View Full Version : deardorff cult

Herb Cunningham
2-Feb-2005, 18:09
I have had several 4x5 and a couple of 5x7 cameras, and cannot understand the hubbub surrounding Deardorffs.
the few I have seen, fairly late models, were nice enough, but not very rigid compared to a good Wisner, and not at all in the class of monorails. And one I saw yesterday in a shop, priced at $2,000, was indeed wobbly.

Is this a case of romance overcoming practicality, or am I missing something?

Scott Rosenberg
2-Feb-2005, 18:18
why do people spend into the six figures for an old car without air conditioning, power brakes, power steering, and the like?

Frank Petronio
2-Feb-2005, 18:24
As Ted Orland said, "Lin Hoff and his dear Dorff made beautiful pictures."

Neal Shields
2-Feb-2005, 18:48

You obviously didn't watch the Barrett-Jackson a 54 olds went for 3 million. They were getting 6 figures for Chevrolets.

Jim Galli
2-Feb-2005, 18:58
I have Sinar's and Toyo's at work. I've had a host of Toyo and Cambo monorails come and go. I have had 2 Zone VI's. Why do I keep the Deardorff's? They pleasure me.

Ralph Barker
2-Feb-2005, 19:34
We're all part of the large-format cult, which is really just part of the overall film cult. The 'Dorffers are just a further refinement of the sub-grouping. This is, however, contrary to my ex-wife's opinion. She thought I was part of the Diffi Cult. ;-)

While 'Dorff prices tend to fluctuate a bit, I, too, found them on the far side of practicality and bought a new Tachihara instead (for less than a well-used "Dorff needing repair). But, I can't criticize those who love 'em.

Neal Shields
2-Feb-2005, 19:43
I don’t think it is completely fair to compare a Deardorff to a Wisner. In an article in View Camera magazine that I am too lazy to dig out right now, Ron Wisner says something to the effect that the Deardorff was his starting point in designing his camera.

My V8 was recently rebuilt by Jack Deardorff and to my mind is quite rigid. He did things like replaceing all the loose screws with screws one size larger and adjusted everything.

If I have the time it is my preferred camera. When using it, there is a connection with both the craftsman that built it, and those that used it to make a living for 40 years before it became my weekend diversion.

I am in the manufacturing business, so I suppose if anybody can wax eloquent about a CNC machine it would be me, but somehow the idea that a camera was made by a bunch of solenoids and servos responding to a bunch of ones and zeros, just doesn’t feed the bulldog for me emotionally.

This is a picture from my web page on camera collecting. It is a close up of the fit of the parts on my “Dorff”. I think anyone like me who day in and day out tries to hold tollerences in metal with modern materials and equipment, can't help but be awed by what the Deardorff factory did in wood.


Then after 40 years it will, combined with a 100 year old Zeiss lens, produce (in the right hands) photographs that will blow most modern equipment away.

Michael Kadillak
2-Feb-2005, 19:46
I ran an 8x10 that was truly mint mint through its paces at a camera store a while back and arrived at the same conclusion Herb. The store owners were estatic and were aspousing its features and while it had classic lines and looks, to say that I was unimpressed is being gracious. But that was just me and it was my opinion to leave it and its reasonable price for someone else.

All I can say is that the market is and will always continue to be whatever the buyer is willing to pay and if there are those that are willing to come up with these lofty prices for these cameras, then I have to say - Go For It!

The good news is that LF is vibrant, the selections are many and the buyers are buying and not sitting on the sidelines. Ten years ago I could only dream about these times as LF camera sales were dropping and a funeral was being planned not the festival we are in the middle of. We are lucky to have it so good.


tim atherton
2-Feb-2005, 19:47
they are great if you have a fondness for heavy, dark old Victorian funriture - like your Great Aunt's sideboard.

Neal Shields
2-Feb-2005, 19:53
I think the prices may also have been effected by the recent publication of the book: In the American West which cronicals Avedon's multi year project of the same name.

