View Full Version : Canham DLC vs. Arca Swiss Basic - dump the arca?

tim atherton
30-Jul-2004, 17:47
Okay - one of those either or questions

I already have an Arca Swiss Basic (like a slightly better Discovery), which, over time has been upgraded with the 30cm folding rail and the leather bag bellows (still has the longer all in one rail it came with + standard bellows)

It gets used mainly for architectural work (which I'm doing less of these days). I also have a Toyo 45A which gets carried around for travel, some landscapes, and quite often architectural stuff as well, because it's just handier.

Now, I'm mulling over getting rid of the two cameras above and getting the Canham DLC 4x5 instead to substitute for both cameras - for travelling around, some landscape/cityscapes and some architecture.

Canham fans - what do you think?

Others - pros and cons?

I should have added - lenses go from 75, 90, 125, 150, 210 and 250mm

Ted Harris
30-Jul-2004, 17:56

Excuse the pun but my experience with the DLC is pretty basic. I borrowed one from a dealer to try out about 6-7 years ago and was underwhelmed. I found it fiddly and it seemed like it had no rigidity at all. I woul really worry with the bellows extended for a 210 or 250 lens.

Needless to say I didn't buy it so no further comments.

Steve Hamley
30-Jul-2004, 18:16

I had an 8x10 Canham not too long ago and traded it in.

I too found it "fiddly". Setting it up took adjusting 13 levers, etc, while setting up a 1 lb heavier Ebony SV810 took 7. Parts fell off. Another Canham user recomended carrying a tool to fit every fastener on the camera. That's just not me.

But to be fair, it is very light, and in spite of the apparent lack of rigidity, it took sharp pictures. I traded it because I lacked confidence that it would continue to take sharp pictures as it aged - and I didn't want to worry about parts falling off. Also, the controls were "baroque" to me; used to conventional controls. No facts, just a feeling. I also like the levels on the Ebony versus the Canham. Just for Info. I also bought the Ebony used for about half price.

I know folks who own and love several models of Canhams. If the shoe fits, wear it!


Harley Goldman
30-Jul-2004, 19:23

When I bought my most recent camera, the two I looked at were the DLC and the Arca. I went into a local store and tried out the DLC for quite a while, setting it, taking it down and using the basic movements. I just did not like the way it operates. It is a very nicely constructed camera, but it was not as quick and easy to set and take down (which I do a LOT in my wanderings) as the Arca and I found the Arca to be smoother and more precise. I went with the Arca. At times it is a minor pain to switch from the bag bellows to the standard, but I love the way the Arca operates, well worth the slight inconvience of the occasional bellows change. As always, the choice comes down to personal preference. Whatever feels the most natural and comfortable when shooting is the best camera to own.

My lenses are 58mm, 80mm, 150mm, 240mm and 360mm.


30-Jul-2004, 20:23
I have the DLC and kind of love it

I would say it is not one of those "precision" kind of camera ... where you set everything to zero, than say give it 2mm shift to the left , 1 degree front tilt, 2 degrees left front swing etc etc... Using it like that might cause you headache

Try to use it in a wysiwyg method where you just look at the ground glass, adjust till you see on it is what you want, and lock the movements. Everything seems to stay ok after locking.

Anyway, i too find it a bit "fiddly" and am actually thinking of selling mine for something less fiddly ... like a Pentax *istD : )

Michael Kadillak
30-Jul-2004, 20:45
Based upon numerous previous Canham posts here and on other LF forums, Canham cameras are like the hot and cold faucets on a washroom sink. You either embrace the design criteria decisions Keith made emphasizing low weight and long bellows and love the camera or you find other alternatives that align better with your personal taste or shooting requirements.

I got into Canham cameras initially because I wanted a 5x7 camera that was light and compact and about five years ago it was a perfect fit. It took no time at all to figure out how to work with its innovative design and it has never let me down in its employeed task of executing a photograph. I got a 4x5 back with it to be able to shoot ready loads and it is easy to put on and off and swapping the bag bellows is a breeze for the 90 and 120 SW Nikon. What I enjoy are the synthetic flexible bellows and the fresnel that are a pure pleasure to focus with. The rigidity issue is overcome with a bit of attention to opposite force when inserting and removing a film holder and you need to remember that this camera does not need to be locked down like a Linhof to make a razor sharp photograph. The locks only need to be engaged to hold the standards satisfactory in the correct position to make a photograph.

