Arca-Swiss F-Metric 8x10 camera review

Arca-Swiss F-Metric 8x10 camera

Unlike their smaller format counterparts, different view cameras bring with them varying ways of performing identical tasks. All 35mm film cameras basically operate similarly and, when one ignores the finer points, there is no real difference between the brands. Each brand of view camera comes with, essentially, its designer's perspective on how the camera should be built, how it should handle, how modular the system is, portability, weight, materials used - be it wood, carbon fibre etc. - geared movements or not, base or axis tilts, and so on. In essence, each view camera has something akin to a personality, complete with quirks. There is no 'best' view camera system. Although some of the more expensive brands are built to higher standards than others, that precision German engineered gargantuan thirty pound aluminium brick is not exactly what you had in mind for toting along on a hike. Additionally, photographers can never agree on whether a particular view camera is great or not; some people will hate it, some people will love it. It is very personal. As to the subject of this review, this camera does what I need it to do without it getting in the way of the picture-taking process; I am free to concentrate on taking the picture instead of fussing with the camera. This is the best praise I can give any camera.

Specifications

My version of the camera measures 17" in height, 12" in width, and 17" in length which includes the extended monorail. The camera, with a lens attached, weighs just under 10lbs. Surprisingly, the camera does not seem to weigh much more than my 4X5 Arca. Rise, fall, shift, and focusing are all geared. There is no rise or fall on the rear standard. Rise is 60mm and fall 40mm on the front standard. There is an optional accessory to raise the front standard so that you can get the full 100mm rise. I purchased it but I do not use it as my current lens does not have enough coverage to make use of the full rise. Tilt is 35 degrees, forward and back, on both standards. I would have preferred up to 45 degrees on the rear standard, which the Monolith Arcas can do. Swing is calibrated up to 45 degrees on both standards but they can be swung 180 degrees to flatten the camera for storage, if you so desire. The supplied bellows can extend more than 550mm, which is the maximum length of my current monorail. The rear standard has a reversible international Graflok back and Arca's excellent groundglass/fresnel combination.

Portability and setup

No landscape view camera will ever see those hard to reach scenic locations if you need a crane to move it. Even more important is that it should be compact enough so as not to require a suitcase to carry it. Additionally, the less disassembly and reassembly required to get the camera into a packing and shooting state respectively, the better (preferrably none). As my 30cm collapsible rail and 25mm monorail extension from my 4X5 Arca were pressed into service for the 8X10, I encountered problems. The rail was just too long for packing the camera without disassambling the whole thing i.e. removing the standards from the rail. I have subsequently 'modified' the monorail extension to make it removable from the main rail, hence allowing me to store the camera fully assembled in my Lowepro Photo Trekker AW II backpack. I have been advised that the 50cm telescopic monorail is the best option, and I will probably trade in my rail for this piece at some point.


It takes me about ten seconds from opening the bag to having the camera ready for shooting. The fully assembled camera is shown below.

To store, I just move the standards closer together, pull out the monorail extension, and place the camera in the bag. I also try to remember to unlock the tilt and swing controls so as to reduce stress on the function carriers.

In use

Coupled to a Gitzo 1228 Mk II tripod, the camera is rigid and the whole setup is remarkably vibration free. This flies in the face of conventional wisdom whereby many claim that you need a monster tripod for use with 8X10. My pictures seem sharp enough. Needless to say, all 8X10 cameras, by virtue of the huge bellows, can act as sails in windy conditions. The 8X10, however, vibrates a whole lot less than the 4X5 in the wind because, I suspect, of its greater mass. As all large format photographers know, photographing in a stiff breeze is always a nightmare. Make sure to bring along the golf umbrella to shield the camera from the wind during exposure! One disadvantage of using a light tripod is that it can very easily fall over in a gust. The thought of my camera crashing to the earth (or over a cliff!) is chilling. Never leave a tripod-mounted camera unattended.

The camera is equipped with detents on all movements, so zeroing the movements can be easily accomplished by feel. There are separate locking controls for both swing and tilt. Some camera manufacturers lump these together; a definite no no. Locking is friction-based, which some people dislike. The rear tilt has to be locked securely as the large rear standard acts as a lever, allowing it to tilted even when you think the tilt-control is sufficiently locked down. Levelling the camera is easy with the bubble-levels. I would have preferred to have the bubble-level on the rear standard at the top-left, instead of bottom-left. Adding and removing film-holders is a joy; it is far easier to do than the 4X5 Arca. A bail arm is used to open the back, which is held open as you insert the film-holder. Pulling the arm again releases the mechanism holding the back open and the back gently closes. It never ceases to amaze me that certain manufacturers (hello Linhof and Ebony) make you spend thousands of dollars for a camera which they then equip with a sub-par groundglass. Thankfully, Arca-Swiss is not complicit in this crime against humanity. Groundglass viewing is good.

There is no bellows sag. The bellows will allow the standards to be within two inches of each other, but don't count on any movements at this distance. Unfortunately, my camera suffers from "Lensboard Gigantism Syndrome". I mean, a 171X171mm lensboard? There is a converter to allow the use of Technica size lensboards but it costs more than $300. USD. I think S. K. Grimes at Precision Camera Works, U.S.A. offers a cheaper alternative.

I have discovered that many of the screws used by Arca-Swiss are very susceptible to post sea-blast corrosion. Eeek! Would it be too much to ask that they use brass screws instead? I think not! Especially considering the price of this kit.

 

And so this review, of sorts, comes to an end - for now. As I gain more experience with the camera I may post more, if necessary. Aha! I must not forget to add, if you wish to buy the Arca I highly recommend Badger Graphic as the place to get it. Jeff at Badger Graphic is great!


 

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