The features described below are common to most of the models of Speed, Crown, and Century Graphic, and across the Pre-Anniversary, Anniversary, and Pacemaker series. Where there are differences, they are noted. The Super Graphic has a different set of features, and is best described on the Super Graphic page. For the most precise information about the features for a particular camera, see the links on the Graphic Models page.
The Speed Graphic is not really a view camera: you can't tie it up into a pretzel. Depending on the sort of photography you are interested in, this may or may not be limiting.
The rigidity of the Graphics make them very useful for high-speed, wide-aperture shooting (the sort of shot where extreme depth of field is not important). If you are interested in a 4x5" to pursue photography suitable for 35mm or 2-1/4" equipment, the motions are an extra, not an essential.
There are other large format photographers who disagree, and feel that their personal vision requires the use of considerable amounts of perspective control.
To make use of movements, the photographer must use a lens that has ample reserve covering power. In the classic lens field, the 135mm WF Ektar, the 120mm Angulon, or the longish 203mm f/7.7 Ektar are possibilities.
There are limited movements available on the Speed Graphic. All are front movements. On Anniversary, Pacemaker, Century, and Super Graphics, Bed Drop can be used to suppliment the other movements and obtain results available on view cameras but not on earlier pre-Anniversary models.
See the illustration of the Anniversary Speed Graphic or the Pacemaker Speed Graphic for part labels.
Using Bed Drop, the following movements can be obtained:
The name "Speed" in Speed Graphic comes from the 1/1000s shutter speed offered by its focal-plane shutter. The Graflex focal-plane shutter is the essence of simplicity -- a single long curtain of rubberized fabric with a number of slits.
The Anniversary and Pre-Anniversary models are have a somewhat confusing control system, but in the Pacemaker series, there is only a high/low switch, and the speeds read out directly in a window.
The high/low speed control on the Pacemakers engage a very simple and reliable governor. There are four slits in the curtain, one for 1/1000 & 1/500 sec, another for 1/250 & 1/125, another for 1/60 & 1/30 sec and a final one for TIME. The curtain is tensioned by what is essentially a window blind type spring.... and the tension is easy to adjust without much disassembly. They can be easily adjusted to within 1/4 stop.
The Crown Graphic, Century Graphic, Super Graphic, and Super Speed Graphic models all lack the focal plane shutter (though the Super Speed Graphic does have a 1/1000s between-the-lens shutter.) In a genuine Speed Graphic the focal plane shutter is the only part that might be trouble, but it is reliable and there are shops dedicated to fixing them. At worst, you can disregard a non-functional rear shutter on a Speed Graphic. It doesn't cost you anything but a slightly thicker case and a little weight.
The Speed Graphic is slightly heavier and thicker than the similar Crown Graphic. The 2 3/8" minimum film-to-flange distance required by the focal plane shutter on a Speed Graphic precludes the use of 65mm and wider-angle lenses, whereas a Crown Graphic is able to use a 47mm WA lens. Many modern wide-angle lenses in the 47mm-65mm range can cover 4x5", but classic lenses this wide were designed to cover 2-1/4 x 3-1/4, so they should be used with the 2x3" Graphics or with appropriate roll-film backs on 4x5" Graphics.
The focal plane shutters operate as a curtain with different sized openings, and can be set to two speeds with three different openings, producing speeds of 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250, 1/500, and 1/1000. (As for lenses with internal shutters, most will have speeds up to 1/400 or 1/500, while the Graflex-1000 goes to 1/1000 seconds, there are some some older ones only go as high as 1/200.)
Be careful to keep track of whether the curtain is open or closed, as mis-use of the focal plane shutter will keep film from being exposed (if you're using a lens shutter), and leaving the curtain open (such as for focusing) will fog film.
An advantage of having a focal plane shutter is that you can also use barrel lenses (lenses mounted without shutters). A 15" (380mm) Graflex Optar Telephoto, in a barrel mount is much less expensive (~$90) than the equivalent in a shutter, which seem to go for $250-300. Also, many vintage (1920-30's) soft focus portrait lenses are only available in barrel.
Use of a slow speed focal plane shutter should produce noticeable "lean" when you pan to follow moving objects.
Are the large focal plane shutters accurate? I checked mine out. 1/1000 sec is dead on. Your average modern SLR it is probably no more accurate.
The "Graflok Back" is a desirable, relatively late enhancement to the Graphic line of camera. The Graflok has a removable focus panel, a Fresnel screen, and and features locks to hold various filmbacks.
The Graflok back is the standard for 4x5" view cameras today, and appears on some 2x3" cameras as well. The Graflok back accepts sheet film holders, "Grafmatic" 4x5 sheet film magazines, 120 roll film adaptors, Polaroid backs, the Kodak ReadyLoad and Fuji QuickLoad backs, and the now-obsolete film pack.
Graflok backs became standard on all sizes (except 5x7) of Graphics by about 1951, but made their first appearance on the 2-1/4x3-1/4 miniature Graphic about a year earlier. A good many earlier cameras, both Anniversary and Pacemaker series cameras have been modified with the Graflok back.
Kodak Ektalite Fresnel screens became standard shortly after Graflex switched to Graflok backs. In a Graflok back, the position of the Fresnel screen is taken into account in the construction of the back, so removing the lens or trading its position with the ground glass will cause focusing errors. The proper position for a fresnel screen on a Graflok back is between the ground glass and the lens. The grooves of the fresnel should be in contact with the frosted surface of the ground glass. The frosted surface of the ground glass should be toward the front of the camera.
