Another Period Photography Question (mid-'50s

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by karl_borowski, Feb 2, 2007.

  1. I know that the Crown and Speed Graphics (in 4x5) were the gold standard for
    press professionals in this time period. I'm trying to put together a period
    outfit along this line, but unfortunately I don't have a lens or flashgun, or
    bulbs for the 4x5 Graphic I have access to.

    I got to wondering though, wouldn't smaller publications and student papers of
    this time period already be trying to get away with roll film or smaller sheet
    film? I have a 6x9 cm graphic with a roll film back and a late '40s flashgun
    from a prior event from December. Would those items be significantly out of
    date with that time?

    What would be a common press film used with roll film during the '50s? Were
    they only using Plus-X or Panatomic-X for fear of grain then?


    ~Karl Borowski

    (At this point I am at a tossup between just bringing a vintage camera, or
    going all-out and bringing an Auricon from '59 to complete the look)
  2. Rolleiflexes were popular by the 1950s.
    My time doesn't go back quite that far, but I've never known a press photographer who was afraid of grain, and I've never seen Panatomic-X in a newspaper office. By the time a photo is reproduced on newsprint with a halftone screen, grain is not much of an issue. Tri-X was the standard newspaper photographer's film in the 35mm days. I expect they wanted all the speed they could get back in the roll film and sheet film days, as well.
  3. Sure, that was and is the current mentality, but my knowledge of the workings of a newspaper gets kinda hazy when I see the contradiction of 4x5 and newsprint. I do know that they would sometimes develop sheet film in Dektol to max-out its speed, but I don't think that was common practice. I know it took sub-4x5 formats a while to gain acceptance too, by some accounts until the mid'60s.

    Sure, Panatomic-X is probably hyperbole, but I'm thinking that there would be a hesitance in using the fastest-speed film in a roll film camera when the gold standard was 4x5 negatives.
  4. I think Super XX (which was the only ASA 100 film) was the most commonly used. No fear of grain, I don't think they used enlargers for 4 x 5 press work, only contact printing. This is from memory, maybe a press photographer from that era can give more precise info.
  5. Rolleiflexes, Rolleicords, and most other TLRs of the era would be appropriate for press use at that time. A 2-1/4 by 3-1/4 (lr larger) Graphic would have been quite common, and flashbulbs were still in widespread use. There were electronic strobes, mostly potato-masher style, like some of the early Strobonars, but I think you'd have a very, very hard (or at least expensive) time getting any of them functioning these days; all the ones I've seen used either large lead-acid batteries, or large, very proprietary, high-voltage NiCad cells. Mind you, they were quite well made, and a lot are still functional *off AC power*, but that's not quite so useful for what I imagine you're trying to do.

    As far as film goes, the deciding factor was always speed, not grain. Tri-X was ASA 200 back then, as was Ansco Triple S Pan and Defender High-Speed. Most of what were marketed as press films seem to have been ASA 100 (i.e. ~ISO 200 today) - Ansco Superpan Press, Defender Ortho 7, and the various varieties of Kodak's Super Panchro-Press.