It should also be noted however that by that time in his career he could afford to use any camera he wanted and he used a Deardorff, so there must be something to it.

John D Gerndt
2-Feb-2005, 20:07
It is touching the past. We are all somewhat sentimental, we photographers. Every photograph is a slice of time.

I bought a late model Ansco, $200. I modify it as necessary. It has all the history I need. I hope my pictures are honored as appropriate relics. I plan to use my camera up!


Alex Hawley
2-Feb-2005, 20:13
Rigidity is kind of an odd parameter for comparison. According to that criteria, implying current modern cameras are more rigid and therefore superior, Adams, Weston, Avedon, et al. couldn't take a good picture for lack of adequate rigidity.

I got a Deardorff simply because it was the best thing available for the money I had to spend at the moment. Not at all disapointed. After a year's use in the perenial Kansas wind, I have yet to make a shot that was jittered. Most exposures run at the 1/10 to 1/2 second range. So I don't understand your claim that more rigid is better.

tim atherton
2-Feb-2005, 21:05
"It is touching the past. We are all somewhat sentimental, we photographers. Every photograph is a slice of time. "

On the contrary, sentiment is the last thing I want in my photographs

Jay Lnch
2-Feb-2005, 21:14
Put your hands on a Kodak Master and your deardorff will look like fire wood.

chris jordan
2-Feb-2005, 22:08
My house is the same vintage as the Deardorffs and it has the same problem: not a ninety-degree angle anywhere in the place.

John Kasaian
2-Feb-2005, 22:12

My old 'dorff still gets used and to me its use has become intuitive. My failures are my own---I cannot find fault with my scarred up old camera, single coated lenses, wooden film holders or old tripod. If a kit still does what its supposed to do, whats wrong with using it? If the total cost is less than any of the new woodies currently manufactured, where is the extravigance? If the darn thing appreciates in value every time one gets sold on eBay, where is the foolishness?

I'm puzzled by this post, because I see 'dorffs as using tools, and pretty good ones for the purpose they were intended

Comparing 'dorffs and other classic old cameras like the Ansco and Century Universals and Graphics (and Leicas) to modern counterparts is futile. For sure a new camera will no doubt be more rigid, especially since it hasn't had 60-70 years of "professional grade" wear(consider this---most of the old view cameras around today weren't built for amatuers---they were professional models that saw daily use shooting catalogs and such---something few if any Wisners or Ebonys will ever experience!) OTOH you can't even prove that a new camera will even stay in one piece for as long (unless of course you're willing to wait around for another 60-70 years to see)

I'd rather be taking pictures:-)


PS: Dang! I guess I'm a luddite!

Mark Sawyer
2-Feb-2005, 23:39
I'm still looking for the "right" 8x10. I envy those who's camera found them...

domenico Foschi
3-Feb-2005, 01:07
Rigidity? I sometime use an old D2 where I attach to the lensboard a modified 3 1/4 x 4 1/4 speed graphic shutter + a 300 f 4.5 Heliar, or sometime a Conley extra rapid, a monster .
I can hear the camera moaning in pain , but so far hasn't dropped any lens in revenge.
No blurred images, just a little bit of guilt for the lack of respect i have toward this old lady who deserve rest after almost a century of existence.

Jay DeFehr
3-Feb-2005, 02:33
My Deardorff does everything that I ask of it, without complaint. It is rigid enough, light enough, compact enough, has enough movements and bellows , big enough lensboards, and it's beautiful. I hope that non-Deardorff owners are as happy with their cameras as I am with mine.


Edward (Halifax,NS)
3-Feb-2005, 05:56
Tim, I love my Great Aunt's sideboard but I wouldn't want to take it more than 50ft from the road.

Ben Calwell
3-Feb-2005, 06:07
Someone mentioned the weight of the Deardorffs. My friends, if you've ever tried lugging a Calumet C-1 into the field -- that's heavy. The Deardorff I hoisted once at Midwest Photo felt like a pack of cigarettes by comparison.

