View Full Version : Big Bertha's New Home!

Dan Schwartz
19-Jan-2008, 17:20
Thursday was The Big Day, driving all the way down to Rodger Digiulio's office in Alexandria VA, from central NJ in the snow, sleet and slush to pick up this monster of a camera... And oh, does it need a restoration before it's really ready to shoot at a speedway.

In case you don't know what a Big Berthat is, this particular model has a 5x7 Graflex Home Portrait SLR, circa 1912-1915, mated to an f/8 40 inch (1016mm!) Bausch & Lomb semi-telephoto lens. She's over 36 inches long when focused at infinity; and she extends to well over 44 inches for focusing closer in. She weighs in at 57 pounds; and that big black lens is larger than anything you'll see in a porno flick.

She has two bellows, each 5 inches square and extending up to 8 inches. Normally, the front bellows are compressed to just 1-1/2 inch thick; with the front standard on a sliding bed allowing an additional 7 inches of extension.

Here are four photos I shot before I started the restoration: As time progresses, I'll add more pictures...





Bruce Watson
19-Jan-2008, 17:33
Cats! Now that's what I call a camera.

Dan Schwartz
19-Jan-2008, 19:15
Here are some photos of the brass parts after polishing, and of Bertha disassembled and without her pair of bellows. Note how she has the variable rear extension controlled by the lever, while the front extension is adjusted by removing the brass extension bolts and sliding the lens in its carriage.





Dave Wooten
19-Jan-2008, 20:04
Nice one....do you also collect and restore steam locomotives?:)

erie patsellis
19-Jan-2008, 20:12
Damn, I'm getting ideas here. (and with a full and 35hr/week part time job, that's dangerous)


Dan Schwartz
20-Jan-2008, 08:06
The hard part of building a Big Bertha is getting the glass. The 1016mm f/8 lens on mine appears to be from a prewar aerial camera: I say this because the optics are not coated; and because there is a power jack for a lens (anti-condensation) heater.

Damn, I'm getting ideas here. (and with a full and 35hr/week part time job, that's dangerous)


Steven Barall
20-Jan-2008, 22:23
Right now you're thinking that it's Big Bertha but give it a few months and you'll be thinking that it's more like Typhoid Mary.

Anyway, it does seem like a fun thing to have. Hurry up and take some photos with it and good luck! Cheers.

Dan Schwartz
21-Jan-2008, 06:00

She's already on the surgery table, partially disassembled for the restoration. Fortunately, the heart of the camera -- The lens -- is in almost perfect shape, just requiring a quick disassembly, cleaning and reassembly.

I'm waiting for answers on refurbishing or replacing the bellows from a couple more people; and also on a CLA of the focal plane shutter.

All that being said, my target is the middle of March to have her shooting pictures at a NASCAR track.

Eric Rose
21-Jan-2008, 07:46
I can't wait for the stories of being hassled by the local cops when you try and actually use this beast! I'm sure someone will think you are using some sort of rocket launcher LOL.

Dan Schwartz
24-Jan-2008, 17:12
I've been blogging Bertha's restoration on my website (http://users.snip.net/~joe/BigBertha/default.htm), which has more photos.

Leonard Robertson
24-Jan-2008, 18:27
Dan - It's great you are taking the time to share the fun of your find with the rest of us. Back in the late 1970s, I saw a Bertha on the floor behind the counter at Lens & Repro in NYC. I knew what it was, but made a point of not asking "How much?". I don't know if it had a lens as big as yours.

The last picture in your blog looks like a 4X5 spring back has been adapted to the camera. Is that what I'm seeing? It makes sense. Reducing the film size from 5X7 to 4X5 would give a tighter framing of the subject and reduce film costs. It would be interesting to know how many sheets of film were normally used during a football or baseball game.

Dan Schwartz
25-Jan-2008, 07:17

The Big Bertha over at Lens & Repro is still there, on the top shelf. They rent it out to use as a movie prop, but will not rent it out to actually use... I asked.

