View Full Version : Arca Swiss vs Canham DLS vs Ebony

9-Apr-2009, 19:45
What are the relative strengths of the following three types of 4X5 cameras?
Monorail vs Metal vs Premium modern wooden camera. Sample cameras could include the Arca- Swiss F-Classic (or F-Classic Compact or F-Field) 4X5 vs K.B. Canham DLC 4X5 vs Ebony RW45E. Have any advantages changed in the past few years.

I tried to pick the best of each category, but recognize I am just beginning the research process. If I decide to enter the LF field, I will probably purchase used equipment. Before I do that I would like to know what the holy grail is for 4X5 field cameras.

Bonus Question: What 2-3 lenses? I would use LF for landscape, nature, and architecture. I would probably purchase 2-3 lenses in the 35mm equivalent range of 20mm to 100mm. Any ideas as to the most popular 4X5 LF lenses?

10-Apr-2009, 06:36
I have zero complaints about my Toyo 45AII. Solid, light, compact, awesome setup.

10-Apr-2009, 06:51
Mono-rail versus folding: mono-rail suited in all situations, in the studio a focussing back (mono-rail) is a must.

Monorail versus folding, weight: a Sinar P2 is heavier than a Chamonix.
But there are lighter camera's than the Sinar like the Cambo's or Sinar F series.

Lenses for architecture: (58XL), 75mm SA, 115mm Grandagon and 150mm Symar, 240mm.
You can start-out with the 75 (a must for interiors), the 150 and the 210/240.
I would not go for a 135mm because of it's limited IC.
The 115mm Grandagon gives you a less pronounced perspective in architecture.

Hope this has been of help, I have been into architectural photography for the past 30 years or so.


Herb Cunningham
10-Apr-2009, 07:04
If you are back packing, weigh is an issue, so a folder is usually a good choice, although the Toho is a really light monorail. I prefer Arca most of the time, but I don't backpack. Ebony RW is a really good beginners camera-the universal bellow will allow a 75mm with no problem, shorter would probably not work.

Steve Hamley
10-Apr-2009, 07:21

If you scroll down you should see a list of "similar threads" that will answer a lot of your questions.

In short, unlike 35mm reflex cameras which are mostly the same, these cameras are quite different and have different advantages and "disadvantages", quirks, or trade-offs of weight versus features. Whatever you chose, you'd have to live with something that's someone else will criticize.

Arca: versatile modular camera. You can configure anything you want with it. Smooth as most metal cameras are and is one of the main draws to people who don't like wood cameras. It's also heavy for the features. When I chose an Ebony SV45U over an Arca system, it was because the Arca that did what the SV45U would do would weight around 10 pounds, and require at least two rails plus two bellows. If you configure it more simply or don't mind the weight, great choice. It's one of the highest quality cameras, but support can be spotty. I don't believe Arca has a US/english website, so learning the system can take a little more effort. A good resource is Jack Dykinga's book - he uses the Arca system extensively and describes it well - and he also uses a Wista field camera to save weight when he needs to.

Canham DLC: Main draw is the light weight for the features. Does everything the Ebony can do and lighter, but many people criticize the rigidity of the camera. Personally the lack of rigidity in a wooden Canham 8x10 didn't bother me, it took very sharp pictures, but the lever controls did. The bellows is also not attached to the rear standard, it's held in by the back so you have to make sure it's where it needs to be when changing the back from horizontal to vertical especially when the bellows is compressed with wide lenses. It never bothered me but it does some. It's a high-quality camera and the support is top notch.

Ebony: Classic wooden field cameras with classic controls.

The Ebony SV45U or SV45U2 are usually the models compared to the Arca and Canham, the RW45/E is Ebony's entry level camera, although many people find it an excellent lightweight and competent camera and use it instead of the "upper end". Ebony models with a "V" in the name are folders, "U" means asymmetric rear movements, and "E" means ebony wood versus mahogany in models where both woods are available as a standard order.

