View Full Version : What's a line camera?

01-14-2009, 12:53 AM
I've been asked if I'd like to take a 16x20 "line camera" off the hands of a woman widowed last year. She says it takes up half the darkroom. (I will, of course, be quite willing to help her with any other annoying photo bits cluttering up the place.) The huge camera is her main concern though, so I thought I would ask what it might be before I go and look at it. I haven't got a clue, and have never been up close to anything larger than 4x5. It comes with a dolly - so I guess that means it is quite heavy and is meant for use in a studio. Thanks APUGgers!

I'll take digisnaps to post. I've got an appointment to go look at it next weekend.

David A. Goldfarb
01-14-2009, 01:00 AM
It's probably a stat camera used for various kinds of repro work in the printing industry. These are often difficult to repurpose for other things, though they may come with interesting lenses, and it might be possible to adapt parts of it, like a vacuum back as a vacuum easel, bellows for making your own ULF camera, etc.

Are you sure it isn't built into the darkroom? Sometimes these are set up with the front of the camera in one room with copy lights and a vertical easel, and the back of the camera in the darkroom for loading, unloading, and immediate processing.

01-14-2009, 02:04 AM
David is quite likely right, but your reference to the camera being with a dolly makes me wonder if the camera hasn't already been adapted to some purpose more portable.

If nothing else, you should go look at it, because they are fascinating, and great to work with (if you are into old style reprophotographic processes).

If you know anyone older with experience in the printing industry, they might be able to give you a lot of help.

If I was in Nanaimo, and you wouldn't object to 30+ year old experience that only covered a couple of years of use, I'd be happy to help. :)


01-14-2009, 10:51 AM
Sounds like it would be fun to play with if you've got the storage space. Who knows?

(It's this kind of thinking that has my house looking like a crazy uncle's attic. I've got crap piled atop my other crap. It's an archaeological dig around here.)

01-14-2009, 07:52 PM
In case anyone is wondering, the "line" in "line camera" is an (obsolescent?) graphic arts term for what would probably now be called "litho"; anything where continuous tones are not involved. A related term was "screen", referring to halftone screened artwork. So in the back room of a newspaper, one might once have seen "line art" being "stripped in" (with transparent red tape) along with the "screen work" to make up a page for offset printing. I think that somewhere I still have a few boxes with the "line film" nomenclature. This would have been from about 1960 or so.

A graphic arts camera small enough to be moved around would contain most of the basic pieces of a really nifty large-format enlarger. In my misguided youth, my brother and I converted an old De Jure 5x7 enlarger into a horizontal graphic arts camera; going the other way would be both easier and more rewarding for anyone with the space (and big negatives!).

04-24-2009, 03:29 PM
I am compiling a list of newspapers that still have these installed even though mothballed. I am thinking of doing a book project that would employ the PMT camera as a portrait camera in each town and people would come in for a week or more in series.

I would use ULF film and do contact prints from them...

Any ideas on how shallow the DOF on the lenses are?

04-24-2009, 03:46 PM
Turning a graphic arts static camera into an enlarger could become troublesome the moment one starts thinking of having a point source light source and apt condensors...

04-24-2009, 05:27 PM
Having been in the printing business for too long, I have had the chance to get all the "line cameras" I would ever want and passed on them all. The dolly you refer to is most likely the track the vacuum frame runs on along the floor. If I remember correctly, when I was in Ansels' darkroom in 1982, he had basically converted a similar process camera into his enlarger. He had done quite a large amount of work on the projection end with dozens of lights to illuminate his 8x10 negs and I think that he had the other end of the track holding the paper with magnets and possibly a vacuum apparatus. The negatives were projected horizontally and he could move the paper forward or backwards as to whatever enlargement he wanted. It was a beast and he dodged and burned like a conductor at the symphony. If you have the room, a large room, then if one had the time it would be a hoot to fix one up as the ultimate enlarger. 20x24 prints from 8x10 negs look great and a process camera would handle them easily. Just be ready for a large bob-tail truck to move it.

04-24-2009, 05:44 PM
A line camera has got to be a graphic arts camera.

By all means, take a look at it! If you have the room, the money for holders and everything else, and think that shooting 16x20 in studio would work for what you shoot, go for it. (Hope that it has a lens, however.) Don't expect it to be something you can take to your subjects, however.

04-27-2009, 11:10 PM
"I would use ULF film and do contact prints from them...

Any ideas on how shallow the DOF on the lenses are?"

Not much, at 11x14 or larger, portraits would be at 1-1 or closer. Another bother would be the process lenses for these cameras are optimized for flat-field works (no DOF) and standard lenses long enough are rare and expensive. 420mm or longer should work well and give enough distance from the sitter not to scare them too much.

Have fun with it, sounds like a fun project.