| Arca Swiss M Line 2 Camera
Review of the Arca Swiss medium format view camera for digital backs and slrs.
Arca Swiss M Line 2, M-Line 2, Mf2
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Arca Swiss M Line Two

Arca Swiss M Line Two

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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.

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Some recent shots from our trip up to Michigan with Dom from Wheeler Kearns.

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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).

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31 Comments
  • Don Libby
    Posted at 20:12h, 04 November

    Chris – Just dropped by – great review on a great system.

    Don

  • archivue
    Posted at 17:43h, 05 November

    hi,
    with the 35, do you need the computer outside for checking the focus, or are you 100% shure without it ?

  • chris
    Posted at 19:14h, 05 November

    I pretty much do every shot tethered to the laptop. I believe I could shoot without and still be sharper than 4×5 film was, but the 100% view on a 17″ screen insures that I’m getting the most out of my system.

  • issa farhoud
    Posted at 09:54h, 12 November

    Hi Chris

    Do you feel that you miss front rise/fall and shit and rear swing or tilt. I am comparing this to the std M-line.
    Can you describe what the functionality of each knob

    Regards

  • chris
    Posted at 17:07h, 12 November

    I never used swing / tilt on the rear and there seems to be enough movement to cover any application I’ve come up against. A standard M Line should work quite nicely too, but at twice the weight!

  • issa farhoud
    Posted at 11:25h, 13 November

    Thanks Chris

    Do you mind me asking, how long is the rail, is ist 25cm?

  • chris
    Posted at 13:09h, 16 November

    It is a 25cm rail, which is just long enough to focus a 135mm lens. I’m considering picking up the 30cm telescoping rail, but I so rarely shoot longer than a 90.

    -C

  • Oliver
    Posted at 09:08h, 18 November

    Hello,

    where exactly lies the difference between using a (for example) F-metric with a digital back and using the M-Line two mf with an digital back (except the wight reduction)?

    thnak you
    -Oliver

  • chris
    Posted at 09:53h, 18 November

    Oliver,
    Actually the F Metric and M Line 2 are similar in weight. The M Line, though, is a much more robust platform, more rigid and I suspect more likely to stay square. Also the M has a geared swing where the F Metric uses a manual swing and may or may not have the Orbix tilt. I like the F Metric, but I think the M is a better camera overall.

    -C

  • Michael
    Posted at 16:12h, 19 November

    Hi Chris,
    Are you able to re-mount existing lenses onto an Arca Swiss board and able to obtain accurate focus on your digital back? or did the factory supply all your lenses?
    Have you encountered any mounting or focusing problems with lenses wider than 28mm?
    I’m not familiar with the RotaSlide so what do you mean its more convenient than the Kapture Group back?
    Do you need the Extra Wide angle bag bellows for the 28 and 23mm lenses?
    Who was your dealer for this camera? as I’m based in NZ.

    Thank You
    Michael

  • chris
    Posted at 16:24h, 19 November

    Michael,

    The rotaslide actually has a rotating mount that you can just swivel by hand. With the Kapture Group sliding back if you want to switch from a horizontal to a vertical composition, you have to remove the digital back from the slider and reinsert it at 90 deg to the previous position. The Rotaslide allows you to reorient the composition without the possibility of getting dust on the sensor.

    All of my lenses were already on boards, as I was previously using an Arca 69 F Line. There was no need to remount them. I use a 7mm recessed board for the 35mm to allow it to focus on the sliding back. You do need to use the super wide bellows to focus the wide lenses, but that bellows will also go as long as a 135mm lens, so it may be the only bellows you need. I haven’t tried lenses wider than 35mm as they do not cover my P65+. I anxiously await Schneider’s new 28mm which is rumored to have an image circle of 90mm.

    I’d contact Diane at Arca to find out where to order from… arcaswiss@aol.com.

  • Larry T
    Posted at 04:40h, 09 December

    I’m a dslr shooter and not yet familar with full movement functions, but my question concerns how could the camera be recomposed for portrait operation? By apperance the dslr camera mounts landscape format only.
    Larry

  • chris
    Posted at 07:39h, 09 December

    Larry.
    While Arca doesn’t make an L-Mount bracket, you could use a Really Right Stuff bracket to get you to portrait.

    http://reallyrightstuff.com/QR/05.html

    This is also interesting…

    http://www.skgrimes.com/thisweek/8-28-06/index.htm

  • rinze
    Posted at 15:10h, 13 December

    wow your work is just amazing!

    i was thinking about getting your camera with a 23mm lens and a nikon d3x adaptor do you think that will work?

  • chris
    Posted at 15:52h, 13 December

    Thanks for the compliment. I don’t believe that 23HR, even though it’s retrofocus is going to give you enough distance to focus on the Nikon sensor. Schneider has a new 28mm in the works, and I do believe it’s going to work. I plan to purchase it for use with my P65+ anyway and will report on how it works with the Nikon.

  • Anonymous
    Posted at 09:15h, 16 December

    p65+ you the man!

    def keep me posted

  • nick
    Posted at 06:50h, 18 January

    Great looking camera. I had a play with it and the Rm3d at arca before xmas. Something I didn’t notice but which seems apparent in your images is that the zero point of the front and rear standards are no longer in the “middle” of the camera. Although this isn’t a huge issue for most work, it does affect some of my work to an extent where I don’t think I can purchase this new one as an upgrade. The reason being I won’t be able to shoot panoramic images around the nodal point of the lens (as it is unable to shift) and also won’t be able to position the lens at the centre of the tripod (for planning photography).

