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”.

Old Glass, Old Cameras, Old Film and Old Paper Part 3

Now to the Ansco Universal 5X7:

Ansco Universal 5X7 Deluxe

My Ansco Universal 5X7 is a recent acquisition. Several of my former students have remained friends 20 years after taking classes from me in either photography or religion. One of them sent a note a few months back saying that he and his wife were “downsizing” and wondered if we knew someone or if we would be interested in his 5X7 camera. He had, I think, never used it. 20 some years ago he had brought it to my office, an eBay purchase. Some “yahoo” who had it before had mounted a Wollensak barrel lens on a homemade lens board and attached a Packard shutter behind it, and instead of drilling a hole in the lensboard found it easier to cut a hole through the bellows for the pneumatic tube! We tried patching it at the time with some bellows tape but it was not going to work very well. I gave my student a Wollensak shutter mounted Rapax and forgot about it. So when he delivered it to us 20 some years later there was the Wollensak Rapax mounted on the camera, so dusty and filthy it had the aroma of old barbecue sauce! The hole in the bellows remained and now the corners were also pinholed to death. I set the camera outside and used a brush to sweep away as much of the dirt as I could onto the front porch. My wife and I discovered that this was the 5X7 version of her 8X10 Universal, down to the grey green paint on the wood. There were knobs missing and a ruined bellows, but she was excited to see this smaller version of the camera she loved, so I began dissasembling and cleaning, found a bellows replacement online and ordered it and began searching around through my non-organized stash of photo hardware for knobs. Meanwhile, a friend of ours was in the process of trying to sell off camera equipment and she had a similar camera that she brought by to our house with some other cameras for a third party to look at. She had a 4X5 reducing back that I enquired about for the Ansco, and she brought that in an Ansco case with an incomplete Ansco 5X7 Universal! When Kathy saw that my interest in buying the 4X5 reducing back got expanded t0 buying the whole kit, which had missing knobs but included the knobs missing on my project camera.

The completed Ansco Universal 5X7 includes the base from the second camera, the body from the first, knobs from the second for the front tilt and front slide, and a new bellows from Hong Kong that I installed. Flaws in the first, like the fact that the rear focusing standard would not tighten down sufficiently were eliminated by using the base and some hardware from the second camera. And now I have 2 5X7 backs, one with lines drawn for architectural correctness, and a 4X5 reducing back. The new bellows, as it turns out, has an additional 4 inches from the original which is a nice bonus. This camera is the new home for the Protar VIIa lens in the Compound shutter, mounted on a new lensboard made by Zbima 1 , an ebay seller.

My first 8X10 camera was an Eastman 2D from the 1930’s which had a 5X7 reducing back along with the 8X10 back but which was old and rickety when I got it, and got worse through the years. The front standard flopped around because the wood rails were so w0rn and sloppy and I had many bellows patches. Still, some of my best negatives were made with that camera. It had no extension rail. Most of these were lost over the years since they were only attached when needed. These common issues with the Eastman cameras were partly what made the Ansco so appealing. On the Universal, the rear extension track is permanently attached with a piano hinge and the camera folds up very neatly.

Storage ready

The tracking of the front and rear standards is metal to metal, nickel plated steel and the tendency to sloppiness of the Eastmans is eliminated. The camera folds up a lot like the Calumet C-2 all metal 8X10 camera, but unlike the C-2, it will focus both at the front and the back. It has front rise, front tilt, front shift. rear swing and rear tilt, while the 2D had only front rise and rear tilt and swing. The nickel hardware seems to have held up very nicely over the decades.

Plastic (Bakelite) knobs, nickel plated hardware

The back standard moves on double tracks, is fixed by a horizontal knob that, in the case of my camera, is reliable at even an extreme camera tilt, and the track itself is fixed by a vertical tightening knob that when loosened allows the track itself to slide smoothly, wood against wood and extend far to the back to make the most of the bellows draw.

back track only slightly drawn out.
Back track partly drawn out, bellows had more to go!

Because my lens of choice for this camera is the Protar VIIa, these features make the most of the lens’s front element, 16+ inches.

In cleaning up this camera one of the things I did was to spend time cleaning all the surfaces of greasy dirt and then waxing the wood against wood surfaces with paraffin, like the front shift, and polishing the metal surfaces with Renaissance wax. The advantage of having to change the bellows was that I could get at the normally hidden inner surfaces with the bellows removed.

Camera Front, base color slightly different than camera body

There are always some issues with older equipment. This camera could have been made from thee late 1930’s on through I think the 1960s. My wife’s 8X10 version, in fact, on our first trip with it started to come apart on the tripod, wood pieces becoming unglued on the base. She was a bit panicked. We took it home and I took it apart, camera from base, and found that a lot of glue was failing, so I got out the wood glue and renewed the wood connections. There is also a sort of dowel that runs at the seam where the rear rack fits into the base when brought down, and I did some repairs there as well. Even on my 5X7 there is some evidence that this dowel could be a problem in the future as the greyish paint has chipped off, showing that this point is a stressful one. Nevertheless, the Ansco Universal is all in all a very robust camera with a lot of nice features that make it stand apart from the contemporary Eastman and Folmer Graflex wooden cameras.

