View Full Version : arca 171 vs 141

8-Jan-2015, 12:10

I am yet to make my first foray into the large format world, but I have been extensively reading, and I have decided that I would like to get a second hand F series 4x5 arca. I have arrived at this as the arca seems to cover portability without loss of function quite well.

I have an interest in 8x10, but I figure I need to start with a smaller format to begin with, and I want a versatile system that I can build upon.

So, my question is around older vs new design (F, not looking at A, B, C models).

141 is obviously the latest, but what are the advantages apart from the weight factor (which is prob negligible)? I have heard that going 8x10 is easier with the 171 lens boards (due to rise?). Also, I don't believe I need Orbix.

In terms of the pictures I am looking to take, I am much more likely to be shooting landscape and architecture over conventional portraits, but lets just say everything apart from macro and product photography.

So, with the all of the above in mind, does it make a difference what I go with?

And if I came across a discovery, how easy would it be to upgrade to 8x10 from there?


8-Jan-2015, 14:05

I'd personally opt for an F with the 141mm rear frame and the 110mm front frame. That model has the most "universal" leather bellows of the Arca F's - you can use lenses from 55mm to 500mm telephoto (Nikkor) without changing the bellows, though the 500mm is about as far as you would want to stretch it. The leather bellows on the 171 rear / 141 front version won't extend quite as far.

Some have expressed concern that the 141 rear frame does not protect the edges of the bellows when folded up for storage, while the 171 frame will. While true, I have never found this to be a problem.

I don't think there would be any issue converting a Discovery to 8x10, assuming you could find the proper parts, though I have never done that. IIRC, the Discovery had 171 front and rear frames. On an 8x10 there can be an advantage to the 171 front frame (newer 8x10 models have 141 front frames), since you can get an adapter board to allow the use of 110mm lens boards. These are considerably smaller and so packing several lenses is much more convenient.

I've got 4x5 and 8x10 Arcas, and I think they are great.

Hope this helps


David Karp
8-Jan-2015, 14:57
I have a Discovery. I don't see why you could not upgrade it to 8x10. I have seen a 141 F Line. It is wonderfully compact. I don't know about converting one of those to 8x10 (in that I have no knowledge of the issues).

In looking for a Discovery, I lucked into an auction for a Discovery with an expanding rail priced like a regular Discovery. I feel it is the best of the 171 F Line worlds for me. The monorail allows me to use up to my 450mm Fujinon C. The expanding rail allows you to move the camera onto one of the short rails and to slide the rail out. This makes for a compact and backpackable setup. You can leave the rest of the rail on the tripod so you can be up and ready to shoot right away. The front standard does not have geared focus. It slides easily and quickly, so it is easy to get the camera into rough focus. The basic function carriers are fine for shift. I don't feel the need for the more advanced ones. I also picked up an adapter board allowing me to use Technika-type boards. The only issue with the camera is the non tapered bellows forces you into the bag bellows with shorter lenses if you want to use some movements with, for example, my 125mm Fujinon.

Hope this is of some help.

8-Jan-2015, 15:38
Thanks Bob and Dave. Just trying to garner opinion before taking the plunge. I'm probably going to be limited to the second hand market, so trying not to make a mistake with that initial purchase.

Is there anything to be careful of when purchasing a second hand F line (apart from normal issues like bellows)? I'm thinking that ú500-1000 is a lot to drop if you're not seeing the item in person.

How easy is it to swap across the bellows in the field?

David Karp
8-Jan-2015, 15:58
As for 8 x 10, you are not limited to ARCA options. There are forum members who can help you create something like this:http://www.largeformatphotography.info/forum/showthread.php?45345-Arca-Irish-8x10*&highlight=arca+irish. Or if you are handy you can do it yourself.

David Karp
8-Jan-2015, 16:00
You need to make sure the movements all lock down securely. And, as you noted, the bellows can be an issue.

8-Jan-2015, 16:18
I'm always impressed by all of the home made projects out there. Alas, I am quite certain that I would fail miserably in such an endeavour.

So, would ebay purchasing be advised? Did you have the option of a return when you made your Discovery purchase, or did you just take a risk?

8-Jan-2015, 17:14
How easy is it to swap across the bellows in the field?

