Sunday, December 20, 2009

Ride Control

I was in the historic downtown of Grapevine, Texas at their train station looking at some old railroad cars they had there.

The surrounding modern buildings and powerlines did not offer much of a scene setting locale for such interesting pieces of history so I decided to make an image of the springs on one of the cars.

Here is where the LX-3 really came in handy. Before I went about trying to set up this image I first switch the LX-3 over into 3:4 aspect ratio and made several images to check the composition. Only when I found the right one did I set up the shot with the 4x5.

You can see the set up at the top and the bottom image is the test composition straight out of the LX-3 (in Dynamic B+W mode).

I may have been using color film but I just envisioned this image as some sort of monochrome. Maybe a sepia.

I liked what the LX-3 got and I now had a pretty good representation of what I wanted from the film.

I framed up the Arca as close as I could get to this and set about focusing and metering the image. When I get the chrome back from the lab, I'll scan it an go for monochrome.

By the way both images here are from the LX-3.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Arca-Swiss Discovery-Going Long

Have I ever mentioned in this blog how much I like the modular aspect of Arca-Swiss cameras?

Well, if I have not, let me tell you about that now. The Arca system is amazingly modular. In fact the entire system is so modular there are no serial numbers on cameras since an Arca-Swiss camera is really just a collection of whatever modular parts you currently have on a rail.

I normally work with wide to normal lenses on my one folding rail with my leather bellows. However since I have been playing around with the old Rapid Rectilinear lens I needed a way to try it in long configuration. The lens is not labeled with a length but my guess is about a 160mm or so which when you take off one element, you double that to about a 320mm.

Making use of that lens is not possible with my camera in it's "normal" configuration-I just do not have enough rail or bellows for anything over about 240mm. That is where Arca-Swiss modularity comes into play. My Discovery came with a non-folding 30cm rail and a standard bellows that Arca-Swiss says does 380mm.

I just simply put both mounting brackets on my ballhead (each only half way in) and butted the rails up end to end. Viola a 60cm rail! I swapped out the leather wide angle bellows for the standard accordion bellows and I now had a camera that had a long rail with a long bellows. Total time-about 15 seconds.

If you look at the top picture you can see that the mounting brackets each are only partially in the ballhead. That may not look like much but they are both in there rock solid. This set up is not going to move. Gotta love that Arca engineering!

The two rails now give me more length than my bellows can do. I am easily able to focus the RR in long set mode. I have plenty of rail and bellows.

The top image is with focus at infinity. there is still enough stretch in the bellows to do some close up work with this lens.

The bottom image gives you the front view on the lens. As an an aside you may notice that this lens is mounted on a Toyo board and that the holder looks odd. It is a 171mm Arca board cut to mount a Toyo board. Homebrew that I got with the camera. When I got the old RR lens I did not have an extra 110 Arca board with a #0 hole to mount it on. however, I still had this old adapter and a Toyo #0 board. So to save having to order a new board I just put it in that. So if I want to take and use this lens in long format I have to take it, the rail, the extra bellows and this adapter board. Not really that much extra weight when you already have a backpack.

And it is all possible with modular nature of Arca-Swiss cameras.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Two Years and a New Toy

Today marks the end of my second year of this blog! Two whole years of posting images of a large format camera. Whodathunkit?

Well in honor of that I dug through the images one of my favorite trips of the last year to bring you two images and also to talk about a new toy.

First the new toy might just be the perfect digital travel companion for a 4x5. It's the Panasonic LX-3. I have looked for sometime for the perfect camera as a travel companion for the Arca-Swiss and I think this is it.

When I started in large format I alternated my Mamiya 645 or Olympus OM-4Ti as my companion camera. The OM was a great companion but what I found was when shooting 4x5 that medium format and 35mm film paled in comparison. So I went without a backup for a while. Then after getting the DSLR it became the backup. Digital is a different way of thinking and working than a 4x5 so it became the backup.

But it meant a second bag.

After carrying two bags-and sometimes two tripods I decided to try to lighten the load.

Well after more thought and a great deal of research I decided the Panasonic LX-3 was a good bet. I waited and watch for several weeks earlier this year for one to be in stock (it is that popular). It was worth the wait.

I got it just in time for my trip to the Lost Mesa and it impressed me from the word go.

Small. Pocketable. Metal body. Fast f/2.0 24mm Leica lens. RAW capture. Great in-camera B+W. 720P movie mode. 1cm macro mode. Hot shoe. A feature set that was outstanding and a camera that was fun and easy to use in hand.

Start with the 24mm-60mm eq lens. This matches up closely with my large format lenses of 75mm, 125mm, ans 210mm-that's just about 24-60 after conversion. Make that 24mm an f/2.0 and a Leica and you got something special. I like wide and most cameras with their 35mm wide end are not wide enough. The only other cameras I seriously considered (Canon s90 and G10) were both 28mm on the wide end. True both were longer, but I gladly gave up reach for wider angle.

