View Full Version : Linhof Kardan GTL vs Arca M-Line as a complete studio system

David R Munson
9-Oct-2003, 21:21
I'm slowly getting closer to settling on the camera to replace my beautiful but now-limited Linhof Kardan Bi. You may or may not remember my posting a question back when the board was still on P.N regarding LF camera systems, the emphasis being on the system as a whole, for studio work. My functional emphasis will still be on studio work. Still life, portraiture, etc. The choices have been narrowed down now, and I'm looking for some more specific feedback now.

The two models I've narrowed things down to at this point are the Linhof Kardan Master GTL and the Arca Monolith 4x5. I had considered, briefly, a Sinar P2 or X, but honestly Sinar gear has never impressed me all that much for whatever reason. Same for the Cambo Ultima. Maybe it's just the base logic behind the systems. Whatever. Both of these cameras are big, heavy, and so expensive it's scary. The supporting systems are also crazy expensive, but that's just something I'm going to accept.

The equipment I have now doesn't really enter into the decision. One could argue I should go with the Kardan GTL because I already shoot with a Linhof and therefore likely have accessories I could just use with the new camera, etc. My current inventory of Linhof-specific accessories consists of two lensboards.

What does enter into the equation are things like reliability, system capabilities, and long-term support. I'm 21 now and will likely be using whatever I buy for a pretty long time, so I'd like to think that in 15 years I'll still be able to buy accessories and parts without having to spend long hours scouring the used market. Digital support is another consideration, though seems to be only of negligable significance given the modular and interchangeable nature of LF equipment in general.

Secondary considerations include things like how easy/hard it is to take these cameras on location. Having only had the chance to handle these cameras in person briefly, I don't really know about these details. Yes, studio work will be my primary application, but I can guarantee that the camera will also be taken on location from time to time. Another secondary consideration is format conversion - if I want to shoot 5x7 or 8x10 with the same camera, how does switching bellows, format frames, etc impact the usability of the system?

If I can, I'll be handling both these cameras at PhotoPlus Expo later this month (I'm just going to assume that I'll be able to do so), and this may shed a little helpful light on the situation, but any thoughts anyone here could throw my way would be greatly appreciated. Do you own or use either of these cameras? Have you used them in the past? Have you used both of them? Thoughts one way or the other, yea or nay, would be great. Thanks much.

9-Oct-2003, 21:43
I'd look at the Arca-Swiss website for more information. No wait... they don't have a website. Hmmm....

Julio Fernandez
9-Oct-2003, 23:26
David: I had the GTL and from experience ca tell you that this beast does not like travelling. It is so extremely heavy (close to 18 pounds), that setting it up is cumbersome in the extreme. You hope that nothing will distract you while doing it so that you do not let the beast crash on the concrete. Get ready to get the heaviest head, the Linhof levelling thing is made for this brute, others seems flimsy as for example Linhof´s 3D head feels like a straw supporting the probervial camel. If the straw does not break the camel´s back, this camera will break yours. Keep it in a studio, set it on one of those pole type supports and you and your Linhof and you will live happily ever after, unless of course you opt for that Arca Swiss thing, if you can ever find her, and decipher its anatomy once you do. Yes, the Arca is as hard to find as Noah´s but perhaps someone here will guide you to where it hides. No I never have owned one of them, why, if I wanted a mechano set, I know where to get one. Before I forget, David, get something more practical like a Technikardan or Toyo, there are lots of other cameras too that will take you even beyond you may want to go without breaking your bank or your back.

Martin Patek-Strutsky
10-Oct-2003, 01:16
Asking my stomach you have narrowed down your search to the two most impressing monorails in the market.

Asking my brain you are on the wrong track. If you already know that you will work primarily in a studio and you are committed to pay a fortune for new equipment you should look for something like a Linhof 679 and a complete digital setup. For the remaining location work you could keep your Kardan-Bi.

Sorry for committing this sacrilege...

David R Munson
10-Oct-2003, 01:20
Martin, it's actually something that I've considered. However, I don't think it would be the right choice for me at the moment. I'll be able to purchase my new monorail without going into debt. I wouldn't, however, be able to purchase a $20,000+ digital back plus camera without going massively into debt. And that's not something I want to do fresh out of college. Five years down the road, maybe, but it just doesn't make sense right now, particularly if I end up spending the next two years as an assistant. Thanks for the thought, though.

Martin Patek-Strutsky
10-Oct-2003, 01:57
The GTL is of course better than the Kardan-Bi but especially if you are on a budget it is no quantum leap. In some cases it will take you 3 minutes less to make the adjustments and thats it.

