Produced by Graflex in Rochester, New York, the Speed Graphic is commonly called the most famous press camera. Although the first Speed Graphic cameras were produced in 1912, production of later versions continued until 1973; with the most significant improvements occurring in 1947 with the introduction of the Pacemaker Speed Graphic (and Pacemaker Crown Graphic, which is one pound lighter but lacks the focal plane shutter). It was standard equipment for many American press photographers until the mid-1960s.
Despite the common appellation of Speed Graphic, various Graphic models were produced between 1912 and 1973. The authentic Speed Graphic has a focal plane shutter that the Crown Graphic and Century Graphic models lack. The Speed Graphic was available in 2¼ x 3¼ inch- 3¼ x 4¼ inch and the famous 4 x 5 inch. Because of the focal plane shutter (backshutter), the Speed Graphic can also use barrel lenses.
The Speed Graphic was a slow camera. Each exposure required the photographer to change the film sheet, focus the camera, cock the shutter, and press the shutter. Faster shooting can be achieved with the Grafmatic film holder, which is a six sheet film "changer" that holds each sheet in a septum. Photographers had to be conservative and anticipate when the action was about to take place to take the right picture. The cry, "Just one more!" if a shot was missed was common. President Harry Truman introduced the White House photographers as the "Just One More Club."
Perhaps the most famous Speed Graphic user was New York City press photographer Arthur "Weegee" Fellig, who covered the city in the 1930s & '40s. Today the New York City-based street-photographer Louis Mendes may be the longest user – actively using the Speed Graphic for over forty years. Louis Mendes is recognized by noted and award-winning journalists, authors, and sources, including The New York Times.
The 1942-1954 Pulitzer Prizes for photography were taken with Speed Graphic cameras. A few winning photographs after 1954 were taken with Rolleiflex or Kodak cameras. 1961 was the last Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph with a Speed Graphic, which taken by Yasushi Nagao showing Otoya Yamaguchi assassinating Inejiro Asanuma on stage.
Graflex manufacturing history
The company name changed several times over the years as it was absorbed and then released by the Kodak empire, finally becoming a division of the Singer Corporation and then dissolved in 1973. The award winning Graflex plant in suburban Pittsford, New York is still standing and is home to the MOSCOM Corporation.
|1887-1904||Folmer & Schwing Manufacturing Co., NY, NY|
|1905-1927||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.|
Graflex model history
Post 1940 Graphic style cameras may be considered usable cameras, rather than antique or collectible cameras. The Speed Graphic was manufactured in a number of sizes, 4x5" being the most common, but also in 2.25x3.25" 3.25x4.25" and 5x7".
|Years produced||Model name and description||Notes|
|1958-1973||Super Graphic||Same features as the Super Speed Graphic, but without the Graflex-1000 1/1000 front shutter.|
|1961-1970||Super Speed Graphic||Graflex-1000 1/1000 front shutter, All metal body, including flash computer, electric shutter release, front standard had swing capability, & featured revolving back. (NO focal plane shutter !)|
|1947-1973||Pacemaker Crown Graphics (4x5, 3.25x4.25, 2.25x3.25)|
|1947-1970||Pacemaker Speed Graphics (4x5, 3.25x4.25, 2.25x3.25)|
|1949-1970||Century Graphic (2.25x3.25)||Post-war brought coated lens and lenses in shutters, body release, folding infinity stops. The plastic bodied 'Century Graphic' and mahogany/metal 'Crown Graphic' were without focal plane shutters. Imported 2.25" cameras led to the design of the roll film holders, and the Graflok back (1949). Flat bar viewfinder, followed by flexible wire viewfinder. Side mounted rangefinder replaced by top rangefinder on 4x5" Graphics in 1955. Trim on face of Pacemaker bodies is found on top, sides, and bottom.|
|1940-1946||Anniversary Speed Graphic (3.25x4.25 and 4x5")||No grey metal exposed, satin black with chrome trim. Wartime model: no chrome. Bed and Body track rails linked, allowing focusing of wide angle lens within body. Solid wire frame viewfinder. Trim on face of body is found only on top and sides.|
|1939-1946||Miniature Speed Graphic (1st small 2.25x3.25" model)||wire hoop viewfinder has curved top. Early Kalart rangefinder. Focal plane shutter.|
|1928-1939||Pre-Anniversary Speed Graphic (3.25x4.25, 4x5, 5x7)||4x5 - wire hoop viewfinder has curved top. There is no trim on the front of the body, unlike later models. Early Pre-Anniversary models retained the "flip-up" optical viewfinder, but later ones were produced with the tubular viewfinder. These tubular viewfinders were also available as an after-market accessory, and many early Pre-Anniversary models carry tubular viewfinders as replacements for original flip-up viewfinders.|
|1912-1927||Top Handle Speed Graphic 3.25x4.25, 4x5, 3.25x5.5, 5x7|
- Graflex Graphic Models
- Grafmatic Sheet Film Holder
- Buell, Hal. Moments: The Pulitzer Prize-Winning Photographs.Tess Press (2005).
- David Gonzalez (April 1, 1995). "Have Camera, Will Travel". The New York Times.
- David Gonzalez (January 3, 2010). "A Camera and Eye, Both One of a Kind". New York Times.
- Kerri Macdonald: New York Times LENS blog "Must See: He Kept His Speed Graphic" posted January 5, 2010
- Which Camera Does This Pro Use? It Depends on the Shot. New York Times.
- CameraWorks column. Washington Post
- "Speed Graphic FAQ file, section 23". R.I.T. Photo Forum. Retrieved 2007-02-27.
- www.Graflex.org: Dedicated to promoting the use and preservation of Graflex Speed Graphics and other classic and large-format cameras
- MasterSite for the Larger Camera
- Graphic/Graflex FAQ on LargeFormatPhotography.com
- The Speed Graphic and the Aldis lens
- The Graflex Speed Graphic FAQ on Graflex.org
- Must See: He Kept His Speed Graphic
- A Camera and an Eye, Both One of a Kind
- 'Unknown Weegee,' on Photographer Who Made the Night Noir
- Weegee's World: Life, Death and the Human Drama
- Have Camera, Will Travel
- Weegee Photographs
- More Weegee Photographs
- Weegee Working Out of his Car Trunk
- Enter the world of Graflex
- The Speed Graphic and your personal lens
- Louis Mendes at Flickr