My Combat Cameras

From Day 1 at the Army Signal Corps Photo School, the Graflex Speed Graphic 4x5-inch press camera was front and center.  So, it was essential to know and understand--intimately--this fragile yet versatile machine, before beginning to consider image composition and such artistic notions.  

I became more than nimble with this assembly of precision optics, shutters, flashguns, film packs, rangefinders, gears and wheels.  I learned to use the Speed Graphic in the dark, eyes-closed--literally.  For nearly three years I carried and used this professional mainstay of a combat photographer.  

This camera was merely the centerpiece of the r
idiculously heavy KS-4 photo outfit. That sparsely cushioned olive-drab Halliburton case was efficiently packed with every item needed, although the six double-sided film holders carried only enough for twelve 4x5-inch negatives.  A film pack adapter allowed for six more black-and-white photos. That's twelve plus six, eighteen exposures.  Fortunately there was room for an extra box of film.

Signal Corps KS-4A camera outfit, with water-resistant Halliburton 
aluminum case. Camera is a Graflex 4x5-in Speed Graphic. Focus 
was via ground-glass or rangefinder. Optical and sports viewfinders 
were standard, along with extension photoflash gear and matching 
OD green tripod.
Through my last day of duty as an Army photographer in Germany,  I maintained and used a KS-4 Speed Graphic camera kit.  After around two thousand images shot under every imaginable condition, I continue to rate this is the most versatile large-format film camera of all time.

My second favorite Army camera was the grand 70-mm rangefinder by Graflex.

An expensive and highly-sought after tool, I saw and briefly handled one of these rugged machines, but did not have a chance to use one until I arrived in Germany.

For a number of reasons, my colleagues didn't prefer the 70-mm camera.  Since it shot only loaded film magazines, it had to be processed a whole roll at a time--15-ft of sensitive celluloid that required finesse to properly prepare and develop.  The trusty Speed Graphic exposed one sheet of film at a time, and it was a comparative cinch to develop and print a few of those.

70mm Combat Graphic
US Signal Corps KE-4 70-mm Combat Graflex

An over-sized and rugged roll-film rangefinder camera introduced not long before the end of the Korean War. Made from 1953-57, and used through the Vietnam War.  A 15-ft film load would make 50 photos. 


Has a hand-cranked spring motor that 
fires 10 rapid-fire shots

Kit included choice of 3 extra-sharp 
interchangeable Kodak Ektar lenses

Designed by Hubert Nerwin, formerly of Zeiss Ikon, the camera resembles an oversize Contax and was nicknamed 'Gulliver's Contax'. Also built by Graflex Inc in Rochester, NY. Photo image size was medium format: 5.5 x 7-cm, similar to those of Rolleiflex and Hasselblad (using 120-size roll film, they gave 6 x 7-cm and 6 x 9-cm "ideal" images--so-called because they enlarged to almost exactly 8x10-inch prints). 

Further, film was stocked only in 100-ft spools, and had to be darkroom loaded and cut.  Lord help you if you needed that 70-mm camera and didn't have a loaded film cartridge on hand.  Always, always it was essential to proactively stash away packs of flashbulbs in all sizes and colors, cartons of Polaroid film, and rolls of 35-mm film as they arrived, before they disappeared from the lockers.

But back to the 70-mm combat camera.  It was this fine unit that produced the best action images I made at the Grand Prix Formula 1 races at Monte Carlo and Spa (thanks to both the precision optics and a 1/1000-sec focal plane shutter).

The last three weeks of photo training at Fort Monmouth was up in the air: aerial photography practiced over the parks and streets of Red Bank and Asbury Park NJ, in olive-drab Army aviation ### and ###.

On the first flight we carried a Speed Graphic with a film pack .  After about fifteen weeks with that 4x5-in camera it was supposed to be familiar and easy to use on this simple, low, and slow training flight.

