The View Camera

Despite all the advances in technology, virtually all cameras (from the pinhole to the modern cameras) are built around three main components:

  • An opening that lets the rays of light coming from the scene inside;
  • The dark chamber that prevents the ambient light to interfere with the rays of light mentioned above;
  • A flat surface where the image of the scene is projected.

Everything else revolves around this basic design. In the end it is the same design that nature used for the human eye. As mentioned before, one major improvement was the introduction of the lens by Kepler, the main reason being the ability of lenses to let more light inside. As we will see later, using lenses bring few more features exploited in photography.

Probably the first widely used type of camera in the second half of the 19th century and even in the beginning of the 20th century was the large format studio camera also known as the view camera. In these cameras, the scene is composed on the camera’s ground glass, and then a film holder is fitted to the camera back prior to exposure.

Searching-for-perfectionThe body of the view camera was either a wooden box or, more often, an accordion-pleated box — the bellows. The bellows provides a flexible dark enclosure between the film plate and the lens. Interestingly enough, the view camera with bellows is still in use today, though with many refinements. The front standard is a board at the front of the camera which holds the lens and, usually, a shutter; the rear standard is a frame which holds a ground glass, used for focusing and composing the image before exposure. The ground glass can be replaced by a holder containing the light-sensitive film, plate, or even a digital image sensor for exposure. The camera is usually mounted on a tripod.
One of the main qualities of this type of camera is its flexibility ensured by the ability to independently move the front and rear standards. These movements provide the following:

  • Corrections of the perspective (i.e. convergence of the parallel lines);
  • Increase in the depth of field even for large apertures;
  • Focus control — achieving focus in areas otherwise out of focus even at small apertures.

No other camera can provide the same flexibility at the time of capturing the image. Some of these features are currently moving in the digital photography software — especially in the post-processing phase. Also available for regular cameras are special lenses and adapters that can provide additional flexibility in the sense explained above.
The slow setup and more difficult operation combined with poor availability of large-format photosensitive products (many have been discontinued) makes the view camera the choice of a very few and mostly professional photographers. On the other hand, the evolution of the photographic technologies owns a great deal of success to this type of camera. Not to mention its educational role. If seriously interested in photography, one should consider spending a bit of time understanding how the view camera works and, if lucky, play with one for few days.

While writing this page, I introduced some terms specific to photographic technology like shutter, aperture, exposure, focus, depth of field and perspective. Most of these terms will be expanded later together with examples that will provide better understanding.

Until then, stay tuned!

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