View Full Version : Rediculous Question...

2-Jun-2010, 15:54
Sorry but, can a Graflex 4x5 be used hand held?

I assume so but...

2-Jun-2010, 16:00
yes, an SLR, speed or crown. that is what they were made for.

Glenn Thoreson
2-Jun-2010, 16:25
Certainly. Some models are more easily managed than others, but yes. Case in point: Torkel Korlimg was a photographer who did lots of fine portraits. He used a 5X7 Graflex with an absolutly huge flash monstrosity hand held. For little tykes, he would crawl around on the floor with the thing, waiting for junior to hit the perfect pose. I can't imagine doing that. :D

Walter Calahan
2-Jun-2010, 16:34
Most people do, but your results may very.:D

2-Jun-2010, 19:19
Absolutely, that is why they are called press camera.
See also,

3-Jun-2010, 02:20
A hand-held image.

Speed Graphic, using the focal plane shutter and a magnifying glass lens. Type 55.

Alex -- last game of the season.

3-Jun-2010, 02:32
Yea but remember depth of field is so shallow on 5x4 that if you sway when you hold the camera, you may lose focus

Carsten Wolff
3-Jun-2010, 02:52
(sigh) have you googled e.g. "Weegee"....or "David Burnett" etc. yet?..... PRESS camera says it all, dunnit? :)

Emmanuel BIGLER
3-Jun-2010, 03:13
The grafmatic film holder was probably designed for hand-held use of press cameras, certainly not for studio use !

3-Jun-2010, 03:14
but carsten, i thought 'press' was short for 'press the shutter'!

not all graflex are press cameras

Wade D
3-Jun-2010, 03:48
I hand hold my Speed Graphic Anni all the time. My other Graphic (Crown View) needs a tripod.

Steve Barber
3-Jun-2010, 04:20
Look in any news publication from the 40's, 50's and on into the 60's and any picture you see was probably taken with one of these.

Attached is a copy of the first Pulitzer Prize winner, 1942, for photography taken by Milton Brooks of the Detroit News entitled, "Ford Strikers Riot". Camera used was a Speed Graphic using a 127mm lens.

For one of the most famous photographs of all time, check out Joe Rosenthal's 1945 Pulitzer winner, his picture of the flag raising by US marines on Iwo Jima, also taken with a Speed Graphic.

al olson
3-Jun-2010, 07:04
Sorry but, can a Graflex 4x5 be used hand held?

I assume so but...

We most certainly used them hand held. That was the purpose of the Speed Graphics, the Super Graphics, the Busch Pressman, the Linhof Technikas, etc.

They were called "press cameras", not large format cameras. Large format cameras were bigger, like 8x10.

Editors wouldn't hire you unless you were using a press camera. I bought a Super Graphic outfit (including strobe and 6 holders) around 1957 or 58 and used it through 1961. I had a colleague who convinced the editor of the Grand Forks Herald that his photographs were just as usable from a Rollei TLR, but that was the exception.

I did my own darkroom work and handed the editors an 8x10 print, never the negative. I do not recall ever printing a whole frame, most were cropped down from negative area about the size of 35mm. The editors never knew the difference. When it was published it was cropped even further, so I would try to crop my prints to the point that the editors would publish them as submitted.

When I was working I wore a sport coat. I would put two holders in each pocket so they became quite baggy and stretched out. I had the most recent Graflex Stroboflash that was very powerful (see the photos in my link below) but had a large, very heavy battery pack with a shoulder strap.


Yes, we used them hand-held for sports photography as well. The images above were the only prints I have left, but we used them for basketball, football, track, baseball, and other events as well as hockey. Even outdoors I used the strobe for fill and for better stop action.

The news style was very stereotypical with heavy shadows from the flash or strobe. I would say that most news photos up until around 58 or so were with press cameras. Weegee's are a good example of how news photography was done.

William McEwen
3-Jun-2010, 07:16
Yes, if you watch old movies, they often show a group of reporters with their Speed Graphics, chasing down a story.

I like tripods, though, and use them almost 100 percent of the time. That includes 35mm, DSLR, and medium format.

3-Jun-2010, 07:17
It's not meant to be handheld. It's meant to be coddled, hugged and loved.

Mark Sampson
3-Jun-2010, 08:00
It's all relative. Somewhere in the literature there's a letter by Alfred Steiglitz (to whom I don't know) where he sings the praises of the 5x7 Graflex SLR, for being hand-holdable. Those cameras are monsters... and there's a photograph by Paul Strand of Steiglitz hand-holding just that camera; perhaps AS was shooting some of his skyscape "Equivalents". Strand, for the record,though, always used his 5x7 Home Portrait Graflex on a tripod.

Emmanuel BIGLER
3-Jun-2010, 09:45
Editors wouldn't hire you unless you were using a press camera.
Many thanks to Al Olson for sharing his experience with us.
On this side of the Atlantic in Western Europe my feeling is that press photographers had abandoned the 9x12 format for the more compact 6x6 (cm)Rolleiflex TLR camera right after the second World War. I remember that Capa covering the Normandy events after D-day had a rolleiflex TLR in addition to the Contax he had on the beach on D-Day. Lee Miller covered her journeys to Germany following the progression of the allied armies with a Rollei TLR as well.
And regarding what the movies show, sometimes the movies continue to show obsolete tools that are characteristic of a certain job in the imagination of the public, and not necessarily the tools actually in use...

