View Full Version : Is an Arca 6x9 worth it in the digital age?

16-Apr-2008, 19:17
Hi all,

I had bought a Tachi 4x5 camera some time ago but I didn't like it (sloppy movements but a bargain price-wise!) and sold it. 4x5
was also a difficult process for me (cost of film, drum scanning costs are high etc). I also wanted to shoot architecture as well as landscapes and using a darkcloth in urban environments was uncomfortable for me.

I'm currently contemplating whether to sell all my LF accessories (light meter, lenses, changing bag etc) and go digital or instead buy an expensive 6x9 camera (such as the Arca Swiss) and scan using my Nikon 9000.

I don't really want to turn this into a digital vs film thread but just seeking advice from those of you in the know, whether a 6x9 film camera system is really worth it in this day and age for landscape and some architectural photography.

I know Nikon is releasing tilt/shift lenses this year but I'm assuming their quality is not up to par with the Rodenstock S lenses I currently own. True?
I also like the look of film and I still use a Leica M7 and slides for street/people photography.

So is an Arca Swiss 6x9 a wise choice at this point in time? Is it an easy system to focus using the viewfinder and no darkcloth?

Any help appreciated.


Walter Calahan
16-Apr-2008, 19:28
Photoshop stitching technology is getting better and better. This is a tough call.

I'd love to have a medium format back on an Arca 6x9 camera, but the cost is huge. How to make it pay for itself quickly is the question?

neil poulsen
16-Apr-2008, 19:52
What's the largest print that you regularly want to produce?

You site drum scanning costs. But, I wonder if a 4x5 scanned on a 750 flatbed would give you about the same quality as a 6x9 scanned on a 9000? So, I'm not sure that you wouldn't be getting the same quality with 4x5, but with the option of getting a drum scan if you needed that level of quality.

One thing about the 6x9 Arca: you can easily upgrade to 4x5 with a conversion package. It's expensive, but the opportunity is there. As to digital, the Arca 6x9 would give you the option of eventually using a digital back.

There's a reflex viewer for the 6x9. (Expensive!) If you don't mind the upside-down and backwards thing, one can get an eyepiece that combines with a viewing bellows setup that connects to the back of the camera. This allows you to view the image without the darkcloth.

There's also the option of shooting 6x9 on an Arca 4x5 using a roll film back. (Or, any 4x5 with a Graflok Intenational back.)

The biggest problem for me using a darkcloth in an urban environment was simultaneously keeping my eye on the equipment. If you feel self-conscious (I did at first), a good solution is to ignore everyone around you. As they walk by, I suspect that you will be adding interest to their lives. If you're enjoying what you're doing, you'll soon get over any self-conscious feelings.

Just some thoughts.

Frank Petronio
16-Apr-2008, 20:31
Having a nice Nikon medium format scanner is a great way to rationalize medium format. And the 6x9 Arca is a really sweet, precise mini view camera... but I find using a 6x9 with movements is actually a lot harder and more finicky than 4x5 -- you have to make smaller, more subtle movements, it's twitchier. Likewise an 8x10 is easier than 4x5 in that regard.

So you may want to consider the entire chain - camera, lenses, scanner, output. 4x5 can work out to be less expensive if you get more "keepers" and an Epson 700 is relatively cheap for the results you can get.

But then you could also consider some of the fancy new stuff, like the new Nikon wide angles are much better than anything that came before, and undoubtedly the full frame cameras are pretty great.

Personally I would just get a Hasselblad SWCM and not worry about movements or perfection... ;-)

16-Apr-2008, 20:32
I don't really want to turn this into a digital vs film thread but just seeking advice from those of you in the know, whether a 6x9 film camera system is really worth it in this day and age for landscape and some architectural photography.

It depends upon you and what you feel you need or want. I bought a brand new Nikon F6 last year, even though many consider 35mm dead. I bought it because I prefered it over digital. Your choice should be based on your needs and wants, not what you think others want you to do.

Ole Tjugen
16-Apr-2008, 23:10
One of the nice things about LF cameras is that they can take digital backs. So with a LF camera, or the 6x9 Arca Swiss, film or digital is only a question of which back you use. Of course digital backs cost a small fortune at the moment, but ...

Reflex viewers have already been mentioned, which reminds me that I haven't tried mine yet!

Emmanuel BIGLER
17-Apr-2008, 00:42
So with a LF camera, or the 6x9 Arca Swiss, film or digital is only a question of which back you use.

