View Full Version : advice on 4x5 camera

13-Jan-2004, 06:25
Hi, I apologise now for not knowing what I am talking about!. My sister has written a PhD about a 1970's photographer who used a 4x5 inch wide format press camera and I wanted to buy her such a camera for her 30th birthday. I am not sure what 'press' means but if it means a professional standard then I don't think it needs to be a press one. I am not sure exactly how much she will use it - I certainly dont want to pay the prices of the new professional ones I have seen. I have found some vintage (1940s and later) examples on the american ebay website which are about 150 for ones that they say work, if a little stiff etc. I am not clear whether these working cameras are purely working collectables or you could get the negatives (or plates or whatever you need) to be able to actually use them. What I would like is a nice looking camera (e.g http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=2978064405&category=15247) that she could use, although probably not very often. I would be willing to pay up to 200ish. Do you think I could find such a thing? Sophie

David A. Goldfarb
13-Jan-2004, 06:57
Go to www.graflex.org and look at information on caneras like the Speed Graphic, Crown Graphic, and Super Speed Graphic, and that should get you started.

Steve Hamley
13-Jan-2004, 07:25

Sure. Entirely reasonable. A press camera is one that was principally used by newspaper photographers, hence the name. 4x5" press cameras like the one you linked are still quite usable. There are no new press cameras anymore. The closest thing is a technical camera like a Linhof Technika which is a press-style camera with more movements, particularly back movements.

200 pounds seems a little bit high for one with an Optar lens and a sticky shutter sold as-is. Cleaning the sticky shutter will take about $80 US, but anyone buying a camera that's 50 years old or more should budget for a shutter cleaning if they intend to use it. The Optar was Graflex's "house brand" lens - a Schneider Xenar or Kodak Ektar would be better.

If you're in the UK, you might want to give Robert White in London a call. Great person and I'm sure he'd be glad to help.



Tony Galt
13-Jan-2004, 07:26
It would help if we knew who the photographer she wrote about was.

13-Jan-2004, 07:32

I am going to try and get a Crown or Speed Graphic camera and then take it to someone to get it in working order if necessary!

The artist was Franchesca Woodman, who used square format negatives of two and a quarter inches squared, and were enlarged to a finished print size of roughly six inches square. Later on, in 1978, Woodman began to use an larger-format old press camera, whose four by five inch negatives.

Any other suggestions on places to look other than ebay and those already given would be appreciated!

Ted Harris
13-Jan-2004, 07:54

There were several manufacturers of press cameras. Singer Graflex was the largest in the US and perhaps the largest in the world but there were others. In the UK the pargest was MPP and you might also look for one of those. You should not have to pay more than 200 - 250 pounds for an example of any of these in good working order with a lens that is contemporary to the camera. Check with Robert White as suggested (however, he is not in London but in Poole). Another large and reputable dealer who will likely have what you need is Mr. Cad jsut outside of London in Croydon.

John D Gerndt
13-Jan-2004, 08:04
Consider too the Busch Model D press camera. It has a magnesium body, light and strong also Linhoff cameras are not always too expensive especially the model III. As to sources of information and contacts for sale there is the option of finding a camera club in your region, the German eBay, and the numerous shows and flea markets that are around if you can get on the mailing list or find a camera shop that tracks such things. In fact, if you are just learning your way around finding a merchant you can trust is a great way to learn and grow in a safer environment. I have had good experiences along those lines.

Scott Walton
13-Jan-2004, 08:33
Sophie, The ebay spot you picked is a type of press camera. It is know as a "press camera" because, in the olden days, the newspaper men used them to photograph for the papers. It was typical to have a Grafmatic film holder or about 25 film holders in a bag and a flash gun on the camera. Another ebay site is:http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=2979566125&category=15247 although Linhof's were and still are pricey but are a GREAT camera for use these days. I have one and I love it for field work when I go out shooting my "pretty pictures". These cameras, also know as field camera, fold up to a small box, usually with a lens mounted on the camera so all you have to do is open the camera, look through the range finder (most don't work well these days but you can get them fixed if you want) or the ground glass, focus, put in the film holder and shoot. Every once in awhile, you'll be able to find a whole kit on Ebay if your interested... including a case. A few hundered USD's is a good starting point.