Since that time I have also acquired a Canham wooden 8x10 that has become my main field camera in this format because again it is about 9# and it just makes shooting the format a breeze for anything I could imagine wanting to transpose on an 8x10 sheet of film.

That said, if I were only shooting 4x5 I would not necessarily jump to the conclusion that his camera would be the ticket in satisfactorly meeting your overall requirements in replacing two cameras. That is a pretty tall daunting task for any camera. Given the fact that there are more offerings in the 4x5 format than in any other available and there are probably a host of potential fits, I feel that you will need to individually take each potential camera through its paces before you will know which one works for you.

I am sure that there are many owners of 4x5 cameras that would be happy to accomodate you in your quest. Sure it will be a lot of work, but at the same time it should be a very educational experience.

Good luck

Gem Singer
30-Jul-2004, 21:26

I have the very same focal length lenses that you have, with the addition of the Fuji 65SWD, 300C and 450C. All are used on an Ebony SV45TE camera (I use the wide angle bellows with the 65, 75, 90, and an extension lensboard with the 450). All of the lenses are in Copal 0, or Copal 1 shutters.

The camera handles them beautifully. I could have purchased any 4X5 camera presently available in the market place. I chose the Ebony. I'm sure you realize that I'm a wooden field camera guy. If you are a metal field camera guy, trade both of your cameras, and get a Linhof Master Tech. You'll never need to upgrade again.

tim atherton
30-Jul-2004, 22:31
"The camera handles them beautifully. I could have purchased any 4X5 camera presently available in the market place. I chose the Ebony. I'm sure you realize that I'm a wooden field camera guy. If you are a metal field camera guy, trade both of your cameras, and get a Linhof Master Tech. You'll never need to upgrade again."

I never really did like the Deardorff I had - I guess that Phillips might be as much a wooden camera as I like... the ebony's do have a certain appeal though - as for the Master Technika - I used an old Tech V for some crime scene and other stuff years ago in the army - they are obviously very nicely made - but I hate the way you ahve to work it for front fall - just counter intuitive for me. (never mind all that stuff about putting it on its side or upside down or whatever). Plus I have no need for a rangefinder and all the extra weight of that and the space taken up by the mechanism, cams etc (I suppose you can get the 2000 - but that just seems to take have all the compromises of a folding press camera, but without the advantage of a rangefinder...?). In fact though it may not be quite as rigid or precision made, the old Toyo gives just about as much as I need in that way in a metal body. On top of which it's another 4x5 that weighs in at only 1.5 lbs less than my 8x10

Gem Singer
31-Jul-2004, 07:08
Hello again Tim,

Sounds like you have already made up your mind to purchase the Canham. Since Canhams are made in the Phoenix, Arizona area of the world, they are designed to be "warm weather" cameras. You live and photograph close to the north pole area of the world. Give that some serious consideration when making your decision. The knobs and lock downs in the Canham are relatively small, and you may not find them easy to operate when wearing gloves.

Ted Harris
31-Jul-2004, 07:30

Why have you elimined the Ebony from your considerations? All the models are relatively compact, lightweight, rigid and have plenty of movements. I believe tht even the msot basic RW45U will give you almost all of the functionality of the ARCA in a mor ecompact package. I know that I have been long considering one to replace my Horseman FA system.

Jean-Louis Llech
31-Jul-2004, 09:56
I don't use a Canham, and do not intend to buy one, so I can't help you.
But you will find an intersting review of the Canham DLC 45 here. (http://www.largeformatphotography.info/canham/canhamdlc.html)
Hope this helps.

31-Jul-2004, 11:57
IMHO the most important strength of the DLC is its long bellows. With a maximum lens of 250mm, unless you take close-ups/short range shots, you will not be making much use of this feature.

Many folks prefer Canham's wood cameras to the metal cameras.

