Speed graphics, thoughts on large format as economical upgrade

Discussion in 'Large Format Cameras and Accessories' started by BetterSense, Aug 24, 2009.

  1. BetterSense

    BetterSense Member

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    Recently I've been being disappointed with my medium-format cameras. I only have a couple of cheap folding medium format cameras and I think it must be the lenses...I've been trying some still-lifey stuff and have been displeased with the results regarding sharpness and resolution. The tonality is great and I like working with the big film, but the absolute resolution and clarity is just not there especially when it comes to things like text on coins or the typed text on letters...logos on cars, etc. betray a slight unsharpness. The medium format shots have finer grain, but honestly I think I could do better with some of my 35mm lenses. Part of the problem is probably getting exact focus, since my folders are zone-focusing. I have no regrets; my folding cameras are the most carryable cameras I have.

    I could buy a nice medium-format camera, with a good lens...rolleiflex, mamiya slr, etc. that would mount good glass and that I could properly focus. But the thing is I already have a 4x5 enlarger and lens that I use with my 4x5 pinhole camera, and I stock 4x5 film. I'm thinking that for deliberate shooting, one might as well go to large format if resolution is the goal. Even for shooting landscaping or architecture or even posed portaits I can see busting out a LF if I had one; I can't carry a MF SLR or TLR in my pocket anyway.

    I can't afford to spend multiple hundreds of dollars on a view camera and lenses. It's just not in the budget. However, Speed Graphics seem to go for around a hundred dollars with lens on a popular online auction site, and I might be able to swing that. The idea of a nominally handholdable camera with a fast shutter and that folds up is quite appealing too since I hate tripods. It could be that I could get better image quality with a ~100 dollar speed graphic than I could with a several hundred dollars it would take to buy a nice medium format camera. Or I could end up with a poor-quality LF camera that neither does the LF role well nor is as versatile as say, a Pentax 645n (which I can't afford).

    So the two things I'm wondering are, is how bombproof are Speed graphics, that is, what are the chances that a sight-unseen purchase is going to be in working condition? Also, I worry that I might be down the same road looking for a cheap large-format camera that I ended up down with medium-format cameras, and I might end up with just another poor-quality camera, only now in a new format. It turns out that my good 35mm lenses are better than my cheap medium format cameras, and I don't want to get a large format camera that is worse quality than a nice medium format camera would have been. But then I don't really see how one large format camera could be much different than another in image quality other than the extent of movements and not leaking light.
     
  2. bdial

    bdial Subscriber

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    No camera is completely bomb-proof, but given that the newest Speed or Crown Graphics are around 50+ years old, they come as close as any.
    They do have their vulnerabilities though, and you may want to be cautious about buying from a seller who can't describe the camera well. In particular, it is easy to bend or otherwise damage the focusing track if the lens standard isn't fully retracted when the case is closed.
    Other things, like the condition of the shutter and bellows apply to any LF camera. Additionally there is the condition of the rangefinder to consider, and whether it has the proper cam.

    Since any large format camera is fundamentally a box for holding a lens and a sheet of film, the image quality is dependant on the lens. It's certainly possible to get a MF camera that has optics that will out-perform some of the standard lenses that show up on Graphics. However, it may well be cheaper to get a Graflex in decent shape and buy a better lens for it, if the one it comes with isn't all you'd like.
     
  3. BradS

    BradS Subscriber

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    I humped a Mamiya TLR around for a while and came to the same conclusion the first time I held a Crown Graphic....I just thought to myself..."Why bother with Medium Format at all if the darned Camera weighs as much as a very capable 4x5". I sold the Mamiya, bought a Crown and have absolutely no regrets. I have not owned or really even used any Medium format camera since (OK, I had a week long fling with a Hasselblad but, it was nothing...reallY!)

    However, I think you're chances of getting a good working Speed/Crown for "around "$100" are slim. I see a bunch of them for sale and I see lots of junk. Many have been beat to hell, abused, hackedup or parted out. There are lots of clueless sellers on ebay selling these things lately...most of what they offer is junk...or, at least needs lots of work to be put right. These things are rugged and can take a lot of use but, they do need to be taken care of. For $100 you'll likely get something OLD that needs a shutter CLA'd or it'll have a lens that looks like somebody tried to clean it with steel wool...or, the tracks will be broken. Or some previous owner will have done something really stupid to it like...removed all of the "excess weight" (like the rangefinder) or modified it to have front swing!. All repairable but, sounds like you would prefer to spend your time using the camera than spening more time and money repairing it.

