Arca Swiss F-Line 4x5

Part of the Large Format Page.


A review of the F-line

by Barry Sherman, Copyright © 1994

I've been using this camera for a little more than 1 year, have used it on several one and two week photo trips and have little inclination to use anything else.

Please note that throughout this there's a noticible prejudice against folding field cameras and that this is not intended to be a pronouncement of a universal law, but merely my own preference showing through.


The Arca Swiss F-Line provides full monorail movements while weighing and bulking no more than most of the more capable folding field cameras. I like the camera a lot and have yet to find a camera for which I'd trade it. (Well, maybe a Carbon Infinity, but I'd hesitate for fear of not being able to get that one repaired. Besides which, I haven't won the lottery yet.)

The camera just does what it's supposed to do quickly, easily and doesn't get in my way. It's hard to ask for more.

What I was looking for

I wanted a 4x5 camera light enough to carry in a backpack for distances up to a few miles, rugged enough to carry thusly and with enough movements to use for architectural and table-top photography as well as landscapes. I wanted a "one-camera-does-everything" camera because I didn't want to have to buy another view camera for a good long while.

In addition, the camera needed to be quick to set up, something which most folding field cameras appear to me not to be (IMHO, of course). (Note: John Sparks reports that it takes him no longer to set up his Canham 8x10 than it does me to set up my Arca Swiss 4x5, except that the Arca Swiss can be stored with lens attached.)

The major contenders for my interest were the Wisner Technical and the Linhof Technikardan. The Linhof Technika would have been a contender save for the price of the more recent models. I chose the Arca because it has movements equal to or greater than any of these cameras, weighs in the same ballpark and, while it will not focus lenses as long as will the Wisner or the Technikardan, it has the advantage of being part of a monorail system, allowing expansion of its capacities.

Here's where I'll try to offend as many people as possible :-) :

I didn't consider the Sinar A1 because it's just too bulky for my tastes, didn't consider the Zone VI because of reports from too many people that the fit of the pieces and quality control aren't up to snuff (but boy they sure are purty! :-), didn't consider the Horseman, Toyo or Wista metal field cameras because their movements and bellows draw are more restrictive than I want and didn't consider the Toyo VX125 (sp?) because it hadn't been introduced at the time and besides which it costs far more than I'd be willing to spend.


NOTE:  the "normal" position of the front and rear standard rise/fall
       is all the way down.  Thus the spec. for rise/fall is actually
       for rise alone for each standard, although one may certainly
       chose to zero each standard at the midpoint of this movement.

NOTE:  When I went to write this I found that I no longer have the
       factory specs on this camera and so everything that I state here
       is from my own manual measurements.  Thus there may be some
       discrepency from published factory specs.

Max. Flange Focal Length: (bellows draw) 15 5/8 inches (382mm) Min. Flange Focal Length: (bellows draw) 2 inches (50mm) with optional wide-angle bellows installed Rise: + 4 inches (98mm) both front and rear Shift: +/- 3.25 inches (75mm) either side of "zero" both front and rear Swing: limited by bellows front and rear Base Tilt: +/- 30 degrees front and rear Axis Tilt: none Geared Movements: front and rear focusing only. Back type: graflok Back movements: switches between horizontal and vertical in seconds but doesn't rotate "Zero detents": All movements except for rise, which is normally in the full-down position Weight: 7.5 lbs. NOTE: Specs say that the Linhof Master Technika weighs 7.0 lbs and the Wisner Technical weighs 6.5 lbs. Cost: I paid $1,900 for the body, new

How it works

I carry this camera the way that others carry a folding field camera and am able to do this because of the way that it disassembles. The monorail actually consists of three pieces. There's one piece about 12 inches long which attaches to the tripod. Atop this, sliding in "dovetails" in the bottom piece, are two shorter pieces each about 6 inches long. Each of these is locked in place by a cam-action lever and can be slid to the front or rear as appropriate and then locked in place to increase the overall length of the monorail. Thus you can leave the two upper segments touching and have a 12 inch monorail or slide them apart and have one nearly 18 inches long.

The front and rear standards of the camera slide onto these upper monorail pieces and move along them to provide focusing. Thus, you can move the front standard onto the upper front monorail segment, move the rear standard onto the upper rear monorail segment and then separate these segments by sliding them forward and backward as appropriate to attain the full 15 5/8 inch (flange focal length) extension.