If I were you I would look at the Ebony 45S, as it sets up and tears down easily, and accommodates your lens range. Not having to fold it up, being able to pack it with the lens on, and plenty of movements -- hey, maybe I'll buy one myself! ;-)

George Hart
31-Jul-2004, 14:13
Tim: Given that you have not been specific about your needs (in particular relating to the drawbacks of your present cameras), it's difficult to be specific in response to your posting! Nevertheless I can second the above recommendation for the Ebony 45S for the lenses and purposes that you are wanting. I have no connection with Ebony or its distributors but I am very happy using it with lenses from 55 -- 300 focal length. Of course, having a flatbed camera implies that you are willing to level the baseboard before beginning to compose your image!

tim atherton
31-Jul-2004, 17:34
"Given that you have not been specific about your needs (in particular relating to the drawbacks of your present cameras), it's difficult to be specific in response to your posting!"

Hmm - I thought I had. Arca - great for architectural work - but really too heavy and bulky, even with the folding rail, for travel (some of which is also for architectural work, travelling by small plane). Toyo good for travel and occassional backpacking. Can cope with a lot of the architectural work, but maybe 20% of it, either it can't do it or it's pretty fiddly.

So I guess I'm looking for the perfect camera... :-) One that is neither too heavy (say 5.5 to 6lbs absolute max - and if you need an extra bag bellows etc for WA use, then that needs to be included in that) or bulky for travel . But also one which can cope with say 15% of that remaining 20% of the fiddly architectural work - on maybe 7 or 8 architectural assignments a year.

As I mentioned, I'm not really a woody kind of person, but something like the Ebony SVTE/Ti is starting to look more appealling. But those wooden cameras sure have a lot of knobs...? :-) The Technikardan would be in the running to if it weren't for being somewhat on the heavy side and price.

Eugene - I nearly always end up fiddling with the camera without gloves anyway - no matter how cold! But the idea of theCanhams as warm weather cameras - hmm, interesting. Also - with your Ebony - is it possible to use it down to 75mm without the bag bellows, or are they an absolute neccesity? (same for 90mm)

So like I said - the perfect camera... or, as I think I have set out - not too heavy, not too bulky, good fir landscapes, urban landscapes/cityscapes but flexible enough to do a certain amount of architecture as well.

Gem Singer
31-Jul-2004, 20:14
Hello again Tim,

Yes, it is possible to use wide angle lenses all the way down to a 65, with the Ebony SV45TE, if you purchase it, initially, with the Universal bellows. No need to use the wide angle bellows. However, a combination of base tilts, axis tilts, and front and rear rise are needed with lenses wider than 90, with either bellows. A recessed lensboard is not necessary. These movements are simple to accomplish with this camera. Everything locks up very solid, with a minimum of tightening. (See the illustration of the wide angle configuration on the Ebony website www.ebonycamera.com)

My wife also says: "those wooden cameras sure have a lot of knobs, don't they!". My response: "just remember to tighten all of them before you insert the film holder". The titanium knobs on the Ebony are large and very people friendly. I don't know how they would feel at sub zero temperatures without gloves, however.

Diane Maher
2-Aug-2004, 07:45
I've never heard the Canhams described as 'warm weather cameras'. I know a fellow over in Guernsey (the Channel Islands just south of England) who uses a wood 5x7 Canham with a 4x5 back and he's pleased with it. I wouldn't necessarily call that the Arctic Circle, but it's not Phoenix either.

Gem Singer
2-Aug-2004, 08:43
With all due respect, Diane, we are talking about the all metal Canham DLC here. It is built differently than the wooden Canham camera. I was pointing out to Tim that the knobs and "T" handle controls on the DLC are designed to be, relatively, small sized. When working in extremely cold climates, I prefer larger size knobs and controls that can be operated while wearing gloves or mittens. Tim usually works in extremely cold climates. However, he stated that he is able to work under those conditions, without gloves. So, this is not important to him.

I was not putting Canham cameras down, only pointing out the relative size of the controls compared to the Ebony. Sorry if I insulted any Canham owners.

Diane Maher
2-Aug-2004, 09:01
Oops, my mistake. Sorry about that. It's Monday and it's already one of those days. :(

Michael Mutmansky
2-Aug-2004, 09:20

I have a DLC, and also have an Arca F line camera. I can say that the DLC is no comparison to the Arca for rigidity or precision, but it was never designed that way. The Arca is no comparison to the DLC for compatcness and ease of use in the field, but it was never designed that way either.