I find the Ebony SV45U (and the mahogany RW45) a good balance of features versus weight, and I like the conventional controls. I also like the asymmetric rear movements. The same camera as the SV45U without the asymmetric rear movements is the SV45Ti/E, and might be a better camera to compare to the other two. People that don't like them for the most part don't like that they aren't as smooth or rigid as a Linhof Technika, which they aren't . Support is good but not as good as Canham.

As far as lenses go, the standard 4x5 lens set is 90mm, 150mm, 210mm, and 300mm. I see a little bit wider and use a 80mm 110mm 135mm and 180mm. For a compact longer lens I use a 10-3/4" (270mm) f:9 process lens in shutter. The 4x5 equivalent to a 20mm lens will be around 65mm.

Cheers, Steve

10-Apr-2009, 07:23
Landscape/nature lenses: Fujinon-W 125mm/5.6 ans a Fujinon A 240mm (or near equal). Small. Sharp. Tiny. Very sharp. I have the 125mm. I'm saving up for the 240mm. The Kodak Ektar 203/7.7 would be an alternative to the 240mm Fuji A.

I place high value on small, light, sharp lenses. Small filters too. I can carry small lenses farther.


10-Apr-2009, 08:08
Arca's are beautiful machines to operate! My studio 4x5 is a F Classic Field with micometric orbix. I have achieved this camera after years of upgrading. I do not take it on-the-road because for me, it is too much. (Petite female, age 50). It is my camera of choice for technical/operating reasons.

Ebony cameras are very nice as well. I have owned the 45SU, SV45U, and the RSW. I currently own the 45SU and RSW. The 45SU will be up for sale in the future. Why? Not because of performance, but because of not using it. I have been shooting strictly panoramics when shooting outside for the past couple of years. I bought the RSW second handed very reasonable and started using it with a 6x12 back exclusively with excellent results. I love the 6x17 format so I recently ordered a Fotoman 6x17 and am awaiting delivery from the manufacture. So like everything else in my life, I evolve with the ebb and flow.

If I was starting out and wanted a wood camera (non-folder), I would seriously look for a used RSW. They have limited back movements, but if one will be learning through the landscape, I think it is an excellent camera. I personally do not like folders as I think it can take from the rigidity and adds more setup/take down time. This is just my experience and others will have different opinions.

The lenses I use for landscape/nature are: Rodenstock's 90, 135, 180 and an older Docter 240. I do a bit of macro and use a Rodenstock 120 macro for that. I am not an architecture photographer, but a portrait maker. The lens I use for portraiture is a Cooke PS945.

Hope this adds something to the mix. ;)

Kind regards,

Ron Marshall
10-Apr-2009, 08:30
There is no holy grail, because to some extent every camera design involves some comrpomise. You must decide which compromises to make, and you can only do so with experience. Buy a starter and one lens and get shooting. Buy used and re-sell at little or no loss if you find you don't like what you bought. Then you will discover very quickly what you prefer.

Lighter weight usually entails fewer features, less bellows draw, perhaps less rigidity.

A lens kit covering the range you mentioned would be: 65-90-135-210-300.

Frank Petronio
10-Apr-2009, 08:49
What Ron said, he is right on

Ivan J. Eberle
10-Apr-2009, 09:15
I'd second the idea that before spending thousands chasing the ne plus ultra of LF, you get a feel for the format and the workflow. Buy something reasonably cheap so you don't get too attached to the camera itself. This will help you decide what lenses you feel you truly need, which is important as final camera choice may be dictated by your selection.

For instance, no folding metal camera I know of handles architectural moves using an extreme W/A with the aplomb of monorail and bag bellows. Too, if you decide you want fast W/A's for interiors, they simply won't fit through the front lens standard of any number of old metal technical folders.

OTOH, most monorails and wooden field cams don't set up in 30 seconds as will my 60-year old Meridian 45B.

Steve Hamley
10-Apr-2009, 10:23
I have to respectfully disagree with my colleagues here. I started out over a decade ago with a Crown Graphic to decide if I wanted to shoot large format (4x5 of course) at all. Once I had decided that I did, I went straight for the Ebony SV45U based on asking the questions you are, and conversations with other photographers. I've never looked back.

