Friday, April 8, 2016

Revisiting the Century Graphic 2x3

Almost exactly 3 years ago I posted some thoughts on a new camera, a 2x3 Century Graphic. This pseudo-review was just some of my thoughts after using it for a few weeks. Since writing that post, I'll admit I haven't used the camera that much - medium format is a bit of an in-between format for me, and I usually grab my Pentax 67 or a Rolleiflex/cord first. For more contemplative and deliberate shooting, which the Century excels at, I would usually go ahead and use 4x5 or larger.

One of the problems with the Century is that the wide-angle lenses I have which really shine on 6x7 or 6x9 are hard to use on the camera. I have a 38mm XL and 58mm XL, both of which can work but you have to install the lens on the camera by removing the rear element, putting the rest of the lens on the camera, and then reattaching the rear element from the back, inside the bellows. A real pain and not something I'd do in the field.

The solution? Use it as a fixed-lens camera. But that's limiting. Additional options? How about bringing more than one camera? Well that was also troublesome due to the size of the camera when unfolded (since you can't fold it up with a big lens on it). So when I found a customized, chopped-down version of the Century, I gave it a shot. It looks like this:

Installed on the camera is the 38mm XL with 2-stop center filter. This lens is brilliant on the Century and is the equivalent of a 16mm lens on a 35mm camera. Really wide. And it's nice and small - I can easily fit it right into my shoulder bag along with another camera folded up and an extra lens for a tiny travel pack.

Now ideally I would be able to switch between the 38mm and 58mm lenses, as those are my preferred wide angle focal lengths, but you can't have everything (well actually you can, it's called a Linhof 70 which I also have, but the penalty is size, weight, and there's issues with focus).

So here's my little family of Centuries:

So since purchasing this little guy, I've been shooting these a lot instead of a large format camera, especially when I want to travel extra light, or don't have any 4x5 film loaded and ready to shoot. I've got a variety of lenses I can switch out onto the second or third camera, including a 65mm f/8 Super Angulon which is a good enough substitute for the 58mm XL in most situations, 80mm f/2.8 Xenotar, an absolutely featherweight 103mm f/4.5 Trioptar in the photo above, as well as a stunning 10.5cm f/4.5 APO Lanthar, and an interesting 135mm f/4.5 Rodenstock Trinar. Anything longer is usually a 4x5 lens that I can switch out at will onto these, but for the most part I don't use anything longer than that.

So with a variety of modern, classic, and character lenses, I have a ton of options for photos.

Now for the results of the past couple of weeks! Firstly, I went back to Banks Lake for some exploring before the water got back to normal depth:

Here's one more from Banks Lake in color:

All of the above were with the 38mm XL on the custom camera.

Now I also took the little Graphic with me to a family Easter get-together, and shot some handheld photos with the 80mm Xenotar:

We found a snake in the woods too:

Last week I went exploring in a new place, another access point to the Withlacoochee, but this area was completely flooded due to rain. I took several photos with both the custom and normal cameras, using the 38mm XL, 80mm Xenotar, and 10.5cm APO Lanthar:

I made another trip to Banks Lake, but this time explored deep into the woods along the swampy banks. I wanted to try a few other lenses out that I hadn't used yet, so I brought along my 65mm Super Angulon, 103mm Graflex Trioptar, and 135mm Rodenstock Trinar, along with a 6x9 back. This is the first time I've shot 6x9 on the Century:

I took a portrait of my friend Dominick who went shooting with me, and a random guy chilling on the dock:

And one more of the old Rolleicord, just for fun:

 That's it for those photos. These last photos with the 103mm Trioptar have quite a nice look to them, especially in the depth of field. I really like this lens, and it only cost $25. I actually bought it just to get the 2x3 Century lens board that it was attached to!

Overall I am really happy with these results and the camera is a great addition to my arsenal. While it doesn't really replace my 4x5, it can be liberating to shoot with roll film and have the ability to bracket a little and shoot a lot more exposures.

That about wraps it up for my second look at the Century Graphic. I might shoot it some more tomorrow, we'll see!


  1. Super cool to find the camera I built going to good use! It was built with the 35mm Rodenstock and 38mm Schneider in mind!