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Thread: School me on press cameras.

  1. #1

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    School me on press cameras.

    Hello...I'm considering buying a Speed Graphic or a Crown Graphic (or something else if you recommend) but before I pull the trigger, I had a few questions.

    It seems like many of these cameras come with some variation of the 135mm f 4.7 Tessar...Kodak, Schneider and Graflex themselves. Can one get decent sharpness in the center of the frame shooting wide open (or very nearly so) with these lenses? People would be the subject, so I wouldn't need or want cutting edge sharpness, but by the same token, I wouldn't want a fuzzy mess. Also, are the rangefinders accurate at distances of around 5ft or so?

    Thanks!

  2. #2

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    Re: School me on press cameras.

    Yes. Yes, if in calibration. No if not.

    A used press camera's RF should be checked as soon as the camera is received. Not because the RFs are fragile and drift out of calibration but because calibration is lens-specific (for just and only one lens, not for all lenses of the same make, model, ...) and lenses are often swapped without recalibrating the RF. Also because users sometimes fiddle with RFs.

  3. #3

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    Re: School me on press cameras.

    I have a Speed and Crown and have never used the rf. The window is sooo tiny as to be useless for me and my eyes and I couldn't be bothered with calibrating them so I use the gg instead. Also use cable releases vs the built in camera shutter release. I find the Graphex lenses are pretty good..at least the ones I have. But then I also use modern lenses as well so ymmv.

    The Crown is slimmer and lighter but you lose the focal plane shutter, which may or may not matter to you.
    notch codes ? I only use one film...

  4. #4

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    Re: School me on press cameras.

    If you want a longer lens, the Rodenstock Geronar 210mm f/6.8 lens or the Caltar badged version will just fit inside the camera folded up. You will have to use the ground glass for focussing.

    The Geronar 210 is dirt cheap and works great for portraits. A 135 and 210 make a great combination!

  5. #5
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    Re: School me on press cameras.

    If you're photographing people relatively close (within 5 ft), with wide-open aperture, I would not depend on the accuracy of the rangefinder. Use the ground glass instead to verify focus.
    A lens in the 127mm/135mm range is slightly wide for 4x5, and may not be the most flattering for portraits. I generally use a lens in the 180 - 240mm range for this type of shot.

  6. #6

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    Re: School me on press cameras.

    Quote Originally Posted by jim_jm View Post
    If you're photographing people relatively close (within 5 ft), with wide-open aperture, I would not depend on the accuracy of the rangefinder. Use the ground glass instead to verify focus.
    A lens in the 127mm/135mm range is slightly wide for 4x5, and may not be the most flattering for portraits. I generally use a lens in the 180 - 240mm range for this type of shot.
    They'd be more like environmental portraits. Regarding using the ground glass, I was wanting to be handholding. So you don't think the rangefinder on the Graflexs are precise enough? Are there any other 4x5's with rangefinders that are more accurate?

  7. #7

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    Re: School me on press cameras.

    There are not many other rangefinder-equipped 4x5 cameras. The Linhof Technika in all its variations, Wista made one, there are old-time Graflex competitors like the Busch Pressman and the Burke&James. I imagine that the Linhof would be the most accurate, but then Ive never used one.
    I'd try a Graphic first- they were and are very capable cameras; and not extremely expensive. Many people have adapted the 178/2.5 Aero-Ektar to the Speed Graphic- noted photojournalist David Burnett among them, and there are good results to be seen all over the net. So I'd say it's feasible.

  8. #8
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    Re: School me on press cameras.

    Quote Originally Posted by Arcus View Post
    They'd be more like environmental portraits.
    What do you mean by that? How far away will the main subject, the one you're focusing on, be? How much depth of field do you think you'll need to clearly show the "environment" around your subject? How big do you plan to enlarge?

    Keep in mind that what matters isn't just how inherently precise the rangefinder is, but also how well your eye can discern the point of best coincidence of the rangefinder double-image through the little peep-hole, how much you move the camera from that point as you switch your eye back to the viewing finder, and how steadily you can hold the bulky, heavy camera while you wait for your "decisive moment" to make the exposure.

    I'd reckon that the most precise rangefinder you can get in a 4x5 is a properly calibrated Linhof Technika with a cam carved for the specific lens (actual lens, not just lens model) you have mounted on the camera. But that's a bear to hand-hold - something like 8.5 pounds with all the trimmings (camera, lens, multifocus finder, grip, film holder), more still if you need a flash. You can save maybe a pound from that if you leave off the grip and use a wire-frame finder rather than the multifocus finder, but that's still a handful. Been there, done that.

    But honestly, I think hand-held 4x5 at open aperture is the wrong tool for environmental portraiture. YMMV, but I know that if I tried it my yield of technically adequate pictures would be so low that the whole venture would be more frustration than it's worth.

    EDIT: If you're determined to try it, the most lightweight 4x5 rangefinder that's readily available would be a Polaroid 110 conversion. The original-equipment lenses on those - typically 127mm - definitely do *not* cover 4x5 with edge-to-edge sharpness at open aperture, but you can have a conversion set up with a modern plasmat with better coverage.

  9. #9
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    Re: School me on press cameras.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Sampson View Post
    Many people have adapted the 178/2.5 Aero-Ektar to the Speed Graphic- noted photojournalist David Burnett among them, and there are good results to be seen all over the net.
    I think even Burnett uses a tripod when he can, and he makes a lot of lovely-but-fuzzy pictures with that Aero-Ektar.

  10. #10

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    Re: School me on press cameras.

    Arnold Newman started with a Speed Graphic and its standard lens... with that outfit me made his famous portrait of Igor Stravinsky.
    Of course with success came more gear, and he used a view camera for much of his career, but my point is "it can be done". i'd put the Speed on a Tiltall tripod... but then I already have that gear. Now I'm inspired- when I get the RF fixed on my 1939 Graphic I'll try a portrait or two that way.

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