View Full Version : Ebony or Arca-Swiss or ??

Robert McDonald
29-Apr-2005, 14:19
This question will be simialr to many others, but I do hope those of you who have the expertise will give me your best help. I have been doing Large Format landscape photography for almost 15 years. My only camera doing that period has been a Wisner Technical Field Camera. For several reasons, I have decided to try another camera. The primary reason is that the Wisner is not user friendly for wide angle lenses. I can use a 90mm quite easily by what is known as "dropping the bed". This will work for a 75mm, if one doesn't need much tilt. Trying to explain what I have to do to use my 58mm could be more stressful than doing it. Years ago, I tried a couple of different Fesnel screens, but went back to using the GG. Trying to move my head to see the bright spot can be difficult in a low camera set up with the wide angle lenses. Also, when using the wide angle lenses, the rail that supports the front std., protudes far in back of the viewing screen forcing my dark cloth hood up above the bottom of the viewing screen. There are other drawbacks (like service), but probably all cameras have some.

I am a youthful geezer of 68. I carry all of my equipment in a backpack. My lenses range from 58mm to 600mm Nikkor tele (I do not routinely carry this lens). I do have a 450mm Nikkor that I usually carry. Most of my shots are within 1 mile of my vehicle, but occasionally I go up to 5 miles. Rarely, I will go overnight (this has diminished with age, but I hope to continue a few more years.

After reading many of the posts, I think I have narrowed my choice of a new camera to an Ebony SV45SU and a Arc-Swill F - classic C.

The info I have on the A/S is limited to Jack Dykinga telling me it is the "best". I have downloaded the catalog and read some great posts by Kerry Thalman (I think). Ebony, on the other hand has been great to answer my questions and their site and catalog is more comprehensive. At the current time, I may be leaning toward Ebony because of more info and the fact that it operates similar to the Wisner that I have used.

Here is my take on the Advantages - Disadvantages:

Ebony SV45SU

Advantages:<o/><li>Less weight. 2.7kg (6lbs) vs 3.4kg (7.1lbs) for A/S,<li>More packable for field use, (can be folded & does not need additional protection or a packing bag for carrying in a backpack - this furthers the weight advantage). Packed (folded) size is: 17.5cm (7.2") x 17.5cm x 9.5cm (3.9"),<li> Asymmetrical tilt & swing,<li>Sets up faster after a walk when carrying all equipment in a backpack

Disadvantages:<o/><li>Requires going to a wide angle configuration for 90mm or shorter.<li>Longest practical lens useable is my 600mm tele (I have wanted a 800mm rear unit, but could buy a 720mm)

Arca-Swiss F - classic C

Advantages<o/><li>Smoother & more precise focus & movements?,<li>More user friendly with wide angle lenses (47mm to 90mm)<li>Can handle lenses to 800mm (tele) or longer with extra bellows (& rail extensions?)

Disadvantages<o/><li>My guess is packed size is larger than the Ebony plus a protection wrap or bag is needed,<li>Longer set-up time when carrying all equipment in a backpack,<li>Heavier, especially with a packbag & possibly extra bellows (a bag bellows may be desireable for the Ebony, also)

Thanking all for any help,


29-Apr-2005, 14:31
They are both great systems, but unless you buy and try one of each, you'll never know which works better for you. The Arca will always be more versatile and the Ebony will always be more compact. Whether you need the rigidity and smoothness of the Arca is subjective, but after a Wisner, the Ebony should be better.

If you wanted to experiment cheaply, buy a $500 older Arca and a $500 Shen-Hao (or a $500 Technika for that matter). They won't be as nice as either the current Arca or the Ebony, but they will help you decide on getting a metal monorail or a wooden folder. They have good resale value so you can't get hurt too bad - and using a lesser camera for a few months might teach you that you might not need to spend $3000 more...

Doug Dolde
29-Apr-2005, 14:48
I have used both. You will likely not be disapointed with either one.

I prefer the Arca Swiss and have the Field model with the 6x9 front standard. The Arca will be about the same weight if you don't take extra bellows and rails. The field only will go to about 240mm extension...useful with some tele lenses but your 450 will need the long bellows. Not sure about the F Classic.

