View Full Version : Graflex, which one

Mark Andes
29-Sep-2004, 17:45
Which Graflex would be a good beginner's 4x5 to start out with. There are many on E-bay. What would be a good price to pay?

Frank Petronio
29-Sep-2004, 18:14
If you do a quick search, you'll find numerous versions of this ever-popular thread. But my vote is for the basic, late model 1960s Crown Graphic with the top rangefinder, along with a Kodak Ektar lens. A clean model will run from $150 to $400 on eBay, depending upon your luck and patience. The graflex.org website has tons of info, and the cameras are very sturdy and inexpensive - it's worth to wait for a clean one rather than settling for a beater.

The next post will tell you that there are only limited movements on a Crown, and that you should get this or that. Frankly, if you want to learn how to use movements, none of the box Graflexes are ideal - for that you should look for a $100-$200 Calumet Monorail and a 210mm lens ($200) of the same era.

If you have more money, a $650 Chinese Shen Hao is a great value for a camera that folds up and still offers plenty of movements, as are used examples of Wistas, Linhofs, etc.

Ernest Purdum
29-Sep-2004, 18:24
Are you familiar with www.graflex.org? There is much information there about the various models.

I assume you are asking about the various "Graphic" models rather than the big single lens reflex "Graflex" cameras.

I hesitate to recommend the Pacemaker models because they have extremely limited movements. There are many who happily use them, however. Some like the Speed Graphics so that they can use barrel-mounted lenses, but it can be hard to find one with a really good shutter.

The Super Graphic has considerably more movement capability. There are some unorthodox means of getting more adjustment than you might expect. For example, if you need more shift than provided, you can turn the camera on its side and use what is normally front rise. Some people have added extra tripod mounting sockets to facilitate this.

The lenses usually found on all Graphics are easy to use because of their large aperture, but have small image circles, so lack movement capabilities. If you can save money by buying a body only, this is worthwhile.

Regarding price, your best indication is by searching eBay's completed items.

Remember that these are all at least thirty years old, so condition is very important, particularly that of the bellows.

Ernest Purdum
29-Sep-2004, 18:26
Frank, you're a fine prophet.

Alex Hawley
29-Sep-2004, 19:13
I think the first question to answer is do you want the very limited movements of a Graflex or do you need the capabilities of a field or monorail view camera? For me, borrowing a friend's Graflex for a few weeks only whetted my appetite for full-fledged view camera.

Second question; if you go with a Graflex, do you need the focal plane shutter or not? If the focal plane shutter is necessary, then the Speed is the choice. If not, go with the Crown.

The Graflex is a genre of its own. The fact that they have lasted so long is a testament to their ruggedness and continued ability to do a job. On top of that, I think they are just flat fun. I hope to pick up a good Crown within the year. Then I will go to the local High School baseball games and plant myself next to the local Newsie with his Digi.

Leslie Gordon
29-Sep-2004, 20:24
The Graflexes have been talked up so much that they are now priced well above their worth on the auction site. Don't get me wrong -- they have their appeal, much the same way that the Lomo or Seagull TLR remain enjoyable cameras to use whether or not you have a Nikon F5 or a Mamiya RZ.

I suggest that you rent or borrow a 4x5, and if the bug hits you, save your dash for something a bit more reliable and versatile. My vote is for the Shen-Hao 4x5 with the back movements -- an excellent camera that is compact, relatively light, and reasonably priced. It takes standard back accessories and the popular Technika-sized lensboards. Both of these factors will be important down the road if/when you decide to purchase a more expensive camera.

Also -- brand suggestions aside, if you truly are a beginner, I suggest starting with a field camera rather than a traditional monorail. The field camera is easier to take out with you, which really counts in the beginning -- the best camera is the one that you have with you!

29-Sep-2004, 20:35
"...something a bit more reliable..."

Come back in 50 years with your Shen-Hao and say that!

Show us a camera more reliable than a Crown or Speed!

29-Sep-2004, 20:59
"beginner's 4x5"

For what? Everybody tries to answer the question but unless you spend a little time explaining what the camera will be used for nobody can give a good one.

Do you want to be a press photographer with the hat?

Do you want to take landscape photos using little movements but with the big negative?

Do you want to take portraits?

Do you intend to take macros?

Do you want to photograph buildings?

Ya the press cameras are limited. But maybe that's not a problem. OTOH maybe the limits are right in the area you want to use it for.