I don't find the DLC fiddley, it simply doesn't impose any structure on the photographer. It forces you to make a complete set of decisions before and during the process of making an image. This can lead to disasterous results for the undisciplined or unexperienced.

The DLC smashes the Toyo for architectural subject matter, with a much more flexible standard bellows and no dropped bed to interfere with wide angle shots. The DLC will handle a 58mm lens without resorting to a recessed bellows, however there is one caviat to this. The 58mm lens has no additional coverage to speak of, so movements are mostly moot with this lens. However, a 75mm or 80mm, and even the 90mm lenses all have enough additional IC to perform substantial rise in most cases. In these conditions, the bellows may start to push on the standards, which will result in the standards being pushed out of parallel, so special attention must be taken to ensure proper focus when performing substantial movements.

The DLC also smashes the Arca in one respect; it can handle a 450mm lens with the standard bellows. You have to watch for bellows sag (I put the meter under the bellows to keep it aligned before the shot). The camera is also pretty stretched out at this point, so you have to be careful to ensure you have it locked down well, and a Bogen long lens support arm under the front standard will substantially help solidify the camera.

I'm a big supporter of the DLC for EXPERIENCED LF field shooters. I think it is a camera that can cause a beginner (and also a more casual, undisciplined or unexperienced shooter) all kinds of problems because it does not impose a rigerous framework of shooting upon the photographer. By this I mean that it comes out of the bag folded, and almost every setting on it is not set for shooting, and almost every setting has to be verified or set before the shot is made. First, the camera is unfolded, so the front and rear standards will need to be set in their detents for vertical. The front rise/fall needs to be set as part of setting up the front standard. Then, the front and rear swing should be checked to ensure that they are not out, or they will need to be set, depending on if you put the camera away with them loose or not.

Only after this point can an image be considered, knowing that you have 'zeroed' the camera out. If a beginner were to try the DLC, there will probably be occasions where the design of the DLC results in a failed image attempt due to the failure to set up the camera completely, and the additional failure to see the shortcomings on the groundglass.

I think that there are probably only a couple of cameras that handle field work AND architecture as well as the DLC, and only one other that I think may be better in many respects, but you lose the ability to use long lenses; the Ebony 45S, 45SW, and 45SU cameras. The SU may not be suitable due to the longer bellows, which may interfere with the use of shorter lenses. The SW camera may not be suitable because of the fixed back, which may be a problem in a small percentage of architectural shots. The 45S as possibly the best option for field architectural work, and the best solution if you don't have long lens requirements.

At this point, the only reason (other than cost) I haven't sold the DLC and purchased an Ebony is the ability to use long lenses with the DLC. I tend to do detail work with a 300 or 450mm lenses, and the Ebony can't come close to handling those longer focal lengths, except with telephoto lenses, which are just not up to the performance of a standard long lens.

I don't even consider using the DLC if I am local, because the Arca is a much better camera for pure architectural work. But I will also not consider bringing the Arca with me if I have to travel very far, and then the DLC is used to good effect. I have the bag bellows for the DLC, but I often don't need it, unless there is substantial rise involved, while using the 80mm or 110mm lenses. Just about everything else is easily handled by the normal bellows.


Michael Mutmansky
2-Aug-2004, 09:36

I think the 'T' knobs are ideal in cold weather, because you don't have to grip it to get it to operate. You merely have to push on the proper sides on the bar to tighten or loosen. I've not had any problems with the 'T' bars when using gloves or mittens. Yes, huge knobs would be easuer, but at the expense of portability and weight.

There are two adjustment knobs that are more difficult on the DLC in the winter. The knob that locks down shift, and the knobs that release the standards to permit them to slide on the focus rail for gross focal length adjustments. The shift knob is a smallish knurled knob wich is a bit harder with heavy gloves, and the standard locks are 1/4-turn levers tha are a bit hard to get to with big gloves on.

When it's really cold out (0 degrees F or lower) I generally use a thin pair of gloves that have rubberized grip texture on the fingers and palms, and then wear a large pair of cold weather mittens over top of them. Sometimes, I wear mittens with an access slit in the right hand so I can pull out my fingers quickly (hunting mittens). Either way, it's not a problem to pull off a mitten for a few minutes while making fine adjustments.