13-Jan-2004, 09:16
You can also try MXV (www.mxv.co.uk) - a quick look on the site shows no sign of a press camera in stock at the moment but you can ask them - they have quite a rapid turnover and not everything is listed on the site (or in stock if it is listed) . MXV, Robert White (www.robertwhite.co.uk) and Mr Cad (www.mrcad.co.uk) are all very helpful and reputable dealers - I have bought equipment from all of them in the past.

One thing to watch is that any camera you like the look of is in fact 4x5 - there are many "1/2 plate" press cameras which are a similar size, but for which obtaining film and film holders can be very tricky as that size has been effectively obsolete for decades. There are also roll-film versions using 120 size roll film for which it is obviously easy to obtain the film, but not what you want.... Sorry if this is all obvious to you, but I don't know how much general photography knowledge you have, so I assuming none ;-)...

Good hunting!

13-Jan-2004, 09:55
Is a LINHOF Technika Modell III Camera a 4x5 format camera?

David A. Goldfarb
13-Jan-2004, 10:17
Yes. For information on the Linhof Tech III, go to www.cameraquest.com, which will fill you in on all the details of the different versions and features. If you decide to go for a Tech III, which will probably be outside your budget, try to get one with a cammed lens (the serial number on the top of the cam should match the lens and the one on the bottom should match the camera), so that you can use the rangefinder. Otherwise, you can only use groundglass focusing, which is fine for many subjects, but part of the attraction of a Technika is the ability to shoot handheld with the rangefinder.

A Crown or Speed Graphic, Busch Pressman D, or MPP is more likely to fit your budget.

Ralph Barker
13-Jan-2004, 12:18
Soph, it might be nice if you could find out exactly which 4x5 press camera Francesca actually used, and try to get the same model. I did a quick Google search, but none of the sites about Woodman that I found went into that level of detail on her equipment. Perhaps your sister's thesis would be a better source for that info.

13-Jan-2004, 15:18
Does your sister have experience with photo developing and printing? The reason I ask is that going from an exposed negative to a finished print using 4x5 is not as simple as dropping them off in Boots and picking the prints up the next day as you would with a small snapshot camera. You either need to develop them yourself or send them off to a specialist photo lab (unless you have a Pro photo lab near you).

There is a way to avoid all this: Polaroids. Polaroid Type 55 is a peel-apart instant film. It gives both a negative and a positive print. Unfortunately you need to decide which one you want before exposing as the correct exposure for the negative is wrong for the print - do a search on this site for "Polaroid Type 55" for explanations. This only needs the developer gel gunk removing from the negative in a single chemical and is done in normal daylight - no darkroom required at any point. You do need a special holder (545 or 545i) however, which will cost about 50 second hand. Polaroid film is also available in B&W and colour without the negative - just a (slightly smaller than) 4x5" print.

Also, (isn't there always an "also"...), in addition to the camera and lens you will need at a minimum, a few film holders (5 - 10 each second hand) - each one holds two negatives and/or a Polaroid 545 holder. As these cameras do not have any metering, an exposure meter (20 second hand) will be very useful, especially for indoor shots - outdoor exposures can be estimated with reasonable accuracy if shooting B&W or colour negative film.

As mentioned in a previous reply, if your camera has a cam , it is essential that it matches the lens. If not, the rangefinder will not focus the lens accurately (the cam is what links the rangefinder to the lens - if the cam is not correct, the lens will not focus correctly). In this case, you are stuck with using the ground glass screen to focus, for which you will need a focussing loupe (a cheap plastic 10 one will do fine) - the problem here is that you can't practically hand-hold the camera and focus with a loupe, hence the importance of having of the correct cam unless the camera is to be used on a tripod at all times.

Finally (for now...) read the main page of this forum: www.largeformatphotography.info - there are links to everything you ever wanted to know about LF cameras and their operation (and a lot more you don't...). It's a bit daunting because there is a lot there but it will answer any questions you can think of.