When I featured the Protar VIIa lens and Compound shutter I neglected to note the following word of caution. Convertible lenses were very popular for their economy of both cost and weight and they are capable of making fine images even a hundred years old. Edward Weston, in fact, used a Turner Reich Convertible for his Guggenheim trips in the late 1930’s. The word of caution is this: many of the lens components exhibit a focus shift when used singly, rather than in combination. Weston, it is said, used them singly almost exclusively. One of his elements gave him a lot of blurry negatives and I suspect he was not seeing the focus shift when he, as was his habit, closed down the aperture to extremes, thinking as others did in his day that the smaller the aperture the better the sharpness. Refraction, unfortunately, kicks in at some point on any lens, and sharpness declines. Focus shift occurs when you focus the single lens wide open, and then stop it down to gain sharpness and depth of field. Neglecting to check the focus again with a loupe after stopping down could produce a definite unsharpness in the negative. A good loupe and a good darkcloth will go a long way to returning the lens to its absolute sharpness.

Next time I am going to look at the Eastman Commercial 8X10 Model B, their all metal camera which was produced from the late 1930’s into the first year of American participation in WWII.

Old Glass, Old Cameras, Old Film and Old Paper Part 2

The main lens I have used on the Graflex RB 4X5 is an uncoated Zeiss Tessar that had a bad ding on the front making the filter ring inoperable. It made for an ugly looking lens. The Tessar lens design, dating back to the end of the 19th century is a durable anastigmat, a good performer and still in use in some modern lenses. The Zeiss Tessar came in several forms, the one I have, a f 4.5 was perhaps the most common, but there was also a f 3.5 in the first half of the 20th century, a fast lens for its day, and the slower f 6.3. The f 6.3 was known for being the all around best performer. There are some authorities who claim that the venerable Kodak Commercial Ektar of the 50’s and 60’s was a slightly modified version of that f 6.3 Tessar and the story continues with the Calumet Caltar f 6.3 lenses which, it is said, were designed and sold to replace the Kodak Commercial Ektars when they went out of production. I have a 12 in. Calumet Caltar for my 8X10 camera and an 8.5 in. Commercial Ektar for my 4X5, and both are nice and bright and very sharp, considering their maximum aperture is rated rather slow.

The Graflex’s Zeiss Tessar, at f 4.5 still does not produce a brilliant illumination in the old camera. The mirror shows its age and using the camera in a dimly lit room is just about impossible. Even when it was marketed that limitation was apparent and noted. It is best outdoors in bright light or in a studio brightly illuminated. The photographer must press his or her face to the opening of the lens hood, head keeping out extraneous light, and in that short dark tunnel the rectangle of light glows, a window to the world. That is, I think one of the attractive things for me in using the Graflex. This was reinforced when I mounted the new viewing hood from Hong Kong, as it opened much wider to reveal the whole of the ground glass.

Zeiss Tessar with adapter ring atttached.

Using the dinged Tessar produced good images but it really was ugly so I permanently added an adapter ring and now am able to use filters and a lens hood.

On a tripod the Graflex becomes even more useful for me. Before I got the NOS curtain installed I was limited to rather slow shutter speeds. This moved me towards more subtle forms of light.

Graflex 4X5 with Zeiss 21cm Tessar

Here’s another:

There are some idiosyncrasies to every camera, I suppose and the Graflex has its. Using the regular 2-sheet holders in the vertical mode presented a problem: getting my fingers onto the dark slides small wire pull ring, as the darkslide rested nearly flush with the back of the camera. For awhile, I used the RB back to point the holders down, necessitating pulling the slide from underneath the camera and that was awkward, especially on a tripod. So I bent a stiff wire with curved hooks on both ends and carried that in my pocket. I was able to hook the dark slide loop easily and pull it. Of course, things dropped into pockets get lost so my latest solution is pictured here, the hook attached to a rubber band wrapped in electrical tape and looped around the camera handle. I stretch the band, hook the dark slide and the hook remains out of the way but always ready.

