Monday, February 10, 2014

Graflex Speed Graphic

The Graflex Speed Graphic was a camera produced in the United States and took sheet film.  It focused using a bellows system.  It was a popular choice for news media at the time of its production.

Camera Itself:
The Speed Graphic is a very deliberate camera to use. It can be shot hand held, but is probably best used on a tripod.  It can be quite compact when closed up, meaning the front optics are rolled back into the body of the camera and the ground glass viewfinder is closed.

When looking through the ground glass in at the rear of the camera, you will notice that the images look upside down and backwards.

Another interesting feature is that the camera has 2 methods of setting exposure.  We will get into that in more detail in the exposure control section below.

Exposure Controls:

There is no built in light meter, so you'll have to use a dedicated light meter or bring along a camera with a meter built in.  I've been using the Lightmeter app for Android on my Motorola Moto X with good results.

The aperture ranges between f/4.5 and f/32 on the Kodak Ektar 101mm lens and is located around the bottom of the front standard.  

The shutter speed dial is around the top part of the lens and are T(trip shutter release once to open leaf shutter, trip the release again to close it) and B (bulb mode - trip and hold the shutter release down to keep the shutter open until you release it) and the following faster shutter speeds: 1 sec through 1/400th of a second.

Now, there is also a second method of setting the exposure with the Speed Graphic.  If you happen to have a lens board inserted that does not have a shutter or the shutter in the lens is broken, you can  use the rear curtain shutter mechanism.  Another reason for use is that some lenses, like the Kodak I have attached to this camera, top out at a max shutter speed of 1/400th.  The rear curtain shutter can go all the way up to 1/1000th.  This is accomplished by a series of dials on the side of the camera body.  Numbers from 1-6 on the tensioner knob (at the bottom) and the setting knob (at the top) determine the exposure.  On the front drop down panel in the inside, there is a chart that tells you how to set the proper settings.   Between the tensioner and the setting knob, is the release.

Focusing is accomplished by turning the lower knobs on the camera body that move the lens assembly back and forth and expose the bellows.
The large viewfinder makes the real time focusing fast and easy.  The issue comes into play when wanting to take an exposure.   The ground glass sits behind where the film sheet holder sits, so once you are ready to take an exposure - you lose your real time ability to focus.  Framing can still be accomplished as this unit also has a set of viewfinders on the top to aid in that.

It takes sheet film.  I do not know how to deal with this kind of film, so I will not be testing it.  I might, however, use an instant back from a Diana f+ camera to test it out in the future.  That is if I can find a way to do that effectively without damage to the camera.

Usage and Personal Thoughts:
This is a beautiful camera and one that I would love to use, but with my lack of knowledge of the type of film it uses, I'll just admire it and use it as a reminder of a venerable, old tool that colleagues from the past have used to grab some iconic images.  Speed Graphics were used in the media through the 1940's and 1950's and photographers using them even won Pulitzer's with them.

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