    The Crown/Speed Graphics are an excellent place to start with Large Format and yes, you can make very considerable improvements over medium format with one but, do shop carefully as there is a lot of junk out there.
     
  4. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser

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    ... what they said

    i agree my speed graphic is just about as bombproof as it gets ..
    but not many speeds or crowns go for $100 without serious issues ...
    like the focal plane shutter being damaged or removed or ... ( fill in the blank here ) ...

    have fun!
    john
     
  5. BetterSense

    BetterSense Member

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    THIS is the one that got me thinking about the whole thing. I saw it on but then I was too busy to buy it. Considering it came with a Zeiss tessar lens and 5 film holders, I figured you couldn't really go wrong.

    What do you give up in terms of movements with a camera like this?

    Are "field cameras" the kind that fold up into a box? Monorails have more movements but are harder to transport etc?

    Is a crown graphic like a Speed graphic but without the focal plane shutter?
     
  6. werra

    werra Subscriber

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    This looks very much smaller than 4x5, something like 6x9cm or so.
     
  7. Moopheus

    Moopheus Member

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    Also, a Crown has slightly less bellows extension, but in practice that may not matter much.

    I paid about $200 for my Speed (with a few extras), and it was pretty clean, but the shutter did need a CLA. Expect that the seller will be either lying or uninformed about the condition, unless it is someone you know and trust. They're fun cameras, no doubt.
     
  8. BradS

    BradS Subscriber

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    First off, seller claims he knows nothing and is selling it as is. Always a bad sign. Just looking at this one (for example), I would assume that the shutter needs to be serviced and that the lens is probably going to disappoint. Worse however is that it is almost certainly NOT a 4x5 camera...looks to me like a 2x3 or possibly a 3x4. The proportions of the film holders and the size of the camera compared to the size of the side rangefinder are clues here. Further, we don't know the condition of the Ground Glass or if there even is one...on the other hand, the film holders look to be in excellent condition!



    depends on what you need. If shooting handheld - you give up nothing because you're generally not going to use movements anyway.

    Yes.

    Yes.
     
  9. John Kasaian

    John Kasaian Member

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    A Graphic View or Calumet 400 can be had for a pittance on ebay. They are very capable cameras but require a tripod, unlike press cameras such as the Speeder.
     
  10. John Kasaian

    John Kasaian Member

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    BTW a 127mm Ektar, which is a commonly found aboard Speeders and Crowns, is a first rate lens (just no wiggle room for movements, which old pacemaker and anny speeders don't have much of anyway) Even the older uncoated ones are pretty darn good IMHO.
     
  11. waynecrider

    waynecrider Member

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    My feeling is, is that the problem with the idea is the conflict between the two statements above. If your going to be doing still life stuff with a 4x5 you'll absolutely need to use a tripod. You will not be using fast shutter speeds like when using a MF or a 35mm camera, and you will need to compose on a GG at a distance that cannot be changed, thus the tripod. In order to get any dof at short distances you will need to stop the lens way down and will most likely will need to add light. Shooting at a shorter distance in LF, especially when filling a frame, is not like shooting a 35mm camera nor a MF one. Depending on the situation you may and probably will need to use a bellows compensation factor and decrease the lens speed in order to get more light on the film, especially at the small apertures you'll need. I feel you'll be wasting your money for close shooting still life in LF and forget hand holding it.

    The 4x5 would be better for portraits and architecture, and a reasonable priced lens can suffice for the portraits, but for architecture, wider thus more expensive lenses are the norm for the working stiff's. For amateur fun downtown a 90mm would be adequate. $500 will buy a good F8 one.

    Having explored all formats, and considering cheaper systems that might serve you better, you'd might be better off with an RB67 and the standard 127mm lens, but you'll still need the tripod and bellows compensation unless the camera has a metering finder.
     
  12. ragc

    ragc Member

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    My 2 cents in this discussion: I have a WWII era 4x5 Speed graphic with Kalart rangefinder adjusted for the 127mm Ektar, focal plane shutter, wire sportsfinder, optical finder with the appropriate mask. Everything works as it should on it, and it doesn't look too bad either. It is a great camera to take around in the car, as it is very tough, especially when folded. The movements are very limited, but it doesn't matter if you do landscapes, as I do. The 127mm Ektar is a fine lens and, without the big movements of other field cameras, has the coverage for 4x5 (barely). The camera is heavy for hand-held use. I have tried it, and it works fine, although it is uncomfortable to hold. The rangefinders are not very bright.

