Why all the bad rap on Burke & James?

Discussion in 'Large Format Cameras and Accessories' started by Wayne Olson, Aug 20, 2006.

  1. Wayne Olson

    Wayne Olson Member

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    As I read posts on this forum, I consistently read opinions that the old B&J field cameras are of inferior quality and build. Why is this?

    I just completed restoral of my 5X7 Commercial View and have just over $275.00 in it, including a new bellows. Mostly, it was strip paint, clean up and/or replace hardware and make up a lensboard adapter for my Techika boards.

    Here's what I see in front of me. Pretty extensive shift, rise/fall, tilt and swing on both standards. Way more than I'll probably ever use for landscapes and portraits. Good, solid lock down after the simple expedient of going to Home Depot and buying some nylon washers to go under the knobs. Two small strips of very thin gasket material on the track locking cams and there is no slippage whatsoever when the film holder is inserted or removed.

    The tailboard design doesn't poke me in the chest as one poster stated. I note that it "rattles" a bit as I move it along the track to focus, but so did my friend's Deardorff. So what? Anyone here actually trip the shutter while moving the standards? I sure haven't.

    To all of you Deardorff, Seneca, D2, Korona and other older field camera owners, I'm not denigrating your gear. As a matter of fact, I think that with proper use and care, any and all of these old cameras are excellent tools. I just wonder if an element of elitism has crept into the LF crowd. It would sure seem so if one sees what 'dorffs are going for on FleaBay.

    Or, am I missing something important? To each his own, for sure. There are those who feel that the only way for them to properly do LF is to take a laptop into the field to calculate DOF, tilt/swing and hinge line, only use a specially calibrated spot meter and won't even think of putting a lens on that isn't APO and carrying about 15 coatings on the glass. Not to mention that the camera has to have geared, indexed and calibrated movements. And, I'm sure that they make wonderful photographs.

    And then there's the others who have duct taped bellows, beater lenses, clamps on the bed rails, don't even carry a loupe for critical focus and just stop down until everything looks good on the GG. And, I'm sure that they, too, produce wonderful and beautiful photographs.

    Those first negatives that I processed (on hangers, in dip and dunk tanks, with a lot of sky and no "surge marks") were just knockouts. The contact prints sparkle and glow so beautifully that I'm going to dig out the 8X10 B&J which has been languishing in a box awaiting revival this week and get it's restoral going.

    I'm sure I'm going to catch Hell from some on the forum but all I really want to do is stimulate some re-thinking. Many of these old boxes are really classics and classical. Who'd have thought that under all that gray paint the B&J has that beautiful wood? I'm not putting anyone down for their technique or gear. Just asking for others on the forum to post their thoughts and/or experiences.

    Good light to all,

    Wayne
     
  2. Charles Webb

    Charles Webb Member

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    Wayne,
    There are many that view the "LF" as a hot thing to be involved in, it is cool and is seen by some to be a status symbol, Proclaim yourself a large format photographer and others will kneel in awe. The greatest level that can be reached is "the fine art photographer" level.

    Judge for yourself the quality of work being turned out by the majority of those practicing in large format. Some is very good, some is excellent, most is well...........not nearly so good as the authors think.

    This will never change, I have been involved with photographers or wannabee photographers for more than fifty years, it is worse now than ever before, due to retiring "Baby Boomers" disposable income and the desire to become the next Ansel.

    There is absolutely nothing wrong or bad about the B&J equipment, other than that it has never been nor will it ever be a prestige camera like a Deardorff once was. In it's day it was a workhorse, most likely thousands more of B&J boxes were in use by "pro's" than any other manufacturer. Since more were in use then, there are more of them available today at a much lower price. The lower price in no way indicates B&J boxes are not as good or will not do the same job as a Deardorff. The Deardorff owner will disagree with me, because he needs to bolster his ego for spending more money for a camera than was necessary. The quality of the photo is controlled totally by the person making the image, not how much he paid for
    his "Lens holder" (camera).

    Nuff said, I already have said too much, but what I have said can be supported by reading the forums and viewing the galleries.

    I now totally expect to be burned alive by those whose secrets I have let out!

    Charlie..............................
     