As you probably noticed, buying and using an old Press camera is not as simple as popping in to Jessops and buying the latest digital wondercam. For those with a sympathetic outlook, it is infinitely more rewarding - that is why people like Franchesca Woodman used, and others continue to use, these types of camera.


Colin Carron
13-Jan-2004, 15:40
Sophie, The press cameras that would fit the bill are the Speed graphic type (and other US made press cameras as listed above) as your ebay item and also the UK made MPP Micropress. There are also metal Technical cameras such as the Linhof you mention and the MPP Microtechnical which are a bit heavier than the wood bodied press cameras and weigh 6lbs.

If you are in UK and are thinking of buying on ebay it is better to buy in UK as from US you will get stung for import duties + VAT + handling charges so you need to increase the cost of any US bought item by 40%. Ouch!

Linhof tend to be at a bit of a premium compared to the UK copy by MPP which are fairly common in UK and often available on ebay. See the website of the MPP users club for info on MPP products especially the MP Micropress and Microtechnical cameras.


I agree with recommendation of MXV and Mr Cad. Robert White though an excellent dealer tends to stock newer gear.

Ted Harris
13-Jan-2004, 15:56

A synopsis of what appears to be the only book of Woodman's photographs published says:

"Published in 1992 in Europe and distributed in the U.S., the first book with photographs by Francesca Woodman immediately created great respect for this enigmatic artist. David Levi Strauss writes in his essay: "The constitutive facts of Francesca Woodman's life are by now well known. We know that she was born in 1958, that she began taking photographs seriously at age thirteen or fourteen and continued this involvement into her twenty-second year, building up, in this brief time, a remarkably coherent and affecting body of work. And we know that on January 19, 1981, just two and a half months before her twenty-third birthday, she took her own life, leaping from a window on the Lower East Side in Manhattan to her death". This volume, containing many unpublished images, finally allows us to discover the full body of work of this artist, created in Rhode Island, Rome, New York, MacDowell Colony, New Hampshire: self-portraits, mise-en-scenes, nudes, and deeply emotional collage-like images. They all show her intense relation with the camera and her own self, long before this kind of picture-making became fashionable."

Note the reference to the MacDowell Colony. It is only a few miles from me and the sort of place where they might have some information on the specifics of her camera(s). You can find ou tmore at their website: www.macdowellcolony.org

I do have some affiliation with a gallery associated wtih them and if your contact does not bear any fruit I can make a phone call or two and see what happens. This was you can find out the exact camera she used.

14-Jan-2004, 10:51
Thanks to everyone for all their help!.

I don't think I can find out the exact camera becasue there is very little written about her and the info my sister has came directly from her dad. I don't think anyone knows more than him.

I am now going to watch the UK ebay (don't want to pay import taxes!) for something that looks okay. I am not sure whether it is worth a gamble on one that is cheap, advertised by someone who does not know how to test the various parts and then take it to someone to get it fixed? The adverts with less info are MUCH cheaper than the more detailed adverts!

Thanks for the developing advice, my sister has done a couple of photography courses and has got basic (SLR???) camera that she has developed pictures from herself.

If anyone sees anything suitable please let me know!


14-Jan-2004, 18:24
MPPs come up quite often on the UK eBay (I think there are 2 or 3 there now) but Graphics are quite rare - maybe one every 1 or 2 months (sometimes they are in the "Vintage & Collectables" category rather than the "Large Format" category).

You are right to be concerned about the "dunno what this is, but please bid anyway" auctions. 99% for sure the seller knows exactly what it is, and what is wrong with it, and you will be buying a clunker only useful to the dedicated camera repair enthusiast!

As always on eBay, caveat emptor...

Good hunting ...

John Kasaian
14-Jan-2004, 21:34

Don't overlook the Q&A forum at www.graflex.org Its a great resource for information on press cameras.

15-Jan-2004, 15:12

Is there any way to get this thread deleted? I am worried my sister will come across it if she is searching for Franchesca Woodman on the internet!

Would be very grateful if there is any way!