Fanatic about weight : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

The weight of large format equipment can create a lot of headaches (and backaches) as well as a lot of discussion on this forum. I have a functional but well worn field camera that looks terribly overbuilt.

In an effort to reduce weight, has anyone been bold enough to literally drill and/or carve on the framework of a camera? Were the rusults what you expected? Is the name "Arca Swiss-Cheese" copyrighted?

-- Dave Richhart (, November 25, 2001


Maybe that Canham guy is onto something?

My 5x7 metal is as light as a 4x5.

-- Michael Kadillak (, November 25, 2001.

I have also found that when you caring heavy loads all day, your are much less productive because shortly you become exhausted and too weary to see straight. This is why I use a llama. They can carry up to 90-100 lbs gear .

Be careful about drilling out your camera stock. It will increase the exposed surface area of the wood. Without proper sealing it could cause things to warp and then bind or bcome misaligned.

-- Stephen Willard (, November 25, 2001.

Oh boy, where to start. Weight is a bit of an obsession with me. Of course, the camera is only part of the kit. If you're not already using a carbon fiber tripod with a lightweight ballhead, you can probably save a lot more weight there than by drilling holes in your camera.

Rather than drill holes in a wooden camera, you might consider getting a camera that is lighter to start with. The amount of weight you will save in materials won't be that much - a few ounces, and you might end up with a camera that is still heavier and less rigid than one that was designed to be lightweight in the first place.

My personal favorite lightweight camera for backpacking is the Toho FC-45X. As it came from the factory, it weighed 3 lb. 3/4 oz. That makes it the lightest 4x5 camera currently available (Oh yeah, NEVER believe the specs on anything sold as "lightweight", be it a camera or a tent. Many maunfacturers are absurdly "optimistic" in their advertised weights. Weigh everything yourself - it's the only way to get an accurate weight). I made a few simple mods (replaced the foucusing hood with a foam core ground glass protector, replaced the stock tripod mounting block with a shortened RRS QR plate) that shaved 4 1/4 oz. to get the total weight down to 2 lb. 12 1/2 oz. This is for a monorail camera with full front and rear movements and over 15" of bellows extension. In other words, it's very light, but also very usable. It is also quite rigid - more so than many field cameras I've used that weigh 2 - 3 lbs. more.

I just looked at other ways I could shave some weight off the Toho, and there aren't many. I could maybe save another ounce if I took a drill to it, but it's so compact already, there really isn't a lot of excess metal to drill out. If I really wanted to save some weight, I could probably have a one piece rail made that would give me a little less extension, and not be as compact as the stock three piece telescoping rail. Other than that, there isn't a lot of weight to be saved.

I have a complete review of the Toho, along with a description of the modifications I made at:

I'm also a fanatic about lightweight lenses. When backpacking I generally carry a four lens set consisting of 90mm WA Congo, 135mm APO Sironar-N, 200mm Nikkor M and 300mm Nikkor M. The Toho handles all four of these lenses with ease, and they are all small, compact and multicoated. The two Nikkors take 52mm filters, the Congo 43mm and the APO Sironar-N 40.5mm. For the smaller two, I just leave 52mm step-up rings on them all the time with 52mm Nikon snap-on lens caps. I can then use one set of 52mm filters for all four lenses.

If I want to go REALLY light, I carry just three lenses. In the past that has been the same 90mm WA Congo, a 150mm f6.3 Fujinon W and a 240mm Fujinon A. I recently bought a late 9 1/2" Red Dot Artar that is in a factory Compur No. 1 shutter that's a couple ounces lighter than the 240mm Fujinon, but like the 150mm Fujinon, it's only single coated.

I also have some more info on lightweight lenses starting at:

Be careful. Once you start thinking about this stuff, you too may become obsessed. I can tell you down to the nearest 1/4 oz. what every piece of gear I carry weighs. Once you get the weight and size of the system down, it also means you can get by with a lighter smaller pack. See what I mean about obsessing? Still, it is a joy to have enough energy left at the end of a long hike to actually look forward to some photography. I have a heavier general purpose outfit, but the light weight of the Toho system can be very liberating. I can cover more ground in less time and still have plenty of energy and enthusiasm for photography. I've met other photographers in the backcountry who are stunned whan I pull a 4x5 system out of that little book bag I'm carrying on my back. They are even more amazed when my 4x5 system weighs less than their 35mm or medium format kit. It will never be as small and light as a compact point-n-shoot, but a 4x5 kit doesn't have to weigh 40 lbs. either.


-- Kerry Thalmann (, November 25, 2001.

Kerry, I'm also heavy into weight loss. At the moment the sore spot is my tripod head. I'm using a Giotto MH-1000, which seems to be overkill and overweight on my carbon fiber tripod. What do you suggest?

-- Arthur Gottschalk (, November 25, 2001.


You don't mention what camera you're using, so this may not apply. With my ultralight Toho, I'm currently using a Velbon PH-253MG. This is a REALLY lightweight (less than 6 oz.) magnesium ballhead that I would never consider using with a camera weighing much more than 3 - 3 1/2 lbs.

Prior to that, I was using a Slik Standard Ballhead II that I modified to add a Kirk Arca style QR clamp. The stock plastic platform on this head was junk, but after it was removed, this is a decently stable head and a great bargain (about $40 - $45). This combo weighs 13 1/4 oz., but it's also a little more sturdy than the Velbon. It would probably be fine with a camera up to 4 - 4 1/2 lbs. You can see a picture of this combo (and a few heavier heads) at:

I general, I find a 4x5 camera to put less stress on a tripod head than a professional 35mm system. With my little Toho, the camera is always centered above the apex of the tripod head. It's never flopped on it's side for verticals, and with the telescoping rail, it's always balanced front to back as well. With the lightweight lenses I use, it puts less stress on the head than even a fairly lightweight 35mm SLR with zoom lens. So, while these heads are perhaps undersized for most serious 35mm shooters, they work fine with my Toho.