So once you've committed to the format/process, go with what your research and budget tell you.

Using a used Tachihara or Korona will not help you decide if an Ebony is for you, and it sure as heck won't tell you anything about an Arca other than it takes the same format images. Using a Crown or Speed won't let you know if you like or dislike the Canham's levers. I'm not criticizing the Tachi or Korona (I've owned a Tachi and have a 8x20 Korona and like it), all I'm saying is that you can't tell much about a given camera by shooting another of a different make except if you like the format and process. Just as driving a Yugo won't help you decide between a Lexus and a Mercedes.

If you can, find photographers close by that will let you put hands on the cameras you're interested in, go to a workshop where you can see a lot of cameras, or rent one if you need to before investment. Buying a good used camera of whatever make or model you decide from a reputable dealer is never a wrong move, especially if you have the understanding that you can swap or trade if for some reason it doesn't suit you.

Cheers, Steve

Frank Petronio
10-Apr-2009, 12:08
You will also find that focal length equivalents between your small format work and your large format work will not coincide. I'm a big advocate of "one lens - one camera" but you have to know what lens to make your one and only. Try a 90 - 150 - 240 or a 90 - 210 combo after you get your feet wet to decide whether you want to go in a wide, normal, or tele direction. Especially with landscape, not many photographers shoot wide and tele shots equally as well and they develop a direction towards one end or the other.

A 20mm equivalent is really wide, almost disorientating sometimes. And the 200 - 300mm (on 35mm) doesn't really exist, at least for practical photographers.

Ron Marshall
10-Apr-2009, 13:02
What Frank said. But additionally, carrying the equipment allows one to judge the importance to them of light-weight and portability.

Using a LF camera will give one a better idea of how precise and sturdy they want it to be and what sort of movements they would like to have. Some people can judge these things from doing the research, others can't.

The best research is hands on experience.

Ken Lee
10-Apr-2009, 13:40
I suggest you start with a highly affordable used monorail like a Calumet - or other model - which provides all view camera features with no bells and whistles.

Such a camera will expose you to every possibility, albeit with limited portability. It's better to get a "compromise" camera after you know what you are sacrificing. :)

The same advice could be given for lenses: start with just one lens. That way, you'll be learning about View Cameras, how they see things, and how to see with them.

Become a beginner again.

12-Apr-2009, 20:26
I have never used an Ebony but I have a Canham DLC and an Arca Swiss F-Line Metric with Micrometric Orbix.

The Arca is larger and heavier. But it is a precision marvel. I love using it and the controls are very intuitive and easy to use. The price was breathtaking but I would never part with it.

The Canham is a made-in-the-USA (I think), lightweight, durable, flexible jack of all trades camera. The controls are fiddly and it has a longer learning curve to remember to zero out the controls and batten down the hatches before taking a picture. The detente's zero position have a slight amount of play. It has numerous levers/knobs to tighten and it is easy to forget one. You really have to have your sequence down when composing photographs on the Canham or you can blow shots. But, it is a cool camera that can also use 75 - 300+ lenses with one bellows. It is a more versatile backpacking camera. But, I still lug the Arca whenever I can.

For the money, you could buy a Canham 5x7 with 4x5 back plus a Canham 8x10 (plus a used car for transportation) or buy an Arca.

16-Apr-2009, 19:49

Arca: versatile modular camera. You can configure anything you want with it. Smooth as most metal cameras are and is one of the main draws to people who don't like wood cameras. It's also heavy for the features. When I chose an Ebony SV45U over an Arca system, it was because the Arca that did what the SV45U would do would weight around 10 pounds, and require at least two rails plus two bellows. If you configure it more simply or don't mind the weight, great choice. It's one of the highest quality cameras, but support can be spotty. I don't believe Arca has a US/english website, so learning the system can take a little more effort. A good resource is Jack Dykinga's book - he uses the Arca system extensively and describes it well - and he also uses a Wista field camera to save weight when he needs to.

Cheers, Steve

Are you refering to Jack Dykinga's book on Large Format Nature Photography?