    If you find a decent one in the price range you are looking for (mine was about $150.00 two years ago) it is worth it as a starter camera. You will quickly be seduced by the format and wish for more... but that's a story for another day!

    Good luck, whatever you decide!
     
  13. 2F/2F

    2F/2F Member

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    You can do a decent amount with them in terms of movements, as long as you don't need both tilt and swing in the same shot, or vertical shift and also a lot of lateral shift in the same shot. It also helps if most of your shots are horizontal. There is enough lensboard tilt to lay the plane of focus at a quite sharp angle to the film plane in most situations. Due to the dropping beds (Anniversary and later, I believe), the rearward tilt is just as good as a forward tilt.

    They can easily be machined to allow increased lateral shift, and with a more severe modification, to allow swings.

    They do not have a rotating back, which is a big weakness when it comes to using movements, IMO.

    One thing about the $100 Speed/Crown Graphics is that they are usually beat up, have a non-working (or missing) rangefinder, and generally don't come with a lens that allows you to fully utilize the camera's movements anyhow. If you find an exception, jump on it. Another thing about them is that they rarely come with the nice extras, which you might find yourself tracking down later anyhow. Solenoids, lens boards, flashes, handles, viewfinders, rangefinder parts, a case, etc. IMO, unless you only want to use it on a tripod, and you already have the lenses you want for it, it is worth saving up for a slightly nicer one that has a few extras, rather than tracking down the extras later.

    If you want something similar that won't break the bank, but has more movements and a rotating back, I'd get a Super Graphic or a Super Speed Graphic.

    I agree that the 127mm Ektar is a stellar lens. It was made as a normal lens for 3x4, however, so it does not give you any shift on 4x5...that is unless you are doing closeups. I can get 1:1 with this lens on my Speed, and I have the full range of the camera's movements at that point.

    I am not sure if the 135mm Optar (also as common as dirt on Graphics) was similar in terms of image circle.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 25, 2009
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  15. BetterSense

    BetterSense Member

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    What's that about solenoids?
     
  16. mhcfires

    mhcfires Subscriber

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    I'm quite happy with my pre-anniversary Speed. I have Pre anny Speeds in 2x3, 3x4 and 4x5. The 3x4 was a bit of a basket case, but for $60 I was quite happy with it. I had to clean up and lube the FP shutter, the fabric is in good condition. The 4x5 cost me $150. It is in pretty good shape, a bit ragged about the edges, but it works well and I am happy with it. The 2x3 is a cool little camera, no Graflok back, so I can't use a 120 back as yet. I do have some 2x3 sheet film and I have had fun with this little camera. I also have Graflex SLR's in the three sizes. They are cool too. Pick yer poison. Get one and have some fun with it. The Graflex.org site is quite helpful when running into problems.

    My first Graflex camera was a very ragged 3x4 Auto-Graflex which cost me $20. I held it together with Gaffer's tape, but it worked. :tongue:
     
  17. ricksplace

    ricksplace Member

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    I wholeheartedly agree. The tonality and resolution of the 4X5 simply blows the doors off any medium format. Having said that, I find myself using medium format more than the 4X5.
     
  18. BradS

    BradS Subscriber

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    They're pretty much useless today. They used to be used with the big flashbulb rigs to synch shutter with flash bulb.

    Now, they mostly just get in the way....and look cool.
     
  19. 2F/2F

    2F/2F Member

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    FWIW, I use mine every single time I shoot my Speed Graphic, either hand held or on a tripod. It acts as my shutter release 100% of the time. I trigger the shutter from the flash handle, not from the body release. It makes the whole thing smoother and more steady. They also are adjustable to allow you to time class M bulbs for use with an X-synch shutter, like my Supermatic X. All in all, they are very useful, IMO.
     
  20. Nick Zentena

    Nick Zentena Member

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    What Wayne said.

    If you're trying to save money then forget the big name brands. A B&J press camera will hold a lens and often costs a fraction of a Graflex. There are other cameras lacking in name value. No point paying for a name.

    Same thing with the 645N. An older 645 will take the same pictures but cost less.
     
  21. BradS

    BradS Subscriber

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    .....but, surely you have realized by now that you are different...right? :smile: :smile:


    But seriously, that's great that you're using it as designed but, you have to admit very, very few people do...and, if you don't have one of those nifty flash handles...then it (the solenoid) just gets in the way.

    as an aside, I've often thought about using the solenoid for a remote shutter release but, have been too lazy to bother.
     
