Graflex

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Graflex Pacemaker Crown Graphic, 1947

Graflex was a manufacturer, a brand name, and several models of cameras.

Corporate History[edit]

William F. Folmer, an inventor co-owned of the Folmer and Schwing Manufacturing Company, originally founded in New York as a gas lamp company. As the gas lamp market declined, the company expanded into other areas including bicycles and photographic equipment, leading to the release of the first Graflex camera in 1898. As the company's success grew, it chose to focus on photography and dropped its other manufacturing lines, and in 1905 was acquired by George Eastman, in 1907 becoming the Folmer Graflex Division of Eastman Kodak. After a succession of name changes, it finally became simply "Graflex, Inc." in 1945.[1] Eastman Kodak made all of the Graflex cameras in their professional equipment manufacturing plant on Clarrisa street in Rochester NY. In 1926, as a result of violations of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act (Comp. St. § 8820 et seq.) Kodak was forced to divest itself of its professional equipment division, which became Graflex Inc. This company existed under independent ownership until 1958, when the company was bought by the General Precision Equipment, which operated it as an independent division until 1968, when it was sold to the Singer Corporation, who also operated it as a division until 1973, when it was finally wrapped up and its tooling sold to the Toyo Corproation.

Graflex Cameras[edit]

1914 ad for the Folmer and Schwing "Banquet Camera"

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″.[2] They also produced rangefinder, SLR and TLR cameras in a variety of formats ranging from 35mm to 5 × 7″.

The first of the Graflex-branded cameras, released in 1898, was the Graflex camera, also known as the Graflex Reflex, or Graflex SLR. It quickly became popular for sports and press photography in the early 20th century due to its use of a focal plane shutter. To produce shutter speeds fast enough to appear to freeze rapid motion , early Graflex cameras employed a cloth shutter with a narrow slit that quickly moved across the film plane, exposing only one small strip at any given moment in its travel. To set the shutter speed, the photographer wound the shutter spring to one of a series of calculated tensions using 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. The Graflex Reflex was also popular among early 20th Century fine art photographers, leading several lens manufacturers to design special soft-focus lenses, including the famous Wollensak's Verito, to support the camera's creative potential.

Graflex Speed Graphic folding cameras, produced from 1912 to 1973, also employed a focal plane shutter, but with somewhat simplified operation, although they have also often been used with "between-the-lens" shutters mounted to the front lens board as more typically seen on large format cameras. Like the earlier Graflex Reflex cameras that proceeded the Speed Graphic, it too became a popular press and sports camera. The so-called "top-to-bottom" motion of the focal plane shutter in the Sped Graphics exposed the upper portion of the film first (i.e., the "bottom" of the inverted image as sen on the focal plane), so many photographs of automobile racing taken with Speed Graphics depicted the wheels of cars in an oval shape leaning forward. This feature was so ubiquitous in racing photography that it came to be a conventional graphical indication for speed, influencing many cartoonists who drew wheels in this style same way to indicate fast motion.

Speed Graphics have also been used with success by many fine art photographers, as they work quite well with special un-shuttered lenses that were manufactured originally for the Graflex Reflec. Speed Graphics are still widely used by modern fine art photographers because of their unique image creation capabilities and simple, easily serviced mechanical design.

The Crown Graphic models of this same period were similar in overall design to the Speed Graphics, but omitted their focal plane shutter, allowing Crown Graphic models to be about one inch (2.5cm) smaller and 1 pound lighter (.5kg) Furthermore, their lack of a focal plane shutter allowed lenses to be mounted closer to the film plane, enabling the use of wider angle lenses on these models.

The Rochester Folmer plant also manufactured the Century Studio Camera, which was marketed under both the Kodak and Graflex nameplates. However because Graflex printed separate catalogs for its studio and portable offerings, many erroneously believe the Century Studios to have been manufactured elsewhere.

Graflex cameras[3][4][edit]

Press cameras[edit]

Other large format and SLR cameras[edit]

  • 1912–1940 5x7 Home Portrait Graflex
  • 1923–1932 5x7 Series B Graflex
  • 5x7, 3x5 Compact Graflex
  • 5x7 Stereo Graflex
  • 1928–1947 3x4 and 4x5 Series D
  • 1941–1963 Super D Graflex
  • 3x4 Series C Graflex with Cooke 2.5 Lens
  • 3x4 and 4x5 RB Auto Graflex
  • 4x5 Naturalist Graflex

(Graflex Century Studio portrait Cameras)

Other 120/220 and 70mm film cameras[edit]

35mm rangefinder and stereo[edit]

Aerial cameras[edit]

Military cameras[5][edit]

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.[6]

Years Manufacturer
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[edit]

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.[citation needed]

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.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Sources[edit]

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