Ebony SV23 camera vs Arca Swiss

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I am considering the purchase of a 6x9 view camera and have narrowed down my search to either the Arca Swiss FC or the Ebony SV23. Since most of my usage is outdoors and often requires carrying my equipment for hours, I'm leaning towards the Ebony mainly for weight reasons (although the Arca Swiss would be OK, too). The Ebony is not exactly a cheap camera and I have never actually had one in my hands, so before I make the purchase I'd be interested in comments people have about this camera, especially those who have used it. Also, comments about the Ebony vs. the Arca Swiss would be greatly appreciated.

-- Wilfried Kruse (ossi@prodigy.net), January 22, 2001


Response to Ebony SV23 camera?


I choose the Arca-Swiss although the Ebony is reputed to be fantastic. I particularly like the ease of control layout, the straightforward nature of a monorail camera, and most importantly, the spectacular binocular viewer. The viewer makes the camera so much faster to use, and weighs only 350g or so. The camera itself is less than 5 lbs, and the rail clamp acts as a built in quick release if you leave it on the tripod head.

A major advantage of the Ebony is supposed to be the ability to leave the groundglass attached to the camera while using a rollfilm back. I have never seen one, and no one has been able to completely explain how this system works.


-- Glenn C. Kroeger (gkroeger@trinity.edu), January 22, 2001.

Response to Ebony SV23 camera?

The Ebony back swings out like a door. Then you attach your rollfilm holder to the camera. Very convenient.

-- Geoffrey G. Chen (DB45TEK@AOL.COM), January 22, 2001.

Response to Ebony SV23 camera?

Wilfried, I went for the Ebony SW23 mainly for its ability to use wide angle lenses without the need to change bellows. This camera can use the 35 Apo-Grandagon on a 10mm recessed lens board with ease allowing full movements. However I think the SV is probably a more versatile camera with its ability to use longer lenses. Has already mentioned the GG hinges out to allow a roll back to be fitted. The GG back can be removed if required as its on a sprung hinge. The Ebony cameras are beautifully built and fully functional but so to are Arca Swiss. Whatever your choice I don't think you will be dissapointed. Good luck,

-- Trevor Crone (trevor.crone@uk.dreamcast.com), January 23, 2001.

I need some advise too. I am considering buying either the Arca-Swiss 6x9 FC or the Ebony SV23, and can't decide which one.

My main photography will be scenic and indoor architectural. I paln to carry the camera with me on trips, so ease of handling is important. I also am a novice to LF, and need to learn technique on a camera that gives me as much movement as possible. Also, the probabilty exists that I will eventually move on to 4x5.

Any and all input would be greatly appreciated, as this is getting VERY frustrating.

-- Roger E. Oppenheimer (reodds@hotmail.com), January 23, 2001.

As best as I can tell from the Ebony website, the SV camera is not yaw free.

I know some people here will disagree but the fact that the ArcaSwiss is a yaw free design makes a major difference to me as an architectural photographer -- especially for interior work. The Arca is also very easy to convert from 6x9 to 4x5, 5x7 or 8x10.

-- Ellis Vener (evphoto@insync.net), January 23, 2001.


I choose the AS69FC particularly for travelling and hiking. It gives me the precision and rigidity of a metal camera, the ease and flexibility of a monorail camera, and what I consider to be the finest viewing system (groundglass/fresnel/binocular viewer) available. The latter becomes more important as my middle-aged eyes do their thing.

The system nature of the Arca allows virtually unlimited (except by budget) expansion. I also think (and I have taught photography on and off for 22 years) that a monorail is more straightforward when learning movements. Field cameras can usuaally achieve the same movements but often by more convoluted means.

That said, I used a Toyo field camera for 15 years and loved it. I am not a fan of wooden cameras since most that I have seen and used strike me as flimsy and imprecise (coarse) in focusing and movements. My understanding is that the Ebony cameras are notable exceptions that have outstanding rigidity. I don't know if their focusing and adjustments are as smooth as the Arca.

I have also come to appreciate rear standard focusing with a calibrated rail. This has made depth of field calculations much easier than I ever experienced with a field camera. The Ebony 23S and 23SW have rear focusing, but I don't know if they have calibrations.

The Ebonies (?) are certainly lighter than the AS by a bit. My 69FC weighs 2.06 kg with ground glass. The binocular viewer is about 370 g, and a Horseman back with adapter is about 560 g. I think the Ebonies come in at about 1.8 kg with groundglass.

The major drawback to both systems is that you cannot go to the local store and play with them.

-- Glenn Kroeger (gkroeger@trinity.edu), January 23, 2001.