Dark slide fishing hook

You can read in Weston’s Daybook how he used his Graflex to shoot outdoor portraits in the brilliant Mexican sunlight, at 1/10th of a second, handheld. This sounds like an amazing feat! He must have never touched coffee! There are a couple things to note: First; the shutter speeds posted on the camera plate, which go from 1/10th to 1000th of a second are not to be taken literally. This is, of course true for any film cameras. In other cameras besides the Graflex, the numbers are rounded off and set into mathematical relationship to the aperture numbers , which ARE meant to be accurate. Even in the 1920’s photographers noted that the shutter speed changed on the Graflex depending on the context of the shooting: was it the first exposure after the camera had been sitting or was it immediately following a number of other exposures, i.e., how tightly was the curtain wound? Shutter speed testing was a crude affair compared to today. Second: 1/10th of a second was the number noted when the widest curtain aperture was used at its lowest tension setting. With the big mirror clunking closed one should expect vibrations to intrude into the slow shutter speed immediately following. For such reasons camera designers used mirror lock up. Today when we check shutter speeds there are several things that seem consistent. Lower shutter speeds tend to be closer to the mark, such that 1/30th of a second on a 35mm SLR on a well tuned shutter will probably be very close to 1/30th. On the same shutter, however, 1/1000th of a second might fall into the 1/800th area, and the photographer should call that good, because it is. When we installed the NOS curtain in my Graflex, shutter speed tests resolved that my 1/10th setting, the widest curtain at tension 1 produced consistently 1/30th of a second exposures. At the smallest aperture setting at tension 1, the shutter produced 1/1000th of a second! At tension 6 the same aperture setting produced 1/1400th. The speeds were consistent and THIS is what is important to the photographer. Weston knew that using his 1/10th setting he could get good handheld exposures in bright daylight and close down his lens aperture to adjust.

The plate of magical numbers

As an aside, the great photographer Paul Strand used over many decades a Home Portrait 5X7 Graflex which he had modified to produce 5X6 negatives. Ever the braggart, Strand claimed that his Graflex would do a 1/5th of a second slow speed, a feat that, he claimed, other Graflexes could not do.

In fact, the Graflex Shutter allows us to go past the Time exposure position to the “O” position in which the curtain is completely open. What keeps out light is the mirror which is down for viewing. If there is enough tension in the shutter spring, pressing the shutter release will lift the mirror as usual, and the curtain will more or less slowly roll down to a closed position. With my new curtain, at tension 2, this amounts to a 1/4 of a second exposure. On a tripod this is totally doable. and i have used it fairly often.

Next time I will turn to the Ansco Universal 5X7 Deluxe model view camera which I only recently acquired and restored and which has become the new home of the Protar VIIa convertible lens.

Old Glass, Old Cameras, Old Film and Old Paper Part 1

In finally picking up my blog after a long pandemic absence, I thought I’d talk about Adventure: the adventure of working with the old, the outdated, and the obsolete. The challenge is to make something good out of the employment of a collection of “past its prime stuff.” This is a meaningful challenge for me in that I can identify in some ways with these tools and materials.

The plan is this: over the course of several entries I will first deal with cameras and lenses and then turn to the use of the perishables, namely film and paper.

I will talk a little bit about the history of three cameras, the Graflex RB Series D, the Eastman Commercial 8x10Model B, and the Ansco Universal 5X7, which I use regularly. There are two histories to these cameras, the commercial history as a product, and the personal history, who owned and used them and how I came to them. So today I am going to focus on the Graflex RB Series D 4X5.

My RB Grafles Series D wearing its Wollensak 15 inch Tele Raptar

You probably know that the Graflex camera history includes the transitions of business partnerships, acquisitions and so on that led the Folmer Schwing operation to acquire the Century Camera company in Rochester, design a single lens reflex large format camera, the Graflex, and the venerable press camera, the Speed Graphic, get bought out By George Eastman and continue in producing cameras for Eastman Kodak until the courts rule against Eastman for monopolizing the camera market. Thus the camera company became Folmer Graflex in the late 1920’s and continued making cameras. The RB Series D was designed in the late 1930’s and RB stands for revolving back, which was great for the photographer who didn’t have to turn the camera sideways to change from horizontal to vertical shot. As historical context, Dorothea Lange used a 4×5 RB Series D to do a lot of her work in the late years of the Depression, including photographing her iconic Migrant Mother. According to a dating code I tracked down on the internet, my camera was manufactured in 1939 but was probably sold in 1940 some time.

Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother shot with RB Graflex Series D

I worked for a couple decades at a Jesuit University. The Jesuits, a Catholic religious order served in the Pacific Northwest as missionaries to various indigenous peoples, including in Alaska. While working at the University I became well acquainted with the Jesuit Oregon Province Archives which housed more than a hundred years of the photographic output of these Jesuit priests and brothers. Photography was, apparently an enormously important and popular way of cataloging the mission work of the Jesuit endeavors and there were many very talented and creative photographers in that history of the Catholic church in the Northwest.

