Ebony v. Arca Swiss

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I am trying to make a decision between 2 cameras. The Arca Swiss F-Line 4x5 Metric or the Ebony SV45U2. The Arca is a modestly lightweight monorail and the Ebony is a flatbed with incredible flexibility in bellows extension and movements.

I am a shooter of 30 years and shoot landscapes and travel architecture. For example old european towns and the such.

This is the hardest decision I have had to make. Heck, the Cannon/Nikon thingy is a breeze compared to this.

Help, comments, thoughts, and haunts would be appreciated.


-- William Teller (photoman67@aol.com), October 11, 2000


Although I can't address the specifics of these cameras I'd like to talk in general about monorails vs field cameras.

If you were going to most of your work inside then the monorail would easily be the best choice. More bellows (I would hope) and many more movements, especially on the back standard. But if you are using the camera primarily outside, as you say, then the field camera wins. The FC fold up more easily and doesn't act like a box kite at the slightest breeze.

I pack an older Toyo Field camera, five lenses and the usual assortment of stuff into a LowePro PhotoTrekker AW. Then I can go for kilometers. I can't imagine trying the same thing with a monorail. Yes I have less movements, but most of what I lose I wouldn't use anyway, at least in the field.

With modern Field cameras you also get tons of bellows. Maybe not as much as a monorail but still way more than you'd need. I think that field camera manufacturers use bellows length like car manufacturers use horsepower, the more the better, even if most of it remains unused.

So I wouldn't be trying to decide between the Arca Swiss F-Line 4x5 Metric or the Ebony SV45U2, but whether there was a more suitable field camera than the Ebony.

-- David Grandy (dgrandy@accesscable.net), October 11, 2000.

I can't comment on the A-Swiss, but I purchased an Ebony SV45U2 from Badger Graphic a couple months ago. I absolutely *love* it! I purchased it to replace my Wisner, with which I had many problems and difficulties. NO comparison whatever. The Ebony is vastly better in every way; I cannot think of anything I would do to improve it. The ease of use, flexibility, and quality of construction certainly put other field cameras to shame. You cannot go wrong by purchasing it, in my opinion :)

-- Danny Burk (foto28@aol.com), October 11, 2000.


I don't understand your comments. First, from my research I have found the the Ebony has greater movements than the Arca, the Ebony Field Camera has more bellows range than the Arca both in draw and expansion (without changeing bellows), I am not sure that the Arca acts like a "box kite" as you say.

I believe both of these are cameras are "top of the line" without getting into studio view cameras.

So with that in mind, I am not sure that I agree with your statement "So I wouldn't be trying to decide between the Arca Swiss F- Line 4x5 Metric or the Ebony SV45U2, but whether there was a more suitable field camera than the Ebony."

Yes there may be lighter field cameras, there may be less expensive field cameras, there may even be comparable field cameras, but if we are comparing functionality, portability, rigidity, controllability, and user friendliness I believe the question was what people thoughts have been using each of these cameras.

Thanks -Bill

-- William Teller (photoman67@aol.com), October 11, 2000.

Greater movements than the Arca F? really? I wish that Arca (andSinar and Linhof for that matter) would go towards a universal bellows like is on the Ebony and the Canham DLC and MQC cameras. The same company, Camera Bellows, LTD (a British company) makes bellows for all these manufacturers to the manufacturers specs. i use the Arca Swiss F-line (not the metric andI've yet to find a situation where it has failed me by being limited in flexibility or rigidity or expandability or contractability. One of the reasons I switched to an F-line was the ergonomics of the camera: day in and day out it has been a wonderful machine to work with.

Another thing to consider is whether or not the Ebony is a yaw free design. In the field this is a feature rarely necessary but when it is you'll really appreciate having a yaw free design; it truly does speed things up immensely. the distinguishing feature of a yaw free design is the tilt axis point being located underneath the swing axis point.

-- Ellis Vener (evphoto@heartstone.com), October 11, 2000.


I too use an Arca Swiss F-Line, but I use the Metric version. Perviously I owned a Canham DLC. The Arca has excellent movements, is rock solid, intuitive, and built like a tank. It is relavtively light weight, I can set it up in less than a minute, it can be stored with a lens attached and it compresses down into a tight package that is easily packed. I use the wide angle leather bellows for both my SA 90/5.6 XL and my Super Symmar APO 210/5.6. The ground glass/fresnel is bright and easy to focus. The majority of the controls are geared and very precise.

As an architect, I find the camera a joy for architectural subjects. I do not shoor architecture commercially but shoot it from a fine art point of view. (I stay sane that way....at least I think I do!)

So in conslusion, I do not think you can go wrong with either of these cameras. BTW, Keith Canham will order a "universal bellows" for the Arca. He told me he has ordered a couple in the past. They work better with the 6x9 front standard rather than the 4x5. Only requirements is the Arca owner has to provide the frames for attachment.


-- Mike Kravit (mkravit@kravit.net), October 11, 2000.

Re: David's comments on "field" camera vs. monorail

I must respectfully disagree with many of your assumptions. The problem lies with the general assertion that monorail == heavy studio camera. I happen to use a couple different monorails in the field, and both were designed specifically for that purpose (and are promoted for such use by their manufacturers). I've also used a number of wooden and metal "field" cameras of various designs (flatbed, dropbed, Canham DLC and MCQ) over the years, and I see nothing inherent to the monorail concept that would make it ill suited for field use. Of course, there are many BIG, HEAVY monorail designs that are best suited (and intended by their manufacturers) for use in the studio, but there are also several monorail designs specifically aimed and field photographers. In fact, some of the lightest, most compact "field" cameras ever produced are of monorail design.

