Tom Westbrook


Feb 15, 2012

It's been a while since the last update: 8 years, in fact! Briefly, I continued to use the A-S Field through 2007, having gone to three John Sexton workshops since the last update, including a couple of trips to California to visit Yosemite & Death Valley. It was a pretty productive period until about 2007 when the digital siren coaxed me to try that out since then. I can say I gave digital an honest trial and while I find digital attractive in a number of ways, I don't find that it has improved my photographic output all that much. I come to the conclusion that I miss the slower speed, anticipation and care one brings to LF and even MF photography. I'll have to bring even more care to it given how film prices have gone through the roof and that Readyloads, Quickloads and Type 55 are officially dead (can you tell I'm not wild about loading film holders?).

Anyway, I'll be putting the D3 and the lenses up on Feebay along with the Leica M8 body. I'll likely get a good quality digital camera for snapshots & backpacking, but my DSLR days are over, I think. I'm sending the Mamiya 7ii & the A-S Field off to Precision Camera Works for CLA and my meters off to Quality Light for calibration. Once they're all back, I'll be ready to go.


I thought I should post an update on the Arca Swiss after about 2 ½ years of use. I got back last weekend from a trip partly devoted to photographing sites in the southwest US. My Arca kit, while far too heavy to take on extended backpacking trips (I usually go for a minimum of 5 days, since it's such a chore getting to the mountains from Minnesota), is great as a car camera or for day hikes. I did discover on this trip that sand is an enemy. I dropped my Readyload holder in some sand by the side of a road in Arches National Park, and I finally got it home and had to dismantle it (see this) and clean it out. I've commented before about the viscous lubricant used in the F-Line, and it is great at attracting and holding little wind-blown sand particles, so be sure not to let the camera reach the ground or leave it set up very long if it's windy in sandy/dusty environments. If you are mechanically inclined, it probably wouldn't be too hard to clean out and relubricate the parts with the lubricant (knobs, sliding parts, etc.) if it got contaminated, or just send it in to get a professional to CLA it for you. You might ask if there are better, less sticky lubricants than the one Arca uses if you do a lot of photography in dusty or sandy places.

I have noticed on the LF Forum, in a couple of recent posts from a couple of long-time Arca users who have decided to go shopping for lighter field cameras. I certainly sympathise with the desire to lighten one's camera pack/bag. The big challenge appears to be finding a light camera that is, if not as rigid as the Arca, is at least as rigid as possible. Some names mentioned are the Technica (isn't this just as heavy as the Arca?), Canham DLC, a couple of different Toyo offerings, Ebony, and a few others. See the posts & answers here:

Also, there was a thread on the LF forum where the author had his Toyo camera fall over after accidentally kicking the tripod out from under it. His camera broke. Compare that with my experience when my Arca blew over in a high wind and dropped 5 feet onto an cold asphalt parking lot surface. My Arca suffered some minor damage which was easily repaired. The Arcas are very tough cameras.

Anyway, the Arca is still going strong. No problems with it at all. Everything still works as well as it did when it was new.


It's been a while since the last update. I have had only good experiences with the camera to date. I think I've finally gotten used to using LF cameras in general and the Arca in particular, and I am far less hesitant to get it out and use it. I do still use the Mamiya 7 for some landscapes and for just walking around with, but the LF almost always gets used for architectural subjects and those where I want maximum detail. It's also the one I need if I want to use Polaroid Type 55 (an excellent film).

After a year and a half, I find the A-S F-Line Field camera reliable, quite robust and well built, having stood up to my abuses so far. I never notice any problems at all with the repair or that it was dropped from a height (see below). I have managed to create some unwanted extra pleats in the wide angle bellows, though, but that's not a big deal. All the movements are as tight as ever, too, by the way.

I highly recommend the compendium shade. I use it almost every exposure. It's very easy to take on/off (I leave the mounting bracket permanently attached to the front standard) and works well with all lenses but the 72mm SA-XL—it's 100mm front diameter is too big. I do need to get the cardboard filter holders (see the Arca-Swiss catalog [external link]), though, to make it easier to mount filters.


Received the long 50cm tapered bellows, extra rail and 6x9 compendium hood. The bellows will go with the 25cm rail extension and 300mm 'M' Nikkor lens I got back in late January from Badger. I ordered the compendium shade just because I found I needed one. I'll be adding photos of all the new Arca parts to the Arca accessories page when I get a chance.


The rumored Arca Folding Field Camera still hasn't materialized. The latest from Badger Graphic is that its due sometime during summer 2003.


Just an update to say that the camera has been operating splendidly since the last post. I didn't use it much during the summer months, since I don't find summer in Minnesota to be very inspiring. I've exposed quite a few sheets of film since September, though, and just love to use the camera.


I received the two spirit levels I ordered from Bob at Precision Camera Works. I glued one in the socket of the missing level with a bit of black silicone sealant (hope it works, it was the best I could find). Should be totally cured by this time tomorrow and ready to go for the weekend!

This first service experience went quite well. Everyone on Arca's end responded quickly and, as you can see, the issue was totally resolved with in 10 days. It's probably best to call, since I'm not sure their email is closely monitored.


I called Arca Swiss in Chicago last week and spoke to Diane Henry. She asked Bob Watkins of Precision Camera Works to call me back. He had spirit levels on hand and will send me two (about $10 each as of this writing). The spirit levels are held onto the camera with black silicone adhesive. I asked Bob about the stripped screw hole in the rear standard frame. He said I'd have to send it in so he could look to see what could be done, but he guessed that he could either re-tap the hole for a slightly larger screw or, at worst, replace the format frame. I'm going to try to retap it myself (seems like fairly soft metal) or take it to a local machinist. I'd hate to be with out this camera too long. Bob did say he could turn the repair around in a day or two, depending on how complicated it was. He also said they had a pretty complete stock of parts.

I was very satisfied with this experience—I had the parts within a few days at minimal cost. I would recommend just calling Bob directly to save time fussing with the middle woman.


I had my first mishap with the camera this afternoon. I was trying to get a good shot of some grain elevators over by the University. I set up the camera in the middle of an empty parking lot right by the elevators & waited for some good clouds. It became suddenly windy & I decided to give up and pack it in. I had just taken the 110mm lens off and turned around to pack it away, when a huge wind gust blew by & I heard behind me the horrible sound of my beautiful camera taking a 5 foot fall to the frozen asphalt! Well, to cut a long story short, I took it home and examined the damage. As a tribute to the camera, it withstood the fall remarkably well: 1) the right rear spirit level broke, 2) there are some scratches in the upper right corner of the rear standard where the level used to be, 3) the right rise/fall & focus knobs were scratched, and 4) a screw behind the now missing rear level that holds part of the standard together seems to have been knocked loose & had its threads stripped by the impact. The ground glass & Fresnel lens are still fine as is the rest of the camera. I went back out & finished off the afternoon with a couple of Polaroids of a nearby steam plant.

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