Being a religious order, there were certain traditions for the passing on of one’s possessions when one passed on. A Jesuit photographer could not take his cameras with him, so they would usually go to other Jesuits who were interested in or working in photography. At my university, photography classes had a long history, and half of that history they were taught by Jesuits. My particular Graflex RB 4X5 went through such a passing on until a friend of mine who was a still active photographer decided he wanted to get a brand new digital Nikon! To finance it he had to raise cash and so he called me up, as I was the photography teacher of the film classes at the university. Thus I acquired a Speed Graphic kit with flashes, case, film holders, and thrown in an old dirty RB Graflex with a couple big clunky lenses not attached. The Graflex’ shutter curtain was torn in a couple of places but I was intrigued by this ugly camera box and so did some research and found a guy on the internet named Bert Saunders who sometimes made new curtains. I sent him the camera and he reattached the curtain but did not make one, instead sending me detailed instructions on dissasembly and repair. I think he was not feeling healthy enough to take on a big project. So my wife and I took the camera apart, stretched out the curtain along the dining room table, used lemon pledge and rubber cement and rejuvenated the curtain, reassembled, adjusted the tension and in fact we had a useable camera for several years before the curtain tore again and then again. Meanwhile I learned more about the Graflex, got a handle from the hardware store, began applying Neat’s Foot oil to the leather at infrequent intervals until the camera began to look nicer and nicer. The RB back started leaking light and ruining negatives and so I took that apart, replaced the felt and got it back together successfully. The viewing hood was in awful shape and after many homemade attempts to get it useable I found a place in Hong Kong to make a new one. I used acetone to take worn black paint off of some of the metal parts and polished up the brass underneath, and finally, Jerry Gordon of the Graflex Garage offered a NOS shutter curtain, new in name only. probably 70 years old, and he installed it. So at this point, this old Jesuit Graflex is in as close to new shape as it has been since 1940.

I did not find out who the original Jesuit owner was, but around the university there had been several photo enthusiasts, and one in particular, Fr, Leo Yeats S.J., figures into the story in another way. While I ran the photo classes and the darkroom, I was continuously trying to improve the equipment, finding better enlargers and enlarging lenses, for example. At one point an enlarger from the Chemistry Department was offered me, and I pulled it out of a closet where it had hid for a couple decades, and hauled it back to my office along with a box of photo junk. When I rummaged through the cardboard box I found an old lens and shutter, unboxed, with one lens cap, covered with dust and dirt. The shutter was a Compound, popular in the 1920’s with a lens labeled Protar VII. The Protar lens was designed by Paul Rudolph who also designed the Tessar, both in the late 19th century for Zeiss. These were anastigmat lenses, the cream of the crop in the day. The Protar VII was referred to as fully corrected and would function on its own as a taking lens, coming in a variety of focal lengths. There was also a Protar V, which was a wide angle lens. The Protar VIIa, on the other hand was a combination of two Protar VII lenses. Using two Protar lenses, one in front of and the other behind the shutter changed the focal length, making it shorter, but also increasing the maximum aperture, letting in more light. Generally, if the two elements were both of the same focal length, the maximum aperture would be 6.3, but if unequal elements were mounted, the aperture would be either f7 or f7.7. If, on the other hand, a Protar element was used by itself, behind the shutter, then the maximum aperture would be f12.5.

Protar VIIa in Compound Shutter: note fstop multiple scales
Front element 16 3./16
Back element Protar VII 11 3/16 in.

This sound horrible today, I suppose. The Protar VIIa was nonetheless a very popular lens and it was marketed by Zeiss and by its American licensee Bausch and Lomb as a tool of great advantage to the working photographer. One could have three focal lengths in one lens, and if another Protar VII element was added to the set then 4 or 5 focal length lenses, all fully corrected. That’s what was laying in the box of photo junk. I mounted it on my old Eastman 8X10 2D and tried it out. I found out that together the protars barely covered 8X10 but singly they were covering with movements. It turns out my set was intended for 5X7, covered 5X8 wide open combined while the 16 in component would handle ultra large format if necessary. The cable release attachment fell off on a photo shoot and I sent the lens and shutter to a repair shop in California. The head guy, Fred, called me up and with his German accent says. “Bill, I vas just showing your lens to my assistant. This is a good one! Let me go over the shutter. It will be worth it. It is a very nice lens.!” So I did and have used it a lot.

Wollensak Tele Raptar 15 in f5.6

Back to Fr. Leo Yeats. There was a plaque on the wall of the darkroom I taught in for 19 years dedicated to Yeats, who taught in the same lab, a “photographer, scientist, explorer, aviator”… etc. When I left the job and cleaned out the filing cabinet I found a list of photo equipment and other things inventoried when Yeats died, including some things not found. On the list of not found was the Protar VIIa which had gotten into a box of photo junk. When they got rid of me they were eliminating photography altogether and told me to take any photo stuff as they would throw out the rest.

Kathy and I were at an outdoor art show one Summer with our booth of black and white prints and a lady stopped by, and seeing photos from the university remarked that her Uncle Leo had taught photography there. Leo Yeats. I told her the story of the lens and shutter, or part of it and she was happy that he was well remembered. It would be nice to find out that the Graflex was also his. It had come with two lenses, the Wollensak 15 inch tele-raptar and the Kodak Aero-Ektar f2.5, which I never tried to use but which has a sort of cult following. Both lenses were very useful for aerial photography and the Wollensak has a lens mount on front that holds two huge filters, a number 12 minus blue and a no. 25 deep red. These are both suggestive of altitude work. I sold the Aero Ektar and got more for it than I paid my Jesuit friend for the whole outfit!