I was recently in the Photomark store (Phoenix, AZ) and saw Rod had an Arca-Swiss 6x9 FC (I think) on the floor. I played with it for a while and found the controls weren't nearly as smooth as I expected based on comments I've heard from others and in particular, they weren't nearly as smooth as those on my Toyo 23G.

Rod was helping somebody so I didn't get to ask him about this but I'm afraid it has definitely caused me reconsider my plans to purchase one someday. Is this typical of these cameras or was this just a bad one?

-- Jeffrey Goggin (audidudi@mindspring.com), January 23, 2001.

Jeffrey: What was not smooth? I have seen some on which the tilt was a bit stiff, but I have suspected that comes from lack of use.

-- Glenn Kroeger (gkroeger@trinity.edu), January 23, 2001.

Now that I think about it, it wasn't that the controls weren't smooth per se but that they required more than the expected amount of effort to turn. By comparison, my Toyo controls require very little effort, which I find helpful when making very small adjustments.

-- Jeffrey Goggin (audidudi@mindspring.com), January 24, 2001.

Like Glenn said, the stiffness is probably the result of the camera not being used much. I've had my A-S F4x5 F-line is approximately six years and I'm the second owner. The controls and movements are smooth as silk, smoother than a Sinar F1 that is approximately the same age that I just looked at.

-- Ellis Vener (evphoto@insync.net), January 24, 2001.


I left you a response at rec.photo.equipment.LF. However, there are more guys here that have chimed in and I would like to philosophize a little.

It seems that the 4x5 cameras are getting lighter and smaller such that there is little weight or size difference between 6x9 and 4x5. There is no "miniaturization" program for any of the 6x9 cameras as vendors and manufacturers have for the 4x5 (Canham, Phillips, Ebony, etc) I see this as a relative advantage to the 4x5, especially as my vision gets poorer. My Canham is as light ast an AS 6x9 and almost as small. Only a Galvin 6x9 will be lighter and smaller than an Ebony and not nearly as functional. The trimmed down Ebony 4x5 is approaching the SV23 in size and weight. Notwithstanding the binocular viewing system of AS which several are nearly orgasmic about, 6x9 GG images are pretty small. 4x5 is not as bad and more easily accepts a focus loupe. I use a Cambo monocular viewer on the Canham which I think is a nice compromise. 6x9 eliminates some other interesting formats (ie 6x12) which are easy (but relatively expensive) to implement on any 4x5.

The reasons for going to a 6x9 view camera in my opinion are to decrease size, decrease weight, eliminate film holders/sheet film (and attendant dust problems etc), use cheap roll film, and possibly to be in position to use a digital back with a reasonably sized sensor. I just doubt that this is reasonable anymore given the changes in 4x5. Unfortunately, you also won't save any on lenses because you will want to use the new aspheric lenses that also have massive coverage applicable to larger formats. One possible additional reason to go to 6x9 is that you just love that format. But a 6x9 RF holder is easy to put on a 4x5. There is very little sheet film available in BW for 6x9 if you are zone freak and develpment controls. You would have to have multiple RF backs and fiddle.

Having said all that, I must admit to being seduced by the format and the 6x9 cameras. That's why I bought a Galvin to get it out of my system without breaking the bank. HIghly engineered and precise...NO but a functional playtoy nevertheless. ONce you have gone to a 6x9 view camera it seems only a small step to a regular medium format camera with all the automation and other goodies. Perhaps what you really want is 8x10 (or larger)!! Good luck Keith

-- Keith Burnett (vilntfluid@aol.com), January 24, 2001.

Well Keith, the Arca binocular viewer has not really been a part of my sex life... but, although I agree with most of your comments, there are still rational reasons for choosing a 6x9 camera.

As one of Phil Greespun's parables goes, photography is about recording light. I went to 6x9 because I was loosing good shots because 4x5 was too slow in changing light. The Arca 69FC has significantly speeded (sped?) up my work, not to 35mm autofocus speed, but well ahead of 4x5.

I also find that I don't "ration" my shots. I don't power through film like a motor driven 35mm, but with roll film instead of sheets, I don't find myself asking "is this sunset really getting richer and can I afford another shot." And the "afford" is more than money... I can carry alot more film with me, and replentish my supply at alot more photo shots than I could with QuickLoad or Grafmatics.

Keith is right about the size of the 69 groundglass. That is why, for me, the magnified binocular viewer is the key to the whole system. For most shots, I do not need to use a loupe. I have actually tested focusing with a 6x loupe vs. using the binocular viewer on a flat resolution chart, and statistically, there is no difference in the accuracy that I achieve.