A signifcant point for me....The ground glass on the Arca is much brighter and clearer...probably one of the very best in that regard. I found the Ebony's ground glass to be muddier and consequently harder to compose, although I still got good shots with it. Of course the Arca is more precise even without geared movements (focusing is geared on all models).

You may also want to consider the Linhof Master Technika 2000. It is extremely compact and bulletproof.

Jim Rice
29-Apr-2005, 14:58
Robert, At the danger of messing up your plans, I feel I should pass on a little tidbit on your Tech that others here clued me on. The rear standard can be situated significantly closer to the front by using the greared rear tilt and then bringing it back to vertical via the arms.

29-Apr-2005, 15:06
You won't go wrong with either of these fine cameras.

The older Arca-Swiss "field" model (not the clamshell thingie) has the more compact front standard borrowed from their 6x9 models, and thus would be easier to un/pack.

To me, your issues boil down to deciding between the bother of switching bellows on the Ebony, and the bother of getting the A-S in and out of the (maybe bigger) pack. You have to weigh the relative aggravation, and how often you set up per day, vs. how often you need to switch bellows.

If you are patient and easy going, a monorail might be perfect to work with. I used to think I was patient and easy going...

Eric Leppanen
29-Apr-2005, 15:20

I assume the Ebony model you are considering is the folding SV45U (to my knowledge there is no SV45SU).

I suggest also considering the SV45U2. This model would give you the additional extension needed to accomodate the 800mm rear element of your Nikon T lens, while still being lighter than the Arca. It will also make close focusing easier with your 450mm lens (although you can articulate the standards of an SV45U to get more extension if need be).

While I haven't used it recently (I've been shooting mostly 8x10 the last six months), I think I can use my 80mm SSXL on my SV45U2 without resort to the wide angle position (if this is a significant point for you, let me know and I can double-check). I mount my SA58XL on a recessed lensboard; I still need to use the wide-angle position, but I can eek out enough movements at least for my needs.

If you have wide angle lenses with lots of coverage (e.g., SA72XL, SS80XL, SS110XL), you may need a bag bellows when using more than moderate movements (this will be especially true of the SV45U2, since its longer bellows will compress less). If you don't mind this, then the SV45U2 may the ticket. If you use lots of movements and want to avoid a bag bellows like the plague, then the SV45U is the better way to go (and settle for a 720T instead of 800T).

Gem Singer
29-Apr-2005, 15:23
Hi Robert,

Since you are familiar with the operation of the Wisner Tech Field, I think you are wise to consider the Ebony SV45U2. It is the top-of-the-line Ebony flat bed folding field camera (about $4000, new). It will do everything you mention, and more. If you enjoy your Wisner, you are going to love the Ebony SV45U2.

Having said that, I went through two Wisner Tech Fields, over a ten year period. I then used the Toyo metal flatbed folders for a few years, and eventually went back to the wooden Ebony SV45TE (which is a darned good camera for the price, and will also do everything you describe except the asymetrical movements). I now have a 5X7/4X5 Traditional and an 8X10 metal Canham. They are not my favorite hiking cameras. However, at age seventy-five, my long range backpacking days are in the past.

As usual, I recommend calling Jim, at Midwest Photo Exchange (www.mpex.com). He can take your Wisner in trade, and move you up to an Ebony. Tell him that you got the recommendation on this forum.

Danny Burk
29-Apr-2005, 15:30
Robert - I use an Ebony SV45U2 as my primary camera and love it; of course you'll get replies from Arca owners who also love their camera, so it really comes down to personal choice after trying both models. Personally I'm not at all enamoured with monorails for field use (and I'm aware that the Arca is more field-friendly than many monorails); since I very much believe that LF use be streamlined as much as possible, that difference between the two cameras would weigh heavily with me.

