Last summer, we picked up a couple of Speed Graphic bodies that needed lenses. One was a 4×5 Speed Graphic, so it wasn’t any big deal to pop a lens into that and make it a usable camera, but the other was a 3×4 Speed Graphic, and it was missing both lens and lensboard.
3×4 isn’t a real common film size anymore. Most people who want big negatives either deal with 120 film now, or jump up to 4×5 sheet film. However, there were a lot of nice cameras made to use 3×4 film in the first half of the last century, and it seems a shame to let those cameras go to waste. So, we purchased some 3×4 film – you can still buy it fresh from Freestyle – and started using our 3×4 cameras. Up until a few months ago, all of the Graflex SLRs we had used 3×4 film (now we have two that use 4×5), so we shot with 3×4 quite a bit.
But because 3×4 has fallen out of popularity, it can be difficult to find parts for 3×4 cameras, such as the lensboard, which we needed before we could use the Speed Graphic. I finally tracked one down from Midwest Photo. It fit the camera just fine, but unfortunately had a huge hole drilled out for the lens. I’ve got a healthy amount of misc. large format lenses stockpiled, but only one that I could fit on this lensboard.
But, it fit, so hooray! At least, hooray until I actually looked through the ground glass and tried to focus on something. Anything. And then I realized, well, crap. The lens I had put on this camera was a 75mm lens.
See, here’s the thing. Lenses are confusing. At least, they confuse me. And I’ve had this problem before – when I purchased my first Speed Graphic 4×5 camera, it was outfitted with a (different) 75mm lens. This meant that if I was focused at infinity and shot a picture, I’d get crazy heavy vignetting in the corners, like this, but worse:
As a comparison, the Yashicas I have that shoot 120 film are outfitted with an 80mm lens. An 80 mm lens covers an area slightly larger than a 2.25″ square when focused at infinity. So, to cover the entire film plane when focused at infinity for a sheet of 4×5 film, I need to use a bigger lens, like the 135mm lens I now have on that Speed Graphic. And to cover an entire film plane for a sheet of 3×4 film, I probably really need to use a lens around 127mm.
That being said, a smaller lens like the 75mm can be useful for macro photography. That’s what I discovered when shooting my first photos with the Speed Graphic 4×5 camera.
I shot that picture with Domo about an inch or so away from the camera lens.
But anyway, back to the 3×4 Speed Graphic I was working with yesterday. I had the 75mm lens installed in it, and it did look really nice, so I figured what the hell, and decided to take some test photos using orthographic film, so I could see how the camera worked. I wanted to use orthographic film instead of regular black and white film because orthographic film can be developed in paper developer in trays under a safelight, and I didn’t want to deal with getting all of my other film processing chems and equipment out. I have a bunch of Kodak Electron Image film in 3×4 size. It was originally sold for scientific purposes, but works just fine in regular cameras as long as you account for how slow it is (I’ve been rating it at ISO 12).
I loaded the film under a red safelight. However, I may have had the film just a wee bit too close to the safelight, because I got some weird fogging and such on the film. I’m going to try loading some more film in the dark and testing it again to see if I get the same effect or not. Of course, there are so many different variables at play, including the fact that my chems were probably hot since my house is hot, but I’d like to narrow it down just to make sure that the camera isn’t light leaky.
For some reason – I think because I had the camera on a tripod, and was more than a few inches away from what I was shooting – I had a really difficult time focusing. I’d get it close, but it still looked weird on the ground glass. And even though I was shooting in sunlight, because of the slow film, I had to have the aperture wide open on the lens, which decreases the depth of field. And also because of the slow film, I had to use slower shutter speeds. The shutter the lens is mounted on isn’t a bad one, but like a lot of old shutters, the slow speeds can be iffy. So, I depended on the curtain shutter inside the Speed Graphic, which, happily, is a workhorse. Here are some of the pictures shot with this camera/lens combo:
I made some contact prints later with the negatives. You can see I still got vignetting in the corners.
Speaking of contact prints, I made the prints using some old (1970s, I think?) FSC contact paper. It was included in the big lot of photo paper I bought off ebay a few months back, and I hadn’t tried it out until yesterday. The paper is 8×10, so I just cut it down to use on my small contact printer. The results are awesome. In photos that were actually sharp and not dreamy-blurry like the 3×4 Speed Graphic pics, I got sharp lines, bright whites, deep blacks, and a rich brown tone:
That picture was shot with a 4×5 Speed Graphic I was testing out yesterday, too. It’s one I picked up at an auction a few weeks ago. It worked better than expected, but I want to try shooting some color film through it and testing out the roll film back before it goes on Etsy.
But anyway, back to the 3×4 Speed Graphic. The first photo I shot with it was of an old Kodak Timer. When I was developing the negative, I was bummed because the negative looked all fogged and low contrasty. However, I made the contact print anyway, and I think it turned out to be my favorite photo that I shot yesterday.
So, yeah, I may have fogged the film somewhat, and put the wrong size lens on the camera, but I kind of don’t care at all, because that is awesome.
Before I tested it out, I was thinking that I’d just wind up selling the 3×4 Speed Graphic – like I said, if we’re shooting 3×4 film, we’re probably using a Graflex SLR. But now, I don’t know. The 3×4 Speed Graphic with the wrong lens may have suddenly morphed into my own personal Pretentious Art Camera. It may be a keeper.