Building a naked Aero Ektar Speed Graphic: The AEROgraphic project part 6: conclusion and example images
Welcome to the sixth and final part of the AEROgraphic project series. If you’ve been following along with your own build, by now you will have a fully functioning and utterly gorgeous naked Graflex Pacemaker Speed Graphic (or Crown Graphic, if that’s your poison).
You’ll also hopefully have mounted a Kodak Aero Ektar 178/2.5 lens to it and will no doubt have been out and about to run it through its paces. If so, this article isn’t really for you.
In case you’ve come here for the first time, here’s the rest of the series so far:
- The AEROgraphic project part 1 – introduction and required materials
- The AEROgraphic project part 2 – disassembly and strip down
- The AEROgraphic project part 3 – preparing and finishing the body
- The AEROgraphic project part 4 – reassembly
- The AEROgraphic project part 5 – focal plane shutter and rangefinder tuning
- The AEROgraphic project part 6 – conclusion and example images (this article)
As the build part of this project has now come to a close, this article will:
- Cover lessons learned over the past three months I’ve been using the camera
- Show you a few sample images taken in its native 4×5 format, as well as 6×12 using a roll film back
- Provide my conclusions on how the camera has lived up to my initial brief from part one: a 6×12 street shooter
It’s also worth noting that part one has been updated to include instructions on bleaching your Aero Ektar lens. It was my intention to provide instructions in this article but upon further thought, it makes sense for this to be included in part one.
So, with that, let’s get stuck in to lessons learned.
I started off in part one by stating that this project required time, patience and planning. If you used this guide to build your own AEROgraphic, you’ll have a good idea now of what that means.
In part one I described an optimal 36 hours of work time but if you were doing this conversion for the first time, you probably spent closer to 45 or even 50 depending on how much time you spent on the final finish of your wood and metal components.
The most challenging aspect of the build for me was rangefinder tuning and I have ended up returning to this aspect of the camera a handful of times since completing my initial build some two months ago at the time of writing.
The initial brief for this camera was to be a (probably handheld), 6×12 street shooter. I masked off my optical viewfinder, set up a custom focus scale and calibrated my rangefinder to what I expected to be my optimal focus distances for shooting portraits. These actions have largely borne fruit and I regularly use just the custom focus scale when I’m out and about.
Having a clean, bright ground glass helps, as does a loupe (just to confirm!)
Whilst the camera functions admirably as the 6×12 street shooter I envisaged, the reality is that after having shot somewhere in the region of a dozen rolls on this camera since completing it, I have taken only 7 portraits; about a single roll’s worth.
Strange as it may seem to you, I don’t consider this a bust. I don’t take portraits, it’s just not in my blood (or more likely, where I am right now). Still, the results have been pretty great either in landscape or portrait orientation. The only thing that has remained a challenge is the weight…
With the Aero Ektar lens, left-hand grip and variable 6×12 film back installed, the camera weighs in at just shy of 5Kg or 9 pounds. It’s not exactly light and I’ve taken to using a modular “Pro Strap” from Op/Tech.
I’ve spoken about this strap system previously and decided to use it as it’s rated for a 15 pound load and as I use these straps for all of my other cameras, I can switch over to use one of my two shoulder straps as necessary.
I don’t foresee myself changing the steps I went through for this build a great deal for my next. I would probably spend a bit more time and attention on cleaning the metal components, as well as choosing a different colour for the wood finish. I would probably also use a thicker, resin based lacquer for a very different look to the current AEROgraphic. I have a feeling that with enough coats, the laquer may be able to fill the spaces between the camera frame and external components such as the rangefinder and shutter cover, etc.
Here are a few sample images as 6×12 on medium format film and and 4×5 (color negative, color slide film and black and white film stock).
The lens isn’t one that will provide high contrast results unless you become creative in your approach to metering, development, or use something like Lightroom for post production.
The beauty of the rendition of this lens is undeniable. It may not be the greatest lens to use for landscape photography but it does have character (yes, I understand that technically it’s a landscape lens!)
As someone who doesn’t take many portraits, my interest lies in non-animate subjects. The closer, the better.
Here you go:
The build process itself was incredibly rewarding and had I failed this time round, I would definitely be starting again. Thankfully, I consider the project a complete success and have been patting myself on the back for months – you should too, if you’ve been following along with your own build.
Trying anything this complex for the first time has its its highs and its lows. I was lucky in that I had very few of the latter and that my mistakes, such as they were, were limited to color choice for the wood stain (easily rectified, as I noted in part 3).
Considering the total weight of the kit, I’m having a hard time recommending it as a handheld street shooter; it’s just too damned heavy. In addition, if you want to make the most of the 6×12 format, you really need a tripod to ensure your framing is spot on. It’s not impossible to get it right by hand but it does take time and practice.
I’ve made the small addition of a cold shoe accessory and a 3-axis spirit level to help eyeball my level when I occasionally shoot the camera pulled tight to my chest. Generally speaking I will shoot my AEROgraphic mounted on a tripod. It helps.
One thing to bear in mind is that if you wanted to swap the Aero Ektar out with a different lens, say a “normal” 150mm lens, you should be able to hand hold the camera for hours.
One of the lovely side effects of using a camera as distinctive as the AEROgraphic in public is the chatter. There’s enough buzz about what the hell it is I’m doing when I’m out and about that it’s almost criminally easy to ask for and take portraits.
It’s a great conversation starter, drawing in both film and digital shooters alike!
Although this is the final part of the series, I’ll be keeping it up to date with new additions, tweaks and other updates as necessary.
Thanks again for reading and please share your own experiences in the comments below.
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