Most of the class hadn't before been aloft, in a plane of any size or type.  A few didn't handle the new perspectives and didn't make it through.  They mostly slid into the photo lab tech program, and left their cameras behind.

On flight two our camera was a heavy OD green wooden beast called the 
Folmer Graflex Model A1 Aero.

US Army Air Forces K-20 Aircraft camera

Described as 'a lightweight handheld' aircraft camera this thing is SOLID. Shot 20 foot rollfilms of 4x5 negs. Three shutter speeds (1/125 - 1/500) but full range of f-stops. Pretty much every US bomber in WW2 carried at least one of these. Can fire as fast as you can push-pull the handle.

US Army Air Forces nomenclature plate.

Dial set shutter speeds and apertures.

Used these large roll films for 4x5 negs.

Folmer Graflex K-20 Aircraft Camera. Many thousands of these cameras were used during WW2, the same design made by at least three different manufacturers. Nearly every US bomber and Naval ship had these on board and although they were used hard most are still working today. Incredibly strong and reliable. The case also had room for 3 or 4 rolls of film and not much else.

1954 till about 1957 by Graflex Inc. it is designated the KE-4 (1) Still Picture Camera by the American Military.

It began life as a design by one John Maurer who specialised in designing motor-driven cameras for the Air-Force and was put into production by Graflex where it was productionised by Hubert Nerwin who had been part of the design team at Zeiss-Ikon who produced the Contax 35mm cameras, total production about 1500 units.

It is finished in drab olive (of course) with black trim, uses 70mm double sprocketed film in cartridges which are like oversize 35mm. It's 10-in (255mm) wide by 5-in tall (127mm) and with the normal 4-in.(102mm) f/2.8 Kodak Ektar is about 5.25ins. deep (134mm).

The body is made of cast magnesium and it weighs about 5lbs. (2.25Kg). The normal lens focuses to 4ft and is clickstopped to f/22. Shutter Speeds are

T,B,X,1,1/2,1/5,1/10,1/25,1/50,1/100,1/200,1/500 with a standard cloth focal plane shutter. Wind on is using a clockwork spring motordrive which would advance about 9 frames per winding in a single shot mode.

Film feed is from Cassette to cassette with a built in knife cutter to alow unload in mid roll (like an Exakta), frame size is 6x7cm. Focusing is by a rangefinder, 4.5in. (115mm) base, in a single viewfinder that also zoomed when the telephoto lens was attached, framing for wide-angle is by a "Sports" type finder on the top.

Additional lenses were:- 2.5in (63mm) f/4.5 Kodak Ektar Wide-angle click stopped to f/22, min focus 4ft. 8in (205mm) f/4 Kodak Ektar telephoto click stopped to f/22, min focus 8ft. The camera plus the two extra lenses and a bulb flash unit all came together as a kit in an olive drab Haliburton case and was known by the military as the KS-6(1).

I tried looking it up last night but my older book only refers to the wide angle and tele lenses without giveing the specific focal lengths. I think the WA is a 65mm and the tele a 150mm. I've seen outfits at shows before. Often the WA lenses is missing. A sort of clean user camera with the normal and tele lenses in the original case was selling for around $1000. These cameras are difficult to find so if you can get one at a price that is worth it to you I'd probably buy it. A few cameras were made for non military use and are painted black instead of olive green. It was designed by the same man that designed the Contax for Zeiss Ikon.

Nerwin did more than "productionize" the camera: he was hired away from Zeiss Ikon (Stuttgart) by Graflex in 1947 as part of the US-sponsored Operation Paperclip -- as Chief of Design at Zeiss Ikon, his salary was about 1/3 or less what it became as the KE-4 project chief at Graflex!. When he joined Graflex, he had the camera rethought on Contax RF terms, which is why the two share so many similarities. Nice camera, but quite expensive.