Yes, Ole, but one of the issues today is that digital MF backs cover about the size of a 6x4.5cm format.
For architecture use you'll demand wide-angle lenses.
So you end-up with short focal lengths and a small portion of a 6x9 ground glass, hence the question of focusing in those conditions is raised.
I have a 6x9 Arca Swiss F-line and I use the binocular viewer. I do film only at an amateur level. So far I have had no trouble focusing with a 55mm (and even a 45 mm) with the regular ground glass and bino viewer. However I know from other professional photographers' experience that things become tricky with a 35 or a 28mm.
A photographer friend equiped with a 645 digital sensor has allowed me to do some tests with my F-line 6x9 and I can testify that for all focal lengths longer than 55mm I can focus without trouble, quicly, like for film, no special procedure, with the standard A/S function carriers, standard 9x9 ground glass & fresnel lens and get the maximum sharpness allowed by the sampling grid of the sensor ; in this case the theoretical limit set by the sensor pixel grid was 56 cycles/mm, easily reached (checked with a USAF test target) almost each time for all focal lenghts longer than 55, with the optical ground glass framing and bino viewer. I say "almost" because the image of the test target digitally enlarged on your computer screen will immediately show if you are out of focus if you cannot reach the sensor limit. I know that some photographers take several pictures with different focus settings ("focus bracketting") to be absolutely sure.

For studio use, the Arca Swiss 6x9 monolith((TM) does a perfect job. And there are several competing cameras on the market from Linhof, Sinar, Cambo, Silvestri, etc..., I like the fact that there is a solid competition in this market segment of precision 6x9 cameras, it means that there is a future for them.
People who have access to the live-video mode with their digital back focus and adjust movements on their computer screen. Hence the very precise controls of the A/S monolith(TM) allow you to precisely set tilts and shifts. The computer screen acts as a magnifier and an image intensifier, the question of the small ground glass becomes irrelevant as soon as the controls are precise. Those who have manipulated the A/S monolith know what I mean.
About tilts : you can achieve the same degreee of sharpness and same control of depth of field with a small sensor and a small digital back than with a large format camera, BUT the required tilt angles are around one degree or less, the required focusing displacement between infinity and, say, one meter (3 feet) decrease like the square of the focal length. For a 28 mm, by moving either standard by 0.8mm, you change the focusing setting from infinity to one meter / 3 feet!!. WIth the good ol' 100mm lens, standard for 6x9, you have a comfortable one centimeter of travel, half a knob turn on the A/S, to achieve the same.
F-line and monolith monorail focusing controls are designed with 2 cm of travel for one full turn of the focusing knob. The mechanism is very smooth and perfect in 6x9, I have no trouble focusing the 55mm which requires only 3 mm of travel between infinity and one meter; but when comes the day when you have a 28mm and need to preciseley set 0.8mm and not 0.9 nor 0.7, there you have a problem.
So you need something precise to ... precisely focus with short focal lengths and you need to see what you are doing, depending on which focal lengths you need for your work.
As far as tilts are concerned, this value of one degree is non-negligible if you want to reach the same final image performance with tilts. So not all cameras will allow this "degree" of precision.

Architecture photographers working outdoors are reluctant to the live-video mode and computer screen focusing. They like to be as free as possible from electrical sources, the required batteries for the digital back being already a burden.
Hence if you want to frame and focus optically only, for achitecture outdoors, or even indoors but 100% computer-free, you might consider other dedicated cameras for wide angle work like the Alpa, the Silvestri or the new Arca Swiss Rm3D where focusing is achieved through an helical mount.
The precise helical mount solves the question of the short focusing travel; each lens is precisely calibrated for infinity-focus so at least you know were to set for infinity without looking a the image. As far as precise tilts are concerend, I do not know for the Alpa but I Know that there is a Silvestri model with precise tilts and I have manipulated the A/S Rm3d which has a very precise mechanism to set tilts as well.
The Rm3d has a feature not present on the Alpa system, i.e. you can use the camera as the front standard of a F-line monorail with a conventional bellows, for days when you need long focal lengths or large format film.

So as a conclusion, quoting again Ole, film or digital is only a question of which back you use.
I'd love to do this in the future when digital backs will be available and affordable in the 6x9cm (or 6x8cm) format. Then, for sure, I'll be able to switch from film to a digital back on my 6x9 A/S without changing anything in my framing and focusing habits. And 100% computer-free in the field.. or in the street.
To date, I'm perfectly happy with film but I am an amateur. I know that if I want a digital file from my film I can get a modest home-made amateur scan yielding very modest results to share with friends, or I can rent a professional scanner once a year in order to extract the best possible digital data from a severe selection of my best film images.

But I have no competitors in the business pushing me to invest USD 30,000 in digital backs and digital lenses, to be amortized in 2-3 years by selling my work. This makes a major difference !

robert lyons
17-Apr-2008, 03:26
yes definitely go for a 6x9....i use the tk23s....with drum scans from color neg (400asa) the largest prints i have made are 5.5'x7/5' (approximate size) and typically 43"x65" -all with some white paper border space and these are very very sharp. i did spend some time testing lenses to get specific ones with sharpness and contrast that i wanted........but for travel/on-site work the format is superb. i also use a right-angle monocular viewfinder.

