Pacemaker Speed Graphic 4×5 – Large Format Camera
After a few weeks of waiting and many hours of reading finally my first large format camera arrives! It is a 1947 Pacemaker Speed Graphic 4×5 format film camera but with a few modifications. The guy I bought it from in the US, Paul, specialised in refurbishing Speed Graphic cameras. More details below.
Pacemaker Speed Graphic 4×5 – Purchase Decision
I knew large format photography was just a matter of time for me. I have been tempted in the past but managed to resist the temptation until now. As I am really into my film photography it seemed the natural progression to push me to learn something new and to challenge myself to master the art of large format photography. When I was researching large format portrait photos that I liked on Flickr there seemed to be a general theme appearing. Regardless of the camera body being used I kept seeing the words “Aero” and “Ektar” in the tags.
After some online research I found that an Aero Ektar was a 178mm f2.5 lens that created the most beautiful bokeh and out of focus areas. An aperture of f2.5 is very bright for a large format lens (considering that for my 6×6/ 6×7 medium format cameras that I own the fastest lenses are f2.8 – Mamiya RZ67 / Rolleiflex SL66E etc). When I then went to look to buy a large format camera body and an Aero Ektar lens it was like stepping into a mind field. I had absolutely no clue what any of these cameras were, whether all lenses fit all cameras, whether these old camera worked, how to fit a lens to a lens board.. the list went on and on.
All the cameras I looked at had their standard f5.6 lenses included or no lens at all. This was of no interest to me at this stage. I then got lucky one day searching for the lens to find a modified Pacemaker Speed Graphic camera listed with a Aero Ektar lens attached!! It came with a higher price tag but after many emails back and forth with Paul he persuaded me that it was worth it and most importantly I would have a working large format 4×5 camera straight out of the box.
Pacemaker Speed Graphic 4×5 – Camera Specifics
The camera I purchased was originally a 1947 Pacemaker Speed Graphic with a rear focal plane shutter and shutter speeds up to 1/1000. It has a Kalart rangefinder mounted on the body but I will use the rear ground glass for critical focus. This camera was the standard issue press camera in the US until the 1960s often shot at around f11-f16 using the rangefinder and with flash bulbs for illumination.
The lens is a World War II Kodak Eastman Aero Ektar 178mm f2.5 millitary aerial reconnaissance lens, hence the wide aperture. It is a huge and heavy piece of glass but Paul has mounted it to a Speed Graphic lens board so that is not front heavy. It is also modified to accept 77mm filter and has a custom made hood. The filter threads will be great on a bright day when I want to use the lens wide open at f2.5 as I can use ND filters and also yellow filters for black and white portraits.
My Speed Graphic is fitted with a bespoke 4×5 rotating Cambo film back so I can shoot in portrait and landscape orientation without rotating the actual camera. This is perfect for me.
- 4×5 Sheet Film
The camera came with 4×5 double sided film holders to accept single sheet 4×5 film. 4×5 film is more expensive than medium format film and very expensive to develop at a lab. I pay £3.00 a roll to develop C41 colour film (120 and 35mm). 4×5 film costs £3.00 each to develop! I have looked into this in great depth and found you can actually develop your own 4×5 film in a mod that fits into a 3 roll Paterson tank. This cuts the cost dramically and helped my overall decision to buy a 4×5 camera. I will develop by own 4×5 black and white film in Rodinal as I do for 35mm and 120 film. 4×5 film itself is also expensive, especially colour film such as Kodak Portra. 4×5 Fomapan appears to be the most affordable option so I will try that first. I have used 120 Fomapan film and it was fine to use.
- 6×7 Roll Film
A cheaper option is to buy a roll film back to fit a 4×5 camera. It means you do not get the benefit of the 4×5 film format but it will allow me to practise using the large format camera before I then move onto 4×5 sheet film. 120 roll film is fast and easy to load, cheap to develop and less expensive to buy (per photo). My film format options were 6×6, 6×7 or 6×9. I wanted as big as possible ideally (to make use of the large format camera) but settled for a 6×7 Horseman roll film back as I get 10 exposures per roll plus I don’t use the 6×9 format camera I own very often.