Here are some sample images:

5X7 shot with Protar VIIa on Eastman 8X10 camera
4X5 shot with Graflex RB and 21cm Zeiss Tessar (uncoated)

5X7 shot with Zeiss Protar VIIa on Eastman 8X10- 2D
4X5 Graflex RB with Zeiss Tessar
8X10 shot with Zeiss Protar VIIa on Eastman 2D. Shouldn’t cover really but it did.
Mushrooms, done with Protar VIIa on 5X7 film. When doing closeup work the coverage of lenses (image circle) increases enormously. This was also done with my old 8X10 Eastman 2D, which has been replaced by the all metal Eastman Commercial Model B.

Next time I’ll talk a little bit about the difference between using a Graflex and using a view camera, and some of the mysterious qualities I have found in my images made with the Graflex.

By the way, our name has changed from Cherryststudios. we are now found at https://www.kostelecstudios.com

McCain Rally, 2000



I was never a photojournalist, but I got a press pass to cover the John McCain Rally at Gonzaga University in 2000, by virtue, I guess, of being the only regular photographer on staff at the University. Gonzaga had a history of being oblivious to the needs of a full time photographer even though photography had played such an important part in the history and work of the Jesuit missions in the West. G.U. is, in fact, home to the Oregon Province Jesuit archives which holds an incredible collection of images from the 19thand 20thcentury missions. The public relations wing of the University nevertheless had a habit of hiring outside photographers in for special events, but I worked for Media Services in the Foley Library as a photographer and graphic artist.  So I got a press pass.


I had 2 Leica M3s, one a gift from a Jesuit friend, Bill Yam, sick with emphysema who had worked as a photographer in the Phillipines in the 60s, and the second, a weak sister that had seen its better days and had a dim rangefinder that I had picked up locally for 500 dollars.  But still, 2 Leica M3s! So I waited outside with the crowds for the bus with John McCain to arrive, scouted good locations and had one Leica with a 35mm Summicron and the second with a 90mm Elmarit.


There was a lady military vet in the crowd that caught my eye and so I slipped through the mix of students and older visitors in what I thought of as photojournalist aggression, polite but determined.  When she caught my eye she smiled and I got the shot, what I still think of as my supreme “decisive moment” photograph.  McCain Rally

There was a man with a big sign in the street out front of the COG, where McCain would speak and I positioned myself, he saw me turned and smiled and I got that. signman

When the bus pulled up I moved again close near the entryway I was told he would use and got a half dozen shots when he came through shaking hands with his wife Cindy close by.j9hnandcindy



The best shot of McCain was, I think when he stood above, waving to the crowd and gave them a big thumbs up.  McCain was an interesting candidate that year and a lot of young people seemed to be drawn to his ‘wild horse a little out of control’ reputation.thumbsup


I photographed part of the speech and was leaving the COG, walking down the steps. People were still coming in, including a guy with 2 cameras with straps identifying the newspaper from Cincinnati that he photographed for.  He was very professional looking and he stopped on the stairs smiling at me and said “A real photographer eh?” I looked closer and saw he carried 2 Leica black bodies.  “Yep.” I said and we went our ways.  Though it was not that long ago press photographers were still shooting film and Nikons and Canons were ubiquitous.  The Leicas were already becoming rarer on the scene.


I shoot with a lot of older cameras. Today I have a Kodak Pony 828 around my neck with some film I spooled from a bulk roll of 35mm TriX and even an amateur camera like that can produce a good image.  Nevertheless, for me, using the M3 always feels special and I know in advance that the negatives will have a certain quality from the Leitz lenses.


McCain himself seems now like a leftover from the days when national politicians sometimes rose to the status of statesman and when mutual respect across party lines made it possible for good things to happen in the Halls of Congress.  His empty seat will be hard to fill in our current social scene.

The smoky air has cleared today after a morning rain, first time in a month. So on to

Good shooting


Bill Kostelec





Photo Economics: Multiformat Large Format

Getting the Most out of Camera and Lenses

The equipment for large format film photography can be very expensive. While this is true for 4X5 equipment, it gets even more so for 5X7 and 8X10.  Modern lenses and shutters for the bigger formats go for the amounts I am more inclined to pay for a car, and I have worked carefully over the years to avoid investing that kind of money into photo equipment.  The quality of my negatives has not suffered for that avoidance however and I am quite satisfied with my camera kits.  I’d like to talk about that and offer some suggestions on getting the most out of a limited set of equipment.