Herb Cunningham
3-Feb-2005, 06:09
What a great forum- I have always been, as an engineer, fond of great machine fits and precision, so it
is greatly illuminating to hear from all the dorff owners.

I do have an Eastman D-2 5x7 that I use occasionally, so some romance is there.

Thanks for the inputs

Chad Jarvis
3-Feb-2005, 07:10
It's romance, appeal, zeal, chauvanism, prejudice, pride and a willingness to lug a 12.5 pound monster an hour to make a 30 second exposure. We all know that the picture ain't about the camera, but I think the camera is all about the picture. For the types of photographs I enjoy creating, my Deardorff fits the bill perfectly in nearly all situations.

I love my 8x10. Made in 1952, it's been dropped, cracked and repaired more than once. A right angle is not to be found on it, but it still holds a lens and a film holder, and I can fix it myself (which implies that I can also break it myself...that damned cause and effect thing again).

Is it a cult? Maybe it is, but it is in the same sense as there is a Harley, Corvette or Leica cult. None of them may be my personal cup of tea, but any of which I really wouldn't mind owning.

Jim Rhoades
3-Feb-2005, 08:07
How sad. I do feel sorry for you. You see, if you have to ask, you would never understand. The Deardorff to me is instinctive. I know that if you spend enough time under a darkcloth you can learn to use anything. But, with the 'Dorff everything is just where it's supposed to be. Look at the lower section of the rear standard brackets. See how they are C- shaped? And the bottom support is C- shaped too. That's so your thumbs slide right onto the knobs for the swing. Even with heavy gloves on. On the front standard the knobs are on the outside. Once again easy to use even with winter gloves.

The only other L/F camera that is anywhere near so perfect in it's design performance is a Speed or Crown Graphic.

By the way, to even mention wood hacker Wisner. In the same sentance as Deardorff is blasphemy.

Rigid? What 8x10 camera with 12 to 30 inches of bellows cranked out is rigid in the wind? No wind they are all rigid enough. The Empire State building looks rigid at ground level too. How many feet does it sway in the wind?

Joe Smigiel
3-Feb-2005, 08:33
>>By the way, to even mention wood hacker Wisner. In the same sentance as Deardorff is blasphemy.<<

LOL. I have a Deardorff 4x5 Special nfs from the 1930's and it is just a joy to use. As mentioned earlier, everything is in the right place and easy to operate. The camera is sleek.

I also own several other view cameras including Agfas, several Burke and James models, plus I have access to Shen Haos, Tachiaharas, and Calumet monorails and I've used Cambos and Sinars in the past. I use the Deardorff while the others sit around collecting dust. I did consider purchasing a Wisner once, but handling it in the store, it felt bulky to me and I didn't like the way it looked. Unsleek. They may be fine cameras to use, but to me, they are unappealing especially at the asking price. The used Deardorff was a much better value IMO.

I like how the 'dorf looks, feels, and handles. Plus, mine has aged gracefully and although it has a few scars, it still is nice just to look at.

roger michel
3-Feb-2005, 09:15
i guess i am in the minority. i have been using my rebuilt (by jack) V8 for about ten years with great satisfaction. my other principal LF camera is a master tech, so it is safe to say that i know what rigid means. my dorff is quite rigid in all dimensions, and i have never noticed any wobbling, quivering, flapping in wind or otherwise. i also find the movements quite easy to use and very intuitive in their design. the bellows is an admirable combination of durability and light-weight construction. i have enhanced the design by adding what i consider to be an essential accessory: a linhof adapter board. even if my other camera weren't a linhof, this would be an amazing convenience to the extent that it dramatically decreases the size and weight of board-mounted lenses. really nice.

