The ultimate camera if what you want is complete and utter control over your photographs. Almost always designed for large format, a view camera is essentially a flexible, lightproof box with a lens at one end and ground glass at the other. Everyone has seen movies from the old west where the general and his men, back from a good day of huntin' injuns, has his photo taken by the poor guy with the huge camera who has to put that cape over his head and look in the back of the box... Whelp, the box is a view camera, and that cape is a dark cloth, thank you very much.

Like a Single Lens Reflex the photographer looks directly through the lens to compose the photograph. Unlike a SLR there's no bells and whistles between the lens and you so what the lens sees if what you see. That means what you're looking at is upside down and backwards. This is rarely a problem, cause what you're shooting isn't going anywhere. Taking pictures of anything moving with a View Camera is virtually impossible, and completely impossible if you need to look at the subject with the camera while pushing the shutter release. Why? Because you can't. In order to load the camera with film (one single shot at a time folks) you have to place the film in front of the ground glass you're seeing the image on - thus blocking your view. So: you get the tripod out, point the view camera at something that either won't move (your house), won't move enough to matter (your tree), promises it won't move (your mom) or you hope won't move (your dog). Make everything perfect, then insert the film (you're now blind if you've still got your face against the glass, btw) and push the button.

Why would someone want to bother with a camera like this? First, it's about the only way large format cameras are built, and if you want/need/gotta have negatives as big as snapshots, you're going to have to learn to be patient and put up with it. Second, they're gorgeous. Mine is made out of maple wood with spiffy black leather and brass thingies all over it... mmmm... sorry.

But forget all that, the real reason why one uses a View Camera is because you have an incredible amount of control over what the final image looks like. That's why the box is flexible.

And because the following aspect of a View Camera is one that I've always found simultaneously intuitive and impossible to describe adequately without visual representation I'm going to use someone else's words:

"By adjusting the relative positions of the lens and the film, View Camera users can exercise the following controls over the image:
  1. The elimination of convergence or the exageration of convergence of parallel lines in the subject.
  2. The alteration of the place of sharp focus either to render a subject entirely sharp, or to intentionally create unsharpness in parts of the subject.
  3. The control of cropping - vercially, horizontally, and rotationally."1

So: there you have it, but the only way you can really know it is to get out there and play with one. It comes highly recommended.

1Leslie Stroebel View Camera Techniques pg. 3, 1993.

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