Protar VIIa and Ilex Paragon 12 in 4.5

I have a C-1 black beast 8X10 camera that I bought about 15 years ago that came with two reducing backs and an extra 8X10 back for about $250.  The 34 inch bellows was full of pinholes, hence the price.  Still, after about doubling the price for a custom bellows and installing it myself, I had a camera with three film sizes for not that much money.  It takes a six inch lens board and I had one lens, a 12 inch Ilex Paragon 4.5, uncoated and unshuttered.  I found a dealer in Spokane who had the big Compound shutter #5 and who made a reducing ring and mounted the Paragon in front of the shutter.  Mounting it in a wooden 6 inch board got my camera working.  The shutter and mounting cost me 75 dollars.  The lens was free as it was in a closet having spent 20 years demonstrating what aperture leaves looked like to photo classes.  The reducing backs set me on the path of photo economics as a 12 inch lens on 4X5 is very different in aesthetic and technical qualities than it is on an 8X10 inch piece of film.  Combining that with a 34 inch bellows gave me a camera and lens of awesome versatility! My second lens was also someone’s throwaway and I found it dusty and uncovered in a cardboard box, and when cleaning it up recognized the name Protar VIIa, and doing a little research got me very excited.  It is a 7+ inch lens with combined elements, 11+ with only the rear element, and 16+ with only the front element, mounted on the rear.  This lens combination was meant for 5X7 work, but the rear element covered at least 5X8 and the front much more than 8X10.  As the coverage area increases the closer the focus, and as these anastigmat components increased coverage are as they were stopped down, I had a 1920’s lens that gave me wide angle coverage to ultralong coverage depending on which film I was shooting.

the black beast

I have said before and will repeat that these old lenses prove themselves in both sharpness and contrast, and that I have found no significant loss of negative quality in their use.  In the meantime I had picked up a 5X7 Eastman 2D complete with tailpiece from a friend in California, a donation as he was going blind and couldn’t photograph any more.  This camera takes 4 inch lens boards while the C-1 takes 6 inch.  Over several years I found an 8 ½ inch Commercial Ektar and a 254mm Ilex Calumet Caltar, both in Ilex shutters, for the 5X7. I wanted to be able to switch between cameras and extend the use of my lenses.  The solution came through my friend Johnny Coffey who is a locksmith and machinist extraordinaire.  I took slider parts from a defunct Speed Graphic 4X5 Pacemaker, showed him what I wanted and he created a 6 inch anodized metal lens board with the sliders mounted at top and bottom of a 4 inch square hole.  The 4 inch wooden or metal boards dropped into this ridged slot and the Speed Graphic slider fastened them into place.   Now the 8 ½ inch Ektar and the 254mm Caltar fit nicely onto the 8X10 C-1 with its abundance of camera movements.

reducing lens board
Modified lens board, 6 to 4 in.

What it boils down to is that one of the virtues of a view camera is the flexibility of its front and rear standards, and with the combination of reducing backs and the reducing lens board, and throwing in the convertible nature of the Protar VIIa, I have six different lens possibilities on three different film formats.  I know that the Commercial Ektar doesn’t quite cover the 8X10, but with that long bellows I can do all kinds of in-close work with that lens on the largest film size and it has made beautiful 8X10 negatives in that mode.


If I had to do this all again I would look for an 8X10 camera, not a monorail, but like the C-1, or like the Eastman Commercial 8X10, folders that are easy to transport without a big long case, and the reducing backs. One added advantage of having the biggest camera body is that the big bellows can significantly reduce the in-camera flair caused by lenses with more than adequate coverage.  The wider bellows doesn’t reflect light and bounce it all over the inside of the camera like a narrower 4X5 bellows might.  Most photographers who would shoot large format in the first place would tend to have other cameras and multiple formats. Reducing backs simplify that. Reducing lens boards is not a new idea and having acquired one I have found it to be a great one.


The biggest drawback is of course that a big camera is a big camera, and an 8X10 is, generally speaking big. It can also be heavy, although the new custom built cameras of carbon fiber and nice thin wood have reduced the weight but at a price far more than I could justify paying (both to my conscience and my wife and partner Kathy.)

Commercial 8X10
Eastman Commercial 8X10 B

Speaking of weight, I now have an Eastman Commercial 8X10 that is manufactured from magnesium, and it is considerably lighter than the C-1.  It doesn’t have the wide range of movements, especially at the front standard but for field work it proves itself fully capable.  The C-1 on the other hand is the studio camera of choice.


Good Shooting


Bill Kostelec,

July 5, 2018



Medium Format in the Digital Age



This is the second in my series on film formats and how they influence our photographs. “…how they influence our photographs” is a rather loose way of putting it as there are countless things that influence us. Still, my own use of medium format roll film convinces me that it is a topic worth exploring.