I would save the money for starting your business soon and in the meantime try hard to find a good assistant job where you can borrow all the equipment you can not afford today.

Emmanuel BIGLER
10-Oct-2003, 05:01
The Arca Swiss line of products is well described on various northern-american commercial web sites, namely retail stores who do provide Arca Swiss equipment and accessories. The information is very easy to find, there is a representative in Chicago and you can place a direct phone call to one of the offices in Switzerland or in France. A copy of the current catalog is hosted on this non-commercial web site.



I've already manipulated Arca Swiss M-line cameras at the Arca Swiss International office here in Besançon. To me --I'm an amateur-- this is a dream camera with all movements being silky-smooth and self-locking. I've also manipulated a 30-year old Sinar P, and I was less impressed, but the comparison is not exactly fair due to the age of this Sinar that faithfully served a professional architecture photographer for decades ;-)

An Arca Swiss M-line is not exactly the camera you would bring in the field, but for studio and digital imaging, this is an extremely precise masterpiece of mechanical engineering. Many parts are compatible with the F-line.

James Driscoll
10-Oct-2003, 07:02
I am biased towards sinar for two reasons..

1. Having owned and used one professionally for 3 years.

2. having worked in the pro rental business before becoming a pro-photographer.

Linhofs are great...do not get me wrong and so are arcas. But as a professsional photographer, you have to take several things into account. Being able to rent the accesories you need sometimes is a big deal. Nobody in the USA rents linhof monorails or Arca's. In fact almost every rental house, doesn't even have Linhof Monorail Boards, let alone accesories. Arca...forget it.

If you ever need more rails for extension, or a reflex viewer or anything you will be out of luck with a Linhof or Arca, unless you want to pony up the dough. Plus in the world of commerical photography...getting jobs at the last minute is the norm, and you can't tell your client that you have to call Badger graphic or something and get an extension rail. With a Sinar...you call Fotocare, and have it messengered to your studio in 1/2 an hour. If you went with something like Sinar...you have tremendous rental and store support, as well as a good rep (who will come to your studio at the drop of a hat) and good repair support all over the country. From NYC to Dallas, to LA, to Georgia....you can rent Sinar equipment.

I feel if you have a TREMENDOUS budget, and are willing to buy everything you need...than go with the Linhof or thr Arca. But remember camera equipment is the least of your problems in starting a business...you still have to budget lots of coin for promoting yourself, lighting, and studio fees.

If your still set on Linhof, Lens and Repro has a GTL 4x5 for under $2000.

J. Hildebrand
10-Oct-2003, 08:24

the Master GTL is a very good choice for studio work. You may carry (or better transport) it in a relatively flat Linhof-case (ca. 8") which I own, but it is still heavy. I also own the 5x7 conversion kit which can be exchanged quickly and easily with the standard 4x5 back. There is also a 8x10 conversion kit but it is outragiously expensive, costs almost as much as the complete 8x10 Master GTL. So for 8x10 I use a Kardan GT which is also a very recommendable camera, off course without freely adjustable asymmetrical (floating axis) swings and tilts on the rear standard.

For outdoor work I would keep the Kardan Bi (as I do) for this might be the best monorail to transport (exept Technikardan which has not all the same movements). You can exchange back, screen, fresnel, bellows and lensboards with the GTL.

By the way Martin is right: There is nothing a Master GTL can which Your Kardan Bi can´t. It is just easier and quicker with the GTL.

Before I bought my GTL I had also an eye on a used (older) Arca Monolith. It had not all movements I wanted (if memory serves: no central tilt for rear standard), so I decided against it. I don´t know the now sold version of the camera and I don´t think there are many monoliths to be found in Germany.

Support for Linhof is very good in Germany but can sometimes take time.

The GTL is not a mainstream camera like Sinar P or F, even in Germany. For digital work they might be overkill so You may get one for decent price overhere as I did.

Good luck for Your choice!

Ted Harris
10-Oct-2003, 08:35

Nothing at all wrong with your choices but I would like to know why you eliminated the Horseman LX from your considerations.

I don’t know enough about the Arca to make any further contribution beyond noting that finding small pieces for an Arca system seem to be a bit difficult in the US at least more difficult than for a number of other systems. I agree with you on the Sinar, I used one for years and never felt it was quite as robust as the Linhof it replaced.