Robert Doisneau who was not really a press photographer switched directly from a heavy 13x18 cm view camera in the thirties to the Rolleiflex just before WW-II. Doisneau actually worked for Renault and he delivered some superb advertising photographs of top-class Renault cars. But he was more interested in candid shots of humble workers & people in the streets. Eventually he was fired from his job at Renault and became a free-lance photographer, he chose the Rollei, not the 4x5 Graflex...

But there is no question that 4x5 press cameras are a kind of an American specialty : try to find a decent Graflex in a shop at a decent price in Paris nowdays... and be prepared to loose your time and money !! Thanks to the Internet, now we have direct access to the US stock of 4x5 Press cameras !! ;)

But wait a minute : the 4x5 camera handheld : this IS the solution to legally take LF pictures in Paris, in the Louvre gardens without paying the infamous "tripod-fee"
(see this recent discussion ;) )


al olson
3-Jun-2010, 11:23
This thread has inspired my recollection with a little more information about the press photography experience. I hope you don't think it is too much.

Certainly smaller cameras were used early on. Photographers like H. C-B were shooting with Leicas back in the thirties. Rolleis were also very popular, but news editors did not take them seriously.

I usually carried a 35mm as a backup. As I said earlier, if you handed the editors a print they didn't know the difference. The downside with roll film is that the assignment might only require a couple of frames, but you would have to develop the whole roll.

By the late fifties many of the prominent news photographers were using Leicas and then the Nikon viewfinder cameras. They were not as obtrusive for documentary photos.

As far as woman photographers go, Jacqueline Kennedy was at one time the society photographer for the Washington Star. I have seen photos of her using a Speed Graphic.

Below is a photo of my Super Graphic and the colleague who convinced the editors to let him use the Rollei.


Many of the assignments were to take group photos of various clubs and organizations. I seldom used the ground glass. To get rid of the harsh shadow from the strobe I would detach it from the camera, hold it over my head, brace the side of the camera against that arm and shoot.

I have often felt that the reason for editors' obsession for press cameras is that they presented an official/authoritative appearance as representatives of the news media. Certainly carrying a press camera and strobe equipment at that time permitted access to many places and events that were not available to the general, non-paying public.

In 1962 I was stationed in Washington D.C. I was no longer doing news photography. That fall they scheduled hydroplane races on the Potomac, including the Unlimiteds. I decided to go down with my Graphic to see if I could photograph the race.

Unfortunately, the shoreline and seating areas were all cordoned off for the paying attendees. My wife was carrying my camera bag with my film holders. I pulled out an expired press pass, put it in my hat band and walked up to an usher, asking him if it was possible to get closer to the action. He guided us down to the front, never bothering to examine the press pass. As it turned out, the 127mm was not adequate for photographing the boats out on the water. But we enjoyed the races.

Unfortunately, I traded the Super Graphic in on a Nikon. I later regretted it. About 10 years ago I was able to acquire a Toyo Super Graphic made in the mid-70s that is identical to my first. While it does not have the back movements of my Linhofs, it is not as heavy either.

MIke Sherck
3-Jun-2010, 13:44
Check out the photographers (often women) in old Japanese monster movies, such as Godzilla. They're all using them. And the movies are fun, too!


Robert Hughes
3-Jun-2010, 15:19
I've been shooting citiscapes of St. Paul with my Busch Pressman D over the past few weeks, all handheld, to good success. I keep my shutter speed shorter than 1/50 and try not to hiccup when I trip the shutter.

Emmanuel BIGLER
4-Jun-2010, 03:22
inspired my recollection with a little more information
Thanks, Al : the image in itself summarises what was the reporter's choices just before the 35mm SLR invaded the market !
And I'm probably not alone on the forum to be delighted by reading good stories about that ! Please, tell us more ! ;)

tom thomas
4-Jun-2010, 14:58
Considering the size of some 4X5 cameras, even I was wondering how a 4X5 Graflex or Linhoff could be considered handheld when compared to today's mini-diggie thingies.

I found some photo support for the fact that the Graflex and Linhoff are considered handheld in a 1961 booklet by Kenneth S Tydings called "Graphic and Linhof Press Camera Guide." This great book came with the top mount rangefinder Graflex 4X5 Pacemaker Speed Graphic I "won" recently.

Hopefully the author won't mind that I scanned three of his photos showing correct holding techniques. It appears to be a Linhoff he's holding but a Graflex is just as square.


tom thomas
4-Jun-2010, 15:00
Oops, I'd meant to include that the title does link Graflex and Linhof to "PRESS" cameras as well.

al olson
4-Jun-2010, 17:07
Considering the size of some 4X5 cameras, even I was wondering how a 4X5 Graflex or Linhoff could be considered handheld when compared to today's mini-diggie thingies.

