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Graflex RB Super D

Graflex RB Super D SLR 3x4 camera
Graflex RB Super D SLR 3x4 camera

What’s 7 inches tall by 7 inches deep by 6 inches wide, approved has a big 152mm lens, help and a giant mirror inside?

A World War II era giant SLR camera, that’s what. And now, thanks to Marisa‘s Closet of Photographic Mystery, I have one of my very own: a Graflex RB Super D 3×4 camera!

Adjustable Aperture
Adjustable Aperture

Yes, once again, Marisa found an old camera in the deep, dark depths of what used to be her grandparents’ closet, and figured I’d be able to provide it with a good home. I was pretty thrilled with the Vigilant Six-20, but this is just another couple of steps beyond that.

View through the Viewfinder of the RB Super D
View through the Viewfinder of the RB Super D

It’s a really neat, well-designed, well-made, interesting machine. You look down through the top at ground glass, and focus using the knob on the bottom right. The view in the finder is 3-d in appearance, and really something if you’re not used to large format cameras. (I’m not used to them, and it’s definitely still “wowing” me.)

How I got the view of the viewfinder
How I got the view of the viewfinder

The shutter is a big wind-up vertical plane shutter. It’s like a curtain with five different sized slits cut in it. The film gets exposed as the slit passes by; the larger the slit, the longer the exposure. This also means that the entire image doesn’t get exposed all at once, which apparently is an interesting looking phenomenon.

Graflex SLRs are a surprisingly difficult kind of camera to find information about. There’s graflex.org, which has a bunch of information and a discussion board. Precious few photos are attributed to these on Flickr. Photo.net has some active and archived discussions about them, which helps.

Graflex RB Super D folded up
Graflex RB Super D folded up

As I mentioned, this one is a 3×4 model. Strictly speaking, it’s designed to take 3 1/4″ x 4 1/4″ sheet film in a variety of different film backs. It actually came with a Graflex Mode 2 Film Pack Adapter, with film still inside! (Ancient Kodak Super-XX film.) It holds 12 sheets of film, and you pull out a paper tab every time you take a photo. Whichever of Marisa’s relatives that used this never finished off the pack that’s in it. I thought about trying to develop it, but it’s so old it’s almost certainly completely fogged and unsalvageable.

Side View of the Graflex RB Super D
Side View of the Graflex RB Super D

Of course, 3×4 sheet film is difficult to find (4×5 is easy to find), and these film packs haven’t been produced in at least a decade. So the Model 2 Film Pack Adapter goes in the “interesting old oddity” category.

The camera’s kind of hard to take pictures with without a usable film back! Fortunately, they are interchangeable, and possible to find on the used market. In addition to 3×4, you can also get various Medium Format backs. I stumbled onto one at a used camera vendor‘s website: a Graflex “22” Roll Film Holder back, which holds 120 film and exposes 6×6 photos. Looked reasonable at $35 plus shipping, so I ordered it.

It turns out $35 plus shipping was extremely reasonable! Since then, I have read that these rollfilm backs are very rare and expensive. Then, I started finding dealers asking as much as $145 for it! I think I just lucked out on that one! Though I really want a 6×9 back for it, I can certainly deal with 6×6 for the price. It’ll get me started…

Yep. There’ll be a lot more to read about this neat-o new camera in the future right here. 🙂

15 Comments

  • erik

    Best of luck, these guys are a lot of fun. You did get a good deal on the roll film back. The plate can be machined out and you can put a 6×9 insert in the shell if you wanted to go that way, but 6×6 is good too. 152mm is long for that format, but a nice portrait length, and you’ll get some nice out of focus effects. Thanks for joining my flickr group, hopefully I’ll get a chance to put more of my stuff up soon. I got my first one of these in 1984 (you find it hard to stop at one) and if I can be of any help I’ll be happy to try. Have fun!

  • Neil

    Wow. I’ve always wanted to use one of these.

    There is a great photo in my National Geographic photography book showing a Buddhist monk peering into a Graflex-D in 1921.

    Good luck with it… can’t wait to see what it can do.

  • boombadeus

    Erik, Thanks. I’m sure I’ll end up bugging you about some aspect of using the Super D. The good news about this camera is, those that have one seem particularly interested in sharing whatever they know about it.

    152mm definitely seems like a good portrait length for 6×6. I’ve never done much portrait photography myself, but I’ll have to try it to see…

    I took it on a photo walk around the Philly Art Museum recently. I got some decent compositions with it, but my tripod definitely wiggled a lot when the shutter released. I hope the images aren’t blurred too much. Time will tell. I think a better tripod is in order…

    Neil… National Geographic? Wow, no pressure! We’ll see what I can come up with. 😉

    I’ll probably try to bring it out on a Philly photo walk in the future, so you can definitely try it out and take a few shots then.

