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Monday, 12 May 2014


It was almost 60 years ago that William Faulkner wrote a piece for what became one of America's better photojournalism magazines.

Kentucky: May: Saturday
Three Days to the Afternoon

I am at this writing sitting and working in the Graflex building in Rochester NY. The building has long since been used by other companies for things unrelated to Graflex or even photography, but it is a curiosity to me. When I mention this to my fellow employees they have no idea who Graflex was or what they did. I read an article somewhere that described Graflex and the first and only great US camera manufacturer, a description that is hard to argue, even here in the hometown of the formerly great Kodak, famous for film, and not so much for cameras.

The Speed Graphic was also the standard (ground) camera when I was a photographer in the US Army Air Corps.

Sure it's a great camera, but even folded up it won't fit in my pocket. BTW it was my first "real" camera, given to me my a friend ofd my father. He found himself not using it anymore and hated for it to go to waste....not a bad idea even today.

News photographers of that era didn't stint on their equipment - the Speed Graphic's pricing was right in the Leica/Rolleiflex price range at that time.

At sixty years old, my Speed Graphic with Graphmatic film holder is still fully functional, and hasn't been serviced in who knows how long, if ever. Speeds are a tad slower than rated, which I suppose could adjust via the curtain tensioner.

Being painfully slow to use, one has to be amazed at the ability of the pros who used it to capture news and action shots. What anticipation, timing, and persistence they had!

I still enjoy using it, and more so the incredulous looks I get when doing so. Definitely a conversation piece.

I will probably by the 94th person (give or take 0.1%) to point out that 93.9% of all statistics are entirely made up.

My son is using my old, 1963 vintage, Pacemaker Crown Graphic to do part of his MFA in photography. It has a 135mm Xenar and a 90mm Angulon and after 51 years still takes care of business.
If you don't need mad camera moves these old boxes are terrific and tough as nails.

Y'know, I actually have one of these. Early 50's vintage, I think. Since so many photogs use(d) it, maybe it's time to dust it off and give it a whirl.

I do need to fix the bellows, though.

Not the most portable rig, but I've always liked the look of the pictures that come from them.

The Crown Graphic was the bomb, lighter than a Linhoff, easier to hold than you think. The "Speeds" focal plane shutter made it a little thicker and almost twice as heavy, had one, but got rid of it...wish I had my Crown back, tho, gave it to an assistant to use and keep, pre-digital, hope he's still using it...

I used one of those for three years in the Army ('64-'67). One lab I worked in had one 35mm Topcon. We rarely used it except to 'try it out'. The speed graphic was a great camera and made awesome negatives in the right hands. After the Army I bought a Crown Graphic from the local police dept and used it for years until I decided to buy a Wista field camera. Sometimes I wish I'd kept that Graflex.

This is sort of off-topic, but I've always had the urge to own of those Koni Omega Rapid M (I may have the name wrong). They strike me as the kind of camera that a press photographer would use in a Superman movie, say.

I don't think that this is quite right:

"News photographers of that era didn't stint on their equipment - the Speed Graphic's pricing was right in the Leica/Rolleiflex price range at that time."

I happen to have a Graflex catalog from 1941, in which a 4x5 Speed Graphic with a Kodak Ektar lens is listed for $123.50. At that time, new Leica's weren't being sold in the US, but before and after the war, they were well into the $300 range, depending on the model and lens. My sense is that Leicas and other high-end German cameras were, as they are now, primarily bought by relatively affluent amateurs. (But, Leicas didn't have red dots then, and I don't think that they had such notable fashion value.) It was only in the 50s and 60s that 35 mm became predominant in news photography.


I have, and use, two pacemaker speed graphics, just like the one pictured. They're basically my daily drivers. One is fitted with a xenotar 150 F/2.8. The other, is fitted with an aero Ektar. Both have calibrated rangefinders, for easy handheld shooting. Together with six grafmatics I use them for regular everyday stuff, including kids sports, all the time. I also have two crown graphics, one fitted with a Xenotar 135, the other is a spare.

Another great option in press cameras, is the Meridian 45. I have three of those, but unfortunately they don't have graflok backs like the speed/crowns.

I have a Crown Graphic very much like Mike Plews' son is using. I bought it years ago from a retired newspaper photographer, and when I was using it, before the near death of film, I enjoyed using it immensely. It feels lighter in my hands than many DSLRs, and is incredibly versatile. You have to examine it carefully to figure out all the features. To begin with, the focus is coupled to a thin sheet of metal that slides on an angle in the viewfinder to provide parallax correction. The sports finder also has the ability to move the eyepiece up and down on a marked distance scale for the same purpose. But the most ingenious feature was the focus-in-the-dark system. In ordinary light the coupled rangefinder simply superimposes two images, and you focus until they line up. But in the dark, there's a light bulb that shines out through the same rangefinder optics projecting two spots of light that move as you focus. When these are both at the same spot on your subject, you're in focus. It's a real photographer's tool, well thought out and built to last.

It was the first camera I ever used, but it wasn't mine; it belonged to the Faribault High School Camera Club, and it won the student paper an award for best sports photo -- actually, single shots of consecutive layups by one of the school's basketball players that I noticed I could lay out as sequential shots of a single layup. Bet you never thought a Speed Graphic could be used as a motor-drive camera!

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