Friday, April 19, 2013

A full review of the 2x3 Century Graphic

I thought I should post a full review of the Baby Crown after using it a ton the last few days and really loving it.

The 2x3 Graphic, which comes in three models (Century, Crown, Speed), is a smaller-sized variant of the Graphic family. It was designed to use either 2x3 inch sheet film in mini holders or a variety of roll film backs to accommodate 6x6 images up to 6x9, in both 120 and 220. They were commonly supplied with 101mm Ektar lenses or any number of similar provenance, usually around f/4.5 in speed.

I was lucky enough to find a bargain eBay sale of a 2x3 Crown with a much rarer 80mm f/2.8 Schneider Xenotar lens. This gem of a lens is famous, along with the Zeiss Planar of the same design, for being the premier lenses on Rolleiflex TLR cameras. The bonus with a 2x3 Crown is the ability to rangefinder focus, focus much closer, and use ground glass to frame the shot. Depending on your shooting style, this could be a huge boon.

Furthermore, the Baby Graphics are also capable of a small amount of movements, just like their larger brethren. This allows one to tilt to control DOF or use rise for architecture-type photography. Simply put, it is a rare camera that can perform these movements and shoot roll film conveniently.

Moving on - the camera is an absolute joy to use! If you've handled a Graphic before, you know how it feels. It fits nicely in the hand with the leather handstrap on your left hand, leaving your right hand open to focus, cock the shutter, and fire it. Being a leaf-shutter lens, the kick from the shutter is minuscule, and hand-holding at 1/25th of a second is trivial (compare to, say, a Pentax 67 which has massive slap from the mirror, causing everything below 1/60th to be a crap-shoot). Importantly though, make sure to wind the film (and take out the darkslide!) if using a roll-film holder. Double-exposures are an easy mistake to make.

Using 6x6, 6x7, or 6x9 roll-film is fun, easy, and quite simply so much easier if what you are shooting doesn't require a larger sheet of film. Which size is up to you, but I prefer 6x7. It's close to the perfect ratio, while 6x6 generally needs to be cropped down for typical 8x10 prints, and 6x9 is just like 35mm in that it needs the ends chopped off for those 8x10 prints. But whatever suits your style - portraits are nice on 6x9 for a waist-up type shot.

So what's to complain about? Well, for one, framing the shot hand-held, especially when focusing closely, is very difficult. The Graphics have a viewfinder on top with a crude parallax-correction function, but generally speaking, it isn't very accurate. I've had better results with the sports finder, but it's made for the 6x9 aspect ratio so it's not much help. If you are on a tripod though, doing careful focusing on the ground glass, obviously it's not a problem. I shot some hand-held portraits and several times I cut off the subject's head or had him way off-center. I'm sure the more I use the camera, the more I'll get used to it, but it's certainly not like an SLR with TTL viewing.

Don't forget that the Graphic can also use different lenses. While difficult and sometimes expensive, various wide-angle and/or telephoto lenses come up for sale and can be a great addition to a kit. I'm planning on getting a wide-angle sometime in the future, and I already have a nice 150mm f/4.5 Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar for a longer lens from a junked camera. In case you are wondering, typical wide-angles include the 65mm Schneider Angulon, the older 47mm Super Angulon, and some newer and cult lenses like the 35mm APO Grandagon and 38mm Biogon (which I'm trying to purchase now - a gorgeous aerial lens that should prove quite capable). Speaking of capable, I can't recommend enough the 80mm Xenotar. It is sharp wide-open and only gets better stopped down. From looking at my recent negatives, it looks to be the sharpest medium-format optic I've ever used. It also has stunning bokeh.

All-in-all, the camera is both a joy to shoot and a lot of fun. Highly recommended if you can deal with the foibles of a press-type camera, and really worth it if you would like to have movements in a small package.

Time for photos. First, a few photos from rural south GA near and in Hahira:

And here's a bus on VSU campus:

And finally, here's a few portraits of my friend Matt:

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