When I was a 35mm shooter only, and when 35mm was the standard for most amateur and hobbyist photographers, the notion of using a medium format camera seemed pretty exotic to me. I could never have afforded a Hasselblad or a Rolleiflex and those cameras seemed to be for professionals and for me out of reach. In fact, I think it would have been much more economical and affordable for me in the 1970s to buy a monorail 4X5 and a lens and some holders.

When I moved to Spokane, Washington from Atlanta, a house fire burned up all my equipment, negatives etc., and a goodwill gesture from my boss landed me his old Rolleicord, my first medium format camera. Shooting square negatives was a big change as was, “shooting from the belly” which I somehow connected to forms of meditation that I had studied in graduate school. That was 25+ years ago and in the last several years I have acquired a nice setup with two Mamiya TLRs, a C-220 and C-330 with 6 interchangeable lenses and a couple alternative viewing hoods. The accumulation of the Mamiya equipment is not because I acquired wealth, it is rather, directly related to the digital revolution in professional photography! I have gotten hold of the discards from professional portrait and wedding photographers who went digital, and for little money.

I started using the Mamiya TLRs at a time when almost all my images were made on either 4X5 or 5X7 sheet film. A friend had given me a Rolleiflex T that was having winding problems and I did some research and settled on the Mamiya as a camera that I could use more loosely, without a tripod, to make more or less spontaneous snapshots when I was in such a mood, the bigger negative then supposedly increasing the image quality. I guess I was thinking of an upgrade from 35mm.

hilyard widow with markBLOG2

What I found instead was that the TLR worked best on a tripod, was lightweight, with brilliant lenses and good viewfinder, and lent itself to more formality than I had envisioned. It was also quicker, much quicker than the large format cameras and much easier to carry around with me. As Kathy liked the TLR as well, we found a second body and lens and within the first year became very enamored of the possibilities; hence 6 lenses.

I usually characterize the experience as a dramatic increase in productivity, by which I mean the increase in negatives that excited me, were easily printable, and that helped maintain a strong degree of motivation. I padded my interest in making images by every roll off successful negatives. What was especially gratifying in this process was that I also increased my output of sheet film work, developing a couple of series sets that I found very satisfying. Those were particularly suited to large negatives, long bellows draw and a slow and contemplative process of setup and shooting. In other words, the prolific medium format work made the particular characteristics and strengths of the large format equipment much more obvious which then pushed me to develop the aforementioned series work.

Hosata leaves after the rainBLOG2


I often print square, with little or no cropping. The square is a nice slice of film and looking down at the ground glass the square is what I see. I know Ansel said that he mentally cropped his Hasselblad images before he pressed the trigger but as he had always preached visualizing the finished image before the exposure he could hardly say anything else! When most of us compose, we quite reasonably use the black 4 walls of our viewfinders or groundglass frame to do so and so I look for a composition that makes good use of the square. Another advantage to printing square is that I can take an expensive piece of printing paper and square it, getting a test strip and a print out of the same rectangular sheet.

Using the TLR on a tripod also means that I can most often use film of 100 ISO or less, increasing the ability to enlarge with little in the way of grain or other “artifacts” of the film negative. It seems strange to think about artifacts with a film negative. Sometimes I really like the feel of grain in an image, but the tripod means that I can use a film like Pan F when I have something else in mind.

As far as image quality goes, I have seen some comparisons done in online blogs “proving” that high end digital cameras produce sharper images than medium format film cameras, but such things are the fodder for self congratulations for those who don’t have the patience to work in a darkroom anymore, and that’s just fine. The notion that one has to have the “best” and sharpest and so on is, in my mind, detrimental to the whole purpose of the game, which is to make significant and satisfying images. And the darkroom is not for everyone, but it is satisfying to see our students, most who have never worked in a photolab before get so excited when one of their prints begins to reveal itself in the developer tray.

In any case, the Mamiyas have proven their ability to produce images of high resolution, great sharpness and fine detail. Even our oldest chrome shutter 80mm lens performs very well.

The histories of photography are usually narratives of “great photographers” who somehow became guiding lights for those that followed them, and to a limited extent there is truth in such stories. My take on the history of photography is a little different, in that I picture the major changes in photography as being technology driven, with the guiding lights as the pioneers of using technological developments to good advantage, (e.g., Stieglitz and the 4X5 Graflex SLR). Each major development in the camera and lens let talented photographers expand the possibilities of the medium. Each new development did not eliminate the utility nor the potentiality of the earlier technologies. Sheet film was not replaced by roll film. This means that because we have such a variety of photo technologies available to us, there is a vast number of approaches to image making. And because so many professionals had to abandon film to meet the market demands, that also means those of us without endless wealth can have access to loads of excellent equipment and the potential images that such equipment represents.

And that is good for us all.

