View Full Version : RB Super D back modifications

Frank Petronio
2-Feb-2005, 11:45
I haven't been able to find anything definitive. If all I use are standard plastic 4x5 DD holders - or a new Kodak Readyload or Polaroid 545 - will the stock back work? Or is this what I hear about regarding back modifications? Or are they needed only if you need a Graflock back for roll film holders or something odd?

If so, why can't I just butcher a cheap Crown Graphic back onto it? Is getting the distance going to require sanding or building up?

And finally, the other thread made a good point - if I'm using an older portrait lens wide open, then the Auto-Diaphram isn't that necessary. If that is the case, why do I want a Super D, when a less expensive, older model (in good condition, bellows OK, etc.) should suffice?

What did Weston use (WDWU)?


Jason Greenberg Motamedi
2-Feb-2005, 12:02

The graflock back will need to be shimmed for it to work properly. If you are able to to this, I see no reason why you can't do the modification yourself; just make sure that your back is able to rotate. A few years ago I had Bert Saunders, whose name came highly recommended at Graflex.org do the modifications on an RB Auto I have. He did a good job, and was very reasonably priced. Contact me off list if you want his email.

2-Feb-2005, 13:45
The difficulty isn't the camera back, but in shimming the ground glass to match it! The only reason for a Graflock back is using Polaroid holders or Grafmatics -- there are cut film holders, roll film holders, and 12-18 shot Bag-Mags which go on the regular 4x5 Graflex back. (Polaroid backs, incidentally, can only be used horizontally or vertically upside down which is a pain!). The semi-auto aperture is nice, but only available on the 190mm lens. Everything else is strictly manual adjustment. Shutter speeds on the Super D, while more limited, are said to be much more accurate than earlier cameras. It also has Ektalite GG.
Weston used a hand-held 3.25x4.25 Graflex with 10" lens for his great portraits. After he switched to the 4x5 he had to use a tripod and IMHO the results suffered greatly.

Ernest Purdum
2-Feb-2005, 16:14
Some Super D's already have graflok backs from the factory. Aside from that, a plain D is just as good in most respects and a lot cheaper.

Frank, my recollection (very unreliable) is that I have seen a picture of Weston with an R.B. Auto Graflex.

Jim Rice
2-Feb-2005, 16:14
In round figures, Jason, what did that run you?

Jason Greenberg Motamedi
2-Feb-2005, 16:21

As I recall it was a bit under $150, including a graflock back.

Leonard Robertson
3-Feb-2005, 13:32
Frank - You wrote "...if I'm using an older portrait lens wide open...". There are a couple of reasons you might be happier with a RB Auto Graflex rather than a D or Super D. The RB Auto has a front door that hinges down to make a bed, just like a Speed or Crown Graphic: http://www.graflex.org/RBGraflex/auto-special.html (http://www.graflex.org/RBGraflex/auto-special.html)
This gives you easy access to the lens if you have a "soft-focus" ring to turn on a portrait lens, or to see the diaphram ring. The lens board on a D sets back inside the camera, under a flip up front door: http://www.graflex.org/articles/series-d/ (http://www.graflex.org/articles/series-d/)
The D has about 12" maximum bellows extension; the RB Auto about 18 1/2". Depending on the focal length you are using and how close you want to focus, this may be a huge difference to you. I just put a 13" Cooke on a RB Auto, and it will focus down to a 10 inch wide field of view. The same lens will barely focus at infinity on a D.
RB Autos show up on eBay fairly often. Note there is a 3 1/4 X 4 1/4 version. Make sure the seller actually measured the back. There is also a model called the Auto Graflex without the RB, which doesn't have the long extension.
Keep in mind you may someday have to put a new shutter curtain in any Graflex. I was winding my D about a month ago and the curtain tore. I was disappointed, of course, but the camera cost me $50. If it had been a $500 Super D, I doubt I'd have been so calm about it. In the forum over on Graflex.org there is a lot of information on shutter replacement. Hopefully it won't be anything you ever have to think about.
Look carefully at the handle on top. The day before yesterday, I was just lowering my RB Auto down into the bag when one of the leather loops that hold the handle tore loose. It tore slowly, so I got it down into the case before the camera dropped, but I was lucky. There is an old trick when you drop a camera or lens, you stick your foot out to deflect it and break the fall. I'd hesitate to do this with a Graflex, even when wearing steel-toed boots. If you happen to buy a Graflex with the handle already torn loose, you can beef it up as much as you like.
You might pick up two or three of the special Graflex slotted film holders to start shooting with. If you fall in love with the camera, then you can modify the back to a Graphlock. Be warned, if you do like a Graflex, you are apt to end up with two or three or maybe more. They are a herd animal and somehow always attract more of thier own.
If you are able to find one with the focusing panel that fits on the rear of the camera, this is a handy item. It allows you to focus with the camera at eye level, at least on a tripod with the mirror up. Sometimes the belly level shooting height of a Graflex is limiting.

Erik Gould
3-Feb-2005, 13:40
Lots of good stuff here. I'd just like to add that you can get Grafmatics for the Graflex back as well, I have a couple that I use on my D series. Using Polaroid would be nice, but I seem to spend my money on funky lenses instead.

Leonard Robertson
4-Feb-2005, 08:00
Erik - Is there a catalog number on the back of your Graflex Grafmatics? I imagine many people selling Grafmatics won't have any idea which back they fit. Having a number for the Graflex version would be helpful. Thanks.

Erik Gould
4-Feb-2005, 12:28
I will check later when I go over to the studio. You are right that people selling these don't often know what they have, I've seen a number of them on e-bay that were described as fitting all standard 4x5 cameras. Bet someone was disappointed. I go by the pictures if they are clear enough.

Mike Schiller
21-May-2005, 19:12
The catalog number of the Graflex back grafmatics is #1168 and the graphic back grafmatics are #1268. Also, the graphic (or grafloc) back grafmatics will say "45 Graphic" on them, the Graflex back models will say "45 Graflex" on them. Of course all this info would be all you need IF you were buying them new, but you're not, so it's always best to look at the side where it mounts onto the camera to determine what kind of holder it is, as over the years people have mixed & matched parts. The Graflex back versions don't have a ridge on them for the light seal, but rather a groove, and they're also larger in the film's short side than a normal Graphic version.

With an unmodified Graflex back camera, you can use grafmatics, or the bag mags. Bag mags came before grafmatics, and while they appear to be harder to use, they're just slightly different, once you get the hang of them, they can be just as fast as a grafmatic, and they hold either 12 or 18 shoots! The normal bag mag will hold 12 sheets of film, the plate version with the proper film septums can hold 18 shots.

Really the only reason you would want to modify a Graflex to have a grafloc back would be if you're using Polaroid backs, and IMHO using Polaroid film in an RB Super D is a waste of a good camera!