Inside Daniel Geiger large format camera bag

Summary: Details with pictures of Daniel Geiger’s 4x5 monorail camera bag. Separate bag for 35 mm.

By Daniel Geiger for

This is a companion article to QT Luong’s 5x7 bag. I have opted for a 4x5 ArcaSwiss monorail, with which I shoot exclusively color transparencies using Fuji quickloads. Hence, an entire LowePro Supertrecker AWII takes up the gear.  I have a second SAW for the 35 mm kit (Contax). The reasons for choosing the SAWII are similar to QT Luong.

Images are not quite as nice as QT Luong's; don't have a large white surface, so the hardwood floor has to do. Images taken with a Nikon Coolpix 8700 with built-in flash and all its problems, e.g., exposure composition does not work with flash. Good for quicky snap shots, but not much else.


Only the tripod (Gitzo 1327 CF three section with short CF column and Arca B1) is attached to the exterior. I opted for a column, so that I can reverse the column for very low level shots. It is a major challenge to do it, and I have only done it a couple of times. The junction between platform and column has separated; tried to glue it in with superglue, but a day later it was back in two pieces. Rather than trying the repair route, I'll buy a new one shortly. The ball head is protected with a moderately cushioned bag and all straps are tucked in. The ball head has an Arca QR platform, and the short Arca rail clamp is attached to it. As the camera has a folding rail, the rail clamp can not stay attached to it anyway. I often go cross country through chaparral, where anything will hang onto the bag. I prefer not to strap anything else to the back, as it introduces a pull.

There is a small difference between the old SAW and new SAWII. At the very top, there is an externally accessible zipper pocket in the old SAW, wheras it has been omitted in the SAWII. With the SLR pack, this is where wallet, keys, and cell phone go. I only open it when I leave the car, and when I return to it. So the chance of losing any of it on the trail are minimized. With the new one, I have to put it inside in one of the lesser used zipper compartments.


The meshpocket on the exterior flap contains a photoflex multidisk (White, silver, gold, gold-silver, diffuser) and occasionally water bottles and food when I’m out by myself. What you see here is the silver-gold reflector, which is the surface I use most.

The zipper compartments face inwards, so when the bag is opened, I have access to both the main compartment as well as the smaller items in the zipper pockets (like a lunch buffet). I like QT Luong's additional velcro straps, and will modify the bag accordingly.

Zipper pockets



Top layer:

Blackjacket focusing cloth. I put it in between the main compartment and the meshpockets as cushioning. I have the hybrid cloth as I shoot mainly in warm weather. Although I grew up in Switzerland, I perfer above 100F/40C to below 50F/10C. The horseblanket is ancient history.

Bottom row contains the lenses:

I started out with a SA90 f/8, Sironar S 150, and the Nikor T360/500 as a suggested by folks at Keeble and Shuchat in Palo Alto (got a good deal on it as well), where I bought the starter kit. It turns out that some of them are among Kerry Thalmann'gs future classics; pure dumb luck. In the meantime the selection has grown to:

One of the smaller lenses is mounted on the camera. Every shutter has a short cable release attached to it. A home made wire thingy, which clamps onto the rails and supports long bellows extensions, is stuck in between the lenses. The lenses are separated by the black-rigid foam elements, so that the weight of the camera above does not crush the lower compartment. The lenses are a bit lighter per volume, than any of the other gear, hence, they go on the bottom, whereas the heavier metal parts go further up.


Camera: ArcaSwiss F-line compact 4x5”, with Maxwell general purpose screen, and Ron Klukas’ screen protector (slightly modified: notice the filed groove at the top to allow the holding pin to engage. This was necessary, because the Maxwell screen is a bit thicker than the original Arca ground glass), one of the smaller (non-tele) lenses mounted. The monorail “wastes” a lot of space. A small triangular compartment holds the focusing loupe, a flashlight, extra pencil, and a minican of compressed air (take out when traveling by air).

Underneath the camera, I put the wide-angle bellows. The bellows are in zip-lock bags to keep the dust out. Below an explosion view is given. To the left the WA bellows underneath the camera for additional cushioning, then the camera, then the long bellows on top of the front standard. Note that the rim formed by the bellows also protects the protruding lens. I do use the WA bellows in a regular basis with the 90XL. The long bellows is a rarely used item.

