2 1/4 x 3 1/4 Pacemaker
Crown Graphic


4 x 5 Super Graphic

4 x 5 Busch Model D

4 x 5 Linhof Standard Press


4 x 5 B&J Press Model D




The first "press" type cameras were simple design extensions of the late 19th cy "hand cameras"-- more portable cameras, like the Folding Kodak cameras. Press cameras inherited a self-enclosing case with a fold down front on which was mounted a focusing rail that supported a front lens standard connected to the case by a pleated bellows. The evolution of press cameras benefitted from the development of other materials, but the functional design was similar for half a century.

While "view camera" is sometimes used more restrictedly, here I am using it to mean any camera that uses at least 4 x 5 inch film and that supports composition and focusing on groundglass. The definition could even be bent to include 6 x 9 cm designs that meet these criteria. It's only a guess, but I would venture that collectively better than 95% of photographs made by the cameras on this page were composed and focused using their eye-level viewfinders and rangefinders. Still, most have the basic features found in technical, field and monorail designs.

The press design succeeded because the case protected the inner components as the camera was being transported and to a degree, when it was setup. At about five pounds, it was reasonably light and with a supplementary rangefinder and eye-level viewfinder, it could be used for quick shots that would still preserve image quality. Virtually all press cameras retained the groundglass focusing feature that they inherited and have some movements on their front standards, though these are often limited by type and range. Though most 4 x 5 press cameras are at least 30 years old, they are sturdy, plentiful and affordable. Most have at least reasonable quality interchangeable lenses, and some are very good. All of these qualities make them attractive as entry-level large format cameras, which they can be if you understand their limitations.

Most press cameras had rangefinders, which are optical/mechanical devices used to focus the lens. While virtually all press cameras have interchangeable lenses, to focus these lenses with a rangefiner, each length requires changing a focusing cam and focusing cams are often much more difficult to obtain than the lenses they support. This is not of much importance if you plan to focus lenses on groundglass. While "serious" photographers may eschew rangefinders and viewfinders, these are sometime convenient as alternate aids to composition. You may want to consider their usefulness when making buying decisions.

While a well-preserved press camera with an equivalent lens might make negatives that are indistinguishable from those made with a $1000 technical camera, it almost certainly won't provide the flexibility of the latter with regard to the technical's ability to more fully deal with perspective control and to selectively control the plane of focus which the technical camera supports with front and back standards movements The degree to which this is likely to be a problem will depend on your interest in using movements .

Most press cameras allow some movements on the front standard and none on the back. Later models typically allow more movements and greater ranges of movements. Most press cameras have front rise and allow front fall by dropping the bed, but this adjustment also requires using all of the available backward tilt to reorient the lens board so that it is parallel with the case. Similarly by adjusting the tripod head so that the case is tilted back produces rear standard tilt while levelling the dropped bed to horizontal. Using the drop bed for these movements comes at the cost of limiting or preventing some front standard movements. Another limitation with many press cameras is that bellows extend outward from the back and with short lenses, the bed may be visible in the image, unless it is dropped. Having to drop the bed may interfere with front standard movements that you might like to use. Woodfield and monorail designs are often much friendlier to wide lenses by allowing more flexibility in where the standards are placed relative to their support

Another serious limitation of press camera designs is that many have a stationary back--the back cannot be adjusted for horizontal or vertical orientation relative to the camera case. With a design that provides liberal front movements, reorienting the camera and back by turning the entire unit 90° provides framing flexibility, but most press cameras have limited front movements, so, for example, held for vertical framing, you could have very little rise/fall which would come using the front shift movement.

Since most press cameras are old, bellows can leak light, older shutters can be inaccurate and unreliable, and older lenses can be uncoated and be scratched, have separated elements and fungus that damages lens surfaces. Later models are less likely to present these problems.

Graphics. Graphics were made from 1912 through 1973. The most common models are the Anniversary, Pacemaker and Super Graphics. Pacemaker models have back (no forward) tilt, generous rise and fall, and modest shift on the front standard. The only back standard movement is a fixed back tilt, described above. The Super/Super Speed Graphics adds generous front swing and a rotating back to the featureset. Both Pacemaker and Super Speed Graphics have Graflok (international) backs that accept sheet film and rollfilm holders and Polaroid backs.

Pacemakers were produced in Century (2 1/4 x 3 1/4 only) with a molded plastic body, and Crown and Speed models with wood/metal bodies. The Speed Graphic has a focal plane shutter in addition to the between-the-lens shutter on the front standard. Pacemakers have articulated case and bed rails which allowed them to focus while the front standard is within the case. This allows them to focus short lenses better than the other Graphics. Crowns have a shallower case that allows them to focus shorter lenses. Barrel (shutterless) lenses can be mounted on the Speed. Earlier Pacemakers had Kalart rangefinders; later Pacemakers had top-mounted Graflex rangefinders; the Super Speed had a rangefinder integrated in the top of the case. The later Pacemakers and the Super Speed usually had fresnel focusing screens. The focusing screen/frame on Graflok back can be removed and it is possible to swap in a Cambo/Calumet screen/frame and mount a Cambo reflex finder on most Graphics.

At about 4.5 lbs, the Super/Super Speed Graphic comes close to the definition of a metal field camera, besting the lighter Horseman HD and Toyo 45CF in some areas.
    Notes on 2 x 3 vs. 4 x 5

Burke and James (B&J). The B&J 4 x 5 D model has a metal case, rise and fall (drop bed), shift and generous forward and backward tilt on the front standard. The back rotates and has rear tilt, via the drop bed, but does not have an international back, so can use only 4x5 sheet film holders and rollback adapters with thin film gates (e.g., not Graphic, Horseman, Wista-type holders).

Busch. The Pressman D has an all metal case, rotating back, and rise, shift and tilt on the front standard; back standard is limited to back tilt using the drop bed. The Pressman D does not have an international back, so has the same film limitations as the B&J Model D.

Most of the more compact large format designs have limitations in movements and when purchasing equipment and choosing equipment to carry into the field weight and bulk are often considerations to balance against movement limitations.




02/25/2009 3:55