The wooden camera Diane mentioned uses essentially the same 'T' bars and other mechanical bits as the DLC. Keith didn't bother to reinvent these as they were part of his inventory when he developed the DLC. So, it's not inaccurate to suggest that the experience with a wooden Canham in cold weather will provide some indication as to the cold-worthiness of the DLC.


Gem Singer
2-Aug-2004, 12:22
Again, Michael, I was not referring to "the cold worthiness" of either the DLC or the wooden Canham. I was merely comparing the relative size of the knobs and lock-down/release controls between the Canham and the Ebony. From my experience with cold weather, photographing in the Cascades, larger is better when working with gloves.

In my humble estimation, a camera made entirely of black anodized aluminum is very cold to begin with. It would seem even colder to me in sub-zero weather. This observation has nothing to do with the cold weather operation of the camera.

Kerry L. Thalmann
2-Aug-2004, 13:11
As someone who has used both cameras, I pretty much agree with Michael's comments. Both cameras have advantages and disadvantages. The Canham is very portable and handles a wide range of lenses without the need for additional accessories (making it even more compact and portable - as a system). For about 4 or 5 years the DLC was my main camera (I've also used the 5x7 MQC and the wooden 5x7/4x10 Canham).

The ARCA is much more precise and more rigid. While the ARCA does collapse small enough to carry in the field, by the time you include accessories (second bellows and perhaps an extension rail) it weighs considerably more and takes up a lot more room in the pack than the Canham. If I could only own one camera for all my landscape photography, it would be a Canham DLC. However, I actually own two cameras - the Toho FC-45X, for when I want to go really light (backpacking and very long dayhikes) and the ARCA-SWISS F-Line (for everything else, including dayhikes up to about 12 miles round trip). This gives me the best of both - compared to the Canham which is quite adaquate for both, but bigger and heavier than the Toho and a bit more tedious to use than the ARCA. All cameras are a compromise, and of the cameras I've used, the DLC comes the closest to the "one size fits all" landscape camera. I'm happier with my two camera approach than I was trying to make the Canham suit all my needs, but that's based on my specific needs (I like a REALLY light camera for backpacking and the Canham weighed 2 pounds more than my Toho).

Regarding cold weather usage, I had no problem using my DLC in cold weather with gloves on. I spent a lot of time in sub-freezing conditions shooting with the Canham. Here's a shot of Mt. Hood made at sunset in early January with my DLC and a 450mm Fujinon C:


I definitely find T-knobs and levers much easier to use with gloves on than knobs of any size. In addition to the focusing knob (which is easy to turn with gloves on), the only round knobs on the DLC are the one for controlling the shift movements. Admittedly, these are be a bit of a pain with gloves on, but for landscape photography, lateral shifts are by far my least used movement. On the DLC, the front rise, front tilt and rear tilt are all controlled with T-knobs (VERY easy to operate with gloves on, when wet, etc.). Front and rear shift, as well as the bed extensions and focusing locks are all controlled by levers (again, a snap to operate with gloves on).

I don't dispute Eugene's claims about the Ebony. I'm sure it's easy to operate with gloves on. However, based my hands-on experience with the DLC I certainly did not find it ill-suited for a cold weather environment (unless you happen to use a lot of lateral shifts). Comparing it the ARCA, in this respect, I'd say they're both about equal in the "cold weather with gloves on" category. Since Tim works in some really extreme cold, he may want to consider that the ARCA relies on lubricants for part of it's silk smooth operation. As I haven't used the camera in sub-zero conditions, I have no idea how well these lubricants continue to work under extreme cold. The DLC "runs dry". So, it works just was well at sub-freezing temps as in the desert heat.

Since Tim is used to the rigidity and smoothness of the ARCA and the Toyo, he may find the flexing of the Canham a bit disconcerting at first (I know I did), but rest assured, it is capable to taking sharp photos. It just requires a little more care, and as Michael descibes a more disciplined approach. Honestly Tim, even though I've used both cameras, I can't tell you which way to go. The Canham will be better for some things (hiking or skiing) and the ARCA will be better for others (architecture, still life etc.). It all comes down to which compromise best suits your needs.