by Sean Yates for the Large Format Page
Kodak Master camera 8 X 10 (left)
Folmer Graflex century universal (right)
If you want to shoot 8 X 10 but don't have a lot of money, an excellent used camera that ranges in price from $800.00 - 1400.00 U.S. is the Kodak Master Camera 8 X 10.
The Kodak is an aluminum and brass field camera, which looks something like a cross between a Deardorff and a Folmer Graflex Century Universal.
Kodak made this design after WWII, but I have no dates for its production. The Toyo 8 X 10 M & MII have a similar design in the front standard and front focusing track. Murray Hoffman of New York apparently acquired the rights to the design when Kodak ceased manufacture and he markets a version called the Hoffman Master View to which he has added rear rise and shift. The second to last edition of Stroebel listed it at $3200 and 18lbs.
Here are the specifications for the Kodak Master according to some promotional literature that Michael Kadillack was kind enough to send me.
Bellows Draw2" to 28"
The camera itself is capable of extensions of 36". So, if you replace the bellows you could conceivably go from 2" to 36". I had the bellows on mine replaced and got 34" to 2".
Because the front has 90° of base tilt, and extensive rise, you can gain 8 inches of draw by cantilevering the front standard forward. On the other hand, Murray Hoffman told me that the original leather bellows was deliberately kept short, to provide spring tension/resistance, pulling backwards on the front standard, keeping things tight at maximum draw. You have to decide which is more important to you. Michael A. Smith has found that the original bellows deign tends to vignette with shorter lenses when movements are applied and had a stepped bellows designed to replace his. I have purchased three of these cameras, and they have all needed to have the bellows replaced. I dont know if this is a design or manufacturing flaw, or just my luck.
Maximum extension with new bellows
Front Rise4" This is achieved manually
Front Fall2.25" also manual
There is an additional "Vernier" adjustment that allows for another 1/2" either way a variation of the Deardorff sliding lens panel and Wisners geared front rise on the Pocket Expedition. With this adjustment you can effect rise or fall without altering tilt. Altogether the Kodak has 7.25 " of rise and fall.
Front Shift2.25" each way 4.5" altogether
Front Tilt Base90° forward, 0° back
Front Tilt Axislimited only by the bellows
Front Swing20°, although 360 degrees can be achieved by removing a small screw.
Rear Base Tilt30° back and 90° forward
Rear Swing12° forward, each side
The aluminum construction makes it durable, rigid and fairly light, weighing about 12 lbs.
At long extensions with heavy lenses in windy conditions, it could use a little extra support. The combined weight of the front standard and a heavy lens will cause the unsupported extension track to sag. This is where the bellows tension comes into play. Additionally, the designers put a 1/4" X 20-threaded hole in the front extension track to allow for the use of a monopod or similar support device. Bogen/Manfrotto makes a support for long lenses that would fill the bill nicely at around $37.00
The front standard focuses by sliding in a channeled track. This track then slides in another track, which can also slide back and forth. There are 4 preset extensions, approximately 11", 20", 24" & 28". It is very fast to focus and compose with this sliding set-up - imagine playing an 8 X 10 trombone and you get the idea.
A spring-loaded clamp pressing horizontally locks the outer extension and a spring and tab pressing up hold the front extension in place. The front standard can be slid anywhere within the second inner track so infinity focus for any focal length from 2" to 28" can be achieved quickly and easily.
Once the focus is roughed in with the front, it can be fine-tuned with the geared rear focus, a shoe and rack design, not unlike a Deardorff, but without the advantage of rear extension. The rear frame can be focused forward almost all the way to the end of the bed.
By focusing the rear forward all the way and then applying both rear swings, then sliding the front backwards into the rear - you get your 50mm lens focused at infinity. It may sound complicated but when you see the camera, its fairly straightforward.
The front standard can be brought over the tripod mount socket to allow finding the lens nodal point and making those fancy trip-tych panoramas Chad Jarvis is so good at. The ground glass frame is ventilated making opening the camera quite easy - no "bellows suck". The glass has three concentric frames 8 X 10, 5 X 7, and 4 X 5 left clear, with the corners connected via diagonal lines and a cross hairs centering the three formats. You can use these lines to check for vignetting and focus the aerial image.
Accessories included a 5 X 7 reducing back and a carrying case. Lens boards are unique to this camera 6" X 6" aluminum with an integral light trap pressed in. You could make your own, or adapt an existing board to take Technika boards. Glenn Evans in Glenview, Illinois (firstname.lastname@example.org) will modify the camera to take SINAR boards and Al Bowker in Colorado (303-650-1984) can make A.B.S. plastic boards from your original.
Some may not like the idea that the front focus, swing and shift are all locked by one knob. Similarly the same knobs controls the rising-falling front adjustment and the front axis tilt. A thin piece of cork-like material on the front standard achieves enough friction between the frame and the supports, that it is possible to adjust the axis tilt without loosening the rise-fall knobs. While no camera is perfect, considering the range of movement, weight, durability and cost, the Kodak Master Camera is an excellent value in used 8 X 10 gear and a worthy rival to many of the newer designs. I find using it very fast and intuitive. If you have any questions, please e-mail me at email@example.com