Lost art - Hand held LF

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Surprised no one has even brought this up,...but I think that many LF shooters have overlooked a great opportunity. That opportunity is the use of LF cameras, hand held...when that rainbow or other event happens in just seconds. I use my Super Technika V both on a tripod and in the hand held mode. Sometimes,..when opportunity strikes...I can grab the V and make the shot when others are still unpacking their tripod. Any thoughts/...or are my views out of vogue.

-- Richard Boulware (boulware-den@att.net), February 20, 2002


Richard the last time I saw someone actually using a handheld 4x5 was at a ku Klux Klan Rally in Vidor, Texas in 2000. And he was using a rollfilm back on is Linhof Technika (things were moving to fast for me to notice the type. I agree that it is a forgotten art.

-- Ellis Vener Photography (ellis@ellisvener.com), February 20, 2002.

I'm sure there are plenty of Graphic users out there who agree whole- heartedly. Being "out of vogue" is crap, for it implies that someone else dictates your (or my) style. I say do your own thing the way you want, and enjoy it.

-- Chad Jarvis (cjarvis@nas.edu), February 20, 2002.


I always hand hold my crown graphic, usually bounce out of the explorer and off chasing trains, deer, turkeys, antique autos, and anything that catches my eye. only thing that goes on a tripod is the 8x10

-- Bill Jefferson (jefferw@polaroid.com), February 20, 2002.

I agree that there is (still) a place for this kind of photography, and although I don't have anything focusable like a Super Technika, I've played around with handholding homemade/prefocused LF cameras (see for example http://www.cs.berkeley.edu/~qtluong/photography/lf/cameras/hand-held-1 1x14.html). For me at least, the biggest strike against handheld LF shooting (except in rainbow-like "emergencies") is the cost of film and processing: tripod work always results in a far higher percentage of keepers than handheld work, and at several bucks a sheet I personally can't afford to be snap-happy ala Cartier-Bresson in his prime. But then too I suppose that that "risk" is part of what makes the handheld LF successes so rewarding. Anyway, thanks for your post, Richard; it makes me want to go out and experiment some more (without the tripod)!


-- Micah (micahmarty@aol.com), February 20, 2002.


I have just sold my Tech V, but was a happy owner for a time. I had all the equipment needed to use it hanheld, including grip,viewfinder and cammed lenses.

The fact is that I Never used it (not even once), mainly due to high weigth.

Probably guys with Graflexes have had better luck.



-- Enrique Vila (evilap@hotmail.com), February 20, 2002.

These URLs always get broken up. In the one listed in my post above there should not be a space between the 1's in hand-held-11x14-html.


-- Micah (micahmarty@aol.com), February 20, 2002.

Of course there are reasons it is a lost art ....

Manual metering is awkward while handholding an LF camera. Film holders and darkslides are awkward while handholding an LF camera. Depth of field is poor at f8. Film speeds are too slow, especially in color.

Bottom line: you'll get better results from MF.

-- Stewart Ethier (sethier@goez.net), February 20, 2002.

I'm always toying with the idea of getting a Speed Graphic or Technika, then I just think of how much easier my medium format SLR is to deal with (no need to change cams and stops when changing lenses, rollfilm, spot metering prism, easier to handhold, etc.), and I come to my senses. I have enough 6x6 backs to use the zone system or multiple film types in medium format, so sheet film doesn't hold that attraction. I guess if I wanted one camera to bridge the gap between medium format and a view camera, I would do it, but I'm happy with my 6x6cm system for what it does well and with my 8x10" system for what it does well, so 4x5" handheld doesn't really make sense for what I do right now.

-- David Goldfarb (dgoldfarb@barnard.edu), February 20, 2002.

Handheld 4X5 photography is still viable but doens't seem to be appreciated by most in this group. It is a different kind of photography in most cases - unless you are just in a hurry or are prohibited from using a tripod.

I just purchased a Grafmatic to use with my B&J with an eye toward occasional handheld use.

Both of these cameras are lighter than the Linhof Master I once had.

-- Bob Eskridge (rfesk@yahoo.com), February 20, 2002.

Addendum: I guess the place I've seen Speed Graphics used handheld most recently has been for Polaroids--once at a Mothers' Day gospel pageant, where a photographer was selling Polaroids outside the theater to mothers dressed in their holiday finery, and once behind B&H Photo, where the staff was using a Speed Graphic with a Polaroid back to take what I presumed to be an ID photo.

-- David Goldfarb (dgoldfarb@barnard.edu), February 20, 2002.

I've been using my Super Graphic (with a Linhof grip on the side and a couple of Graphmatics) for hand held photography since I got it a couple of years ago or so - great fun.

A number of us on the Streetphoto list have been using LF hand held for Street type photography.

