Self-portrait showing off with Gandolfi cameras
(Gandolfi Variant 4x5 + Gandolfi Precision 8x10)
No!, you may bet on that my intent is not to show off!
I am posing on the photograph above to transmit an idea of scale and, most of all, to make it a little bit richer in terms of human communication. That is crucial for me, I like you to know how I look like, what I think and what I care for.
I don't wish to be an anonymous being in the cosmic ether...
Communication must come on strong! It is, after all, the main purpose of this blog, as it is the main purpose of Photography.
The subject of Large Format Photography is extremely vast, and many more competent people have written about it before (Ansel Adams, Bruce Barnbaum, Leslie Stroebel, are names that quickly come to mind), so that I don't even have the chance to pretend that I can add something new or more important that was not said before.
Nevertheless, I think that I have the obligation to use the opportunity of running this blog, to be a certain kind of film crusader, not a prophet for sure, only somebody that should take the chance to spread the word...
Many people were born in the digital age and have exclusively used digital cameras for their entirely life (or maybe even used film in smaller formats); so these folks are not aware of all the potentialities of cameras that allow for movements in Large Format Photography.
Please, don't confuse my large format terminology with the often encountered new-meaning of large, or wide, prints made by some inkjet printers, or whatever printers that may be...
I mean cameras that produce large format negatives and transparencies! Negatives in the size of 9x12cm/4x5inches are usually considered the smallest size to be classified as Large Format Photography.
It doesn't matter how good your Nikon, Canon, Leica, Hasselblad, Mamiya, etc. is, the large format camera with movements is another kind of beast: it does things that nothing else can do. And that, since the beginning ages of Photography!
Likewise, it also has its own limitations, for sure. That's why I love to use (almost) all of them... cameras
I hate to feel limited! I enjoy them all!
Ansel Adams wrote:"The view-camera provides adjustments that allow us to alter the relationship between the lens axis and the film plane. With a non-adjustable camera this relationship is fixed: the lens axis is always perpendicular to the film plane, and passes through the center of it. The view-camera adjustments (sometimes called camera movements) permit shifting and tilting of the lens and film up and down or sideways in relation to each other. Knowing how to use this adjustments gives us an extraordinary degree of control over the content and focus of the image" ("The Camera", Little, Brown and Company, 1980).
View camera movements (Swing, Tilt, Rise, Fall, Lateral Shift) allow us to choose and control the Plane of Focus, to control the Shape and Sharpness of the image: that means that you can avoid converging lines, can accentuate the shape of objects within the picture, can influence the depth of field and perspective, can relocate the position of objects within the frame, etc.
Versatility is the key word!
In his book "View Camera Technique", Leslie Stroebel (Focal Press, 1993) points out the major features normally associated with the name View-Camera:
1. Ground-glass viewing for composing and focusing.
2. Lateral, vertical, and angular adjustment of the lens and back.
3. Accomodation of interchangeable lenses.
4. Flexible bellows connecting the front and back of the camera.
5. Large film size, usually in sheet form.
6. Designed to be used on a tripod.
Of course, not all cameras necessarily have all these carachteristics in one model, some do!, and some view cameras were even designed with handheld use in mind: press cameras (like the Graflex Speed Graphic, Linhof Technika), are some of the examples that I could point out.
Some large format cameras don't even possess movements at all! (Sinar Handy, Fotoman). I would state that, aside from a larger negative size, such cameras don't deserve much attention, being a niche inside a niche, except maybe for very limited applications...
To be honest, I have to remark that it is still possible to enjoy some view-camera kind-of-adjustments with 35mm or digital cameras: think about shift-lenses from Nikon, Canon, Schneider, or medium format shift-lenses and adapters.
Better yet, we should remember special shift-cameras like the Corfield WA 67 or the Horseman SW612 Pro that I have introduced before.
Ansel Adams in his aforementioned book, broadly defined Large Format camera types in three categories:
1. View Cameras (divided in "monorail" construction, like a Sinar camera, usualy of modular design, and the "flat bed" construction. I will say that both cameras on the photograph above belong to this type, although the Variant model offers much more significant movements, or adjustments as Ansel called them).
2. Press Cameras ("...intended primarily for hand-held use...a similar design, often called a "technical" camera, extends the adjustment capability of the classic press camera, but retains the ability to be operated either hand-held or on a tripod", in Adams own words. I have named some models above).
3. Field Cameras (The term field implies that is designed to be easily portable. This can be either a monorail or flat-bed design, constructed in such a way that it folds into a relatively small unit. Inevitably, some compromises are required in these designs, usually in the form of limited adjustment capability".).
For me, the third category is redundant...
So, why do I consider of great significance to talk about such cameras, don't they belong to an obsolete past?
As a matter of fact, I maintain that only well-intentioned ignorance can excuse and explain such a question...
