View Camera

What Is A View Camera?

A view camera is a style of camera that dates back to the 1850’s and most commonly shoots to 4″x5″ film slides, though other larger sizes are also available (6×6, 6×7 are popular). A view camera has a very distinctive 2-part design that is joined in the middle by a flexible bellows.  The front section of the camera holds a lens mount and a mechanical shutter, while the rear section of the camera holds a piece of “ground glass”.  The image from the lens is projected onto the glass to allow the photographer to focus correctly.  Once the focus has been set, the ground glass is replaced by a film holder which contains the slide film, ready for the exposure.  Since the front section of the camera, sometimes called the front standard, can be moved in all directions relative to the rear standard, the effect is the same as a tilt-shift lens.  Shifting the front standard upwards can correct keystoning in architectural photography, and tilting the front standard forwards, left or right, will adjust the angle of the focal plane relative to the film.  This allows an unprecedented control over focus and depth of field.

The movements of a view camera have the same names as the movements of a more modern tilt-shift lens.

  • Up and down = rise and fall
  • Laterally left and right = shift
  • Pivoting forwards or backwards = tilt
  • Pivoting left or right = swing

The complex mechanical movement systems of view cameras can combine many of theses things together in a way that even modern lenses simply cannot achieve. View cameras are not seen very often these days, but the high resolution of 4×5 images are still popular with a good number of portrait photographers.

Additional Reading

  • What Is A Reflex Camera?
  • What Is A Medium Format Camera?
  • What Is A Tilt-Shift Lens?
what is a view camera