Then there were the little things such as the 1cm macro and 720P movie mode. I would probably never buy a video camera or macro lens, but I get both with this camera.

Let's talk in the field.

When you are carrying a large pack with 35 pounds of large format gear plus a tripod, you want a digital to be compact, and light. The LX-3 fits the bill. I can carry it in a jacket pocket, cargo pocket, in a small pouch, in a lens pocket in my pack, or most often- around my neck and tucked in a shirt pocket. Easy to grab. Plus the metal body made it feel like it could handle being out in the elements.

The camera was quick for a p+s. Maybe not quite as fast as a DSLR but fast enough for quick snaps and easy to use.

The results were impressive. The in camera b+w were really nice right out of the camera. Very little tweaking is needed. The image up top has a slight levels on it. That's it.

The bottom image was taken in RAW and processed minimally with Elements 6 (CS-3 Camera RAW does not support the LX-3 RAW format, but oddly Elements 6 does-go figure).

Both look great to me. Even at higher ISO's the noise has a look of film grain and a very "natural" look that I like. And getting an image you like is a must with any camera.

Call me impressed with image quality. But the story does not end there.

This camera is tough. Metal body. Real lens cap. I might be alone in liking that but they feel more solid to me than the self closing. Just a big enough grip that I feel I can hold it with gloves on

I really liked using the easily switchable formats of this camera. 3:4 to 2:3 to 16:9 made it possible to get something similar to a 4x5 (making it a great tool as a composition aid) or to go for the pano. Making that a switch in the body and not in the menus was a huge plus. As was going to macro, auto or manual focus modes on the camera too.

All in all the perfect package!

In a few short months it has become my constant travel companion. I cannot take my Arca-Swiss everywhere with me. I can and do take the LX-3. It is either in my pocket or in my bag where ever I go.

The perfect travel companion for me or when out with the 4x5!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Downtown at Sunrise

Downtown Fort Worth and the Trinity River as seen from the Lancaster Street bridge.

On a day that looked like the making for a nice morning sunrise I grabbed the 4x5 and headed to Trinity Park. Walked up the bridge onto Lancaster. Then proceeded to set up with a view of the river and downtown.

Started with a 210mm but then dug out the old RR and tried it at both 160 and 320 settings. I am amazed that this old lens not only covers the 4x5 but is also not near as bad as I feared it might be. I was wondering if it would only be good for black and white but it surprises with color.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Chasing the Rainbow

At the height of the thunderstorm and before it broke up I could make out a full rainbow. It was nothing I could or would try to capture with the 4x5 as I was set for an image of just Alamo Mountain. I left that image to the digital tools.

Here is the Arca with theend of the rainbow going into Alamo Mountain. A pot of gold indeed!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Storm Over the Lost Mesa

There are days that everything comes together for photography. This was one of those days.

It had started rather clear but throughout the day the clouds had built. In mid-afternoon the clouds turned into thunderstorms. Late in the day I took up this vantage point looking at the Horned Mountains. Rain was falling. A rainbow formed. I even saw a couple of bolts of lightening. The sun started to go down behind me.

I forgot to add the storm is also moving toward me.

Now that is the makings of a great afternoon of photography. I set up two tripods. The DSLR was the mobile unit moving around. The Arca was set up on what I thought would be the best composition and then stayed there.

Here is that composition. From this vantage I hoped to get the grassy foreground, the mountains and the storm.

I made a few images and the rain looked to be getting closer. I made a few more. The storm broke up as the sunset and never made it to me.

See more about this afternoon on my WildernessPhotographer Blog linked on the right side of the page.

Friday, October 2, 2009

On the Lost Mesa

Photographing on the Lost Mesa of southern New Mexico, while watching the shadows stretch across the landscape at sunset.

This is one of those locations that is so hard to do justice in a photograph. Rolling grasslands cannot really be captured well in any single image. These solitary mountains popping out of the open range are scenic and have fascinated me for years but on a clear day like this are still difficult to photograph.

I made this image in black and white since that is how I was picturing this scene working best. I might even make it into a panoramic and just leave in the mountains and the thin line of clouds.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Inside the Rock Church

One from inside the Rock Church. Great church on the outside. Great church on the inside.

I visit here 2-3 times a year and always find new things to photograph. Here I am working the edge of the pews after the good light is gone from outside.

A bonus on this day drive is stopping for some great BBQ in Glen Rose on the way home!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Rock Church

The front of the Old Rock church.

I liked the blue of the sky and the white of the church but the more I look at this image, the more I think I need to try it in monochrome.