I have often used it hand held in this way for assignments, as do a number of other photographers I know.

It isn't so difficult. And the rig is really no harder to swing around or less bulky/heavier than my Nikon F4 and all it's gizmos I carry around - not in practice, anyway. And the PE's swoon when they get that big neg... (E6 100 pushed to 400 if need be) and also B&W

How do you think all those hundreds of thousands of Life shots were done...?

tim a

-- Tim Atherton (tim@kairosphoto.com), February 20, 2002.

While evryone seems to be talking about Technikas and Graphics there is a photographer shooting in Hawaii a while back, Jack Dykstra, who was shooting hand held with a 45 Technikardan. Somehow he attached a grip and a finder. We never saw the camera. Only some pictures.

then there is also the Wista RF.

-- Bob Salomon (bob@hpmarketingcorp.com), February 20, 2002.

Richard there's another train shooter and I've lost his name. I'll describe him and you can probably tell me. Met him on the Nevada Northern. Picturesque guy and we should've been taking pictures of him. He's got an old Crown with a Lanthar, shoots nothing but Tmax 400, always has a cigar in his mouth, never meters because he knows what the tmax will do (that's not entirely true, I think I recall a Ptax meter) and always shoots handheld. I had a good time shooting with him for a couple of days. He was teasing me because I was hauling a tripod around for the 5X7. Oh yeah, he's got a whole car full of flash-bulbs and always does the night stuff with bulbs! A strobe would never do. Tell me who he is.

-- Jim Galli (jimgalli@lnett.com), February 20, 2002.

There are current production, light weight (under 3 Lbs.), modern, fast, flexable, modular, Hand Held LF cameras available, designed for just this kind of use with an eye to treckers and hikers. They are available 4x5, 6x12, 8x10 and are fully configurable. They are the GranView series of cameras. Best attribute, they are inexpensive. Take a look at http://www.granview.com


-- Fred De Van (fdv1@ix.netcom.com), February 20, 2002.

This is the way I do aerials from helicopters. Works great and now with the new 400 Kodak color it's even easier! No problem here. Cheers

-- Scott Walton (walton@ll.mit.edu), February 20, 2002.

O. Winton Link? Died last year.

-- Bill Mitchell (bmitch@home.com), February 20, 2002.

Richard you've got a good point. I've got a Gowland 8x10 Aerial that I've used on the ground as well as airborne. The camera was designed for a 300mm Nikkor M and I've been using it for a portfolio I'm working on. When I think of handheld LF I find myself in awe of the old time press photogs who made wonderful images as if the whole thing was second nature to them. It would be interesting to build an 8x10 with a focal plane shutter that could handle some of the fast old barrel lenses that one comes across on occassion---sort of like an old Fairchild that could be focused. If a long enough lens could be had it should take awesome close-ups of moving objects---like racehorses and such. I might just try it with the Gowland just to see if I can get by with f9 and 1/400ths at the next county fair(sort of like a Nikon F2 on megasteroids?) It would also be interesting to know how successful the Hobo cameras have been since the Hobo and the Speed Graphics would probably be the 'entry' level cameras for those interested in LF handheld. I got into LF handheld originally because the $60 speed graphic I bought at a junk store had a stripped tripod socket! Regards, John

-- John Kasaian (www.kasai9@aol.com), February 20, 2002.

Believe it or not I saw what looked like a Speed Graphic in the background of some Olympic TV coverage the other day. Yes it was being hand held. I just about fell off the chesterfield (that's a couch for you yanks) when I saw it.

-- Dominique Labrosse (d_labrosse@hotmail.com), February 20, 2002.

Thanks to all of you who responded to my post. I enjoyed all the posts and got a chuckle or two. For the few nay sayers, let me just say that I just today signed a 120 day contract for large bucks, on a major construction project. When I first made my 'pitch' to get the account...I showed a portfolio to the owner and chief construction engineer. I showed some of my ads from TIME and NEWSWEEK and was surprised at his reaction, when I showed him some LF, B&W big prints from a pipeline construciton project.....and he replied..."WOW!...you're my man"! My point is simply this. Don't overlook hand held large format and the quality it can deliver. It impresses people who are not photo savy. Sure, I'll shoot this job with three 35's, but that Linhof Super Technika V,....got me the job. Richard (smiling all the way to the bank) Boulware. Thanks for your posts. (:-)

-- Richard Boulware (boulware-den@att.net), February 20, 2002.

Don't forget the Hobo camera marketed by Bostick & Sullivan. Comes in 8x10, 5x7, and 4x10. Made to hold one very wide angle lens, stopped down a bit, and you just point and shoot using the top viewfinder. No bellows -- it's an 8x10 point-and-shoot! Very VERY tough construction. Made to be chucked in the trunk w/ a couple film holders. Tripods allowed for but discouraged! I've seen fantastic work with it. The guy who invented the camera and builds them is said to prefer using an Angulon (not super) 90mm, which puts the entire image circle inside an 8x10 frame. I don't remember the specs exactly, but once you stop down to like F22 you have focus from like 6" to infinity .... -jeff buckels

-- jeff buckels (jeffbuck@swcp.com), February 20, 2002.