  • chris
    Posted at 07:48h, 18 January

    You’re correct on the rotation issue, Nick. I wonder if the previous iterations of the M Line have a centered lens? Fortunately for me this has no impact on my work. If I were doing what you are, I’d probably go for an Rm3d and a RRS pano head.

  • Jonathan
    Posted at 10:17h, 13 February

    Chris,

    Looks like you’re using the 410 gear head. Do you find that 11lbs provides enough stability? Is your tripod also 11lb max?

  • chris
    Posted at 21:18h, 13 February

    Jonathan,
    I find the 410 to work pretty well. I frequently composite multiple exposures and even though using a sliding back, registration is never more than a few pixels off. I think if I skipped the sliding back, I would regularly get perfect registration, so I think the 410 is up to the task. I am considering an Arca Cube, though but need to get my hands on one to try out before I can justify its cost.

    My Gitzo GT3541LS is claimed to support 40 lbs. Sure, the old Studex series were more rigid, but after carrying 4×5’s over my shoulder for 15 years, I want as light a rig as I can manage.

    Best,
    Chris

  • Doug Dolde
    Posted at 16:22h, 15 March

    Can you use any Hasselblad viewfinder with the Kapture Group sliding back? I’m wondering if a PME45 or PME90 would work.

  • peegee
    Posted at 10:07h, 19 March

    I see its a manfrotto 410 junior gear head, but whats the sliding clamp/bracket.
    not clear what comes with the M2 and what is separate?

    thanks for useful info. am thinking of buying an M2…

  • Russ Nelson
    Posted at 07:44h, 04 June

    Hello Chris:

    I am an independent Sales Agent for Peter Biasotti in the Minnesota and Iowa areas and am looking forward to coming down to ProGear for your presentation.

    I have been selling the Arca-Swiss M-Monolith, in fact it is the only modle I have sold, as it is so well built. I have not experienced the Rmd3 or the newer M2 and am anxious to see them in person.

    The Kapture Group’s sliding back is also something Ihave sold in the past. One question I do have is: do you have any problems with this sliding back being quite a bit thicker than the Arca-Swiss version in limiting your infinity focusing with shorter focal length view camera lenses? I have found this to be a factor with the M-Monolith even when using their single pleated extreme wide angle bellows.

    Warmest regards,

    Russ Nelson.

  • Martin D
    Posted at 09:01h, 22 July

    Hello Chris,

    Thanks for the excellent review, and some great photography.

    Can I bother you with a few quick questions?:

    Am I right in thinking that function carriers from the Arca Swiss M-Monolith 6×9 are interchangeable with the M-Line Two’s function carriers?

    I.e. Could I use the M-Line Two’s DSLR ‘format carrier’ on the Monolith’s rear function carrier in order to get full tilt + swing on the rear carrier (maybe using the M-Line Two’s front carrier to save weight, since I’m not too bothered about rise/shift on the front)? (I’m currently using a D3X body or MF film, but will probably invest in a MF digital back in a year or two.)

    Do you know which of the Rodenstock HR Digaron-W range of lenses (40, 50, 70 and 90mm) have sufficient back clearance to be usable with a Nikon D3/D3X body on the M-Line Two (and presumably also on the Monolith)?

    Many thanks and best regards,
    Martin.

  • chris
    Posted at 07:21h, 12 August

    It’s been a while since I’ve been back to this thread and I can’t remember if I answered the last questions via email or not, so…..

    Russ, if I didn’t answer this at the seminar… no problem focusing a 35mm on the Sliding backs, both Rotaslide and KG. I’m pretty sure anything wider than that will only work with the groundglass (removing the slider).

    Martin, I don’t see why you couldn’t use a standard M carrier on the back, the rails and format frame are compatible. I believe the 70mm is the widest you can focus on the DSLR. Schneider’s retrofcous 28mm is rumored to work, tho.

    HTH,

    CB

  • Martin D
    Posted at 12:49h, 19 August

    Thanks, Chris – much appreciated.

    I think I might go down this route when Arca are back from their summer vacation. I’ll report back with the results, in case it’s of interest to any your readers.

  • Edmund
    Posted at 14:00h, 21 August

    Thanks Cristopher

    Great article

    I use the 69 arca which is fine but yours looks the bomb

    ESP like the view finder

    The dark cloth is such a bore

    Best

    Edmund

  • issa
    Posted at 11:33h, 13 November

    Chris

    not sure if you graduated nd filters on this camera, do you have enough cleareance in the front as the base of the orbix is few enoughs ahead of the fron standard.

    thks

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  • Shawn Koppenhoefer
    Posted at 07:50h, 13 February

    Greetings, and tx for your article & taking time to respond to comments (wow).

    Russ, Larry, and Martin all appear to be Nikon DSLR interested & experienced… I’m just a newbie to this Arca Swiss M2 thing. Getting set up to use my D700 for macros of jewelery and also silverware stamps (<1mm).

    Do i summarize correctly that what I should get is a 70mm HR Digaron-W AND the adapter from skgrimes site? or should i go right to the 90mm? What's the low-down on the Rodenstock 120mm/5.6 Apo-macro-Sironar selling for 1000pounds.

    If i want to go the M-Line Two way… with my D700, what's my cheapest entry-ticket/configuation (I just blew my budget on the body and the 85/1.4G upgrading my aging D200.).

    tx

  • Rod Klukas
    Posted at 08:48h, 14 March

    Shawn,
    The DSLR2 for Nikon is $4278.00 and includes L bracket and everything needed except a lens 110 lens board and lens. The 70mm is the shortest you can use with Nikon as they have a deeper throat than Canon. The Schneider 28mm 5.6 is supposed to solve this when it is worked out in the next few months.
    Rod Klukas
    USrepresentative
    Arca-Swiss