The Hove Blue Book has a picture of one, but a rather >short description. It says a Kodak 100mm/f2.8 coated lens, but also a >estimated double price for a complete kit with case and three lenses. The >question is: *which* three lenses?? I pulled out one of my military dark olive green Halliburton cases loaded with a KE-4(1) camera kit, which I believe is what you are referring to. The camera looks like a blown-up Leica M-3 but it has a spring wound motor and accepts 70mm film in casettes. The standard lens is a 4" (102mm) f/2.8 Kodak Ektar.

Within the same case, in its neatly fitted holder is a 2 1/2" (63.80mm) f/4.5 Kodak Ektar and an 8" (205mm) f/4 Kodak Ektar. In addition, the case holds a flashgun that attaches to the camera's top deck and a full set of filters and a camera strap plus a case strap. Attaching each lens to the camera changes the size of the field of view of the optical finder to match the lens being installed. Within this finder there is a central spot coincidence type optical rangefinder which is coupled to the lens.

The camera has speeds of T, B, X 1, 2, 5, 10, 25, 50, 200 and 500. It has two sync settings, 0 and 20 ms. It has a built in film cutter. On the top deck it has a sports finder and there is a film loaded and advance indicator. When the camera is unloaded the finder is red. When film is tensioned the finder goes clear and when film is advancing or moving out of the supply chamber an indicator rotates. >

It also has a typo in the frame size spec: I assume it is 2.25x3.25", >right? That would make 5.72x8.25cm; also right, or are the first just >round numbers? I measured the frame size and it looks like it is 2 3/4 inches by 2 3/16 or roughly 70mm by 56mm. >Further (hey, I am not finished yet!....8-)): how reliable are these >things? Well, the shutter on each of my cameras works fine but neither was able to fire a flashbulb.

This may have been the fault of the bulb or the battery. Otherwise the shutters seem to work well and the springs on the motors advance 10 frames in fairly rapid succession before rewinding is necessary. >And how likely to be found? Is the Hove estimate of US$700 and 'rather >rare' correct?

I used one of these in Saigon to take pictures back in 1965. Very nice camera. Unfortunately, the scenes of bombings still pop into my head at times. Something about taking pictures of pieces of people that sticks in one's mind. I was in the U.S. Army and was on temporary duty with a movie crew at the time. Always wanted to own one of those babies, but getting it serviced would have been a hassle. And, I confess, I just can't remember any of the details of this camera.

The main site for servicing and manuals for all Army cameras was Ft. Monmouth, New Jersey, an Army Signal Corp base that taught photography, radio broadcasting, lab work, electronics repair, and other specialties. I went there and ended up at the Army's movie center - in Queens, New York.

This site was originally Paramount Studios East Coast where the early Tarzan movies were filmed (Johnny Weissmuller).

Anyway, where the heck is that shot done with the 8 mm fisheye lens? Nils Dahl, Hartford, Connecticut From: Date: Sat, 17 Jan 2004 00:49:58 EST Subject: Graphic 70 civilian To: My family ran a camera shop in the '50s and '60s in Indiana (USA).

The Graflex rep came in one day with a wild-looking beast. It was the updated and de-mobbed 70mm unit aforementioned. It was all semigloss black in a plain big briefcase. We all stood around drooling as he put it through its paces. In '58 I worked briefly with Stan Wayman, the famed LIFE photog, on a job. He did maybe 200 frames in several cassettes (Tri-X) with his 70 that weekend, all available-light, in addition to hundreds with 35s. Of course Wayman is long-gone and I suspect the 70 belonged to the magazine. A few years ago the US Gov't sold many sets of K-4s at surplus auction.

I believe prices were ridiculous at a couple hundred $. I have heard rumor of an occasional set at neighborhood $1000 

The familiar appellation, 'Combat Graphic' usually refers to the standard 4x5 'Speed Graphic' press camera in military O.D. paint, not the rare 70mm camera.

