The Camera In Question
– Part of the Large Format Photography series of articles –
In a few days I’m taking photographs of an apocalyptic future containing gun-toting horsemen fighting each other. I’m doing this with a really old and really big camera, and I’m doing it because if everything goes to plan, it’ll look really really good.
But really, what is this camera? What makes it so different to modern cameras, and why does it matter? Typically I like to avoid going into banal minutiae that only hardcore nerds will even care to understand, however for the sake of record I’m going to go over every nook and cranny of this little piece of mechanical history.
The camera is a Graflex Graphic View. Graflex is the name of the company who made the camera. They started manufacturing in 1898 – only 115 years ago! They were bought out by and absorbed into Kodak during 1905-1907 and made a boatload of cameras during their time all the way into the 1970’s when they folded. The lens I’m currently using, and will be using for Tech Hunt is the Schneider Kreuznach Super-Angulon 5.6/90 with multi-coating and a Copal 0 shutter. This is a comparatively modern lens that was produced in the 70’s.
I decided I was going to buy a Graphic View the second I spotted one on Ebay. They’re beautiful cameras, which follow an aesthetic that simply isn’t seen in this age of black “professional” hand-held boxes. Fortunately the Graphic View is also pretty much perfect for what I want to be doing, I could easily justify the this as more than a mere vanity purchase. It’s got plenty of geared camera movements, giving me tons of careful flexibility for focusing, yet it’s still fairly compact and quick to use. It even comes with a specially made carry case which can also hold all the associated items that I need while photographing.
First off is the tank-like box it comes in, Despite this case being positively prehistoric, it’s solid as a rock. I have no doubt that while carrying this around, my camera will be completely secure. All in all it probably weighs about 7+kg? It’s heavy, but you can definitely carry it around if you have to.
What’s in the box? It’s something old, but it’s not a pair of socks! What you can see here on the left is the underside of the camera and the integral rail it’s attached to. On the right hand side is all the contents of the box removed. Typically I hold the following:
2. Dark Bag – A sealed bag with sleeves to fit my arms in, it lets me handled the negatives before they’ve been developed.
3. Film (not pictured) and film magazines (to load the film into the camera)
4. Tripod Collars
5. Shroud (not pictured)- This is a cloak that olde tyme photographers wore while shooting LF cameras, because the viewfinders are so dark and hard to see that if any light falls on them you can’t see jack. The one I use is actually a fabric black / silver reflector from Calumet, which occasionally comes in handy for other stuff.
Here you can see the two tripod heads / rail collars I have, on the left is the original. It still works fine, however it’s clumsy to use since I then have to attach it to a modern tripod, which already has more movements available, and is substantially more stable. Because of this the previous owner of this camera brilliantly wood-worked his own tripod collar that I generally use instead. It looks a bit rough in comparison, however function comes before form!
So what are all these gears and knobs doing on the camera? My DSLR has nothing of the sort on it, it’s all electronic buttons and a twisty bit to zoom / focus. Why does the LF camera need all these bits? All those gears basically manipulate focus or perspective, they are called “Movements”. They enable the camera to focus in ways that most DSLR’s and their lenses can only dream of. Here is the main focusing gear being moved. This is just like focusing in any other camera, digital or film.
There are a few other movements, however for the sake of sparing you the boredom of monotonous technical info, lets move on. Modern cameras are designed with a certain aesthetic in mind. They’re made to look “professional”, reliable, something amateurs desire because it’ll change peoples perception of them as photographers. The thing is they’re all generic black boxes with no prettiness at all where the largest artistic effort goes into the branding. Boooring! Ever really studied a Large Format Camera? They’re pieces of finely crafted art in comparison.
I have a real soft spot for Art Deco styling, and all these cosmetic lines placed around the camera really help me pretend that I’m living in some bizzarro 1920’s style version of the future. It’s an attention to detail which doesn’t really exist any more in higher end cameras. For shame!
So that was a quick overview of the camera I’m shooting with on Tech Hunt. In the upcoming posts I’m going to go into further details about Large Format lenses, the difficulties of handling film on a life film set, planning the shoot, as well as a detailed breakdown of how things went down, and how I’m handling post-production. As always, if you have any questions, or just want to shout abuse at me, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!