View Full Version : All-round LF camera for digital use?

22-Jul-2010, 09:06

It's my first message so first of all I'd like to say hi to everyone.

I've been considering switching to large format for quite a time now. I'm shooting a MF camera with P45+ back. I need a versatile system for my digital back, with movements for product and architecture photography. I'd prefer to stay with one system- for both products and architecture, so I'm in pursue of a versatile LF camera, mainly because of economic reasosons). I would be shooting with P45+ only (later on, maybe P65+), no film work. And the big question is, what system should I choose? I've been considering few different systems and I'll sum up my findings so far (feel free to correct me if I'm wrong):

(What I would definitely need is a tilt with an edge for experimenting (possibly large +/- deg tilt span) and good and easy stitching capability.)

What I've found out:

Alpa 12 XY - probably would be great for architecture, but the most tilt I can get from it is +/- 12 degree with an adapter. It would limit me to short barrel lenses if I wanted to focus in infinity. I know I can use extension tubes for macro (I will be doing some watches and maybe jewelry), but still I think it wouldn't be efficient in product photography because of limited tilt. No sliding back would pose a problem too, but I can live with that.

Arca swiss RM3D + M line 2 - great for architecture, it has stitching capability, superior focussing system. The big question is: can I use the same lenses for RM3D and Arca Swiss M Line? I thought that the lenses have to be specially calibrated for use with RM3D which would make them unusable on different camera, but Chris Barrett in his RM3D review mentions the interchangability of the lenses with his Arca Swiss M line 2.
I'm leaning towards this solution: RM3D + M line 2 for product photography. Another question here: M line 2 has shift in the back standard and tilt in the front standard. Sorry for a beginner question, but what does having tilt only in front standard mean in practice?

Linhof M697CS - I heard that it is a great system but focussing may be tricky. It has an advantage of built-in gear mount, so no head is neccessary.

Sinar P3- no feedback on this camera, other than troublesome focussing (anyone concurs?)

I would be thankful for all your opinions, especially if you could compare the systems, their pros and cons and trouble which I can't foresee as I haven't been shooting LF so far.


22-Jul-2010, 09:51
The smaller the format, the shorter the lens. The shorter the lens, the less tilt you will use to achieve any given effect. The less tilt range you use for routine work, the more precisely the tilt movement must be to keep from driving yourself nuts.

That applies to focusing, too. The shorter the lens, the less the lens moves throughout the focusing range. The less it moves, the more precise and fine the focusing control must be to make the camera reasonably easy to use. Really short lenses (say, 35mm and shorter) are difficult to focus with any rack-and-pinion focusing system, and benefit from a helical focusing mount. But those lenses are probably too short to support much movement for stitching without running out of coverage. So, if you intent is to make stitched images of 4x5 size or thereabouts, you'll probably not be using shorter lenses than 47mm. I'm able to focus that lens accurately and easily using a Sinar F with rack-and-pinion geared focusing.

I'm not personally familiar with any of these four cameras, but I would lean towards the view camera designs (the Arca-Swiss, Linhof, and Sinar) rather than the box camera design such as the Alpa, Cambo Wide, and others. The box designs only have movements on the front, and many don't have tilt and swing movements at all. The view-camera design would be much more intuitive for me.

If in your shoes but not intending to stitch, I would probably stick with a medium-format camera in the first place, say, something like the Hasselblad Arc-Body. The requirement to support stitching makes those choices unappealing to me. The cameras that provide only front shift will require you to move the camera and then shift the lens back into position for stitching, and that seems to me like it would be tedious at best.

Thus, you will probably prefer to use back rise, fall, and shifts for stitching--the lens needs to stay in the same spot to keep from changing the perspective on the scene and doing so will keep you from having to move the camera. Geared movements for back shifts will be a great convenience, and all of your view-camera choices provide that.

Back tilts are useful when perspective correction is not important but lens coverage is limited, or when perspective correction is important but the rail of the camera needs to be pointed up or down to get the image. Generally, though, I would use the back for perspective correction and the front for focus-plane management when doing stitching, just to keep things simple. A camera with base tilts but with shift, rise, and fall movements above the tilt axis can be shifted without changing focus even when tilted. Avoiding that problem is part of why I would try to keep the back vertical on the camera rail or bed.

