The View Camera

The View Camera


The view camera is simultaneously the most optically flexible and, of necessity, the most statically mounted of cameras. When applied to the appropriate subject matter, it is capable of the highest quality photography. Its most outstanding characteristic is extreme adjustability: all parts of its structure are movable in three dimensions with respect to one another.


The view camera consists of four basic structural parts:

  1. The bed, the support on which the other parts rest and move, which is either a dual-track framework as found in the "flat bed" type, or a single rail or tube, as found in the "monorail" type.

  2. The front, consisting of various mechanisms to support the lens and adjust it in three dimensions.

  3. The back, incorporating a spring-mounted ground glass viewing screen, which moves out as a unit to accept and hold in place a film holder, the whole unit having the same freedom of movement as the front.

  4. The bellows, made of a pleated leather or synthetic material, which provides a light-tight connection between front and back no matter how they are adjusted or displaced with respect to one another.
    Both the back and front can be moved along the bed, to focus the lens and to control the balance of the camera and the amount of image magnification. By moving the front and back appropriately along the bed, the photographer can center the weight of the camera over the tripod head for any length of bellows extension, and can have the choice of focusing by moving either end. In normal use, after everything has been set up satisfactorily, any necessary minor adjustments in the image scale can be made by moving the front backward or forward. Final exact focus can then be achieved without significant further alteration of scale by focusing at the back.

The view camera is capable of four basic movements, each with its own effect on the image. These movements are of great value and their use is not difficult to learn. Rotation of the front or back about a vertical axis is called swing. Rotation of front or back about a horizontal axis is called tilt. Swinging or tilting the front allows control over the apparent depth of field. Swinging or tilting the camera back changes the degree of apparent diminishing perspective. Raising or lowering either front or back with respect to the other is called rise-and-fall. Dying either one sideways with respect to the other is called shift. Rise-and-fall and shifting of either front or back allow changes in image placement on the ground glass.


Controlled use of these movements requires that the camera be firmly mounted on a tripod or other support, to provide a secure position to work from and to establish a standard optical axis from which to deviate.
View cameras come in a wide variety of film formats. The smallest film size commonly used is 21/4 x 31/4 inches. Formats of 4 x 5, 5 x 7, 8 x 10, and 11 x 14 inches and their metric counterparts are all available. 35 mm view camera is no longer made but might be found used. A special-purpose, 8 x 20 inch view camera, called a banquet camera, is useful for very wide pictures of no great height.


A quite recent and versatile entry into the view camera field combines the standard view camera bed, bellows, and front with a single-lens reflex back. It is available in 21/4 x 31/4 and 4 x 5 inch sizes. Usually, the reflex back can be adapted easily to become a straight SLR camera.


View cameras derive their name from their commonest early usage, producing landscape "views." Viewing is done by opening the shutter and observing the image rom - on the ground glass, which is placed directly in plane. When a satisfactory image has been obtained by using all the appropriate camera adjustments, the shutter is closed, a film holder is inserted in the film plane, displacing the viewing screen, and the exposure is made.


View cameras are very useful whenever the ultimate rendition of fine detail is needed, and especially where the larger film sizes is being used. The optical controls built into these instruments make them especially good for photographing large- or small-scale landscapes, architecture, archaeological digs, and for photography of any human artifacts or other individual objects.


There are two outstanding disadvantages to using view cameras. The lesser of these is that the image on the ground glass is upside down. It is annoying at first, but not particularly hard to get used to. It is compensated for by the fact that the image seen is the exact image that will be recorded on the film, with no alteration.


The view camera's second, and greater, disadvantage is its lack of mobility. It has always had to be operated from a fixed tripod, handheld use being impractical.


The development of the reflex/view camera has greatly reduced the problems of view use. Reflex viewing with a pentaprism solves the first problem by erecting the image. The second disadvantage is also eliminated by this design, since a reflex/view is readily picked off the tripod at a moment's notice and used in the same way as a handheld SLR. Unfortunately, a reflex/view costs more than either type of camera separately, but may cost less than two separate cameras of limited capabilities.

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