There are two other groundglass issues. First, fresnel screens on 4x5 cameras are optimize for longer lenses than used on 6x9s. You can deal with this with a custom fresnel. I also find it distracting to have to compose on a groundglass that is significantly larger than my image. My eye has to constantly pay attention to the masking marks, which detracts from my ability to concentrate on the overall composition. The ability to visualize the image on the groundglass is one of the things most of us cherish about a view camera and I find it diminished when using roll film on a 4x5.

I can store the camera, with lens in place, and have it set up with the rail clamp and focused in well under a minute, without rushing. That's just near impossible with darkcloths and loupes.

While you are right about the lenses being just as expensive, I take comfort in knowing that I use only the best central part of the image circle... like eating center cut tenderloin. My overall lens kit is brighter and lighter than when I shot 4x5. For example, a 200g 135mm replaces a 400g 210mm.

Finally, most 6x9s have some optimization for dealing with attaching rollfilm holders. The Arca has the direct connect approach which eliminates fussing with Graflock sliders. The Ebonies have the Graflock sliders, but they also have a unique swing away groundglass.

If I were shooting B&W and using the zone system, I would certainly stay with sheet film... but for my color transparency work 6x9 is fine since I print digitally and never larger than 20x30. And as for recording the light, with rollfilm I have many more emulsions available... a wide variety of color neg if I want, and high speed color neg and transparency films which are available in sheets.

Now clearly one can use a rollfilm holder on a lightweight 4x5. And the Canham is a neat design, although I wouldn't trade the precision of the Arca-Swiss for the compromises that the Canham makes (smooth focusing should not be a function of how tight the locking knob is set and I shouldn't have to constantly worry about the bellows when switching from horizontal to vertical).

If you are going to use roll film regularly on a 4x5 camera, you really need an insertable holder. Would I be happy with a couple of Sinar Vario-Zooms... sure, but cost and weight are prohibitively high.

The point is, if you might shoot sheet film get a 4x5. If you are sure you want roll film, look at a 6x9 and see if it better serves your needs. My 6x9 outfit is much smaller and a fair bit lighter than my 4x5 outfit was, and it has 5 lenses not 4. This, coupled with the increased speed of operation means two things... first, I take it with me more often. The 4x5 never did take good pictures when I left it at home. Second, in changing light, I get shots I would have missed with 4x5.

-- Glenn Kroeger (gkroeger@trinity.edu), January 24, 2001.

I would like to respond to Glen who has contributed to the dialogue with some excellent points because, frankly, Wilfried really needs to think this through before he parts with his hard earned money.

If the magnified binocular viewer is the key to sane use of the 6x9 view camera, then the choice must be Arca Swiss. I imagine that there are people out there that use a 6x9 without a viewer with some success but it's not easy. I'd say that fussing about masking marks on the ground glass is a very fine point of distinction but I respect personal preferences. I can't actually buy the argument that one is really missing good shots with 4x5 that are to be had with 6x9. Perhaps your 4x5 was just too big and cumbersome a setup. My experience is that it is just about the same, and to some extent a view camera is a view camera, no matter the format. I think I can setup my 8x10 about as fast as the Canham, although I admittedly am much less inclined to shlep it for other reasons than setup time. Kerry Thalmann who regularly contributes to the rec.photo.LF newsgroup is a veteran gearhead (unashamedly so) and an avid backpacker/professional photographer with a mission to lighten his 4x5 load to the minimum. I'd like to hear his response to the "missing shots" theory because if he were missing anything or could scrounge a few ounces off his shoulders by going to 6x9, he would do it.

Now there is a difference, in my opinion, between setting up and taking down a field camera and setting up a monorail or hybrid. A monorail like the AS or a hybrid like the Ebony 23S is much easier to deal with than a folding camera of any sort, Ebony 23SV included. I find it a little annoying to take pictures with a folding camera that has to be unfolded and then folded just to carry it a ways to find a better vantage point, only to have to unfold again. This is just one of my personal peeves.

Having said that,it is a more valid comparison to put the AS up with the Ebony 23S than with the 23SV. I don't have the specs at hand however even the Ebony has a better range of useable focal lengths with the standard bellows and may have more "movements". I am still annoyed with changing (and carrying) extra bellows characteristic of Arca. Again, my Arca friends remain unswayed. Spend two or three thou on a camera and accessories and positions get pretty entrenched. Keith

-- Keith Burnett (vilntfluid@aol.com), January 24, 2001.

Keith has a point... Arca's bellows aren't always exactly what one would dream of. The standard leather bellows on the 6x9 works fine with my main battery of lenses that go from 55mm to 180mm. I can focus the 180mm to about 4 feet which covers any closeup work I do. I am annoyed that I cannot use the full length of the folding rail to focus a non-telephoto 240mm lens. Add to that the fact that Arca doesn't make an extended lens board. I am having Camera Bellows make me a custom synthetic bellows that will work from 55 to 265 which is about what I can get out of the rail.