Leslie Gordon
30-Sep-2004, 06:45
"...something a bit more reliable..."
Come back in 50 years with your Shen-Hao and say that!

I took my Shen-Hao around for more than four years in a small Jansport daypack, wrapped in a dark cloth if anything at all. Never coddled it. I can't even remember if it was locked down or not when I threw it in there. Took a licking and kept on ticking. It really is a nicely built wooden field camera. I can see replacing the plastic washers (which would take $5 an about and hour of your time), but there's really nothing about the camera that wouldn't make me believe that it would last 50 years or longer.

Show us a camera more reliable than a Crown or Speed!

Show me a "beginner" Crown or Speed user / LF convert that hasn't gotten the bug for a more capable camera within a year of actually shooting with it!

30-Sep-2004, 08:59
" I took my Shen-Hao around for more than four years..."

only 46 more years to go! ;-)

" Show me a "beginner" Crown or Speed user / LF convert that hasn't gotten the bug for a more capable camera within a year of actually shooting with it!"

There are thousands! Myself included. Many of them at graflex.org. Sure, I also use a Century Universal (made by Graflex by the way!) for 8x10, but my Speeds, Crowns and GVII will not be replaced any time soon!

I am not a "pro" and never will be... And I have also found that movements for a non-pro fall into three categories. "Not needed", "experiment with this" or "I can bend my camera into a pretzel"...

Seriously, movements have been very overrated. Front tilt is essential, only because of the longer focal lengths to be able to get decent depth of field. Sure, that could also relate to swing for horizontals, but I've never missed swing. For product or architectural shooting, movements are necessary. But for everyday photography, not so much.

I'm not saying that movements aren't nice. And I'm not saying they're not needed at any time. I'm relating them to non-pro more casual shooting. Most people get along their whole lifetimes with 35mm or MF with no movements, and don't miss them. Those people should not be excluded from the joys of large format. You can get all the pleasure you want out of a large format camera and never use a single movement. I have done that when in the mood. Single lens, walk around and just have fun, especially with Polaroids.

Sometimes the technical points gets so over blown that the simple joys of photography get lost in these discussions... It makes sense to explain the benefits of movements, but most of them are not necessary for an average shooter who may never use them.

And after all that, even I will admit that movements are fun to play with, and do help more when moving to 8x10 (but again, because of focal lengths)...

Don Wallace
30-Sep-2004, 09:29
If you really want a Graflex, then get a Super and do not bother with either the Crown or the Speed. Their movements are far too limited and you will tire of it very quickly. The Super is a totally different camera and has full front movements, even more than a Toyo field camera. The major drawback - and the only one in my opinion - is that the Super has NO back movements. You can get a Super in really nice shape, with a press lens, for about $300-400. If you can, spend the extra few hundred and go right to a full view camera.

I have used and still own a Crown and a Super and love them both, for different reasons.

Frank Petronio
30-Sep-2004, 09:57
Rich makes a good point. If you do mainly portraits, landscapes, and "scenes from the real world" you often shoot without movements, or maybe a little rise and forward tilt, both of which the lowly Crown can do.

If you want to learn how to correct perspective and maximize focus on studio and architectural subjects, or use extreme lenses, or adjust focus for artistic effect, then a more fully featured camera is in order. But if you are looking for the rich tonality and fine detail that large format provides, then a Crown Graphic will do exactly the same job as the most expensive camera out there.

I'd get a Crown for cheap, use it, see how you like using large film, and then upgrade your camera when you're ready to add another factor into your photography. Moving to sheet film alone is a big step, so using a simple Crown is a nice way to simplify the transition.

Jim Rhoades
30-Sep-2004, 10:02
Yeah, I'll jump into this affray once more because I really love my Crown Graphic.

Movements are highly over rated for most photography. Which is a good thing because the Graphic has so little. Super Graphic does have more movements and weight `which is over rated only because most Graphic lenses have so little coverage. Forget more that a touch of movement for the 90mm, 127mm and 135mm lenses. The lens might throw some light in the corners but it will be so soft that its of no use. The ground glass will be so dark that you can't see how soft the image is. Lenses of 150mm and up has coverage that the Graphic can't use.

So why do I love my C.G.? I can pack the camera, three lenses,(90-135-203) four series VI filters and hoods, lightmeter, three to six holders, cable release and pad & pencil into a pretty small camera bag.

