A little over a year ago I wrote a post about the Viltrox Focal Reducer for EF lenses on EF-M bodies that supported full AF and camera connectivity, a 1 stop speed boost, as well as EXIF data modification for focal length and lens speed. I even did a video on it video link here. That was a solid device, well made, and optically very good. I also admonished Metabones for not having such a device at all. Metabones is the company that really brought this tech to the still photography market. They have a massive catalog of the craziest adapters you can imagine yet did not have the relatively easy Canon EF to EF-M speed booster. I say relatively easy because they already had one for EF to Sony E mount which has the same physical mount size and back focus. The electronics to convert EXIF data was present they just had to create proper electronic connection for Canon.

Well things have changed, and Metabones introduced a speed booster to mount full frame EF mount lenses on an EF-M mount camera with a full stop of speed and the full EXIF conversion recently along with a version for Canon R mount cameras. Metabones is the premier manufacturer for this type of device. They are are engineered in Canada and contract with Caldwell Optical in the USA to create the best speed boost focal reducers on the planet.

I decided to upgrade my Viltrox unit into a Metabones unit. Here is what I found: the Metabones unit feels even better built than the Viltrox. Mind you, the Viltrox was a solidly built piece of gear. The Metabones unit uses clearly superior materials but is about 25% heavier. Optically the Metabones unit is noticeably superior across the frame. The Metabones unit also is quicker to acquire focus than the Viltrox which has a bit of a stutter at the end of the focus acquisition. The Metabones unit for some strange reason does not convert EXIF data on lenses that are f/1.4 or faster. The Viltrox converts f/1.4 to f/1.0 but does not show EXIF data for f/stops faster than f/1.0. So it also converts f/1.2 to f/1.0. Both the Metabones and Viltrox units support actual speed boost to f/0.85 but the EXIF data will not match the actual speed boost values on super fast lenses. I hope Metabones will create a firmware patch to convert all EXIF data, it seems odd to have the fast glass not get the conversion on EXIF especially since they are converting the focal length on the fast glass, just not the speed.

I am delighted with the Metabones unit with my only complaint being the EXIF discrepancies on the super fast lenses. Metabones Speed Booster EF to EF-M Ultra is a 0.71x focal reducer with a one stop speed boost. The Ultra optics are absolutely top drawer with the high refraction tantalum glass by Caldwell Optical in the USA. This device is more than double the price of the Viltrox. Metabones list price is $479 versus less than $200 for the Viltrox. The Metabones is noticeably faster in its operation and sharper. Where the Viltrox is very good the Metabones is excellent.

One area I will be using this device is for some astro-photography, gaining an extra stop cuts down on exposure times which can be measured in minutes rather than seconds. if you are curious about the math behind these speed boosters check out my article “Fidgeting with Focal Length.”  I have a few images made with the Metabones unit below these were just a quick test.

In other news, some of you may have noticed a pleasant side effect of Canon’s push towards new EOS R mount lenses. Many of the EF L series lenses are becoming more affordable at camera shows and on Ebay. The bottom line is that there is a fair amount of photographers moving to the EOS R system from the EF system and that means some lenses are being exchanged for newer and typically better RF glass. Anytime you increase supply without increasing demand you are headed for lower prices. That seems to be the case on lenses that have a direct R mount equivalent as well as some lenses that have indirect R mount equivalents. The 24-105 L Mk I is available used for well under $500 these days sometimes dipping into the high 300s, and that is still a very good lens. Even the Mk II version has softened up a bit on the used market fetching $600-$700. The RF 24-105 L is noticeably superior, but it will set you back $1100. The Canon EF 85/1.2 L is also a fair value on the used market. Be advised that the Mk I and Mk II have the same optical formula but the Mk II is nearly twice as fast on AF and that lens is notoriously slow focusing so paying a premium for the Mk II is still sound. The Mk I lenses can be found as low as $600 and the Mk II models are fetching closer to $900. This lens is still available brand new from Canon for nearly $2000! RF bodies are the future, but EF glass can be easily adapted and with no noticeable side effects. These excellent EF L series lenses are a great value.

EOS M5 24-105 L Mk I Metabones Ultra Speed Booster Lens set at 105mm f/4 effective 74mm f 2.8

EOS M5 24-105 L Mk I Metabones Ultra Speed Booster Lens set at 105mm f/4 effective 74mm f 2.8

EOS M5 24-105 L Mk I Metabones Ultra Speed Booster Lens set at 105mm f/4 effective 74mm f 2.8

The American Linhof

Back in the day when I used to shoot a lot of 4×5 film I had a studio mono-rail setup and a Linhof Technika IV. I loved that Technika, it was so damn well made and the controls were all precision and smooth to operate. The later model Technika’s only real downfall was the hefty weight. That camera was stout and by stout I mean you could kill a bear with it. That translated into a sore back when carrying in the field which is what I did with it most of the time. It was easily twice as heavy as most field 4×5 cameras and three times as heavy as something lightweight like a Tachihara.

The title of this article is the “American” Linhof and since Linhof is German, clearly this needs to shift gears. And so it shall. Recently I picked up a Busch Pressman 4×5 camera at Blue Moon Camera in Portland, OR. The Pressman is a metal press 4×5 camera that is similar to a Linhof Technika III. It is notably lighter than the Technika IV and similar in weight to the Technika III. Like the Linhofs, the Pressman was designed for press style photography and was offered with a rangefinder as well as a variety of optional hand grips. As a 4×5 view camera it offers some handy field style front movements including tilt, rise, and shift. The camera has excellent quality and feels as well made as a Technika III but not as refined as the later Technika IV and V.

