View Full Version : First experiences with new Arca Swiss F-Line Field

Julian Boulter
1-Apr-2006, 06:34
Well after struggling with the assembly of the camera after it arrived without any assembly instructions (see previous thread: http://largeformatphotography.info/lfforum/topic/505507.html ) I want to relay my inital experiences with the camera, here are my dislikes and likes in order of importance to me:


Keep in mind I had no opportunity to try out an Arca before purchase. I was coming from having used a Wista which is easy to use but not extremely precise or rigid, my goal in spending the money was to purchase a rigid and precise large format camera which I would never want to replace. Everything I'd read about these cameras cited silky smooth controls and precise rigidity:

1. Detents - The worst thing I find is that the rear tilt has some play in it at the zero detent, I also note that others including Tom Westbrook have found this too. It means at the detent it is not perfectly parrallel to the front standard and is hardly what I would call precise. I need to wobble it on use to ensure the back is parallel - for a camera with a reputation of precision I find this to be a big disappointment! have others come across this? is it possible to fix / adjust?

2. Focussing - Having assembled the camera with difficulty as the function carriers were extremley hard to get on the rail I find almost everything on this camera is very stiff and hard to use. The geared focus even with the friction control untightened is still very coarse and stiff, hardly what I would call 'silky smooth', in fact it feels very coarse and somewhat cheap. The carrier appears to contain plastic runners which seem to shave off leaving little bits on the rail when the standards are racked. The front carrier is much stiffer than the rear so no consistency here. I have tried toghtening and loosening the friction control but it appears to make not much difference except when screwed right in then this makes focussing even stiffer but still moveable.

3. Tilts and Swings - again very stiff, I tried altering the plane of focus on a standard landscape subject this afternoon, something very easy to do with the Wista, I found the tilts so difficult to move that they jump on initial movement and are impossible to set with any accuracy. The whole rig moves unless the B1 head is very tight when making these movements. Also the tilt lever catches the bottom of the standard when pushed upwards and if the standard is tilted back it will close the lever again. None of the knobs appear to function very well. This is not what I expected!

4. Swings - same as above

5. Film holder - Changing the orientation of the fim holder, something that I would be doing often in the field, seems difficult and of poor design. There are no instructions with the camera so I assume I am doing this right and have not damaged anything (my peeve from the original thread). Once the thumbwheel is turned the top pops out and then I seem to have to pivot the back down at an angle until about 75 degrees and then it can be pulled out. Putting the back back on appears much trickier as I have to feed the back into the lip at the bottom and then push down quite hard until it clicks. As the lip apperas to be fairly thin metal, this process does not give me much confidence. What are the componenets of the back? there appears to be some sliding levers on either side but not sure what they are for.

6. Shifts - Fiddly to use, it seems to me to be a poor design, I can imagine the duck bill clamps will wear overtime and cause the back not to sit parallel.

7. The thumbwheel on the lens board standard is very stiff to open and close, I'm going to have a go at it with an a alan key later today to see if I can adjust it as I can see me dropping a lens fighting to open it.

8. Rise / fall - not too bad on the rear, fairly smooth but still somewhat stiff, on the front though its almost impossible to move even with knobs fully loosened which frankly makes not much difference. I have to yank / push very hard to move the front rise / fall


1. The camera is very rigid - perhaps too much so as everything is just so stiff!

2. The foldng rail and rail clamp appear very well engineered, perhaps too well, they are very solid and sturdy and is in my opinon the only parts of this camera that meet expectations.

3. The B1 head is fantastic, everything I expected, silky and smooth, a feeling of quality and precision which I expected from the camera

Thats it! you can probably gather that I'm none to happy with the camera at the moment but were my expectations too high? I expected silky and smooth, a feeling of Swiss quality precision engineering as others have testified. Have I been unlucky? has the camera been shipped without lubricant? Have the manufacturing tolerances dropped since the new 141 standard sizes.....am I just too fussy!!!

Is it just that the camera is so new that use of the camera overtime will cause everything to become silky and smooth? can others share their experiences as right now I'm considering sending the camera back and to carry on using the Wista.


