Definition: View camera; Bellows camera

Definition: View camera; Bellows camera | Glossary entry

View camera; Bellows camera

An early type of camera which was first developed in the 1840’s. It consisted of an upright called a standard on the back of which was a glass plate. Between the back standard and front standard was a set of bellows. The front standard had the lens mounted on it.

The focal length of the camera could be changed by extending or compressing the bellows when moving the lens standard back and forwards. The film plane was on the back standard.

Focussing took place by looking through the glass at the back, through the bellows and out the lens at the front. Once the apparatus was set up and focused the film was placed on the film plane at the back of the camera in front of the glass.

Autographic Folding Bellows Camera from Kodak

Autographic Folding Bellows Camera from Kodak •
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Autographic Folding Bellows Camera from Kodak • from Wikipedia External link - opens new tab/page


The view camera is still used today although rarely. However, modern view cameras are much more sophisticated and precise than the original designs. The front and rear standards move in various ways relative to each other, not just forward and backward. This is unusual in cameras as it is difficult to set up and requires a great deal of practice to perfect the technique. The range of movements of the front standard relative to the back standard is what controls focus, depth of field, and perspective.

The view camera is not suited to hand-held photography. In addition, since there is no pentaprism between the lens and the eye, the image is projected onto the film plane upside down and back to front and is viewed like that by the photographer.

Bellows cameras have had a long history and have taken on many forms. Here you can see a wide variety of designs: Google image search page – “Bellows camera”  External link - opens new tab/page

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