The Graflex Compact 3 x 5"

New Bellows for a Marvellous Designed 

Classic Camera


Focal Capacity 10 "
Curtain Aperture
Automatic Safety Curtain
Postcard Format

The above photograph shows the Graflex 3 1/4 x5 1/2  inch Compact camera manufactured in the early decades of the last century by W. Former and Swing.
This particular camera has been equipped with new made bellows to replace the old worn one.
The Graflex Compact Camera is a reflex camera designed to take postcard format film or plate and was reduced in weight and size compared to the 4x5 or 5x7 inch Graflex cameras.
Unlike the square construction of the mirror house of the bigger Graflex cameras at that time, the Graflex Compact was designed with a slant position of the bellows frame.
This slant position allowed the mirror to move freely in the mirror house and thus saving about 2 inches of space comparing to a regular straight up position like the regular reflex cameras at that time.
The W.F. Folmer's patent here below shows this clever and ingenious design in all its facilities. The Compact Graflex is all that the name implies. It is not only relatively small in size,
but built with the accuracy and rigidity necessary in a 3 1/4 x 5 1/2 reflex camera.

This Graflex embodies many new features and particular attention is directed to the -for that time- new automatic safety curtain.
This curtain is actuated by the swinging mirror frame, protecting the sensitive layer on the plate or film for incoming light when the mirror is set.
As soon as the release lever is pressed the swinging mirror takes its place in top of the exposure house and at the same time drops the safety curtain to allow the focal plane shutter to make the exposure in the usual way.

The mirror frame in this camera is constructed of aluminium, which reduces the weight of the camera and as the mirror frame seats against an air cushion in the top of the camera, it eliminates all danger of vibration,
which is a valuable feature when making slow exposures holding the camera in the hand.
An improved mechanism is provided for setting the shutter for Time or Instantaneous exposures and the new shutter winding tension
is so constructed that all mechanism inside the plate is thoroughly protected.
The focusing hood is made amply large to afford full view of the focusing screen when making exposures with the camera held in position for making either horizontal or vertical negatives.
This hood is made so that it detachable affording easy access to the focussing screen. The lens board support is made out of metal and is fitted with spring actuated clamp which firmly grips the track at any desired point.
The Compact Graflex Camera is fitted with the regular Graflex Focal Plane shutter permitting exposures of any duration from Time to 1/1000 second .
The back of the camera was constructed to take the Graflex Plate holder, Graflex Film Pack Adapter, Graflex Magazine,
Plate Holder or the improved Graflex Roll Film Holder. Two tripods sockets were provided, one in the base for horizontal and one in the left side for vertical exposures.
Beside all these above mentioned new features there is another one which deservers our attention.
The ingenious developed storage system of track, bellows and lens enabling safe and easy set up of the camera, ready to expose!
The Graflex Compact 3x5 inch camera uses slotted sheet film holders or roll film holder, slotted glass negative holders or film pack holders.
To learn more about Graflex holders, please follow this link.

Flash back to the begin of the 20th century

In the year 1916 the Graflex Compact cost US $ 70,00 without lens and $120,00 including a Bausch & Lomb  Tessar
1-C lens.

The Tessar lens was manufactured by Bausch and Lomb under licence from Zeiss Germany
However these prices doesn't mean anything until you are aware about the average earning USA back in 1915.
In 1913 income tax came on the scene. You were doing about average if you were making $ 687 a year, according to the Census*
 Public school teacher $  507.00
City Ministers $ 1092,00

*) official survey of the population of a country in order to find out how many people live there and to obtain their age and job.


Some more interesting technical details
The storage system.


US Patent 932,457 William F. Former.
Drawing shows clearly the slant position of the frame (7) of the partly stretched bellows.

Fig 1
1 indicates the camera body, the detachable back has been removed.
2 The exposure chamber
3 The bed
4 The extension bed.
5 The adjustable front.
6 The bellows
7 The tilting bellows frame pivoted to 8
8 pivoted frame which when tilted back to an erect position, makes room within the body for housing the front.
At the top of the exposing chamber (2) there is a focusing opening 9 surrounded by a focusing hood and fitted ground glass.

Setting the mirror for storing bellows
before closing the camera.

To understand the working it is helpful to read the text below.
It explains why the mirror should be set before closing the camera.

By moving the exterior lever H backwards the mirror is rocked in one direction and held in this position against the tension of its own spring by a latch 28 on the bellows frame (7) through which latter the mirror projects in its operative position.
The latch may be released by a trip 29 (shown in dotted lines in Fig. 1) accessible from the exterior (E) of the camera. (Exposure button)
When the latch is released and the mirror frame 5 flies upwardly under the influence of its spring 25 it closes the focusing aperture and seals the exposure chamber from the entrance of light from that quarter.
For this purpose, lateral flanges, 30 on the frame cooperate with similar flanges 31 extending downwardly at the sides of the opening and a front flange 32 on the mirror frame,
preferably covered with plush or similar material, cooperates with a yielding plate 33 at the top of the bellows frame 7.