You *can* use a 720 tele on an SV45U, but it will just barely focus at infinity. Have you considered an SV45U2? It will easily accept a 720 for focusing down to about 20-25 feet; I've not tried an 800 tele but Ebony says it will work fine on that model. The "U2" is about a pound heavier than the "U", but you also get rear shift (not a big deal for most landscape use) in additional to the longer bellows. I use my 720 very frequently and wouldn't be without it; I'm something of a long lens fanatic but it sounds like you are too :)

Setting up the "wide angle configuration" is no big deal; as long as you have the Universal bellows, there's no need to change to a bag bellows. What you *do* need to do is to use reverse base tilt on the front standard, then relevel the standard; this takes about 10-15 seconds and is very easy to do. In my experience, it's necessary with any lenses 80mm and wider, not 90mm. The construction of the standards is what necessitates this configuration, and has nothing to do with the bellows; I've used lenses down to 47XL (on 10mm recessed board) and had no wish for a bag bellows.

Ebony's fresnel is very good, but a custom screen from Maxwell Precision Optics is even better; it's brighter, more evenly lit, and less coarse. I've been using one for about 3 years and love it.

Asymmetrical tilt is marvelous and well worth having, although it's an expensive option.

My galleries include loads of images taken with the SV45U2, many of which use the 720 tele.

Danny www.dannyburk.com

Steve Hamley
29-Apr-2005, 15:39

In addition to other's comments, I'll add that Ebony will make the SV45U or SV45U2 in mahoghany if you ask. This will shave another pound off the weight of an SV45U if that makes a difference.

The SV45U is a bit more friendly to wide lenses and the SV45U2 a bit more friendly to long lenses. My guess is that if you routinely use 58mm and shorter lenses on a SV45U2 you'll want a bag bellows (I've considered it on my SV45U). Note that you can use a 58mm lens on a flat board on the SV45U by articulating both standards, although my current 55mm is on a recessed board.


Scott Rosenberg
29-Apr-2005, 15:48

i have spent considerable time with several cameras trying to determine which was the ideal one for me. i do a lot of backpacking, so bulk, weight, and durability were very high on my list.

i have used, among others, the Ebony RW45, Ebony SV45U2, and the Arca Swiss F-Line... for me, the hands-down winner was the Arca Swiss. i may get flamed for saying this, but it's really not that much bulkier than the SV45U2 to pack... practically speaking, they both fit into the same spot in my backpack. the difference being that i have to store the main rail separately with the arca, but it's quite easy to find room for that. as to the weight, when i held the arca in one arm and the SV45U2 in the other, the difference in weight was negligible.

so, to me there was no difference in how much room the cameras took up in my pack and regardless of which one i was carrying, my pack weighed about the same, so it really came down to which camera was:
- easier to use : Arca
- more flexible : Arca
- faster to set-up : Arca
- more rigid : Arca
- more precise : Arca
- more durable : Arca

you can see why, for me at least, this was a very easy decision to make. feel free to email me off the forum if you want more specific information: scott@srosenberg.com.

good luck,

Robert McDonald
29-Apr-2005, 17:03
Thanks to all who have replied thus far. I made a mistake that most know is a mistake - I meant Ebony SV45U not 45SU. Also forgot to say my film size is 4x5. In regard to a message by Jim Rice, yes that is how I put the Wisner into a wide angle configuration. I tilt the back standard back almost as far as it will go (I leave a little movement for tilt), then bring the front standard approx. parallel. I even put some saw cuts in the back standard "box" that will let the standards get a few mm closer. In this configuration one can use a 75mm (Schnneider Super Angulon 5.6), if tilt is minimal. But one cannot use a 58mm in this configuration.

Scott Fleming
29-Apr-2005, 17:40
or .....

Well, I balked at the price of a new AS and bought a mint Toyo VX 125 for $2300. They come up for sale not infrequently. I'm pretty happy with it. It will take a 58mm lens on a flat board. The bellows can be all but tied in a knot. Everything is nicely geared but for tilt. It's very compact and comes in under 6 pounds. It will take a 300mm lense and up to a 400 tele. It is reasonably rigid but for a bit of side to side flex at the mount although not in a way prone to vibration or shaking. It sets up in under a minute and I can mount it and rough focus in another minute. The geared rise fall and shift make composing a breeze. Unless I win the lottery I can't see needing any other camera. The only fault I can think of is the detente in the front tilt which makes a two or three degree front tilt a bit of a hassle however once you are out of the detente the friction of the tilt mechanism is just right and will hold any angle while you fiddle with it before locking down.

neil poulsen
29-Apr-2005, 20:12
I have the classic f with the 300mm optical bench and 15cm rails. I also have, and highly recommend, the leather bag bellows. I have the regular sized front standard. I don't have the smaller 6x9 front with a 4x5 rear standard.

