I’ve always wanted a Graflex, more precisely, a Speed or Crown Graphic 4 x 5 or 5 x 7 field camera, but I never really got around to getting one. I’m very familiar with using folding field cameras. In fact my first 4×5 was a Linhof Technika IV, which is the best field camera that has been or will be created. Linhof cameras are way more than just a device to craft images with; they are works of art. Much in the same way that Rollei made the best TLR cameras. So, naturally I was pretty excited when this camera showed up in the mail one day.
This one is an early model which came to me from my Dad in Florida. He’s usually poking around for nautical antiques but every now and then he comes across a camera, which usually gets sent my way. This one is the most interesting one he’s found so far.
Widely known for their 4 x 5 inch field cameras, Graflex has been making cameras since the early 1900s and this one is a “top handle” made between 1912 and 1927 and uses 31/4 x 41/4 sheet film. It’s made of pretty standard stuff, wood and metal with a standard black leatherette covering the majority of the body. It came with a pack film holder that slides into the back, replacing the ground glass insert. Common to the era, the pack film holder is kind of cheap feeling. It’s made of stamped steel and coated with a black crackle coating. This is a long time before the Graflok Back was designed so the various parts needed to work with this specific model are specific to it and not interchangeable. The film holder is in amazing condition, in fact it looks like it has never been used. They are relatively thin metal and can pretty beat-up over the years from use, so given the fact that this one is so nice indicates that it wasn’t used much, if ever.
The lens doesn’t appear to be to be stock, so I don’t think it’s original. It’s a Laack Rathenow Doppelanastigmat Dialytar 135mm f/6.8 lens which isn’t exotic or expensive. Laack was a major producer of optical glass for a number of years, making lenses for a number of devices, not just cameras. I actually have a few other Laack lenses on various other cameras. Like the rest of my cameras, this one is free of fungus and haze. The 135mm focal length for this film format is a little longer than pure normal (50mm equivalent to 35mm film cameras) and not very fast but it still fires at all speeds and the iris freely opens and closes.
One of the things I like about Graflex cameras is they have always provided a number options for focusing and framing the image, and this one is no different. There are 3 different ways to frame your subject;
- Through the lenses using the ground glass (it even has a built-in hood)
- A waist-level finder that folds up nicely when the camera is closed
- A Focusing view finder attached to the cold-shoe.
I prefer to use the ground glass and a loupe to focus and frame my images over the various other finders available. On later models, Graflex included a sport finder that made it super easy and fast to frame an image.
Unfortunately this is a camera that will likely never be used again. The pack film is no longer available so unless there’s an adapter out there to make use of traditional film holders, there’s no way to get film between me and the lens. That’s okay though, I have other large format cameras that I do use, and you’d be hard-pressed to get me to not use my Linhof.