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Outdoors Today
For a little less money.
by Bob Hutchinson

Ansel Adams predicted it many years ago: the transition to smaller formats and shorter focal length lenses. Little did he know what technology, especially digital, would bring in the way of shorter focal length lenses. However, technology has also brought us vastly improved wet process photography. Large prints that required a 4 x 5 or bigger negative a few years ago are very happy with roll film negatives today.

So, we can now make BIG prints from 120 size negatives and the trend is, as Adams suggested, to shorter focal length lenses. But the trend is also toward wide angle and panoramic photography. Wider formats such as 6 x 12, 6 x 17 and 6 x 24 are quite popular with the equipment manufacturers such as Horseman, Fuji, Hasselblad, Linhof, etc. All are inexpensive stuff for the big dent-capable pocketbooks.

Resurrection is here for the "not so rich" in the form of the almost retired press cameras. Fine wide-angle photography can be accomplished using equipment manufactured at the end of the press camera era. The several brands of inexpensive press equipment that we can benefit from are: Koni and Rapid Omega, Graflex XL, Mamiya Press and, for a few dollars more, Horseman and Linhof.

Outdoor Rapid Press
Koni and Rapid Omega equipment is available in the same or lower price range as Graflex and Mamiya but the format is limited to 6 x 7. There are just two Rapid lenses usable for wide angle (wide is becoming normal, I believe.) The 60mm f5.6 Koni Hexagon and the 58mm f5.6 Rapid Omegon or Super Omegon, also found with the Konica Hexanon name. These two are fine lenses rivaling any ever made for quality of optics. The auxiliary Omega finder, one of the best for this use, is suggested.  If the 6 x 7 format is suitable, this solution is inexpensive. Camera, lens, finder and back in Ex+ condition will run about $450.00 today, and the demand is rising. You will need either memory, experience or a depth of field table for this lens, as there is no hyper focal scale on camera or lens.

Other lenses of fine quality for Rapid are: 90mm f3.5, 135mm f4.5 and 180mm f5.6. All fine optics and inexpensive, except for the hard to find 135mm.

Outdoor Graflex XL Press
This is the sexiest press camera ever made. For normal use, the XL has the biggest, brightest and best viewfinder/rangefinder ever installed on a press camera. There are three bodies: XLRF, XLS, and XLSW. The XLRF is the one we see most often with the rangefinder top. The XLS is the same body without rangefinder facilities. The XLSW is a thinner XLS made exclusively for the 47mm f8.0 Schneider Super Angulon lens. This super wide type body requires a spacer for the back to use any other XL lenses.
Click Here for XL info at Graflex.org

Super Angulon
Lenses available are numerous, with the 47mm Schneider and the 58mm f5.6 Rodenstock Grandagon being the wides. Then 80mm and longer from several manufacturers. The Super Angulon needs no introduction. The 47mm f8.0 is a small lens with big performance and seems to maintain its optical quality with age.

The 58mm Rodenstock Grandagon in good condition is a very desirable lens but in short supply because Rodenstock screwed up with the manufacturing process years back in their choice of adhesives or adhesive processes in sticking the elements together. Now many of these fine lenses have severe separation of elements. When you find one that does not have separation, it will probably have a long cherished life.

Zeiss 80mm f2.8 Planar
Although not considered a wide angle today, any lens technically becomes a wide angle, in my opinion, when the focal length is less than the width of the film format. When used with a true 6 x 9, 2 1/4" x 3 1/4" roll film back, the 80mm Planar is a wide angle and a fine one.

Unlike the Rapid, which is limited to the proprietary Rapid 6 x 7 back, the XL bodies with the Graflok back can take just about any of the world standard roll film backs. Graflex, Mamiya RB, Horseman, Busch, Wista, etc.  To my knowledge only the Horseman is a true 6 x 9 back (meaning the hole in the back is same size as hole in camera.)

Well, that makes the XLRF or XLS with 58mm Grandagon or the XLSW with Super Angulon and true 6 x 9 back fine wide and ultra wide outdoor equipment, right? Right. 
Well - - - maybe just a tiny drawback, same as the Rapid.  You will need either memory, experience or a depth of field table for these lenses, because there's no hyper focal scale on camera or lens. And maybe one more drawback: to my knowledge no optical viewfinder was produced by Graflex for the 47mm or the 58mm, but there is a shoe on the bodies. I believe the concept was that, using the 58mm Grandagon, all that you could see in the XL finder would be in the picture. More about viewfinders below.

Outdoor Press Mamiya
Several bodies from Mamiya: the Standard with bellows back, Standard 23, Super 23 with bellows back and the Universal. Aluminum, gray, black and possibly other colors are found.  Graflok backs were available on the earlier models by order or conversion. The Universal is the most often found model with the Graflok back or can be easily converted to Graflok. The Mamiya roll film backs are available in three formats, 6 x 6, 6 x 7 and 6 x 9. See other articles about these.

