Doing slit scan photography has thrust me back into the world of large-format picture taking, a world that I once knew well. It’s also forced me to confront the pleasures and pains of using a scanning back, but that’s a discussion for another post. Some aspects of large-format photography haven’t changed much over the years, but there have been improvements. I’d like to discuss some of my favorites. Many apply to medium and small format work as well.
I love the Really Right Stuff carbon fiber tripods. I’d been a Gitzo guy for a long time, using their legs with heads from RRS, Arca, and others, but I recently bought a set of the large RRS carbon fiber legs, and I may never buy Gitzo sticks again. The RRS legs have a larger diameter, though they are no heavier. This makes them easier to tighten and loosen, and it also means that the locks, having a greater surface area, don’t need to be tightened down near as far to hold securely. The quality of construction is several notches above Gitzo’s, making using the tripod a pleasure. I have noticed that Gitzo tripods made in the last 10 or 15 years don’t seem to suffer abuse so stoically as the old ones; the RRS tripods look like they are built to last.
The RRS quick release clamping levers are also making my life easier. They open wide, so it’s easy to drop the camera straight down into the clamp. They close positively and with not much effort. When you have a heavy 4 x 5 in one hand, you don’t want to be fussing around trying to get it clamped onto the tripod; the RRS quick release clamps make that job quick and simple. There is no lock, however. If something were to catch on the end of the clamp lever, it would be easy to flip it to the unlocked position. If that happened, you would probably need an expensive repair, and you would be done making pictures for the day.
The Arca Swiss “cube” is to a regular ball head what a Sinar P is to a Sinar F. If that makes no sense to you, here’s an explanation. A regular ball head lets you freely move the camera into most desired positions, and quickly and firmly lock it into that position. If you want to change where the camera is pointing by a little bit, you unlock the ball and start all over. The Arca cube has beautifully machined gearing that lets you precisely make both small and large adjustments. It does this in an assembly that’s about the size and weight of a regular ball head. It’s not as fast as a regular ball head, but it’s much more precise. The settings are calibrated so that you can return to a previous one. It has a few drawbacks. It’s priced like most Arca Swiss products, that is to say jaw-droppingly expensive. The quick-release clamp doesn’t open as wide as it should, and the safety releases are fingernail breakers. Then there’s the Arca Swiss service protocol, which reportedly is best characterized by the words “benign neglect”. I don’t have any personal experience: I’ve owned 6×7, 4×5, and 8×10 Arca Swiss cameras, and have never had any reason to ask for service.
More to come, as well as some of my large-format gripes.
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