Stowing: With the above optical bench, one can collapse the two rails to coincide with the bench and then roll the camera entirely onto one of the rails. (I use the rear rail.) With the camera on the rail, the rail and camera together can be easily removed as a single entity and placed in a backpack. It's best to loosen the swing and tilt on both the front and and back to avoid over-stressing these mechanisms.

Size: I have a cloth backpack with foam interior. I've cut rectangular holes for the camera and different lenses, accessories, etc. My camera fits snugly into an opening that's 6" deep by 11.5" long by 8" wide. After placing the camera in this opening, I put the bench into it's own thick cloth sack cut to size and place it diagonally on top of the camera. The thick cloth keeps the bench from scratching the camera. So, the entire camera fits into the above sized opening.

Setup: It takes me about 90 seconds to either stow or set up the camera up. I've attached a quick release plate to the bench, so fixing the camera onto the tripod takes minimal time.

You like longer lenses. You might want to check to make sure that the standard bellows is long enough. You may need a rail that's longer. For example, you could swap one of the 15cm rails for a 30cm rail. I have the long 600mm bellows, and it works fine along with the wide angle leather bellows. The bag bellows will handle any lens up to a 180mm or a 210mm.

If I ever drift towards a different camera, it'll be to dramtically cut down the weight, like a 4lbs camera, perhaps a 6x9, with smaller lenses, small pack, etc. But in it's weight class, I like the Arca a lot.

Jeffrey Scott
29-Apr-2005, 20:23
I say Ebony! I have a 45SU after owning or using a great many makes and models of both filed and monorail cameras. You will not be dissapointed.

Donald Hutton
29-Apr-2005, 20:42
I have an Ebony SV45U and have owned an Arca Swiss F-line field, an Ebony SW45 and a Toyo VX125. I am of the opinion that for most purposes, the SV45U with the universal bellows is an extremely capable camera. You can certainly use it with lots of movement with an 80mm lens; all the way out to a 450mm. If you mostly use lenses between say an 80 and 360, it's a great camera. Due to some constraints with very wide lenses there are better cameras out there if you shoot extensively with super wides (Toyo VX125 is fantastic); Ebony SW45 is also great. However, you can happily use a 58mm on the SV45U with some care.

I found the Arca bellows cut-off inconvenient - 180mm or less, the leather bag bellows were fine; anything longer I needed the other bellows. So you have to carry both sets of bellows. And you spend quite a bit of time swapping them. The Ebony with the univeral bellows works for every lens from a 58mm (on a flat lensboard) out to a 720mmT. I found the Arca very fast to set-up - folding cameras can actually take longer - I never timed it, but I wouldn't think the Ebony has an advantage over the Arca here. I was also more comfortable with walking around with the Arca on the end of the tripod than I am with the Ebony. The Ebony is, however, much more compact and a bit lighter. I really like the assymetrical tilt and swing (those who have never used it do not know what they are missing) - probably the single biggest feature of this very over featured camera. The Arca is a little better for using very wide angle lenses. However, if you want to shoot mainly architecture, I'd look at the Toyo VX125 (maybe the Ebony SW45 too - but it is a little limited). I finally ended up with two cameras - my venerable SV45U which is my go everywhere camera. When I shoot architecture, I use a Toyo VX125 (sold my first one and ended up buying another a few months on!).