The 10mm really is put to good use to get everything in the image. I wish I had the 47XL lens as it would allow me to have done the same thing with the 4x5, as is I sufficed with the 75mm.

Note- the Historic Marker at the front of the church.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Rock Church in the Morning

Another image from my recent trip down to the Rock Church.

The reverse of the prior image. This time from the back side of the church looking out toward the tree.

There are plans being made to renovate the church back to it's original look. I look forward to seeing it then and what they will do.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Old Rock Church

The Old Rock Church in Bosque County.

I photograph this old church a couple of times a year. It is one I have featured in the blog before too. Alone on a hill with a live oak tree it is certainly an appealing subject.

So, here it is again.

I was set up using my 75mm lens to include all of the tree and the church framed under the branches.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


Being swift or quick is not really a large format thing. Slow and precise is more like it. But when I was photographing in the Fort Worth Stockyards near the ruins of the old Swift plant I could not resist working swift into an image.

The camera is set up with the 210mm lens and is all twisted up to photograph a window with very shallow DOF.

Friday, August 14, 2009

A Good Tripod

A good tripod is a must for large format photography. It is good for most any photographer, but when one starts playing around with a view camera they take on a whole new importance.

Most any tripod can hold a plastic DSLR with kit lens. It takes a beast of a tripod to work with an 8x10. Ok, maybe not a beast, but you need a solid support. That means no cheapies. Quality and solid support costs.

Here is mine in action. It is a Gitzo 1325 with a Kirk BH-1 ballhead. It is one rock solid combo. Take a look at the pose we have here.

Vertical camera with alot of extension for macro work. The Arca is bulky and weighs a fair amount. There is no extension on the legs, they are set to minimum height with no extra angle.

This aint moving.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Hitting the Bricks

Out in the Fort Worth Stockyards things were looking down. At the bricks that is.

Love the brick streets they still have in the 'yards. Make a great photograph.

Most of the bricks were made about an hour from here in Thurber. Thurber was big company town-brickworks and coal mine. It had 16,000 residents. Nothing left but a smokestack today.

Here I am isolating a few bricks for an image.

You might also notice the extra long rail. I never got the extension so I just use both of my 30cm rails for this type of closeup work. The tripod holds them both easy. This is a solid setup.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


Here is the Arca set up photographing an old building in the historic Fort Worth Stockyards.

Something about the quality of the Stockyards that really wants to be photographed with a view camera.

Sure you can make more images snapping away with your DSLR but going slow and contemplating is good. Some numbers. I was here on Saturday with DSLR and took 250 images. I went back Sunday with the Arca and took 7. That's right-seven.

I have walked past this particular building without giving it much thought. Today it was my subject. I spent over two hours with this one building and made seven different images.

It is just a whole different way of working.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Santa Elena Sunrise

Sunrise at Santa Elena Canyon.

I am really not sure if you need to say more than that. This is a location that speaks for itself.

It is also a very easy picture. A-Get to canyon before sunrise. B-When sun hits canyon wall take picture. C-Go "oooooh" and "aaaaahhhhh".

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Santa Elena Canyon by Night

Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park is a fantastic location to both visit and photograph.

I have photographed it many times over my visits. This last trip I got down to the canyon mouth on a clear morning to photograph it in the dark.

The stars of the night sky. The river flowing by. The huge walls of the Sierra Ponce.

What a great place.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sunset at Sotol Vista

Yet another view from Sotol Vista. This one-a sunset.

Ok, maybe not the best sunset-but the moving clouds made for an interesting evening.

This is the view west.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Sotol Vista at Dawn

I always think of Sotol Vista as an evening place as it stares down west into the desert.

On a whim I decided to stop there in the morning. Perhaps the sun would light up the distant ridges and peaks.

Well on this day the cloud cover was good. I did not get the distant peaks lit up. No, I got the clouds lit up.

Even better!

I had set up in the dark looking west so I did a pivot, re-level, and refocus to go after the clouds and ridges to the south and east.

Here is a view of that morning

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Back in Big Bend

After what seems like forever I made it back to Big Bend National Park earlier this month.
Something wonderful about the desert in spring.
I had a few days of sun and a few days of good clouds.
I tried to be frugal with the view camera this year, only using it on days with great light potential.
This was one of those days. Overcast clouds flying past in the later afternoon. It was windy but with the potential for a great sunset. I went right to the good afternoon view offered at Sotol Vista.
Here I am waiting for the light.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Tour of an Arca-Swiss Discovery Part 4

The Wide Angle Leather Bellows is a perfect bellows for someone who sticks with just the 30cm sized rails. Go to a longer rail and you will need to go to a longer bellows, but for use with the 30cm rail the Wide Angle Bellows is all you need.

