Are old wood field cameras useable? : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

Hello, I have a chance to buy an old wood field camera that is very near to mint condition, it is a Conley (unsure of model) and on the lens it says the patent date is 1907. Are these cameras useable? can they produce quailty images? it is missing the film holders, are they easy to find? I am new to large format, and thought the price would be a steal if it is useable.

Thanks for your time, Paul

-- Paul Moseley (, May 26, 2001


Hi Paul

Sounds for me more like a camera for a glass cupboard just to show it! For me the old glue could be really give you a problem, because they had at thad time not very good glue for long time durability! And also the wood gets not stronger with the age! Good luck, I would take a newer one!

-- Armin Seeholzer (, May 26, 2001.

First, check to see if the camera is a "plate" camera or one that takes standard size film holders (4x5, 5x7, 8x10). The two Conley field cameras currently for sale on e-bay, for example, are both plate cameras. I beleive they are "full" plate and use 6.5x8.5 plates. If you are new to large format, I would stick to a camera that uses standard filmholders. You could adapt a plate holder to hold sheet film or construct a standard back for the camera, but it may be more trouble than you are looking for.

If the camera takes standard filmholders, you can buy them new or used at just about any major large format shop on the net. If you are in the market for used holders, read the latest issue of View Camera for an article on buying and repairing older film holders.

Whether or not an older camera produces good images is often of function of the lens. The lens on your prospective camera is probably a symetrical lens like a Rapid Rectilinear. It is obviously old and uncoated and will produce images with less contrast. Also, check the lens for defects, scratches, polishing marks, decementing, etc. You may also need to adjust the aperture scale depending on what markings you find. Many old lenses use a different aperture notations such as the Universal System.

On the camera itself, check the bellows for lightleaks and pinholes. Use a flash light and a dark room. Also check to see what movements are available on the camera and whether or not they work. Older field cameras are often limited to front rise/fall and rear tilt. Hope this helps.


-- Dave Willison (, May 26, 2001.

My question, in addition to those asked before, is are you a good woodworker? If you are, or are at least patient and willing to spend some time on it, you can do a lot to improve an old wood field. If the glue is dead, disassemble the camera, reglue everything, and you'll have a much sturdier camera. Things like replacing screws, adding shims, and replacing certain worn parts can go a long ways to take an old ricketty camera and turn it into a competent picture taker.

-- David Munson (, May 26, 2001.

I bought a beat-up Conley for $25 dollars. The bellows were old and had pin-holes in the corners. I taped them at first and finally replaced them. I made another 4X5 and bought a toyo. I only use the Conley. After tightening loose screws and a little upkeep, it is my best camera. I even made a back to do either 5X7 or 4X5.

It was treated rough but is still going strong. Well worth it unless you're a snobb and must have the new and bestest.

-- Paul W. Purdom III (, May 27, 2001.

If it can be made light tight, hold a lens & the film plane is in the right place & flat, it will work.

Weston never shot with a new Sinar or Linhof. Many others didn't either. If they were available they might have used them as using good equipment is its own pleasure. But not having the finest gear is not an excuse for less than the best work you can produce.

Use the camera & have fun.

-- Dan Smith (, May 27, 2001.

Dan, Very well said.

My only advice is to replace the bellows immediately, before using the camera. I know, there are many of you who will disagree with that. Why replace it if you can get by with some repairs? Well, it has been my experience that the small investment will save you many hours of frustration, and film. Chances are it needs it, as time takes it toll and bellows that appear "OK" are not -besides pinholes they develop miniscule tears and/or gaps inside the rear standard where they attach, etc..


-- Matt O. (, May 28, 2001.

Hi Paul,

I currently use an old empire state 5 x 7 dated around 1900. When fixed up, the old cameras can be a lot of fun to work with and for general landscape work will perform just about as well as the newer high priced models. I have learned about this era camera the hard way. There are numerous different film holder types and many will not exactly fit a camera this old. The standard film holder of today has been made for a lot of years but in 1907, different styles were used. Mine came with some Universal holders that were appear to have been made for it. However I have purchased some more holders (Kodak, Premo, and two no-name). Two types seem to work O.K. but one appears to fit but leaks light. Be careful in purchasing film holders on auctions like E-bay because you never know what type you'll be getting.

Good Luck,


-- Dan Dozer (, June 03, 2001.

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