-- Kerry Thalmann (, November 25, 2001.

Does anyone have any firsthand experience with the new acratech "Ultimate ballhead"? It looks promising but I've seen no user reports yet except on

Company web site:


-- Terry (, November 26, 2001.

I'm not obsessive about weight since I don't go on overnight or even really long hikes but I used to carry the following very easily in a little Domke shoulder bag that is normally used by 35 mm people: Tachihara camera, three film holders, 150 mm G Claron lens, 300 mm Nikon M lens, BTZS dark cloth, loupe, glasses. The meter was strapped on my belt and the Bogen 3221 tripod with Arca Swiss B1 head was over my shoulder. I think I could have added a small 90 mm lens like the Angulon but I don't own one and my 90 mm Super Angulon was too large and heavy for this set up. This was a very nice setup for just walking around town or in a park or any kind of place where you didn't need the big back pack.

-- Brian Ellis (, November 26, 2001.

Just got off a news site where they were describing the Marines going into Afghanistan with 100lb + packs - I'm sure some of them would get a kick out of us complaining about 10-20lb kits !!!

I used to help my friends bring quartered moose out of the woods ( 100lbs+, loose load )and got used to it.

My Arca Swiss Discovery kit went on many all day hikes with nothing more than the shoulder bag it came with. I am 6 feet, an unmuscular 175lbs, sit most of the day at a computer screen, smoke, and have made no attempt at physical fitness in my 46 years.

David, your time would be better spent in the field with your camera than home drilling holes !!!

-- Michael Mahoney (, November 26, 2001.


Funny you should mention this. I was up at Mt. Rainier for several days during the summer of 2000 shooting the wildflowers at Paradise. Every morning, a group of marines from Ft. Lewis would show up in the parking lot before sunrise, strap on some REALLY heavy looking packs and start storming up the mountain at an incredible pace. I do a lot of hiking, I'm a big guy and I try to stay on decent shape. Most of the people that I hike with think I hike way too fast - especially uphill. Still, there is no way I could even begin to keep up with those marines. In terms of strength and stamina, they were just awesome to watch. It doesn't suprise me to see them on the news lugging 100 lb. packs up the mounatins in Afganistan. It's what they were trained for, and based on what I saw at Mt. Rainier - they are quite good at it.

WRT to pack weight. Even though I'm generally in pretty decent shape and capable of carrying a much heavier pack (I used to routiniely carry a 65 - 70 lb. backpack when backpacking), I still find the lighter pack weight beneficial. It lets me cover more ground in less time, and the less energy spent lugging a heavy pack the more energy I have left for photography. By reducing the weight of both my camera gear and backpacking equipment, I've cut my total pack weight down to about 45 lbs. So, that's 20 - 25 lbs. lighter than what I used to carry. And, believe me, you will notice a difference after a long day on the trail.

Still, for most of my general purpose photography, I usually carry a much heavier LF kit. I'm currently carrying a Linhof TK45S that weighs nearly 8 lbs., along with six lenses, etc. in a pack that weighs about 12 lb. empty. I've even carried two cameras and a second tripod on several occasions. Sounds odd, but I only do it when I'm reviewing cameras or recently when testing several different films (I wanted to be able to shoot multiple films at the same time, so it was easier with two cameras). Of course, often the second camera has been my little Toho, so that helps. I even did a couple fairly long dayhikes (8 - 10 miles) earlier this year with both a 5x7 Lotus and a 4x5 Canham DLC (I was reviewing the Lotus for a magazine article and shooting 4x5 with my Canham since I didn't have a reducing back for the Lotus).

So, even though I can, and do, carry heavier loads (but still not as heavy, or at as brisk of a pace as the marines - hats off to 'em), I still enjoy the benefits of a lighter system when I can. Your last comment about getting out and taking pictures is very appropriate. On some days, when I just don't feel like I have the energy to lug around a heavier 4x5 outfit, I just grab the little Toho kit and hit the trail. It's so light that I don't even notice it's there. This near weightlessness occasionally helps me overcome the inertia of laziness and gets me out to take some pictures when I might otherwise be inclined to stay home. That alone makes the little Toho worth its weight in gold.


-- Kerry Thalmann (, November 26, 2001.

Thanks for the posts guys. I know that I can buy another camera. If I wanted to go that direction, I would not be toying with an old wooden field camera. There is a lot of nice equipment produced these days...That was not the question that I posted.

I was just curious if there were any adventuresome fanatics who had seen fit to take the matter of weight into their own hands...

-- Dave Richhart (, November 26, 2001.

I saw a Kodak Master 8x10 at a swap meet in which were neatly drilled scads of 1/4th to 3/8th inch holes, primarily in the front standard. The camera still appeared to be solid, yet it reduced the camera's weight by a significant amount.

Thinking at the time that I didn't need "another camera", and not realizing the value of these cameras, I opted not to purchase. The camera, in great shape with new bellows, with two backs (8x10 & 5x7), two 8x10 fresnals, and a reduction lens board sold for $500. (Aaarrgh.)

-- neil poulsen (, November 26, 2001.

Where can I buy a llama? B&H dont seem to have them in stock.

-- (, December 05, 2001.

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