Julian Boulter
1-Apr-2006, 06:47
...actually one other like -

4. The bellows are really nice and flexible and very easy to fit. They fit very snug to the standards and the mechanism means they click in place easily.


Julian Boulter
1-Apr-2006, 07:02
...another like -

5. The spirit levels on both standards are an excellent idea, really helps to ensure standards are parallel. Spirit levels on function carriers too, makes it very easy to level the camera. others have mentioned the 'black goop' on the levels though, the finish is quite poor so I won't go into that here.


Walt Calahan
1-Apr-2006, 07:04
8:3 ratio of dislike to like.

Send it back and get a different camera if you're not happy.

I have an Arca-Swiss 4x5. The only problem I had with the engineering is how the front of the long bellows attached to the front standard. I exchanged productive e-mails with the company, and discovered that I had one assumption of how I thought the connection should happen and the company had another. I now live with their engineering solution. Oh well.

Perhaps a little communication directly with Arca would help you. May be not, they are Swiss German after all. Grin. They are very firm people.

Only you can be the judge of using your Wista verses keeping this new camera. None of us are going to use your camera. None of us know how you like to work. And one thing I know from reading this group, people have their favorites, so they suggest trying what works for them. Ultimately it comes down to you, not what the rest of us like or dislike.

Me, I can't stand a Gandolfi. Had the worst experience in the world with "one" of their cameras, so would never suggest it. But another photographer could adore the Gandolfi and think I'm a nut for saying what I think. So who am I to say just because I have no experience with a Wista and own an Arca-Swiss that you should keep the Arca?

Ultimately it's not the camera that will make you happy, it's whether your equipment enables you to make the images that make you happy. If the Wista, does that keep the Wista. If the Arca's design allows you to work in a superior way over the Wista, keep the Arca.

Not everyone works the same way. That's way there are many solutions to the same work flow - lot's of cameras and lenses to choose from. Not a bad place to be!

Julian Boulter
1-Apr-2006, 07:10
Hi Walter,

Actually that's a very valid point, I would normally try to at least play with equipment before purchase but was not able to in this case. I guess I'd heard so many positives and so few negatives, and being as I'm a stickler for precison, accuracy and performance over looks I thought this would be the camera for me.

Actually I have another like to add:

6. Focussing screen - much brighter and crisper than the Wista, much easier to use.


Pete Roody
1-Apr-2006, 07:34
No offense is intended by my reply Julian, but:

Shouldn't you be discussing your problems, etc., with the dealer you bought the camera from instead of airing them out in a forum? You could barely get the camera together a few days ago and now you are giving a complete public review with many negative observations. There are many people (including myself) who use this camera and would disagree with your conclusions. These opinions (from many photographers) are available in print and if you search this forum.

If your camera has issues, then it may be related to the production of that specific camera or your expectations are different than what the camera can produce. Either way, it is the dealers responsibility to deal with this if you contact them about it.

Glenn Kroeger
1-Apr-2006, 07:39
Gathering your dislikes... they seem to be 3:

1. The rear zero detent needs adjustment. This can be adjusted and aligned. I had this done in the US by the authorized repair facility.

2. Everything is stiff. I have played with several Arcas (owned some too) and some are certainly stiffer than others... I think you got a very stiff one... don't accept it! Talk with the dealer first, then Arca, but get it fixed.

3. Shift clamp. This is the way they are... I have never had them loosen up, but if you want smoother shift movements, get a metric.

There are certainly sample to sample variations in Arcas, and most are fine, but you seem to have gotten an extremely stiff camera that needs to be remedied.


1-Apr-2006, 07:52
Well, you have to enjoy 'working' the camera in the field...photography is an 'experience' to be enjoyed. Send it back, if you are not happy.

I owned a Tachihara 4 x 5 - and then bought an Arca...really enjoy the Arca (discovery model)....but have sold more images taken with the Tachihara...

I enjoy (ed) both.

In the end its about enjoying the experience and making some great images. The equipment is a means to an end. But there is no reason why you shouldn't enjoy the journey..

BTW, my ARCA loosened up after working it a while.

Juergen Sattler
1-Apr-2006, 07:57

I would definetely return the camera for either a refund or an exchange - maybe you did get the one bad Arca that is out there. You listed so many negatives that you will never be happy with the camera and always question yourself why you bought it in the first place. These cameras are too expensive to compromise as much as you'd have to with yours. Get an exchange or look for another manufacturer.