As  by means of the lever 27, and in the other, by means of its spring 25, the Safety curtain moves correspondingly with or against the tension of 85 its own Spring 38, as the case may be.
The Springs 25 and 38 work with each other and each affects not only the part with which it is directly connected, but also has an influence on the other part. I claim as my invention


Above picture shows the slant position of the bellows frame positioned in front of the exposure chamber.
It also shows the hinged drop bed with track and front lens plate taken apart from the camera.
To isolate this part of the camera the front lens board should be taken off and pulled through the slit in the bottom of the camera housing.


Restoring the Compact Graflex 3x5 camera.
demands skills and experience
here are some handy tips to help you with the first steps.


by pulling out the lens board as far as possible the bellows may show its imperfections.
Before working on the camera, remove the focussing hood and ground glass.
Cover the mirror to protect its silver sensitive surface coating.
Never rub such a mirror. Cleaning only with a nylon static dust cleaner.

To start disassembling separate the bellows including inside front plate from the back of the lens board.

Photo on the right: Backside with film holder. Don't remove film holder to avoid touching the focal plane shutter or use a cardboard protector shield.
Make sure the mirror is in horizontal position.

Start inspection of the camera before beginning to disassemble.
Note the grey plate cover protecting the mirror setting assembly shown on the left photo.
Right photo. Check the working of the focal plane shutter. Unlike most of the Graflex focal plane shutters, this one is equipped with a third blind which raises
 while the mirror is set in focussing position and thus at the same time protecting light coming into the exposure chamber.
Now the normal curtain setting by key winding can be done without the need of the dark slide.
Check the working of this.

  Remove old worn Bellows

Start the work to remove the old worn bellows.
To remove the lens including the lens board unscrew the top plate of the lens standard and slide the lensboard including the lens upwards out of the standard.
Store the lens on a save place.
Remove the infinity screws on front of the track and pull out the lens standard. The outer board is coupled with the board inside the bellows.
Separate them by carefully bending the little hooks holding the inner lens board. The inner lens board can be taken off now.
If you bend the hooks too much they might brake off, so you better bend just enough to be able to get the outer board separated.

Bellows with frame can be taken out now.
After removing the bottom plate the brass hinged plate becomes visible.  The black finished part of it holds the bellows frame inside the mirror house in position.
This is done by a build in leaf spring. When working on the camera make sure the mirror is in rest position to avoid sudden release.
Unscrew both hinged plates but make notes and keep the screws separated.
Photo left shows the partly dissembled camera bottom.
After completely taken off the bottom assembly, you'll be able to pull out the bellows frame including the worn bellows with the inner part of the front lens board.
While disassembling, please pay attention. Store the screws separately and make notes and take photos of
their original location. Each part of this assembly has its own size of screws.



The bellows inside the camera house is fastened to a wooden frame by nails and you have to be very careful getting the little nails out without breaking the frame.
Be aware that you won't find those very tiny nails in your local hardware shop nor in their surrounding world, so you'd better try to get them out of the frame without spoiling them.
 The separated bellows is very useful for taking the measurement to create the new bellows. Take length measurement of the four folds and
length and width of the frame and inner lens board. Make a dummy out of thin cardboard for testing purposes.

Making New Bellows.

The slant shaped bellows are not easy to design and manufacture.
First make a paper or cardboard dummy to check if the old bellows fits around it and if the slant end fits precisely into the bellows frame.
Use Photo Shop® or Coral Draw® to design the bellows folds. Print them on normal print paper and glue them to the dummy cardboard design. (right picture below)
9 mm for each stiffener, 2 mm for the space between them and so on. 

cut out the space between the stiffeners and make sure to use removable tape to consolidate their position.

If the drawings are ready cut two pieces of fabric out of the BK5 Black Nylon fabric.
One piece for the outside and one for the inside cover. Take at least one inch more than your pattern.
Only use spray glue and and glue the stiffeners to the BK5-Black Nylon Blackout fabric.
You should end up with a round closed model which needs to be formed with your fingers to the bellows.

Mount the inner lens board into the front of the bellows.
I used the test cardboard dummy to hold the new bellows strait while working on it.
Mount the back of the bellows to the frame using the original tiny nails.
I'm really happy to
 present the new born 1906 Compact Graflex in perfect working condition albeit with new bellows.

Camera Photos © Jo Lommen

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