I’m not suggesting Horseman is a better system than Linhof but, IMHO, they are equal and you should take a look at Horseman as well. The Horseman system does everything (or almost everything) the Linhof does and does it almost as well. If you operate the two systems side-by-side you will likely see the differences in the Linhof and prefer it but otherwise the Horseman is a fine instrument. If price does come into your considerations that is another reason to think about the Horseman system. If the initial outlay is not a consideration then don’t take price into consideration since the differences are not substantial over the life of the system.

Finally, it comes down to support. I believe you will get excellent support from either HP Marketing or Schneider and their dealer networks. It is simply personal choice. I use the Horseman system for two reasons: 1) at the time I needed a new system I already had a reasonable investment in Sinar ‘stuff’ and, 2) …. This is the real important one … I accepted a Horseman system as payment of a debt that I otherwise would have had to writeoff. Don’t get me wrong, I find the Horseman a delight to use and as fully functional as I will ever want or need in the studio. However, if I were starting from scratch and money was no object I would go with the Linhof.

Frank Petronio
10-Oct-2003, 10:19
I love nice gear - especially Linhof and Arca - as much as anybody. But if I were starting out, and wasn't filthy rich to begin with, I would stick to less expensive cameras like your current Linhof Bi, Arca F-Metric, Sinar F2s, etc. If you're doing jobs that require 4x5 film or a digital scanning back, the few minutes you save with a fully geared studio camera are miniscule compared to the entire process. After all, if you were doing things "quick and dirty" you'd be using a digital SLR or medium format. Put the savings into marketing yourself - you can never do enough marketing. Many photographers have gone out of business by getting gear crazy instead of making sales. I don't know of a single photographer who has beaten out a competitor because he had a Linhof GTL instead of a lowly Toyo or Sinar. One guy I knew in Rochester had almost every focal length of Leica, Hasselblad and Rodenstock lenses. Now he has none and sells real estate. I bet if you learned what beat up cameras Irving Penn, Craig Cutler and Pete McArthur use you'd be shocked... Best of luck - if you get a GTL or Monolith they are beauties...

Ellis Vener
10-Oct-2003, 12:12
when you are at the Arca-Swiss booth take a hard look at the Arca-Swiss F cameras, particularly the Metric orthe FC. I've been doing the bulk of my loaction and studio work with an Arca-Swiss F-line for several years now andas I found it to be the best combination of expandability, convertability, stability, compatability, weight, size & rigidness for both studio & location work. my previous camera was a Sinar C (rear standard of a Sinar P + front standard of a Sinar F) and that was getting too heavy to lug around on location by myself. virtually all of the accessories boards and bellows for the Arca-Swiss F also fit the M camera.

David R Munson
10-Oct-2003, 13:49
Thanks for all the great responses already. This is why I love this forum.

To address some of your questions/comments...

To Mr Driscoll - You make a very good point regarding availability of rental gear. I suppose I haven't put much thought into the importance of this, up to now. I can see how having equipment readily available at a moment's notice could be critical in certain circumstances. But I still have to wonder - is this alone really worth going with a system you're not as comfortable with?

My reason for wanting to move away from my current 4x5 stems mainly from the difficulty in trying to find accessories. Digging up accessories like extra standards or extension rails for the Kardan Bi, while possible if you're motivated enough, is far from easy and the prices these things seem to fetch give me the feeling I'd be better off investing in a currently-supported system. And for still life work, I'd like to have a system that is yaw-free. This has been a point of frustration for me on multiple occasions. I'm aware that I can turn the camera on its side and deal with it that way, but this is hardly an ideal long-term solution.

Mr Harris - the Horseman cameras are indeed quite capable. Price is certainly a consideration, though as I'm trying to make a purchase worthy of the long-term, I'd prefer that it not be the deciding factor in the end. I'll give them a second look.

Ellis - I'll play around with the F-series Arcas at PhotoPlus this year and see how I like them.

Finally, I fully realize that, as anything else, these are all just tools and ultimately they do the same thing, essentially equally well. Most of my recent work has been done with an absolute beater of a Mamiya 645 with a scratched 80/1.9 and the results are excellent. It's all what you do with what you've got. All the same, though, sometimes certain pieces of equipment just fit you better than others, and that can make all the difference in the world when you're pulling out your hair over a still life composition. I've already found that Toyos, Hasselblads, and to some extent Sinars just don't fit me. Linhofs do, Nikons do, and I'm inclined to think that Arca gear does as well, though admittedly my hands-on experience with it is limited. I just want to make sure I make the right choice with this camera. I spent over a year researching strobes before I bought my Profoto gear this past spring and it paid off well - the system suits me perfectly. If I can do that again with the new 4x5, life will be good.

Thanks again for all the excellent feedback.