For large-format photographers, the name "Deardorff" has some of the same luminosity that the name "Leica" has for small-format photographers.
Think of it as the Harley-Davidson of cameras.
Will Whitaker, himself a large format man of sterling reputation, tells me that L.F. Deardorff & Sons, Inc. has been resurrected in the hills of southeastern Tennessee. Barry Cochran, who once worked for the Japanese-owned incarnation of the Deardorff company in Athens, Tennessee, and who is known to many people under the Ebay handle "attrevida" as a purveyor of NOS Deardorff parts, has begun Deardorff production again in the small southern Tennessee town of Cleveland. Last year he and his wife Monica bought out the estate of Jack Deardorff, including original tooling and the rights to the hallowed L.F. Deardorff & Sons name. Barry's first offering is a run of 15 new 8x10 and 15 4x5 Special* Deardorff cameras to be delivered in 2011. I wonder how long it's been since you could buy a current-production Deardorff new?
Wooden view cameras are essentially immune to the larger trends in the camera market. They're not just under the radar, they're the kind of thing that the radar doesn't even detect. (To stretch that metaphor well and good.)
Barry had been splitting his time between Cleveland and a job in Greensboro, North Carolina for some time. Will says, "I was living in Greensboro and met Barry some time ago as the result of an Ebay purchase. I got to know Barry better and over several outings for Chinese food we discussed his plans as they developed. He's been working very diligently at this and is intent on making this venture work."
Let's hope it does. This market will never get so small that there won't be room for thirty new LF cameras. Especially genuine Deardorffs.
(Thanks to Will)
*The Deardorff 4x5 Special is a 5x7 camera available with either a 5x7 back or a 4x5 reducing back.
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Original contents copyright 2011 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Karl: "I knew Jack Deardorff back in the '80s when I was shooting 8x10 daily, doing commercial work. Jack struck me as being a real artisan and a bit of a character, but no doubt lacked the business and marketing skills that might have kept the company afloat. It's great to see the name in production again, particularly by owners committed to the quality of the Chicago production. There are certainly slicker, lighter, slightly more sophisticated field cameras being made now, but none I'd rather shoot with."
Question from Andrea B.: "OK, this is a stupid question—how does a person learn how to shoot with one of these LF cams?? Is there a book?? Do I need a personal trainer?? I've always wanted to try this. And those Deardorffs are simply gorgeous."
Mike replies: At the risk of exposing the quirkiness of my enthusiasms, I simply can't resist answering this very not-stupid question at some length, so please bear with me.
At the very basic level, a view camera is exceptionally easy to use. Here are the basic steps:
• Learn to unfold and fold the camera from the "storage" (boxed, or closed) to the "ready" (working, or open) position and back again. This is not always easy right at first but you can work out how to do it slowly and it's always the same, never changes, so after a while it gets to be second nature.
• Find a lab that will process the film you choose. Let's say for the sake of this illustration that you're choosing Velvia film (E-6 process) and you live near New York. So you might choose Duggal, which regularly processes all sizes of E-6 films up to 8x10.
• Load the film holders. This consists of opening a light-tight cardboard box in total darkness, removing a sheet of film, then half-opening the film holder and slipping the film into it underneath the grooves or guides on the sides. Again, this takes a bit of working-out at first (it's fiddley but not difficult) but it's always the same, never changes, and once you get used to it it becomes easier and easier. The only thing you have to remember is to insert the film emulsion-side out, which you do by keeping the notches in the corner of the sheet of film in the "upper right" as you slip the sheet into the holder. Note also that you don't need a "darkroom" to load and unload film...you just need a dark room. I used to do it in a closet with a towel placed at the bottom of the door. You can also use a changing bag, although I've never cared for them. Whatever works.
• When you get to the location where you want to take the picture, you set up the tripod, attach the Deardorff, and unfold it. Then you mount the lens on the front, set it to the open or widest aperture, and open the shutter using a slider switch on the shutter (the lens is mounted directly to the shutter in a view camera lens).
• The lens then casts an image of the scene on to the ground glass. The image is somewhat dim, which is why you need the characteristic "dark cloth" that typifies the old-timey stand-camera photographer in story and song—that's the cloth you drape over your head. It's purpose is to block extraneous light so you can see the image on the groundglass better.
• Focus the camera. This is done by racking the lens stage in and out using a fingerwheel on either side of the bed of the camera, positioned roughly below the film plane. (On many cameras the knob on one side racks the lens in and out, and the knob on the other side is a lock.)
• At this point you might apply movements to the camera. The various movements do take a long time to master, and that's mainly why you would need a book on how to use view cameras. But in many cases you don't need movements, or you need very minimal ones. Many times pictures can be taken with no movements at all, by simply aiming the camera using the tripod. Very few smaller-format cameras offer movements, so you're most likely shooting without movements now. This is a little misleading, because smaller formats offer greater depth-of-field and hence less need for movements to keep various parts of the image in focus, but let's assume for now that you're not using movements this time.
• Close the lens. The image disappears from the groundglass.
• Take a meter reading of the scene. There are many aspects of view camera practice that can be complicated greatly for the sake of control or precision, and metering is certainly one of them. But you don't absolutely need to complicate it. Of course you can use a handheld light meter and simply take an averaging reading. But if you have a decent digital camera, you can use that too. Set the ISO to 50 (if you can)—the speed of your film—and find the proper exposure where the picture and the histogram look right to you. You're probably fine with this exposure. Note that you might have to adjust the EV (exposure value) to get into the range of the view camera lens. That is, most view camera lenses are at their optimum at ƒ/22 or ƒ/32; your DSLR exposure might be, let's say, ƒ/8 at 1/125th. So you'll have to count apertures down and shutter speeds slower...closing the aperture from ƒ/8 - ƒ/11 - ƒ/16 - ƒ/22 is three stops, so you'll have to lengthen the shutter speed by three stops too, from 1/125th - 1/60th - 1/30th - 1/15th. (If your DSLR only goes down to ISO 100, say, you'll also have to increase the exposure by one extra stop to match the film speed of your Velvia.)
• Set the aperture and shutter speed on the lens (in our example, 1/15th at ƒ/22).
• Cock the shutter. All these controls—aperture, shutter speed, slider for opening and closing the lens, and cocking lever—are on the lens.
• Insert the film holder in the camera. This is easy; it slides in right under the groundglass, which is held to the back of the camera with spring clips.
• Check to make sure the lens is closed.
• Pull the darkslide. The film is now facing the lens inside the camera.
• Do your best to channel Edward Weston, hold your breath, and click the cable release.
• Re-insert the darkslide. Many film holders have white and black sides to their "handle" ends, the end with the thicker bar where you take hold of it. Usually, white side out means unexposed film, and black side out means exposed film. This, obviously, is just so you don't expose the same $9 sheet of film twice without meaning to.
• Remove the film holder, remove the lens, and "knock down" (it's a figure of speech!) the camera and tripod.
• Back home, you transfer the exposed film to an empty film box (you can use old ones, or buy empty ones, or get an old one from a friend or from your processor).
• Send or deliver the film to your processor.
• When you get the transparency back, mount it in a masking mat, put it on a light box, and marvel. Later, wow all your friends—and I don't mean just your photographer friends.
That's the basic process. The rest is refinement. Once you're equipped, you could be up and shooting the first day.