The Graflex XL. Anybody else have one?

Discussion in 'Medium Format Cameras and Accessories' started by djgeorgie, Nov 29, 2012.

  1. djgeorgie

    djgeorgie Member

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    Just got mine in the mail today. Came with a Graflex RH-50 70mm back with exposed film. Can't wait to develop it and see what surprises are in store.

    I did a little research on the inventory sticker that some one put on the camera's body. Turned out it was used in police work for the Managua City Police Department in Nicaragua.
    http://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PNADW988.pdf

    Anyways, does anyone use this camera? Since I already have a 70mm back, I'm going to use the special 4-post frame that comes attached to it (I'll call it the GraflokXL adapter). The official 4x5 back is extremely rare so I'm going to attach the graflokXL onto a regular graflok 4x5 back. It sucks that the standardized, international, graflok adapter wasn't used in this camera. Such a weird design. It's a medium format camera that wants to be a 4x5 format camera. The frame size is 3"x3.75". Here's a review of the official 4x5 back. Personally I like the black borders it produces.

    PB290154 (1).jpg
    You can see how the filmback connects to the camera.


    It sucks this graflex camera wasn't very popular. It's exactly like a Mamiya Press but bigger. It wants to be a 4x5 but is stuck using medium format backs. But the film backs fit on 4x5 cameras and not your typical medium format camera. If this camera could have used both 4x5 backs and Mamiya RB67/Universal backs from the get-go, it would have been a huge hit.

    I got this camera so I can use up some of my unperforated 70mm film. The RB67 70mm film back doesn't accept unperffed film.

    It's just weird. Why did make this camera in the first place?
     
  2. summicron1

    summicron1 Subscriber

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    i have one that i don't use a lot, but have a variety of lenses for including the sonnar telephoto lens...nice outfit but a bit unweildy to haul around, but pretty quick to use for a medium format and the lenses are first rate, if not more so. Sadly, graflex came out with this the same time the nikons were going great guns. Military contracts kept the camera alive for a long time during vietnam,but the photographers who had to use them would rather have had nikons...
     
  3. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    It was my understanding from an old pro who used to use them in the military that the big reason for their downfall was twofold: one, they were ridiculously expensive in part because of the Zeiss lenses, and two, they were not as robust as they were supposed to be because they were over engineered. His words, not mine...
     
  4. bdial

    bdial Subscriber

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    I used them occasionally in the military, my recollection is that everybody liked to complain about them, but they got the job done. They are heavy, and a little slow to use because shutter cocking and film advance are not linked. A lot of folks claimed the rangefinders were prone to getting out of adjusment, but I never saw any direct evidence of that. OTH they have great optics and are relatively simple which are attributes with great value.
    Later in the USAF, they were replaced by Koni Omegas, not much lighter, but much faster handling, which was nice.
     
  5. mandoloid

    mandoloid Member

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    I have one and have been using it for a couple of years. It"s now the only camera I use and I love it. Sure, it has it's quirks (which camera doesn't?) but I think it is as versatile as any other system out there and the lenses are as good as I'll ever need; superb, really. For me, a major issue was "setting it up" well as you would a guitar or violin. As it came from the factory it is an ungainly thing. Roger Hicks charitably calls it's shape "awkward". First thing I did was to loosen up the focus ring with a little judicious sanding and some lube. Now it's smooth as silk. Next thing was to make a more compact right handed grip for it. The camera just does not carry easily either on a strap or in a bag because the factory grip seems to double it's size. Shrinking the grip makes it much more packable and it now handles very much like a 35mm slr. Grip with the right hand, focus with the left, right index finger shutter release. Next thing I did was to make a reflex viewer for it. It has a parallax correcting rangefinder/viewfinder that, with one of the several 80mm lenses, is about as nice as it gets. Which is good for me because I shoot an 80mm most of the time anyway, like the 35mm on my M2. But as with all rangefinders, the longer lenses are more difficult to use. To get the images a medium format camera is capable of I'm frequently on a tripod which, with a nice bright reflex finder, is as nice and accurate to use as any Hasselblad (imho) and what you see is what you get. So it's a neat combination of portable, hand-holdable rangefinder with an on-tripod reflex viewing capability for critical composition when you want it. Where else can you find that? Perhaps the best thing in the end are the 6x7 negs that are so nice to have when printing. Yeah, I'm a big fan.
     
  6. Sirius Glass

    Sirius Glass Subscriber

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    Welcome to APUG, mandoloid
     
  7. Paul Howell

    Paul Howell Member

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    My experiance was similair, foke lore was that in the late 60 and early 70s there was a federal law that gave perferance to US made equipment, which is why the Navy bought Topcon which for time was tagged Bessler and at least the Air Force bought Graflex although the lens were German, I dont recall if the body was made in the US or not. I liked the Koni Omega much better although I recall a time I needed to cover a funeral and the Koni was not as quite when winding the film as the XL and the Chaplin gave a talking to afterwards. I think Graflex was out of busniess by 72 and our repair center had a hard time keeping them service.
     
  8. mgb74

    mgb74 Subscriber

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    Had one for a while a number of years back. Used for aerial photography with a150mm. As I recall, I used the same graflex roll film backs that fit the graflex 2x3 cameras. I would think they predate the RB.

    The XL's Achilles heal are the focusing tabs that break.
     