I often get confused on the particular Ebony models (especially since they don't have pictures of them all on the web site) but I guess the 23S and 23SW don't fold, while the 23SV folds.

A nice benefit of the Arca viewing system is that I can transport the camera with the roll film back on the camera, and the groundglass safely enclosed in the binocular viewer. This protects the groundglass without needing a folding viewing hood or groundglass cover.

One additional feature of the Arca I have come to appreciate (in 4x5 and 6x9!) is the nature of the zero stops on swings and tilts. These are stops, not detents. There is no force driving the movement toward zero, but a clear stopping force when you reach zero. I don't know how they do this, but it makes very small displacements away from the zero position easy to achieve. Some other cameras I have owned use a spring loaded ball to achieve a zero detent. I got tired of fighting the tendency of the movement to fall back to zero.

One other aspect of the speed issue (and I am sure that Kerry might be able to beat me to a shot!) is that with the reflex viewer I typically work with the camera at about mid-torso height. When I shot 4x5, using a dark cloth and loupe I usually had the camera at eye height. I find that most operations such as attaching filters, setting shutter speed and aperture and adjusting the lens hood are easier at the lower height. This is obviously a property of using a reflex viewer and would apply to 4x5 as well.

As Keith also points out, the 6x9 Galvin is a nice little camera. I know several people who use and love them. They can be hard to find in good condition, but they do show up every few months on eBay or photo.net, and if the Ebony and Arca's are a bit rich for a first plunge, the Galvin would be a fine starting point which might serve you forever, but would be easy to sell if you later decided on a different camera.

Regardless of which camera you go with, I have a couple of suggestions for using roll film. First, buy good modern lenses. In 4x5 and 8x10, absolute lens quality is not the most critical issue. Enlargement factors are low (or 1x in the case of contact printing) so high MTF and 70+ lp/mm aren't the major control on useful image quality. With roll film your enlargment factors will be greater, often 6x to 10x. With roll film, you want the film, not the lens to be the limiting factor. This also means high quality roll film backs. Horseman, Linhof, Wista, Toyo and Sinar all make fine backs... but don't (and I have seen this) plop down a lot of money on a camera and lenses and then scour flea markets for 1950's vintage Graphic backs.

One thing that 4x5 and 8x10 offer is room for "slop". Choose the wrong lens and you can crop away 2/3 of the image area and still have more film real estate than 6x7. If you want to achieve the best that roll film can offer, you need to be aware of any "weak links" in the chain. Lens, film, roll film back, groundglass alignment, focusing accuracy, scanner quality or enlarging lens quality must all be as good as you can get. But with careful attention to the details, the results can be spectacular.

-- Glenn Kroeger (gkroeger@trinity.edu), January 24, 2001.

Actually Keith's post has made me reexamine my own comments... so here is a clarification on the speed thing...

The speed advantage comes from 1) a non-folding camera that can be packed with a lens in place, and 2) the use of a reflex viewer that can replace the use of a loupe and dark cloth in many shooting situations.

We all agree that there are many 4x5 and 6x9 cameras that meet the first challenge.

I tried some reflex viewers on my Toyo 45A and found them all to be either optically wanting or the size and weight of small field artillery pieces. In addition, in 4x5, these viewers hang from the spring back that holds the groundglass in place. This seemed to want to shift the groundglass out of position which clearly defeats the focusing effort. To counteract this, some had spring bails and others chains to suspend the weight of the reflex viewer. So given my propensity to roll film, and the nice design of the Arca 69 viewer I went with that solution.

So, if you can find a convenient quality reflex viewer for 4x5, the speed advantage can be had there as well. Another solution that I see alot of 4x5 users adopting are focusing bellows.

-- Glenn Kroeger (gkroeger@trinity.edu), January 25, 2001.

First of all, I wanted to thank you all for taking the time to help me with this decision. I have spent a fair amount of time just researching and comparing different models to narrow down my choice. I have searched the archives of this board (and others) and I found the information extremely valuable and helpful.

I have thought about using a 4x5 instead of a 6x9, and in fact 3rd on my list right now is the Canham DLC. However, I have also concluded that I like rollfilm more than sheet film and I don't see that changing; this is just a personal preference. I have used Rolleiflex and Hasselblad cameras for many years and am quite happy with them, and I will continue to use these cameras in the future. However, the lack of movements has led to a level of frustration that I decided I had to address it - hence my search for a view camera. I wanted to share some of the considerations I went through during the past months.