    I was trying for some "timeless" family snapshots, and shot some Fomapan 400 (in it's guise as Arista EDU Ultra, from Freestyle) over the holidays, exposed at EI 200 in a couple different 2x3 cameras, and developed normally; the results were pleasantly surprising. I'd heard the film was supposed to be grainy, but it seems comparable to HP5, to me, even with a full stop of overexposure. Might be worth playing with; it's certainly inexpensive enough! :)
  6. I worked part-time on a small newspaper staff in the early '70's and was trained by an older photographer. An "original" from the late fifties and sixties he always emphasized "speed, speed, speed" and we developed Tri-X pushed to 800 and 1200 EI in Acufine. He used 120 Tri-X in a Rolleiflex in the late fifties and 35mm in a Nikon rangefinder and then later a Nikon SLR in the '60's. He stressed "your are shooting for a newspaper, not fine art prints, you get the shot or we get someone else".
  7. Prior to and during WW2 the 4x5 Speed Graphic (or clone) was almost the universal standard for press work and anything smaller was laughed at by the pros. Leaf shutters did not have flash contacts so solenoid synchronization predominated until flash shutters were introduced. For a while the 3x4 was somewhat popular but it eventually became obsolete and today film for it is a chancy proposition. Nevertheless Graphlex made some really fine cameras for it. Then after the war there was an accelerating transition first to TLR and by the late sixties 35mm (135) had become common. Flash bulbs predominated until the seventies and by the eighties electronic flash had become compact and powerful enough to eclipse flashbulbs which were still in common supply until the early nineties.
  8. I was hired as a bureau assistant for UPI in Washington D.C. in Sept. 1963. Probably 75 to 80% of the pictures were 35mm Tri X the rest Rolleis with TX. Same with AP. Very few 4x5s used by then. The late fifties were a different matter. 4x5s, some had strobes. Graflex lls & lVs. Megalume and also Ascor had a nice unit that we had where I went to high school the power pack was under the bed of the camera.
  9. By 1960, most press photographers were using 35mm, either Leica M2/3s or Nikon Fs. A few were using Rolleiflex TLRs. Speed Graphics were still in wide use by police departments - the large 4x5 negatives would hold a lot of detail and could stand up to direct observation at a trial. I don't recall anyone using a roll film adapter in 4x5 cameras - there were other, more practical alternatives.

    Smaller Speed Graphics were available, including a 2-1/4 x 3-1/4 version (a cute camera) which was never popular, and war-surplus 3-1/4 x 4-1/4 cameras, which were 3/4 sized cameras popular late in WWII through the Korean conflict.

    Graphlex was not the only company. Burke and James made (somewhat junky) cameras, and there were others. My boss had a Linhof, but used a Rollei exclusively.

    Royal Pan was popular in cut film, but Tri-X ruled for roll film, at least where I cut my teeth. Plus-X was too slow and Pan-X way too slow and contrasty. Using 60 line screens, nobody cared about grain, even with 35mm. The soup was mostly D-76, straight or cut 1:1, or Dektol 1:1 for ISO 1600. Tri-X is not grainy, since you ask, even in an 8x10 from 35mm - unless you soak it in Dektol ;-)
  10. out of curiosity, I took some looks at my father's images taken in the mid-fifties at some gatherings in Europe. In these images, I see TLRs as being quite common with the press, see no larger cameras at all.
  11. Speed Graphics were pretty much standard into the mid '50s although some papers probably had a TLR around. Films like Super XX were standard and alot of film -- especially breaking news photos--were developed in Dektol. You have to remember, most newspapers in those days were using 65- and 85-line screens to produce the photo "cuts" for the papers, hardly fine enough to worry much baout grain or super detail. Photographer might have used Panatomix X for some advertising studio shots but you never would have seen it on the streets. Tri-X film wasn't introduced until 1954 and I suspect I would have taken a while for it to catch on with news photographers who were creatures of habit.
  12. Hi Karl,

    Early roll films for Crowns and Speeds with roll adapters were mostly either Plus X (then ASA 50) and Super XX (ASA100). After late 1954, Tri X ruled, it was finer grained and sharper then either (yes, I used them).

    In sheet film prior to Tri X, it was Kodak Super Panchro Press (ASA 125) or occasionally Super XX.

    The most commonly used developers for sheet were DK 50 occasionally DK 50 1:1. Very often press camera users after 1954 used TriX film packs and most commonly used DK50. Film packs at that time had 12 exposures in a pack, they were roll film base and slightly larger than 4x5 so that the full frame could be used. Later, in the late 50's or early 60's, film packs had 16 exposures.

    I started shooting for money in 1947, was shooting (part of the time)with 4x5 press cameras in DC in '54 and part of '55, then worked in NYC through '57 before being discharged from the USN/USMC and went on to Brooks Institute so I lived with these techniques.

    The most commonly used roll developers for press were D76 full strength, and DK 50 1:1. For Tri X, D76 was most commonly used.


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