Monday, May 19, 2008

(Not Quite) Before My Time ~ The Speed Graphic


They were called press cameras and they ruled the news photography business from the end of the nineteenth century until the 1950's. The Speed Graphic was the most popular and most versatile, having a second shutter right in front of the film so you could fit them with "barrel mount" lenses that lacked a built in shutter. The cheaper Crown Graphic lacked the rear shutter (and weighed a lot less too!). You focused through a side mounted rangefinder. In the U.S. most cameras were fitted with a Kalart rangefinder, but Meyer was also a common make. Most press phoitographers preferred sighting through the wire frame finder rather than squinting through the optical rangefinder.

Competition in the U.S. was mostly from the Busch Pressman, but the much more expensive Linhof Technika could be spotted on occasion, but mostly in the hands of wealthy amateurs. 4 X 5 inch sheet film was the industry standard (9 X 12 centimeter in Europe) but the cameras were also available in smaller sizes.

My friend Ivan Gambrel was lightening his load of old cameras that he'd collected over the years, and this is one of the two that he gave to me a few months back. I'm hoping to locate a few sheet film holders that'll fit, and see if that 100mm Wollensak Wide-Angle Raptar is really as sharp as it's reputed to be.

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