View Full Version : Which Graphic?

16-Sep-2004, 16:48
Hi everyone.

After much research, I think I have decided to start my large format field photography with a 4x5 Graphic. The question is...which one?

I've read that much about them by so many different people that I think I have just confused myself. It seems there are four varieties, being the Crown, Speed, Super and Super Speed. (Please correct me if I'm wrong).

Some people appear to like the Crown because it is light and can take wide angle lenses, but others don't like its limited movements and non-revolving back.

So, my question is, if I'm prepared to accept that 90mm is the widest lens I'm going to use, and don't mind carrying a little extra weight, is the Super or Super Speed a better camera to buy due to it's more substantial prime movements and ability to rotate the Graflok back for vertical shots?

Are there any more major pros and cons that I have missed?

Thanks, Travis.

16-Sep-2004, 16:53
They all have limited movements. It's more have less limited then having alot of movements.

What is the intended use for the camera? What lens range? 90mm to what?

To a certain point everybody suggests these cameras for a cheap entry into LF. With everybody suggesting them they aren't that cheap anymore. I don't know what current prices for Supers are but they used to carry a premiumn.

tim o'brien
16-Sep-2004, 17:44
Your tripod has a feature that lets you turn any horizontal format into a vertical one. Try it.

Movements? For field photography? Are you doing architecture? Movements are over rated for 95% of the work you'll do.

The reasons for buying a Speed or Crown is ease of use, portability, maximum versatility concerning lens and film formats, and being totally bulletproof. If your needs extend beyond this, find the money for another camera, a Horseman or Linhof or whatever.

tim in san jose

2x3 Speed - 2x3 Crown - 3x4 Speed - 4x5 Speed - 3x4 Kalart Press

Ernest Purdum
16-Sep-2004, 17:59
The only differences between the Super Graphic and the Super Speed Graphic are the nameplate and the shutter. The Super Speed had a super fast shutter which, alas, turned out to have suicidal tendencies after long use. If you can buy either one as a "body only", that's good. Most lenses that were originally supplied with the Supers didn't have a large enough image circle to permit much, if any, use of the movements which are the factor that makes toting around the extra weight worthwhile. There are lots of appropriate lenses available and quite a few of them will fit inside the camera when closed.

These are rugged cameras. They make the most sense for someone who intends to take them over rough terrain to take landscape views which seldom require movements beyond what the Supers offer.

John Kasaian
16-Sep-2004, 18:18

There is a tripod socket on the side as well as the bottom of most graphics. verticles and horizontals are no problem even without a rotating back.

FWIW, I think Speed and Crown Graphics really shine at doing what they were designed for: handheld large format photography. I think they are also an excellent choice for other photographic endeavors as well. especially portraits.

IMHO, if you are just starting out the main difference you'll notice between the Speeds and the Crown(and Super Speed) is that the Speeders(except for the Super) have a focal plane shutter allowing you to use barrel lenses. If that is a feature you want then the field narrows. If not, the Crowns and the Super Speed will save a bit of wieght and bulk. The Crown Special and Super Speed are also have top mounted range finder many like, but you'll need cams specific for each of the lenses you want to use. I see it as a hassle and prefer to use the sportsfinder---if it was good enough for the great Weegee...

Another feature that might interest you is the graflock back. My Graphics all have spring backs but if you get one with a graflock back there seems to be no end to the attachments you can use(even a graflarger!) Pretty cool, but the models with spring backs are certainly usable if not as desireable.

Oh, and about those limited movements: One nice thing about starting out with a Graphic is you won't miss them (since you've never had them to begin with!)

If you want a Graphic with a heap of movements, get a Graphic View 1 or 2 monorail.

Being that Graphics are all going to be old, and are all basically the same design for that matter, I think you'll find that the most important consideration is condition. Are the bellows good? Does eveything work as it should? (Remember press cameras don't really get babied like one thats seen time in a studio---lots of Graphics I've seen were "rode hard and put away wet.") If so, it really doesn't matter which model, just enjoy whatever features your chosen camera was born with and take lots of pictures.

Good Luck!

