Arca Swiss 6 x 9 FC: a review

By J. C. Metcalf for the Large Format Page

For some reason the Arca Swiss 6 x 9 FC view camera tends to be overlooked in reviews of this format. It shouldn't be.

The Arca Swiss 6x9 is a very high quality, easily transportable full featured monorail camera. The camera is extremely compact. The "FC" designates a monorail that folds in half for easy storage. For use, the two monorail sections screw easily and quickly together. The front and rear standards ride on geared blocks on the monorail. The monorail itself slides into a 3.25" dovetailed rail clamp that screws to the tripod. An adjustable lever on the side of the clamp tightens it against the monorail.

The Arca 6x9 FC has front and rear base tilts, front and rear side to side sliding movements, 3" of front rise and 3" of rear rise, front and rear swings. There are built in levels both front and rear. All movements are smooth, sold and precise. In five years of pretty demanding use I have never had a problem.

All movements can be locked with nicely designed and easy to use round knobs that have never stuck. It comes with flat and recessed lens boards. The standard rail is 12" long and additional, longer, rails are available. The standard bellows is 10" and is an extremely flexible soft pleated leather that is useable for the shortest lens I have (47mm Schneider Super Angulon) to the longest I have (270mm Nikon Telephoto). Longer bellows are available as is a wide angle bellows. The standard bellows is really enough. The camera weighs just over 5 lbs. and is easier to deal with than a Hasselblad. Why ?

FILM. Roll film backs are "graflock" style. To use the film back the ground glass is removed. The roll film back then attaches to a roll film back holder which then locks onto the camera back. The process of removing the ground glass and attaching the film back to the holder and camera takes less than 10 seconds. I use four backs (b & w for "normal," "plus," and "minus," development and one back for color.) One holder for the film backs is adequate. Polaroid film packs are easily used with the NPC Polaroid adapter or the Arca Swiss Polaroid adapter. The NPC I have has been trouble free for 5 years and was about half the price of the Arca Swiss item.

Conversion to 4 x 5 is a snap. The Arca Swiss 4 x 5 F and FC are virtually identical (except size) to the 6x9. The 4x5 uses the same monorail and monorail clamp as the 6x9. Therefore, to use 4x5 all you need is a 4x5 back and the available tapered bellows that allows use of the 6x9 front standard with the 4x5 back. You can then use the much smaller 6x9 metal lensboards (4.25" square). The 4x5 back is "graflock" style meaning it can use roll film holders as well as standard sheet film holders. Now Arca Swiss is offering something called the 4 x 5 FC line Field. This new 4 x 5 is described as being a 4 x 5 camera with a 6 x 9 front and a tapered bellows. I assume this means that a camera one could assemble by purchasing accessory parts is now offered as a unit. I saw this "new" camera advertised by "the F Stops here" in Shutterbug - but I haven't seen it in person. It does offer another "off the shelf" 4 x 5 option that will be somewhat more compact and lighter than the previous off the shelf Arca Swiss 4 x 5. NdE: I met on an Olympic NP beach a photographer from Switzerland who was using the mixed 4x5 / 6x9 F-line camera with roll-film. He said that although he uses only roll-film, he still prefered to use 4x5 so that he could do 6x12 (he had a Sinar zoom back that the seemed to like a lot). His reason for using the 6x9 camera was to save one pound of weight, and the smaller lensboards.

I have had five years of experience with this camera. It has gone to Europe four times. The camera, five lenses, four roll film holders, eight screw in filters fit securely into a small Lightware medium format case that can be carried on to your airplane and put in the overhead luggage bin. The camera has made a number of domestic flights, been backpacking around the Rocky Mountains, travelled the high plains, the Utah desert, New Mexico and the Olympic Penninsula rain forest. I use it often in the studio, especially for portraits and figures, in preference to 4x5 and 8x10. Results? It has never disappointed. Modern lenses and TMX 100 film (EI 64) developed in TMX RS give great results. 20"x12.5" enlargments are astonishingly sharp - individual hairs, skin blemishes, grass, twigs, leaves are crisp.

Price today is probably around $2,500.00. Less expensive than Horseman or Linhof medium format view cameras. Toyo is probably a little less expensive. Horseman is less versatile. Linhof is comparable though not quite as versative. Toyo is comparable in movements and versatility but weighs 8.5lbs and is not as compact. Support - Calumet (800/225-8638) now supplies and supports Arca Swiss. Calumet is reliable, trustworthy, and if they don't have it they'll get it. The Calumet prices are better than most retail outlets and the difference in price between Calumet and New York discounters reflects the enhanced service and competence.

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