  3. Dave Parker

    Dave Parker Inactive

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    I kind of figure this way, if you happy, then why does it matter what others think...go with what ya got is my moto...

    Dave
     
  4. RichSBV

    RichSBV Member

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    I have a B&J 8x10 Commercial View over here in original condition including the grey paint. It's a beautiful camera and as solid as any built. There's not a lens/shutter made that it won't hold and at full extension. As you say, with a few touches, it tightens up and holds perfectly. On the other hand, I don't use it... The only reason is that the camera I do use is less than half the weight. Solid build costs in weight. I agree with you and Charles 100%.

    Oddly enough, to fan things a bit... Back in the '30's when the Deardorff came out, it was far from a top rated camera and sold for less than most others. Many people didn't like it's aluminum hardware when the better cameras still used brass. And it was far from "solid". It was only after WWII when most other manufacturers pulled out of the 8x10 market that the Deardorff took off. If you read any of the books from the late 30's, many cameras are suggested to buy. Deardorff isn't one of them...
     
  5. Capocheny

    Capocheny Member

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    Wayne,

    It's sort of like people who have a preference for a Lexus over a Mercedes. They'll stand by their choice regardless of what others think.

    So, like your situation, there will be those who love their Dorffs, Kodak 2D, Sinars, Cambo or whatever flavor they choose.

    As Dave suggests, "if you like your camera... don't worry about what anyone else may think!"

    At the end of the day... it's the final image that comes out of the camera that counts. The camera is merely the tool used to capture that image! :smile:

    Cheers
     
  6. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Dear Wayne,

    There are probably three reasons, all of which are shared with the Kodak Specialist which commonly goes for next to nothing:

    1 Ugly as sin

    2 Weighs a ton

    3 (Easily the most important) Because they were indeed workhorses, many were badly worn by the time they reached amateur hands. The fact that this wear and tear can usually be taken out with a bit of TLC shows, in fact, what good cameras they are.

    I'll also agree with Rich: I really can't see why anyone would want a Deardorff instead of a Gandolfi, unless they are rabid chauvinists who MUST have a US-built camera. It's a bit like Harley-Davidson and Indian. When Indians (the originals) were still in production, people found fault with both, and both had their advocates. Only when there was no choice did H-D achieve cult status.

    Finally I'll agree with Charlie too. LF is not difficult. It is probably the easiest form of photography to master, because things like grain and acutance and lens sharpness matter less and less as the format gets bigger. Exposure is less critical, too, as long as there's plenty of it. Understanding movements doesn't take long and you see the picture you are going to get on the ground-glass. But there is a tremendous and completely false mystique built up by some LF users, mainly (as far as I can see) to make themselves feel superior.

    Cheers,

    Roger (www.rogerandfrances.com)
     
  7. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    I think a lot of recent LF users have been interested in portable cameras that are easy to take into the field, and the B&J cameras tend not to fit that description.

    On the other hand, they have big lensboards and strong construction, so they're perfect if you want to experiment with old portrait lenses that have big flanges and that are often easiest to use with a big Packard shutter behind the lensboard.
     
  8. eumenius

    eumenius Member

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    To me, the perfect LF camera should satisfy the following list of criteria (incomplete one, of course):

    1. Accept normal film holders, not just some fancy ones - Graflok international back, please
    2. Accept standart-sized lenses, but also be easy to adapt something else
    3. Good precision and sturdiness, and absolutely no sideplays in critical points
    4. The weight - not so important for studio, but important for field
    5. Full set of movements
    6. Adequate bellows extension
    7. Focusing of both standarts, it's desirable for precision work like macro
    8. Should be made from materials resistant to wear and tear

    As I can see, my old poor Omega-View 45D fully corresponds to this list, and I am very happy with it. If I could, I would also buy some Toyo field camera like 45 CF - just for those outdoor shots :smile:

    I've listed the qualities I want to see in a perfect LF camera, but I can say that a, say, 30*40 Russian wooden doghouse camera, where one glues the film on a glass plate in a wooden holder, can produce truly superb results - of course, when it's operated by someone who knows what he's doing :smile: One has just to be accustomed to one's gear, that's all - the brand is absolutely not important for me, and I don't find much fun in lustful fondling something very expensive and exquisite :smile: The camera is just a tool - imagine to yourself a hammer with ebony handle and crocodile skin cover, made from Invar alloy, gold-plated, with platinum coating somewhere, a special edition. How many nails would you bang down with it, eh? :smile: The regular hammer would do it better and cheaper, but it should also have no play between handle and head, be made from good materials, be not too heavy, and its handle should lie conveniently in your palm.

