30-Aug-2004, 20:03
Can anyone tell me why the ORIGINAL GRAFLEX 5X7 PRESS CAMERA seemed to be quite popular? The camera looks awkward to me. I've seen a picture of Imogen Cunningham holding one quite similiar. What am I missing? Thanks!


Jim Galli
30-Aug-2004, 20:12
The 5X7's are scarce. There were lots of 4X5 and 3X4's like this. It was a true hend held camera that you looked at your picture through a reflex mirror and snapped when it was right. In 1910, it was the only show in town. Edward Weston used a 4X5 like this for most of his spontaneous nudes. He could look at his subject and when he saw what he wanted, he would snap. They had a rear curtain shutter that was capable of some pretty snappy shutter speeds. Lartigue's famous 1913 pictures of racing cars where the wheels are egg-shaped were done with a camera just like the one in the auction. Or close. Same principle.

Jay DeFehr
31-Aug-2004, 00:30
I think they're great! The only better 5x7 for shooting handheld is the Graflex Home Portrait 5x7, which had a rotating back, and more bellows draw. It's a lot of camera, and requires a serious commitment from the photographer, but the rewards are substantial.

David A. Goldfarb
31-Aug-2004, 00:32
I think Weston's may have been a 3x4", or he may have had a 3x4" at one time and later a 4x5". 4x5's are the most common.

I just acquired one of these and got two filmholders for it today, and it is a really neat camera. You get a neg big enough for contact printing and the spontenaiety of an SLR. It's not exactly a point-and-shoot, but more of a set-tension-set mirror-set-curtain-aperture-set-lens-aperture-point-focus-pull-slide-and-shoot, but there's no disconnect in viewing the image between focusing, inserting the holder, pulling the slide and shooting, so you can make dynamic and spontaneous portraits and photographs of other moving subjects. It's much more natural than using groundglass focusing or even a rangefinder.

It is also surprisingly well balanced for handheld use, as far as 12 lb. cameras go and has a top speed of 1/1500 sec.!


It is kind of big and boxy.

Filmholders are be tough to find. The 5x7" Press Graflex (1907-23) takes bag mags, like the one shown in the ad and 5x7" Graphic Filmholders--not regular holders, unless it's been converted. Mine is late (approx. 1921-22), and it uses Graphic holders.

They are old and likely to need repair. Mine happens to be in good shape, but one would expect problems with the curtain shutter and bellows, handles tend to be gone, and worn parts just might not all fit together so well anymore.

No flash sync particularly. You can use open flash technique on the T setting or if you have a leaf shutter lens, you can use the sync on the lens, but you still have to use the T setting, which defeats the purpose of having an SLR.

No camera movements on the 5x7" Press Graflex, but some of them had limited movements.

Mark Sampson
31-Aug-2004, 05:37
per Jay's comment about serious commitment, Paul Strand used a 5x7 Home Portrait Graflex for much of his career. I've seen a picture somewhere of Strand with this camera on a *large* tripod... it's a monster.

31-Aug-2004, 05:52
I thought Weston used a 5x7? I know the oft repeated documentary on Modotti which in part covers Weston's time in Mexico she is quoted claiming she wanted a smaller camera then Weston's. That's why she went with a 3x4.

31-Aug-2004, 06:09
Weston used a 3 1/4x4 1/4 Graflex until he moved to Carmel, at which time he bought a 4x5. Personally, I think the quality of his portraits and nudes took a nosedive at that point, as the 3x4 could be used hand-held, while the much larger 4x5 required a tripod. The small Graflex negatives were enlarged to 8x10 by a laborious process involving copying them with his 8x10 studio camera.

J. P. Mose
31-Aug-2004, 07:19

This camera was quite popular in its day. They are rather scarce because so many of them were heavily used and more than likely disposed of. But a collector source I have in NYC, who focuses on early Graflex products, informed me that a large quantity was manufactured of this model. I have seen news clips from the teens and '20s with several photographers using the 5x7 Press Graflex. In fact, I recently saw a documentry of WWI and noticed many Press Graflex cameras at the tickertape parade in NYC! I think once the Speed Graphic caught on (introduced in 1912), the Graflex (reflex) models became much less popular for reportage.

I was lucky this past Spring. I walked into Quality Camera in Atlanta to pickup an Ebay item I won. Sitting high on a shelf was a beautiful near mint 5x7 Press Graflex with a Cooke lens. I had wanted one but gave up after a while. This one had been acquired from its original owner in Santa Fe. Well, I left the store with it and its original case. I have yet to shoot with it. As David pointed out, the camera does not use standard 5x7 holders. I need to start looking for them or a bag mag.

The Press Graflex is very difficult to work on compared to other Graflex models. I took apart a 4x5 Super D to CLA the internal mechanisms and didn't have a problem reassembling it. However, the Press Graflex has a large flat coil spring for the tensioner, similar to a clock spring or tape measure. If you decide to bid on this posting, I would assure that it works OK. Sometimes, just a light application of oil on the roller bearings will make all the difference.

Ernest Purdum
31-Aug-2004, 08:02
There are some inaccuracies in the listing of this item. It implies that the "Press" Graflex was the first model. This is not the case. The original Graflex was about six years earlier than the Press model. Unlike the Press, which came only in the 5X7 size, the original was listed as available from 4X5 to 8X10. (I'd love to see an 8X10 example. Wow!) It was just called "The Graflex". There was also a "Reversible Back Graflex" which came in only 4X5 and 5X7 sizes. Both types are now hardly ever seen in any size. They had variable slit shutters which were probably less durable than the multiple fixed slit type used on later types. The Press can be instantly identified by the protruding shutter roll housing which precluded any possibility of reversing the back for vertical views.

