through the glass darkly

Kalart Press camera 1948-53

Toronto. As a kid I often saw ads for a Kalart after market rangefinder. This little gadget was bolted on the side of a Speed Graphic.  I never thought of Kalart as a camera maker.

At our Show and Tell 2018 this past December, one of our new members, a news photographer, showed his unusual alternative to a Speed Graphic.

The Kalart press camera is a beautiful looking camera with a 127mm Wollensak lens (like the one used in a Leica mount and marked Leitz NY). The camera was designed to correct all the known issues with the Speed Graphic. There were two viewers so either eye could be used, and two flash gun sockets. You can use a ground glass or a rangefinder (and a tiny spotlight in poor light). The lens can be removed but no alternatives were ever made by Kalart. They would however, customize a camera for a given lens if you sent camera and lens to them in NYC. The lens focal length appears in the bright frame as a reminder. Numerous clever circuits and mechanical gadgets stop you from making common errors with the camera. These protective devices make the camera more delicate to the uneducated user.

But it had some other problems of its own. The hand hold was too small for a large male hand; no optional lenses were offered; and the cut film size of 3-1/4 by 4-1/4 inches didn’t meet with standards of the newspapers of the day which expected 4×5 inches cut film or plates from older Speed Graphics. While gorgeous and well made, the Kalart was double the price of a Speed Graphic – about a third the cost of a new car at the time! The camera first came on the market in 1948 and lasted until 1953 when it disappeared into the mists of time.

Thanks to PHSC member Davis Strong for this item. Oh, and the biblical title I used? Each viewfinder is totally dark with a bright line frame and rangefinder triangle. You have to use BOTH eyes to see the field of view and the frame – another problem with the Kalart.

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