Wayne Crider
16-Sep-2004, 18:25
Of all the models I've owned, my favorite would be the Super model, but I really enjoy the Crowns as well, and they are cheaper. Right now I have a couple of beaters that I picked up for next to nothing, and although they don't look great, they are in very good useable condition and to tell the truth I prefer them that way. As an initial entry, no matter which way you go, I say stay under $300 with lens, only because of the lack of back movements, and the relative smaller front movements over a more typical LF camera. Don't expect to get the whole LF experience with cameras that don't have back movements, which I feel is a major part of the larger format. What you will experience will be the routine of shooting slower, carrying more bulk, especially film holders if you go that way, requires handheld metering, zone placements for B&W, larger developing equipment for at home processing and good eyes for a poor ground glass. In fact, a better GG makes the experience more enjoyable. Depending on the lens, and if you go with something that was normal on the camera, you'll need some push on adapters for filters. In the end I'd spend my money on a nice lens that can be used on any camera, and I would not suggest a 90mm as a starter, just in case you might be thinking along those lines, although you didn't say that. After shooting the Graphics, I would suggest to anyone looking to try LF, to think about a Tachihara or Shen Hao as a true first LF camera. The Graphics to me are intended to be used for just what they were in their days, handheld cameras. It's not that they can't take nice landscape pictures on a tripod, in fact for a landscape camera which does not need alot of movements they are rather decent being reasonably light and fast to set up, but when you get to pointing them down or up and going for a perspective correction, you wind up short. Buy cheap, get a decent lens with larger aperture for a dim GG, 4, 5 or 6 film holders and light meter and try it. Either you'll find the slower pace and larger film territroy up your alley or we'll see another Graphic up for sale. All you can do is try. Btw, I prefer the side mounted Kalarts over the top mounted rangefinders which take cams, except for the Super model.

Ted Harris
16-Sep-2004, 18:43
I'm gonna be the naysayer here. If you can get one cheap cheap, and that means under $300 then maybe otherwise the right Graphic is something else. Something like a Tachihara or other 'entry level' wood field that is somewhat newer than any Graphic, that has more movements and more importantly will take a wider range of lenses.

I started my phot6ographic career with a shiny new Speed Graphic in 1954 and it was great then for what ai used it for but I would not recommend it as an entry to the LF world today. There are just too many options that give you more. Just the other side and one man's opinion.

jon koss
16-Sep-2004, 19:43
As a beginner you are unlikely to find your perfect camera on the first try, so it probably makes sense to buy something modest and flog the heck out of it until you know exactly what you need in an LF camera. I would propose that a Speed Graphic with a spring back would keep you well entertained for a long while. It will take any 4x5 holder as well as Polaroid 545. They trade much cheaper than the more desirable models and you may even find one for peanuts at a yard sale, flea market, etc.

The Ektar on mine has really creamy bokeh, by the way. Rangefinder is dead on also.

If movements and/or seamless lens interchangeablity are important to you then it would make sense to just skip the press camera and go right to a true view camera.

Just my experience, yours may differ.


Steve Feldman
16-Sep-2004, 19:46
Hi Travis,

Lots of on-the-mark advise. Especially from John and Wayne. (They just write more). Here's my $0.02

I started out learning LF with the 4x5 Crown Graphic about 3 years ago. Got some great 20 sq. in. negs and some crappy 20 sq. in. negs, but with more information. You'll learn a lot and fast too. I still use the the beast and love it. I recently bought a Burke & James 4x5 wood view tailboard camera. (BTW-One of these cost less than a Crown - usually). I've made my own adapter to mount lens/lensboard from the Graphic to the B & J. Looks funky but it works fine. I'm now learning about the movements possible on a full view camera. Amazing - now I'm getting 20 sq. in. negs with perspective control, more information AND crappy too.

"If you're not making mistakes, you're not learning anything."

You may quote me.

Good luck. ~:o)

Frank Petronio
16-Sep-2004, 20:17
Just hang out on eBay until a clean Crown comes along. $200 with a good lens if you're patient. I prefer the top rangefinder ones as they are newer than the side mounted ones.

A good strategy is to buy two identical cameras - you can swap out the parts and build one nice camera, and use the "beater" for rainy days, experiments, or selling for parts. Many people "part-out" the cameras - making double the money by re-selling just one part at a time.

The Crown can be stripped, patched, and painted, which can make for an attractive little field camera. I've done two so far. And another nice thing is that you can fold them up with everything from a 75/6.8 Grandagon to a 150mm Sironar...

A Tachi or Shen Hao isn't any sturdier, they only have more movements (and they look nicer, IMHO).