Thousands of examples of the wood-bodied icon were used by combat photographers in WWII. The 70mm magnesium camera was offered to the civilian market in the late '50s as the 'Graphic-70', for sports journalism and production-portrait work.

At that time, 4x5 press cameras ruled the trade because of the publishers' emphasis on technical quality which demanded a large-format tool. LIFE, LOOK, Saturday Evening Post, and other leading American magazines aggressively sought full page and double-page-spread attention-grabbing images for their oversize, glossy publications. The 70mm 2 1/4 x 3 1/4-inch neg was far finer than any 35mm.

The civilian version of the KE-4 was painted semi-gloss black. I remember the Graflex salesman in our camera shop in Indiana showing off the deluxe toy in its gleaming silver Haliburton Case. Even at that time, everyone who saw the camera lusted after it. Like the Zoomar, Inc. lenses, however, only the wealthiest photographic hobbyists could consider owning one.

Many American hobbyists remember it as a 'scaled-up Argus C-3'. Some of the 70mm cameras were used by leading photojournalists of the day. In that business, film was cheap and the event to be recorded was priceless, so a rapid-fire camera was useful to get the maximum number of frames for editors to evaluate. In my teens, I personally worked with famed LIFE photographer, Stan Wayman, on an shoot at my high school in 1958. He employed the '70 for about 10% of his work that day, which had to total over a thousand frames, almost all Tri-X. His camera was ex-military olive drab but much of the paint had chipped or worn off.

Graflex had a very healthy relationship with the US Armed Forces right from the early 1900s (see the Graflex History link to the left). This relationship continued until the mid 1970s when Graflex ceased business. While most of the Graflex military cameras were based around the Speed Graphic in its various guises Graflex SLR cameras were also supplied, along with a couple of specialised 'Combat' cameras, the all wood 4x5" Combat Graphic and the giant titanium 70mm rangefinder Combat Graflex.

1953 - 1957 70mm Combat Graflex. US Army Signal Corps OD green rangefinder camera. Because of its large size and design it is often referred to as 'Gulliver's Contax' or 'Texas Leica'. Equipped with a spring wound focal plane shutter and 4" Ektar f2.8 lens. Official military metal plate attached to rear of camera. Hard to find and quite rare in the complete OD green metal Haliburton cased KS-4A(2) outfit with dedicated flash and three Ektar lenses.

This Camera is sometimes nicknamed a Texas Leica. It is a very large rangefinder camera, taking 70mm film.

See this:

Some features: wind-up spring driven motor drive, finder shifts for different lenses. A film cutter so you can change films anywhere in the roll. Shutter release is on the back by the right thumb. Field finder accomodates three lenses (rotates 180 degrees for the wide frame), the flash accomdates both Edison and M type bulbs (a socket for each. See the pics.) Has a big switch by the film speed dial to set the proper flash delay for FP bulbs. Tripd mount on bottom and one side. Uses the universal 70mm cassette common to Hasselblad and others. And more.

Film for them, double-sprocket 70mm, is getting very hard to come by. Very expensive.

It was surprisingly quiet, too.1953 - 1957.........70mm Combat Graflex. US Army Signal Corps OD green rangefinder camera. Because of its large size and design it is often referred to as 'Gulliver's Contax'. Equipped with a spring wound focal plane shutter and 4" Ektar f4.7 127mm lens. Official military metal plate attached to rear of camera. Hard to find and quite rare in the complete OD green metal Haliburton cased KS-4A(2) outfit with dedicated flash and three Ektar lenses. 