Guys, guys, guys I have been using a cambo wide with 47xl and recently with 150 sironar-N. The beauty of this camera is that I can easily do with hand holding but for some reason I have never tried??? Now you guys have induced me to give it a go, well, I'll definetely give it a shot........

-- Renee Galang (r.galang@chisholm.vic.edu.au), February 20, 2002.

I still use my Super Technica V and Super Speed Graphic hand held from time to time. I wish I did a lot more than I do. I also have a 4 X 5 Super D Graphic which I finally used to take some shots in the neighborhood...that camera certainly got a reaction! Someone on the Graflex website is trying to arrange a gathering for Graflex users to go out and shoot (I think in the New Orleans area). This sounds like a great idea. Car clubs gather regularly with their classics and cruise. The idea of photo shoots with classic cameras and/or LF hand held cameras at various cities, national parks would be a lot of fun. Reading all of the responses makes me want to go out and shoot hand held too!

J. P. Mose

-- J. P. Mose (j.p.mose@lmco.com), February 20, 2002.

Over on the Streetphoto list there is a required dress for shooting any form of Graphic (or clone) handheld:

Black tapered pants with shiny, pointy toed black shoes, short sleeved shirt and thin black tie, along with a fedora. A sports coat optional for cooler weather. I suppose if you were shooting a Linhof, one of those little Tyrolean hats could be substituted, though the above look does seem mandated in my Linhof Handbook.

20 or 30 of us shooting like that in New orleans would look pretty cool I think

tim a

-- tim atherton (tim@kairosphoto.com), February 20, 2002.

Alright! That's it. I'm putting a handle on my Deardorff. Now, where's that duct tape?

-- Chad Jarvis (cjarvis@nas.edu), February 20, 2002.

With all due respect to Tim and Chad....in todays world (two days ago) it looks like this: Some clown with hip waders on, levis and a light parka, with his hard hat turned around backwards. The Technika V set on vertical, a small pack with film holders and grafmatics in it and a Spectra Combi-500 on his belt,...while wadeing out in a stream to get a shot of a ten ton shovel bucket picking up boulders. Oh, and Yes....I could use that Deardorff duct tape. My waders sprung a leak and I nearly froze my left leg. The Cat operator busted his butt to get the bucket positioned just where I wanted it. He is impressed with large 4X5 cameras, hand held, I think. Superb cooperation, frozen left leg, sitting in a hot tub with a cigar and a class of very cold Vouvray, looking at my contract and smiling. THANKS,..Linhof and Marflex....this clown is smiling and happy. Life is good. Screw New Orleans. Been there, done that. Nice place, but the $$$$ are in Colorado...I think. Be well. RB (:-)

-- Richard Boulware (boulware-den@att.net), February 20, 2002.

I hope I didn't come off as a "naysayer" up there. I certainly like the idea.

I think before I look at a press camera though, I would probably make some sort of handheld bracket for my 8x10" Gowland PocketView (to see what this looks like, go to http://www.petergowland.com/camera/. Mine is older and somewhat lighter than the current version). The standards attach to the rail clamps with ordinary 1/4"-20 screws. I could replace the whole rail arrangement with a fixed focus flat bar and attach a bracket crosswise to that with two handles, arial camera style. I could even dispense with the standards or maybe just the rear standard, since the front and rear frames also attach to the standards with ordinary 1/4" screws. Add a door peephole finder, and I could probably keep it under 6 lbs (about the weight of my Canon F-1N with motor drive and a 300mm or 400mm lens) with film holder and 120mm lens that way. Hmmm.... maybe this isn't such an unreasonable proposition after all.

-- David Goldfarb (dgoldfarb@barnard.edu), February 20, 2002.

I've been doing this on and off with my Crown Graphic for the last couple years. Most interesting looks were from the tourists on the observation deck of the Empire State Bldg when I whipped it out of a bag and started snapping shots of the NY skyline . . .

I like the effect of handheld lf, but in terms of outright quality, I would think a well handled mf camera (handheld) would out-do the quality of the somewhat awkward Crown with the relatively soft 127mm Ektar.

As for film speed, outdoors in sunlight with T-Max 400 you can usually get a decent exposure. With slower film it was just too much trouble to get anything useful.

When I can afford it I'll probably look into a better rangefinder 4x5.

-- Andrew Cole (laserandy@aol.com), February 21, 2002.


Dare I say you may have started a new trend!

