Steve's Web Site

A History of my Photography




Graflex Pacemaker Speed Graphic

Speed Graphic with the front open and the lens pulled out to shooting position

    The Pacemaker Speed Graphic was the standard press camera from the end of WWII through the 1950's and into the 1960's. It was made in 2 1/4 X 3 1/4, 3 1/4 X 4 1/4 and 4 X 5 formats. The one I have is a 4 X 5 model with a side mount range finder and Graflok back. The Graflok back was introduced in 1949 and the rangefinder was moved to the top in 1955 so the camera was made between those years.

Speed Graphic with the front closed. The front is released by pressing a small raised bum in the leather on the side near the top of the carrying strap.

    The Speed Graphic differed from the Crown Graphic in having a focal plane shutter. The focal plane shutter has a rubberized strip of fabric with various size openings in it that runs vertically when fired. It provides shutter speed of  1/1000 to 1/60 of a second by selecting slit width and running speed. The shutter is not self capping which means you have to put the dark slide in while winding the shutter or you will fog your film. You can use lenses without shutters, called barrel mount lenses or conventional leaf shutter lenses. There is a selector on the side of the camera to let you select which shutter to use and a linkage to the lens shutter, allowing you to release either shutter from the body.

Right side of the camera showing the body controls. The knob tensions the rear shutter. the little window below and to the right of the knob displays the shutter speed selected. The sliding switch below the window selects the shutter that is fired by the shutter release below the rangefinder. The small lever near the bottom selects the shutter speed from two possible choices.

    There is a top mounted viewfinder with manual parallax correction and a open frame sports finder, which also provides parallax correction. You also have a ground glass back which lets you see exactly what you are photographing. The ground glass requires a tripod since you need to close the shutter, set the f-stop and shutter speed and insert the film holder before taking the picture. The ground glass is handy for macro photography since the bellows extends to fifteen inches.

Rear view with the ground glass hood closed.

    There are many ways to handle film for this camera. The one I have is a 4 X 5 model so I'll mainly deal with it. Film for 3 1//4 x 4 1/4 has been discontinued anyway. You can use a Polaroid film holder and use 4 x 5 Polaroid film. You can use double sided 4 X 5 film holder, Graflex used to make a holder they called the Grafmatic holder that took 6 sheets of film and cycled them with operation of the dark slide. With the Graflok back you have the option of removing the ground glass and attaching a roll film back. Various models were and are made in 6 X 4.5, 6 X 6, 6 X 7, 6 X 9, and 6 X 12 format using 120 or 220 roll film. I purchase a Graflex RH10 roll film back for my camera and I have been using it to take pictures with it. It take 120 film and provides 10 exposures per roll in 6 X 7 format.

Rear view with the viewing hood open. You can see marks I placed on the ground glass to show the area covered by the RH10 back.

    The lenses on this camera are removable via a quick release lens board. I have two 135mm lenses both f4.7, one an Optar in a Wollensak shutter, the other a Xenon in a Compur shutter. This camera will take lenses from 65mm up to 380mm. I would love to have a 65mm lens with a 6 X 12 back to use this as a panoramic camera.

Rear of the camera with the Ground glass removed and the RH10 roll film holder installed.

    Most Graflex cameras are seen with a huge flashgun and reflector on the side. Mine came with a Heiland flash bracket not the usually Graflex model and I have removed the bracket. The old Graflex flash units were used to make light sabers in the original Star Wars movies. For this reason they command a premium price from people wanting them to make their own light sabers. There were several ways to fire the flash with these cameras. If you were using the focal plane shutter you could use FP bulbs with a sync cord to the main body. If you were using the front shutter you could connect the flash unit to the solenoid and fire with the button on the flash. The flash contained a delay unit that would allow time for the bulb to reach full brightness before firing the shutter. If your lens had M sync you could connect the lens sync terminal to the flash and use the lens to fire everything.

Top of the RH10 showing the blue wind lever, the little chrome advance release and the film counter.

    I took this camera with me on vacation during July of 2005. I only took one roll of pictures with it because of two reasons: the complexity of using the camera and the limit of having only one focal length. I remember one time I had the Graflex on a tripod taking a picture of a waterfall under a bridge and a group of Japanese tourist stopped to take a picture of the same thing. They all stood there in awe staring quietly at the Graflex. They had the latest mass produced digital cameras While looking at a camera older than them that still took pictures.

The Graflex with the Heiland flash gun mounted. Note the electrical cable from the flash to the solenoid below the lens.

    When I first purchased the Graflex camera it had no flashgun. While a lot of Graflex cameras were fitted with brackets for Graflex flash units mine had a mounting bracket for a Heiland flash. The Graflex flash units are in high demand. Not because they are used much these days (flash bulbs are hard to come by), but because the original light sabers in the original "Star Wars" movie were built using the tubes from the Graflex flash units. There are sites on the internet showing how to make a light saber just like the original from old Graflex flashes. This has driven prices for them way beyond what they should be. Some less reputable folks have been selling Heiland flash units as Graflex units for that purpose.

    With a little patience I was able to find a Heiland flash unit with two reflectors that also converted the unit to take the Press 25 size flashbulbs. It included a second reflector, a solenoid, a solenoid cord and another mounting bracket.

Detail of the solenoid on the lens board with the cable connected.

    The most common Heiland and Graflex flash unit used three D sized batteries to power them. They had a group of household type electrical jacks near the top. One was used to connect to the flash sync on your lens. this was designed for M sync for flashbulbs. If your lens only had X sync the you used another jack and connected the cord to the solenoid that tripped the lens. Pressing a button on the flash unit would start the flash bulb firing then after a delay, fire the shutter. Another jack was for connection to a second flash unit as a wired slave.

