My little Pocket View Camera

Gowland 4x5 Pocket View

Gowland 4×5 Pocket View

Let me introduce an old friend of mine . . . The Gowland 4×5 Pocket View Camera designed by the famous Peter Gowland . A famous American Glamour and Pin-up photographer of the Hollywood Film era.  He was also known for designing and building his own studio equipment and was active professionally for six decades.  I hope you do visit his website, Sadly though he has past on now and his site is still run by his wife.  I did have the pleasure of chatting several times with this gracious man who was always interested in how his gear was put to use and the people who used his cameras . . . But lets get back to this little 4×5 large format camera and how I use it to take 6x12cm panoramic shots . . .   To paraphrase Peter Gowlands description of this camera which was available in both 4×5 and 5×7 formats “the Gowland Pocket View cameras are light, rugged and capable of making world class photos without breaking your back or your bank account. These are ultra-light weight, typically between 3 and 5 pounds including lens and film holder.”  The movements of the cameras where basic to say the least and definitely not for the OCD photographer types (sorry you guys/gals but the rule here is simplicity) . . built of mostly aluminum the camera weighed in less then carrying a pro-body dSLR & fast tele zoom lens . . . and space wise you could put it in a light backpack or even a messenger bag.  You could get by with a tripod you’d use for a good dSLR and know you where not stressing anything . . . Lastly these little cameras made the best Medium Format (with a rollfilm back) technical rig for handling Architectural or Landscape with adequate tilt and shift, rise & fall to control most perspective issues one might need to tackle.  To put it nicely, these where grab n go cameras meant for field use.

My way of using this camera for the most part was by adding a Horseman 6×12 rollfilm back which fits the universal Graflex back of the camera . . .

Horseman 6x12 Rollfilm back

Horseman 6×12 Rollfilm back

Here you can see the rollfilm back mounted to the back of the camera in place of the focusing / viewscreen.  To use the rig you have to set up and focus the camera the same as if you where going to shoot a 4×5 sheet film.  Once you had everything focused you would detach the the focusing screen and slip the back into place, locking it down, setting the lens to fire and pulling the dark-slide, at this point you would be ready to make an exposure.  Yup, your dead right! This ain’t your daddy’s 35mm SLR, much less his TLR . . . . . in fact you are basically shooting Large Format.    Wait a minute !! what about all that exposure stuff . . whats manual focus, what’s a handheld exposure meter . . . what . . . what . . . what . . . Well like I said this ain’t dad’s SLR . . . you could use Sunny 16 rules for exposing your film! Really it’s easy to do and fun.  So what do we have so far? well just a really big rollfilm camera that has no metering, no AF, no automation . . . So what’s the payoff, a beautiful negative or slide that is 6 cm x 12 cm in size this is the most modest of the Panoramic formats in 120 film size (this would be half of a 4×5 negative) and when scanned you will have a huge amount of data to play with.  On a quick note: use your dSLR and a homemade light box to scan your negs . . its easy, just make sure everything is aligned and squared up so you get a usable pic, just use PS and reverse the neg and you’ll have a positive to play with.

Rear camera components, Clockwise starting upper left, 6x12 film back; filmback, focusing screen; Focusing screen; Filmback showing Darkslide installed

Rear camera components, Clockwise starting upper left, 6×12 film back; filmback, focusing screen; Focusing screen; Filmback showing Darkslide installed

As you can see in the photo above these are the components that get the most attention on the back end.  The focusing screen (lower right photo above) shows the marks (I penciled them onto the frosted side of the screen) on the screen two horizontal lines & 4 vertical ticks indicate where to frame your subject, anything outside these marks will not be recorded.
Image2  Clockwise starting at the upper right; right side of camera, Bottom Right – Graflex camera back and standard provides swing and tilt movement, Bottom Left – focusing screen removed, Upper Left – front camera standard provides swing, tilt & rise/fall movements.  You can see that all movements are controlled by T-nuts and thumbscrews, pretty crude by most standards for Large Format (Film) cameras. When using digital backs with this camera any gains from a high MP back are lost as you cannot obtain the fine focus required by those backs.  I would suggest a higher end Large Format camera for digital use or a low end digital back in the 16 to 22 mega pixal range for use with this camera and a sliding back which you could use to do several shots to stitch together.  I will discuss such digital back adapters in a later blog, for now we’ll stick with film and a roll film back for ease of shooting and this camera the 6 x 12 format is the norm or 6 x 17 used on a 5 x 7 camera.