On the other side, there are the quickload boxes, the quickload filmholder, and my note pad with the table for bellows factors. The remaining space is filled either with a third box of QLs or with a couple of bottles of water, and a small first-aid kit (not shown). The water helps to keep the film cool in southern California.

The data sheets are usually on the clip board. I removed them here to show the table with bellows extension and exposure correction for the various lenses I have. On the backside of the clipboard, I recently put a graph with lines for different exposure compensations (+1/3, +1/5, +2/3 ... +2 f-stops) as a function of focal length and bellows draw. I seggregted it for all lenses, and then also for the shorter focal lengths for more accuracy. The graph was based on my measurements from the table, and the graph with linear regression was generated in STATISTICA Mac 4.1 (could also be done in Excel, but I know the stats program better).

The data sheet itself contains fields for:

Filling out the data-sheet is quick, and ensures that I do not forget anything. The data sheets are folded once, and placed in the plastic binder sleeves with the film sheets once they are developed. I cross the set of exposures off the data sheet from the sheets I toss. The back of the quickload holder has tables of reciprocity failure for the films I have used. I use now mainly Provia and Velvia, but don't like the color of Astia (I don't do people).


Lower upper compartment.

It is a long-skinny compartment mainly for the rails. Access to the components is not as quick, but changing rail configurations is not something you do in a hurry anyway. Hence, I do not view it as a problem. The more frequently used items (GPS, Flash, x-sync cord) are on top, the remainder at the bottom. The illustration is like an explosion view of the actual packing. Specifically it contains:


Two images to illustrate the use of the long lens support clamp. Note in both images that the bellows sag (Arca long bellows).
Left: 30 cm folding rail plus 25 cm extension with Nikor T lens. The lens with shutter is mounted right over the tripod head which should minimize vibrations as much as possible. The 25 cm extension has a short rail clamp attached so that the ball head from the long lens support can be fitted. When fastening the three screws of the long lens support, I first fasten the lowermost one at the leg grip, then lock the miniballhead, and then push the two sliding support rods apart, and then lock the middle screw. That way, there is pressure = stabilization on the long lens support. I do the lockdown after most of the movement adjustements have been made. The pull-lock procedure will slightly alter the composition, which I will adjust with minor raise/shifts on the standarts.
Right. 30 cm rail clamp, with 40 cm rail supporting rear standard, and 30 cm folding rail supporting front standard with Nikor T lens. The long lens support clamp used as a flash holder. This is not an actual position, but just illustrates how it is applied. The point is, that the flash is in a precisely defined position, flashmetering can be executed knowing that the flash has stayed in the same position.

Above the wire support for sagging bellows is shown as applied to the above two set-ups. The wire can be bent into desired shape with your hands.

Upper upper compartment

This is for the Lee filter system support. I use the Lee pockets, but put multiple items per pocket. To change the set-up of the filter holders (add/remove spacers, add/remove polarizer holder), I use the regular watchmaker's screwdrivers in the zipper pockets (see above). The Lee screwdriver stays at home.

Taking the pol filter holder on and off the Lee base is a pain, because you have to fiddle with small screws and the guide rails for the filter slots. I found the following solution. Imagine the guide-rails on the sides (left - right).

The Lee system is ok, but I am looking into a proper compendium shade. The problem is that I want it all, being able to use 100 mm resin filters, pol filters as well as the center filter on the 90 XL with only a single shade. The biggest issue is using the 90 XL with CF and a 100 mm resin filter (NDgrad, 81 serides) and shade. The CF has to be used straight on the lens as otherwise the angular NDgrad values will be off. The CF is huge, so will only fit in a full size 4x5 compendium. The smaller resin filters I could tape on the back of the lens, but that does not work for NDgrads. The large Arca Compendium (4x5) is (as far as I know) too wide to take 100 mm resin filters, so I may have to add some 100 mm guides to the AS compendium.


Yep, it's heavy. With two boxes of film, but no water/food it's 50 pounds. Water adds 2.2 pounds per liter. I am a 6 foot (182 cm), 200 pound kind-a-guy, but not a gym-rat. Set-up for an easy shot is about 15 minutes, for a 1:1 shot of mushrooms on a slope with four movements and altered lighting, it takes about 45-60 minutes. Once the chromes are on the light table, it's all worth it. But where will I put the 72XL?

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