Backs and Filmholders for Graflex and Graphic Cameras

Note. This is a supplement to the Graphic Features page at, in which I have created considerable overlap, but also provided additional information and images. The Graphic Features page and related pages on that site provide a comprehensive view of Graphic and Graflex models. Because the local page deals with camera systems that were manufactured over a period of about 30 years, it is dangerous to make conclusive statements. I'd be very happy to correct or supplement the information below based on substantive comments that visitors can provide. Just click the Comments link below to send me email from your designated email program.

History. Graflex regularly designed cameras with flexible back configurations to allow use of a variety of film types. Over half a century, Graflex improved the back systems and long-lived individual Graphic/Graflex models were often manufactured with different back styles. Understanding the different back designs is essential for understanding the kinds of filmholders available for each camera. The information here pertains to primarily post WWII cameras in the standard 2 1/4 x 3 1/4, 3 1/4 x 4 1/4, and 4 x 5 sizes.

Graflex Cameras: If you are not familiar with the different camera designs made by Graflex, you may want to visit this gallery.

Graflex Back Primer: Graflex designed and manufactured three basic types of back systems.

  • The Graflex back, found on most early reflex cameras, is pictured here . Its greatest attraction is that the section that holds the film holder rotates in relation to the section attached to the camera. It can be an otherwise simple design because rear ground glass focusing on an SLR would have been largely redundant, though some reflex cameras had ground glass panels.
  • The Graphic or 'Spring' back was found on early Graphic 'press' and some Graphic View cameras. Spring backs did have rear ground glass and a viewing hood in a spring mounted frame. Cut film holders could be slipped in under this frame and were seated so that the film's surface replaced the glass at the focal plane. Graphic/Graflex rollholders could not be used with the Spring back, though other companies made rollholders that had film gate structures that were thin enough to fit into the gape of the Spring back.
  • The latest type of back is the Graflok , in which the viewing frame could be removed entirely, allowing for Graphic rollfilm and Polaroid backs to be attached.

Types of Film Holders: Not all types of film holders were made to fit all camera models. Rollholders were manufactured in varying combinations. Here are the basic variants:

  • Magazine - an early style of compact sheet film holder with usually 18 film sheaths that were 'advanced' using a lever and a lighttight leather bag attached to the holder.
  • Plate holders - Single-sided and double-sided holders for glass plates.
  • Sheet or 'cut' film holder - most commonly available in double-sided holders.
  • Film pack holder - held magazines of usually 6 sheets of film prepackaged by film manufacturers.
  • Rollholders - Generally holding 120 film with baseplates sized for 2 1/4 x 3 1/4, 3 1/4 x 4 1/4, and 4 x 5 cameras. Image size varies as described below.
  • Grafmatic holders - This is basically an update on the original Magazine holder. Slightly thicker than a double-sided sheet film holder, the Grafmatic held six film sheaths. It was made only in 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 and 4 x 5 sizes.

Graflex Rollholder Primer: Rollholders were manufactured in varying combinations. Here are the basic variants:

  • By camera size, so there were versions made for 2 1/4 x 3 1/4, 3 1/4 x 4 1/4, and 4 x 5.
  • By camera style, Graflex vs Graphic, as noted above.
  • By image size:
    • Early rollholders were designated Graphic or Graflex 22 (6x6cm--12 on 120) or Graphic or Graflex 23 (6x9cm--8 on 120)
    • Later rollholders included model RH8 made 8 images 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 (6x9cm); model RH10 made 10 images 2 1/4 x 2  3/4 (6x7cm), and model RH12 made 12 square images 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 (6x6cm).
    • Later backs also varied by the number of exposures, based on film size. RH20 made 20 exposures with 220 and looked nearly indistinguishable from the RH10 ; model RH50 made 50 exposures with 70mm and was a much larger holder. RH20 and RH50 produced 2 1/4 x 2 3/4 (6x7cm) images.
    • The RH models had improved roller arrangements to keep film flatter, though some of these improvements were made to late model Graphic/Graflex 22/23 models, and the RH20 and RH50 models had different rollers for film advance. The RH models also had lever film advances.
  • All holders for one style of camera, in one camera size are interchangeable. So, for example, any 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 Graphic holder can be used on any 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 camera with a Graflok back--Century 23, Crown 23, Speed 23 or XL.
  • More confusing, however, is that most late holders are labelled only with the company name -- Graflex-- prominently displayed on the holder shell, with the Graphic or Graflex designation in red print on the baseplate.
  • Graphic rollholders cannot be attached to the early Graphic (Spring) back and may not be useable on press and view cameras made by other manufacturers, because often the gape of backs is not sufficient to accept the Graphic rollholder body. Other manufacturers--e.g., Calumet--make or made backs with a thin film gate structure and rollholder area that does not have to be inserted under the ground glass frame.

Camera Style: Graphic (Graflock) and Graflex rollholders are not compatible. In most cases, Graphic and Graflex film holders have different sized baseplates that mount to the camera in a given camera size. So, for example, sheet film holders for a 4x5 Graflex are too large for a 4x5 Graphic with either a Graphic spring or Graflok back. The same is true for 3 1/4 x 4 1/4 cameras. The 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 format is an exception to this rule. Graphic sheet film holders in this size are longer than those for Graflex, but are the same width. I have been able to modify a late model Graphic RH10 rollholder to fit a 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 Graflex Model B.

In addition to baseplate size, baseplate design is different between the Graflex and Graphic/Graflok backs. The Graflok holders had longer base plates which had ribs cast across the short dimension that engaged corresponding channels in the camera back to create light traps. Graflex film holders have no ribs, but do have a channel that engages a rib on the camera to create a light trap. 4x5 Graflex baseplate rollholders and sheet film holders are more difficult to find that the later Graflock holders. Some Graflex rollholders were made in the later RH design, but these are relatively rare. Occassionally the earlier 22 and 23 models turn up with film flattening rollers.

Early Graflex Super Ds had a modified version of the original Graflex back, with chrome sliders, similar to those on the Graflok back, to attach conventional Graflex slotted-edge sheet film holders and the larger Graflex rollholders. The groundglass viewing frame for this back is of the conventional Graflex design and is held on by the chrome sliders and must be removed even for sheet film use. Later Super Ds had Graflok backs, that used standard sized Graphic film holders.

Rotating Backs. Most Graflexes had rotating backs, though there were many early models and features varied considerably. Graphic Crown View, Graphic View and Graphic View II cameras had removable backs that could be reoriented changing their orientation from portrait to landscape. Graphic View and View II were manufactured with any of the three back types--Graflex, Graphic spring and Graflok. Super Graphics -- the last of the press style -- had rotating backs with a design similar to those of the Graflexes, but with Graflok style holder attachment for 4x5 Graphic holders. Bert Saunders has sent me a summary of rotating backs.


02/25/2009 3:55