Large Format 4×5 Pacemaker Speed Graphic
Matthew Osborne Photography (Mr Leica)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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! 🙂