Steve Hamley
17-Apr-2009, 06:17
Yep, that's it.

Cheers, Steve

Drew Wiley
17-Apr-2009, 10:24
If you heavily use a camera and want a metal one, just be aware of the real distinction
between materials. Cameras like Arca and Sinar are mainly die-cast alumnium, which is
a lot more durable than CNC-cut anodized aluminum like Canham uses, which keeps the cost of mfg down and is hard at the surface, but only a few microns deep. The aforementioned Swiss camera are also modular, so can be rigged for anything from very
wide angle to extremely long focal lengths. Also be aware a differences in the quality of materials used in the bellows. For twenty years I used a Sinar field camera and found it much quicker to operate than any folding camera. But when I started using
8x10 primarily, I wanted something more compact, so picked up an RW45 Ebony too,
which is very well made, and at the time seemed to be the pick of the litter for the
range of lenses I most frequently use in 4x5 (90 thru 360mm). Just don't drop a wooden camera! The Sinar survived many mishaps, and when something did break it
was easy to order replacement components.

Steve Hamley
17-Apr-2009, 13:00
Drew and Dakotah's comments peak my interest. I've owned a wooden Canham 8x10, and 4x5 and 8x10 Ebonys. "Flash" is not an adjective I would have anticipated as describing an Ebony versus a Canham, and I would have said the opposite. Ebonys are very conservatively and traditionally designed, with conventional control layout that have been used on view cameras for a century or more, and the controls themselves are conventional knobs and levers on some models' swing and shift. The wood is traditional mahogany or ebony wood, and mahogany has been used from the beginning of wooden cameras. Ebony wood is darker.

Canham cameras are quality instruments, use beautiful wood, and superbly supported. Although I dislike the lever locks and perpetually loosening fasteners, if I were looking for a 8x10 field camera that light weight was a deciding factor, the wooden Canham would still be near the top of my list (I've never owned a DLC or 4x5 wooden Canham).

I concur with Drew that a RW45 is an excellent choice for a field camera - light, versatile, and several friends have preferred them over the more expensive models. However, it appears that Ebony is no longer subsidizing the RW45 as an entry camera, and prices have risen more than for other models, making them less attractive against say, a SV45Ti.

You shouldn't select a any camera supposing it will (or might) survive being dropped. If you do and it does, that's a bonus but not something that can be counted on in any circumstance as a result of design or construction. As far as durability goes, ebony wood (not to mention titanium) is probably as good as any material in a field camera, although it will add a pound to camera weight over mahogany.

Cheers, Steve

17-Apr-2009, 13:03

One should really look long and hard at the Richard Ritter 8x10. I haven't used one, but I did have the pleasure of picking one up. It makes my Zone VI 4x5 camera feel like a brick. A very big brick.

Doug Dolde
17-Apr-2009, 13:35
My all time favorite lens for 4x5 is the Schneider Super Symmar XL 110mm. Probably followed by the APO Symmar 210mm. These two would be my first choice for a two lens kit.

For a three lens kit, I'd add that new Schneider 350mm Tele Xenar.

For a four lens kit I'd add the Schneider Super Angulon XL 90mm.

Sal Santamaura
17-Apr-2009, 13:46
#1 for Canham is that it is Made in America...This is no reason to select a camera, or any product for that matter.

I'm a citizen of the US by birth. If all aspects of competing products were equal, I'd select the US-made product over an import. However, that's a theoretical situation which almost never occurs. Something always seems to be "unequal" when comparing candidate products.

I've purchased four brand new cameras from Dick Phillips over the years because, when evaluating possible choices, they met my needs better than any others. I've also purchased two brand new Ebony cameras. Of available choices in those cases, Ebony was the best fit to my needs. Product drives all decisions. When one rewards a manufacturer, any manufacturer, for the country they're located in, competition based on product design and build quality is automatically diminshed.

