View Full Version : Arca Swiss Discovery setup

25-Oct-2006, 05:19
Hi all,

This is my first query so please forgive any errors I make !

I am considering the move into LF and my great motivation is for higher quality wide-angle landscapes in particular. I can also see some streetscapes too !

My research so far points me in the direction of an Arca Swiss Discovery with bag bellows running a Schneider 72mm SA ... but I want a 6x17 back ! And possibly a 6x12 also ...

Can I do it ?

I started out with the Shen Hao thought but it looks as though the Shen will not handle a 72mm with an amount of movement - at least not like an Arca Swiss will. I prefer the field camera idea better than the monorail but will compromise if needed.

If there is a 6x17 back to fit the Discovery, what is it ?

Cheers !

Eric Brody
25-Oct-2006, 07:14
I do not know your basic photographic skills or knowledge, but why don't you do what many of us did starting out, get a basic camera, a Discovery is an excellent machine, but so is the Shen Hao,a basic lens, if you really want a 72SA I guess that's fine, and learn the craft before heading for the exotica. I am not knowledgeable about the Shen, but is there not a recessed board that will allow the use of a 72?

Consider what you like to photograph, where you like to photograph and choose accordingly. I lugged a field camera and a heavy aluminum tripod all over Mt. Hood with my only lens being a 210 and had a great time for many years.

It sounds a bit like you've got photographic fantasy-itis, a common condition wherein one is variably unhappy, awaiting the next piece of gear because THEN, you'll do great work... You say you are "considering" moving to LF, but also say you already have a Shen Hao. Do you really know how much movement you need? You might be surprised to find out that landscape photography requires very little in the way of movements. A little tilt often goes a long way and in the field, shifts are rarely needed, one can usually move the camera. Many photographers use monorails in the field.

See what others may say but relax and have fun.


Ed Richards
25-Oct-2006, 07:26
No 6x17 back will fit a 4x5 without some sort of kludge adapter - 4x5 is only about 12cm wide. Since money does not seem to be an object, get a Walker Titan XL 5x7 and a Canham 6x17 back. It is designed for the 72xl. You can also get a 4x5 adapter back. It is the ultimate wide angle set up. If money is a concern, and dropping about 6K US $ before you take your first picture is a problem, you might go with Eric's advice. Stick a used 75mm on the ShenHoa and shoot a few hundered shots and see what you like and do not like.

Emmanuel BIGLER
25-Oct-2006, 07:31
Hello from France

There is no problem to fit a 6x12 rollfim back to any view camera with the International 4"x5"-9x12 back. Basically there are two kinds of attachments for rollfilm backs, certain rollfilm backs slip under the ground glass(GG), some others require that you take the GG off and that you attach the back to the so-called graflock latches.

The Arca Swiss Discovery being fitted with the international back & graflock latches, you can fit a great variety of rollfilm backs.
In 6x12 I know the existence of the expensive Sinar vario back that slips under the GG.
There is a Linhof Techno-Rollex 6x12 back but probably it uses graflock latches (to be confirmed).
See also :
I'm using the 6x12 Horseman film back I purchased from a gentleman on this forum. It is similar to the one marketed by Arca Swiss. I use it with a 4x5 F-line "field" Arca Swiss camera. This back uses the graflok latches so I have to take the GG off. This back is not too heavy, and is very simple to use. And of course it is compatible with the Arca Swiss Discovery camera.

Now about a 6x17 rollfim back compatible with a standard view or field camera. Those beasts are rare so I'll only speak about two species I'm aware of, thanks to this forum.
There is a motor-driven Canham 6x17 back that fits to certain a 5x7"-13x18 camera featuring graflok latches.

There is a 6x17 chinese back


that fits most 4"x5" cameras with a special GG device which is offset with respect to a standard 4"x5" GG. In order to accommodate the wider image field of 17cm wide on a 4"x5" back (about 12-13 cm wide) the chinese back uses a trick to move the GG and back away from the original GG. Doing so you can use a 17cm wide image with some major restrictions on camera movements, but it works.
So : you cannot fit the Canham back to a Discovery without some extensive modifications, I am not even sure that the Canham back would fit a 5x7" Arca Swiss camera. It is possible to convert a Discovery into a 5"x7" camera but you should consider that the price of the conversion kit (a 4x5"->5x7" tapered bellows plus a 5x7" back) is equivalent to the full price of some other 5x7" view camera brands ;-)

You can fit the 6x17 chinese back to the Discovery since it is compatible with the 4"x5" international back. See the above mentioned article.

