View Full Version : Grafmatic - Worth trying?

Scott --
30-Aug-2010, 05:38
Hi, all -

I'm resurrecting the Neretta, a 4x5 hyperfocal camera I built (http://www.flickr.com/photos/scott--/2072499182/) a while back. Been parted out almost completely; new parts should be arriving starting tomorrow.

Anyway, carrying several holders for a P&S 4x5 was always a drag, but I have zero experience with Grafmatics. On the surface, they seem like they'd be a great advantage. I've read mixed reviews, though.

So I ask: Is a Grafmatic worth the investment for such a camera? How finicky are these things actually?


30-Aug-2010, 05:56
Absolutely, and not at all (based on the six I have).

I was out hiking yesterday with my calumet wood-field and two grafmatics (one with hp5 and one with delta 100). This was my first time using the wood-field, and I discovered that the grafmatics were a snug fit in it (width not thickness) or maybe I just need to wax up the wood so they slide more easily. Not a problem at all with any of my graflok back equipped cameras. I really don't find them finicky. They're easy to load (from experience, arista ortho-lith tends to fall out and get crushed because its too thin for the septums) and very easy to use. Like everything else of that vintage, make sure you get one in good shape, with six straight, clean septums.


Allen in Montreal
30-Aug-2010, 06:19
I agree with the above.
I love them and have several too.

30-Aug-2010, 06:33
I love mine. They weigh one pound.

Emmanuel BIGLER
30-Aug-2010, 06:42
I am another happy user of the Grafmatic.
A few months ago I used for the first time one I had had in my collection for a few years.. shame on me, originally I was intrigued by the object itself and after understanding how it worked, I neglected to use it.
The first time I loaded it I had no failure and all shots were good.
I loaded the grafmatic quietly on a table in a dark room. I had practiced a few times with the light on and off before taking the plunge.
I would not however recommend to do it in a changing bag, at least for the first time ;)
Mine has the small wheel with numbers working perfectly.
A French friend of mine who uses the grafmatic regularly has recommended a kind of Teflon(TM) spray in order to help the mechanism (mosly the septums against the holder parts) to slide more smoothly. The graflatic and its beloved septums is made of alumin(i)um alloy and friction takes place between two alumin(i)um parts, this is far from optimal. Manipulation of the Grafmatic may seem a bit rough, you need to apply some force, but (at least this is my feeling, the model I have in good condition with all septums in good condition) it works fine.

Scott --
30-Aug-2010, 07:16
Ok, I'm sold. I'm now officially trolling!

Brian C. Miller
30-Aug-2010, 07:42
Working a Grafmatic is fast. After all, they were developed for press photographers. The only time that requires care is loading and unloading the septums. The notch end is easy to bend, so just be careful when insterting or removing them.

Frank Petronio
30-Aug-2010, 07:44
I used to use them for handheld shooting but I found that I shot too quickly and used too much film. But from a functional point-of-view they are excellent so long as yours is in good condition (most are fine) and personally I think they hold the film a little flatter. They are also more compact than 3 regular holders (but I think the weight is about the same).

As for smoothness, I just rubbed a little beeswax along the moving parts, no big deal.

Sirius Glass
30-Aug-2010, 16:10
If they were not good, then there would not have been so many made.


Glenn Thoreson
30-Aug-2010, 17:49
I have six of 'em and like 'em. They won't fit under some focus panels without shimming out the springs, so be aware of that. They were made to go with the later model Pacemaker Graphic sping back, and the Graflok backs, which have a longer spring travel. They don't go well with the old Anniversary Graphic spring back, much to my dismay. I actually prefer the Anny and the pre-anny cameras and having to put washers under the springs makes 'em too loose when focusing. If you want the cat's pajamas of film holders for Ms. Neretta, get a Graflex back and a bag mag. That'll keep you busy all day, especially if you're lucky enough to find one of the rare 18 shot mags. I have one of those on a 3X4 Speed. :D

al olson
30-Aug-2010, 18:20
I used to drool when the other press photographers were using Grafmatics and film packs. Back then I couldn't afford the prices so I was committed to the two sided holders. If I recall, a Grafmatic at 1960 prices was close to $200.

Now I have five of the 4x5 holders and two of the 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 holders. They are especially handy if you are using rangefinder/viewfinder as you would for press photography. It is slightly more cumbersome if you are using the ground glass because you must be sure the film is covered before removing the Grafmatic.

I recommend performing some dry trials so that you get the procedure down. I.e. open and close the dark slide to move the film into position. After the exposure, again move the film housing out and in by pressing the button by the handle in order to transfer the exposed sheet to the bottom of the pack.