- 4×5 Polaroid Film
Polaroid no longer make 4×5 film but you can still buy expired 4×5 Polaroid film on eBay, just at a cost. The next option was Fuji FP-100C45 but again this also has been discontinued. After more reading I found I can use regular Fuji FP100C in a different Polaroid film back and it will work on the Speed Graphic. This is perfect for me as I have a stock of FP-100C gloss colour film in the fridge that I bought for my Mamiya RZ67 Pro II and better still I have the discontinued Fuji FP-3000B black and white instant film!! It seemed a waste to use it on the Mamiya but to get a photo that fills the entire paper from the 4×5 camera is very exciting indeed. I will practise with colour Fuji FP-100C that costs around £13 a pack (10 exposures) and once I am half decent I will start to use some of my black and white Polaorid film.
I will do some detail photos of my modified Speed Graphic with Aero Ektar lens together with some sample images as soon as I get chance. Interesting and exciting times ahead! 🙂
Pacemaker Speed Graphic 4×5 Photos Coming Soon!
- Sinar F2 4×5 Camera
- Large Format Photography
- Intrepid 4×5 Camera – To Follow
- 4×5 Wedding Photography – Example images to follow!
14 thoughts on “Pacemaker Speed Graphic 4×5”
First camera in college. Many good memories. Good luck with it Matt.
Hi Matt: Real nice to read your words about your “new” Speed Graphic with the Aero 2.5. I’ve been in the darkroom about 40 years now and before my semi retirement (2019) began the process of getting into 4 x 5 for the same reasons you did – challenge and learning. Finally settled on a pacemaker and am hoping to get an Aero 2.5/178 for it. I got the pacemaker because I wanted to shoot RF for portrait speed, and it works great for my type of natural light environmental portraiture. However, to shoot RF with the Aero, I may have to get a pacemaker with the side-mounted Kalart RF because the top-mounted RFs use lens-specifc cams. I’m jealous! You really got everything in one neat package. Guess I will figure it out. (BTW: the SSP (Spearman) flask works good for developing 4 x 5 and only needs 16 oz. Of developing solution.)…Ric Savid
Hi Ric, thanks and sorry for my late answer, I know we spoke on email. Yes I have the side mounted RF but i’ve never tried it. The guy said it was accurate. I must try it. It’s currently away for a shutter tear repair. I hope you get it sorted. Matt
What a beast!
Another great advantage of such a camera is the fact you can develop individually each sheet, to adjust the contrast of any single shot…
Thanks Donato 🙂
In theory yes but i think for time constraints I would develop 6 sheets at a time in a paterson tank..
It is on my to do list for early 2015 😉
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I’m curious about the rotating back. Who did the modification for you?
Hi I bought it from a guy in the US on eBay. I have no DIY skills i’m afraid.
Hi Matt, I found myself getting the final decisions to buy next “challenged” camera often after reading your posts. Like the last one – Rollei SL 66. Now I am looking forward to 4×5 format, especially after wide-open bokeh ability, that you describe. Could you get me please the contact information of this guy, Paul? I am pretty afraid to buy this camera at ebay. if I could to buy Graflex to start work immediately – i9t will be a dream! Thanks, Nathan
Hi Nathan, sorry for the delay. Can you contact me with your email through my homepage please – http://matthewosbornephotography.co.uk/
Hi Matt. I’m looking into purchasing the exact camera setup you describe, a Graflex Pacemaker Speed Graphic with a Kodak Aero Ektar 178mm F/2.5. However, I have never heard of the rotating back modification. It seems like a great addition, as I love that feature on my RZ67. Can you give me the contact details of the person you bought it from? You mention that he specializes in modifying 4×5 cameras, and I’d love to do business with him.
Hi Andre, sorry I thought I had already replied to this or quite a few people are after this camera setup! I get quite a few messages about it ha 🙂 I found mine on eBay in the US but have not spoke to the guy since. Are you based in the UK?