as for the perceived quality of the camera, surely that is a matter of persona taste. there are people who climb into a new 2005 car and love the new car smell (polymer outgassing), and crispness with which all the knobs and buttons function. other people get in a new car and see a boatload of plastic crap that is going to be broken to bits in five years. the dorff has an amazing sense (to me) of solid quality. i would take it into any environment with complete confidence. it also makes a neat 4x5 camera (with reducing back) with gobs and gobs of extension.

anyway, to each his own. but considering the great photogs who have taken immortal images with dorffs, as well as ron wisner's own high praise for the instrument, i think it is silly to talk about deardorffs being dogs -- that is of course unles you are talking about sixty year old unrestored cameras. it's amazing they're still going at all.

Kevin Crisp
3-Feb-2005, 10:26
I drove my 1970 MGBGT to the office this morning. Compared to a Kia, it is slower, noisier, less efficient, less comfortable, and more drafty. I had to take 3 inches out of the foam in the seat so that I could fit in it to drive it. It is probably more "rigid" than the Kia. I had to get up early this morning and fix the rear s.u., which has a sticking jet. It accomplishes the same thing as a newer car -- I get to work. I look exactly the same when I get here. It is a beautiful car, at least to me, the result of Italian design working on the original British roadster. The inconveniences (pull the choke out, gradually push it in) are slight and by now second nature. I don't think I've seen a 35 year old Kia on the road. Or a 35 year old Toyota on the road. Or a 35 year old Datsun on the road. I enjoyed the 14 mile 35 minute commute. I think I'm going to drive it tomorrow too.

Herb Cunningham
3-Feb-2005, 11:10
Amazing the number of responses.

To reiterate, my question was about why dorffs cost so much, not whether they are any good as a user camera.

To me, the camera is not my friend or enemy, just a trusty (we hope) tool that will be there when I need it.

Certainly did not mean to offend those who took offense, as I mentioned in the initial thread, I have an Eastman D2 that I use regulary-it is probably decades older than dorffs.

Jim Rhoades
3-Feb-2005, 11:40
Herb, Please check View Camera magazine and look at the Midwest photo ad. A brand new 4x5/5x7 Deardorff made by Jack Deardorff for about the same price as a Canham or Wisner. A thousand more than a Tachahara or Shen-hao. Fifteen hundred less that an Ebony or Lotus.

If a 'Dorff holds it's price, why not?

Jim will have a 11x14 for about $5,800. New. What's the Ebony 10 or $11,000? The Canham is $5,996.

Ted Harris
3-Feb-2005, 14:31
Quality is worth what you pay for it but while we are waxing eloquently about the dorff let's not forget that tthere are other quality wood field cameraas that may well last as long as dorffs ... most of 'em just hafen't been around that long. My Canham Traditional 5x7 is pushing 10 and I imagine it will be around to celebrate at least another 20 anniversaries and yeah, I feel it has the same quality of workmanship as a dorff. Those who use them will say the same about Ebonies as well. As mentioned above, there are still many Gandolfi's doing daily duty that were old before the first Deardorff ever left the factory. Curious now, I wonder how many of Keith Canham's earliest cameraas are still in service?

Donald Brewster
3-Feb-2005, 14:31
Why a 'dorff? I drank the Kool-Aid. Then again, I wouldn't have paid $2K for mine either.

Alex Hawley
3-Feb-2005, 21:54
Herb, in an attempt to answer your original question, I'll offer this. The Deardorff Co. created a classic in all respects; design, function, and style. They became an instant favorite with professionals and maintained that status. They were in business for many years so there are a good number of them around, which get cycled from one owner to another.

I have no idea when mine was made; it appears to be a pre-front swing with front swing added. No idea how many owners it has had. I'm at least the third. Even the local digital fanatics think its cool. One of them keeps trying to convince me his digi can take good pictures. That is, he did until I showed him an 8x10 'Dorff negative.