Hopefully, that will help you think through the features of the cameras and help you come to a decision.

Rick "no stranger to trying to get movements on medium-format cameras" Denney

Emmanuel BIGLER
22-Jul-2010, 10:35
Hello from France !

All-round LF camera for digital use?
You mean: All-Round LF CAmera ? ;)

Arca swiss RM3D + M line 2 - .... The big question is: can I use the same lenses for RM3D and Arca Swiss M Line?

Yes, of course you can re-mount any lens calibrated for the Rm3d or the RL3d on any Arca Swiss monorail camera.
There is an adaptor from the Rm3d bayonet mount to the classical monorail boards. I do not remember if the adaptor fits the 110 or the 141 boards, I think it fits the smaller 110 boards (to be checked) and this does make sense to combine the Rm3d with the 6x9 monorail parts (see below).

Calibration means that a very precise infinity stop is defined for each lens, taking into account individual variation in the optical and mechanical specifications. Hence when the lens is mounted on the Rm3D or RL3d, when the helical is at the infinity stop, you are guaranteed that you are in the infinity-focus position without looking at the ground glass. This is very important for the new generation of digital wide-angle lenses.

When remounting the calibrated lens on a monorail, you loose the fine helical which is built in the Rm3d's or RL3d's camera body and loose the infinity stops like for any conventional monorail camera. But the lens is, of course, as useable as any other lens provided that your magnification factor and related bellows draws (ruled by the laws of geometrical optics) allows you to get a sharp image !

The Monolith monorail camera allows you to focus most of the shortest digital lenses on a flat lensboard. Check precisely because Schneider and Rodenstock have recently introduced new lenses of very short focal lengths.

You even have two possibilities to extend the bellows draw of a Rm3D or RL3d.
First possibility as explained above is to remount the lens on a separate monorail camera.
But there is another possibillty which is very interesting for product shots and macro work, you keep the lens on the Rm3d/RL3d and keep the ability to use the helical, but you mount the whole camera on a rail. Underneath the Rm3d/RL3d you have a dovetail designed for the Arca Swiss rail.
You simply add an accessory bellows behind the camera and you focus with an accessory function carrier and rear standard on the rail. For the Rm3d, those accessories are the 6x9 accessories in 110 mm square size.
You mount the digital back or the film back on the rear standard, and you focus classically on the ground glass since you can slide either the camera body or the rear function carrier without any stop. You can use the front helical for very fine focusing adjustments if needed, but in this situation you've lost the infinity stop.
With long lens-to-film distances, say : above 50 mm, there is no real difficulty in finding the proper focus on a ground glass like for the 6x9 monorail.
If you use a 70 mm lens for macro shots, your total bellows draw will be somewhere around 100 mm so it is exactly like focusing a 6x9 camera with a standard lens.
And of course for studio work, if your digital back can operate in the live-video mode, you can check the composition and focus on your computer screen.
But the interest of the helical mount, working outdoors or for architecture shots, is that the infinity stop being guaranteed, you have no need to tether the camera to a laptop for checking the focus.

22-Jul-2010, 11:22
Rick and Emmanuel, thanks for the messages.

Rick: You can have rear movements with ALPA 12 XY- there's an adapter for tripod mount which holds the lens, not the camera board. This way you move the board with the back without changin the position of the lens. Here's a pic:


As I mentioned earlier, I'm not sure about RM3D but I think I've seen an adapter mount for the same purpose. The problem with this solution is that you can't combine rear movements with front movements when stitching, a point for bellows view camera. And about perspective change caused by front movement making stitching more complicated- duh.. that was pretty obvious..silly me :)

Emmanuel: Yes, I've just dig into the information that I can use RM3D as a front standard. Wow! As I wrote earlier, I'm not sure if there is an alternative mounting option so that you fix the lens to the tripod. Could you possibly confirm it? Live view on any current digital back is a frustrating experience and if manufacturers don't switch to CMOS (and they wont), there is no hope of getting an acceptable live view in forseeable future. Fortunately there are sliding adapters in Arca Swiss system.

