Speed Graphic focal plane shutter and camera shake

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I recently bought a Pacemaker Speed Graphic with a Wollensak 10 1/4" (200mm) f/10 process barrel-mounted lense. This is my first foray into large format photography and this seemed like an inexpensive way to start. There is no shutter on the lense but the focal plane shutter on the Speed Graphic takes care of that, and will allow me to use older (and cheaper) barrel lenses. I think. My problem is that the focal plane shutter causes a lot of movement in the camera when it fires. My tripod could be heavier, but it does seem like a pretty extravagant amount of mechanical activity. Should I give up on the focal plane shutter and find a lense mounted in a shutter? I don't want too much in the way of complication at the start.

Any help would be greatly appreciated.

-- Stephen Gregory (smg@netcom.ca), May 03, 2000


The thought of using the focal plane shutter on my SG makes me shudder. I guess others have had good luck using it, but I thing that vibration and curtain travel times would make getting sharp results difficult, at best. I would look for a lens/shutter combo. If you want to save money, look for a Wollensak Raptar (or Graphlex Optar)which are usually inexpensive, as they are 'press' lenses, but can give very good performance.

-- Ron Shaw (shaw9@llnl.gov), May 03, 2000.

If the camera is still under warranty, as far as I know when you buy something second hand, unless it is sold 'as seen' then there should be atleast a three month warranty. Therefore return it to get repaired with the compaint of excessive movenent from shutter or such like it may be worth getting a list written up of any faults or problems that you have with it and you should get these seen to under the warranty. hope this helps you, BTW if you are looking or a nice 200mm or so lens try ordering it through the internet from www.mxv.co.uk or www.mrcad.co.uk or www.robertwhite.co.uk - generally the kodak ektar 203mm f7.7 lens seems cheaper over here than in the US.

-- David Kirk (David_J_Kirk@hotmail.com), May 03, 2000.

Thanks for the advice, which I think I will take. I will start trolling eBay and the local used shops for a lens and shutter. I haven't tried to take a picture with the camera yet (I am still figuring out the myriad knobs and settings) but I imagine that the lens mounted on it now will need long exposures anyway. Placing the lens cap on and off seems like it would cause far less shake than the focal plane shutter.


-- Stephen Gregory (smg@netcom.ca), May 03, 2000.

By all means take a few pictures before you have it fixed or buy a new lens. It may be that the camera shake is happening at the end of the exposure, in which case you might not have a problem. These cameras were popular at one time, and people did manage to make sharp pictures with them.

-- David Goldfarb (dgoldfarb@barnard.edu), May 03, 2000.

Stephen, your second post answered one of the questions I was going to ak you: have you made a picture with the camera yet. The reason I ask is that I suspect the vibration you feel is when the shutter closes, and not when it opens. It should not vibrate when it opens. The front curtain usually opens reasonably gently, followed by the back curtain that has more weight hitting the stop. The old Graflex SLR 4x5s did shake when that large mirror slapped, but I have not experienced it with the Speed Graphic. Try it before you invest in a shutter you may not need. Those cameras were used for many years by professionals, including me, and I don't think it would have been popular if it vibrated and made fuzzy pictures. Either way you go, get a decent heavy or medium weight tripod. That is one of the most important pieces of LF equipment. That ol' Speed Graphic is a good back-packer and field camera if you don't need back movements. Hope this helps, Doug.

-- Doug Paramore (dougmary@alanet.com), May 03, 2000.

Focal Plane shutters on speed graphics are by no means fragile and even ancient ones usually are serviceable. I use one professionally regularly and enjoy the fun and photos as well as the comments from bystanders. Here's a link to an example.......hand-held. On my camera, none of the issues mentioned here are issues!!


-- C. W. Dean (cwdean@erols.com), May 03, 2000.

My Speed Graphic acts like it was hit by a truck when I fire that focal plane shutter. But the pictures are sharp! I did extensive tests with a long lens and a 6x7 roll film back and found that I literally could not tell the difference between the focal plane shutter and a leaf shutter on the same lens.

The only disadvantage with the focal plane shutter is when you want speeds too quick for "T" but slower than 1/30th.

So go try that thing out before worrying yourself about it.

Erik Ryberg

-- Erik Ryberg (ryberg@seanet.com), May 03, 2000.