I'm trying to find a view camera that supports a similar range of lenses as I'm using on the Hasselblad today, and that goes from (modest) wide angle to approx. 400mm. As I said in my original post, weight is important to me, too. My back just doesn't support the kind of heavy packs anymore that I used to carry around some years ago. Someone already commented on the issue that with the Arca-Swiss, in order to support a wider range of focal lenghts, multiple bellows might be required (plus an extension rail). This is one of the reasons why the Ebony appeals more to me. On the other hand, I don't fancy the thought of using a loupe and dark cloth to focus an upside- down image very much, and so I decided that I'd only buy a camera that allows me to use a reflex viewer. The AS provides that as a standard accessory, the Ebony does not. I conacted Ebony and they said (for a reasonable extra charge) they'd modify their back to allow using a Horseman reflex viewer. One of the replies to my post (I believe it was Glenn) actually pointed to an even better viewing solution for the AS using their binocular viewer. I'm not sure why that didn't occur to me before, but that does indeed sound like an even better solution (thanks Glenn!).

Regarding the film format, I actually like the 6x6 format the most. Again, this is personal preference, but the square format just appeals most to me and I'd expect that not to change anytime soon. AS offer a Hasselblad adapter, which would allow me to use the same magazines I'm using on my Hasselblad also on the AS. Ebony doesn't have that as a standard item, but they said they could customize the back to allow that (extra charge).

To go back to the 4x5 question, I did go down that path and essentially eleminitaed all except the Canham DLC from my list; most of them didn't offer any significant advantage for me (either their wide angle support (for 6x9) is not as good as the 6x9 cameras, or they are heavier, accessories are heavier etc.). I'm still contemplating the Canham mostly due to its large bellows range and its light weight. It seems, from comments on this board, most Canham DLC users are very happy with it, although there are also some who weren't so thrilled about it.

It's obvious to me that there isn't the "ideal" camera out there for my preferences, and it boils down to making the best compromise. The really hard part in this is that it is not possible to go to a store, pick up these cameras, try them out, and then decide. Especially for this reason, boards like this are so incredible valuable.

-- Wilfried Kruse (ossi@prodigy.net), January 25, 2001.

I'm not sure wether this is a real alternative, but in case you want a rollfilm view camera, have you considered the Linhof M679?

It's not exactly light-weight (though you won't need a tripod head because a 3-way panning head is integrated into the camera) and perhaps even more expensive than an AS (don't know about Ebony), but the IMHO the most precise and highest quality view camera I saw up to now - and I say this as a (rather happy) AS F-line owner... the Arca is fine, but the M679 feels still better.
What you loose (compared to AS) is tele versatility (max. focal lens w/o extended lensboards spec'ed at 240mm), and the enormous direct shifts of the AS (the M679 works basically with indirect shifts, although there is some geared rise on the back standard).

What you get in addition to an AS are extremely smooth geared movements - you can use your Hasselblad backs (as well as many other MF accesories from Mamiya to Silvestri) on it.
And in the info material I collected from Linhof at Photokina, an adapter for the AS 6x9 bino viewer is mentioned!
Personally, for now I choose the sheet film (i.e. 4x5) way and bought an AS therefore - but if I would consider going back to rollfilm (and had enough money :), I think I'd get an M679.

-- Stefan Dalibor (dalibor@cs.fau.de), January 25, 2001.

Sorry to stray off topic (I have no experience with either the Ebony SV23 or the Arca Swiss F Line), but since Keith said:

"Kerry Thalmann who regularly contributes to the rec.photo.LF newsgroup is a veteran gearhead (unashamedly so) and an avid backpacker/professional photographer with a mission to lighten his 4x5 load to the minimum. I'd like to hear his response to the "missing shots" theory because if he were missing anything or could scrounge a few ounces off his shoulders by going to 6x9, he would do it."

Well, it certainly is tempting to lighten my load and go with a 6x9. As others have noted, the 6x9 camera and lenses are not really that much lighter (and in some cases heavier) than an ultralight 4x5 (my 4x5 Toho FC-45X is less than 3 lb., the Arca and Ebony are in the 4 - 5 lb. range). The REAL savings in terms of both weight and cost is in roll film vs. sheet film. On a long backpacking trip, even using Fuji Quickloads, my film and holder represent the heaviest bit of camera paraphernalia in my pack. 60 Quickload packets + the Quickload holder weigh more than my tripod + head. And even though the Quickloads save both weight and bulk over conventional holders and a changing bag, they are still quite bulky compared to a few rolls of 120/220. So, obviously using roll film could cut down considerably on weight and bulk. The Fuji Quickload holder weighs 12 1/4 oz. compared to 15 oz. for a Horseman roll film back. As it comes packaged from the factory, a box of 20 Quickload packets weigh 20 3/4 oz. compared to 1 oz. for a boxed roll of 120. Of course, I strip away any unnecessary packaging before hitting the trail, but the weight of the Quickloads still comes in at about 1 oz. per exposure. If you want to really save weight and shoot 220, you get 16 6x9 exposures for less than an ounce. So, with weight factor for the film is about 16:1 in favor of 220 roll film (or about 8:1 for 120). Also, 4x5 sheet film runs about $4.00 for exposure for film and processing. I don't shoot enough 120/220 to remeber the exact cost per shot, but I seem to recall it's somewhere around $0.90 per shot. So, again, roll film wins by a factor of greater than 4:1. Like I said, it's REAL tempting.