    Let's sell meat and flies separately, as we're saying in Russia - the photography and the money investment are two different stories :smile:

    Cheers, Zhenya
     
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  9. JHannon

    JHannon Member

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    I own the ugly of all uglys.. The Calumet C-1 Green Magnesium Monster. Not a very fashionable camera but it has everything I need. Add a Majestic tripod and you have a combination that can double as a car jack or scaffold. I lug everything in a large Stanley rolling plastic toolbox. My photos are not very good and I know it but how else do you learn? I am too busy having fun..
     
  10. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Dear Zhenya,

    I love the saying 'Let's sell meat and flies separately' but I disagree slightly about the pleasure of top-flight equipment. I have an alarming amount of the latter, but ONLY of equipment that I am not afraid to use. If you're afraid to use it, there's not much reason in keeping it

    This was why I got rid of my last Leica IIIg. It wasn't a particularly great camera to use, but it was mint, so I flogged it and bought something I was happier with. I forget what it was now -- it was a couple decades ago -- but I think it was a black paint M3 at a silly-low price. Then that went in exchange for a new (then-current) M4-P which I still have (no 35mm frame lines on an M3).

    Cheers,

    Roger
     
  11. Nick Zentena

    Nick Zentena Member

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    I wonder how much this goes back to the orginal marketing. The wa it's been explained to me.

    You had Deardoffs at the top of the heap in terms of price.

    Then the Kodaks and the Anscos

    Then the B&Js.

    But personally I'm happy with my B&J. In some ways it's better then it's more fashionable competitors.
     
  12. eumenius

    eumenius Member

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    Dear Roger,

    I didn't say that I'm all against the top-flight equipment - in fact, I've got some top gear too, and I enjoy it much :smile: But I have just the one principle: if the top-flight thingie falls in my hands somehow, I just gladly accept it :smile: All my "really good" cameras (Fujica G690, Rollei SL66 and TLR etc.) were bought by me for silly prices, and carefully restored to perfect operation. More, a careful tuning of cheapo stuff like Yashica-Mat EM makes them as fine-working as their brand counterparts - you should feel by yourself the film winding and shutter release on my YM after some tweaking :smile:

    The running around and the fetishistic lust for, say, Linhof or other brand is what I never do. But if somewhere is for sale an unused Linhof release cable for $5 (my recent purchase), or Linhof-selected lens (Tele-Arton 250/5.6) for $125, why not? :smile:

    Cheers, Zhenya
     
  13. athanasius80

    athanasius80 Member

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    Burke & James was gone before I was born, but I've heard that they specialized in being the "cheaper than the competition" photo company. I'd say its price snobbery first and a dislike of the battleship grey paint second.

    Personally, though, I like that battleship grey paint.
     
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  15. athanasius80

    athanasius80 Member

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    Oh and I forgot something. B&J bought a quantity of unmatched Goerz Dagor cells after WW2 and sold them as marked "Berlin Dagor." Apparently those cells were originally quality control rejects...
     
  16. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Dear Zhenya,

    We are in complete agreement.

    Cheers,

    Roger
     
  17. JohnArs

    JohnArs Subscriber

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    Hi all
    As a happy owner of a B & J 8x10 grey monster field, I have to say the camera is not for everyone, because for a field she is quite heavy but she is also sturdy. I got mine in exelent condition for 480 USD the back of the camera has been never in use! And the red bellows is like m.monroe very sexy. And I can use my 610 mm Nikkor and focus it down to 3 meters and even in windy conditions I had no blur pictures heavy wight has also his pros! The camera is build like a tank and id need much space in my old tramper rucksack but I can walk 2 miles if needed but prefer not more! My Sinar P fits not in my tramper rucksack but the B&J does it perfectly.
    Every tool has its pro's and con's!
    Happy shooting, Armin J. Seeholzer
     
  18. Oren Grad

    Oren Grad Subscriber

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    Wayne - I had a 5x7 B&J for a while. It had lots of slop in the rear standard, the focusing hood was dysfunctional, the tailboard design was a nuisance, and IMO it was way too bulky and heavy for the format. It was extremely unfun to use, and I was very happy to replace it with something else more to my taste.