Three lenses, to my knowledge, have been produced for Mamiya Press cameras that are fine for wide or ultra wide photography: The superb black 50mm f5.6 with out front and accessible controls, the older chrome 65mm f6.3 with not so accessible controls and the also superb black 75mm f5.6 with better control accessibility. The later 50mm and 75mm have multicoated lenses. Then older 65mm was produced for a long time and is found without coating, with single coating and, I am told, with multi coating.  Using a true 6 x 9 back, the 50mm has an angle of view of about 90 degrees. Although I don't like using 35mm format equivalencies, I think it would be about 20mm.

The 65mm f6.3 is a great choice for budget dollars and will produce superb results when used with diligent flare control with proper lens hood, especially if lens example is not coated. There are two Mamiya finders for this lens, both superb. One for the older Standard bodies with the offset shoe mount, gray color, and the later symmetrical mount, black. Lens mount has hyper focal scale for depth of field control. This lens and finder, along with a body and back can be bought on ebay for about $400.00. 

The 50mm f5.6 is not a budget lens. With the great matching Mamiya finder and rectangular lens hood, this wonderful lens will dent the wallet to a depth of $450.00 or more. It has up front controls like most modern medium format lenses but unique in Mamiya Press equipment. Lens mount has hyper focal scale for depth of field control. This lens is becoming more popular and the price is going up.

The black 75mm f5.6 is also not a budget lens. I believe this lens was offered for the Mamiya Universal about the same time the Mamiya 600SE Polaroid Press type camera came out on the market. This one has controls that are more accessible, similar to the later black 100mm lenses. It has a matching finder that is not so matching in my opinion. The finder is some sort of multi-solution finder that they stamped 75mm on the side of. It appears to be the same finder optically as the 50mm but with a little bitty reticule for 75mm plus some others. It's no good for outdoor use. More about finders below. Lens mount has hyper focal scale for depth of field control.

In my opinion the 50mm, 65mm and 75mm Mamiya lenses in front of true 6 x 9 backs are among the best outdoor wide angle solutions one can find. The most favorite second solution would be the XLSW OR XLS Graflex with 47mm and/or 58mm lenses with true 6 x 9 backs.

Finder Solutions
Oh yea, the finder. This is important. There are three good finders available for this type of photography that I know about:

  • The 50mm matching finder for the 50mm f5.6 Mamiya Press has opticals for 6 x 7 and 6 x 9. It can be used on the Graflex for the 47mm Schneider Super Angulon. The Leica finder for the 21mm Leica 35mm rangefinder cameras can be used also but the price is stabbing.
  • The 65mm matching finder for the 65mm f6.3 Mamiya Press has marks for 6 x 7 and 6 x 9. It is superb and can also be used on the Graflex XL bodies for the 58mm f5.6 Rodenstock Grandagon, on the Rapid for the 58 or 60 mm lenses and with the Mamiya 75mm and 6 x 9 back using the 6 x 7 finder marks and limits.
  • Likewise the Koni or Rapid Omega finder can be used for the 65mm Mamiya but it has 6 x 7 optical markings only. Visualization of "a little wider" works well.
  • For the wonderful 75mm f5.6 Mamiya lens, it is best to pitch the 75mm so called  matching finder (Not really; run it back across ebay!) and use a much better solution - use the Koni or Rapid Omega 58-60mm finder. It is a great match for the Mamiya 75mm lens with 6 x 9 backs. For us that need a little help from mother diopter, the Rapid finder is the choice as you can unscrew the eyepiece and install a corrective lens.
  • All three of these finders can be taken apart and cleaned. When clean the 65mm Mamiya and 58-60 Omega are big and bright. The 50mm is good too.

The outdoor camera of choice for me right now is my "flat top" Mamiya Universal mentioned elsewhere in writings here at bigcamera.com. It consists of:

  • Custom flat top Mamiya Universal body with Graflok adapter developed by me (too expensive, don't do it, use regular Universal).
  • True 6 x 9 roll film backs (same size hole as the camera).
  • Right hand custom "handle."
  • Finder shoe mounted 3/4" rearward so I can get my eye to the finder since it is now much lower and "G" backs are thicker than regular Mamiya backs.
  • 50mm f5.6 lens and hood and the nice Mamiya matching finder.
  • 75mm f5.6 Mamiya lens and hood and 58-60mm Rapid finder
  • Little $3.95 double bubble level from Home Depot.
  • Velcro thing-a-ma-jig that holds the 58-60mm Rapid finder on the shoe.

I corresponded recently with a big camera devotee and he asked what press outfit I would use with 100mm or longer lenses for snapshots. I am partial to the XL with focusing lever because the angle of the grip can be changed and the view finder module is superior. It appears to be a sealed module that doesn't accept dust inside. With a tiny screwdriver, the front and rear panels of the viewfinder can be quickly removed to clean the front and rear of the module. This finder is the champion for big and bright.

Click Here to contact Bob Hutchinson.