  9. djgeorgie

    djgeorgie Member

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    You need the graflok back adapter to use 2x3 grafloks. Theres one on ebay for $150. No thanks. I'll make a 4x5 adapter instead. I have a Mamiya Press Model G for 2x3 work.

    The focussing tabs are notorious for breaking. I contacted SK Grimes, in anticipation, as he makes replacement focussing rings. $250! Eeek. Just going to be extremely careful with my XL
     
  10. summicron1

    summicron1 Subscriber

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    i read somewhere that those tabs were designed to break if you dropped it and could be easily replaced, but that was when the factory was making them, of course. Now? So don't drop it.

    I did have to sand the inside of the focusing ring so it rotated more easily around the lenses, it tends to shrink in the cold and, I think, with age.

    I really need to use mine more. Amazing cameras
     
  11. jloen

    jloen Member

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    I have one. I really like it and have gotten very good results from it.
    Mine has the 80 mm Zeiss Planar and I use 120 film backs.
     
  12. DickCote

    DickCote Member

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    The most obvious question ever asked: Why did make this camera in the first place?

    Dear friends:

    I just happened to run across this post in a search for the Graflex XL for use in a Vietnam War memoir I'm writing.

    The author of the post asked, "It's just weird. Why did make this camera in the first place?"

    The answer: it was a political act of rewarding a U.S. product -- no matter how pathetic -- over the wide variety of superior foreign-made alternatives then available. By the mid-1960s, the Germans and the Japanese were producing far better high-precision cameras that in the U.S.

    From 1965-1971 I was a USAF photographer. At my first duty station, the Mather Air Force Base near Sacramento, I was assigned to the Base Photo Lab (1965-1966). There we all use 4x5 Graflex and Graflex XL cameras. They were dogs from the 1950s. All the Air Force photographers hated them. And all of us had better personal cameras (Nikons, Rolleiflex 2.8Fs) than the Air Force. But in the U.S., we were forced to used the government-issue clunker 4x5 Graphics.

    Then, one terminally stupid day, I decided to escape the claws of my Senior Chief Master Sergeant photo lab supervisor in California by volunteering for combat duty in Vietnam. It worked. In 3 months I was in Vietnam.... screwing bombs together. They retrained me and didn't send me as a photographer! But in my free time (!!!), I volunteered to serve as a USAF combat news photographer, operating out of my home at DaNang Air Base Vietnam. Fortunately, due to my volunteer news photographer status, I had to use my own cameras -- and not the cursed Graflex XL -- for my work.

    All of the civilian news photographers (think LIFE magazine) used the same two cameras, on a dual leather neck harness. On the bottom was the heavier camera: a Nikon F with a zoom lens (probably something in the range of a 70-135 mm. Can't remember exactly.) On the top was a Leica M-3 with a 35mm. f/2.8 wide-angle lens, used for low-light, close-in photography. Both cameras were loaded with Kodak Tri-X B&W film (400 ASA).

    All of my combat news pictures were made with my privately-purchaed Nikon F-3 Photomic, the first Nikon SLR with a TTL match-needle exposure meter. The camera cost me four months' pay. Had someone forced me to use a standard-issue Graflex XL in a helicopter photo mission (the Base Information Office didn't care how we made the pictures, just that we got), I would have "accidently" dropped the XL off the helicopter while we were over water. It was that useless of a clunker. Only a government-guaranteed procurement contract ever sustained its brief life. It was that bad.

    Compared to the 35 mm. cameras available on the consumer market, the Graflex XLs were boat anchors. 'Nuff said. But believe me, when you are photographing an F-4 Phantom II air strike on a camouflaged Viet Cong anti-aircraft battery out of the co-pilot's window of a small, slow-flying USAF Caribou cargo plane, you want a 1.5 pound Nikon F Photomic with a zoom lens, not a three-and-a-half pound Graflex XL with no light meter.

    With best wishes -- [then-] Airman First Clas (E-4) Richard N. Cote, 366th MMS, DaNang Air Base, Vietnam, 1966-1967. Comments welcome to dickcote@earthlink.net. I don't "lurk" on this site. Please write me directly. Thanks! Dick.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 25, 2013
  13. summicron1

    summicron1 Subscriber

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    if you go to www.graflex.org you will find an article on the Graflex XL that I wrote many moons ago --http://www.graflex.org/articles/XL.html

    great camera all in all -- i took my to the grand canyon a year ago and got some nice stuff of hazy canyons. It is a camera I need to spend a lot more time learning how to get good performance from, because it is vastly more camera than I am photographer.

    don't sweat the tabs on the focusing ring -- as long as you give the camera a modicum of care you're good. Follow the advice about how to loosen up the focus ring -- i sanded mine down a bit too.

    I sprung for the 56 mm wide angle lens they made for that -- the grandagon -- massively wonderful lens. I use a 25mm finder from my 35mm camera outfit with that, also have a ground glass back.
     
  14. Sirius Glass

    Sirius Glass Subscriber

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    DickCote welcome to APUG!
     
  15. darkroom_rookie

    darkroom_rookie Member

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    So how difficult it is to modify the RH-50 back for a 5.6 x 11 cm frame? I've seen it mentioned on a few places on the net, but no details. Just that it can be done and easily used on a Sinar. Anyone actually seen one or even did it to theirs?