Drew Wiley
17-Apr-2009, 15:55
Steve - I chose the RW45 not for the price, but for the simplified controls which are
faster to operate outdoors, and for the very durable titanium hardware. If I need fancy movements, I use the Sinar. I've seen used Canham metal cameras that looked pretty fatigued with the level of use I expect. His wood cameras are another subject. I've long coveted a Canham wood 5X7, but don't have a good enough excuse to move into yet another format. For 8x10 I use a Phillips, which is probably more stable than the Canham, though I'd prefer a little more bellows draw once in awhile. Another interesting wooden camera is the Lotus, but you don't see them very often. Haven't personally seen a Chamonix yet either. So many good choices right now, some of them
quite affordable if someone is just starting out.

20-Apr-2009, 21:56
I took the LF plunge and purchased 2 used lenses. Unfortunately I have become more confused related to camera selection.

I first thought I wanted a Canham DLC45, then an Arca Swiss Discovery, then an Arca Swiss Field, then I realized I would not have any funds left for lenses. I also looked at Ebony, Sinar and even questioned if I should look start with a 5X7.

So I think I will take another approach. What is the best easy to use, moderately lightweight and compact 4X5 or 5X7 that can be purchased used for under $1,000?

Since this question will come up related to format, the lenses I purchased should handle either 4X5 or 5X7. They are the 210mm f/5.6 APO Sironar-S and a 90mm f/4.5 Caltar-II N. Usage is landscape, nature and architecture. I won't ever move up to 8X10, and plan to stick with these two lenses for a long time.

Steve Hamley
20-Apr-2009, 22:14
I'd prefer a used Ebony RW45 at marginally more; new, the usual suspects are the Chamonix which I believe are available now, the Shen Hao and the Tachihara. It would be hard to go wrong with the Chamonix.


Cheers, Steve

22-Apr-2009, 19:00
I appreciate everyone's input. I pulled the trigger today on a 4X5 Chamonix 045n-1 Camera. It was hard to find a used camera with the same features for $875 including shipping. Kerry with Really Big Cameras had one in stock in Walnut/Titanium w/Universal Bellows. He also had a quick release plate in stock that I ordered. He went ahead and attached it to the camera before mailing everything this afternoon. He also had two copal 1 lensboards that I purchased.

With the used lenses I received today from KEH (they are in great shape), I will be ready to research film loaders once I figure out how to put the lenses on the lens boards. I will also need to find a source for film and developing. Guess I will be back on the LF resource pages as well as the forums.

I did not cause too much of a stick on the home front. The only casualty was that my wife requested I sell my pit smoker that has been sitting in the garage collecting dust. If anyone is interested take a gander at this monster. Unfortunately I can't ship it as easily as camera equipment.


Heck, I had to sell my guitar and amp to pay for my Nikkor 200mm F/2. I think I see a pattern here.:rolleyes:

Steve Hamley
22-Apr-2009, 19:05
Great news David,

If you happen to get out Great Smokies way, look me up and I'll show you around.

Cheers, Steve

22-Apr-2009, 19:29
We visited my wife's uncle there (Knoxville) once. He is a photo bug too, but I don't think that he is into LF. He has a beautiful view of the river!

Steve Hamley
22-Apr-2009, 19:33
Yep, I'm in Knoxville.

Cheers, Steve

Frank Petronio
22-Apr-2009, 19:35
10 or more used modern plastic Fidelity or Lisco 4x5 film holders, about $7 each if you're patient, $15 each if some greedy bastard hoses you.

Harrison Pup Tent film changing tent, the best compact tent, $175 or so.

Light meter of some kind, maybe your DSLR in a pinch?

A cable release.

A big air bulb blower and a camel hair brush to clean the holders.

Big Ziploc bags to keep the holders clean.

Kodak Tri-X, lots of it!

Praus Productions is one of the best mail order labs: http://www.4photolab.com/

Maybe a Rodenstock lens wrench, although you can just use a flat-blade screwdriver to twist the locking ring. You can't be careless but it's simple once you see the lenses.

Most male photographers have to invest in an expensive man purse to carry all this junk around, see the numerous threads about people agonizing over the this. I like a nice leather Berkin myself, but Hermes makes nice ones too ;-)

Or just get a beer cooler at Walmart. It will keep things cooler too.