When it's time to put the camera away, you slide the two upper monorail segments together so that they form one continuous rail and then slide both the front and rear standard onto one of the upper segments. After locking the standards in place with the focus lock, you can unlock that upper monorail segment itself and remove it, with front and rear standards attached to it, from the lower monorail arm. This reduces the camera to a size very little larger than most folding field cameras, be they wood or metal. Next the lower monorail segment, with the remaining upper segment attached, is removed from the tripod and put in the backpack.

Obviously, setup is the opposite of this operation and goes very quickly. Just attach the lower monorail segment to the tripod, slide the upper segment with both standards attached onto the lower segment, move the two standards the appropriate distance apart and the camera's ready to go.

Very few people can get a folding field camera set up in the 15 seconds that it usually takes me to set up the Arca Swiss. (not counting setting up the tripod, of course) This speed is abetted by the fact that I can leave the lens attached, something that one cannot do with most folding field cameras.

On the down side, the camera doesn't fold up into a box, and doesn't provide protection for the groundglass. But I've only had one problem with damage to the camera and that was caused by improper packing on my part when I checked the camera in its soft backpack as airline baggage. I now load the entire backpack and tripod into a very large hard-sided suitcase and then check *that*. And I find that a Calumet groundglass protector prevents damage to the groundglass quite nicely since I reinforced it with a second thickness of ABS plastic. (No, it wasn't the Arca groundglass that was broken before I reinforced the protector - it was the Bender Kit groundglass.)

What i like

What I dislike about it

Notice that I'm not coming up with any real user complaints? That's because I don't have any!

Differences with other models

Differences with the Discovery

12" rail, no fresnel, only levels on one side (2) and rear(1), No front focus (just slide and lock), knobs on function blocks are cream-colored. Comes with case (optional backpack straps) Has tiny (1.5") tripod block. You can add all Arca Accessories to the Discovery to upgrade including fresnel, additional rail/bellows, etc. Don Nelson.

An older Arca Swiss, compared to a F-line

  1. It has axial tilts instead of base tilts.
  2. It has serrated plastic knobs instead of rubberized ones.
  3. The metal surfaces are not black-anodized.
  4. The rail doesn't collapse/expand.
  5. There are flash shoes on the front and rear standards(!).
  6. No fresnel.
  7. No grid lines.
  8. No serial numbers(?).
  9. The standards have rounded edges instead of sharply-squared ones.
  10. It doesn't have any scales except for rise, and only at .5 cm intervals at that.
The lens boards and rails are supposedly compatible, but the bellows are not. Worse, I rented a 90mm lens (Caltar II-N) on a recessed lens board and discovered that the construction of the camera won't permit infinity focus with this lens! Alvin Chia-Hua Shih

Older and newer F-line models

The older style F-line standards definitely fit on the newer high profile rails.

However, you might contact Rod Klukas at Photomark. He currently has a bunch of the older style rails and bridges at a good price (a couple of folding low profile rail). Photomark is at 602-244-1133. Patience is sometimes necessary as he's got a lot of business....

There is at least two folding low profile rails(from two FC cameras) and a longer bridge with a section of low profile rails. (Excellent condition)

There is at least two folding low profile rails(from two FC cameras) and a longer bridge with a section of low profile rails. (Excellent condition)

BTW here's the differences between the older and newer style F-line Arca Swiss Rails: (bridge = the unit that the rail goes into for attachment to the tripod. It comes in many sizes, from about 3 inches up thru a meter long section)(sometimes the bridge is called a bracket in the literature).

                        OLD     (low profile)   NEW (high profile)

Clamping mechanism    Compression via         Compression by pulling down
                      adjustable clamp        on slot on bottom side of
                      on side of bridge       new rail
                      (Bridge clamp is a      Bridge clamping mechanism is in
                     screw across the inside  the bottom of the inside of the
                        of the bridge)          bridge.
RAIL                    Short height            tall height
                        solid rail              rail has a T-slot in bottom
                                                (this slot is where the bridge
                                                attachment mechanis goes)
And the compression on the older profile bridges occurs when the sides
are pulled together by a lever on the rail. 

Don Nelson

More info

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