Image4  Starting out upper left and going clockwise Camera with roll film back installed ; Front view with a Fuji 125mm lens (mild wide angle)  mounted and installed which is one of my favorite landscape lenses, and lower left again is the Graflex back with focusing / viewscreen installed.

Well that is my old friend, my Gowland Pocket View camera . . . I wish they’d make a 6 x 12 digital I could afford, they will one day, but until then I will go out and shoot a bit of film and scan the results into my PC, my camera sits ready for me to take it up and go in search of a panoramic shot.    I use the following Large Format lenses with this rig for panoramic shots; 65mm Nikkor, 75mm Nikkor, 90mm Schnider, 120mm Macro Nikkor, 125mm Fuji, 150mm nikkor, 200mm M Nikkor .  I do still use light meters but often I will forgo carrying a meter and just use my dSLR to meter the scene (set the ISO to match the films ASA), if your using a filter (for Black & white) just put it over the cameras lens and meter your scene, no worries about calculating your exposure for the filter factor.
In the end what this rig really equates to is the enjoyment of being out an taking pictures, no you wont zip off 30 – 40 shots all the same on a gigabyte memory card, instead you’ll relax, make a few calculated shots and enjoy the outdoors . . . after all isn’t that what it’s all about? enjoying life.

If you enjoyed this please share it with your friends, and if you really liked it please leave a comment. . . .

Film . . Film . . Film

Film . . Film . . Film


8 thoughts on “My little Pocket View Camera

  1. I really like your blog.. very nice colors & theme.

    Did you design this website yourself or did you hire someone to do it for you?
    Plz respond as I’m looking to construct my own blog and
    would like to know where u got this from. thanks a

    • Thanks for the complement Latosha . . I did not create the theme I am using I just modified it to fit my needs.
      This is using a basic Word Press theme and modifying it, I did all the mods to the theme. Word-Press is the way to go for Blogs . . just pick a theme and then learn how to use it . . it’s easy

  2. Hi tim,

    Great blog and excellent post. I was hoping to grab one of these beauties, and had also written a mail, but guess these are not being manufactured any more …Was wondering whether it would be possible to build these,( don’t have deep pockets for fancy stuff 🙂 ), what do you think? From the photos they look simple enough.

    Best wishes

    • Hey Soumendra I would imagine it would not be to difficult to cobble one together, the hardest part(s) would be the bellows & the back. A rack & pinion rail would be easy to do. I have toyed with that idea as well as a few others. The over-all design is very simplistic . . and fabing the frame out of aluminum would be very easy. Study the photos on Peter Gowlands website to gain technical ideas. I had the privilege of speaking with Peter a few years before he passed away, he was a very wonderful man and awesome photographer of the film era. I am not sure what you want to do with a 4×5 view camera, but would suggest if you want one to play with then get a used one from the following source (, otherwise you might try ebay or craigslist . . . I hope this helps. Thanks for the complement on the blog & post.
      regards Tim

      • Good question. I am located in Delhi, India and intend to photograph the Himalayas in B&W. Few years back I had visited Leh/Ladakh and the DR was so large, the DSLR just couldn’t catch it..But then I would need something very light weight, the ones I zeroed on were the Gowland or the Toho. Unfortunately it seems that neither are available, hence looks like the only option available is to build one, and the Gowland looks much simpler

      • Soumendra, I would suggest a wooden one or perhaps a Canham 4×5, if panoramic is what you are after perhaps a Chinese 120 film format in format 6×17 like the Photoman 617 and a 90mm lens or a 75mm lens would work better for you. The vastness of Leh/Ladakh is a challenge I can see by the quick browse of the internet. That is a quest I would love to do, best of luck to you. Your craftsman in Delhi are highly skilled and I am sure they could fabricate a similar camera to a Gowland with equal or better quality, if I were to have one made I would invest in a 6x14cm or 6x17cm rollfilm back which means you would have to have one made as a 5×7 not a 4×5 format. Best of luck to you.
        regards Tim

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