Gordon Moat
25-Oct-2006, 10:07
The Shen-Hao HZX45A-II has enough room for movements with a 72mm SA to go beyond the image circle. It is tight with a flat lensboard, so using a recessed board makes life easier. Also, while the standard bellows will collapse enough, a bag bellows is recommended.

There is a 6x17 back that will fit the Shen-Hao that is offset from the back of the camera, and has a separate ground glass for focusing. To use that with a very wide lens, a recessed lensboard will also help. You will still not have much movement before getting out of the image circle.

Since it seems that you are somewhat new to large format, you should know that a 72mm (or 65mm, 75mm, or 80mm) is not as easy to focus and compose on the ground glass as more normal (longer focal length) lenses. You might also consider getting a fresnel lens. Definitely make sure you have a good dark cloth and focusing loupe.


Gordon Moat
A G Studio (http://www.allgstudio.com)

25-Oct-2006, 15:12
Call Rod KLukas at Photomark in Phoenix, AZ - he can help.

25-Oct-2006, 16:59
Thanks all for your kind words.

I have been using 35mm for nearly 20 years and want more detail in wide landscapes. I would only dabble in actual sheet film (probably until I got hooked!) I live in Western Australia - a place of very flat, wide natural scenes. We have many more 'wide' landscapes than 'high' landscapes. There is a lot of film wasted here on photographing clouds or just plain blue sky!

Eric: I should have said "started out thinking about .. a Shen Hao" I do not own one. Sorry for that.

Emmanuel: Thanks! It looks as though a 5x7 is more suited to the 6x17 ... a secondhand 5x7 could be the go. I didn't know the Discovery had the Graflock latches. I think I need to research the Canham 6x17 back and find which cameras it will fit. The 6x12 looks to be relatively common fare and the 6x17 something of a specialty.

Ed: Money IS a concern. Photography is a costly business! I want a particular outcome that my 35mm wont give. I have photos of forts in India taken with a 17-35mm Nikon lens that when scanned are just hopeless. It is really sad that I wont be able to repeat these photos ever again. I don't want to be silly here but there must be a reasonable solution to this 6x17 thing. Whatever setup gets that outcome reliably before the money blowout wins. I won't be buying cameras with silly price tags! A Discovery price would be the limit. Then again, convincing the wife of a future upgrade would be worse than death!

Gordon: Cheers mate ! I've read bits n pieces about the Shen Hao and wasn't sure if it could take the 72. Having read what others say about the Discovery's smooth nature and ability to something like 58mm, I have a little worry or two about the Shen Hao - it seems too good to be true with its features though.

Scott: When the time comes, I will certainly do the phone call thing to people who know. Thanks for the tip.

I do have an 'itis' of some sort. Maybe I have many.

Thanks again to you all.

Doug Dolde
25-Oct-2006, 18:35
Just shoot 4x5 and crop if you want a pano. Much cheaper and simpler.

Frank Petronio
25-Oct-2006, 19:02
Yeah, for the price of even the Chinese Pan backs you can buy a case of Readyloads so why hassle?

Or on the other hand, a Linhof or Horseman 6x12 or 6x17 is so much sexier (easier to handle I mean) than a kludged back on a view camera.

Brian Ellis
25-Oct-2006, 21:29
I'm not big on real wide angles or roll film backs but it seems kind of odd that you're going from 35mm to a 4x5 camera for the better technical quality 4x5 can bring, but then you're not going to use 4x5 film and instead will stick a medium format roll film back on the camera. I realize that personal preferences enter into all this but to me it would make more sense to do one thing or the other, i.e. either get a medium format pano camera and use roll film, or get a 4x5 camera and use 4x5 film. As someone else pointed out, you can always crop 4x5 to panoramic dimensions, you can even cut out a piece of cardboard to your pano dimensions and stick it over the 4x5 ground glass so that you see things the way they'll look after the crop. Using a roll film back on a 4x5 camera to make panoramic images seems to me combining the worst of both worlds, i.e. you have to schlepp a 4x5 system around to get medium format images (recognizing that you do at least get the benefit of camera movements).

Just my thoughts, I've never quite understood the whole idea of roll film backs on large format cameras except as a means of carrying more film around on a long trip.

25-Oct-2006, 23:08
Shenhao seems like a pretty decent camera. You can put a few different types of roll film backs on it (those that slip under the glass, and those that attach via graflok), and there's the $600 6x17 panoramic back available. I don't think you'll have anything to worry about qualitywise with the shenhao.