Darren H
17-Apr-2008, 03:36
What about a 4x5 Arca-Swiss model? You can pick up a used Discovery or F series for not alot more than the Tachihara runs new. You get the precise control and rigidity that Arca offers and could use Quickloads, a roll film back (several size options there), or a digital back when they come down in price. You would have flexibility now with film and flexibility in the future.

I am not sure how often Arca 6x9 systems come up used, but for the cost of a new one you could pick up a used Discovery, a flat bed Epson scanner, a couple of different roll film backs, a Quickload holder, etc. Or swap some of that out toward the Nikon 9000.

Just a thought. In any event-good luck!

17-Apr-2008, 16:02
Thanks to you all for your comments.

4x5 is not an option due to film expense and digital backs are way out of my budget at this stage.

In terms of digital, I was thinking more Canon 1dsIII or Nikon D3 but with lens tilt options. With Nikon introducing 3 tilt/shift lenses (one wide, standard and tel), this option did look promising for me (on paper anyway). Has anyone used the recently released 24mm that can comment on optical quality?

RE: the Arca Swiss Rm3D, I can't find any substantial info. on this camera anywhere. Is this camera even available as yet? From what I have read, the 6x9 version looks promising for me, using film, but I have no idea on cost, full specs, availability etc. Any further info. about this camera would be great, especially any user experience.


Ben R
18-Apr-2008, 02:08
A Canon 1Ds mkIII with a t/s lens giving 11mm of movement will give you a 7X17 ratio image at 33 megapixels allowing a 36X15" print at 250DPI, native resolution. I don't know if these lenses allow both rise/fall at the same time as shift, if so you can double the above figures with a multi layer stitch. However a 1Ds mkIII with a couple of t/s lenses will run you into over $10,000. You have to decide how much 6X9 film, processing and scanning that buys in comparison (after you've paid for the camera of course).

Stitching without a t/s lens will technically give you endless amounts of resolution with the limit only how wide you stitch, however for architecture forget trying to get images without distortion, IMO unuseable distortion at that. If it's for landscape then multi level stitching is an option with huge possibilities, what I don't like about it is that the multi level stitching heads look very unstable.

You also have the option of a stitching back for a LF camera such as the Camera Fusion back. This will give you flat stitching again at stupid levels of resolution, I own one and you get far more 'megapixels' than the lens can actually resolve, figure on a 100 megapixels for a typical stitch resulting in a 60X34" print at 250DPI with a 5D, you get more than that with a 1Ds mkIII of course and a lot more with a 40D (due to the smaller pixel spacing) but again, I figure the lens has given all it can by 70 megapixels and this is with a 135mm Sironar S, not a dull lens. Other limitations are that it isn't cheap, needs super stability, can use a 135mm as a widest lens (44mm FF equivelent with the 6X12 crop) if you want infinity and takes all the time to set up LF plus all the time to stitch!

If you are going to get a digital camera to use with movements, either a stitching back or a t/s lens make sure you get one with Live View! Can make all the difference in the world when you can zoom in up to X10 live while making those minute adjustments to focus and tilt!

4-May-2008, 05:08
You have far more future options with 4 x 5 . Many options second hand.
such as 67 - 69 - 6 x 12 roll backs. Digital backs are expensive now and mostly capture 6 x 4.5....so they don't even give a true perspective. Emanuell points out that the focus is also better with these bigger lenses onto bigger film.....and the pictures look more real. Ole had a good point too.....but I forgot it and it's on page 1 !
And anything - nearly - is cheaper than a new Arca 6 x 9 .

A Sinar F is light - bound to impress people - and will focus any lens easily. Buy one used. Or customise Linhofs like i do.

4-May-2008, 05:29
As Ole was saying - choices of backs in LF but more and cheaper ones for standard 4 x 5 or 'Graflok' . As Neil gently points out - this is the future proof interchangeable way to go. Extending an Arca 6 x 9 mono system - will be nearly as alarming as first buying it.

Scanners are getting better - the good industrial flat beads are nearly as good as the digital drums. The reflex viewer is a great asset and if 4 x 5 it can often be adapted to a foreign camera. I use a Toyo reflex on Linhofs. You can still use a cloth and loupe for fine focusing....briefly, before getting mugged. For architecture you need all the main perspective controls - especially rise.... and swinging back and front ( eg together ). Those Nikon 35mm options will give chronic wide angle distortion. This place is about LF thinking - be bold, get in full control of your own pictures and get the unique LF perspective.....[ that was a spontaneous advertisement ]

4-May-2008, 16:37

did you ever see this setup? tilt and shift with a canon 1ds etc,