The craft of photography with the Crown Graphic

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crown graphicIf you thought that I gave up film after getting the Fuji XT1 I most certainly have not. It’s just that when you completely switch camera systems you need to run the new system through it’s paces so that you can discover the hidden quirks and get comfortable with the camera. Recently though my film cameras were calling my name. It was time to take a digital break and go burn some film.

Instead of shooting roll film I decided to shoot some 4×5 film. I wanted to immerse myself for a morning of full on photography. So I dug out my trusty Graflex Crown Graphic. I got this camera a couple of years ago and since then have put together a nice kit. I have three lenses for it, a bunch of film holders and some filters for black and white work. For those of you who don’t know what a Crown Graphic is, if you watch any of the old black and white movies where there is a cigar chomping newspaper reporter, holding a big camera with a bellows and huge bulb flash, it’s probably a Crown Graphic or one of it’s relatives.

The Crown was made for newspaper photographers. It was a sturdy box of a camera that when opened revealed a bellows/lens system much like a field camera. It shot 4×5 film (although there were smaller sheet film versions) that loaded into film holders and then into the back of the camera. It had a built in rangefinder system but you could also use the ground glass on the back for critical focusing. Just like a field camera you could change lenses if you had extras already mounted on lens boards. It had limited front movements. A good photographer knew their settings and exposures and could bang out photos using just the rangefinder system and bulb flash. I don’t work that way.

I use my Crown Graphic more like a field camera. I have my handheld light meter and take multiple readings with it. I look through the back of the ground glass on the camera and carefully compose my image. Speaking of looking through the ground glass, for those of you who have never done this, the image you see is upside down and backwards. It takes a bit of getting used to. For me it is one of my thinking cameras. There is nothing quick about using this camera and most of my time is spent on setting it up and composing the image before even taking one picture. There have been many times where I’ve got it ready to go and I decide what I am seeing isn’t worth using a sheet of film on and I close it up and move on to my next possible scene. It’s methodical, it’s slow and it’s very, very wonderful.

When I use this camera I feel that I am fully practicing the craft of photography. I only shoot black and white film with this camera so the craft continues when I get home and develop the film. It is a thrill to hold up a developed negative and see that you got a good image. The second thrill comes when I scan the film and really see if what I had in my mind at the time of exposure actually came through.

If you want to try a U.S. made camera that has some cool history behind it and be able to get some top notch photos from it, do yourself a favor and at least shoot one these once. You won’t regret it. I certainly don’t and I must say I have gotten some of my favorite photos from it.

Happy wanderings.