I'm getting a shenhao soon. It gets nothing but great reviews, I don't think I've read a single negative thing about it (other than the recognized limits of max bellows extension and all that stuff that goes without saying for any field camera that's not a bank breaking ebony or dlc).

If you mainly plan to shoot wide panoramas without much foreground, as it sounds from your description, you certainly aren't going to need the movements of a monorail. You'll get more than enough from the shenhao. Having said that, the shen has enough movements for much more, definitely the classic landscape shots with lots of close foreground and distant stuff which just needs a bit of tilt.

26-Oct-2006, 01:30
Cheers guys, the thoughts I do sympathise with somewhat ...

The cropped 4x5 has a potential problem in my area in that I believe there is only one place in town to develop the film. Buying it is probably going to be a difficult process too. Last time I checked this out was about 9 months ago ...

The 120 can be purchased and developed from a few outlets.

As I mentioned, there is a lot of film to be wasted on blue skies here too. Why expose it to chop it off ?

The purpose-built camera is a choice that I do understand also. How important the ability to shift the lenses and body though ? A purpose-built body means one task only !

Hmm ... I've got a few things to further look at.

Many thanks to you all.

26-Oct-2006, 01:50
Steve, by all means, have a look at Fotoman cameras. You can have several of them for the price of Discovery and you will discover the true advantages of dedicated pano cameras over LF bodies. The shift (rise rather) is not important in flat pano pictures (I've been doing pano pictures for 15 years and I don't even think of rise). Especially f you go up from 35 mm photography. Your arguments against cropping are correct. Don't forget the beauty of longer lens pictures in pano photography - the wide views are so boring... (after some time).

Carsten Wolff
26-Oct-2006, 04:06
Yep, easy to "waste" sky; esp. in Australia where half the time there aren't any clouds to lighten things up...., but seriously, 4x5 do have tilt, so you can make use of the foreground :).
I sympathise with the sheet film situation; nobody in my town in tropical NQ does E-6 sheet film either. Luckily, there are a many places in the east coast capitals that do process 4x5. Some, e.g. Vanbar, do 5x7, too, last time I checked. I just pop the sheets in an Express bag and send them off. I'd go with the others' advice: get a cheap 4x5, Shen-Hao sounds fine, and may be just get a 90mm (it'll look wide, I promise you) for starters. I occasionally do 6x17 panoramas as well though and my favourite lens for that format would be a 110....followed by a 210....
There are many well known photographers that mainly use 2 lenses, rarley wider than 90mm. I find "more" is often not better....

Frank Petronio
26-Oct-2006, 05:02
If you do buildings with a pano you'll appreciate rise quite a bit, but for landscapes it may not be so important...

Not to shake your world up, but there are some "bargains" in 6x9 and 6x12 wide angle photography. Note that if you want a sharp foreground for most landscapes you can easily acheive this by stopping down the moderately short lenses (50mm - 65mm range) and skip movements.

For $500 or so you can klude together an old press camera, like a Mamiya Super or a Graflex XLSW.

For $1000 you can get one of the old Fuji G690W III cameras - a very nice "Texas Leica".

For $1200 you could probably find a decent Noblex 6x12 rotating pano, which is really a nice different option. (I got one for $1200, you have to be patient/lucky.)

Those new Chinese made pano look very nice too, especially since you can use a top quality optic on them. But I have never actually seen one.

Not to mention that you can get a $200 Baby Crown Graphic body, a $100 6x9 Graflex lever roll film back, and a $350 65/8 Super Angulon (or other wide lens) and have a world class shooter -- with moderate movements -- for $650. But they are kind of ugly and clumsy (like me LOL).

The problem is having too many options ;-)

Gordon Moat
26-Oct-2006, 13:11
I am tending to agree with the recommendations of a dedicated panoramic roll film camera, especially with your potential difficulties and time lag of getting 4x5 films processed locally. There are Gaoersi, Fotoman, and several other options, including used Fuji, Horseman, or Linhof. If you shop carefully, you can get a good system. Cropping 6x12 probably will give you nearly as good results as shooting 6x17, since the longer the film the worse the film flatness. Some might extend that to shooting 6x7 or 6x9 and cropping to the 2:1 or 3:1 aspect ratios, though I think those only translate well to smaller final prints.

Even though this is a large format forum, it might be worth your while to investigate a used Hasselblad Xpan system. While not nearly as good as rollfilm potential, it is a step up from 35mm.

