Busch Pressman Model D 4×5 – Review

I’ve recently entered the world of Large Format Photography, I am now the proud owner of a Busch Pressman Model D. A 4×5 press style large format folding camera. A thing of beauty really.

Busch Pressman Model D

My entrance into the field of large format wasn’t the proverbial “jump in the deep end” though.
I’ve had experience with 4×5 cameras before. I’ve seen/played with different types and read a lot about the subject (quite a lot.) I even borrowed a friends monorail and 150mm Nikkor lens for a little while too, this got me out and about and actually using one for the hands on purpose of learning movements and controlling perspective. I quickly discovered that using a monorail in the field is no easy task, I set about looking for a camera that could go in a bag easily and one I’d be happy to tote around with me all day long if needed.

Enter the Busch Pressman Model D. I found a stunning example on eBay and after a few weeks it was sitting on my desk begging to be used. I already had a bunch of film holders and even some film that my Bro sent me; ERA 100. a cheaper Chinese film that as I found shoots quite nicely at EI50 although the emulsion damages easily.

My aim was to get out and get shooting, I had planned a family camping trip for the weekend and it was the perfect opportunity for the Pressman to come for a drive up to Girringun National Park, A camp-ground called Broadwater is situated at the base of the mountain range and is a great place to go for the weekend, it’s fairly close by (1.5hrs drive) and is well set up for family camping.

Rock Pool

For those that are familiar the Busch pressman is very much like the Graflex Crown Graphic, It closes down into a small box shape that fits in many camera bags and backpacks nicely, the lens actually retracts into the box so no need to remove it first as you would have to on a true folding field camera. It comes with a slightly wide standard 135mm Wollensak Raptar lens. Other varieties come with a Kodak Ektar 127mm and some with other focals lengths always contained in a Copal 0 shutter, as the front standard is quite small you can’t get any larger with the shutter as they won’t fit. That being said there is a good range of lenses that fit the bill from wide angle to short-tele. The rails extend out to about 12 inches which is good for up to telephoto focal lengths.

Given the fact that we are in Large format territory it’s amazing just how small, light and portable this camera really is, it sat on my old aluminium tripod with no problems at all and didn’t even look like being unstable for a second. Setup is relatively quick, a small button on top releases the catch for the drop bed, once down it locks into place and the lens standard can be slid out and locked at the infinity position for the given lens by stoppers, Screw in a cable release and you are pretty much ready to compose and focus.

The Pressman, as with many other press style 4×5′s comes with a built in focussing hood that attaches over the ground glass, I noticed the one on the pressman seemed to cut off the outer area of the ground glass, so I removed it, it’s locked in by a single thumb screw so very easily removed. The ground glass is bright and clear and a joy to compose on, the only downfall to me being the 6×9 frame lines marked on it in red.

When it comes to movements you get a fairly standard (for a press style camera) set. it has Rise, Shift and Tilt options on the front standard with no “true” movements on the back although you can get the equivalent of a back tilt by dropping the bed to it’s lower position, which is usually reserved for the use of wide angle lenses to control vignetting, most of the movements I use are on the front standard and the only major one missing is front swing, which could be handy but isn’t essential.

Ross River

The Pressman features an all metal construction giving it a better reputation than that of the Graflex offerings (which are timber body). Another fantastic feature it has that is lacking in the graphics is the revolving spring back, changing from portrait to landscape and visa versa is a breeze and saves having to tip the whole camera on it’s side.

As expected this press camera comes with a side mounted rangefinder which is calibrated to the 135mm lens, different lenses will require re-calibration. I tested mine and it’s spot on, although I don’t intend to use it much or at all, as this camera is destined for slower more contemplative landscape and still life photography. It also features a swing up frame for the sports finder, for me this feature did seem useless until I discovered at 90 degrees it can hold the darkslide over the lens acting as a pseudo lens shade in a pinch, might be useful after all.

So far I’ve only shot a handful of sheets in this camera, but it’s already becoming a favourite for it’s sexy style, it’s quick setup and teardown time, it’s portability and weight and how tough it is. Expect much more work from this beauty in the near future.

Busch Pressman Model D

4 thoughts on “Busch Pressman Model D 4×5 – Review

  1. Another trick is to rotate the groundglass hood upside down and lay a small pocket mirror in there and you have a rightside up image upon which to focus and compose. I’ve owned virtually every 4×5 out there at one time or another and the Busch Pressman and its twin Tower model are by far more rugged than anything else you can lay hands on. Midwest Photo Exchange carries the lensboards, in case you wish to add other lenses.

      • My Dad was professional photographer from 1934 until he retired in 1974. He consulted with Busch on the “D” and that was his favorite war horse. I still use it and most of the equipment that goes with it including his old meter. I started as Dad’s assistant when I was 6 in 1956. Believe it or not one of Dad’s peers got me a gig shooting night stockcar races using the D which I had to borrow from Dad in the 60′s.
        Lens boards are very easy to make. I make mine out of black plastic. One time I forgot the board and made one out of cardboard and gaffer tape. Port in a storm and all that.
        I’ve modified cords to use strobes as I don’t want to use my stock of press 6 bulbs.
        My main shooter now is a Nikon D800 and I wondered how images would look using the latest digital technology and had a friend help me come up with a back modification with an “”F” mount to mount a Nikon on it. My curiosity was if the digital image would have the flavor of using 60 and 70 year old glass and bellows. I am pleased to say that the flavor is very nice. The only problem I ran into was the length or the tube holding the “F” mount. With the 135mm you ran out of infinity with the board mount hanging off the rear of the rails. Longer lenses were fine. I have since cut off and shortened the mount tube and can now use the 135 easily the only thing is that with the Nikon on the back it becomes a beast and a very sturdy studio tripod is a must as lighter typical ones won’t hold it.
        Any how have fun with your “D”. It was far advanced for it’s day and the toughest press camera out there. The only problem is it came out about the time when 35mm was starting to get popular.

        • Yes true, the only problem I have found with the lens boards is that little tab that sticks back which locks it in place, I guess I could use black tape to hold a “flat” board in but i’d rather a nice solution that matches the camera design.

          I have found the odd source of lens boards but they are pricey for originals.

          I’ve been loving shooting with the Busch especially the rotating back, something that gets the Crown Graphic crowd a bit jealous!! :)

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