I disagree with the statement that a 4X5 Graflex had to be used on a tripod. I used a 4X5 for a time and I don't recall ever having had it on a tripod. By the way, it's much easier to hold a Graflex steady than a Speed Graphic or similar camera.

tim o'brien
31-Aug-2004, 17:54
"Weston used a 3 1/4x4 1/4 Graflex until he moved to Carmel, at which time he bought a 4x5. Personally, I think the quality of his portraits and nudes took a nosedive at that point, as the 3x4 could be used hand-held, while the much larger 4x5 required a tripod."

This was my understanding from my readings about Weston. I have aquired a 3x4 R.B. and it takes very acceptible photographs. The 152mm is very sharp. I have both 3x4 Graflex holders and a 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 roll film holder for the camera. One thing I may do is one of them Snow White screens for the view finder. It is a bit dim for any critical focusing. While it possible to use handheld, a tripod makes a world of difference.

tim in san jose

31-Aug-2004, 19:18
Thank you all for the info. So much I didn't know before. Although I do not fully understand how the machanisms work, I do get the impression about it's functions. I guess I need to see the camera first hand to appreciate it. Thanks for taking the time to contribute.

31-Aug-2004, 19:53
Earnest, I didn't mean to imply that the 4x5 Graflex has to be used on a tripod, only that EW used it that way. (See "EW on Photography," edited by Bunnel, pp 103-113).

David A. Goldfarb
31-Aug-2004, 21:13
The mechanics are fairly simple, and using one of these cameras enables one to appreciate how many functions are being accomplished when setting the controls on a 35mm SLR.

The lens is on a lensboard with bellows focusing, just like a regular view camera. The diaphragm is manual, so you either need to focus at the shooting aperture or focus wide open then stop down before shooting.

There is a reflex mirror, just like any SLR, and when it's in the down position, it blocks the light path from the lens to the film, so the shutter can actually be open or adjusted while the darkslide is pulled and the mirror is down. That hood at the top makes it possible to see the groundglass without a dark cloth, just like a long waist-level finder on a medium format SLR.

Instead of having a front and rear curtain like a modern 35mm SLR, there is one long curtain with slits of varying widths--5" (wide open for T exposures or rear groundglass focusing), 1.5", 1", 3/8", and 1/8", and there is a tensioner with several settings. There is a table that correlates tension settings from 1-15 to curtain slit width to allow you to determine the shutter speed. On mine, for instance, a 3/8" slit with a tension of "9" produces a shutter speed of 1/240 sec.

So to take a spontaneous photograph, you insert a filmholder, set the aperture, lower the mirror, adjust tension and slit width for the desired shutter speed, pull the darkslide, aim, focus, and press the shutter button.

31-Aug-2004, 22:45
Thanks David. That's a clearer picture you painted. I see it better now. Just wandering if it might have been a problem handholding the camera especially with slow film available in those days. Thanks again.

jon koss
31-Aug-2004, 23:35
>This was my understanding from my readings about Weston. I have aquired a 3x4 R.B. and it takes >very acceptible photographs. The 152mm is very sharp. I have...

I agree that the 152 is acceptably sharp - it seems to me that most normal lenses are sharp in large format. The thing that pleasantly surprised me about the 152 was the creamy bokeh. I don't think I have ever noticed smoother or more natural out-of-focus areas. I would love to hear if anyone else feels this way about this otherwise rather pedestrian lens.


David A. Goldfarb
1-Sep-2004, 11:23
Correction: This camera uses GRAFLEX holders, not Graphic holders. I think the person who sold me the correct holders mispoke when he called them "Graphic" holders.

The correct filmholder is wider than a modern 5x7" filmholder, has grooves on the side, and instead of a lock rib on the face near where the darkslide is inserted, there is a groove that forms the light trap with a metal ridge on the camera back. My Press Graflex doesn't actually have the Graflex slides that use the side grooves, but has a spring back; however, the width is the same as the Graflex holder.

The correct 5x7" bag mag has two locator pins at the bottom and two heavy metal clips at the top to attach to the camera. There is also a Graflex 5x7" bag mag for the Fairchild aerial camera, and this seems to attach by a different mechanism, and I am guessing that it would not work with the Press Graflex.

1-Sep-2004, 12:20
hi aaron --

not sure if you know about graflex.org, but in case you haven 't been there, it has tons of information about all the graflex slr cameras from 2x3 all the way up.

this is a manual for the graflex slr. while the one you asked the question about is a 5x7, it operates like the smaller ones in most respects.

i've been using a 4x5 series rb d since the mid 90s, and love it. it may seem difficult to hand hold the camera, but it is much easier than using a speed graphic, since you can see what you are photographing even with the film ready to shoot ( darkslide removed ) unlike a speed graphic or view camera where you have to remove the film in order to focus &C.

i'm sure if you get your hands on one, you'll be hooked :)

oh, here is the manual i spoke about:


1-Sep-2004, 21:20
Hi again John. Thanks for the link. I'll have a good look at it. Thanks to all who make time to respond.

David A. Goldfarb
1-Sep-2004, 22:17

Okay, things are falling into place. Here's my first acceptible handheld 5x7" shot. This is on new J&C Classic 400 in ABC pyro 1+1+1+7, 12 min. The lens is a B&L 5x8 f:4.5 Tessar at about f:5, 1/60 sec.

The first one I tried--a landscape--I wasn't paying attention, and I let the focus migrate after I composed the shot. I don't thing there's a way of increasing the tension in the focusing gear, so that's something to pay attention to. I find if I just keep my hand on the knob, it stays put.

Second attempt I shot four sheets--a portrait similar to this one--focus was right on, but didn't use enough solution to process them, so I had all kinds of scratches. I've done 4x5", 8x10", and 11x14" tray processing, but 5x7" in 8x10" trays was a new thing--lesson learned.