This outfit can fit into a saddlebag on my motorcycle and go anywhere. Oh hey, think about it, no tripod. Now most of the time I do use a tripod and with a Q.R. I can set up and shoot faster than just unfolding my Zone VI. Shooting with the rangefinder is way quick and don't get me started on the neat little rangefinder beam for shooting in the dark.

Have you read all those threads that complain about the mean nasty security guards harassing the octogenarian photographers shooting bridges and buildings? Never happen with your Speed or Crown Graphic. Shoot it and scram. Even works in D.C. Hit and run photography.

Now I also have a 810 Dorff but when speed or compact carry comes into play nothing beats a Graphic.

Think of it as another tool in your toolbox. And never ever put it into a class of toy camers like a lomo. While you may then "grow" into a field or monorail camera the Graphic will do many things that they cannot. After using a Graphic for a year you can then make a more informed choice as to which camera should be next. If you ever sell the Graphic you will soon be sorry.

PS. All of the above applies to the Linhof at ten times the price.

Leslie Gordon
30-Sep-2004, 13:48
Good points, good points all. I ought to know better than to naysay a Graflex user! But to all of you who lug around 10 lbs. of Graflex gear as a large point and shoot, I say this: come home to a Rolleiflex and you really will never look back! ; )

Jim Rice
30-Sep-2004, 18:13
Front movements are more important than back. You can always orient the back where ever you want it to be (usually level). While i'm not a huge fan of it, the drop bed as front forward tilt DOES work on a Pacemaker. My biggest itch with the Pacemaker is swing, which while not often needed, is sometimes needed badly.

I couldn't imagine buying a 4x5 camera today without taking movements into account. Just my thoughts. -j

Scott Watts
1-Oct-2004, 14:36
Mark, I recommend the Super Speed Graphic. I've been a professional photographer with the government for over twenty years, and have shot many fine cameras of all formats, yet the Super Speed Graphic is the only "film" camera I personally own. That's certainly not because I cant afford something more expensive, or dont know what to look for in a camera. It's because the Super Speed Graphic is one of the most rugged, and versitile LF cameras ever made, and it has never failed me, nor left me wanting something better.

I've used this camera everywhere from swamps, to ballrooms, and it has never had a camera bag to call home. It lives atop my gold anniversary edition Tiltall tripod which is transported by being slung over my shoulder as a lumberjack would carry an axe, and has shrugged off more abuse than any wooden feild camera could withstand, yet it still looks great and performs flawlessly.

The Super Speed Graphic has the rare Optar 1000 135mm lens, which features Rodenstock glass, and a whopping 1/1000 shutter speed. It also features a revolving back with a metal-backed folding hood to protect the ground glass, a built-in flash sync, and interchangeable cams for the range finder. It may not have as many movements or as long of a bellows draw as a few of the cameras out there, but I've used the movements to my satisfaction with my 75mm while shooting architecture, and the bellows draw is long enough for my T-series 360mm Nikkor telephoto lens.

"Show me a "beginner" Crown or Speed user / LF convert that hasn't gotten the bug for a more capable camera within a year of actually shooting with it!" --Leslie Gordon, 2004-09-30 05:45:33

Yeah, right. I've picked this camera up for $300 twelve years ago with the Optar 1000, 90mm Schneider, another Optar 135mm, and a Rodenstock Rotelar 270mm, have shot thousands of sheets through it, and if it ever needs to be replaced (only because it's been stolen or some such), it will be replaced with another Super Speed Graphic.

George King
11-Oct-2004, 19:23
If what you want is a view camera, get a view camera. The graphic "press" cameras were never intended to serve this function.

That said, I think they're worth having, and while the movements are very limited, the most useful one, the front standard rise, is present and there is enough of it to be very helpful on occasion. A truly nice aspect of it is, that when using the front standard rise, the wire frame finder automatically compensates. You can focus using the rangefinder, compose using the frame finder, and pretty much get what you expect. Very nice for when the building or tree you are shooting is just a little too tall for the frame.

One other thing, to me, these cameras seem very natural to use on a monopod.

I would not want one as an "only" camera, but that is also true of almost any other design.

One other thing. Be very cautious what sort of lens hood you use on these beasts. Simply buying one of the screw-in collapsible rubber hoods will most likely get you some vignetting.