Press camera

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Graflex Crown Graphic press camera and exposure meter.

A press camera is a medium or large format camera suitable for use by press photographers.


Press cameras were widely used from the 1900s through the early 1960s and commonly have the following features:

  • collapsibility into strong, compact boxes
  • easily interchangeable lenses
  • ability to accept sheet film, film packs, and rollfilm, through the use of interchangeable film backs and holders, often conforming to the "Graflock" standard set by Graflex
  • bellows focusing
  • optical rangefinder focusing
  • ground glass focusing
  • handheld operation
  • flash-synchronized central shutter (many older cameras had focal-plane shutters)
  • reduced number or absence of movements, in contrast to field cameras

Some have both a focal-plane and a central shutter, allowing fast shutter speeds and the use of barrel lenses with the focal plane shutter and flash synchronization at any speed with the central shutter. The Ihagee Zweiverschluss (two shutters) being an example of this.

Press cameras most commonly employ the 4×5 inch film format. Models have also been produced for the 2.25×3.25 inch format (6×9 cm), and various 120 film formats from 6×6 cm. through 6×12 cm. European press cameras, such as the Goertz and Van Neck, used the 9x12cm format, marginally smaller than the 4"×5" format.

Many press cameras can be fitted with rangefinders for handheld use

The press camera is still in wide use in photoreportage and among fine art photographers who use it as a low cost more compact alternative to a view camera. Advances in film technology, notably finer film grain, have obviated the need for large-format cameras for most press assignments, however. In news photography, the press camera has been largely supplanted by the smaller formats of 120 film and 135 film, and more recently by digital cameras.

Press cameras were largely superseded by the 6x6cm medium format Rolleiflex in the early to mid-1960s and later by 35mm rangefinder or single-lens reflex cameras. The smaller formats gained acceptance as film technology advanced and quality of the smaller negatives was deemed acceptable by picture editors. The smaller cameras generally offered lenses with faster maximum apertures and by the nature of their smaller size, were easier to transport and use. The bulk and weight of the camera itself, as well as the size of the film holders (two pictures per film holder), limited the number of exposures photographers could make on an assignment; this was less of an issue with 12 exposures on a roll of 120 film, or 36 exposures on 35mm film.

Compared to technical cameras, press cameras do not have the range of swing/tilt movements of the front standard, and rarely have back movements because many were fitted with focal plane shutters.

List of press cameras[edit]

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