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Thread: Is it worth it to use the Speed Graphic handheld from time to time?

  1. #1

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    Is it worth it to use the Speed Graphic handheld from time to time?

    I see a lot of contradicting opinions on this, and really, I hold a lot of contradicting opinions about this. So I've been shooting LF for about eight months (two packs of Shanghai 100 and a couple of new handmade dry plates from J. Lane on Etsy,) on a 4x5 Pacemaker Speed Graphic (pre top-rangefinder, pre-Graflok).

    My first instinct is to say that using a large-format handheld at all is a waste of film. The real advantage of LF to me is the ability to record detailed, sharp, technical images. The Speed Graphic's handheld nature, really, is a product of a long-gone era when A: LF was the predominant form of photography, and B: AP photographers needed to be able to distribute usable prints to the presses in a hurry, and so would want a large format such as 4x5" or 5x7" for making contact prints--I think of dear old Uncle Uscher developing in the trunk of his car. Most of us don't have the concern about making prints for the newspaper now, and 4x5 is usually at least a dollar per shot, so it would seem like there's no excuse to shoot LF without a steady tripod and critical focusing to get the best quality image possible.

    But I also see contemporary LF photographers shooting 4x5 handheld. For instance, there was a YouTube video where a guy talked about his Crown Graphic and his Linhof Technika (I think), saying he treated them both the same way he treats a small-format camera: handheld when the need arises, tripod where possible, et cetera. Furthermore, most people that I've seen online with restored Graflex SLR's from the real old days often shoot them handheld, as was the practice at the time. I've seen a lot of pictures of people in recent years shooting handheld, especially with Speed Graphics. So... what do they know that I don't? Can you really get an image quality worth spending the money on by shooting a Speed Graphic handheld? And if so, would you do it with the front or the back shutter? I could see arguments for either. I will say that I have very precisely calibrated my rangefinder, if that helps matters.

  2. #2

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    Re: Is it worth it to use the Speed Graphic handheld from time to time?

    What works, and doesn't work, for me has no bearing on what will work for you. Do what works for you.

    FWIW, all of my Graphics' RFs are off calibration. That's irrelevant most of the time because I use more than one lens with them. I almost always shoot from tripod. But that's what works for me. Do what works for you and don't worry about what other people do.

  3. #3
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    Re: Is it worth it to use the Speed Graphic handheld from time to time?

    Quote Originally Posted by RLangham View Post
    Can you really get an image quality worth spending the money on by shooting a Speed Graphic handheld?
    Don't get preoccupied by such things as "image quality."

    Of course you can shoot handheld. That's what the thing was designed to do. At f/22 and with 400 speed film, you would technically be shooting around 1/200 anyway in full sun, and can play with the exposure from there depending on your needs.

    Tripod is NOT a requirement for LF.

    I've shot plenty this way - here's a shot on 4x5 Ektachrome E100VS with my Linhof Technika and 150mm f/2.8 Xenotar:



    And here's a whole thread of images shot PJ style with same:

    https://www.largeformatphotography.i...onding-protest

    I have shot handheld with my Speed, Linhof, and even a Polaroid 900 converted to 4x5. If you want to do it, you can make it happen.
    Bryan | Blog | YouTube | Instagram
    All comments and thoughtful critique welcome

  4. #4
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    Re: Is it worth it to use the Speed Graphic handheld from time to time?

    Use High-power Xenon flash when hand-holding. Then it all makes sense....sharp lens, accurate rangefinder, large format, absence of motion without a tripod or gyro stabilizer, enough light to stop down appropriately etc. I'd not worry that it might be 'daylight', when you can use the fastest shutter speed on the lens with a Xenon flash.

    Click image for larger version. 

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  5. #5
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    Re: Is it worth it to use the Speed Graphic handheld from time to time?

    I am upgrading my 1951 4X5 Speed especially for handheld with one lens and working hard at getting RF to match

    I will add a laser inside FocuSpot for usage with non human and other animals

    Will use strobes and flashlube depending...

    I still use my plastic toy 4X5 with fixed set distance focus
    sin eater

  6. #6
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    Re: Is it worth it to use the Speed Graphic handheld from time to time?

    If your rangefinder isn't proven to be working, it's sort of a last choice to shoot handheld. If you focus on the groundglass you have to have some distance between your eyeball and the groundglass, then you pull it up to your eye to frame the shot in the viewfinder or sportfinder and your focus is off by a foot instantly because you moved the camera to you and away from the subject. If you can focus and then step toward the camera that's good. We generally like to keep the camera close to our body for stability. In the 1930's you didn't have much of a choice but to use it handheld for quick photos. I have not much experience using flash handheld 4x5. Monopod can work great since it forces you to keep the camera in one spot if you are mindful of not moving the foot of the monopod.

    The SLRs work better for handheld but have no movements, fewer lens choices..

  7. #7

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    Re: Is it worth it to use the Speed Graphic handheld from time to time?

    Don't get preoccupied by such things as "image quality."
    I think what I mean is, as long as I'm getting better sharpness and resolving power than 35mm, I'm happy. Conversely, if I could have shot it easily on 35mm, I wish I would have saved the money and done that instead.
    At f/22 and with 400 speed film, you would technically be shooting around 1/200 anyway in full sun, and can play with the exposure from there depending on your needs.
    I have done a lot rating my Shanghai film @ 100 (box speed), f/16 and 1/120 on sunny days, going down to 1/60 on overcast days--sometimes f/11 and 1/120 instead. If I need to expose it more than that, often I'll just make a note to push process it. I've been nervous about using f/22, since I'm so used to 35mm where the diffraction gets noticeable at f/16 and bad at f/22, but at any rate, I'll take your advice and try f/22. FWIW I've heard that f/128 is not only available but also very usable on some large format lenses--that's surreal to me. At any rate, thanks for the advice! The picture looks great, by the way! Is that straight from the scanner?

    I have shot handheld with my Speed, Linhof, and even a Polaroid 900 converted to 4x5.
    Cool! I've wanted to buy a Polaroid 800 that they have at my local antique store and use it for 4x5" and 120, but haven't gotten around to it.

  8. #8
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    Re: Is it worth it to use the Speed Graphic handheld from time to time?

    I think Weegee set his camera to 10 ft, always used a big flashbulb which let him get sharp small aperture DOF negs day or night, before we covered the planet in street lights...
    sin eater

  9. #9

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    Re: Is it worth it to use the Speed Graphic handheld from time to time?

    Quote Originally Posted by jp View Post
    If you focus on the groundglass you have to have some distance between your eyeball and the groundglass, then you pull it up to your eye to frame the shot in the viewfinder or sportfinder and your focus is off by a foot instantly because you moved the camera to you and away from the subject.
    Yes, I didn't try to focus with the GG at all until I had a stable tripod. By this time, I had wasted several sheets by trusting the uncalibrated rangefinder. As it is, I have the rangefinder pretty dead-on. It was mostly a matter of setting infinity razor-sharp.

  10. #10

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    Re: Is it worth it to use the Speed Graphic handheld from time to time?

    I’m with Dan Fromm on this question, except my rangefinders are accurate enough.

    But every time this issue comes up there is the claim of”waste of film”. What does that mean? In who’s opinion? Is any one opinion universal and applicable to everybody and everything? That’s what I don’t get...

    OP, do what makes you happy! But based on what you’ve said so far, handheld LF isn’t currently in your interest.

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