Disassembling the only 35mm film holder made for Graflex Cameras isn’t something you get to do every day. Some sixty years ago, a photographer had a distinct need to shoot 35mm on a 2×3″ format Graflex SLR and they were not going to wait for the market to catch up. What they created is most likely the only 35mm roll holder ever designed for large format Graflex cameras.

Inevitably it found its way into an online auction and, like so many other excessively rare photographic items, the real value and historical importance of it were not fully realized by the seller.

Custom 35mm back for Graflex Medium Format Cameras
Custom 35mm back for Graflex Medium Format Cameras

Since my work is focused almost primarily on Graflex cameras, I was acutely aware that Graflex had never manufactured such a film holder and this must have been completed by someone with a certain degree of machine skill. Given the incredibly rare opportunity of being the current owner of this film holder, I decided it would be beneficial to the photographic community to partially disassemble it and document the mechanics for posterity in this YouTube video:

As you can see from the video, the back only further proved the genius of its very capable creator by showing a resourceful blend of cannibalized camera parts and many hand-made components. Further research indicates the sprocket mechanism may have been this one from

After the initial posting of the video, several members of the community came together to help identify the parts that constitute this film back. We already knew the base frame was taken from 2×3″ pack film attachment, but I was surprised to learn the 35mm sprocket was taken from a Simplex movie projector patented by Louis S Frappier. Even more interestingly, the fiberboard that the main body is carved from is an asbestos-containing phenolic resin cloth usually sold to power plants to make switch panels and electrical insulators.

The combination of found materials and handmade parts tells an incredible story of both photographic and mechanical mastery. Being able to disassemble such a rare item like this was an eye-opening experience, not only to see an innovative mechanical system but to really dig into someone’s passion project from generations past.

This film holder is likely the result of being in between generations of film photography, one foot in the 1930s with large format SLR’s and the other foot in the 1960s with 35mm film and cheap camera gear to cannibalize.

It makes me wonder what their real day job was and if they ever went on to make anything else.

~ Graham

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Graham Burnett

Camera Atelier in Duluth, Minnesota. Repair/Restoration/Modification of Large Format cameras and Focal Plane shutters, with a specialty in SLR's.

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2 Comments

 

  1. I was in the same position a few years back when I spotted an item on ebay that was clearly the work of a gifted artisan, but the choice of product made me ask why?

    With your 35mm film back for the Grayflex it was clearly addressing a need that didn’t already exist, but whoever would decide to make an ever ready style case for the Exa series of cameras, when they were plentiful at the time? And to make it entirely out of plywood!

    As many will know, unlike their bigger brother Exakta bodies, the Exa’s all have quite a curvaceous back and a more rounded form altogether, but the saddle portion of this plywood case wraps around the body like a fitted glove. The two-piece nose section doesn’t separate as it is hinged to the saddle, and the top piece is hinged to the nose piece. Altogether the case is lined with a green felt like material.

    I do admire the craftsmanship, but I still wonder why?