Julian Boulter
1-Apr-2006, 07:57
Hi Peter,

I want to see what others experiences are with the camera and to see if they are similar to mine, e.g. the cameara will eventually loosen up after inital use etc. I will also speak to the dealer on Monday but they are shut now and they also have little experience with Arcas. This forum is a wealth of knowledge from people who actually use the camera.

Due to lack of documentation and having never touched one before I have no benchmark, I look to the forum for assistance with my questions and concerns.

In what way do you disagree with my conclusions? this would be useful for me to understand if I have a duff camera or if there is anything I can do to remedy my issues.



Pete Roody
1-Apr-2006, 08:43

Experience with my Arca's (F, F-metric and M) and other cameras i have handled at dealers/trade shows was that their operation was consistent between cameras. About the only difference was in the geared movements (some being a little stiffer than others).

All new cameras need a little break-in and this may help with yours. Some owners need a little break-in period also :=) . Without seeing your camera, I cannot say whether fit, finish and build quality are consistent with other Arca cameras.

You said you purchased the camera from Robert White in the UK. I have no experience with them but I would bet they are one of the largest Arca dealers in the world and are fully knowledgeable about the camera. Talk to them.

1-Apr-2006, 08:45
First aof all, use the camera for a few days. What is stiff can give way after some use as the lubrication gets to the right place. I agree with Peter about your hasty reaction.

Rory Roopnarine
1-Apr-2006, 09:09
Dear Julian,
I have been using Arca's F-metric 4X5 (171mm) for almost 2 years now. I recently added an 8X10 conversion set. I can't comment on the following: 1. shift clamp, 2. rise/fall, 3. method of attaching the back to the camera, as my camera uses different mechanisms/geared controls. I have to state first that there is no 'play' or wobble about the zero detent in my camera, even with the huge 8X10 standard attached to the function carrier. Focusing requires the application of SOME torque to the focusing knob, but not enough to call it stiff. It certainly does not glide! I would be worried if it did! Focusing seems to be dependent on the rail for some reason, turning the knob becomes stiffer, or less so, depending on the rail. It also depends on the plastic rail guides found under the function carriers, as you astutely observed. I was quite worried myself when I saw these. I am pleased to report, however, that in almost 2 years of constant use, focusing remains the same and I do not see any visible wear. Bad news for you, I guess: the camera may not loosen up with time. Also, at least on my camera, it is not necessary to push the tilt-control lever all the way up to unlock the mechanism.

It can be argued, that the number of quirks, imperfections, or idiosyncracies one is willing to overlook in a camera is inversely proportional to the price you paid for it. As such, I can understand your consternation concerning your expensive Arca. I have been informed by a friend that the Linhof Technikardan has controls and movements that 'glide' and that the camera is exquisitely engineered. Nevertheless, there are quite a few photographers who hate the Linhof for other reasons. No free lunch!

Glenn Kroeger
1-Apr-2006, 09:20
Having had an Arca with a stiff back tilt... I can tell you that it won't loosen up much on its own over several years of use... they are well built! So still best to talk with Robert White and/or Martin at Arca.


tim atherton
1-Apr-2006, 09:23
"Shouldn't you be discussing your problems, etc., with the dealer you bought the camera from instead of airing them out in a forum? "

Disagree - it's a "forum" - it's just what its for (though talk to the dealer by all means of course) - it's a bunch of (mainly) guys without lives sitting around bullshitting about cameras and photography. You post your concerns her and either get a - "yep, I've found exactly the same" or "well, it all settles down after a bit, you just have to get used to it and put up with the idiosyncrasies" or "nope - none of us have ever heard of that at all - must have got a Friday afternoon job - send it back"

It's probably even more appropriate considering the manufacturer has no website info and produces basically zero printed or promotional/brochure info (to even get an idea of how to put the thing together). Nice cameras as they can be.

Pete Roody
1-Apr-2006, 09:48

Rory makes a good point regarding the functionality of controls on an Arca versus some other makes. I would not describe my Arca cameras as having "silky smooth" controls. I would just say that they have a consistent feel, that for me, translates to not having to "think" about controls when using the camera. Operation is intuitive.