A Graphic or Graflex back with a Fresnel screen is a sign of a user-modified camera, and unless the ground glass holder has been modified specifically to alter the plane of focus, the correct position for the screen is between the photographer and the ground glass. Perform focus tests with your camera before undertaking any modifications to determine whether the correct position of a user-added Fresnel screen for Graphic or Graflex backs.
While a Graflok back is very good to have, it is not essential. The Cambo/Calumet 6x7cm roll film back will slip under a Graphic spring back, as will a Polaroid sheet film holder, a ready load holder and a Grafmatic. Of the common sorts of things, only a Graflex/Horseman type roll film holder or a Pack film Polaroid holder (405 or 550) requires the Graflok frame to be removed.
In the case of a 2x3 Graphic, the Graflok really is essential since 2x3" sheet film is available (but obsolescent and tedious to work with) and the roll back can take either Graflex or Mamiya RB67 roll film holders. (The Mamiya RB67 has a 2x3" Graflok back). Avoid 2x3" Speed/Crown Graphics with Graphic backs. However, if you do buy one, you might want to read about Graphic back conversions.
The later Rochester-made Graphic roll film backs (with the lever wind, usually marked Singer-Graflex) hold the film flatter than the Cambo/Calumet backs; if you like to use wide apertures you might find this significant.
The Graflex Back was offered on some Pacemaker models as an option, but is usually found on the "Graflex" SLR cameras. It features separate removable focusing panel, as in the Graflok back, but is not a desirable feature on a Graphic. Graflex back cut film holders and Grafmatic backs are a larger size than Graphic and Graflex back items, and are often difficult to obtain.
The pop-open focusing back can usually be removed from the holder by two clips on the side. This exposes the ground glass retaining clips. The preferable set-up is to have a fresnel lens, since without it the image will get darker as you view from the center out to the corners.
Also remember to switch from preview to shutter mode, and stop down the lens as necessary before pulling the dark slide.
Depending on lighting, you may find a magnifier and dark cloth or light coat handy (to block out light while focusing on the screen).
Always remember to watch the corners!
If you have a fresnel lens (circular grid on the glass), and the corners are darker than the center, then you may have adjusted the camera in such a way that the lens is not covering the area of the film plane. Many of the standard 'Graflex' lenses cover the area of a 4"x5" sheet, but not much more. Wide angle and wide field lenses should be clearly marked with WA or WF, indicating they have a greater coverage area than the diameter of the lens.
Infinity stops are small tabs are located within the rails, held in place by two extremely small screws. The Pacemaker Series introduced folding infinity stops: by folding over the tabs, the lens can pass by the infinity stop, which allows one to use one stop for each different focal length lens.
With the rails adjusted to the rear of the bed, and the lens focused on infinity, you may set the infinity stops for each particular lens.
Focusing Scales are attached to a moving portion of the sliding rails, and to a fixed portion of the bed, in front of the lens. The scales, depending on the lens, will generally have alignment marks for intervals from 6 to 25 feet, as well as 50, 100 and Infinity.
There are two varieties: vernier and semi-vernier. The vernier scales have two sides which indicate distances by having the same number align on both sides. The semi-vernier scales have a fixed pointer for most distances, but indicate long distances (such as 100' and infinity) by alignment.
Operation: The two images in the Kalart are the same color. The split portion shows up as a center spot. This may become more apparent if you place a colored piece of gel in front of one of the openings to the Kalart. [If the half silver mirror is abraised or otherwise lost silvering, this image may be very faint.] In general bring the split image into alignment, and if the camera is in focus through-out the scale, then the rangefinder is cammed or adjusted to the lens.
Side mounted Kalart rangefinders (which do not feature interchangeable cams) can be adjusted for a particular lens, if the proper procedure is followed.
Some older Speed Graphics are found with a very early version of the Kalart rangefinder which requires a somewhat different adjustment procedure than the later models.
Before you adjust your rangefinder for a new lens, consider the
following instead: Leave the camera set up as is, but add a second
distance scale to the focusing rail. View through the rangefinder,
and read the distance on the existing scale, which corresponds to
the rangefinder setting. Then, refocus until the same distance is
read off on the second scale. Although you may have trouble
locating a distance scale tailor-made for your lens, you can easily
make one out of a piece of aluminum or plastic.
The Kalart Focuspot is an illuminated focusing aid that is powered off the 2v or 3v flash batteries. An advertisement from Kalart explains its features.
A magnifying telescope for the Kalart RangeFinder. An advertisement from Kalart explains its
The Graflex top-mounted rangefinder features interchangeable cams and Parallax Correction. It also has a red button on the side which causes the rangefinder to project two beams of light, much like the Kalart FocusSpot.
The cams are tricky to locate and are set up for specific lenses (a caveat if your camera has a mismatched cam).
The Hugo Meyer is not a bad Rangefinder, but it has a fixed cam, and each model of the Hugo Meyer is made for and dedicated to a specific focal length of lens. You cannot replace the lens with one of a different focal length and adjust the Hugo Meyer RF internally as you can with the Kalart.. You set infinity with a screw under the narrow model number plate which must be removed. They are built on a square tube inside like the Leica screwmount RF, and are very rugged.
You can read about the adjustment procedure for the Hugo Meyer here.
Some advertisements for certain models of Hugo Meyer
rangefinders mention interchangeable cams.