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Adams' Photo Gear

Ansel Adams' pack muleAnsel Adams took his first long trip into the wilderness in 1920, when he was just eighteen. His burro, Mistletoe, carried almost a hundred pounds of gear and food; he himself carried a thirty-pound pack full of photographic equipment. Adams was heir to a long tradition of American wilderness photographers who lugged cameras, tripods, and even portable darkrooms with them into the back country in order to capture its breathtaking beauty.

What was all that equipment they carried? Read some descriptions below.

John Huszar interviewed Adams for his 1981 film, Ansel Adams: Photographer. Adams recalled:

"Well, people have asked me what kind of cameras I used. It's hard to remember all of them. Oh I had a box Brownie #1 in 1915, 16. I had the Pocket Kodak, and a 4 x 5 view, all batted down. I had a Zeiss Milliflex. A great number of different cameras. I want to try to get back to 35 millimeter, which I did a lot of in the 1930s. Using one of the Zeiss compacts. In the 20s and into the 30s, I would carry a 6-1/2 x 8-1/2 glass plate camera -- that was a little heavy. And I had a 4 x 5 camera, then of course we went to film, to film pack, things became a little simpler.

"But William Henry Jackson and [Carleton] Watkins were all over this country with much bigger cameras. Wet plate cameras. And I believe it was Jackson's series of pictures on the top of Mt. Hoffman, with wet plates, that is, having to take the darkroom, cook the plates on the spot, expose and process them immediately. For the wet plate process you have to complete the development of the image before the emulsion dries. And when the dry plate came in it was a great godsend. I guess we all did the best as we could. If we had very heavy cameras we simply didn't go so far or take so many pictures. Knowing what I know now, any photographer worth his salt could make some beautiful things with pinhole cameras."

Ansel Adams and MuleHistorian Robert Taft listed nineteenth-century landscape photographer William Henry Jackson's typical photo gear for a summer's travels in his 1938 book, Photography and the American Scene. One essential, water, was located along the way. Jackson carried:

  • 2 or 3 cameras for different size lenses
  • lenses and plate holders for each camera
  • 2 tripods
  • dark tent or darkbox
  • 10 pounds collodion
  • 2 pints alcohol
  • 1 pint ether
  • 1/4 pound each ammonium iodide and ammonium bromide
  • 1/4 pound each cadmium iodide and cadmium bromide
  • 3 pounds silver nitrate
  • 10 pounds ferrous sulfate
  • 1-1/2 pounds potassium cyanide
  • 6 ounces nitric acid
  • 1 quart varnish
  • package of filter papers
  • canton flannel and rottenstone
  • 3 negative boxes
  • processing trays
  • various bottles for chemicals
  • scales and weights
  • 400 pieces of glass

Ansel Adams with ScoutBeaumont Newhall narrated Larry Dawson's 1957 film, Ansel Adams, Photographer, and described Adams's photographic gear:

"...A fine craftsman employs different tools for different purposes. Item: one 8 x 10 view camera, 20 holders, 4 lenses -- 1 Cooke Convertible, 1 ten-inch Wide Field Ektar, 1 9-inch Dagor, one 6-3/4-inch Wollensak wide angle. Item: one 7 x 17 special panorama camera with a Protar 13-1/2-inch lens and five holders. Item: one 4 x 5 view camera, 6 lenses -- 12-inch Collinear, 8-1/2 Apo[chromatic] Lentar, 9-1/4 Apo[chromatic] Tessar, 4-inch Wide Field Ektar, Dallmeyer [...] telephoto.

"Item: One Hasselblad camera outfit with 38, 60, 80, 135, & 200 millimeter lenses. Item: One Koniflex 35 millimeter camera. Item: 2 Polaroid cameras. Item: 3 exposure meters. One SEI, and two Westons -- in case he drops one.

"Item: Filters for each camera. K1, K2, minus blue, G, X1, A, C5 &B, F, 85B, 85C, light balancing, series 81 and 82. Two tripods: one light, one heavy. Lens brush, stopwatch, level, thermometer, focusing magnifier, focusing cloth, hyperlight strobe portrait outfit, 200 feet of cable, special storage box for film.

[Ansel's car (a Cadillac) with platform pulls away from camera.]

"Item: One ancient, eight-passenger limousine with 5 x 9-foot camera platform on top."



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