11 Nov 2012

George's Graflex

Whilst travelling in the US in September we were able to make a passing visit to friend George who lives close to Philadelphia. George is a guy who seems to have a lot of interests including photography and he has a fascinating collection of old vintage cameras and,yes,George does do digital too.
Sadly a tight travelling schedule and some very generous hospitality  prevented me from spending as much time as I would have looking at  the camera collection but I did manage to get a few photos of part of it.

George does not go for the mainstream-- the more unusual it is the better George seems to like it .He has owned his Graflex for over 50 years.
I'll let him tell the story:-

"The Graphic and Graflex names proudly represented American-built cameras and photographic equipment made by Folmer and Schwing Manufacturing Company of New York and their progeny from 1894 until 1973.  While the names Speed Graphic and Crown Graphic immediately conjure up visions of the quintessential 4x5 press camera for most photographers, many have forgotten the wide range of large format single-lens-reflex (SLR) cameras sold under the Graflex trade name. The first of these was introduced in 1901 and the last was built in 1963.

Graflex cameras were built of straight-grained Honduras mahogany covered with Moroccan leather. The bellows and viewing hoods were made from fine French calf and the metal parts were predominantly plated brass. Every model exhibited fine carpentry and careful assembly craftsmanship as well as innovative design.

Various sized Graflex models were built to use sheet-film. Dedicated roll film SLR's first using film size 3A and later 120 film were also made. These cameras all used a focal-plane shutter released by a flip-up mirror. Each had a horizontal ground glass under a folding viewing hood. Many models featured interchangeable lenses, rotating backs and interchangeable film backs.
The last and most evolved of these cameras was the Graflex Super-D. This model was built in 3 x 4 from 1941 until 1963, and in 4 x 5 from 1948 until 1958.

The camera shown here is my 3' x 4' Super-D built in 1946 and purchased in 1962 while I was a college student. It was my first serious camera and has always remained my favourite. One reason for this was its marvelous 152 mm f/4.5 Kodak Ektar lens. Wide open, it was a lovely soft portrait lens. Stopped down, it became razor sharp. Having such a versatile lens (on a $25 used camera) was a blessing to a student. However, sheet film, especially 3' x 4', was becoming difficult to find in the sixties and you were pretty much damned to process it yourself

Fortunately, I was able to acquire a Graflex 23 roll film back for the camera. This allowed the use of 120 film and produced eight 2' x 3' frames on a roll. (A 12 shot 2' x 2' Graflex 22 back was also manufactured.)
The sheet film magazine that came with my camera held 12 sheets of film. While you could advance the film in daylight, the magazine needed to be loaded in a darkroom or changing bag."

George sent me two photos-one taken for this post- both taken with the Graflex and I will let his caption tell the story -

"One camera, one photographer, two images half a century apart: the painter was captured by my Graflex and its 20 year-old owner; the same pair captured my seven-pound-Shadow sunning herself in 2012."

Here are two (low resolution) results from a recent experiment. My Lana was taken on the back porch in open shade last week using Ilford XP2 Super (ASA 400) film. This shot was taken at f/4.5 and 1/200 second. I used my Olympus e-520 in manual mode as an exposure meter and got a very similar reading from an ancient Weston Master III reflected-light meter. Note the film expired in 2005 and had just been in my office closet since before that. I took the older shot nearly 50 years ago at a Milford Camera Club meeting. This was done on 3 1/4 x 4 1/4 sheet film (Kodak Safety Film type 414) and the exposure data is long forgotten. My eyes were much sharper when I made the earlier exposure! Seven of the eight catographs I shot last week were out of focus. I had a terrible time using the Graflex's ground glass. Still, the shutter speed seemed to be reasonably good - I was afraid my exposures would be wrong due to slow operation of the old shutter mechanism (it sounds slooow).  

Great photos and a great story.It is good to see that the problems I am experiencing focussing my Hasselblad are shared by others with other cameras.I put it down to a combination of old eyes and old cameras. Thankfully they invented auto focussing.



  1. Wonderful. Thanks for sharing this, and greetings to your friend George as well.

  2. George has a gorgeous camera collection and it is good to know that he doesn't just collect but really uses at least of those gems.