    As always, YMMV. If you've fixed one up so that it works for you, that's great. Enjoy it, and don't worry about equipment snobbery or anti-snobbery.
     
  19. Jim Jones

    Jim Jones Subscriber

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    I use 5x7 B&J tailboard and monorail cameras with backs for 4x5 and smaller. Each basic camera cost less than $100 USD. Of course there are many more elegant and rigid cameras, but the B&Js work. It is also easy to adapt them with different backs and lens boards. Even the Newton Neu-View I had decades ago sufficed to hold the lens at one end, the film holder at the other, and with plenty of adjustments of both. That's what a view camera is supposed to do. Other cameras have more convenience and status, even if they can't produce better images.
     
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  20. doughowk

    doughowk Subscriber

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    I have a B&J 8X10 monorail that looks quite good after stripping the grey paint - wood appears to be a light colored hardwood. The bellows was glued to the standards; but now glued to plywood frame which in turn is screwed into the standards. The rear standard vibrates when inserting a filmholder, but wait a couple of 2nds after withdrawing darkslide & its fine. I put a Packard shutter on lensboard for a 305 Nikkor barrel lens. Have it mounted on Majestic studio tripod (rollers); and it functions very well in the studio. I would think a field B&J would be just as useful.
     
  21. John Kasaian

    John Kasaian Member

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    I had a B&J and it was a fine camera. IMHO it would be rare to find an old woody that dosen't show some wear and tear and B&J are no exception (but niether are 'dorffs!) Ultimately its not your camera but what you do with it that makes or breaks the deal. Don't let anxiety about your equipment influence your photography---no one is going to be able to tell the difference between a photo taken with a B&J from one taken with an Ebony anyway, and certainly don't let anyone "put down" the tools you're comfortable and enjoy working with---thats a problem "they" have, don't let it become yours.
    Cheers!
     
  22. dphphoto

    dphphoto Member

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    B&J made some monorails that weren't very good, skinny rails and top heavy standards. Sort of like the old 4X5 Calumets. The wood cameras are heavy, but usually solid. I've seen pictures of some refinished ones that look great.
    Dean
     
  23. JG Motamedi

    JG Motamedi Member

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    Seems to me this is thread is basically a troll.

    I currently have an 11x14 B&J, and have owned both 5x7 and 8x10. The B&Js are compentent cameras, and are in my mind (NB: I am not a backpacker) a significant improvement on the earlier folding tailboard cameras like the Korona. I love the huge lensboard size , the massive amount of front and rear rise, and of course the price.

    Would I trade it for an 11x14 Deardorff, Canham, Gandolfi, or similar self-encasing camera? Of course. These are simply more stable, compact, and easier to use cameras.

    With very few exceptions, you get what you pay for.
     
  24. DBP

    DBP Member

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    The old camera repair guy I used to go to, who had worked on B&Js when they were still being made, called them "Bunk and Junk". I think the reputation stems not from the cameras discussed above, but from the Press cameras, which simply do not feel as sturdy and well made as the Graphics they were competing against. Mine works fine, but does not have the same fit as my Anny Speed Graphic. I suspect the B&Js did not stand up as well to abuse by press photographers back in the 40s and 50s. On the other hand, my B&J Press has more shift and can take shorter lenses, so it gets plenty of use. You see the same comparisons made about the (Cosina) Voigtlanders in relation to Leicas. People complain that a $500 camera does not feel as sturdy as a $2000 camera. But other than press photographers, do we really abuse our equipment that much?
     
  25. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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  26. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    I went to a car show the other day. There was guy there with a restored 53 Chevy. He was pretty proud of the thing.

    I didn't have the heart to tell him, that a 53 Chevy was an ugly piece of crap the day it was dragged out of the Detroit plant.

    Down the line was a 57 Chevy.

    Ah, a work of art.

    Life is strange that way. He missed it by 4 years.


    Michael