I’ve equipped mine with a modern-ish Schneider Symmar Convertible 135mm F/5.6. This particular lens can be used sans one of the lens groups to become a 235mm F/12. It isn’t very good as a 235 though. It is an excellent lens when used in the standard 135/5.6 configuration. By coincidence it is mounted in a Linhof shutter.

For photographers looking for something a little more simple than a wood field camera and perhaps a bit more sturdy, these Pressman cameras and early Linhof Technika models like the III are a solid choice. These press cameras however lack the full range of movements that a true field camera has. Notably on the front there is no swing and there are zero movements for the rear of the camera. Later Technika models such as the IV, V, and Master offered front swing and some rear movements. Linhof continued to refine the Technika series cameras long after the large format press cameras were out of use in the mainstream.

The primary reason I like this Busch Pressman camera is the price. Technika III cameras in good shape tend to fetch north of $500 without a lens, Technika IV models are even more expensive. I bought my Busch Pressman D at Blue Moon Camera for less than $200 and it is in great condition. It does not have the rangefinder, but I am fine with that. I have a Graflex Press 23 with a rangefinder, and 6×9 roll film back that is smaller and easier to use hand held anyway. I’m using the Pressman as a field camera. To get something this well made for $200 is wonderful. The camera is far from perfect but it works so well, feels so good, and performs like a champion. One of the features that is really nice is the revolving back. You can quickly switch from vertical to horizontal by rotating the back of the camera. This is a great feature and one that is lacking on many press cameras of this era including most of the Graflex Speed Graphic and Crown Graphic models.

These make great starter view cameras because the learning curve on large format is much higher than 35mm or digital cameras. Everything is manual and often there are many steps just to trip the shutter. Learning about how the various camera movements affect the image is something that takes time to master. These press style cameras have fewer movements to learn and one can learn on these and then decide whether to advance to a full featured field camera like a Wista Field or later model Linhof Technikas, among others.

It is important to remember that shooting 4×5 is pretty expensive. The gear itself has become much more affordable than it was 25 years ago, but the cost per shot is really high. Photographers are well advised to take their time, think about the shot, the composition, the lighting, all of it. The cost is not only in dollars but time. One must manually load the film sheets one at a time in total darkness, paying attention to the direction of the dark slide (unexposed/exposed indicator). There is typically a few steps to prepping for the shot. The shutter must be locked open to focus the image on the ground glass. After sharp focus and all movements and such are completed, shutter must be closed. Film holders are loaded one at a time into the camera for exposure. Shutter must be manually cocked. Dark slide comes out, exposure is made. Once again when returning the dark slide after a shot making certain to indicate it as “exposed.” There is a great deal of time invested into making a single exposure with a view camera even for an experience view camera operator. The rewards are images that tend to be amazing.

The Busch Pressman is a great starter press 4×5 that I think is better built and better made than the Crown and Speed Graphic models in the same price range. Often they can be found with lenses such as the Wollensak 135/4.5 Raptor, Zeiss Tessar 135/4.5, Kodak Ektar 127/4.7. All of these are good lenses but lack coverage so be advised you may find the edge of the image circle with a sharp rise movement. The 135/5.6 Schneider I have mounted here has enough coverage to handle anything this camera’s movements can provide. Those older press lenses do have some nice character and since they don’t have allot of resale value, you may want to just keep it for portraits even if you upgrade to a proper view camera lens. I have a Super Angulon 90mm lens that I like but on this press camera the bellows gets a bit tight for any significant movements, that will be a problem on press cameras that is less so on a “real” field camera that has a skinny rear standard. Where these heavier and more stout press cameras excel is with longer focal lengths like a 235 or even 270mm. The rail is more solid and the camera locks down better than a lightweight wood field camera that can be a bit wobbly with longer lenses. The Pressman can draw close to 300mm of bellows so a 270mm is doable. I would still recommend a true tele lens design for small field type cameras. These lenses such as the Schneider Tele-Xenar or Tele-Arton 270mm or 360mm F/5.5 draw less bellows than their focal length which keeps the camera more stable and provides for better close focusing. True telephoto lenses however do not have the same coverage as their counterparts. The Tele-Xenar 270/5.5 is a lens I used to own. It has a 178mm image circle and only 158mm of bellows draw at infinity focus. The image circle is a bit tight for 4×5. That said the Xenar series still offers enough image circle to make full use of the press camera’s limited movements, other than a dramatic rise movement.

You can find cameras like these at classic camera stores such as Blue Moon in Portland, OR and Seawood Photo in San Rafael, CA or at camera shows like the PhotoFair coming up on February 22nd in Newark, CA. or the Western Photographic Historical Society show in Tuscon, AZ,  on March 1st, or the Puget Sound Photographic Collectors Society show in Kent, WA on April 12th.

I haven’t taken this camera out in the field yet but I did take a few “test” images with the camera and the Schneider 135/5.6 lens. The shots below were take in my house just to see how the camera and lens performed. Both shots made with the Busch Pressman 4×5 with Schneider 135/5.6 at f/8, on Ilford HP-5 Plus (400 ISO). The shot of the Kodak Signet Camera was without any camera movements but it was taken at very near 1:1 reproduction ratio with more than 250mm of bellows draw. The Scotch Whisky bottles implemented a small rise movement to eliminate the cabinet they were placed on. These images were digitized by photographing the 4×5 negatives on a light box with a copy stand using my Canon EOS-R with the RF 35mm/F1.8 lens: 1/90th sec @ f/4 ISO 100.

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