It sounds like you mostly shoot landscapes. I would not hesitate to recommend the SV45U - I think it offers significant advantages over the Arca. I never had the inclination to sell the Ebony while I owned the Arca; I felt no pangs parting with the Arca. I just never really got that attached to it. As a tool it worked fine where for my purposes the SV45U works justs little better.

paul owen
30-Apr-2005, 01:53
Hi Robert. An excellent reply to your posting! AS USUAL! There is a great deal of useful recommendation here and as usual the general consensus of opinion is that BOTH Arca-Swiss and Ebony will give you what you want. The choice boils down to whether you want to use a metal or a wooden camera. Both have their own advantages and disadvantages, but both will take photographs! Some of us lean towards wood (nostalgia?) others toward metal (precision?) it is a personal thing. What I would ask is this ... how much "precision" do you need for your type of photography? I personally don't need geared movements with micro-fine adjustments - if I reckon on a tilt being about 5 degrees then I "guesstimate" 5 degrees ... never had a problem with it not being DEADLY accurate - although I don't exactly know how accurate my guess is! I personally think that the place for deadly accuracy is probably limited to the studio for product-type shots - for landscapes it is NOT needed! Therefore, landscape photographers do not NEED the precision of metal cameras! BUT, some WANT it! You seem to have a "leaning" towards wood (Wisner) for whatever (sub-conscious) reason! My advice is if you lean towards wood you do it for a reason so then stick with wood! The "ultimate" wooden camera (without question) is the U2. Expensive? YES! Worth the investment? DEFINITELY! ... Like I'd say anything different :)

30-Apr-2005, 07:14
Come on Scott, you bought the Toyo because it is made in Japan, and not France! Admit it.

Dan Neilson
30-Apr-2005, 14:31
Sometimes I'm almost glad that I don't have the kind of money entailed to consider these options, not that I haven't considered them anyway. If I were to consolidate my 4 4X5's and the 8X10 into one camera, these are definitely 2 of the 3 that I would consider.

Take a look at the Layton. (www.laytoncamera.com) I met John Layton las Nov. and had a chance to play a little bit with his demo camera. This thing is super rigid and smooth as silk. I believe that it will handle all of the lenses in your range. Although it seemed heavy to me ( I had a Wisner Pocket Expedition with me), the production weight should be similar to the Ebony or AS.
The price should be competetive with what you are looking at.

From my point of view, I consider these 3 cameras to be a dream. But but even in my dreams, I'm not sure which one comes out on top. Good Luck!

Robert McDonald
30-Apr-2005, 15:15
Thanks again to all who replied. The informative responses has made me come to the conclusion that I need to "play" with the two cameras side by side for a day, but I don't know how I could do this without traveling to a dealer who has both. Any ideas here??

I owe a bit of apology to Jim Rice, as his described method of getting the standards of the Wisner as close as possible is right. I had R. Wisner tell me about that some years ago, but for some reason, I forgot and went back to "dropping the bed". That method, however, still does not allow a 58mm to come into focus. Even if I didn't use lenses shorter than 75mm, I was hoping to get a camera that the back didn't wobble (with a slight pull on my focusing hood) like the Wisner. And, recently, I needed a new knob for the front std. and two phone calls & two e-mails to Wisner produced 0 response.


Andre Noble
30-Apr-2005, 21:43
Arca Swiss and don't look back.

1-May-2005, 10:20
Cost hasn't seemed like a primary concern in this thread, but please note that the Layton is not really comparable. Actually, I would place all 3 cameras that Dan compares into 3 different categories, with the Arca at $2540, Ebony at $3495, and the Layton at $4595. True, Layton states that his price will be dropping soon.

Remaining on the pricing issue, I'm curious why ScottF balked at the Arca's price, then bought a comparable camera, used, for just a tad less. If you are still listening, Scott, maybe you could expand on your price considerations. Oh, and thanks for the review of the Toyo VX, always nice to hear from an owner.

Scott Fleming
1-May-2005, 11:14

The Arca I wanted was $4300.

Dan Neilson
3-May-2005, 09:35
I guess I was dreaming a bit differently. I was thinking of the Arca F model with metric and orbix movements and the Ebony SV45U2 along with the Layton. That would put them all in the low $4000 range.

The problem I see with the AS is that, unless I'm looking at the wrong models, I don't see where it will extend enough for a 450mm lens. I also think that the Ebony would handle the short lenses better without having to switch to a bag bellows.

And Robert has come up with the real dilemma. Even with all of this bantering back and forth and everybodys input, it's still great to actually get your hands on a camera before you buy it. For most of us, being able to actually try these cameras, or even see them, before plunking down a large wad of cash is virtually impossible. And it can get expensive to buy before you try.