The demise of View-Cameras and their respective paraphernalia (Canham, Deardorff, Ebony, Gandolfi, Horseman, Linhof, Lotus, Phillips, Shen Hao, Sinar, Toyo, Walker, Wista, Zone VI, etc. - some of these names may no longer be active among us!) ,would be a great loss to Photography and its heritage.
A valuable idiom would vanish, a visual and artistic language could be endangered, a whole tradition would inevitably be condemned, in the end the keeping flame of a cultural treasure would be forever lost!
Tracing a parallel to the musical world (so dear to Adams and many photographers, myself included), I could ask about your sentiments regarding the possible disappearance of such musical master instruments like Bösendorfer grand pianos, Ramirez guitars, Selmer saxophones...
Imagine the world without first class acoustic instruments... Everybody plays electronic keyboards!
What a shame and a pity it would be! We would unquestionably be confined to a poorer place to live in...
Rodenstock Grandagon-N 115mm f /6.8 (Centerfilter) + 13x18cm/5x7inches reducing back
Before I start describing the Gandolfi Precision, let me explain that you are not looking at an antik camera!!!
In reality, I commissioned this wonderful apparatus in Mahogany in 1995.
Gandolfi Cameras was founded by Louis Gandolfi in 1885, making it England's oldest camera manufacturer! Yes, you read correctly, that was 126 years ago!
After the Gandolfi brothers retired (the children of Louis: Tom, Fred and Arthur, the last one of the camera-making brothers who died in January 1993), the company was run by Sir Kenneth Corfield and a very kind gentleman called Brian Gould, Managing Director. It was with him that I exchanged countless faxes about the specifications that I wanted the camera to have (Sinar Front to match camera, Front Swing, Additional Front Locks), and about the Corfield WA67. I bought both cameras from him.
I was delighted to meet Mr. Brian Gould in person at the Photokina, but sadly he passed away a short time after.
We are fortunate that the company is now kept alive by present owner, Mr. Edward Hill.
Mr. Hill still produces a similar model under the name "Traditional", and was very helpfull sending me some lens boards and a lens panel adapter last Summer.
The Precision bellows is not exchangeable, but the camera is absolutely wide-angle capable! Notice the bed drop to allow for better bellows compression and avoid image vignetting.
Although this compression won't permit enough room for ample adjustments, a clever and simple device allows for some lens shift, a feature important for Architectural Photography.
The Rodenstock Grandagon-N 115mm f/6.8 is a lens specifically designed for the 13x18cm/5x7inches format.
In this version, with maximum aperture 6.8, it has six elements, and its field angle is around 100 degrees.
Image circle at f/22 and at infinity= 291mm.
Using the 115mm Rodenstock Grandagon-N lens in 13x18cm/5x7 inches, is equivalent to equiping a 35mm/full frame sensor camera with a 24mm wide-angle lens.
This lens doesn't quite cover the whole 20x25cm/8x10 inches format, even without adjustments...
Rodenstock Apo-Sironar W 210mm f/5.6
Now we are getting into 20x25cm/8x10inches Photography...
This very remarkable lens, albeit heavy and large, is a complete joy to use!
Not a very common lens to find (now discontinued!), The Rodenstock Apo-Sironar W belonged to the most exquisite models of the Rodenstock catalogue.
It allows for generous movements, making it praticable to use the lens on the next bigger format.
The 210mm focal distance is considered the "normal" lens for the 13x18cm/5x7inches format. The very large image circle of this particular design, makes it suitable to use this specimen on 20x25cm/8x10 inches with ample movements for adjustments.
The Rodenstock Apo-Sironar W 210mm f/5.6 with the field angle of 80 degrees, is a 7 elements/5 groups design.
Image circle at f/22 and at infinity= 352mm.
It is equivalent to using a 30-35mm lens on a 35mm/full frame sensor camera, making it a nice and moderate wide-angle.
Schneider G-Claron 305mm f/9
This is the camera on it's regular aspect, meaning that the use of this focal length is correspondent to a 35mm/full sensor equiped with a 45-50mm lens, the so-called "Normal" lens.
The Schneider G-Claron 305mm is a lens of symmetrical design with six elements in four groups, optimized for 1:1 reproduction. Stopping the lens down to f/22, the G-Claron may be used for distances up to infinity, and has an angle of view of 64 degrees.
Image circle at f/22 and at infinity= 381mm.
Although its maximum aperture is a little modest, even in terms of large format stuff, I very much like to use the G-Claron. It is a relatively compact lens, and f/9 really isn't a big issue: I only use this aperture for framing and focusing, so that the ground glass doesn't get too dark.
Viewing with the lens at maximum aperture, enhances the accuracy of focusing. The lens will then be stopped down to the picture-making aperture for a visual check of the depth of field. There is no such thing like automatic diaphragm on this type of gear!