Very easy. They literally snap into place when installing, and one simple latch to undo on each end to remove. Some of the older F models (my 8x10 is this way) require the bellows to be oriented in a particular way (there is a dot on the frame), but newer models are completely square (at least the 4x5s are), so you don't even have to be concerned about the orientation.


David Karp
8-Jan-2015, 17:27
My camera was sold by a dealer with lots of feedback. There were lots of photos, so I had a pretty good idea of the camera's condition. It had some cosmetic flaws, which nicely lowered the price. It turned out to be a great deal.

Emmanuel BIGLER
9-Jan-2015, 03:00
Hello from Besanšon, France !

Regarding the choice between a former 171 mm F-line Arca Swiss camera and a current 141 mm, you should feel free to choose whichever model comes to you in good condition and at a price fitting within your budget.

Although Arca Swiss no longer sells 171 mm format frames, many 171 mm accessories are duly supported and readily available, namely bellows.
Function carriers did not functionnaly change between the 171 mm series and the current 141 mm series.
4x5" monocular or binocular viewers did not change since the 4x5" attaching system for viewing accessories did not change betwen 171 and 141 models, and did not even change from pre-1984 Oschwald models.

Personnally I have a F-metric "field" 4x5" model with front format frames in 110 mm and rear format frames in 141 mm.
Actually the first camera I purchased was the F-line 6x9, so I extended to 4x5" with a tapered bellows and a rear format frame & ground glass in 141.

Extension to the 8x10" format cannot be done with 110 mm frames in front, but you simply swap your 141 or 171 rear frame from rear to front, and attach a 141 (or 171) to 8x10" bellows to the 8x10" rear format frame, on the same function carriers. Same applies to 5x7" rear format frames, but 5x7" Arca Swiss extension kits are exceedingly rare on the used market, even in 171 mm.

A choice you'll have to make is the choice of lens board size. Again since I started with the 6x9 model with 110 mm frames, I have all my lens boards in 110.
110 mm Arca Swiss lens boards are quite robust and can even accommodate a lens with a barrel diameter bigger than shutter size #3.

If you start with a 171-171 model like the Discovery, you can get a reducing board from 171 to 110 to attach 110 mm lens panels. So you can even consider to use lenses for the 8x10" format mounted on a 110 mm board.
171 mm boards are quite large but have the great advantage that you can adapt almost anything to them with very little mechanical complexity: a perfect device for all kinds of D-I-Y projects.

My first Arca Swiss camera, a F-line 6x9, was bought as a used item in the UK, was expertised and overhauled here in Besanšon in 2000. It was a wonderful experience since I could directly discuss with the Vogt family and ask all questions I had in mind as a novice.

Arca Swiss F-line function carriers as well as the rack and pinion focusing system need to be cleaned, lube'd and adjusted from time to time; so this is a routine maintenance operation recommended if you buy a used F-line camera in order to enjoy all the smoothness and precision of the controls.
In the USA, people at Precision Camera Works know how to do it properly and of course Rod Klukas will answer all your questions.

I can understand that most our honourable Arcaphile forum members cannot come in person to Besanšon, and enjoy a direct servicing together with a friendly chat whith the Vogts ;)
In Europe, it is not uncommon that Arcaphiles directly come to Besanšon in person for any reason. Besanšon can be reached from Paris by high speed train in 2h30, so if some day you are in Paris, you can place a one day visit easily: there is a small train station located 10 minutes walk from Arca Swiss, with a local shuttle train connected to the high speed train! Besanšon is directly connected to the European motorway network (from Paris, travel time by car is 4h30, from Karlsruhe, Germany: 3h30, but from Berlin, Germany, about 10 hours; you'd better fly or take a train ;) ) and many people also come by car from eveywhere.

All the best!

Emmanuel BIGLER
9-Jan-2015, 03:11
... you are not limited to ARCA options ...

