Let me start this review by admitting that my first serious camera was a 2x3 Century Graphic on which I undoubtedly imprinted, but my affection for my Super Graphic is both inherited and reasoned. It is ironic that having gotten the design right on the Super Graphic, its manufacturer went out of business in only a few years. Toyo bought the manufacturing rights from Singer/Graflex and there were some Toyo Super Graphics, which I think were identical to the original except for the name badge on the front standard which read 'Toyo Super Graphic'.

Virtually all LF cameras represent some kinds of compromise in features and performance, including size and weight, and whether these seem onerous or tolerable is often a function of the kinds of photographic work being done. Mine tend toward landscape and architecture. In the past I thought that the lack of rear movements was not a major problem. Doremus Scudder's article about movements in the January/February 2007 View Camera has shaken that faith however and I am now working some other cameras in the field to see how much I will use rear movements as I have the opportunity.

The Super Graphic had two major improvements over its press camera predecessors:

  • The front standard was redesigned in lightweight aluminum and stainless steel and given greater range of movements; it now has front swing and the rise is greater than that of at least some Pacemaker Graphics.
  • A rotating back was added. I always found the lack of flexibility in orientation a major weakness in the earlierGraphics.

While this review is based on my use of the Super Graphic as a technical camera, I note some of its other features which were designed to support it as a press camera. An integrated rangefinder with adjustable cams was nestled into the top of the case. A convenient focusing scale sits on the top of the case. The viewfinder remained the uncoupled type used on the Pacemaker series; Leica M and Canon 7 RF users will be unimpressed. The coupled mechanical shutter release on the Pacemakers was replaced by an electronic release powered by a 22 1/2 v battery; this circuit may still work if corrosion hasn't consumed it. While fast focal plane shutters were mounted on Speed Graphics, Graflex changed its strategy for the Super Graphic. SSG Graflex lenses--generally at this point supplied by Rodenstock--were mounted in BTL shutters with an advertised top speed of 1/1000. Super lens boards were a bit special, but generic replacements are cheap and available and will mount any shutter through a #3 for GG focusing. While Graphic lensboards are comparitively small, they will mount larger shutters than many cameras using largerTechnika/Wista board because of the design of the front standard.

While making front standard adjustments, you might be apprehensive about the Super Graphic's stability, but once set, the standard settles nicely. A simple modification adds another 3/8 inch to the already generous 1 1/8 inch rise . A disappointing difference in the Super Graphic design is that its focusing rack on the front bed is no longer linked to a moveable rack in the body as it was in the Pacemakers; the "body" track on the Super is stationary, which makes it decidedly unfriendly to modern wide angle lenses. Since the bellows is not interchangeable, there is no recourse to a bag bellows; a recessed lens board was not offered by Graflex. The two-part Pacemaker rack was articulated and allowed ground glass focusing of short lenses on flat lensboards while the front standard was still within the case; for focusing, the Super's front standard must be extended onto the focusing rack, and this begins at about 85mm. It will focus a 90mm Angulon and 90mm W. A. Raptar at infinity, but I can't reliably do this with the 80mm Wide Field Ektar. By "unreliably," I mean that the part of the clamping mechanism in the front standard that grabs the focusing rack does not come sufficiently far into the rack to insure that there is no unintended swing. It is possible to use the 80mm WF Ektar, but only very carefully to assure that the final taking position of the lens is as you intended. Lenses of other designs around this length might or might not work. At the other end, the Super will focus at least some 300mm lenses at full extension.The Graphic lens boards are light and form an effective light trap with the front standard. I've made a recessed board for my tiny 65mm Angulon, but haven't yet found materials to make a board for my 80mm Wide Field Ektar.

Since I often do work on city streets, quick setup is a significant advantage, both in getting the shots I want with or without people and cars that I want or don't want in the shot and in keeping my equipment safe. Equipment security is improved with quick setup--nothing attracts sneak thieves like a tourist fiddling with camera equipment. Setup extends beyond just mounting the camera on the tripod and extending the front standard. The rotating back and efficient lens mounting contribute to camera management. The rotating back is for me much safer to use than a reversible back that must be removed and replaced to change orientation. Good ground glass screens are expensive and manipulating reversible panels in busy streets is a high risk activity for me. The Super's rotating back works smoothly, is quick and its locking lever is positive. The Graflok back provides a wide choice for film holders. The focusing hood assembly on my Super is rather flimsy and not very positively attached, but I often use a reflex viewer from my Cambo and attach its GG frame to the Super, so this isn't a major problem when using sheet film. Using rollfilm in Graphic/Wista/Horseman holders does require swapping out the focusing panel/reflex finder since holders of this type won't fit in the gape, as they will, for example, in the Wista technicals. Holders like the Calumet with a thin film gate can be inserted and the film can be advanced without removing the focusing panel.

Since I often shoot both b&w 4x5 sheet film and 120 roll film with the Super, I often carry 4-5 lenses and because I do carry these I've opted to use smaller Wide Field Ektars and Angulons for short focus lenses and process lenses for long focus lenses. While the coverage and more uniform definition and illumination of more modern lens can be dramatic, so is the difference in size, weight and costs. The lightweight Graphic lens boards do save a few ounces when multiplied by 4 or 5.

The Super, without a lens is about 4 1/2 pounds, which lets it compete with the heavier of the woodfield cameras, which for me are slower to set up and don't provide protection for lenses that the Super does. Yet the Super is about a pound lighter than MPPs and Meridians, and both lighter and cheaper than Technikas and clones like the Wista and Toyo technical models and other current production technical cameras which have movable backs. The only body whose weight is appealing is the Toyo CF, but the pound saved would not be worth to me exchanging the Super's rotating back for the Toyo's reversible back.

The Super has an integral rangefinder which I never use because I change lenses frequently and swapping cams seems onerous. The rangefinder can be stripped out to save a few ounces, but I've never bothered to do this because even though it would provide some room for rise within the case for short lenses, there is no way to focus the Super Graphic without pulling the front standard out on the focusing rack on the bed. It is possible to install multiple sets of focusing stops corresponding to different lenses, but since I do all GG composition, I find that marking approximate infinity settings on the rack with different colored paint pens is all I need.

While just criticism has been leveled at Graphic roll holders relating to film flatness, there are tradeoffs. The Graphic holders weigh only 14 ounces; Wista and Horseman rollholders are a couple of ounces more, but of the same general construction. In comparison the Calumet roll holders double that weight. The Graphic holders were produced in 6x6, 6x7, and 6x9 formats , and the later models have chrome rollers fore and aft of the film gate which improve flatness. My choice is to use and carry two Graphic holders to increase my choice of emulsions.

A recent add-on has been a Horseman Rotary Back , a duplex accessory back that allows swapping a 6 x 9 groundglass focusing frame and a 6x? rollholder. It fits any 4 x 5 camera with an international back. This accessory really improves workflow when shooting rollfilm. I've added a Horseman 6 x 9 reflex finder to this back which provides whole frame composition. The single downside I've found is that the accessory back adds about 40mm of extension to the film path. This isn't a welcome change for a camera that already is unfriendly to short focus lenses. With the Horseman back, the shortest lens I can focus is a 127mm Ektar. I might be able to focus a 120 wide field lens, but this will mean an additional purchase.

Comparision review of Super Graphic, Meridian 45B, Gowland Pocket View and Wista VX


11/07/2010 1:49