The most obvious question ever asked: Why did make this camera in the first place?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. I don't "lurk" on this site. Please write me directly. Thanks! Dick.
Last edited by DickCote; 02-25-2013 at 09:55 PM. Click to view previous post history.
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