The Meridian 45A: A User's Perspective

Ross Alford

[Meridian Picture]

I have two 4 X 5 press cameras that I use as field cameras. One is a Super Speed Graphic (SSG); the other is a Meridian 45A. Both of them have ample front movements and a revolving back, and the Super Speed wins out on smaller size and having a Graflok back, but I still often find it hard to decide which camera to take into the field.

There are several reasons for my indecision. The front movements of the Meridian cover a wider range and are a bit easier to use. It has both forward and backward tilt to at least 45 degrees (limited more by lens coverage and bellows flexibility than any mechanical limitation), done simply by loosening two zeroing setscrews at the bottom of the front standard and two locking nuts at the sides, and tilting away. Front rise is equally simple: when the setscrews and lock nuts are loose, the front can be slid upward up to 3 cm. Fall works like a Graphic--you must drop the bed and use rise and backward tilt to achieve the amount of fall you want. Side-to-side shifts are accomplished simply by loosening a lever below the lens standard, which will then slide to either side by about 4 cm, which is quite a lot of shift.

McKeown's guide says that Meridians have front swings, and when I got mine I was disappointed at first because I thought they had it wrong. I eventually figured out something that works, although I don't know whether it's supposed to or not, as I don't have a manual. I get front swings by backing off the same lever that allows shifts, but undoing it a turn-and-a-half instead of half a turn. The front standard can then be lifted about half a millimeter out of its guide slots, and will swing left or right by about 20 degrees. It can be locked by tightening the same lever about 1/2 turn. Lifting the standard out of its guide slot does add a tiny bit of rise to your swing, but in practice I don't usually even notice the difference. It also means that swings of less than about 3-4 degrees aren't possible, as the rails tend to drop back into place. I find a similar problem with my SSG, which has a center detent spring that has a nasty habit of popping back into the locked position when I am fiddling with small amounts of swing while doing macro shots, so the Meridian is no less useful for this.

The Meridian also outdoes the SSG in a couple of other ways. It has triple-extension bellows, with a maximum extension of 35 cm. It also has rear swing and tilt, done similarly to Linhof. There are four setscrews, one at the top and bottom of each side of the body. Loosening these allows the rotating back assembly to slide back on four posts, to a maximum extension of 3 cm. If all four posts are extended equally, this simply increases the bellows draw, which can be useful for adjusting focus in closeup work, as it changes the extension without changing the lens-subject distance. You don't need to extend all four equally, though. You can pull out just one side of the back, or pull it at an angle, for a maximum of about 15 degrees of back swing or tilt in any one direction. Having back swings and tilts also increases the effective amount of fall/rise/shift available, as you can combine, say, maximum shift with turning tha camera at an angle and swinging the back and front back into line with the subject.

The Meridian has a drop bed, which drops to 30 degrees below the horizontal. The Model 45B, according to McKeown's, has a moving track inside the body for extreme wide angle use. My 45A doesn't, but since I only use wide angles with groundglass focusing, I just focus by sliding the standard on the fixed rails inside the body. The minimum flange-to-film-plane distance, by the way, is about 65 mm.

The only annoying thing about the Meridian is the back. It has a rotating spring back, which is easy to rotate but doesn't have quite enough clearance to fit a Grafmatic under the groundglass, so I have to use standard double film holders with it. The shape of the "horns" that guide the insertion of film holders is different from those on normal Graphic spring backs, and they make it impossible to use my Tatro Adapt-A-Roll roll film holder, as the part of this that holds the film and sticks out to the side hits the horns while the film holder part is about 1 cm short of being properly seated. I have been trying to work out a way around this for a while; I could grind the "horns" down, but hate to modify such a lovely classic camera. I am presently looking for the groundglass panel from a 4 X 5 Graphic spring back, with the ambition of adapting it to the Meridian, so I can have a more versatile back but can put it back to original if I want to.

My Meridian has a side-mounted Hugo Meyer rangefinder, which couples to the focusing rails by a simple mating between a V shaped notch at the end of the rangefinder lever and a setscrew threaded into the focusing rail. I have a feeling that it can be adapted for different lenses by moving the setscrew to a different position: mine has a second threaded hole, which, when occupied by a setscrew, seems to set the rangefinder so it focuses properly at infinity, anyway, with my second lens. Scale focusing is like that on a Linhof I once used, with a pointer attached to the standard and scales attached to the bed. It has fixed infinity stops like those on earlier Graphics, so to move the standard past the infinity stops for closeups, I rack the focusing rails forward, slide the standard completely off the track, pull it to the front of the rails, and slide it backward onto them. This trick also works with earlier Graphics, by the way, and is a _lot_ easier to do than the bed- dropping procedure suggested in the classic Graphic Graflex Photography.

One last feature of note: My 45A has round lensboards. They more or less bayonet in and out, and are very fast and easy to change. They are a pretty simple shape, and I'm sure that any competent machine shop could make one up easily, but it probably would require a machine shop to do the work. I have two lensboards, one original and one obviously made up using a milling machine.

All in all, the Meridian is a very nice camera to use, and a bargain at the sort of price (about $300-500) that they usually seem to sell for. It was truly revolutionary for its time, incorporating the best features of the Graphics and the Linhof Technika III, but in a more versatile and easier to use format. Well worth a try for any user of classic press/view cameras.

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