A Rough and Romantic Road

This was the second photo I attempted with the 4×5 Conley Box camera. I picked this up in an antique store around Scottsbluff, Nebraska. Sarah and I were in a shop, she was thumbing through some postcards and talking about stamps with the owner, when I saw it near the front.

I immediately knew what it was – I had been looking for a 4×5 box camera for a few months, but they were always overpriced. This was in great shape. The shutter worked… and that’s about all that there is to it.

The Conley 4×5 Box Camera was made in 1900, has a single shutter speed (probably around 1/30sec, though I’ve not measured it yet) and a single aperture (I believe it’s f/16, though it could be f/11).

When it was made film holder sizes had not yet been settled. In fact, most people were still using glass plates. This camera comes with four plate holders. There’s a small door on the top of the camera where they all reside. One is slid into the taking position, while the others can be stored in an adjacent compartment.

Before taking a photo, you remove the dark slide and that’s that, really. It’s probably the simplest 4×5 camera ever made (apart from the pinhole stuff).

I put down the camera and ran out to the car to get a more modern film holder to see if it would fit. While the modern holders are longer and thus can’t be stored inside the camera, all the important bits fit perfectly. And, as I discovered later, all without light leaks!

For this shot, I set up a tripod – the camera actually has two tripod sockets that use the standard 1/4-20 threads still used today. In the first shot that I took with it, I believe I did it handheld, though I don’t think that’s why it didn’t come out – that’s still a mystery to me.

Anyway, I set it all up, waited for people to clear away, and took the shot. There’s nothing to adjust or fix. I did meter though, and then selected the film with an ISO that would bring it closest to right. In this case, it was 100iso.


‘A Rough and Romantic Road’

Camera: Conley Senior 4×5 Box Camera (1900)
Film: Ilford FP4+ @100iso; x-09/2004
Process: Xtol; 1+1; 9mins

Guernsey, Wyoming


2 thoughts on “A Rough and Romantic Road

  1. What a timely post. I just picked up a Conley 4×5 box camera as well. Although, since mine only holds 3 plate holders, it may be the “Junior” version. I did find a seller on eBay who sells fresh glass plates, but in the meantime I was planning to test it out by using film sheaths inside the plate holders. However, I’m intrigued by your attempts with a regular holder. Think I’ll give it a try. Thanks!

    1. That’s great! The regular film holders simply work. They stick out the top, so you cant close the door, but that’s basically like any other 4×5. I’d bend the spring things up a bit to increase the hold, but you should be good! Have fun!

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