04 Nov Arca Swiss M Line Two
I’ve been working with Arca Swiss’ newest camera for about three months now and I’ve got to say, I’m pretty damn enamored with this thing! I’ve gotten a chance to use most of the major manufacturer’s cameras over the years… Sinar, Horseman, Linhoff, and Toyo but when I decided to buy my first 4×5 some 15 years ago, it was the Arca Swiss F Line that I settled on. The F Line is a lightweight, perfectly ergonomic camera and it served me quite well for most of my career. When it came time to dispense with film and move over to shooting with a digital back, though, it became clear that my well worn F Line was not going to be ideal.
A high end digital back is a very demanding mistress. Any slop in the camera’s movements will make achieving sharp images a most frustrating endeavor. While tilts and swings can still be helpful in getting the most out of the new digital lenses, you definitely want to start from a base that is as true and square as possible. Also, the diminutive size of the medium format sensors (compared to 4×5 film) creates a need for geared movements, if one seeks exacting composition. The sensor size also means that architectural shooters are having to employ far wider lenses than they ever carried to accomplish the same fields of view. This last point is a killer. Very few existing view cameras can actually get the standards close enough together to focus anything wider than a 47mm. With all of these requirements, it’s little wonder that a lot of shooters have turned to the “plate” cameras offered by Cambo, Alpa, Sinar and Arca. Personally, I’ll always be a view camera kind of guy and the plate cameras just don’t offer the same versatility or long lens capability.
It looked like I was going to have to wait for one of the manufacturers to step up and design a ground up digital view camera from scratch. As it turns out, Arca Swiss didn’t have to. Their exisiting M Line 69 already solved most of the problems with digital shooting with it’s decades old design. The thing was rock solid, fully geared and any lens you put on the front could actually be racked far enough back to touch the ground glass, focusing wide lenses was NOT going to be a problem. The price for having fully geared movements on both standards, though, was weight. At 9 1/4 pounds, this was not going to be a viable location camera. It turns out though, that the Arca designers were busy last year redesigning the M Line to become THE digital view camera… even more precise, lighter in weight and a good amount less expensive. When the M Line Two was announced I became very excited.
The new camera is just under 4 1/2 pounds, with exquisitely geared movements and retails for around $4500US. The front standard carries only the swing and the Orbix base tilt while the rear does all the shifts and rise (70mm for both). By separating the movements, Arca has been able to drop a lot of weight while increasing the precision of the design… if the back can’t swing it’s just that much more likely to be square to the front.
With my P65+’s roughly 54mm x 40.5mm sensor I don’t often need to shoot any wider than 35mm, but I’m sure that the widest lenses on the market, Rodenstock’s 23mm and Schneider’s 24mm will give the Arca no problems. In one of my photos below, you may be able to see that the rear flange of my 35mm lens can actually extend beyond the opening of the rear standard.
I should also mention that the camera can be purchased as a DSLR solution. I have added this accessory to my kit, which allows me to remove the rear format carrier and replace it with my Nikon D3. The depth of the DSLR cavities prohibit using some of the wider lenses, but I love having all of my equipment fully integrated.
The light weight of the M Line 2 makes it a very usable field camera, while the gearing guarantees extreme precision with today’s high end backs. I prefer to break down my view cameras for travel and I can fit the Arca, 6 lenses, sliding back and accesories into a Pelican case that weighs in at just under 28 lbs.
Some recent shots from our trip up to Michigan with Dom from Wheeler Kearns.
The keen eyed amongst you will notice that I went with Kapture Group’s sliding back. While I think the Arca Rotaslide is beautifully designed and more convenient to work with, I like the smaller size of the Kapture Group slider and it’s ability to mount a Hasselblad viewer (mine’s for an SWC).