For shooting, I invariably close the aperture down to f/22-f/45, according to the required depth-of-field and the format in question. That is common practice in Large Format Photography.
Taking a look at the ground glass of the Precision, you will observe the four corners cut off. It permits air to escape when you change the extension of the camera or close it for transport. Even more important: it allows you to check if the entire aperture is visible, with working-aperture, looking through these corners and through the lens. Should you not be able to see the entire aperture, vignetting will occur. Similary, you can also check by looking from the front through the lens, to see if the corners and edges of the ground glass are visible.
The most attentive of you will have by now noticed, that I am presenting the Gandolfi with a certain method: I started with the shorter focal lenses and I am progressing towards the longer ones.
In each case I have pictured the camera as focused to the distance of infinity, so that you can have an accurate idea of the dimensions the camera assumes with each focal length, like if the camera would be shooting a landscape, for example.
Rodenstock Apo-Ronar 480mm f/9
This one is another favourite of mine!
The Rodenstock Apo-Ronar is the classic process lens, but like in the example before, its range goes beyond process and product shots. With a field angle of 48 degrees it is capable of performing like a first-class long lens.
Its characteristics also make it appealing in the close-up and macro range (of course, in this particular focal length that would cause very large bellows extension, making it less appropriate...).
Optical design: four elements / four groups.
Image circle at F/22 and at infinity= 396mm.
This particular lens is Multi-Coated (MC), a feature not always encountered in Apo-Ronar lenses and process lenses in general, as far as I understand.
Apo-Ronar lenses are well respected for their outstanding definition. They are relatively light and compact, and still superior in field angle to tele lens designs.
The 480mm equivalence in 20x25cm/8x10 inches for 35mm/full frame cameras, is 70mm.
Using the Apo-Ronar 480mm with the 13x18cm/5x7 inches reducing back is like using a 100mm on a 35mm SLR.
Not bad, for such a "little" back pack...
So behaves the bellows between the Grandagon-N 115mm and the Apo-Germinar 600mm
Docter Optics Apo-Germinar 600mm f/11.5
Another rarity and gem, this lens is in the same league as the Apo-Ronar.
Of similar optical construction, it consists, in this focal length, of six elements in six groups, also symmetrical design.
Image circle diameter at f/22 and at infinity should be about 510mm
(There is very little information about these fine lenses, please don't take this number for granted. It seems plausible for me, although I haven't made any tests. I assure you that the lens has more than enough movements capability at infinity).
Docter Optics was founded in 1984, in Wetzlar, Germany.
After the german reunification, Bernhard Docter took over (in 1991) the VEB Carl Zeiss Jena Werke in Saalfeld and Schleiz (or at least the division that made large format lenses), located in the former German Democratic Republic.
Docter Optics continued to make Carl Zeiss classic designs, such as the Tessar and Apo-Germinar, until Dr. Bernhard died in the mid-nineties.
The company subsequently was sold in 1996 to Rodenstock, Bosh and Hella KG, and the manufacture of Docter large format lenses came to an end.
Despite that, Docter Optics is alive and well, producing components of virtually all types of commercially available optical glass: spheres, aspheres, freeforms, prisms, mirrors, etc., including some specialized components for the automotive industry. They have expanded to the USA, Japan, China...
Unfortunately, there seems to be no profitability with large format lenses...
Back to the Gandolfi:
The 600mm focal length in 20x25cm/8x10 inches is equivalent to 88mm in 35mm/full frame cameras. Make it equivalent to 127mm with 13x18/5x7 inches reducing back!
Please take note of the detail picture showing the Docter Apo-Germinar, and what I meant before by Additional Front Locks: the Precision, or Traditional, up to 8x10 inches, typically only displays one locking wheel. I agreed with Mr. Brian Gould that it should be made stronger, because of the heavy lenses I was planning to use. The Copal 3 shutters are indeed big and heavy, likewise the big pieces of glass!
You should also think that, contrary to the usual Single Lens Reflex lenses that are all visible outside the camera, the lenses you see here are only half visible, especially the symmetrical designs. The other half hides inside the camera (except for the shutter, of course!).
The last photograph displays the maximal bellows extension achieveable with the camera. Better let the summer breeze stand still...
The Leica M3 body gives some scale to the true dimensions of the extended camera... Bear in mind, though, that if the Leica would point in the same direction as the Gandolfi, it would look much slimmer...
Now, if you read the whole story, then I know that you are genuinely interested and curious about Large Format Photography.
You are looking at the icing on the cake, you are looking at me!
P.S.: Sorry, but I forgot to photograph the pearl closed inside the shell...
Technical data on the photographs:
Camera - Canon 30D
Lens - Leitz Elmarit 135mm f/2.8
Lighting equipment - Hensel Studiotechnik, Würzburg, Germany.