Graflex Century & Linhof 105mm Lens

I guess the supply of cameras, lenses and films I want to play with is unending. For this review, I am going with the combo I was handed: A 1962 Graflex Century Graphic with a mounted 1961 Linhof Schneider-Kreuznach 105mm lens. Though this is a fairly unique combination, I'll try my best to speak on the individual parts in this combination review-how-to guide.

The Graflex Century Graphic

Graflex / Linhof 105

The Graflex Century truly is a gateway drug to large format. It is not a LF camera, rather it is a MF 2x3, but it has many of the movements of a LF camera. It's a case of, Honey, I Shrunk the Graflex Pacemaker. The camera was produced from 1949-1970 (mine being smack dab in the middle) without focal plane shutter and in bakelite plastic rather than leather casing. Rather, the shutter is coupled with the lenses. A wide-range is available, as most LF lenses work just fine with this. It is able to shoot 2x3 sheet film or optionally 6x9 120 film with the included back. Some tech specs on the Graflex Century Graphic 2x3's are here for your enjoyment. Ha ha. It's not as big as you think and fairly light to carry around, and I have to tell you, fun as hell to shoot. Be ready to give up other bodies after playing with this - you've been warned.

Dimensions: 30cm (5 11/16") high x 14cm (5 1/2") wide x 8cm (3 3/16") deep when closed Weight: 1162.33g (2.56 pounds) naked, and just about 1995g (4.4 pounds) with lens and 120 back Bellows: 19.68cm (7 3/4") to allow for macro work Focusing: 5 methods, outlined below Rise: 18mm Shift: 7mm Backward Tilt: 18Þ Forward Tilt: 18Þ Fall: 35mm using the dropped front camera bed

One more thing to think about with this is you're either exposing single 2x3 sheets or a mere 8 exposures off the 120 back. Now, if you reflect on why I dumped 35mm, you'll understand why just 8 exposures is plenty.

Linhof Schneider-Kreuznach 105 f/3.5

My Linhof Schneider-Kreuznach Xenar is from 1961 and built off the Carl Zeiss Tessar design with the Synchro Compur (leaf) Shutter. This lens is actually designed for the 4x5 format but works just fine with 2x3 giving edge-to-edge sharpness.

Graflex / Linhof 105

It is a 105mm lens with a maximum aperture of f/3.5 to a minimum of f/32 and speeds from bulb to 500/second. This lens is the workhorse, as it sets the stop, speed and contains the actual Compur shutter for the camera.

Introduced: 1919 (my model is 1961) Aperture: 3.5-32 Shutter Speed: Bulb, 1 through 1/500 second Field of view: 62° Elements: 4 (in 3 groups)

To set the f-stop, slide the lever to your preferred depth of field. To set the speed, turn the outer edge of the dial (ridged like a quarter) to your metered speed. To cock the shutter, crank the lever just above the LINHOF lettering down.

To release without a cable, depress the shutter release located next to the f-stop scale. You may optionally (and recommended) attach a screw-in cable shutter release here. Mine came with two of them 1) a free floating cable-release and 2) a grip with mounted cable-release.

Graflex / Linhof 105

Ground Glass Focusing with the Graflex Century / Linhof

In my book, this is the absolute best way to focus the Graflex. You get a sharp image and an absolute preview of what to expect in the final image. It's also the most tedious and without exception, needs a tripod if perfection is your game.

Graflex / Linhof 105
  1. Once you are set for the shot on the tripod, cock the shutter and lock the shutter open. If you do not have a shutter lock, set the speed on the shutter to B (or T etc) and then using a shutter release cable, hold (or lock) the shutter open. On the Linhof I have, you lock the shutter open by holding the tiny button down/back towards the ground glass (pictured right) while releasing the shutter. This will lock it open until you re-cock the shutter.
  2. Looking through the ground glass, compose your image and focus by using the focusing knobs on the track.
  3. Once ready set the shutter speed on the lens by your usual metering method.
  4. Without changing your comp or focus, insert your 2x3 cassette behind the ground glass, or if shooting 120 rolls, disengage and remove the ground glass and replace with the 120 back. This is why the tripod is crucial.
  5. Remove the dark slide.
  6. Re-cock the shutter.
  7. Take the shot.
  8. Replace the dark slide.
  9. Advance the film (release button / crank) and repeat from step 1 on.
Graflex / Linhof 105

Sports Finder Focusing the Graflex Century

A second way you can focus is with the sports finder. This allows you to watch a fast moving scene while keeping both eyes open and ready to go.

To do this, raise the open frame finder (above the lensboard) to the distance you are shooting (etched on the side as 6', 8', 15' or infinity). On the Century, this is a two-section bar. First raise the frame finder, then you'll see two little grip-tabs on the edges to raise the upper section. This builds your virtual frame (see the image to the right for an example).

Then raise the peep sight (glassless eyepiece) in the back to its upright position.  Now you can look through this site quickly and easily to judge your frame. If you can see the subject in the square while looking through the peep, it'll be in your shot.

Graflex / Linhof 105

Rangefinder Focusing the Graflex Century / Linhof

Rangefinder focusing can be done hand-held or on the tripod with the side-mounted Kalart rangefinder. The beauty of this is that you can leave your roll back or 2x3 sheets in place and skip the ground glass and shutter lock bits from above.

Honestly, I am a rangefinder person, but I haven't had much luck using this.  I need to try to realign as it seems just a bit off compared to what I get on the ground glass. Also, it messes me up being used with the left eye on the right side of the body (from the rear). Just feels goofy. With my other rangefinders, it's right eye on the left side.

Caveat: The rangefinder is coupled to the lens on this camera. So you can't just go swapping lenses without re-calibrating the rangefinder. Rather than re-inventing the wheel, there's a detailed article on their site on how to do this.

Graflex / Linhof 105

Focusing with the Distance Focus-Scale

Graflex / Linhof 105

The quickest way to set focus is by distance-focusing - which is also a preferred method of many street photographers. Markings on the rail (specific to the lens, once again - there are instructions online on how to do this) can allow you to judge your subject distance. Just set the distance scale to your estimate and have a go.

Shooting Results

Admittedly, I've only shot this a few times, but I can't express enough how much I love the process. I hate to be that guy that gushes over new gear, but man, this is just cool. I still stand by the Plaubel-Makina being my favorite MF camera to date, but this takes the spot away from the Rollei for #2. I'll need to see how lugging it around with a tripod compares to working with the Makina and Rollei - but in the short term, I can see myself grabbing this off the shelf a lot of the time.

Photos taken with Graflex Century Graphic using Fuji Pro 400H with all development by Richard Photo Lab and my Color PAC.

Graflex Century and Linhof 105 - sample image
Graflex Century and Linhof 105 - sample image
Graflex Century and Linhof 105 - sample image
Graflex Century and Linhof 105 - sample image
Graflex Century and Linhof 105 - sample image
Graflex Century and Linhof 105 - sample image
Graflex Century and Linhof 105 - sample image
Graflex Century and Linhof 105 - sample image

Finally, with my very last frame, I tried to experiment with rise and tilt to play with the foreground.  Here you go:

Graflex Century and Linhof 105 - sample image