Still, at this point, I still prefer 4x5 for most of my work - even backpacking. As far as speed of shooting, a roll film view camera might be a little faster than 4x5, but it's still a view camera that requires a fairly slow, methodical working style. Things like changing lenses, using movements, etc. seem to be pretty constant regardless of sheet film or roll film. Once you are set-up and ready to shoot, it's a little faster to shoot multiple exposures on roll film in the changing light than sheet film (although I've found I can slam and shoot Quickloads as fast as my wallet will allow). Again, you have to manually cock the shutter for each exposure, manually wind the film, etc. As Glenn mentioned, there is also less of an economic barrier to shooting multiple exposures on roll film just to make sure you got THE perfect frame. For me personally, the only way I've come up with to SIGNIFICANTLY increase my shooting speed would be to go with a 6x7 SLR (GASP!), but I'm not sure I want to give up movements to do so.

WRT to missed shots and carrying less film. When limiting myself to 60 - 75 exposures on a multiday backpacking trip, obviously, I come home with a lot fewer images than if I a nearly limitless supply of film. However, when I know I have a limited number of exposures, my hit rate goes way up. I'm much more selective about what and when I shoot. So, in terms of total number of exposures, the numbers go down, but in terms of "keepers" the number probably stays pretty contant (but the ratio of "keepers": total exposures is much higer). Would the total number of "keepers" go up if I was shooting roll film? Hard to say without trying it.

One aspect of speed of use that's been overlooked is the relationship to weight. If your pack weighs less, you can probablly hike a little faster without stopping to rest (or you can work out at the health club to the point you can haul your 8x10 up the side of a mountain without breaking a sweat). With the lighter pack, I can get to my locations faster and still have plenty of enegery left to devote to photography. That's one thing I like about the Toho - the incredibly light weight. Although it's slower to set-up and use in some regards (changing lenses, changing between horizontal and vertical) than most conventional view cameras, it's just so darn light, I often find myself leaving it mounted on the tripod while I carry it around. For example, last Summer, on an overcast day up at Mount Rainier, I sepnt all day wondering around the flower fields at Paradise with the Toho and my 300mm Nikkor M mounted on my tripod. I was able to shoot all day without ever having to dismount the camera and pack it up between locations (and I easily covered over 6 miles of trail that day with lots of shooting). Even with my BIG tripod, the total weight of tripod + camera + lens was only about 9 1/2 lbs. (substitute my lightweight tripod and that total goes down to about 7 1/4 lbs.). With a heavier camera, I'm more inclined to stow it in my pack when walking more than couple hundred yards at a time. This means I spend a lot more time setting up and tearing down the camera.

So, not only do all format choices involve a series of trade-offs, so do the individual camera choices for each format. There is no one perfect solution for all users or all uses. It's hard for me to make specific recommendations, because what works well for me may be a total disaster for someone else with different needs and expectations. I may indeed eventually move to roll film (actually, the 6x12 format intrigues me), or who knows, by the time I'm ready to do so, digital may have reached the points on the cost/weight/quality curves that it may be the way to go. Too soon to tell at this point. In any case there have been a lot of good opinions and experiences shared in this thread. It certainly gives Wilfried a lot to think about. Of course, the Ebony and the Arca Swiss are both highly regarded, so there is no "wrong" answer. The important thing is to not be fozen into indecision. Get something, one or the other, and get out ans shoot with it. That's the only way you know for sure if it's the "right" choice. If not, sell it and buy something else (that's why god, or the devil, depending on your point of view, invented eBay).


-- Kerry Thalmann (largeformat@thalmann.com), January 25, 2001.

A tidbit for 6x9 camera users; there's a new Schneider loupe that has a 7x7 base.

While that may not seem exciting, what it means is that perhaps this loupe would work well as a monocular viewer, eliminating the darkcloth, especially for those who shoot 6x7 format. I have no idea of the price; Schneider's product number is 08-034551.

-- John Hicks (jbh@magicnet.net), January 25, 2001.