Side view of the flash unit. The large red button at the rear of the reflector is used to eject the hot flash bulb. The small red button on the front of the flash unit triggers the flash and fires the solenoid.

    The flash unit with reflector and its three D batteries adds considerably to the weight of the Graflex camera. Since the Speed Graphic is a heavy camera to begin with a photographer who used one on a regular basis would develop some strong arm muscles. Can you imagine a group of press photographers in the 1950's pushing and shoving and pushing each other for the best shot? Getting hit in the head with one of these babies would really put your lights out.

A closer view of the top of the flash unit and the reflector.

    If you remove the reflector you find a socket for the old Edison base flash bulbs. I have not seen a reflector for these so I wonder where it would fit.

Standard size accessory shoe mounted to the Heiland flash bracket.

    When I bought my Speed Graphic it did not have the optical viewfinder. I could use the sports finder or the ground glass to compose my shots. The sports finder was designed for 4x5 film and I was using the RH10 which produced a smaller image. I marked the ground glass for the RH10 frame size The Camera did have a mounting shoe for a viewfinder and it was fairly easy to find one on eBay. The viewfinder is designed to take a mask to adjust for image size and lens focal length. While viewfinders weren't hard to find finding a mask was much more difficult. The first problem was finding out which mask to use. I found information on telling me what mask I needed. Finding the mask on eBay was another story. It's hard to believe that these little pieces of metal sold for over twenty dollars. After a year I still didn't have the right mask and I started looking for alternatives. I found a sports finder for Koni-Omega cameras that had a frame for their 135mm lens and a 135mm lens on a 6x7 should work for either camera. I purchased it and then was faced with the problem of mounting it. The Koni-Omega sports finder used a standard accessory shoe and the Graflex Viewfinder shoe was both too wide and too long. I improvised the mount shown in the picture above from a screw mount accessory shoe and a piece of angled steel plus some 1/4-20 machine screws. It sits in an existing hole in the flash bracket and did not require any modification to the Graflex.

Another view of the accessory shoe showing the viewfinder with the mask needed for the RH10 roll film holder.

    About the time I had all this working I was able to purchase the proper viewfinder mask for my Graflex viewfinder. I put away the Koni-Omega Sport Finder but the accessory shoe works great for mounting an electronic flash.

Left hand side of the Graflex showing the grip from a Graflex XL mounted.

    The left hand side of the Graflex cameras has a tripod socket and two metal loops that come with a leather belt looped through them. It looks just like a man's leather dress belt but shorter. It makes a better carrying stop than a camera grip and I have seen some Speed Graphics made with the flash gun mounted on the left side. Probably for left handed photographers.

Side view showing the grip mounted on the left side of the camera.

    Wanting a better way to use the camera I purchased a used grip from a later camera made by Graflex - the Graflex XL. This grip has a cable release built into it and has a 1/4-20 mounting screw that fits the tripod socket on the side of the Speed Graphic. The only other step was to turn the lower loop for the belt around 180 degrees so it would engage the bottom of the grip mount.

Front view showing the camera with the grip attached. An extension is use on the cable release to make sure it stays out of view of the lens

    The cable release can be connected to the lens if you just use the leaf shutter or to the release on the camera body where it can control either shutter. The grip has a knob on the bottom allowing the angle of the grip to be adjusted to suit the users taste.

A Slightly modernized Speed Graphic wit the Graflex XL grip and a modern electronic flash mounted in the homebrew accessory show.

    I now had a Speed graphic that I could carry around and take pictures with. No need to mount it on a tripod and focus and compose on the ground glass under a black cloth. These steps required no permanent modifications to the camera itself. No holes were drilled or parts modified. The changes are all fully reversible.

Another view of the electronic flash mounted on the camera. This flash provides non TTL automatic operation using a sensor in its base.

    The lens that came with my Speed Graphic has the old Graflex bi-post flash connection. Back then every camera manufacturer had their own flash connector. I found an adapter made by Paramount that allows me to use the now stander Prontor-Compur (PC) flash connector with the camera.

Rear view of the Polaroid 545 film holder.

    I wanted to play around with Polaroid film in my Graflex so I purchased a Polaroid 545 film holder. It has been replaced by the more cheaply made 545i but everything I read said the 545 was much better and they are very common. They slide in just like a 4x5 film holder.

Front side of the film holder

    The film holder and film are simple to use.

1.  You simply slide the film into the holder until it locks, making sure the proper side is toward the lens and the lever on the film holder is in the up position.
2.  Slide the outer cover out as far as it will go.
3.  Take your picture
4.  Slide the outer cover back in all the way.
5.  Move the lever down to it's lower position.
6.  Pull the film out of the holder. The rollers will burst the developing chemicals and spread them over the film.
7.  Wait the require time before peeling back the cover and removing your print.
8.  Return the operating lever to the upper position.

Here we see the rollers exposed for cleaning. The processing chemicals are quite caustic and can leak when the film is squeezed between the rollers. The ribbed rubber roller is a light trap to prevent light from entering through the film loading slot.

    There is still a wide variety of Polaroid materiel available in both color and black and white. One black and white material will also provide a negative than can be processed and saved.

Here the Polaroid holder is mounted in the Graflex. The operating lever is in the up or Loading position. The lever next to the R allows you to remove a film unit without processing it. When the lever is lowered to the down or Processing position the R lever is automatically engaged allow you to pull the film completely out.