... and for example, you can even re-use a focal plane shutter from a salvaged 4x5" Speed Graphic camera!
(an article by Jean-Baptiste Maison, the text is in French, but pictures are hopefully self-explanatory)

neil poulsen
9-Jan-2015, 06:58
I have the 171mm format frames, and I plan to stick with them. I like having that extra margin of error around the 4x5 sheet of film to help control flare that could potentially reflect off the internal sides of the bellows. I also have the older style, Arca compendium bellows lenshood that has the four adjustable blades. (This has been adapted to my camera; there's none better.) With this margin of error, I can adjust these blades to pretty much eliminate any light from even reaching the internal sides of the bellows.

I've examined the 141 format frames with the back attached, and the bellows are pretty tight against the 4" sides of the film. Plus, with the 141mm back, format frame, and bellows all assembled, I noticed an uncomfortable (for me) stretch of flat metal (all be it black) perpendicular and near to the back that I felt could easily reflect stray light onto the sheet of film. Not for me. These observations reassured me that I had made the right choice in keeping what I have.

I spoke with Ron Wisner about this many years ago, and he confirmed that this "margin of error" was a design advantage of his earlier cameras. With his Pocket cameras, I suspect that this margin of error disappeared.

Some 141mm Arca owners have indicated in earlier threads that, in their experience, what I've described above is not really a practical problem. But I hate flare, and I'm not going to give any chance that I can help of it occurring.

9-Jan-2015, 16:47

All this talk about Arca and visiting Besanšon is going to get me into trouble... :)

Are you a representative of Arca?

All the best,


Emmanuel BIGLER
10-Jan-2015, 14:16
Are you a representative of Arca?

The question has been raised before several times ;) and the answer is the usual disclaimer "I'not affiliated, etc ..."
It happens that I'm a happy Arca Swiss user and that I'm living about 10 minutes drive from Arca Swiss International near Besanšon, France. A pure coincidence actually.

Arca Swiss is a small family-owned business and you can meet them quite easily, directly.
It is a privilege that we have in LF photography : many LF camera manufacturers are small companies and contacts with the customers are direct and simple.
I guess that happy Canham camera users living near the Canham family would tell the same things as me.

In Europe we have several LF manufacturers, all of them are small companies, sometimes one of two people like Istvßn SoltÚsz in Hungary (Argentum cameras). Recently we have seen new manufacturers of LF cameras appear in Italy and Poland. Admitedly, the relationship that you can have with those small companies is very different from your relationship with of the Big Japanese companies manufacturing small-format cameras ;)

evan clarke
12-Jan-2015, 17:21
I have 5 Arcas. My 4x5 141x141 F metric with orbix is the best cam ever made. It has some more options than the field version and is extremely compact. I can draw fro 72mm to 720 mm with the standard bellows..Spectacular

13-Jan-2015, 03:09

Thank you for your reply. I think I'm going to start looking for a f line 4x5 in the used market.

All the best,


14-Jan-2015, 06:05
Yes, thanks for the detailed info, Emmanuel.

Another question: How resilient is the gearing on the modern f line arcas? ie. Would ten years of use have any effect?

14-Jan-2015, 06:09
Neil, what about bellows with the 171 frame? Is it still possible to buy these new, or would you have to go through custombellows?

14-Jan-2015, 06:11
Ok, ignore me - just seen that the 171 bellows is supported on the site...

Emmanuel BIGLER
14-Jan-2015, 09:33
Another question: How resilient is the gearing on the modern f line arcas? ie. Would ten years of use have any effect?

My 4x5" F-line "field" has not been serviced for 11 years and works perfectly, but it has only be used on an amateur basis and never exposed to sand or heavy dust.
10 years of intensive professional use in the field is not ten years of studio and is very, very far from ten years of amateur use ;)

F-line Function carriers and the rack-and-pinion focusing system are designed to function properly with a very small amount of grease.
So the camera should be serviced, i.e. cleaned, lube'd and adjusted from time to time. At least: if you are in doubt, have the camera serviced when you buy it as a used item without any knowledge of what has happened to the camera in the past. Then after servicing you are ready for at least 10 other years.

Moreover the rack-and-pinion focusing system has a spring-loaded mechanism compensating for mechanical play induced by ageing.
It is difficult to explain with words, the best would be to handle and extensively manipulate a new, or freshly serviced, F-line camera to feel how smoothly the controls should behave. And also the locks should secure the movements tightly without need for an excess of force. This is quite difficult to explain without manipulation in the real world. To give you an idea, I have no problem focusing and getting sharp images with a 55 mm lens. The amout of lens travel bringing infinity down to 1 metre for a 55 is only 3 mm! One full knob turn is 20 mm of travel. So focusing should be as smooth and precise as possible, this might require some servicing if needed.

