William F. Folmer, an inventor, built the first Graflex camera in 1898, when his company was called The Folmer and Schwing Manufacturing Company—originally founded in New York as a gas lamp company. As the gas lamp market dimmed, the company expanded into bicycles, and sold cameras by other makers as accessories. Eventually, they made cameras themselves, and dropped the bicycle line. In 1905, George Eastman purchased the firm, and—in 1907—it became the Folmer and Schwing Division of Eastman Kodak. After a few interim status and name changes, it finally became simply "Graflex, Inc." in 1945.
From 1912 to 1973 Graflex produced large format and medium format press cameras in film formats from 2¼ × 3¼″ (6 × 9 cm) to 4 × 5″. They also produced rangefinder, SLR and TLR cameras in a variety of formats ranging from 35mm to 5 × 7″.
Most sports photography in the early 20th century was done with Graflex and similar cameras with a cloth focal plane shutter. To produce shutter speeds fast enough to stop rapid motion, they used a narrow slit that exposed different parts of the film at different times. To set the shutter speed, the photographer wound the shutter up to one of a series of tensions with a key, and selected the slit width with another control. A table on the side of the box gave the shutter speed for each combination.
Graflex Speed Graphic folding cameras, produced from 1912 to 1973, also have a focal plane shutter, though they are often used with a between-the-lens shutter mounted to the lensboard. Crown Graphic cameras are similar to their corresponding Speed Graphic cousins, but are an inch thinner and about a pound lighter because they lack the focal plane shutter. However, because of the shorter possible lens-to-film plane distance, the Crown Graphic can use shorter focal length lenses, allowing a wider field of view.
The top-to-bottom shutter motion exposed the top of the film first (i.e., the "bottom" of the inverted image), so many photographs of automobile racing taken with Graflex cameras depicted the wheels of the car in an oval shape leaning forward. This feature became a conventional indication of speed, and many Cartoonists drew wheels the same way to indicate fast motion.
In the early days (after 1900) the SLR Graflex was used as a press camera but later the Speed Graphic camera became better known for press work.
However, a less known fact is that the Graflex SLR was used by early fine art photographers in the beginning of the 20th century. To support its use and to create fine art, the lens manufacturers designed special soft-focus lenses to support the camera's creative capability. As an example, Wollensack's Verito lens was built in special focal lengths just to fit the Graflex cameras.
The Speed Graphic (The Press Camera) has also been used with success by many fine art photographers. This is because the Speed Graphic camera also has a focal plane shutter that works well with special un-shuttered lenses that were manufactured primarily for the Graflex SLR. Some of these camera are still used today by modern fine art photographers because of their unique image creation capabilities.
Eastman Kodak made all of the Graflex cameras in their professional equipment manufacturing plant on Clarrisa street in Rochester NY. In 1926 Sherman anti trust forced Kodak to divest and sell off their professional equipment division which became Graflex Inc.
Also this plant manufactured the Century Studio Camera that was marketed under the Graflex name. But Graflex printed two catalogs one for the smaller Speed Graphics and SLR and another for the bigger studio camera. Because Graflex printed two catalogs many people do not understand that both systems were marketed by Kodak and Graflex.
- 1912–1973 Speed Graphic Models
Other large format and SLR cameras
- 1907–1923 Press Graflex (5 × 7")
- 1909–1941 Auto Graflex
- 1923–1952 R.B.Graflex Series B (R.B. for Rotating Back)
- 1938–1942 Crown View
- 1941–1949 Graphic View
- 1949–1967 Graphic View II
- 5x7 Home Portrait Graflex
- 5x7 Series B Graflex
- 5x7, 3x5 Compact Graflex
- 5x7 Stereo Graflex
- 3x4 and 4x5 Series D and Super D Graflex
- 3x4 Series C Graflex with Cooke 2.5 Lens
- 3x4 and 4x5 RB Auto Graflex
- 4x5 Naturalist Graflex
- 4x5 and 5x7 Big Bertha Graflex
(Graflex Century Studio portrait Cameras)
Other 120/220 and 70mm film cameras
- 1952–1956 Graflex 22
- 1965–1973 Graflex XL
- 1953–1957 Combat Graphic
- 1971–1976 Graflex Norita (a.k.a. Norita 66)
35mm rangefinder and stereo
- 1949–1953 Graflex Ciro 35
- 1955–1962 Graflex Stereo Graphic
- 1955–1957 Graflex Graphic 35
- 1957–1961 Graflex Century 35
- 1959–1963 Graphic 35 Electric (a.k.a. Iloca Electric)
- 1941–1945 Folmer Graflex K-20 Aircraft Camera (a.k.a. Fairchild K-20)
- 1940–1943 Graflex C-3
- 1942–1944 Graflex PH-47-F
- 1942–1944 Graflex PM-47-E
- 1947–1949 Graflex PH-47-H
- 1947–1950 Graflex C-6
- 1949–1952 Graflex PH-47-J
- 1953–1957 Graflex KE-4
- 1953–1955 Graflex KE-12
- 1965–1973 Graflex XLRF KS-98B
The company name changed several times over the years, as it was absorbed and released by the Kodak empire—finally becoming a division of the Singer Corporation. It dissolved in 1973. The Graflex plant in suburban Pittsford, New York still stands at 3750 Monroe Avenue, and was the corporate headquarters of Veramark Technologies from 1997 to 2010.
|1887–1904||Folmer & Schwing Manufacturing Co. of New York, NY|
|1905–1907||Folmer & Schwing Co., Rochester, NY|
|1907–1927||Folmer & Schwing Div., Eastman Kodak Co. Rochester, NY|
|1928–1946||Folmer Graflex Corp., Rochester, NY|
|1946–1955||Graflex Inc., Rochester, NY|
|1956–1968||Graflex Inc., Div. General Precision Equipment, Rochester, NY|
|1968–1973||Graflex Inc., Div. Singer Corporation|
|1973||Tooling bought by Toyo Co.|
Popular culture and today's usage
The three-cell Graflex flashgun was modified and used as a prop for Luke Skywalker's lightsaber in the first two Star Wars movies, A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. A black grip was added and the circular bulb housing was obviously removed, but little else was changed to create the lightsaber.
Also, many people believe that the Speed Graphic is only a press camera because that is how it was used in the past before 35mm and digital photography. But both the Speed Graphic and the Graflex SLR have focal plane shutters that allow usage of large un-shuttered barrel lenses. These cameras are now being used by fine art photographers to make images that cannot be matched by 4x5 view cameras, 35mm film cameras or digital cameras. As an example: a 12 inch F:3.5 lens can be fitted to Graflex 4x5 camera and used to take soft/sharp photographs with complete control of the depth of focus that no other camera can match.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Graflex cameras.|
- Fairchild K-20 (a World War II-era aerial camera made by Folmer Graflex Corp., which became Graflex Inc. in 1945)
- Press camera
- Kingslake; Hendersonville Camera Club
- "Speed Graphic FAQ file, section 23". R.I.T. Photo Forum. Retrieved 2011-01-25.
- Kingslake, Rudolf, The Rochester Camera and Lens Companies (Rochester NY, Photographic Historical Society, 1974) OCLC 3335854
- Homepage of Graflex.Org: "Dedicated to promoting the use and preservation of Graflex Speed Graphics and other classic and large-format cameras."
- The Graflex Speed Graphic FAQ on Graflex.org
- Graflex.org: Kingslake historical essay
- Information on the Graflex Press Camera (at a website run by a collector named Jo Lommen)
- Hendersonville Camera Club page on history of photography.
- Graflex camera instruction manuals English - PDF
- Graflex Camera Catalog Info Historic Camera