View Full Version : Gandolfi half-plate camera...advice needed

4-Jul-2008, 04:10
I am a newcomer to LF, and I am on the waiting list for a Chamonix 45, but have missed out the August shipment and am on the alternate list...we will see. Could be December...

While poking around the local camera shop here in London, I discovered a Gandolfi half-plate camera, with 7 matching double bookholders (i.e., for plates), with original Gandolfi wooden tripod, and case. Fitted with a 127mm Schneider lens, which has a working shutter. Bellows look good and light tight too.

I know of only one place to get half-plate film here in the UK (Retrographic), and of course they only have a limited supply and choice - just the NP line, in one ISO.

The shop wants £200 for the Gandolfi - which is in respectable but obviously not perfect cosmetic condition. Any advice from the members here on whether or not that represents a sound investment to get started in LF? Or should I just wait for the Chamonix, which will have more movements, film availability, lighter, etc.?

And lastly, on a half plate, what does that 127mm lens represent in 35mm equivalence? Is it close enough to 4x5 to figure that as a 35-40mm equivalent?

4-Jul-2008, 04:26
A traditional Gandolfi is (IMHO) the ultimate LF camera, like owning an old Bentley. I once had a half-plate Gandolfi, but circumstances required giving it up.
Although half-plate film is difficult to get, you can use 5x7 DD film holders, which fit exactly, and there's plenty of that available. (I just re-read your post, and realized that it is a plate, not film, camera. Gandolfi is still in business in England and can make the conversion IF you need it.)
The 127mm lens is probably too short to cover -- I expect it once had a 4x5 back.
200 Pounds sounds like a bargain price.

4-Jul-2008, 05:10
It's worth more than £200, that's a bargain. Gandolfi tripods are worth around £50+

Are you sure it's a half plate camera, they also made Quarter plate cameras, and a 127mm lens would be standard for that format. But of course as Bill says it may have had a different back.

You need to decide whether it's worth £200 to you, you could make a 5x4 back, getting even a response from Gandolfi in the UK is supposed to be difficult and a new back would cost quite a lot.


robert fallis
4-Jul-2008, 05:19
I work in half plate, and use paper negatives ( ilford multigrade, pearl 5x7) and just cut it to size, it makes good contact prints, if you really want film I use ortho film and cut that to size under a red safe light, I tray develop so asa is not that important pull the negative when it's cooked enough.
Rob Lam at lux cameras had some half plate film holders


Ole Tjugen
4-Jul-2008, 07:10
The big question is: Is is a Gandolfi Universal, a Gandolfi Precision, a Gandolfi Traditional, or a Gandolfi Variant?

The Universal is a tailboard camera with a fixed front.

The Precision and the Traditional are the same camera, a "traditional type" field camera. Compared to the older Universal, they really deserved the name "Precision".

The Variant is a "modern" camera with more movements, often made of black MDF but can also be wood.

Have a look at www.gandolficameras.com to see the different cameras.

Ole Tjugen
4-Jul-2008, 07:14
BTW, there is no picture of the Universal ln that site. And since I just arrived at work in the North Sea, I can't take a picture of my Universal to show you either - but mine is a half-plate camera modified with a 5x4" spring back. It has a Shneider 150mm Xenar on it, at least until I get around to replacing it with something more fitting for such an old camera (like a TP shutter and a Satz-Aplanat?)

4-Jul-2008, 08:42

I have no experience with half-plate format other using a half-plate reducing back for a Charten whole plate. Unfortunately most half plate holders do not seem to fit, thus the redundance of these holders. Unless Rob_5419 who uses an English Gandolfi has sold his, it sounds identical to yours.

On the link page for Traditional Bookform Plate Holder, he has an image of a half-plate Gandolfi:


The most reliable source for half-plate film which I am aware of can be sourced from Dirk at Unicircuits (http://www.unicircuits.com/shop) who offers Fuji Acros emulsion in half-plate format or Alex at URL =" www.mrcad.co.uk " also stocks Efke PL emulsion.

