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  1. #1
    BetterSense's Avatar
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    Speed graphics, thoughts on large format as economical upgrade

    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.
    f/22 and be there.

  2. #2

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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. #3
    BradS's Avatar
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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. #4

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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. #5
    BetterSense's Avatar
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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?
    f/22 and be there.

  6. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by BetterSense View Post
    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.
    This looks very much smaller than 4x5, something like 6x9cm or so.

  7. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by BetterSense View Post

    Is a crown graphic like a Speed graphic but without the focal plane shutter?
    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. #8
    BradS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BetterSense View Post
    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.
    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!



    Quote Originally Posted by BetterSense View Post
    What do you give up in terms of movements with a camera like this?
    depends on what you need. If shooting handheld - you give up nothing because you're generally not going to use movements anyway.

    Quote Originally Posted by BetterSense View Post
    Are "field cameras" the kind that fold up into a box? Monorails have more movements but are harder to transport etc?
    Yes.

    Quote Originally Posted by BetterSense View Post
    Is a crown graphic like a Speed graphic but without the focal plane shutter?
    Yes.

  9. #9

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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. #10

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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.

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