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Thread: Rotating back and ballhead, or non-rotating back and rotating head? Arca or Deardorff?

  1. #1

    Join Date
    Jun 2004

    Rotating back and ballhead, or non-rotating back and rotating head? Arca or Deardorff?

    I'm looking into getting into the 8x10 format. My subject matter is people and environments, much like Alec Soth's "Sleeping by the Mississippi project: link (look at a number of his photos). Think portraits, up to full face shots in people's homes or an environment of their choosing, and environments.

    My limited LF experience is with a 4x5 Horseman studio monorail, which was very nice. So I was looking into a Deardorff 8x10, Canham or similar (I've opened Deardorff's up, that's all). Even a used Arca, if someone has experience setting these up in the field. Image me talking to someone, getting them to agree to have their picture made, me setting camera up. Maybe a monorail camera takes way too long and is too hard to pack. I am not hiking up Mount Everest. I am on a beach, I am near a river, I am fairly near my car (1 mile). I am 34.

    Whatever I buy, I then wonder how one goes about switching from horizontal to vertical. With the Horseman, I'd flip the standards (I'm assuming the same on the Arca). Can you rotate the backs on field cameras (allowing me to use an Arca B1 head) or must you rotate the camera, with something like a Ries rotating head?

    I called Badger Graphics with these very green questions, but the 'guy who knows everything' is on vacation until next week. I tried to search for these answers, but most responses, like cookbooks, assume quite a bit of unspoken knowledge.

    Dave Carson

  2. #2
    tim atherton's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 1998

    Rotating back and ballhead, or non-rotating back and rotating head? Arca or Deardorff?

    Yes, Soth seems to be the flavour of the month...

    to answer a couple of your questions - most of the 8x10 field cameras have removable backs, so you just pop it out, turn it and pop it back in. Unless it's something really lightweight like a phillips Explorer or the LW Gowland 8x10 where the back isn't removable to cut down on weigth and size (you can cut off the extra material you need top and bottom for the verticals that way). This may also be the case on some older cameras too.

    That said, in my experience the Arca ball head is good enouigh for the ligher weight 8x10's, Phillips Compact II, Gandolfi Variant, maybe the Canham. Once you get over about 9/10lbs, while it can hold it, it gets a bit top heavy as soon as you loosen it. I good alternative is the larger gitzo low profile rationalle head

    Unless you are going to fork out for a brand new camera (such as those mentioed above), IMO a really nice one to start out with for this kind of work, and pretty bomb proof is the metal 8x10 Kodak Master Camera (lens boards can mean a bit of a search, but that aside, it's a very nice field camera). Not too heavy and pretty bomb proof. Reasonably quick to set up. leanty of bellows, but can go nice and wide too.

    Personally, I just never got on with Deardorffs....

    There are plenty of other options too.
    You'd be amazed how small the demand is for pictures of trees... - Fred Astaire to Audrey Hepburn blog

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Frisco, Texas

    Rotating back and ballhead, or non-rotating back and rotating head? Arca or Deardorff?

    Hi Dave,

    Yes, the backs on most 8X10 field cameras are reversible. It only takes a few seconds to accomplish the change from horizontal to vertical.

    I recently purchased a new Tachihara double extension 8X10 camera from Jim, at Midwest Photo Exchange ( The 8X10 Tachi seems like it would fit your needs. It is relatively light weight and inexpensive. It would be worth your while to give Jim a call (614-261-1264). He is knowledgeable and extremely helpful. You can also e-mail him at Be sure to mention that you saw the recommendation on this forum.

  4. #4

    Join Date
    Dec 1997
    Baraboo, Wisconsin

    Rotating back and ballhead, or non-rotating back and rotating head? Arca or Deardorff?

    I own an 8x10 Deardorff. I also own an Arca Swiss B1 ballhead but I wouldn't use it or any other ball head with the Deardorff which with film holder and lens weighs about 14 pounds. It would be difficult to make very fine adjustments with that much weight sitting on top of a ball head, I think the camera would be prone to excessive movement. Then again, maybe for the type work you do getting the composition in the near ball park is good enough, perhaps the kind of adjustments made with the architecture and landscape I primarily do with 8x10 aren't required. I'm sure some people use a ball head with a Deardorff or other 8x10 of comparable weight but for me it wouldn't work very well.

    I've had two Deardorffs, I think they're great cameras when they're in good condition and if you don't need to carry them long distances.
    Brian Ellis
    Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you do criticize them you'll be
    a mile away and you'll have their shoes.

  5. #5

    Rotating back and ballhead, or non-rotating back and rotating head? Arca or Deardorff?

    If you agree you wouldn't need to do fine and quick adjustments compositionally, you could probably go without a head at all. I don't use a head with my tripod, just the legs, and it's much more stable, and lighter to carry. Of course, you may have to verify your camera has the larger tripod socket; I think it's 1/4". Although it is a little comical to see me setting up; I have to hold the camera steady and step around the tripod clockwise as it goes down on the threads.

    But for portraits you have the ability to move your subject a little if need be, and you can do fine tuning with rise and fall. You may not want to get too close, since with 8x10 there's less depth of field and you don't want to get parts of people out of focus. So you could just set up first, put the person in there, and snap.

    This makes me think of the early photographers who had to clamp their subjects heads down so they wouldn't move during the time exposures.

    Anyway, good luck!

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