The SG's do not have a front curtain or a back curtain. They have a continuous fabric curtain with four slits of varying height. The entire curtain moves (vertically) at one time. The shutter speed is a function of spring tension and slit height. Even on 1/1000 sec., the travel time is quite long, by comparison to a 35mm camera. The slit may have exposed the film for 1/1000 sec., but it takes much longer than that to expose the entire sheet of film. I would recommend trying it, just for the heck of it, but I dont think it will work for high quality images.

-- Ron Shaw (shaw9@llnl.gov), May 03, 2000.

Holy Cow! An avalanche of generous advice! It's true, the closing of the shutter is what causes the most shake--and vibration after the shutter is closed would make little difference to the image (I should have thought that through.) But why is the focal plane shutter less useful at "T" and the slower speeds? I am most concerned about the "T" setting. I never seem to get enough light through the smog here in Toronto with my old Mamiya TLR to stop down very far AND use the faster shutter speeds, and that won't change with the Speed Graphic--I can see using timed exposures now and then...

This may be better off in another post, but does anyone have any experience with the Wollensak process lenses?

-- stephen gregory (smg@netcom.ca), May 03, 2000.


The "T" setting works fine. What I meant is speeds like 1/5th, which are kind of hard to do with the "T" setting and don't exist on the focal plane shutter. Or at least they don't exist on mine.

It's true about the shutter curtain requiring quite a bit of travel time. It think it's about a 30th. But as for the thing being not suitable for "high quality images," well, I have two words for you: DOROTHEA LANGE. Make that four words: ALFRED STIEGLITZ. Actually, I could come up with a lot of words.

And with regard to the curtain travel time, if you go to the link above posted by CW Dean you will see a nice picture of some people suspended in the air.

I'm sure your Wollensak lens will serve you very well. There were many varieties but an f11 process lens will make awesome images. I use several of them. Keep your eyes open for the wollensak f4.5 telephoto lenses in barrels. They are quite inexpensive, coated, and very good performers. The important thing is learning how to use your gear, not fretting over whether it lives up to somebody else's standards.

-- Erik Ryberg (ryberg@seanet.com), May 03, 2000.

With my speed on T, the curtain will work fine to open the shutter with a cable release screwed in the release button, but sluggish to close. So, I just use my hand or a lens cap to stop the exposure. Works fine, nice sharp images, timed nicely with a sweep second hand, or just counting. I think these kinds of long exposures give nice round, thick, carefully thought out densities, I think they may be deeper than "instaneous" exposures. Shutters were a nice invention though.

-- jimryder (jimryder12@aol.com), May 03, 2000.

Give your existing gear a try before you spend any more money! You'll probably find you get pin sharp results. What can you lose? The price of a couple of sheets of film at the most. Don't worry about the small aperture of the process lens, you'll need to stop it down even further for sufficient depth-of-field anyway. I can't even remember the last time I took an LF exposure at wider than f/16.

Back to your vibration problem. Has your tripod got a good broad platform that contacts the camera base over a wide area? If it hasn't, then that could be the reason for the excessive wobble. I get much better stability from an old Kodak tripod with a top like a small coffee table than I do from a modern tripod with a tiny platform, even though the rigidity of the two is about the same. Try putting a sheet of plywood between the tripod head and the camera body with an oversize hole for the tripod screw. That way you should be able to really pull the camera body down hard onto the tripod head (assuming the screw is long enough of course). The usual cork or rubber padding on the top of most tripods gives a really sloppy coupling to the camera unless it's compressed really hard. OK, enough of my theories about tripod design. Good Luck.

-- Pete Andrews (p.l.andrews@bham.ac.uk), May 04, 2000.

I have a Speed Graphic and the shutter works just great...I had it tested at two camera repair shops. I also have a couple of barrel lenses a 15" telephoto and a 20" telephoto, both designed for a Speed and as long as I use a fast shutter speed with a good (heavy) tripod or use my hand and a time exposure. The sheet film that comes back after processing is tack sharp. They were the press corps standard equipment years ago...You should see what a press #5 bulb does with sheet film. Don't give up! Hope this helps.

-- John Miller (vwbus1967@earthlink.net), May 08, 2000.

A 20 inch telephoto? Do you really have a 20 inch telephoto that fits on a Speed Graphic? Man, I want to get one of those. What is it?

-- Erik Ryberg (ryberg@seanet.com), May 09, 2000.

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