Old Glass, Old Cameras, Old Film and Old Paper part 4

Turning to the Eastman 8×10 Commercial Model B.

ID tag on Eastman 8X10 all metal

For more than 10 years I used an Eastman 8X10 2D. This was a mahogany camera with 8X10 and 5X7 backs, without its stock sliding base and without its separate tail extension. It was rickety to begin with but it was beautiful in its own way, and I made do with it to produce some of my favorite 8X10 and 5X7 negatives. Because of wear on the wooden slot on the bed the front standard flopped around and the wood itself required maintenance of the screw holes with tooth picks and wood glue just to try to keep everything tight. I think this design went back to the Century Camera and Eastman Kodak kept producing these mahogany 2Ds in 8X10 and 5X7 into the early 50’s. Folmer Schwing and then Folmer Graflex apparently did the actual manufacturing.

In 1937 they introduced the Eastman 8X10 Commercial View Model B. In many ways it was just a metal version of the 2D. It is the ways in which it was different that are most impressive. First, the camera is all metal, made of a magnesium alloy, which made it rather light weight for a metal camera. The metal construction eliminated one of the issues with the 2D; the guides for tracking the movement of the front and back standards did not wear down or chip and crack. The camera also included front shift, which the Eastman wooden cameras never had.

Page from Eastman Professional Photographic Apparatus and Materials, 1938

When I got mine it was in terrible shape. It had been sorely neglected apparently for many years. There were spider webs inside the bellows with egg sacs, and there were plenty of pinholes for the little spiders to escape. Besides being filthy and presently un-useable, the camera was intriguing. I had never seen or heard of one. So I began a partial disassembly, got the bellows off by unscrewing the wooden frames from the metal body and contacted Custom Bellows in the UK, talked to Keith, and sent him the old bellows still on the frames to make a new one. in the meantime, I was able to clean the camera as thoroughly as I could. It did not shine. There seems to be a greyish paint over the alloy that on this camera was scratched and marred, and in some places coated with a residue which almost looked like something left behind by Duc Tape! Then the camera got even more interesting. A photographer friend came by to have a look and informed me that he knew about this camera, that it had been Charles Libby’s, and was sold off after the locally important Libby Studios had liquidated. Charles Libby is not a famous name around the world but in Spokane he was active from early in the 20th century on until he died in the 1960s. One of his Cirkut cameras is in the Northwest Museum of Art and Culture and one of his 11X14 studio cameras was just purchased a couple years ago by a young local art photographer. Libby made many panoramic group photos over the decades and actively photographed street corners in various neighborhoods as if trying to chronicle the city itself. When the Museum acquired his negatives, glass plate and film they began a long pr0cess of cataloguing and thus making available for researchers these sometimes 100 year old photographs of Spokane. https://ksps.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/the-photography-of-charles-a-libby-video-gallery/capturing-history/

At least one authority says that the Eastman Commercial 8X10 was manufactured from 1937 until 1940, and then after WWII was replaced by the Kodak Master, a sort of metal version of the Deardorff. If this is correct, then we might suggest that it was the camera’s magnesium alloy that led to its demise. In the December 1941 version of the Eastman professional catalogue there is a note tipped into the opening page which explains that due to the war effort, some of their professional products will be unavailable.

It’s likely that the lack of a supply of the magnesium necessary meant that Eastman Kodak decided to discontinue the camera rather than redesign it using aluminum. Magnesium was an important component of wartime manufacture of weapons. Mahogany was easier to get so Eastman continues with the 2D and waits until peacetime to produce the Commercial’s successor, the Kodak Master . This would explain the rather short date of manufacture from 1937 until 1940.

Dec. 1941, note tipped in

The camera weighs from about 11 lbs. (without lens, rear extension or accessory lens board), to nearly 14 lbs. which is pretty good for an all-metal camera. The attached front rail folds up nicely around an attached lens and the camera sits on its moveable base, a sliding block that was a good feature retained from the wooden 2Ds.

Camera folded up with tail piece attached. The sliding block is centered.

The hardware on my camera all works smoothly despite its years of use and then neglect.

front standard lockdown.

The shift on the front standard has two locks which slide when loosened to not get in the way of the front rail when putting the camera away.

front shift locks

The new bellows from Custom Bellows in the UK was perfect, http://www.custombellows.co.uk/ giving me at least the 30 inch bellows draw of the original. The long bellows may not be so important to one who concentrates on wide angle work, but as I do a lot of close-up work it is an essential feature. This is true for even the normal lens, a 12 inch but I also use a 45cm. Apochromat Artar with a Packard Ideal shutter. I can focus to infinity with this lens without adding the tailpiece, but when I do attach the tailpiece I can use the Artar for closeup work .

45 cm. Apochromat Artar with Packard Shutter
Even at this extension, there is enough bellows for swings or tilts.
45cm. Red Dot Artar

One additional feature that I was able to acquire is what Eastman called the “accessory reversible swinging lens board”. I found this helping to catalogue a friend’s massive collection and noted the little half moon tighten down plates, recognizing them as just like the pieces on the front standard of the Eastman 8X10.

accessory lens board

The bellows, of course, was no good on this piece and I again contacted Keith at Custom Bellows. I don’t think they had ever come across one and I sent him pictures and he manufactured the bellows and I attached it, to get this working tilt and swing on the front standard. It is a useful item, though not as convenient as a permanently attached tilt like I have on the Ansco Universal. Ansel Adams for many years used an Eastman Commercial 8X10 with a modified front standard that mimicked the Ansco or the Century Universal. In a 1958 film available on YouTube you can see his Eastman at about 4:05 and also later in using it in a demo on a California beach. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C1sNvguh3Y8

Accessory Reversible Swinging Lens board

The camera is easy to set up. It takes me less than two minutes to mount it on a tripod and unfold and lock down the standards and siding block, ready to shoot! I do wonder at some of Eastman Kodak’s decision making over the years. Why would they ignore the front tilt solutions of both the Century Universal and the Agfa Ansco for this awkward attachment? Why would they insist on separate and ultimately lose-able back extension pieces instead of using the clever solutions offered by Ansco or by Calumet?

Nevertheless, this is my 8X10 camera of choice. Kathy has her 8X10 Ansco and since we both shoot most often at the same time, I don’t have the luxury of access to that camera. She does not find my Eastman appealing, but fell in love with the Ansco on first sight!

The Eastman Commercial 8X10 Model B

Just a note: I have seen some discussion on the Large Format Photographers site about the lens boards for this camera. All of my 6X6 lensboards fit perfectly into this front standard and Eastman itself in the blurb from its catalogue say that the 6X6 boards are the correct ones. I have come across a 6X6 board that was a little too fat (thick) so that I had to loosen the screws of the mounting plate and locks but with that it fit fine.

One more: I have no idea why this is a “Model B”.

Author: bwfilmphotography

Partner in Cherry Street Studios with wife, Kathy. Taught photography and religion over 19 years as adjunct professor at Gonzaga University. Musician and songwriter, one time pastor and proud union member, AFM. Uses 35mm, 120 roll film cameras, 4X5, 5X7 and 8X10 cameras. Mostly black and white. Born in Joliet, IL.

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