Ebay camera 10


This specially adapted Graflex 4×5 Speed Graphic Pacemaker just sold on ebay for $1824, a huge price for a Graflex. Why?

The Speed Graphic was popular with press photographers for many years until the 1960s. I have one myself which came with a standard issue 135mm f4.7 lens, ie its maximum aperture is f4.7 – see this post on it.


My Speed Graphic with its f4.7 lens

But the Ebay camera is different, it has been modified with an unusual lens, one that makes it weigh almost double mine, 11 pounds or about 5 kilograms. That is not something you would want to raise to your eye as a press photographer. The reason is the huge f0.95 lens, a massive piece of light-collecting glass with a diameter of about 140mm. It’s 4.5 stops better than my lens, a huge advantage in low-light situations. This lens is so strange it doesn’t even have an internal aperture diaphragm, a series of circular aperture plates are attached to the front element.

The question is, why? What was this expensive lens used for? Night photography, surveillance, astronomy? The seller is in Serbia, part of communist Yugoslavia when this camera was manufactured. So my mind turned to surveillance, espionage, Cold War derring-do. But no, the explanation is innocent, it’s an aerial camera, used for photographing the ground from an aeroplane.


My Life in Cameras, no.13


I bought this camera in 1983 for $200 and I’ve loved it ever since.

It’s a 5×4 press camera, 1955. f4.7, 135mm Optar lens. Shutters speeds T, B, 1, 2, 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, 200, 400. Apertures to f32. Leaf shutter plus focal plane shutter. Rangefinder focus. Rear ground glass viewing plus optical viewfinder plus sports finder. Drop front, rise and tilt movements.  Lens panel extends 300mm from film plane for close focus of 9″ or 22.5cm.

Did I miss anything? The Pacemaker Speed Graphic was crammed with useful features, a sturdy, all-purpose workhouse to cover every assignment. It was made of materials tested in the war, and was a proud product of American industry at a time when that was in the ascendant. It cost US$404 in 1958, 10% of the average wage, and about $3000 in today’s money, according to Dollar Times. That was a substantial sum and indicates the prestige and expected durability of the camera.

Created by the Folmer & Schwing Manufacturing Company, New York, which originally made gas lamps, later bicycles, before turning to cameras. It was owned by Kodak from 1905 until 1926 when it became the Folmer Graflex corporation. Various Speed Graphics were made from 1912 up until 1973 when the company closed, a victim of 35mm photography. The plant was sold to Toyo.

The Speed Graphic was already mythic in the mid-1940s, going by Weegee comment in his book Naked City,  “If you are puzzled about the kind of camera to buy, get a Speed Graphic… for two reasons, it is a good camera, and moreover with a camera like that the cops will assume that you belong on the scene and will let you get behind police lines.”

Greg Neville, still life, 1983

As you can see from these images, 1983 was my Frederick Sommer year.

Greg Neville, still life 1983