Gowlandflex, Mother Of All TLRs
History of Gowland Cameras. Periodic updates about the camera making creations of Peter Gowland.
The famous 8×10 Gowlandflex, shown above and affectionately known as “The Beast”. At nearly three feet tall, it was not very practical for most kinds of shooting. Seven were made and sold. The last one sold in 2005. On the right is a Rollei copy to show scale.
Owning a Gowlandflex puts you in an exclusive club whose members include the most famous portrait and glamour photographers of both this century and the 20th century. Annie Liebovitz, Josef Karsh,Dennis Manarchy, John Huet, Arthur Grace, David Raccuglia, Arthur Elgort, and Mark Laita all use or used Gowlandflexes. Any Gowlandflex TLR camera found is likely to be a rare collector’s item in the near future.
There are hundreds of Gowland camerasworking today, and hundreds more hiding somewhere, perhaps in an attic or the back room of a camera store. Peter sold at least 600 Gowlandflex twin lens 4×5 cameras alone.
Many large organizations have used or continue to use Gowland cameras. The FBI, Army, Navy, Polaroid, Eastman Kodak, and Playboy all owned and may still own Gowland cameras today.
Because Peter keeps everything in his life as simple as possible, he made and continues to make all of his cameras with simplicity in mind. No gadgets to break, no frills to fumble with, and no reading required to use them.
“I can’t help it. I like to work in the shop. I don’t think many people are interested in film cameras anymore. I do notice that people who do contact printing purchase my 5×7 cameras more lately.
I need to sell all of the cameras so that I can relax more with my wife”
In this world of computers, waiting hours on hold and searching endlessly for someone who knows about their own product, you’ll find that Peter still answers the phone himself quite often. Peter’s cameras are still made the old fashioned way – with care, passion and a personal enjoyment for making things.
You can see a lot of history related to Peter on this site, but please remember that Peter is not history. In a couple more years, the cameras will be all sold out here. If you get one, you’ll have many years to make history yourself and explore the rich creative art of photography.
Peter’s Notes about the Gowland SLR
I have designed around 30 cameras, but never one with a reflex shutter. My 4×5 Graflex had a large mirror, that had to move up, before the large focal shutter could expose the film. Even at fast shutter speeds, there was time delay, that made it impossible to record action, like a horse jumping over a fence. By the time the the shutter worked, the horse was on the ground.
If one wanted to use strobe or flash, one had to use a 5th sec. to give the mirror time to “move out of the way” allowing the shutter to drop down. The large mirror had to move up, and the large rear shutter had to move down. Slow and heavy parts. I asked myself, why not use a thin 2″ mirror, set at 45 degrees next to the lens, and move from left to right, with a faster shutter speed, around 1/50 second?
In using the Gowland SLR, the image passes through the lens to a small mirror shutter, is reflected up to larger mirror and back to ground glass, when the shutter is released, the small mirror moves right, allowing image to pass through the three shutter parts back to film. During this 1/50th part of a second, flash contact is made, center shutter part moves to the right, closing the opening. When both top shutter parts are moved to left for re-cocking, light cannot pass through lower opening.
With this unique design, it is necessary to keep the lens and small mirror close together. Rather than moving the lens for focusing, the ground glass and film are moved as one.
The camera is built around a 240-250mm lens. Film movement of 4 inches permits close focus of three feet to infinity. For special close work a shorter lens might be used. For example, 210mm can be used from two feet to eight-and-a-half feet. Longer lenses, providing they are telephoto, can also be used. 360mm Tele-Xenar gives large head portraits with focus range of five and-a-half feet to twenty-four feet. When top shutter parts are moved back, with knob on left side, shutter is ready for the next shot.