You know the saying, “the first drug is always free?” That’s how my friend Maurice convinced me to experiment with large format. Late last year, he asked me if I would be interested in trying one of his Graflex cameras. He even sweetened the deal by loading some Arista 4×5 film into the film holders, and volunteered to develop them. On a Saturday morning, he gave me hands-on lesson and answered all my questions.
The Pacemaker Crown Graphic was manufactured from 1947 to 1973 by Graflex Inc. Made of mahogany wood and metal, the Pacemaker has a side-mounted rangefinder focus, but does not have a focal plane shutter like nearly identical Pacemaker Speed Graphic. To give the camera access to a variety of wide-angle lenses, and to reduce the overall weight, it was made without a focal plane shutter. My Pacemaker was manufactured in 1955 and features a lens board with a 135mm Graflex Optar lens, f/4.7 – 32, and shutter speeds 1/400 – 1 sec.
Photographers often describe their satisfaction of shooting film as: it allows me to slow down. Using a large format camera, like a Graflex, takes that same notion and multiplies it. Everything from setting the camera up to the final click of the shutter is a deliberate, leisurely, and enjoyable process.
After shooting the film that Maurice had loaded, I returned the camera and film holders to him. He told me that he was likely going to sell the Pacemaker and offered it to me. A few days later, I returned and bought the camera from him. Maurice also threw in the book, Graphic Graflex Photography: The Master Book for the Larger Camera (1943), 8 film holders, and a Polaroid 100-series Packfilm holder. Adding to my new large format arsenal, I bought the SP-445 Compact 4×5 Film Processing System, along with New55 Atomic-X and Kodak T-Max film. For me, developing black and white 4×5 sheets are easier than 35 or 120. And it’s exciting to see a large 4×5 negative with so much detail. Compared to a digital camera sensor, a single sheet of 4×5 film provides more “data” than you can possibly imagine. Learning with some additional practice, I plan to create more 4×5 images with better composition and depth of field. However, I am happy with my first attempt with large format photography.