Guidelines for buying a used 5X7 camera : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I am about to buy an old 5X7 camera for landscape photography and for analysis of WW1 aircraft structures through computer analysis using high quality photographs.

Although I know bellows travel is a consideration what is the norm? Is there any type of lens attachment I should be looking for? Basically what I would like to know is what type of 5X7 camera should I avoid? I would like to buy something basic that I could improve on by buying a set of high quality lenses. I already know which lenses would be suitable.

Peter McHugh

-- Peter McHugh (, February 22, 2001


Bellows extension on older 5x7 cameras is usually between 15" and 25", I don't believe there is a norm, but you will never regret having a lot of bellows extension. Old 5x7's come in many varieties, ages, and conditions and everyone has their favorite. Look for light-tight bellows, rigid bodies, convenience of controls, generous lens board, and lack of abuse. Any older camera may need repairs or tune up to put it in top shape. Old wooden cameras may get loose and wobbly with age but can often be tuned and tightened. Wooden flat bed field cameras are a little more convenient to transport than monorails. I have always liked the Burke & James wood field cameras (grey paint over maple wood)--a good value and easy to resell......

-- C. W. Dean (, February 22, 2001.

Burke and James are good, Agfa Ansco are better, as long as you get them with the front tilt. But I agree with the previous poster, make sure you look the thing over good before you buy it. The preferable thing would be to buy it on spec, meaning that if it wasn't right for you then you could take it back. Kevin

-- Kevin Kolosky (, February 22, 2001.

I agree either B&J or Ansco sounds like what may suit you best. I've never had a 5X7 B&J, but I had a 4X5, and I suspect they are similar. I remember it having a good number of movements (tilts/swings), fairly light weight, but the finish and "feel" were not as good as Ansco. I don't think the focusing was as smooth as an Ansco. The B&J has a seperate rear focusing track (if at all possible, make sure this track is included if you buy a B&J. If you get a camera without one, you will be able to find one somewhere, but it may take considerable looking and cost a bit when you do find it) ; the Ansco has a built-in pull out rear track. I suspect the Ansco is less shaky when long bellows draw is used. If you go to you will see pictures of an 8X10 Ansco. A 5X7 is very similar. Note the front tilt feature in the first and third pictures. This is something you will probably use a lot. Ansco made a "portrait" model that didn't have this - don't get one; wait for one with full front movements. Comparing the first and second pictures, you will see the rear track pulled back for longer extension. I don't know exactly what your aircraft photography involves, but you may end up using a longer than normal focal length lens to avoid distortion. If you are doing moderate closeups, you will need long extension. I measured my 5X7 Ansco. The bellows are so old and stiff so I can't get maximum extension, but I'm estimating 22", maybe slightly more. I imagine a B&J with rear track is similar. The main drawback to an Ansco is weight. As I recall, it is over 10 lbs. although don't get too hung up on light weight. If you intend to do hours of hiking with your camera, it is important. If you work mostly close to your car (as many of us do), weight is something you can live with. A 5X7 Deardorff weighs about 3 pounds less than an Ansco, but is likely to cost 3-4 times more. If you are just getting into this, spend the extra money on more &/or better lenses. You can move up to a better camera later if you need to. I would avoid 5X7 Eastman Kodaks (#1, 2D, etc.). They are nice cameras, but lack the front movements I think you are going to want. Kodaks with stained wood finish are considered "prettier" than the painted Ansco, so you may find an Ansco for not much difference in price. There is an older version of the Ansco with a dark brown stained finish. I think some were sold under the Agfa name. I believe they are quite similar to the gray ones, but make sure they include the front tilt. With any camera, look very carefully at the bellows. Take a small flashlight, put inside the extended bellows and look at the corners. Tilt the flashlight and your head at different angles and look closely. Bellows can be replaced, but not cheaply. If you can find a camera that includes a 4X5 reducing back, great. Even if you intend to shoot 5X7, there are some films available in 4X5 but not 5X7 you may wish to use. Reducing backs can be found later if you find a camera without one, but will likely be much cheaper included with the camera. For more information, go to Be sure to click on "View comments" at the bottom of the page.

-- Leonard Robertson (, February 24, 2001.

Although many frown on the painted gray Ansco's, I love mine. You really have to see one in person to appreciate how nice they look (when I hear the words "battleship gray paint" I dont picture anything nearly as nice looking as the gray Anscos). I think they are sharp looking, but I'm in the minority. I bought my gray 8x10 for well under $400, (with extras like an iris diapragm!), probably because nobody else wanted a gray camera. Fine with me!

Also, Patrick Alt ( can add front tilt to old Anscos, but its probably not worth doing unless you are rebuilding/refinishing one.


-- Wayne (, February 24, 2001.

I concur with the praises for the Agfa Ansco. I owned one for a while and liked it quite a bit. I didn't find the gray paint attractive but I sure liked the price (around $300) compared to Deardorffs and new 5x7s like Canham and Wisner. The Agfa/Ansco line of cameras so far has not become a cult item so their price in both 5x7 and 8x10 is way below their value relative to their quality, IMHO. Other than the appearance, the only thing I didn't care for was the size of the camera when folded. Because of the built in rear extension, the camera is very thick when folded and this made it awkward to carry in my back pack. However, this was a minor problem compared to the many advantages of the camera.

-- Brian Ellis (, February 25, 2001.

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