-- J. P. Mose (j.p.mose@lmco.com), February 21, 2002.

You're all mad!
Hang on, I'll just strap a 20lb weight to my old yashicamat so's I can get the same feeling of doing something heroic to no real purpose.

-- Pete Andrews (p.l.andrews@bham.ac.uk), February 21, 2002.

Hmmm.... that should keep down the shutter vibration. Go for it Pete!

-- David Goldfarb (dgoldfarb@barnard.edu), February 21, 2002.

Y'know, I think I have to agree with Pete on this one. I used to have a permanent red mark on the back of my left hand, from the strap of a Speed Graphic. The mark has long since gone away and I have never felt the need to return to that insanity....Even from a quality standpoint, the best hand held work I have ever done, with the exception of various aerial cameras, has been with a Pentax 6x7.

-- Bruce Wehman (bruce.wehman@hs.utc.com), February 21, 2002.

A couple of years ago I built my own 4 x 5 point & shoot camera. You can see it here: http://job.webstar.nl/newcampg.html I didn't work to any plans so it is no use asking me for them. It works well but I haven't used it much lately. I use film rated at 800 ISO and a gray day soon brings the shutter speed down to below 1/30th sec. with the lens wide open at f8. Handheld I prefer to use it at 1/125th sec.

-- julian bell (j.o.bell@chello.nl), February 21, 2002.

I forgot to mention. Although the camera is light enough, carrying the 10 film holders I have is more inconveniant than the camera itself.

-- julian bell (j.o.bell@chello.nl), February 21, 2002.

Although I'm the first to admit that the sharpness, etc. of the image is probably comparable to a good mf image, the images from handheld lf are definately not the same as mf. It's about getting a certain look from the photos, not about being heroic by carrying an outdated hunk'o'wood. Not sure I can be more specific than that, it's just different.

-- Andrew Cole (laserandy@aol.com), February 22, 2002.

Very interesting topic. Thanks, Richard for getting it started. I just wonder where are the users of that other classic handheld LF camera, the Graflex SLR? In college in the 80's I had a D-series 4x5 and a bag-mag. I did portaits and some other stuff. Unfortunately I sold it when I needed cash and my work changed. But talk about an interesting and rather unique look, and a lot of fun to work with, your sitters really feel like they are in on something special when they see you using one of those! Someone must be using them (I hope, or is it just collectors?) the prices for Super-D's keep going up and up. Someday I'll get back to that, I think.

-- Erik Gould (egould@risd.edu), February 22, 2002.

Adapting my 8x10" Gowland for handheld use turned out to be quite an easy project--an evening's work. I made a simple short flat rail out of cherry wood that replaces the whole monorail and focusing system. I have a spare tripod socket from a defunct Bronica S2 body I bought for parts, which is inset into the rail and held with four small wood screws. The front and rear standards attach with 1/4"-20 screws and wing nuts. I've got one hole, so it's permanently focused at infinity with the 120mm lens. I may add another hole for a second focus zone, since I've got a bit of spare rail space. The whole thing can sit comfortably on a relatively lightweight tripod like my Tiltall or can be easily supported with a pistol grip that has a cable release trigger, like the handheld Sinar wideangle camera.

Now I need to make a viewfinder and I should be set.

Thanks for the inspiration!

-- David Goldfarb (dgoldfarb@barnard.edu), February 22, 2002.

Has the KKK turned into a large format photography club, or are they still doing the ol' white supremacy gig?

-- Andre Noble (andrenoble@yahoo.com), February 24, 2002.

I use my Hobo 8x10 with a 120mm Nikon lens hand held. If you'd like to see a recent pic, go to http://www.rocky.larochelle.com/room_for_improvement.htm The site isn't about photography but I like to put an image in there sometimes. --Rocky

-- Rocky LaRochelle (rockyL@attbi.com), March 01, 2002.

Richard, you're hardly out of vogue! Based on the number of other people I've seen handholding LF the last few years, I'd say you're a trendsetter.

I'm an amateur and have used LF of various sizes off and on for fun for years. But the one aspect of LF I have stuck with is using a Crown Graphic handheld with rangefinder for "environmental portraits" of my kids (I had to use quotes because it seemed like a fancy term for taking their pictures as they ice skate, play golf, swing on the swingset, build their Legos, or do whatever they like to do at the moment).

Yes, I have several medium format cameras. I use them more often than anything else. But I love heading out with the Crown. It's pure fun. And it gives you a look you can't get out of a smaller format (but you knew that).

It doesn't bother me if the naysayers say nay. I won't have any less fun. I have a blast with handheld LF. In fact, I'm planning to pick up a Fuji Quickchange holder system (the modern Grafmatic) so that I can burn off 8 shots even more quickly!

-- Greg Lawhon (glawhon@birch.net), March 02, 2002.

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