Kind regards,


Ernest Purdum
4-Jul-2008, 08:48
Over the amazingly long period when the Gandolfi firm meant father and sons, they made several types of camera in addition to those mentioned. All of them were fine examples of craftsmanship and were made of well-seasoned top quality wood. They differed substantially, though, in their extension, movements provided and other factors. This means that one type might be all that a landscape or portrait photographer wants or needs, while an architectural specialist would find it entirely inadequate.

During most years of Gandolfi production, the holders provided were "book-form double dark slides". Cameras made for these holders will not accept the current "block-form" holders. The camera back, however, is readily removable, and it is an easy job for a woodworker to make or adapt a back which will accept modern holders in 4" X 5" (or 5" X 4", since you are in England) size. It is also quite possible that the camera could take a back capable of accepting 5" X 7" holders. This depends on exact dimensions but I am guessing the opening of the back would be large enough.

Regarding the lens, is it f4.5 or more? If so, it will have too narrow a view to be useful. I would suggest selling it. The proceeds of sale should go quite a ways towards something more suitable.

Does the base of the camera have a "turntable" into which the tripod legs fit? This is an arrangement which can be rather hazardous since inadvertently kicking a leg can bring the whole assembly crashing down. If so, tell us and we can suggest means of avoiding this hazard.

I think you may be pessimistic regarding the availablity of 1/2-plate film in the UK. Some other forum members may be able to provide information on this point. Do the holders have metal pieces inside? These "septums" or should I say "septa" accept cut film.

If, after the delivery of a Chamonix, you should decide that the Gandolfi is redundnt, you should be able to sell it and consider any loss involved as cheap rent. You might, however, decide to keep it, finding that it has advantages as a supplemtal tool. I always like the possibility of two formats since it makes fuller use of your lenses.

Ernest Purdum
4-Jul-2008, 08:50
I see RJ has already provided some information on 1/2-plate film availability. It is no surprise that one type is Japanese. This size was a Japanese standard for very many years.

4-Jul-2008, 11:24
Thank you ALL for your responses...I went back today after work, and one of the managers had brought in her Manfrotto 410 head for me to try with it (I have a set of 055 legs, and the original Gandolfi tripod is not the best shape), and the owner of the shop was there. He showed me that in the camera box was a whole collection of 4x5 film adapters, and showed me how the just popped in to the holders - he said the previous owner used it as a 4x5 camera exclusively. It also had a spare lensboard that I had not seen yesterday.

I bought it on instinct, and the 410 head (on order), and just brought it home. I am thrilled to death with it - it just has a look and feel about it that spoke to me. I am glad that some of you think it was a good price - but I bought it before I got a chance to read this. The more I spent time with it, the more I just wanted to load it with film and take it out somewhere...which really meant anything else was secondary.

I had a look at the Gandolfi site that someone posted above, and my camera looks older than any of those. All of the rise and front shift movements are done by moving the actual lensboard itself, and tightening two brass screws (one horizontal, one vertical). The rise screw has two holes, one for rise and one for fall. The front mount itself does not move - it is locked in the upright position by two brass rails that hook onto the sides. Those same rails lock the case closed for travelling.

Also, while the back plane looks a bit like the Traditional, it has two brass setscrews on top, that permit coarse focus by sliding the backplane up and down the bed, and then lock down by the setscrews. Fine focus is then attained by using the right side focus knob.

I will try to take some pictures of it and post them tomorrow. Perhaps someone can help me figure out what model it is...

Alex Tymków
4-Jul-2008, 12:04
Hi Robert
You have a Gandolfi Universal, I have the same camera. Rise & fall and shift on the front, and a small amount of tilt and swing on the back. I thought mine had been made in the 50s but I showed it to Edward Hill (Gandolfi maker) and he told me it was from before the First World War. It has square cornered bellows.
I exposed some film recently and found I had a light leak down one side of the negative. I will now investigate whether it is the bookform darkslide or the camera back. 200 quid is a really good deal if it is in working order.
Enjoy your piece of British photographic history.

