The Press Camera

The Press Camera

  • The press camera is a medium-sized camera that can be handheld or tripod-mounted. As its name implies, this type of camera has been much used in newspaper photography, where the combination of versatility with fairly large film size and relatively light weight brings economies in both purchase price and speed of operation. In recent decades, however, the press camera has lost popularity, even among journalists, to the SLR's versatility and speed of operation.

  • The press-type camera can be considered a hybrid of rangefinder camera and view camera. It can take various forms, especially in the small sizes, but the most common one is a box body whose forward panel folds down to become a supporting bed for an extending bellows and camera front.

  • In handheld use, the weight of the camera is carried by the left hand (either by slipping the hand through a handstrap or by holding a contoured grip mounted on the camera body) and the controls are operated by the right hand. A rangefinder coupled to the camera front is mounted on the top or right side of the body. With a little practice the camera can be operated accurately with considerable speed. When it is mounted on a tripod, it can be used similarly to a view camera, with composition and focusing done on a ground glass screen permanently mounted at the hack. Focusing is done by moving the front only, as are most of the other movements. (However, some types allow swings and tilts of the back.) Almost all types allow a backward tilt of the lensboard and a sideways shift. Forward tilt is usually accomplished by means of a "drop" of the bed, which allows the bed to be bent below the horizontal lock. Front swing is present in some models. Almost all press cameras normally use leaf-type shutters in the lens mount, but some also have a focal-plane shutter in the rear of the body, which allows use of a lens that is not self-shuttered.

  • The most-used film size for press cameras has traditionally been 4 x 5 inches, with sheet film being used in holders containing from 2 to 12 sheets each. Most makes also allow the use of roll film holders, usually making 21/4 x 21/4 or 21/4 x 31/4 inch pictures on 120 size film. Smaller press cameras using the 21/4 x 31/4 format or the somewhat shorter 6 x 7 cm "ideal" format on both sheet and roll film are growing in popularity. At least one manufacturer produces and finds a limited market for a 5 x 7 inch press camera. Metric equivalents of all the above listed sizes are widely used in Europe and elsewhere.
    Second only to the single-lens reflex in versatility, the press camera can do anything that any other rangefinder camera can, plus much that a view camera can do. Its film size being comparable to that of most view cameras, and therefore larger than that of most rangefinder types, it quite easily maintains photographic quality even in difficult working situations.

  • The greatest disadvantage of the press-type camera is its inability to follow fast-moving small subjects, such as living insects, where the image magnification makes careful composition and critically accurate focusing an absolute necessity. It is clearly outclassed here by the small single-lens reflex. Otherwise, the press camera stands well to the fore as a potential choice. The 4 x 5 press camera should enhance the equipment inventory of any well-thought-out photographic enterprise. Failing to give it consideration because it is currently a bit out of fashion might be an error.

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