It is nice that Kerry had the opportunity to respond with his current philosophy. I quite appreciate it as I am sure others do.

The Linhof M679 is probably a tank. I can't imagine that it really belongs in the same league as the cameras we have been discussing. I believe it was actually designed as a platform for digital imaging, primarily in the studio.

A story of personal anguish follows in the spirit of our discussion.

About six months ago I called Badger Graphics to inquire about the Ebony SV23 and the Ebony 23S. I really wanted a 23S partially for financial reasons. The gentleman at BG told me that he just sold his 23S "demo" that morning to a person in NY for substantially lower price than usual. Furthermore, there was no negotiation on the price of a "new" one. Now that demo had been sitting around for over a year (or more) and nobody bought it. Then I make a "random" call and it had sold that morning!!! He told me that another one would probably never be available no matter how long I was willing to be patient. Did it break my heart...NO. But did I react emotionally...Yes. While this may seem irrational I honestly felt cheated. The "coincidence" was just too...you know...improbable. I subconciously resolved to not buy the Ebony because of this. What stupid logic...but so far I am sticking by it (because it's MY stupid logic). Keith

-- Keith Burnett (vilntlfuid@aol.com), January 25, 2001.

Well, so much for Keith's advice :^)

Kerry's right about the Toho's eliminating weight advantages to smaller formats.

He also seems to get film much cheaper than I do. Lately, I have been figuring the cost of QL sheets at $5.50 with processing. My only complaint with QL was bulk not weight. I always felt compelled to protect the packets from light and bending, and never found anything much better than their original boxes to store and protect them in.

As Kerry points out, all of these comments are personal experience. I arrived at the AS69 as my system after about 20 years of lots of buying and selling. The net has made that easier and less costly. Everybody has to find their own comfort point, and the chances of hitting it with the first camera are slim. Hopefully other's comments shorten the learning curve to less than one decade.

For me, lenses were also and issue. I always found 75mm too wide, and 90mm too long and heavy in 4x5. The 55mm combined with the 2:3 aspect ration just works well for me, giving me the equivalent of a 90mm on the short dimension and a 75mm on the long dimension. Of course there is now the 80XL.

For me, a compelling reason to stick with 4x5 would have been the availability of ISO400 color film. The B&W folks get TriX and TMax 400 but there are no fast films where they are both needed and the grain is acceptable. Pushing Provia 100F is one choice, but a bit expensive unless you do your own E6 processing.

-- Glenn C. Kroeger (gkroeger@trinity.edu), January 25, 2001.

Although I've never shot a photo with an M679, I've played around with one at a local dealer (Photomark in Phoenix, AZ). While it's no doubt a wonderful studio camera, IMO, it's much too heavy for field use (per the brochure, it weighs approx. 3800gm or 8.4lbs). I understand there is now a version that offers direct rise and fall, whereas the earlier versions didn't. Overall, it's a very impressive system but not one I would want to carry very far. (Mind you, my Toyo 23G weighs even more at just over 9lbs but it was quite a bit cheaper, too. We all have to compromise sometimes...)

-- Jeffrey Goggin (audidudi@mindspring.com), January 25, 2001.

You mentioned in your last post your desire to stick with roll film and the perceived desire for a binocular reflex finder. You also brought up the Canham DLC. Let me suggest that camera as the center to start with. Get Canham's Linhof to DLC/MQC adapter board. This will let you use smaller boards which will help on bulk. Next: Get the Sinar Vario II roll film holder. This back will let you use 120 or 220 film in 6x4.5 ,6x6, 6x7, 6x9 and 6x12. It is designed to slip under the groundglass of any 4x5 camera that has the Graflok clips (as the Canham does ). For viewing the groundglass frame of DLC is designed to take the Cambo viewing accessories like the monocular finder or the bino reflex. You can even go "whole hog" and get the Canham compendium shade!

For a tripod & head I'd recommend the three way Linhof head and the Gitzo 13xx carbon fiber tripod.

Another alternative camera would be the Hasselblad Arc body.

-- Ellis Vener (evphoto@insync.net), January 25, 2001.

Wilfried, I would like to assure you that the 6x9cm Ebony's have graflock backs, therefore they will take the Horseman viewer (product code 22551) designed for their VH 6x9cm technical camera. I know because I use one on my Ebony SW23. Regards,

-- Trevor Crone (trevor.crone@uk.dreamcast.com), January 26, 2001.

Ellis, {or anyone else}, Can you offer a quick description on the ease of use and weight on the Sinar Vario II? Thanks

-- Steve Clark (agno3@eesc.com), January 28, 2001.

Steve: The Vario I weighed 980 g. I wouldn't expect much difference in the II.

