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Graflex ‘Big Bertha’ Camera Spotted in the Wild

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Between the 1940s and the 1970s, one of the big cameras used by sports photographers was the Graflex “Big Bertha,” a giant 120 lb camera that shoots 5×7 photos. At least one of these cameras is still seeing action.

Photographers Geoffrey Berliner and Andrew Moore of the Penumbra Foundation took the giant bazooka-style camera out of a playing field this past weekend and photographed a lacrosse game.

Photographer Andrew Moore with the "Big Bertha" camera. Photo by
Photographer Andrew Moore with the “Big Bertha” camera. Photo by Geoffrey Berliner/Penumbra Foundation

“These old Graflexes have limited shutter speeds because the tension springs are tired with age,” Berliner writes. “I was able to shoot at 650/sec at f8. The lens has a focal length of 1000mm.”

He’s currently getting his film processed and scanned, but here’s a test negative he shot with his iPhone and then inverted:

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“These cameras were designed for sports photography and used for baseball, football and other sports events,” Berliner tells PetaPixel. “Every newspaper had one of these. Even the Metropolitan Opera was shot using one of these beasts. I’ll be shooting it much more for sports events. I’m working on getting it in use in major sports venues.”

The Graflex "Big Bertha"  with Berliner's collection of over 1,000 vintage camera lenses.
The Graflex “Big Bertha” with Berliner’s collection of over 1,000 vintage camera lenses.

“They were very popular from the 1940s till the 1970s, perhaps longer,” says Berliner. “As technology advanced, these cameras were no longer necessary or convenient to use.”

(via Geoffrey Berliner via Shutterbug)


Update on 3/23/16: Here are three scanned photos the two photographers shot during the lacrosse match:

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Image credits: Header photo of Geoffrey Berliner shooting the “Big Bertha” by Andrew Moore/Penumbra Foundation. Other photos by Geoffrey Berliner/Penumbra Foundation and used with permission.

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