Bill Kostelec

April 2018


Film Format and Image Differences

I’d like to spend a few blog posts on thinking about how moving from one format to another, from 35mm to 8X10, for example, can significantly transform the way a photographer works and the kinds of images he or she produces. There’s nothing mysterious in this and I’m not offering a new idea, but I usually gain something whenever I start reflecting on my own camera work and because Kathy and I received a camera collection as one man relieved his own burden onto another, I often feel almost plagued by too many options.
In reality though, my-go to cameras are much more confined than the collection. For this first reflection, I want to think about shooting large format, which for me includes 8X10, 5X7 and 4X5. For the past couple of days I have been contact printing older 8X10 negatives on Fomalux contact printing paper. For these sessions I have been mixing Ansco 120 developer, a soft working formula that has only Metol and a lot of sodium carbonate. The Fomalux paper is available only in grade 2 but it is a pretty harsh and contrasty grade 2, much more so than the Lodima grade 2. It is also much more affordable. The Ansco 120 did its job and really tamed the contrast without sacrificing the rich blacks that mark this Foma paper. We are able to enlarge up to 5X7 negatives so for the 8X10s scanning or contact printing are our present options.

I have had an 8X10 camera for over 20 years. The first was an Eastman 2D with no back rail extension nor sliding block. Then I bought a C-1, B&J version with 3 backs very cheaply on eBay and after installing a new bellows I have a very useable and versatile camera, and very heavy. My last acquisition is an Eastman Commercial 8X10 with block and extension rail and is made of magnesium! This is my big field camera. I don’t own any large format lens later than the 1960s, nothing multicoated, mostly Ilex Acme shutters and my older lenses include my favorite Protar VIIa in a Compound shutter. It dates from the early 1920’s while I have a brass lens with the faceplate missing that I suspect is an 10 inch Goertz Dagor in an Ilex Acme no 4. I mention the lenses because as a large format shooter, I can successfully use a lot of old glass and be very happy with the results. This is, I think, a prime positive characteristic of making large format negatives.

This first illustration is a scan of a platinum/palladium print from an 8X10 negative shot with the 7 inch component of the Protar VIIa. None of the big equipment is really light and the 8X10 and 5X7 cameras require a tripod. These college girl models were dancers and were very good about holding their poses. All of us knew that the big wooden camera required something more than flashy moves, and their facial expression, very relaxed and focused, was at least in part the result of being before the 8X10. So besides that truism that large format takes more time, there is this truth, that often it has a positive effect on those who stand before its studied gaze. Using a tripod leads to a second characteristic possibility of large format: one can do long, long exposures.


The second illustration is from a 4X5 negative taken with a Crown Graphic and a typical Optar 135mm lens. I was deep in a cavern looking down at an unnamed creek with a small waterfall behind my back. The creek and its bed were not spectacular, kinda of tangly and disordered, but there were some interesting rock outcrops. Around here there is a lot of basalt leftover from slow flow lava from long, long ago. My meter groaned at the darkness and I stopped down to f-22 and held the shutter open for a clean 60 seconds. My tiltall tripod did the trick and I made two negatives. Now the disorder and messiness of the little creek became something else, all mystery and light, things that my eye could not see were revealed. It was the possibility on the groundglass that pushed me to the image. If I could have used a 35mm on a tripod I might have got something similar but the 4X5 glass is much more revealing and the large negative evoked much more of the presence of the wet rocks, now luxuriously there!

waterfall negative edit mysterycrop.jpg

The third illustration is of a chair sitting by the fireplace. There is a high window behind it, a typical multi-pane Craftsman house window. This is also a scan of a PT/PD print. With an 8X10 negative, it is a natural thing to make a contact print and doing that invites the photographer to explore some of the 19th century printing processes. This image was shot with Ektascan xray film, a very inexpensive option for 8X10 shooters which I have also found hard to process to its full advantage. It is exceedingly sharp, and scratches if you breathe a little too heavy in its direction! (that is an exaggeration). Here the convenience of being in the house makes a heavy 8X10 camera seem very manageable and so it lends itself to such intimate shooting.


Finally, this last illustration represents yet another characteristic of the big cameras. With 34 inches of bellows, some of my lenses can get really, really close. This photo, made on a 5X7 negative is the result of an hour or so of playing with things at hand on the shelf below that same multi-pane window. I had a theme in mind, working in the context of a series of images and this makes a vague reference to the “Devil and his Wife” which in addition refers to a song I wrote and recorded, “The Devil is Beating his Wife”, which also, in turn, refers back to an old Southern saying which my young and Southern wife introduced me to. The Zuni Bear is apparently, their pet. Here the big 5X7 glass lit up with the bright daylight flooding through and behind the widow glass and with painstaking balancing and fiddling and lots of experimentation I finally saw this image, and shot it. The closest object to the lens was about one foot away, thanks to that long, long bellows. At this point, measuring the bellows extension is required and reciprocity factors in as well. I love looking at the big ground glass. It’s beauty is infinite because we can continue to look at new things and see how the glass transforms them.


So that’s a little reflection on using large format film and cameras. The next reflection will be on using medium format film and cameras.

Bill Kostelec
April 2018