Do not inadvertently remove the Grafmatic until you have performed this second operation! Get used to this procedure before loading film. If the sheet is unexposed, note its position so that it can be saved, rather than developing a blank sheet, and reloaded the next time.

31-Aug-2010, 00:32
I have three 4x5 and four new 2 1/4 x 3 1/4, what I like about the "23" is they fit in my Busch 23. I changed the spring back out to a Graflex back so I remove the screen and put a "23" on and use the Kalart to focus. It's super to use that way, with four I have 24 sheets. I have a collection of 2 1/4 film holders too which I collected over a couple of years, I wanted new ones as the camera is like new.

Go for it they are nice to use and you won't be disappointed.


Scott --
31-Aug-2010, 07:00
Okay, let me ask you all this: What's the consensus on the 12-shot bag mags?

Chauncey Walden
31-Aug-2010, 07:45
Don't know about the bag mags, but I can certainly put in a plug for the 10-shot Kinematics. If your back is tight with a Grafmatic, they are probably not for you as they are a hair thicker. But, having 2/3 more film in essentially the same size package is a definite plus.

Scott --
31-Aug-2010, 08:07
Never heard of that one, Chauncey. Wouldn't want to sell one, wouldja? ;)

31-Aug-2010, 10:33
Why is nobody making a modern copy of Grafmatics? Or maybe there is, but Im missing it? China or elsewhere does not matter.

Grafmatics are not easy to find in Europe, and buying from US eBay means paying high shipping costs, then customs fees for both the product and the shipping. The Grafmatics are old and many were probably heavily used, Id be worried about holder or septums being out of alignment, and returning would be expensive.

How about a modern Shen Hao Grafmatic copy with 8 sheet capacity for say, 100$ :) ?

Frank Petronio
31-Aug-2010, 11:01
made from wood

Chauncey Walden
31-Aug-2010, 15:39
No, Scott, I've only been able to scrape up 3. The last one has a funny story. I was looking at it in a shop and the salesperson says it came with instructions. I looked at the instructions and they were ones copied off the web - ones I had posted years ago! I should say also that I have lots of Grafmatics, but never enough. Our local market was flooded with them years ago when the Air Force photo school closed. Going price was $35;-)

Chauncey Walden
31-Aug-2010, 15:41
Frank, I would rather have them out of titanium - stronger, and lighter! (Maybe a faux wood finish.)

Brian C. Miller
31-Aug-2010, 17:17
I'm guessing that a Chinese copy would run about $600, the same price as one of the quality roll film backs. The market would then drop off after maybe 100 of them had been sold, and that would be it. Six new Toyo holders are $300, so you would be spending 2x for the convenience of a six-sheet holder.

Is it still worth it?

Scott --
2-Sep-2010, 06:19
Well, thanks again for the input, everyone. I've got a deal on some Grafmatics, and am looking forward to using them.

FWIW, all the parts (save the Grafmatics) arrived. Put it all together, and it's ready to shoot:


Might still take this to the Renaissance Fair(e) this weekend...

2-Sep-2010, 07:10
Didn't you have an Angulon 90 on there before, or was that another poster? Also, where did you get that viewfinder?

Scott --
2-Sep-2010, 07:19
I did have an Angulon originally, but sold that long ago when the market was better. The Optar was a steal, so that's the way I went. The viewfinder, well, it was an eBay purchase, but I really don't remember much about it. It's got normal and wide framelines, and matches the ground glass pretty closely. I think it's a Yashica one, but can't tell you much more'n that.

2-Sep-2010, 09:02
So what is your focal length; is it still 90mm? And where did you set the focal distance of the camera?

I've been thinking of building a foamcore P&S with an old Angulon 90 I have, but I'm deciding on the focal distance to build into the camera. The problem is the hyperfocal distance changes by aperture, so I kind of have to decide what aperture I want to design the camera for, and whether I want it to be usable only on a tripod or not.

DOFmaster.com says that at f/22 with a 90mm lens, I could set focus on 12 feet and be sharp from 5.5 feet to infinity. I guess with TMAX 400 I could handhold that anyway.

Scott --
2-Sep-2010, 09:12
That's exactly how it was designed. 90mm, distance to film was tweaked a little (made a stepped lensboard to get it just right). The point of focus is right between 10-12'. Designed to be used with 400 film at f/22-f/32. Used it for portraits before, but a little (lot) wide for that. It's a fun toy, though. Some details of the construction are on Nelsonfoto.com (http://nelsonfoto.com/SMF/index.php/topic,12747.0.html).