Dave Moeller
17-Sep-2004, 01:20

I'm sure something in your research has lead you to the Graphics as the cameras you're interested in getting to start. I can't question that decision without knowing what kind of photography you want to do . I will, however, note here that you can generally find an old Cambo or Calumet monorail in the same price range as a Super or Super Speed graphic in reasonable condition. (Figure around US$200 or thereabouts on eBay.) The monorails aren't as convenient to carry into the field, but the old Cambo and Calumet models aren't all that difficult to carry either. There is, however, absolutely no chance you'll use such a camera hand-held.

You mention in your post that the Graflok back can be rotated, and others have noted that you can just rotate the whole camera for the Graphics that have a spring back. The other thing that a Graflok back will give you is a much easier adaptation to a roll film adapter. Roll film adapters that fit under a spring back are available, but not as cheaply or as easily as such an adapter for a Graflok back.

If your plans include roll film, keep this in mind (although I personally think you'd be better served by ignoring roll film for now and learning to use a 4x5 camera to get those great, _large_ negatives or transaparencies for a while). Roll film is cheaper to shoot, but the impact of your first 4x5 negative or slide is much greater than a roll of 6cm film, It's easier to speed things up and blow through film with a roll film back, but my personal experience is that shooting single sheets is much more contemplative and a better learning experience.

Whatever camera you end up with (and I think any of the 4x5 Graphics newer than the pre-Anniversary model are fine choices), spend some time learning to use all of its features before you start to look for something with more capabilities. I personally find myself using back movements more now, but when I started out doing landscape and architectural work in LF, all that I normally used were front tilt and front rise.

Be well.

17-Sep-2004, 06:13
hey travis - -

not much to add here but with a speed graphic ( at least i know my pacemaker speed graphic is like this) you can use lenses from 65mm all the way to a 15" teleoptar. for a while i even used a 58mm brass lens for some really wide angle shots.

no matter what you buy, remember it won't be your camera forever, but you'll use it alot and maybe sell it ( and probably get all your money back) if you don't like it, and/or you'll get a more sophisticated camera with more bells+whistles.

ebay has lots of bargains :)

good luck!

William Demere
17-Sep-2004, 08:20
Someone else might chime in here and say otherwise, but I went through the same research about a year ago and eventually decided on either a Burke & James or a Meridian 45B. ( I wound up with the Meridian.) I decided against the graphic because I wanted one with a focal plane shutter, but the local camera repair guy told me that all of the focal plane shutters he had seen were junk and wouldn't function without a lot of repair, if at all. Also, after watching the prices on Ebay, it seemed that the good graphics were going for way more than they should be.

So, if you can get one with a good focal plane shutter so that you can use barrels (especially with a graphlok back) at a decent price then I think you would have a great camera.

I have to say I love that Meridian 45B. I also have a Gowland pocket view and its hard to decide which one to use sometimes. Mostly it depends on how far I have to hike.

Good luck,

17-Sep-2004, 11:42
Well if you want movements then the B&J has quite a bit. Still no rear movements but the front does it all. OTOH the bellows could be longer. No graflok. But the back does rotate. Best of all they tend to be very cheap.

Chris Mallison
17-Sep-2004, 14:08
The Super Speed Graphic was my choice a little over a year ago. Absolutely no regrets. Works great with a 90mm lens and a 210mm also. Back rotates. Front standard has ALL movements without having to turn camera on its side or upside down! Limits are: no back movements and lenses too wide or too long won't work. It'll keep you happy while you learn the ropes and build a lens selection. $350 (US) and it came with the well regarded Ektar 127mm.

Steve McKinney
17-Sep-2004, 21:15
Hi Travis,

Check out graflex.org. It's a great Graflex resource.

By the way the Super Graphic and Super Speed Graphic have significant movements. More than any other Graphic, I believe.

I have a Super Speed in very nice condition for sale. Here's (http://gallery.photo.net/photo/2223982-lg.jpg) a pic. If you're interested, contact me off board.



tim o'brien
20-Sep-2004, 17:45

Sounds like yer local repair guy had no clue as to how to work on and/or fix a graphics focal plane shutter. Maybe he ought to keep working on 1969 Chevy Novas or something else simple. I have four Graphic focal plane cameras and not one of them is 'junk'. All reasonably accurate (in line with leaf shutters I have) and these babies date back to the '30s. I have heard the Meridian is a fine camera, but the Graphic is a tank, a well loved one in my house.

tim in san jose