23-Jul-2010, 17:19
Any other suggestions? Any opinions on Linhof M679CS focussing / M679CS as a versatile all-round camera?

I'd love to hear from someone using Arca Swiss M Line 2 for product photography- workflow, focussing ease, overal impression.

Bill L.
23-Jul-2010, 17:55
You might wish to ask over at the medium format forum at Luminous Landscape; there are at least several photographers who hang out there who shoot MFDBs on Arca and Alpa cameras.


Gordon Moat
31-Jul-2010, 14:28
Any other suggestions? Any opinions on Linhof M679CS focussing / M679CS as a versatile all-round camera?

I'd love to hear from someone using Arca Swiss M Line 2 for product photography- workflow, focussing ease, overal impression.

I had one friend of mine doing product photography with one of these. He gave it up because it slowed him down too much with set-up changes. Overall he felt it was a very nice system, but he needed something that allowed a higher volume of work.

I have another friend using a Cambo Wide for architecture, and it has been working very well for him. Even with that recommendation, I would likely steer more towards the Arca Swiss solutions, or maybe the newest Linhof Techno (http://www.linhof.de/news-1_e.html) compact.

Less obvious choices include the Gottschalt (http://www.gottschalt.de/de/kameras.html) and Silvestri (http://silvestricamera.com). However, I would probably look at ALPA prior to either of those. Design and innovation are high with these, but other than Silvestri choices these are mostly just shift cameras.


Gordon Moat Photography (http://www.gordonmoat.com)

peter ramm
31-Jul-2010, 17:44
I am using the Alpa Max and TC, and AS Monolith 6x9 all with a Hasselblad 50MP back. I had a 679cs for a couple of weeks. Don't do the type of shots that you are proposing but I can give general impressions.

Any view camera is a real pain with any lens shorter than about 50mm. Really hard to focus. Focus is only part of the problem. The big issue is alignment. Only the smallest and best view cameras have any real hope of holding things precisely enough for six micron pixels and even they are not at the precision level of the Alpa. Cameras offers flexible movements OR precise detector alignment. Not both. Expect to touch up the corners with movements on a digital view camera.

When I am using an Alpa, I always wish I had integral tilt/swing (I do have the tilt adapter but rarely bother to use it) and my Rollei shutters. When I am using the AS I always wish I was using the Alpa because of the d..mn Rollei shutters and because it is such a pig to move around. Although it would seem that I am always miserable that is not the case. The AS is a studio system and I should not expect the pig to fly. In other words, these are great systems but I am weak.

Reason I returned the 679 was that the shift capability is rudimentary at best. The AS shifts just fine with the Rotaslide back. On the other hand, shifting a tilted and swung camera is only sometimes successful - in my hands at least. I find myself using the Alpa when stitching is a primary need.

For tabletop work, the 679 is about the nicest camera out there becuase it appears to be designed for that. I found it more difficult than the AS for other apps, as it insists you use it according to its particular view of the world. The Monolith is more flexible so that is what I stayed with.

I second the advice to go over to LuLa or GetDPI. Lots there. What has my crank turning at the moment is a Kodak 2D coming in shortly, and a Dagor Berlin on my shelf. Looking forward to being humbled.

Steve M Hostetter
1-Aug-2010, 21:28
I 'd look for a scanning back ,,, they have one out now that scans in 1 sec.

Kirk Gittings
1-Aug-2010, 23:40
as far as architecture goes.....look for Christopher Barrett's posts on Luminous Landscape. besides being one of the top architectural photographers in the country, he is a huge Arca affection-ado. Hedrich-Blessing (where Chris worked for 18 years) also uses only the 6x9 Arca's with P45+ backs.

2-Aug-2010, 17:50
Thank you so much for your respones!
I'm attracted by Arca Combo, namely Arca Swiss M Line 2 with RM3D/RL3D (probably the former). The combo seems to be near perfect!
I've seen Christopher Barrett's both work and equipment overviews and it justifies the choice of Arca even more. Are there any limitations / issues with RM3D / M line 2 I should be aware of? As a reminder- it would be used with P45+, later on probably with P65+.