This is an older version of the Descriptions page. I've left it active because there might be some information here not included in the new version, though this version is not as current.  




'Press' cameras, prior to the 1960s were generally boxes with drop down fronts with focusing racks. They were made to mount interchangeable lenses, including wide angles, accommodated with a drop bed adjustment of an additional 10-15° with rise and tilt of the front standard. Press cameras generally had wooden cases with leather or plastic covers. Technical cameras are similarly designed, though more often made with metal cases, and they have more movements, usually on both standards, and the range of movements is increased. Virtually all press and technical cameras include ground glass backs that accept sheet film holders; some also accept roll holders. Press cameras, as such, are no longer made, but some of the technical cameras have range/viewfinder options that allow them to be used hand held as press cameras were traditionally used.

In general, technical cameras will not have the range of movements found in monorail designs. As tradeoffs, technical cameras are more compact and lighter, quicker to set up, and provide good protection of normal length and some wide angle lenses when closed. While technical cameras are usually heavier than woodfield cameras, they are about the same size when folded and they generally have about the same range of movements. They are more rigid than woodfields and will stay that way because of their metal construction.

4 x 5 Press Cameras

Used: $150-300 with decent normal length lens

These may serve as good entry level large format cameras if only minimal front movements are required. Rise is usually limited to the short dimension, typically not where it's most needed, since most do not have rotating or reversible backs. While most of these are 50 years or older, they were well made and simple. Make sure that the bellows is light tight, that the front standard moves smoothly on its track, and that the rack runs smoothly.

Graflex Corporation was the largest maker of press cameras with its Anniversary and Pacemaker lines of Century, Crown and Speed Graphics. The Pacemaker is the newer and most usable of this type that is broadly available. The Century Graphic had a molded plastic body, no body release and was made only in the 6x9 Pacemaker format; Crowns and Speeds had leather covered, mahogany wood cases with metal dropdown fronts. They were fitted with rangefinders, usually Kalart, and had body releases; later Pacemakers had a top-mounted, but not optically integrated viewfinder/rangefinder. The Crowns, without the focal plane shutter, weigh about 4 1/2 pounds without a lens. Speeds weigh about a pound more, but with the focal plane shutter can be used with barrel lenses. This is especially useful with older long lenses that were originally designed for process cameras, but often work reasonably well at infinity. Other manufacturers of traditional press cameras included Burke & James (B&J), Busch and Tower. Press cameras typically have front rise and fall, and may have front shift and back tilt; front fall and back tilt are virtually the same movement using the drop bed. Few press cameras have front swing and if they have more extensive back movements they would be classed as technical cameras.

Lenses and shutters on all press cameras are quite varied, largely because of the ease of mounting them. Graphics are more likely to have Kodak Ektars and Schneider lenses, typically of about 130mm which will allow no movements and later Graphics often had Graflex branded lens made by Rodenstock. Kodak did make a 152mm Ektar, which is a better choice for LF work if you can find one. Be especially careful about the condition of older lenses, evaluating them for known lens faults . Lenses from Anniversary Graphics are likely to be uncoated, while Pacemakers were fitted with single-coated lenses. Old shutters are seldom accurate and may have worse problems.



Super Graphics

Used: $350-450 with Kodak Ektar or Rodenstock lens
Most Graphics have fixed backs, but for its swan song, Graflex redesigned the Graphic around a new cast aluminum body with a rotating back, unfortunately not one with movements. The Super Graphic (shown above) has front movements that match those of most new technical and field cameras-- +/- 15° tilts, +/- 25° swings, 1 1/8 inch rise, a 15° drop in the bed, and double extension bellows. Modifying the front standard internally can gain another 3/8 inch rise . Lens boards are of the standard Graphic extruded aluminum design, but with four raised pads on the sides to engage the Super Graphic's lens attachment system. They weigh a little less than 5 pounds with a typical lens, which is nicely protected with the camera closed. They are quick to set up, are stable and are likely to stay rigid longer than a wooden camera. With the ability to share lens boards with the Graphic View, you can have both an entry level technical camera and a monorail with a couple of Ektar lenses for about the cost of a new monorail. See my review or the external review at the right.


