My Old Press Camera

My very first “online” purchase was made on AOL.  Remember “you’ve got mail”?  Back in the very early days of online, before the full blown Internet experience, we had bulletin boards and AOL.

I used to dial up the Boston University library with my dial in modem.  Call the specific phone number and listen to the squeaks and buzzes of the modem in order to search the stacks for a book, all with nothing more than text scrolling.

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Then AOL came along and added some graphics to the experience and provided their own bulletin board type features.  One of the more popular ones was used camera dealers selling used camera equipment.

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I got it in my mind that I wanted to get into large format cameras.  The most inexpensive way was to purchase an old 4×5 film press camera.  The kind Weegee used to cover accidents and crime scenes.  The kind you see in the period movies with all of the flash bulbs going off.

Eventually I picked up a enlarger type set up that allowed one to turn the camera into an enlarger.  And later switched from sheet film to a Polaroid Type 55 back.   It was an expensive setup.  Each shot cost about $5 but the Polaroid Type 55 film was great.  It produced a black and white negative that was processed in water as well as a positive.

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The only thing was you had to over expose the positive in order to get a great negative but the negative has amazing dynamic range.  The other negative was that I didn’t have a quality 4×5 darkroom setup, so most of my shots never really were seen beyond some contact prints.

I still hang on to the old Graflex camera hoping some day sensors will become cheap enough that I can use it again – digitally.

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Graflex was a manufacturer that gave its brand name to several models of camera.  Graflex was known for the quintessential press camera, the Speed Graphic which was manufactured for over 60 years, and was used by most of the photojournalists in the first half of the 20th century.

Can you imagine a modern camera being manufactured and sold for 60 years?  They are lucky these days to get six months out of a new camera before it is considered old!