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View Cameras: terminology



A view camera is a large format camera (generally at least 4x5 inches) in which the lens forms an inverted image on a ground glass screen directly at the plane of the film. The image viewed is exactly the same as the image on the film, which replaces the viewing screen during exposure.

The board at the front of the camera that holds the lens, and usually a shutter, is known as the front standard.

The rear frame that holds the ground glass plate used for focusing and composing the image before exposure, and is replaced by a holder containing the film, is called the rear standard.

A plate holder (also known as a dark slide) is a shallow light-proof box with a removable cover, which contains a sheet of photographic film. Dark slides are loaded with film in a darkroom, which can then be loaded into a camera in daylight. Once in the camera, the dark slide cover can be withdrawn without exposing the film, and replaced afterwards. These holders commonly contain two back-to-back sheets of film, with a cover on each face, and are call double dark slides.

There are several types of view cameras.

A Tailboard camera is a view camera focused by sliding the rear standard forward and backward until the image on the ground glass screen is sharp. Tailboard cameras can be folding or non-folding.
A Field camera has both the front and rear standards mounted on sliding rails fixed to a hinged flat bed, and so folds into a relatively small and portable box. The rear standard may be fixed while the lens standard racks forward on the bed for focusing, but some have rails which allow the movement of both standards. Field cameras often have the facility to attach to a camera support, such as a tripod.
A Hand Camera is an old term for a camera that is sufficiently compact and light that it can be operated when held in the hands.
In 1881, Thomas Bolas took out a British patent for a box-form plate camera. Because it could be used in the hand, inconspicuously, he coined the name detective camera for his invention. The term came to be applied to almost all hand cameras that appeared up to the end of the century. Most detective cameras were simple wooden boxes, sometimes covered in leather to resemble bags.
Conversely, a Studio camera is essentially one which is too large to be portable.

Improved perspective (rise & fall, shift) and focus (tilt, swing) control can be achieved with view cameras by changing the orientation of the front and/or rear standards. Not all cameras have all possible movements available to both front and rear standards, and some cameras have greater degrees of movement than others.

Rise and fall are the movements of either standard vertically along a line in a plane parallel to the film. The main effect of rise is to eliminate converging parallels, for example, when photographing tall buildings. If a camera is tilted upwards to get the top of a structure in the shot, the film plane is not parallel to the building, and the building seems narrower at the top than the bottom. A camera with rising front allows the top of the building to be photographed without tilting the camera. Rise and fall adjustments are analogous to having a stepladder and a ditch available.
Moving the front standard to the left or right of its normal position is called shift. The effect is similar to rise and fall, but helps stop parallels converging horizontally rather than vertically.
The axis of the lens is normally perpendicular to the film, and changing that angle by leaning the rear standard backwards or forwards is called tilt. Tilt has an effect on the field of focus by altering its shape, making it asymmetrical and narrower. Imagine the field of focus is like looking through a hoop held parallel to the film plane. Tilting the hoop on its horizontal or vertical axis changes the shape of the field observed through it, with the effect of making one edge of the field of focus closer and the other further away. In other words, the depth of focus can be increased in the vertical plane using tilt.
Altering the angle of a the film plane by swivelling it from side to side is called swing. Swing is like tilt, but it changes the angle of the focal plane in the horizontal axis instead of the vertical axis. Swing can, for example, help achieve sharp focus along the entire length of a picket fence that is not parallel to the film plane.