There’s Something About Portraits on 4×5 with a Graflex SLR

I went to the local lake with an Auto Graflex, one of the early 4×5 SLRs that didn’t have a revolving back (RB) but a fixed back for horizontal photos. When I take a camera like that out in public, people respond with interest and wonder.

It’s a camera I picked up at a local antique market for $250, more than twice what it would have cost in 1908 (at $114), but over $3562 in 2022 money adjusted for inflation. No wonder few people used them.

When I ask, “Hi, can I make your portrait with this camera that’s over 100 years old?”

Who says, “Yes?” Everyone!

It’s a handheld SLR 4×5 camera with a long focus hood. You look down into the camera like a TLR (Rolleiflex) to compose, focus and shoot. It’s got a mirror so it’s truly seeing through the lens up until the moment of exposure.

Dorothea Lange using her Graflex SLR atop her car.

Years ago, I made this portrait of a local fisherman with a Graflex Super D with a 190mm Kodak Ektar f4.5 lens which was manufactured up into the mid-1960s.

The one I used today is an older, more primitive camera that has a Taylor Taylor & Hobsen Cooke Luxor 5 3/4″ (146mm) f4.5 lens. Sweet lens for portraits, which is what I use it for.

Add to the fact that it leads to connections–the mom of these kids asked for a business card and I promised to get her a print of the photo.

This is what I most love to do–connect with people and make their portraits. When I get to use the big camera, that’s a bonus!

One thought on “There’s Something About Portraits on 4×5 with a Graflex SLR

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  1. My favorite single comment while out photographing with my Speed Graphic was, “Is that a Hasselblad?” It was also a great way to meet 80-year-old retired newspaper photographers.


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