Using Shutters for large format camera’s and viewcamera’s

Lets talk Shutters: Personally, I am a big fan of both the ilex shutter and Alphax shutter. Other popular well made shutters include the Copal, Compound, Prontor, and the Compur shutter. These are all nice shutters that have proven themselves over time as being both durable and reliable with the possible exception of the Compound shutter. The Compound is a wonderful shutter, but it is slightly more susceptible to damage from abuse than the others. Today the preference of the general population has fallen on the Copal shutter. Copal shutters are very nice but my personal preference is toward the classic shutters for custom lens mounting. Please see my comments on these large format shutters below.

ilex Shutter: The long time favorite shutter of large format photographers around the world especially for larger lenses. It would be safe to say that when it comes to custom lens mounting, the ilex shutter has been used more than any other shutter. They were the first choice for Kodak for their commercial Ektar line and all lenses requiring a #3 or larger shutter. I believe Kodak was correct in using other brands for their smaller shutters as they were of higher quality in general. The ilex #3, #4 and #5 shutters have been accepted as the standard large format shutter until they were overtaken by the smaller Copal shutter offerings. The #5 is highly sought after for mounting BIG barrel lenses in as it is one of the biggest standard shutters made second only to the big Compound shutter. It should be noted that the #5 Alphax and Betax shutters have only a slightly smaller lens mounting diameter but have a slightly larger maximum aperture than the #5 ilex shutter and are 1/2 inch smaller in overall diameter.

Copal Shutter: Let me start off by saying Copal shutters are nice shutters with excellent features. They work well and look nice. For most photographers a nice Copal shutter will outlive their days of taking pictures. I sell many Copal shutters and have Copal shutters on many of my personal lenses. However this humble photographer prefers to use the classic shutters on vintage lenses. I know I will catch a some flack for my opinion, never the less it is my opinion and feel I have to be honest about it. You will see countless examples of 60 to 90 year old shutters from the other manufacturers in fine working order or in need of a simple clean and lube. With little care those that have not been abused will last another hundred years or more. They are more durable than modern shutters and will withstand much more abuse than a modern Copal. With that said, you have to love the way a beautiful lens looks in a Copal shutter. The black face complements many lenses. The Copal Press shutters are particularly nice. Unfortunately I am not a Copal shutter distributor yet. I do carry good, lightly used, 0 and #1 Copal Shutters as well as an occasional Copal #3.


Wollensak Shutters: Modern Wollensak shutters include the Alphax shutter, the Betax shutter, and Rapax shutter. Wollensak is an excellent manufacture whose products as a hole are highly under rated. They have many outstanding lenses, but that’s another story. Lets take a look at their large format shutters:

        • Alphax Shutter: My personal favorite. They have slightly larger mounting holes than ilex shutters of the same size. They are extremely reliable shutters with little that a simple clean and lube will not fix. The Alphax shutter due to it’s high reliability were the shutter of choice for sequential shot surveillance cameras before the days of video. In these cameras a shutter would typically see more use in a month than most would experience in a lifetime of use. The #3 Alphax shutter is almost identical in overall size to the Copal 1 shutter offering the most compact #3 shutter available.

        • Rapax Shutter: Wollensak’s answer to the Compur rapid shutters. They are only available in size 3 and smaller.  The Rapax shutter line is Wollensak’s most complex, with internal workings that are only comparable in quality to the precision Compur shutter.

        • Betax Shutters: Wollensak’s first clockwork shutters. While not as cosmetically appealing as the Alphax shutter, the #5 Betax is perhaps the best choice for a large shutter available to someone on a tight budget. Betax shutters have the same dimensions as the Alphax. You could always step up at a later date if you chose to. On many lenses the look of the black faced shutter is particularly appealing.

Compur Shutter: German quality and craftsmanship are clearly visible in the Compur shutter. They will typically last a lifetime or two of shooting as compared to the more limited life expectancy of the Copal shutters. I know I may catch a lot of flack for that statement but it is my opinion never the less. It has been my experience that while an older Compur shutter may require a clean & lube every 10 to 20 years, it is due to the much closer tolerances and precision craftsmanship. A Copal shutter on the other hand is unfortunately like many of today’s modern cameras. They are considered more like throw always. They are typically used until they die and usually replaced rather than repaired. If you watch ebay regularly you will frequently see relatively new lenses with nonfunctioning, broken, or as is most often the case, a replaced Copal shutter. By sharp contrast, it is very rare that you will see a lens in a Compur shutter that has been replaced or that needs anything more than a simple servicing. You will find this to be true even on Compur shutters over 50 years old. Last of all, the reason most of the new lenses come in Copals is really quite simple. They are less expensive than a Compur shutter. Personally, I do not see the logic in saving $50.00 on the price of a $600.00 -$5000.00 lens by using a shutter that is lless expensive. Time to get off the soapbox now. The Prontor shutter is also a well made German shutter but not very common so I will not go into detail on them.

Compound Shutter: One of the few pneumatic shutters that have survived in a world dominated by the clockwork shutters. They are high quality, German engineered, marvels. The #5 Compound is the largest commonly available shutter made for the large format photographer. With its massive 82.8mm front and rear lens opening it is the best choice for you if you have a monster barrel lens for custom lens mounting. They not only have the largest lens opening, but also have the largest clear aperture available on any standard shutter. Compound shutters are a bit more delicate than other shutters on my list with paper thin leaves that can be easily damaged by an inexperienced shutter service man. Overall, the Compound shutter is an exceptional shutter. There quality design enabled them to not only survive, but to compete with modern clockwork shutters many decades after pneumatic shutters were considered obsolete.


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