4-Feb-2005, 07:39
There's often more to making a successful product than just having a great design. It was way before my time, but I suspect that dealing with the Deardorff Company was a pleasurable experience. That they were accessable to anybody who called or stopped in to the factory, and probably followed through with what they promised. Once their reputation was established, it has persisted to this day. During The Great Depression, at least, you had to be nice to your customers!

roger michel
4-Feb-2005, 09:59
why they cost so much -- ebay. ebay has jacked up the prices for all niche market items (and driven down the cost of commodities). when there are a few hundred customers for a particular item spread around the globe, it's damned hard to get a good price. the demand really gets ratcheted up when you can reach all of those customers easily over the internet.

in th eold days, e p levine would always have a few dorffs gathering dust. take em off their hands for a snip. now they don't last a week and sell for a pile on ebay.

Steve Hamley
4-Feb-2005, 10:55
I always love it when scientists and engineers try to "left brain" art!


Hans Berkhout
4-Feb-2005, 16:05
They are a bit slow to set up and you have to get used to working (or not) with the front-end. To really get front/back parallel a mirror system is mandatory as far as I'm concerned. All cameras have their idiosyncrasies, lots of hate/love situations (are you married?). However, at least the old Dds are made of relatively old wood with little chance of warping, I'm not convinced that this can be said for today's crop of wooden fields.

N Dhananjay
5-Feb-2005, 08:52
The appeal of well-engineered stuff goes higher than the "rational" utility of the item, I guess. Take something as small as the lensboard of Deardorffs. It is made in three pieces - two of the pieces have the grain running in the opposite direction to the grain on the other piece. This increases strength and prevents warping. The corners are rounded apparently because they noticed that many square lensboards ended up with their corners crushed when they were dropped/bumped etc. Compare that with a square piece of wood (OK, some of the better ones have a light trap). The Deardorff lensboard is obviously a bit more of a pain to make, but more importantly, it sort of leaves a trace about the thought that went into the design. And there is an appeal in that, rational or not.

There is a logic to the fact that an LF camera is just a light-tight box. And there is also a logic in the notion that something that fits YOUR hands will work better and should be valued/worth more. How much more value is going to be argued endlessly given individual idiosyncracies and differences. And finally there is an endowment effect - we end up valuing an item more once we possess them than before.

Cheers, DJ

Dan Fromm
5-Feb-2005, 10:52
DJ, thanks for writing the words "endowment effect."

I've had the concept for years, never knew that it had a name. Examples include shopping for cars and for cameras of all sizes. Before the purchase they all seem much the same but after one has been bought it suddenly stands out as the best. Yeah, sure, but people do it.

What? Me make a mistake?



N Dhananjay
5-Feb-2005, 23:23
Hi Dan, Off-topic except for some implications for buying on eBay.

The endowment effect is actually one of the most robust phenomena in behavioral economics. In one famous demonstration, people were willing to pay $31 for a hunting permit but were unwilling to sell it for less than $143. Some researchers have actually investigated this phenomenon on eBay and found some interesting evidence. It looks like the very placing of a bid and being told you are the highest bidder creates a 'pseudo endowment' - a feeling of ownership (you know, screens that say, "Congratulations, you are the highest bidder" and thoughts like "Ooooh, that is almost mine"). This leads people to overvalue the item and creates a tendency, if subsequently overbid, to place an even higher bid, leading to an escalation of commitment on the part of all parties. The wierd thing is that it doesn't seem to be an excess of testosterone/bidding frenzy. Once you feel you own something, you tend to focus on the good things and ignore the bad things, and in that sense you genuinely feel that it is worth more, rather than trying to avenge some imagined slight or insult to one's manhood or something.

You are now being returned to your regularly scheduled programming.

Cheers, DJ

michael waldron
8-Feb-2005, 07:13
One thing no one mentioned is that the Deardorff has a sliding lensboard holder, so one can use a bit of rise/fall very easily without adjsuting the front standard. Maybe it is patented, but I really like this feature and wonder why others do not use it.