I found some photo support for the fact that the Graflex and Linhoff are considered handheld in a 1961 booklet by Kenneth S Tydings called "Graphic and Linhof Press Camera Guide." This great book came with the top mount rangefinder Graflex 4X5 Pacemaker Speed Graphic I "won" recently.

Hopefully the author won't mind that I scanned three of his photos showing correct holding techniques. It appears to be a Linhoff he's holding but a Graflex is just as square.

The photos in your post are of a Linhof Super Technika III aka a 'baby Linhof'. It is a 2.25x3.25 that takes film holders as well as 120 roll film backs. It is usually sold as a kit with a 60mm, 105mm, and 180mm lenses and a three-way cam that is matched to the lenses. The baby Linhof was popular with press photographers who could afford it.

My experience with the press camera was on the tail end of its heyday and was limited to working for a small town newspaper, the Grand Forks Herald, as well as doing photography work for the University of North Dakota. The big time news media was beginning the transition to 35mm (first the Leicas and then the Nikon viewfinder cameras) around the mid to late 50s. I am sure that there are others around who can relate their experiences.

An important point is that we used press cameras differently than I think most forum members envision. For indoor events we always used flash. This was because of the slowness of the lenses (f/4.7 or f/5.6) and the slowness of the films (Tri-X at the time was only 200 ASA) and also because the editors liked sharp photos with flat lighting. Typically we used flash bulbs with fast shutter speeds or strobes to limit motion blur.

Outdoors we also used flash where needed. This could be for fill, or to better illuminate close objects. I never took the strobe off my camera except when I was using it off camera by raising it above my head. The strobe also provided a solid grip for working with the camera. The movie scenes of photographers firing flash bulbs were typical of that era.

The book Graphic Graflex Photography (copyright 1952) shows that Heiland Strobonars were available at that time it was published. I bought my kit in 1958, paying about $350 for the Super Graphic and the lens, $150 for the cheapest Strobonar that did not have the multiple power settings. (This was very powerful as you can see from my posted hockey pictures.) And about $6 a piece for 6 film holders. Grafmatics and film pack were not in my budget.

I think that today's photographers talk about 'hand held' they are considering hand holding the camera with available light. That is not the way that we used press cameras back then. We adhered to a very simple formula using flash for most of our photographs. No light meters, they were very expensive.

Over 90 percent of my shots were indoors and I usually had the distance zone-focused somewhere between 10 and 15 feet with the f-stop somewhere around f/11 or f/16. The focus distance would be greater when covering sports. The Super Graphic has a distance scale with adjustable settings for Guide Number based on the film and flash. This was used to determine the f-stop. The shutter speed was usually 1/200. Slower if I wanted to include more ambient light.

The 35mm cameras had lenses that were much faster f/2 or f/1.4. They were smaller, less obtrusive, and could be used with available light. They also were capable of capturing a more documentary style of an event with a much lower cost for the film.

I have a leftover 25-sheet box for Super Panchro Press B with a price tag of $4.75 -- That's 19 cents per sheet whether they were used for publication or not. Add in the cost chemicals and paper for the prints, but the editors only paid $3 for each print accepted, you can see that the profit was pretty thin.

7-Jun-2010, 13:48
In response to Emmanuel's earlier post, in the UK newspapers were still using plate (cut film) cameras in the 1960s. I began working at a regional newspaper in 1986 and my boss had started working there in 1947, and used a VN 9x12cm press camera for many years until the Rolleiflex TLR and latterly the Nikon 35mm superceded it. I remember stories about press cameras still being used intermittently until the late 1960s.

The VN did not have a rangefinder, just a wire 'sportsfinder' and a focusing scale. It had a focal plane shutter, and I've seen a couple of old ones from the paper where I used to work, one fitted with a Tessar 135mm lens, and another with a Ross six-inch F3.5. Another had been modified with a lens mounted in a leaf shutter to enable the use of electronic flash.

I gather that Speed or Crown Graphics were very rare in the UK after the war because of import restrictions. The British-made MPP Micro Press camera is a 5x4 press camera with a focal plane shutter and rangefinder loosely based on a top rangefinder Speed Graphic.

British publications like Picture Post had used 35mm Leicas or Contaxes since the 1930s, but these were the exceptions to the rule.

I made a short video earlier this year about a young chap using an MPP Technical camera


Ernest Purdum
7-Jun-2010, 16:41
"Press camera" in Europe meant something rather different than a Speed Graphic. The VN that Matt Bigwood mentions was a comparatively recent model, but typical in being a 9X12 strut camera, much lighter, but also less sturdy than the American products. The basic layout goes way back in history. I have no idea who made the first of this type, but the Goerz Anschutz (later ANGO) of 1896 was pretty early. For awhile, German buyers had quite a choice amongst makers. Ernemann made cameras they identified as "Klapp" and this became the generic name for a strut camera. Around 1905 or so, some press-men would still be using the big SLRs and next to them would be others using the strut cameras. I still think a big SLR is the best large format tool for hand-held photography.