-- Glenn Kroeger (gkroeger@trinity.edu), January 28, 2001.

Glenn, thanks for the weight, but thats a little to brief on how it operates...I`m curious how they arrive at the differant formats on that holder.

-- Steve Clark (agno3@eesc.com), January 28, 2001.

Steve: I don't own one, so I gave you all the info I had... there was a thread a few months ago about this holder and its operation. Seems that the readout shows the number of cm (or mm) of film left at any point, so you can calculate how many of a give size you have left. I also know that is uses a cassette for film loading, and that several users have indicated they buy extra cassettes. Finally, I believe that it uses a captive pair of curtains rather than a true darkslide. There, now I REALLY don't know any more.

-- Glenn Kroeger (gkroeger@trinity.edu), January 28, 2001.

I have a couple of gripes about the Canham....

First of all, slickness and smoothness have been sacrificed to some extent for the light weight and huge extension. It's certainly not bad, but some better method for adjusting drag on some of the controls would've been nice.

If a lot of front rise is used with the bellows compressed the back can be forced into an unwanted tilt. The obvious solution is to use the bag bellows, but that could mean having to lug around two bellows depending on lenses used.

I think the camera's lots better and more versatile than several other high-end field cameras I've used; all have some sorts of limitations.

Good idea about the Sinar rollfilm holder. Using a standard rollfilm holder for which the back has to be removed can be a major pain in the posterior so a slide-in holder would be nice; imho the usual Calumet slide-in rollfilm holder is pretty poor.

Comparing the Canham and the Galvin, the Canham folds into a _much_ smaller package than the Galvin and is much smoother. The Galvin is an interesting little camera but is pretty crude; it's sort of like an old Calumet 4x5 in miniature. Otoh, it's pretty cheap. The only 6x6 rollfilm holders I know of that'll fit the Galvin are the old Graflex 12 holders, which probably will leave lots to be desired in film flatness. Another limitation of the Galvin is that the stock camera can't use very short lenses; a recessed board and/or different (non-interchangeable) bellows may be required.

-- John Hicks (jbh@magicnet.net), January 29, 2001.

Wilfried, did you make a selection? If so, which one? Also, nowhere in this thread did anyone reply who actually owns or has used an Ebony SV23. Is there someone out there who can provide a first-hand report on that camera?

-- Sal Santamaura (bc_hill@qwestinternet.net), June 12, 2001.


I bought a (used) Arca Swiss 6x9 F (not the FC). My choice was largely based on the thought that buying a used AS is a much lower risk than a brand-new Ebony in case I won't like what I got. Having said that, I'm very glad that I picked the AS - it is a very intuitive camera for me to use, which was especially important since I didn't have much experience with view/field cameras. Having the same kind of movements (wihtout drop-beds and similar things) on the front and rear, as well as having scales that make it easy for me to set things up, turned out to be a great help (again, important since I was a novice in this space). I also got the binocular viewer - and I couldn't imagine using a camera like this without it. One drawback for me was the weight and bulk; actually, the bulk more than the weight. I had some trouble finding a camera bag that was both, large enough and yet light weight and convenient to carry the camera. Here I'd guess the Ebony is better since it is more compact (and a little less weight). Another drawback is the fact that you almost certainly need at least two bellows; in my case, I like longer focal lenses, which meant I had to get the 50cm bellows. I wish I didn't have to deal with that, but in the end that is mostly a matter of convenience.

I bought mine from Christoph Greiner (in Germany), who has very good prices on (at least) European cameras. He is also very pleasant to deal with. One recommendation he had for me was to go for the F version with the 30cm monorail, instead of the FC version. I wouldn't call this a BIG difference, but at least for me his recommendation actually worked out better: the 30cm monorail has two 15cm rail units; I usually keep the camera on one of these units, and detach that unit form the track, which I leave on the tripod. When setting up the camera I just slide the camera with its rail unit onto the track, fasten it, and I'm ready to go. In addition, for using longer lenses, I purchased an extra 25cm rail unit which I use instead of the other 15cm unit. This setup saves a few ounces compared to the collapsible monorail plus an extension unit. I'm not sure whether this is significant to you, but for me keeping the weight down was important.

As I said earlier, I purchased the (used) AS to some extent because it would minimize my financial risk in case I didn't like it - but I love it and am very happy with it. Having said that, I'm convinced the Ebony is just as nice and ejoyable - and there are days when I wonder how much I would have liked it instead of the AS. The bottom line is - you won't go wrong with either one of them.

Let me know if you have other specific questions; I'd be glad to help.

Regards, Wilfried.

-- Wilfried Kruse (ossi@prodigy.net), June 12, 2001.

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