  22. Jim Chinn

    Jim Chinn Member

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    Remember with 4x5 unless you use a graphic with a rangefinder of some sort it is tripod time all the time. Another thing to consider is the size of prints you make. Unless you are going to be printing 16x20 or larger you are really gaining nothing over a good 6x7 MF rig such as an RB/RZ or Bronica. And these cameras you can hand hold in a lot of situations.

    You also need to factor in the cost of film holders. You should have a dozen. Six holders at the absolute minimum. That would equal a roll of 120 film. If you are out in the field and you shoot all 12 exposures and want to expose more film you need to reload with a changing bag which is doable but a PIA.
     
  23. Neal

    Neal Subscriber

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    Dear BetterSense,

    I like my Crown Graphic as a walking around camera. How much lighter it is than a Speed is a good question, but the Speed looks bulkier to carry around. I have no trouble adjusting the body cable release to fire every time and the rangefinder only goes out of adjustment when I forget and pick up the camera by grabbing it just underneath the rangefinder mechanism.

    Enjoy the large negatives!

    Neal Wydra
     
  24. Don Wallace

    Don Wallace Member

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    You seem to be saying that you want a camera that is sharp, lightweight, and portable., and you are on a budget. The obvious solutions are too expensive for you (and too expensive for me, e.g., Mamiya 7). I also tried the Crown Graphic route and although it works fine as a beginner 4x5, it never really worked for me as a medium format option. There are people who use them hand-held, but if you are going to do that, it takes work and you will have to spend money on "graphic gadgets" to make it work well.

    However, there are other medium format cameras out there which, in my opinion, are a much better option. I just checked on fleabay and found:

    Mamiya RB67 - basic kit with lens, sold for under $400
    Mamiya 645 - basic kit with lens, sold for under $300
    Mamiya 645J - another very basic kit, body and lens, sold for under $200
    Mamiya C330 - an older style TLR, great camera, for under $200

    The RB67 is quite heavy but can be used without a tripod (hard to hand-hold under 1/125). I shoot mainly large format, but this is my medium format camera. A lot of people love the 645's and with both this camera and the RB67, you can buy additional lenses, backs, and other gadgets. The C330 does not have an interchangeable back but if you want portability, sharpness, and quality for almost no money, it is a very attractive option.

    I would pass on a Crown or Speed as a hand-held option unless you really, really, really want to use one. You don't have to shoot 4x5 just because you have a 4x5 enlarger. Get the appropriate negative holder for it and, if you go with 6x7, you won't notice much difference from prints made from 4x5 unless you print very large.
     
  25. Bosaiya

    Bosaiya Member

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    Handheld 4x5 can be a lot of fun. This past weekend I shot 78 sheets of 4x5 in an hour using both a Crown Graphic and Graflex RB handheld. I had a C330 around my neck but never got a chance to use it.

    Exposing film is the easy part, developing it all is a killer.
     
  26. 2F/2F

    2F/2F Member

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    I find at least some movement to help immensely with almost every shot I take on a tripod, and certainly anything "still lifey". This is one of a view camera's fortes, IMO. I think a Crown Graphic, Speed Graphic, or Super (or Super Speed) Graphic with a roll film back is a better tool for this than a medium format camera such as a Mamiya RB.

    Personally, any time I use a movement-less camera to shoot a product, a still life, or even a person sometimes, I miss movements. it is not that I can't take a picture, but I do find cameras without movements to be much more restrictive. Perhaps it is because I was spoiled by learning photography on a view camera, but I still think you can benefit from even the slight bit of movement that a press camera offers, especially in a still life.

    The fact that you can use any lens that you can mount to a board is also a huge benefit, IMO.

    You can shoot 6x6, 6x7, 6x9 this way with reasonably-priced roll film backs, and, in fact, this is what I would recommend unless you really need the big 4x5 piece of film.

    As I mentioned previously, of all the Graflex press cameras, I think the Super Graphic or Super Speed Graphic are the best choices for shots of static subjects using a tripod. If for some reason having a reflex camera is a great advantage, then by all means use something like an RB. I have and use both view cameras and an RZ (and a C-33 and C-220). However, I think such a camera is not as good as a choice as a press camera for static subjects, with which a reflex camera offers little advantage over a view camera. Just having that little bit of shift and tilt on a Speed or Crown can help quite a lot, and you have even more on a Super Graphic, plus a rotating back, which is a very big deal IMO.

    If you don't actually use movements, I say forget the idea of any view camera for this, unless you just need the qualities of 4x5 film for some reason.
     
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