There are other makes that (Sinar and Linhof for example) that have more precise and smooth controls.

The Arca system uses easily replaceable parts (such as the plastic guides in the function carriers). I believe plastic is used to minimize wear of more expensive metal parts. Replacement of the worn plastic part returns system to near new condition in regards to functionality. I have function standards and carriers that are over 20-years old. I had them serviced and they work like new.

Rory Roopnarine
1-Apr-2006, 09:58
Well, Tim has voiced what my subconscious has always known but I would never admit openly to myself for fear of eliciting an episode of Major Depression. "Guys without lives". Thank you, thank you. I see Prozac is sold via the internet now....

Glenn Kroeger
1-Apr-2006, 10:58
I think most of us have lives, and quite a few have pretty interesting lives... its just that most of us don't have the life we want... that of the independently wealthy full time amateur art photographer... so we dream and post and listen to the chorus:

He's a photgrapher and he's OK, he sleeps all night and he shoots all day


Brad Rippe
1-Apr-2006, 15:14

Your experience with the Arca seems very rare compared to those I know, and those who contribute to this forum who own the very same camera.

I suspect you got a dud, and you should send it back.
I have had a similar experience with another brand new camera (different manufacturer) I purchased many years ago. It wasn't a dud, but I found it very difficult to work with, back it went.

For me, this is an absolutely wonderful camera. Of course, there are many many great cameras out there, you should try as many as possible before deciding on another.

You might post another question, or survey this group to find out what is their all-time favorite camera.


Doug Dolde
1-Apr-2006, 19:22
I have a Field but bought it used and broken in. It works very well with none of the problems you mention. I have used many 4x5 cameras including Ebony and find the Arca Swiss the best at least to my liking.

Julian Boulter
2-Apr-2006, 07:17
Hi Guys,

Thanks for all the responses, sounds like there is an issue with the camera, I'm going to contact Robert White tomorrow and hopefully sort this out, my main conern is not being able to set tilt or rise with any accuracy.

Just a few questions on the back -

1. There appear to be 2 levers on either side of the screen which can be pushed in or out, they seem to clamp inwards, what is the purpose of these? I imagine to hold a film back in but the back is so tight it does not seem necessary or are they for an accessory attachment such as a viewer?

2. Which way in does a film holder go it does it not matter? I have seen pictures of backs inserted in both sides?

3. The small pointy spring loaded thing appears to hold the screen in, is that right?

4. Back orientation - Once the thumbwheel is turned the top pops out and then I seem to have to pivot the back down at an angle until about 75 degrees and then it can be pulled out. Putting the back back on appears much trickier as I have to feed the back into the lip at the bottom and then push down quite hard until it clicks twice, is that the process or is there another method?



Rory Roopnarine
2-Apr-2006, 19:47
Hi Julian,
I am not certain about those levers you mention. I am guessing that they are a part of the spring-back assembly. Guessing, that is! As far as I'm aware, the film holder should be inserted only one way. That is, from the side opposite to the "pointy spring-loaded thing" that you mention in point 3. If you look carefully, there is a low ridge present underneath the "pointy spring-loaded thing". This ridge stops the film holder as you push it in from the opposite side. The spring loaded pin acts as a safety device to prevent the ground-glass from slipping out if the retaining screws and plate are compromised. Yes, you have to remove and replace the back at an angle. On my model, it's closer to 30 degrees tilt rather than the 75 you mention. I have never found it necessary to push hard to insert the back. Hope this helps. Rory

Julian Boulter
3-Apr-2006, 01:58
Hi Rory,

Thanks for this, loading the holder in the side opposite the spring loaded pin is backed up by the pics of Tom Westbrook's Arca


Although I have seen one other picture where the holder was loaded at the opposite side.


Greg Miller
3-Apr-2006, 14:37
1. 2 levers on either side of the screen: I don;t know either

2. Which way in does a film holder go it does it not matter? I t doesn't matter - you can orient the back so the film hilder can be insterted form any direction.

3. The small pointy spring loaded thing appears to hold the screen in, is that right? THis holds the ground glass protector in place (don;t know if you got one - I got mine From A-S at the View Camera conferecne last year).