  • Bruce Grant

    Nice going. The Super-D was the pinnacle of the Graflex line. Previous models had required you to view at maximum aperture (the only really practical way to see anything) then stop down before making the exposure…one more thing to slow the process down, and since the Graflex was designed to be hand-held (as opposed to the view camera) slower was not better. The 4×5 Super D is the real find. Bigger, of course, but makes a full-size 4×5 neg. The 3 14 x 4 1/4 models seem, for some reason, to be more plentiful on the used market, but as you’ve discovered, you can’t get cut film (let alone film pack) in that size anymore. The rollfilm back makes it usable…but basically winds up creating the world’s hugest, clunkiest Hasselblad. At any rate, enjoy. I used to have one of these, but never really got comfortable with the ground-glass image being reversed left-for-right.

  • boombadeus

    Bruce, that’s right, this Super D has a plate on the front that says “Super D for Automatic Diaphragming”. Though I didn’t mention it in the post above (and probably should have), I read up enough to know that this Super model is a good one, because it has the automatic stop-down feature and more flexible Graflok-style film back holder.

    I actually did find an outfit that sells 3×4 film for it. They’re not even cutting down 4×5 themselves or something– it’s 3×4 from the factory. Very reasonably priced, at under a dollar a sheet. One day, I’ll buy it and some 3×4 sheet film backs, and see what happens.

    I also had the thought that with the 6×6 back, this is the world’s biggest Hasselblad. Unless you bought a 6×6 back for the 4×5 Super D model! LOL…

  • GraflexBob

    Boombadeus, can you provide the name of the outfit that sells the 3-1/4 x 4-1/4 film? I have the same RB Super D camera as you and would like to shoot some of the original film style for some family portrait shots. I also have two of the 6x9cm (2-1/4″ x 3-1/4″) rollbacks, original flash unit and other stuff as well. These are fantastic cameras. I’m glad my Dad invested in it 50 years ago.

  • Patti Borton

    I have a Graflex Series D camera but do not know if it in working condition or not and was wondering if anybody knew approx. value or of any collectors that may be interested in it. I also have a press Graflex pat. 1907 that I am not sure of working condition.

  • boombadeus

    Hi Patti,
    To be honest, I’m not even sure what my working Graflex Series D is really worth. They made it in at least two sizes, for 3×4 film, and 4×5 film. Since 4×5 film is still readily available, my sense is that a 4×5 Graflex will be worth more.

    Anyway, check out http://www.graflex.org. They might be able to give you ideas on how to tell if your cameras still work, and maybe about value…

  • George

    I enjoyed reading about your 3 1/4 by 4 1/4(9×12 cm) Graflex Super D! I still have the one I bought in college and used for many years. It was my first “serious” camera and will always be my favorite. Mine was manufactured in 1946 – three years after I was!

    Your 152 mm f4.5 Ektar is a great lens! Wide open it is very soft – perfect for portraiture. Stopped down it becomes razor sharp. That automatic diaphram mechanism was invented by by a baby photographer named Torkel Korling in the early forties. It was also used on the 190 mm Ektat and Optar lenses fitted to the 4×5 Super D.

    While there are no date codes on a Super D (only a sticker with US Patent numbers under the lense hood), the Ektar lenses were dated. The two leading letters in the serial number give the year (with 19– assumed!)in accordance with the codeword CAMEROSITY = 123456789. Hence my 1946 lens has a serial number of EOxxxx.

    You might enjoy reading a copy of GRAPHIC GRAFLEX PHOTOGRAPHY by Morgan & Lester or A REVIEW OF GRAFLEX by Richard P. Paine.

  • boombadeus

    George,

    Awesome! I just checked, and mine’s from 1946 as well.

    I’ll have to hunt down a copy of those books and read them. This camera is largely an interesting, functional mystery to me, so any additional information I can get is good.

    Thanks for telling me this!

  • George

    I forgot to mention that the film holders for a Graflex back are different than those for a Graphic or Graflock back(as fitted to Speed and Crown Graphics and rarely to Graflex cameras). The (much rarer) Graflex 3×4 holders do show up on e-bay – you can recognize them by the groove along the center of each 4 1/4 holder edge and across each 3 1/4 face.

    It seems that you do not have the most common of all the Graflex film backs: the sheet film magazine. This was an early predicessor of the Grafamatic magazine. It is basically a (gray painted) wooden and metal box that fits to the Graflex back. It holds 12 sheets of film, each in a folded sheet metal ‘septum’. The septums are loaded in a darkroom and stacked within the magazine box (which has a darkslide).

    The magazine has a leather bag on its 3 1/4 end. A hinge-covered ruby window allows you to read the rear-most number painted on the back of each septum. After you take a photo, you pull a metal slide-rod on the bottom of the magazine, pulling the front septum into the bag. Then you grab this exposed septum (through the soft leather), manuver it to the rear of the stack, and push it in.

    I guess one of the camera’s greatest features is that it inspires careful composition by being so slow between shots! (Advance the film, measure the exposure with an external meter, wind or release the shutter tension and wind or release the shutter curtain to select the desired slit, cock the lens, set the diaphram, cock the mirror [always last to avoid a double exposure], compose and shoot.) Now think about all those great peak-action sports shots shown in GRAPHIC GRAFLEX PHOTOGRAPHY!

    There is a fellow in (Darian?) Connecticut who collects and deals in old cameras including Graflex. His name is Dr. Jay Tepper and he is a very honerable businessman. His daughter handles his listings on e-bay as Diamond Camera. Try him for a magazine or some holders.