I took a gamble on getting a Shen-Hao. My previous 4x5 was a metal body TOYO, though I have worked with or assisted a few photographers using other 4x5 systems. Part of my investigating indicated that if I did not like the camera, I could probably resell it used for close to what I paid new. I was happily surprised that the movements are quite good enough to exceed the image circle of many large format lenses I might use. It certainly does not seem to me that it suffers from a lack of range or movements, unless you want to use longer than 300mm lenses (which I don't).

A monorail is not a bad choice, especially an Arca-Swiss. Despite camera ads showing a 4x5 nearly twisted into a pretzel shape, the reality of landscape shooting is that you won't use anywhere near that sort of range, and you are more likely to run out of lens coverage before you run out of camera movement. Between a monorail or a field camera, weight and bulk might be things to worry about more than range of movements.


Gordon Moat
A G Studio (http://www.allgstudio.com)

26-Oct-2006, 16:46
Guys! Guys! Guys!

Now you're thinkin' !

Frank: Yes the options are starting to multiply ... I saw this
last night on the web and was impressed with the ingenuity.
The only problem is the resale. Perhaps I'll find such a thing for sale myself!

Gordon and GPS: I did a little research on the dedicated bodies too. I won't be going close to a Linhof! What a price new! Insane. With the Fotomans, does the cone bit come out for focussing and for lens changes? Or is there a separate cone for each lens? And there is no tilt/shift at all I'm guessing .. (It may well not be an issue ..)

Carsten: Yep the Aussie sky is a really difficult thing to compose well eh! Just blue ... do I do lots of it or less of it ... I hear you on the foreground stuff and the 90mm. The method I used to get to a 72mm SA was simply by the angle of view and the size of the image circle. I may be being greedy.

I've gained so much in such a short time thanks to you all. I might try to find a local with an LF to try or hire. Surely I'm not the only guy in town !

Carsten Wolff
26-Oct-2006, 17:27
There's also a nice Brooks Veriwide on feebay; The guy is from Magnetic Island; right on my door step. (I don't know him though). It's already up at 1200AUD with 5 days to go though...and I've been majorly spammed with fake "Second Offers", so beware......

I'm starting to like the Fuji 690W idea.... or a 6x12 Alpa perhaps?

[I used to run around with an SWC/m, which, despite of the square fromat, did it for me for quite some time before I moved into the "more static" world of LF. Someone suggested the Xpan.... well, actually, when it came to bang for the buck, IMHO you couldn't beat the (dare I mention this piece of (post-)kommie-plastic)....Horizon 202 :) which because it was so cheap and gave pretty good results (for a 24x58mm of negative....) was tons of fun, too. The other thing I liked about that one, unlike Xpan pics: Trannies fitted into 6x6 projectors.]...Yes, Yes, I know: This is a LF forum....

Gordon Moat
26-Oct-2006, 17:50
You can see more at the Fotoman (http://www.fotomancamera.com) website. These are basically a dedicated cone for each lens, with a focus helical (like on manual focus 35mm lenses) that you turn for focus. You need to guess the distance, or use an external rangefinder to get a distance measurement, then line up the marking on the focus helical to the distance desired, and fire away.

If you are browsing EBAY for these things, do a search using the terms 6x12 and 6x17 typed just like that. When you do that, you will find Gaoersi, and sometimes other gear like Brooks, Fuji, Horseman, or Linhof. There will not be much of this on EBAY, but search for a few weaks and you might find some interesting items.

Most of the other bodies are similar in that a dedicated cone mounts each lens. There are a few cameras that have a ground glass for focus, though it is not too practical. 6x17 is four shots on 120 film, and you could only use the ground glass on most of these cameras before loading any film. Guess focus will work out much nicer and easier, with perhaps surprisingly good results.

Getting a small 4x5 with shift, then adding a rollfilm back would be another route. The Gaoersi is distributed through Da Yi, who also made that back you see on that project on Flickr. You can get an idea about these things on the website for Gaoersi (http://www.focus-dayi.com). Judging by the limited reviews so far, apparantly a Gaoersi is a little crude, though perhaps that should be expected at the low price.


Gordon Moat
A G Studio (http://www.allgstudio.com)

27-Oct-2006, 07:21
Carsten: Yep the Aussie sky is a really difficult thing to compose well eh! Just blue ... do I do lots of it or less of it ...

You see Steve, I always wanted to takes pics of clouds in Australia. Where else can you have all the sky for yourself? Once you know the clouds types and its varieties you see the world with new eyes! And what is more, you realize how the sky is connected to the earth even in photography! From that time on you will know a new dimension in photography - the vertical one.