Yes, my Bertha has a 4x5 offset reducing back, and a piece of blue translucent plastic on the ground glass. I'll be replacing it with a Graflok back from a Graflex view camera; and also I'll be trying to find a 5x7 back of some sorts for full-sized photos; and here's why: I'll also be using this camera for Bar Mitzvahs & weddings where "photography" is normally prohibited (because photographers up on the bima are a pain in the ass), but a video camera is allowed at the back of the room with a long lens. Because of this, I'll want the additional field of view (angle of view) a 5x7 neg can give me.

[Though, with the f/8 lens I would need ISO 400 speed film & 1/50th second for an EV of 10, which is typical indoor lighting in the 25-30 50 footcandle range; so, for film availability reasons, I would either have to shoot B&W for 5x7 size, or shoot Kodak 4x5 inch 400NC. Yes, I could shoot 160NC in 5x7 and do a 1-1/2 to 2 stop push; but the toe (shadow detail/noise) gets a bit mushy.]

Michael Graves
25-Jan-2008, 07:51
Oddly enough, I didn't experience the barrel envy I expected. Perhaps the 53 pounds cooled me off.

Dan Schwartz
21-Mar-2008, 11:41
With my checking account $350 lighter, the two sets of bellows arrived back from Turner Bellows (Rochester, NY); and they did a nice job. New photos to follow...

Also, I've replaced all of the painted and plated screws with brass screws; and getting replated the brass-plated sheet copper and copper lens hold-down straps.

Still awaiting the return of the 5x7 Graflex Home Portrait from Ken Ruth. He's replacing the offset 4x5 reducing back with a true 5x7 back; and also making a new 4x5 reducing back with a centered Graflok back from a Graflex View Camera.

Doug Dolde
21-Mar-2008, 11:44
I am amazed that someone would mess with such a p.o.s.

Dan Schwartz
21-Mar-2008, 11:52

You sound quite jealous.

Why don't you just go off and play with your digital camera...

I am amazed that someone would mess with such a p.o.s.

21-Mar-2008, 11:57
:D you're a joker Dan.

I'll admit jealousy... but then again I need to slim down a few bits I have to pay for grafmatics and a RF645 on the way soon. Oh, and I just reaped myself about 4 petzval-like front elements from some lenses :)

Load up some pics for us!

Doug Dolde
21-Mar-2008, 15:22
It's an Arca Swiss 4x5 Field Dan. If I was looking for stuff to fill my trash barrel with....that thing would be a prime candidate.

22-Mar-2008, 08:53
What does the part between the bellows do? I presume there are optics in there. What effect dose moving the front vs moving the back have?

Great project, thanks for sharing.

Dan Schwartz
22-Mar-2008, 10:08
The black metal ring, between the front and rear bellows, about 6 inches inside diameter and 4-1/2 inches thick is just a hollow spacer ring with a carrying handle screwed to the top.

Coarse focus is done in 3-1/2 inch increments by sliding out the lens on its carriage (extending the front bellows) and bolting it back down.

Fine focus is done by rotating the crank, which slides the camera box back & forth, extending the rear bellows.

What does the part between the bellows do? I presume there are optics in there. What effect dose moving the front vs moving the back have?

Great project, thanks for sharing. :)

22-Mar-2008, 20:05
Ok, I see.

What was the turn around time with Turner Bellows? Did you send the old bellows and did they return them?

Does "Big Bertha" make reference to an "Andreas Feininger" type camera, or is it just a generic term?

Looking forward to the finished pictures!

Dan Schwartz
23-Mar-2008, 09:30
Turnaround was about 4 weeks, since I was in no rush. And no, they did not return the old bellows, since they were in horrible shape: Instead, they attached new bellows to the aluminum bellows end plates.

art gardiner
25-Mar-2008, 07:48
Does "Big Bertha" make reference to an "Andreas Feininger" type camera, or is it just a generic term?

I think the name came from the lens barrel resembling one of the German 420mm Howitzer line during WWI, named after Gustav Krupp's wife.

**Quick Goggle check - would be interesting if this were the case.

Scott Davis
25-Mar-2008, 09:41
In doing a little quick web searching, the "Big Bertha" nickname does indeed appear to come from the wife of Gustav Krupp, although in the original German the nickname was "Dicke Bertha", or literally "Fat Bertha". Oddly enough, Frau Krupp was not a large woman, at least in the photo I found of her online.

Martin Miksch
26-Mar-2008, 15:04
...steam locomotives?:)

my thoughts too^^