The Graphic 70 (aka Contax on steroids or Combat Graphic 70mm)In the late 1940's, there was a general consensus in the professional photographic world that 70 or 80mm film (formerly used in allied and axis aerial cameras) would be one of the waves of the future. This would provide the quality of medium format with the convenience, mechanical advantages, and low cost of 35mm film. The Graphic 70 was designed by Hubert Nerwin, prewar design chief at Zeiss Ikon, who came to work for Kodak in 1949. It was a larger version of a focal-plane shutter 35mm camera with bayonet-mounted lenses and a viewfinder keyed by the lens mount, as in the later Leica M2 and M3. Lenses provided included a 100mm Kodak Ektar (f/2.8), a 205mm Kodak Ektar (f/4.0) and a 65mm wide angle lens.The Graphic 70 was officially available in both civilian (special order) and military versions, although there appears to be no record of production of a civilian version. The military version was identified as the KE-4 camera, or the KE-6 camera system. Confusingly, the KS-4A camera system from the same period was a military version of the Pacemaker Speed Graphics.Most production seems to have been in the mid to late 1950's; the camera seems to have been basically a buy-American product for the military. The Graphic 70 is not listed in my Graflex product brochure of 1955, but is described in the 1958 edition of Morgan et al. Graphic Graflex PhotographyFrom Morgan et al. Graphic Graflex Photography 1958Graphic and Graflex Equipment: Graphic 70Designed to meet military specifications, the fabulous Graphic 70 offers unusually fine optical performance and so many features.Here are only a few of them:By pressing the release button, it not only releases the shutter, but in addition causes the advance of the film and rewinding of the variable-slit self-capping focal place shutter. One winding of the self-contained motor will allow making 10 full cycles. Other features include a cut-off knife, so that any part of the 15 foot length of film (making 50 exposures) can be run into the cassette on the take up side for immediate processing. The frame number of each complete exposure is recorded not in the frame area, but immediately adjacent to it, and the counter returns to zero when the back is opened. Provision is made for bulb and electronic flash; the bulb flash unit bayonets directly onto the camera with no wires.The three lenses -- standard 4-inch f/2.8, telephoto 8-inch f/4.0, and wide-angle 2 1/2 inch f/4.5 -- have excellent resolving power over the entire field and are fitted into special focusing mounts bayoneting into the front of the camera. Interchanging the lenses automatically adjusts the rangefinder for focus and changes the magnification in the combined range and viewfinder window. Focusing closer also automatically shifts the parallax frame and reduces the image area to indicate exactly the area included by the lens at any given working distance. These are but a few of the advanced features of this outstanding special-order camera

The Combat Graflex, also called a Combat70 or Gullivers Contax, was a rangefinder camera made by Graflexand using 70mm film. It was designed by the former Zeiss Ikon designer Hubert Nerwin, and looked like an overgrown Contax II. Used by the US Army Signal Corps. Made between 1953 and 1957 but used also in the early Vietnam War. The other Combat Camera, the Combat Graphic was a wooden body OD green 4x5 camera also made by Graflex and introduced to the Pacific war in 1944. This model was used by the US Navy and US Marine Corps. As there is much confusion between the two names it is probably safer to call them the Combat70 and Combat45 to differentiate between the film sizes.

wind-up spring driven motor drive, finder shifts for different lenses. A film cutter so you can change films anywhere in the roll. Shutter release is on the back by the right thumb. Field finder accomodates three lenses (rotates 180 degrees for the wide frame), the flash accomdates both Edison and M type bulbs (a socket for each. See the pics.) Has a big switch by the film speed dial to set the proper flash delay for FP bulbs. Tripd mount on bottom and one side. Uses the universal 70mm cassette common to Hasselblad and others. And more.Film for them, double-sprocket 70mm, is getting very hard to come by. Very expensive.It was surprisingly quiet, too.

US ARMY Rangefinder camera 70mm - Graflex Combat Graphic


Graflex KE-4(1) small outfit. I doubt this was ever a standard outfit but definitely more portable than the full KS-6(1) set in the OD green aluminium Halliburton case which was outrageously heavy. Just enough room in the leather lined bag for the camera with standard lens, 205mm Ektar telphoto and flash. As the camera held 15 feet of 70mm film, enough for 50 exposures, there was probably no need to carry more film.