I currently use a Toho FC-45X as my camera of choice where weight and/or bulk is of concern. In the configuration I carry, the camera weighs 2 lb. 12.5 oz., and as far as I know is the lightest 4x5 camera currently on the market. This for a camera with a telescoping monorail with over 15" of bellows draw and full front and rear movements. Although it is a monorail design, it is definitely intended for use in the field. I just returned from a very strenuous 4 day backpack trip with this camera, and it has been on several other multi-day backpack trips with me in the last year (including one of 6 day in length).

Prior to this model, Toho made an even lighter monorail design, the FC-45A that weighs in at about 2 lb. 4 oz. And as far as I know the lightest 4x5 ever generally available was a monorail design - the Calumet/Gowland Pocket View at about 1 lb. 14 oz. So, monorail doesn't necessarily == heavy.

The other monorail I use in the field is a Linhof Technikardan TK45S. This is definitely too heavy (for me) for backpacking, but it does fold up reasonably small and is easily carried in a backpack on dayhikes of moderate length. Again, this camera is designed and promoted by its manufacturer as a field camera (listed as "compact field cameras" on the cover of their promotional brochure).

To get back to the poster's original question, the Arca Swiss F Line is another monorail that is intended for field use. Depending on the configuration, it is in the same ballpark weight wise as many of the full featured "field" cameras (Wisner Technical, Toyo, Gandolphi, Canham (wooden), etc.), but with the ease of use and full movments of a monorail. I'm not saying the Arca is "better" than these other makes/models, just that it should not be dismissed because it's a monorail design.

The real choice is one of personal preference. The Arca and Ebony are both certainly quality products that anyone would be happey to own. What it really comes down to is which camera better suits the original poster's working style (including preferred focal length range). Problem is, he didn't give us much information to go on there (and even if he did, we have no way of discerning his personal likes and dislikes).


-- Kerry Thalmann (largeformat@thalmann.com), October 12, 2000.

Bill, I was in a similar situation sometime back, so I sympathise with what you're going through. Eventually I settled on an Ebony SW45 mainly because I wanted a flexible camera to use with extreme wide angle lenses. That was my main requirement. Whatever you decide it will not be a camera "of all things to all men". There may just be one tiny aspect in these cameras that will tip the balance in your decision making. and if like me (heaven forbid) you will at times question yourself as to whether you have made the right (best) choice.

The best you can do, if at all possible is to try out these cameras to get a real feel as to how they might perform in the field. Some important things to consider for field use are: weight, speed of set- up, compactability, ease of use, flexibility, useful accessories. I wish you well,

-- Trevor Crone (trevor.crone@uk.dreamcast.com), October 12, 2000.

"I wish that Arca (andSinar and Linhof for that matter) would go towards a universal bellows like is on the Ebony and the Canham DLC and MQC cameras."

Linhof did on the Kardan Standard camera which was discontinued because buyers wanted the greater flexibility of a wide angle bellows when using very wide lenses.

Linhof currently does on the Technika where the 2000 takes the widest range of lenses of any camera (35mm up) with the built-in bellows.

-- Bob Salomon (bobsalomon@mindspring.com), October 12, 2000.


Based on your shooting preferences--landscapes and architecture--old European towns- I think either of the cameras wouldprovide you with an adequate tool. I have used both rail and field cameras in the field and settled on a field camera because I could use the lenses I own, 72, 10,135,210,300,450 on it with little problem. I found the rail camera a bit of a problem to travel with and rather intrusive whenever I set it up in an urban area. The field-in my case a Wisner 4x5- I could backpack, set up, shoot, and move on easily. My own choice for a rail camera would be the Tecnikardan 45S. I do not own one, but I have used one. It is solid, easy to use and made qith precision. Bob

-- Bob Moulton (bmoulton@icc.cc.il.us), October 12, 2000.


As a counter point to David's response, I used to use a Toyo 45A, and it is a fine camera. Last year I switched to an Arca-Swiss 45F Field (6x9 front standard). With the conical bellows, I can use lenses from 75mm to 300mm. Unlike the Toyo, I actually have rock-solid stability and movements with a 300mm. The Arca is only slightly heavier, and nearly as easy to pack. I backpack it around for distances up to 10 miles with no problems. It is faster to set up than the Toyo because I can leave lightweight lenses on the camera. It also has rear focusing and a calibrated focusing scale which greatly simplifies depth of field calculations. In short, some monorail cameras can be easily transported, and the Arca is such a camera. Having said that, the Ebony's are exquisite cameras, and if you like wood, they are the way to go.

-- Glenn C. Kroeger (gkroeger@trinity.edu), October 12, 2000.

As for a "universal" bellows on the Arca-Swiss, the wide-angle leather bellows works well as a wide-angle and a normal bellows, enabling one to use lenses between 65mm lenses (w/recessed lensboard) and 180mm or 210mm lenses. This allows good movements for all these lenses. Lenses with focal length greater than 210mm require a longer bellows. I carry this wide-angle bellows and the 700mm bellows.

Note that, to use lenses longer than about 450mm (tops) would require one to use a longer monorail than that normally supplied with the camera.

-- neil poulsen (neil.fg@att.net), October 13, 2000.

Yep I can do that range with the synthetic fabric w/a bellows on the Arca Swiss as well.

-- Ellis Vener (evphoto@heartstone.com), October 13, 2000.

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