The “Speed Graphic”

Produced by Graflex in Rochester, New York, the “Speed Graphic” is commonly called the most famous press camera. Although the first Speed Graphic cameras were produced in 1912, production of later versions continued until 1973; with the most significant improvements occurring in 1947 with the introduction of the Pacemaker Speed Graphic (and Pacemaker Crown Graphic, which is one pound lighter but lacks the focal plane shutter). It was standard equipment for many American press photographers until the mid-1960s.

Despite the common appellation of Speed Graphic, various Graphic models were produced between 1912 and 1973.The authentic Speed Graphic has a focal plane shutter that the Crown Graphic and Century Graphic models lack. The Speed Graphic was available in 2¼ x 3¼ inch- 3¼ x 4¼ inch and the famous 4 x 5 inch. Because of the focal plane shutter (back shutter), the Speed Graphic can also use barrel lenses.

The Speed Graphic was a slow camera. Each exposure required the photographer to change the film sheet, focus the camera, cock the shutter, and press the shutter. Faster shooting can be achieved with the Grafmatic film holder, which is a six sheet film “changer” that holds each sheet in a septum. Photographers had to be conservative and anticipate when the action was about to take place to take the right picture. The cry, “Just one more!” if a shot was missed was common. President Harry Truman introduced the White House photographers as the “Just One More Club.”

Perhaps the most famous Speed Graphic user was NYC press photographer Arthur “Weegee” Fellig, who covered New York in the 1930’s & ’40’s.

The 1942-1954 Pulitzer Prizes for photography were taken with Speed Graphic cameras.

The company name changed several times over the years as it was absorbed and then released by the Kodak empire, finally becoming a division of the Singer Corporation and then dissolved in 1973. The award winning Graflex plant in suburban Pittsford, New York is still standing and is home to the MOSCOM Corporation.

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