15-Jan-2015, 03:21
Hi Emmanuel.Do you know now produce Arca Swiss lens plate 171x171,1 ? I'm waiting this board more than 3 months from the Arca Shop.de.
Best Regards Aleksandr.

Emmanuel BIGLER
15-Jan-2015, 14:15
you know now produce Arca Swiss lens plate 171x171

Hi !
Actually since I do not use those boards, I have absolutely no idea.
The best is to directly place a phone call to people who know and check for actual availability.
Including your dealer, from whom you ordered the items, he should know ;)
Either call Rod Klukas (for our Northern American readers) or to directly Arca Swiss International in Besanšon, France (+33 381 854 060) people are fluent in several languages, including English, French, Hochdeutsch and SchwytzertŘtsch ;)

David Karp
15-Jan-2015, 17:47
Lots of ARCA Swiss 171 lensboards turn up on EBay. There is also a seller in China selling them. I have purchased Technika type boards from that seller and they are fine quality. I also purchased a 171 flat ARCA type board which I never saw because it went directly to someone who is working on a project for me. I do know from conversation that it fits my 171 format frame.

15-Jan-2015, 23:01
Thank you Emmanuel, I'll call to Arca Swiss International.

neil poulsen
17-Jan-2015, 01:19
Neil, what about bellows with the 171 frame? Is it still possible to buy these new, or would you have to go through custombellows?

Sorry for the delayed response. I just this evening saw your post.

The choice of 171mm bellows depends on what lenses you own, or plan to own. If your lenses aren't any longer than 360mm, the synthetic bag bellows and the standard bellows will work fine. I keep pretty close tabs on EBay Arca stuff, and these two bellows come up for sale on a pretty regular basis. (Especially the bag bellows.)

If you plan to have lenses longer than 360mm, then you will need the 700mm bellows. (For example, the standard bellows will not work for a 450mm Nikkor M.) In this case, for lenses between 75mm and 180mm, I like the Arca leather, pleated bag bellows. I use a recessed, reduction lensboard, and this bellows works well in this range. I like the pleats, because they help control internal reflections for longer lenses. (The pleated bag bellows might also work for a 210mm lens, but not having one, I can't say for sure.) Not that I would favor form over function (of course), but the pleated, leather bag bellows really looks slick on the camera. :o I've seen both of these bellows come up for sale on EBay, but not often. I bought mine new many years ago, and both are still in excellent condition. Having these two bellows, I never use the standard bellows that I bought along the way.

For lenses shorter than 75mm, like a 58 or 55mm, I would suggest the synthetic, non-pleated bag bellows, with about a 1" recessed lensboard. Even with a recessed lensboard, the pleated, leather bag bellows gets a bit cramped in this range.

I have lenses that range between 47mm and 600mm. I sold my Arca synthetic, non-pleated bag bellows with an extra Classic F that I had. At some point, I plan to purchase another of these. So, I will have the pleated and non-pleated bag bellows, and the 700mm long bellows. In this extended range, another combination that would work just fine (assuming a 1" recessed lensboard), would be the non-pleated, synthetic bag bellows, the standard bellows, and the long bellows. This triplet would also be easier to find.

As for lens boards, I would recommend getting a recessed, reduction lensboard, and using that for all your lenses. (Mine's recessed about 1".) For example, I've seen Arca recessed, reduction lensboards for the much smaller Linhof Technika boards.

While relatively expensive, you could also consider mounting your lenses on Arca 110mm, medium format lensboards. These come recessed, so in this case, you would not need a recessed, reduction lensboard. However, if the 110mm Arca lensboards were my choice, I would try to find the original, Arca, 171 to 110mm reduction lensboard. While quite rare on the used market, this was very well made.

As to your query about Custom Bellows, you might consider them for a long, 700mm bellows, if needed. Their work is excellent. But, I would first try to find the original Arca version.

Another side issue, is the choice of rails, depending on your range of lenses. But, that's probably another thread.