Behold the 120lb High Speed Action/Sports Camera Known as ‘Big Bertha’


So, you think carrying around your pro-series body and 300mm f/2.8 all day at a sporting event sucks? Well, don’t go complaining to the sports photographers of yesteryear or they might pull out a photo of them using the beast known as ‘Big Bertha.’

Recently covered in some depth over on Gizmodo, ‘Big Bertha’ — also referred to as the “howitzer of early action photography’ by Kodakery — was a franken-camera combination of a Graflex Speed Graphic large format folding camera and a huge telephoto lens that could often weigh upwards of 120lbs.


It shot 5×7 film and was mostly used to capture Football, Baseball and racing. It actually became such a resource for covering action that many ‘Big Berthas’ started making their way onto the market and into camera shops. As with most cameras, ‘Big Bertha’ received substantial improvements throughout its various iterations, including better focusing mechanisms, a whopping framerate of 3fps and a much better-looking design.

We’ve come a long way since the days of ‘Big Bertha,’ but it’s always good to know where you came from, so be sure to check out the full story and more photos of this beauty over on Gizmodo and Kodakery.

Image credits: Exakta VX by Nesster and photograph courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection

  • Jan Mulders

    Plenty of resolution to crop on a large format camera

  • hugh crawford

    “combination of a Graflex Speed Graphic large format folding camera and a huge telephoto lens”

    No they are built on Graflex SLR cameras. Usually RB Graflex 4×5 but sometimes 5×7 inch. The Speed Graphic is something else entirely.

    Technically they had long focal length lenses not telephoto lenses, a telephoto lens being a lens that has a back focus shorter than its focal length.

  • Sir Stewart Wallace

    I want it just to look at.

  • Guest

    I W A N T T H I S guy who shoots sports with speed graphic…

  • genotypewriter

    Isn’t back focus up to the flange/rear element and not the nodal point?

  • genotypewriter

    Here’s my Franken-Graflex… actually I call it the “centipede”, just as in Human Centipede…

  • hugh crawford

    I probably should have said bellows draw, but most of the Big Berthas I have seen use big focusing tubes.

    The point I was trying to make was that part of the reason that these long lenses were so big was that they’re not telephotos .

    On the other hand the 35mm lens on the Olympus XA is a wide angle telephoto

  • Markthetog

    3FPS? Yow!

  • 4dmaze

    The fact that it would be too heavy and cumbersome to take Selfies is a big plus.

  • genotypewriter

    I’m not sure which lenses they used but also if they were large aperture lenses, they won’t help keep the weight down. At the same time, I have seen massive large format telephotos from long ago… mostly from aerial cameras.

    Just now looked up the Olympus XA… so the mid point of the lens is closer than 35mm from the film plane?

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  • Matt

    Ya, a cable release has never been invented… I’m begining to hate the selfie hate…