4. Back orientation: I only have to pull the back away about 5 degrees to pull the back away. Putting tha back on requires a small amount of precision but not nealry what you describe. My experience is totally different than what you decsribe.

It's hard to believe that you and I have the same camera...

Greg Miller
3-Apr-2006, 14:37
Sorry for all the typos in my last response...

Kerry L. Thalmann
3-Apr-2006, 15:01
1. There appear to be 2 levers on either side of the screen which can be pushed in or out, they seem to clamp inwards, what is the purpose of these? I imagine to hold a film back in but the back is so tight it does not seem necessary or are they for an accessory attachment such as a viewer?

This sounds like the Grafloc sliders designed to hold a roll film back in place when the ground glass is removed. If this is what you are referring to by "2 levers on either side of the screen", they are a common feature on many 4x5 cameras and not unique to the ARCA-SWISS.


Glenn Kroeger
3-Apr-2006, 17:42
While the small pointy thing can hold a screen protector, its primary purpose is to hold the frame fo the binocular reflex viewer or the frame for the focusing bellows.


Julian Boulter
4-Apr-2006, 02:17
Hi All,

Thanks for the responses on the back, I think I have all my questions answered now although just a page of text from Arca shipped with the camera would have saved all the questions!

BTW the camera is back with Robert White now, they asked me to send it back to them for examination re the stiffness issues.


Norm Buchanan
24-May-2006, 13:54
Hi Julian,

I was wondering how things worked out with your camera? My new F-field 4x5 arrived today and it is amazing. I hope you get back a unit that works more as it should.


Armin Seeholzer
24-May-2006, 14:58
Just to make clear Arca Swiss is not a product from Switzerland anymore, the company is in France since about 6 years!
The Boss is still Swiss but I do not know how many of the old workers are still there!

Ling Z
24-May-2006, 16:49
As an owner of a Linhof MT2000, a Sinar P2 and an Arca Swiss F-Line, I feel both Linhof and Sinar are better than Arca in term of quality control though I think Arca Swiss design might be a little bit smarter. I found several issues with my AS F-Line:

1. I agree that the ground glass back is very stiff comparing with Linhof and Sinar;
2. When the fine focusing is done, the standard may still slightly shift when you tight the focusing knob;
3. I also found a design issue with Arca extra long bellows. Its middle part dangles very badly, and Arca needs to come up with something to support it;
4. Arca Swiss never provides detailed user's maunal, which could be an issue for any new LF players.

I recently also acquired a new B2 ballhead, which is also a nightmare to me as it's so easy to lock up even I follow their instructions very carefully. The simple solution is to leave the ballhead overnight, and the problem will be gone. Then it comes back next time. I need to send it back for service.


24-May-2006, 17:44
I recently also acquired a new B2 ballhead, which is also a nightmare to me as it's so easy to lock up even I follow their instructions very carefully. The simple solution is to leave the ballhead overnight, and the problem will be gone. Then it comes back next time. I need to send it back for service.Bob Watkins at Precision Camera modified my 10 year old B2 and I have not experienced the lockup problem since.

john borrelli
25-Jun-2006, 09:50
As an owner of an Arca swiss Discovery for several years now, I do still remember trying to assemble the new camera without any directions from Arca Swiss. It was unnerving to say the least. My camera does have some play on the rear standard's '0' detent. I have learned to live with this and use the level to make sure I am at '0'. I am not sure I understood your film holder question, but definitely make sure you have put in the film holder so the groove on the holder fits the groove on the camera body. One other little thing, with my camera I add the tension to the knobs that move the standard along the rail before I focus. If you try to "lock down" the knobs after focusing you will move the standards in the process and loose focus(this issue has come up before in the forum but I thought it beared repeating here). Best of luck on your decisions with the camera, John

Doug Dolde
25-Jun-2006, 10:16
I agree the MT2000 is more precise and well made than the Arca Swiss.

However MT doesn't have the movements the Arca Swiss does. Front rise is ridiculous and front or rear shift is non existent as is back rise. I find these usefull enough to preclude using an MT.

Too bad there isn't one camera that has it all.