22
When one sees a photographer on a TV show or movie, set in that perod..they nearly always have some folding camera like the seneca, on spindly wooden sticks

whether or not this is super accurate.. it's what people expect to see

it would be cool to have a flash powder deal modified with flash tubes though

23-Sep-2013, 09:48
When one sees a photographer on a TV show or movie, set in that perod..they nearly always have some folding camera like the seneca, on spindly wooden sticks

whether or not this is super accurate.. it's what people expect to see

it would be cool to have a flash powder deal modified with flash tubes though

That's reminds me . . . I had seen one movie where the photographer put his head under the focusing cloth, and then he made the exposure. I wonder how that works. Maybe he coated his face with emulsion beforehand. ;-)

With regard to the Seneca in my previous post . . . when I received it, it's focusing screen was broken. So, I replaced the screen with the glass from a old wooden contact printer. It wasn't at all difficult to replace. I have owned similar cameras previous, and their original screens would surely be considered dim by modern standards. But, I still considered them very usable/functional. And for myself, I would much prefer a dim original to any modern replacement whenever possible. It's all part of the "experience" of using antique apparatus.

23-Sep-2013, 12:25
Maybe a bit OT, but did you consider to use glass plates as negatives? Would fit this period and your subjects very well. You can also work with dry plate glass negatives. See my examples: http://thetoadmen.blogspot.nl/2012/09/making-dry-plate-glass-negatives-with.html
I used liquid emulsions to make the negatives, like the Rollei Black Magic kit. See: http://www.macodirect.de/liquid-photographic-emulsions-c-765_770.html?language=en&sort=3a
It's easier to do than wet plate negatives and you can prepare the negatives previous at home.