Pete Watkins
4-Jul-2008, 12:16
As you have probably realised Gandolfi are still in existence. I dunno what they would charge but I'm sure that they would make you a 5x7 film holder back. If you decide to do this half plate film holders are available in The UK on a regular basis on the Bay, and they go cheap. Second hand 5x7 filmholders are as rare as unicorn crap and you'll need to join the queue :-) well behind me. If you can't be bothered to cut 5x7 down Mr. Cad (God forgive me for giving him a plug) stocks 100 asa half plate sheet film.
Best wishes,

4-Jul-2008, 13:10
Thank you for helping me identify it! You are right, it does have a square cornered bellows.

I checked for a light leak in the shop, and couldn't find anything, but you never really know until it has film exposed. However, the store owner said that the camera had been in use up until the time it was sold.

Do you have any idea of why the called it a Universal, and what makes it special or different from the other models? Looking at the woodworking, I can easily believe it is an older camera, so the WWI date doesn't surprise me.

Again, many thanks!


Ernest Purdum
5-Jul-2008, 16:19
"Universal" was a very common name or description for camera models intended for versatile use. Zeiss had the "Universal Palmos". Sinclair had their "Una" and spelled it out as a Universal camera. Gandolfi also had their remarkable "Universal" hand camera with capabilities in the Master Technika level.

The Gandolfi Universal is a "square bellows" camera, a type which was almost generic in the pre-WW I era. Watson and Sinclair were amongst the very fine makers who made models very close in design to the Gandolfi. The term "square bellows" didn't refer to the bellows corners, it meant square, as opposed to the tapered bellows common on more lightly constucted cameras. It's a coincidental oddity that square-cornered bellows survived longer on some of these cameras well after they had disappeared from other types. These cameras could support heavy portrait lenses that typical field cameras could not. Though having many common design characteristics to the Continental "ReiseKamera" (travel camera) in Britain they were thought of as primarily for studio use. The British War Office was one purchaser.

6-Jul-2008, 08:12
Thank you very much for your detailed explanation and helping my education in LF.

Do the square bellows help at all in using wide angle lenses?


Alex Tymków
6-Jul-2008, 09:18
Hi Robert
Using a wide angle lens on a tailboard camera, the generic name for Universal types, is a bit awkward. It is not because of the shape of the bellows but because of the short focal length of the lens. You have to have the rear standard very close to the front. If you then try to focus with a loupe the tailboard hits you in the throat. A few contortions are required.
My Universal doesn't have a carrying handle which makes me think, as Ernest says, that it was made to be used in the studio. Using longer lenses so the tailboard doesn't get in the way.
I have a Zeiss "ReiseKamera" which does have a carrying handle which bears out again what Ernest said.

6-Jul-2008, 12:05
OUCH - I can see just what you mean...that platform looks like it will get me right in the neck, unless I manoeuvre around from the side or something. I will have to take that into account when I size a darkcloth, and even set up the tripod. I am guessing that it means setting up the tripod fairly low to give myself enough reach.

It also means that I probably can't get much of a shorter lens than the 127mm that I have on it to focus - I can't see how to fit a tophat lensboard on the front panel, and the rear standard is almost right up against front even to focus the 127mm. I might have a conversation with Gandolfi's current owner and see what he says...

Ole Tjugen
6-Jul-2008, 22:16
Well, both my "Universal" and all my "Reisekameras" have carrying handles.

The "Universal" is thicker than the "Reisekameras", meaning that it cannot use as wide lenses - my 24x30cm German Reisecamera can focus the 47mm SA XL at infinity, the Gandolfi Universal stops at about 105mm.