4 x 5 Linhof Technikas

Used: $700-1500+ New: $4000+
Technikas defined the term technical camera,'Technische Kamera'. While they look much like press cameras, they have features that press cameras generally do not have. While front movements vary with model, the principal addition to the press camera featureset is the "technical" back that provides rear tilt and swing by suspending the back on shafts that protrude from the camera frame. Technikas were and are well made, but older ones were often heavily used and are usually costly to repair. In good condition, Technika values to collectors may make them prohibitive to users. For much good advice on choosing and owning a Technika, visit Cameraquest via the Review link on the right. If you are interested in this design, you may want to consider Wista, Horseman or Toyo 45 technical cameras, Japanese designs that mimic the Technika.
U. S.
Horseman 4 x 5 Horseman is one of several Japanese companies that derived its design for a technical camera from Linhof. My experience with Horseman technical cameras is limited to a 6 x 9 VH model, that is based on the 6x9 Technika design. Horseman made a 45FA model with back extension design similar to that of the Technika, allowing the back to move on metal rods mounted in the body and a filmgate that rotates on the camera. The HD model does not have back extensions and has a reversible rather than a rotating back, but its under-4-pound weight makes it very portable. Both 4 x 5 models have full movements on the front standard. Back reorientation gets more complicated and confusing with Horseman, since they made a series of "rotating backs" that contained two film gates--one for a film holder and one for ground glass, selected by rotating this accessory back. Used Horseman technical models usually fall under the $1000 limit. Like Wista and Linhof, Horseman made 4x5 and 6x9 technical cameras with and without view/rangefinders. Viewfinders can be handy even for primary groundglass composition, but they are likely to add an extra pound to camera weight and they are usually not user removeable.
Toyo 45CF

New: Less than $800 w/o lens
The Toyo 45CF seems like a space-age entry-level technical camera. Toyo uses polycarbonate/carbon-fiber material to keep the weight to about 4 pounds. The specifications of the 45CF are very similar to those of other double-extension technical cameras. Lens range is a little wanting, since the shortest length on a flat board is 90mm. The upper limit is advertised as 400mm, but one company reference notes this is only possible with a telephoto design. Like many other press/tech designs, the 45CF will allow drop bed movements or rear back tilt, but not both. It has an international reversible G back. In theory, carbon fiber can be as strong as materials several times its weight but some users/shoppers have been unimpressed with its construction. Similar reservations are sometimes made about lightweight woodfield cameras, and it may be unreasonable to expect a 4 pound camera to be as robust as a 6 pound model of similar design. With its light weight and stainless steel metal parts the 45CF is a good choice for use in the elements. It about $800 without lens.

The 45AII is Toyo's more conventional technical design, with an aluminum body and rotating back with rear swing and base tilt movements. It weighs over 6 pounds and has a street price of about $2200. The older Toyo 45A may be available used for under $1000. The Toyo 45CX has the same featureset as the 45AII, but with a reversible, rather than a rotating back.
$300-500 w/o lens

Meridians appeared shortly after WWII and were probably inspired at least in part by the early Technikas. They are about a pound heavier than a 4x5 Crown Graphic, but have rotating backs that allow tilt and swing. They are very friendly to short lenses, via an in-case focusing rack; with the extendable back, they support lenses as long as 15 inches. Build quality was high and mechanics remain usable. Back design limits them to 4 x 5 sheet film and a subset of roll holders.

More in my review or in the external review link at the right.

Micro Precision Products (MPP)
$400-600 w/o lens
MPP produced cameras in several styles, including the Microtechnical 5x4 that had full front movements and an articulated back that supports center tilt and swing. The focusing rack was triple extension. These were produced originally in 1947 and continued through the late 80s when the company was dissolved on the death of its founder. Since this was an English company, the largest supply of used cameras is in England, though they were imported to the U. S. by a distributor. MPP User
Wista Technical
New: $1800 w/o lens

Wista makes metal technical cameras that used, are usually within the scope of this under-$1000 site. Recent Wista technical cameras come with (RF) and without view/rangefinders (VX and SP); older models are typically of the SP design.Wista technicals support full front movements, including center swings and tilts and center swings and base tilts in the rear and have a 12-inch interchangeable bellows on a double rack that allows for a shorter drop front to improve wide-angle compatibility. The SP has a Microfocus feature that makes rear movements more precise. The lightest model is the VX that weights about 5.8 pounds and sells new for about $1800 and used in the $700-1000 range depending on condition and model. Earlier Wista models may be available in the $400-500 range. Wista offers an unusally large selection of accessories, including a folding reflex finder, special reducing 6x9 back with sliding rollfilm holder and groundglass panel, and a bag bellows/recessed lens board that allows use of very short lenses.

You can see my early impressions of the Wista VX in this review .



02/25/2009 3:55