American Competitors of the Graflex

by Mike Hanemann

The best known of the big single lens reflex cameras is the Graflex. In one form or another the "Graflex" was produced from 1902 to the 1960's. When we speak of the Graflex SLR we mean a single lens reflex camera of 2x3 or larger image size that had a focal plane shutter who were the predecessors and competition for the Graflex. 

Who were the predecessors and competition for the Graflex and how long did they last? Have you ever beard of  (or seen) an Anthony Viso? A Patent Hand Camera, a Junior Reflex or a reflex camera made by the Reflex Camera Company? A Rochester Optical Primo Reflecting Camera? A Hall Mirror Reflex or a Burke and James Ingento Reflecting Camera? Or even a Patent Monocular Reflex made by F W Smith? Did I miss any? I hope not, but I am sure someone will tell me if I did. Not all cameras we will talk about have focal plane shutters but do have a lot in common with the Graflex. 

The single lens reflex Graflex camera was introduced right after the turn of the century in 1901-02, and in one form or another was in continuous production until the 4x5 Super D ceased in the early 1960's. 

The earlier models, before 1901-02, preceded the Graflex and probably influenced its design; none however lasted anywhere as long as the Graflex camera. 

Many of the reflex cameras listed here did look somewhat like the Graflex. They could well have been food for Fred Folmer's designs. 

The chronology as best as I can figure was 

    1894 - Patent monocular Reflex, no focal plane shutter 
    1897 - Anthony Visu 
    1900 - Patent Reflex Hand Camera - The Reflex Camera Co. 
    1903-06 - Rochester Premo Reflecting Camera 
    1909 - the Reflex Camera 
    1911 - Hall Mirror Reflex and The Ingento Reflecting Camera
[Speed Graphic Focal Plane Shutter Cloth Unrolled]Why did Graflex continue for 60 years while all the others were gone m less than 10 years after their introduction? One reason might be the special focal plane shutter (see illustration at left) and the general ruggedness and reliability of the Graflex. Most focal plane shutters of the era (and later) were of two-piece design, rather than the continuous one-piece curtain of Graflex. I have handled only one of the cameras noted above, the Hall Mirror Reflex. It was quite a bit heavier than the Graflex and appeared more crudely made. 

Perhaps the other reflex cameras appeared too early and the Graflex came at just the right time. Do any of our readers have insights that would enlarge this study? 

Note: The dates are from catalogues and ads and are not necessarily the first date any camera appeared. For example the Ingento Reflecting camera was first located in a 1911-12 Burke and James catalog. I could not find an earlier version. 

[Click on one of the cameras below to see a larger image.] 

[Patent Monocular Reflex] 
 Patent Monocular Reflex 

[Patent Reflex Hand Camera] 
Patent Reflex Hand Camera 

[Patent Reflex Hand Camera] 
Patent Reflex Hand Camera 

[Rochester Optical Premo Reflecting Camera] 
Rochester Optical Premo Reflecting Camera 



[An early auto-diaphragm effort] 
An Early Auto-diaphragm Effort 

(This adaptation of a 4x5 RBB lens was submitted by Cliff Scofield. It wasn't until the Super D models were introduced that factory-created auto-diaphragms became available on Graflex SLR's).

[The Reflex Camera, 1909]

The Reflex Camera, 1909

[Hall Mirror Reflex] 
Hall Mirror Reflex 

[Burke & James Ingento Reflecting Camera] 
Burke & James Ingento Reflecting Camera


Brought to you by Graflex.Org
Reprinted by permission. from GHQ.