See these two images. The top one is the bag bellows on the 30cm rail focusing a 210mm lens at infinity.
As you can see the 30cm rail still has a bit of extra room and will probably do a 240mm lens.
Then the second image has the 210mm lens focused at infinity and about as much rise I feel comfortable with, and what is most of the rise possible on the 171mm standards.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Tour of an Arca-Swiss Discovery Part 3

The bag bellows may be the best accessory I added for the Discovery. The folding rail made it easier to carry but the bag bellows adding the flexibility to make images.

Arca-Swiss makes two types. I opted for the leather wide angle bellows. The specs gave it a slightly longer expansion which I wanted to make it usable with the 210mm.

This is another finely crafted piece of equipment from the folks at Arca-Swiss. Soft, supple, and sturdy are the words here. The Fonz would approve of this leather.

The bag bellows give much more movement with short lenses over the traditional accordion bellows. Example, with my 75mm lens-I have almost zero rise with the regular bellows (maybe a couple of millimeters). With the wide angle leather bag bellows I have all the rise the lens will do.

The great things about this bellows is I can use it for all my lenses. It will cover the 30cm rail that I have and even allows me rise at full extension. See my next post for those pics.

Here is the camera with the 75mm focused at infinity and just a slight rise. The bellows and lens can both do more than this.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Tour of an Arca-Swiss Discovery Part 2

The Discovery takes several optional add-ons. Here is one that many people seem to like-a Compendium Shade. Basically a bellows for the front of the camera it helps shade the lens.
I found and added a used one to my kit. I find that it is a very flexible piece of equipment and usable with wide and long lenses.
Sadly I do not use it much. When I am out with landscape work I am often using the Singh Ray ND grad filters and those do not work with the Compendium Hood. As such I often just use my hat to shade the lens.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Tour of an Arca-Swiss Discovery Part 1

I thought I would take a slight departure from my usual location based posts and do a short series on the camera itself. Arca-Swiss makes several cameras and they all share some similar traits and qualities. Foremost is top notch design and engineering. This camera is brilliant in it's design and practically a work of art. You might use the analogy that an Arca-Swiss to any other camera is what a BMW is to a Pontiac. The ultimate camera.

I cannot say enough about the build quality. This is a rock solid camera. It has smooth controls. There are no gaps or looseness to this camera at all. The design and engineering-impeccable.

One last comment on the design, if you want to find out more, you really have to look as Arca-Swiss does not have a website. You can download some info in a couple locations but I think it adds to the cachet.

Here is the Discovery in basic configuration:

Start with a 30cm rail. The camera ships with a non folding rail. I find 30cm to be plenty long (and easily expandable) but the non folding rail make hauling it in a backpack a chore (note the Discovery has it's own very nice case that works for transportation, but I find less useful on the trail). I swapped out to a 30cm folding rail and now it goes into a backpack easily.

Two 171mm standards. These are large standards. The newer model F-Line cameras moved to a 141 frame which is more compact. I find the 171mm frames acceptable, but if you use the 171mm lensboards those are quite large and again carrying multiple lenses in the field is difficult. I added a 171 to Arca 110 front board adapter Now the lenses mount on a 110mm Arca board and pop onto the adapter. Again a huge improvement in carrying capability.

Finally note the standard bellows. It lists as good to about 380cm, but I think it can go at least 10% farther. This works well with 150 or 210mm lenses. It can work shorter than 150, but you will get limits in rise. For example, I use it with my 75mm lens. You can focus it, but back tilt is your only real movement.

So in it's basic configuration you have a solid and functional camera. I think in the basic set up it is more geared to the studio and maybe the location you drive right to. For me as a landscape photographer, the modifications I mention above improve the camera greatly as it becomes much more portable.

One of the things I found when sampling a metal flat bed camera was that the flatbed was easier to carry. The Arca is a bit bulkier and means a slightly bigger pack. BUT the Arca is significantly the easier and smoother camera to operate on the tripod. That ended up being one huge factor for me and the purchase. I'll gladly trade a slight extra weight and bulk in a pack for stability and ease of control on the tripod.

A couple of final notes. In the image I have a 210mm lens focused at infinity. I have a bit more room and can bring focus to under 5'. If you slightly overhang the ends (still locks down solid)you can do a 240mm lens. A 47mm lens also work with ease on this camera-even without a recessed lensboard.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Finding Art

Finding art. Where is it? As a photographer we chase it. We try to make it. We seek vision.

Back in the warmer months I went looking for art at a place of art. The Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth is a fantastic place. It hosts some wonderful exhibits by many of the masters. It in itself is also a masterpiece designed by Louis Kahn.

I enjoy walking around and through this building as much as the art. The design is just wonderful. It is peaceful and graceful. It is inviting.

It is a great subject to photograph.

Here is early one morning with the steps, an arch and my camera seeking art.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


Long shadows late in the day. Waiting for the sunset I noticed the long shadows of the camera on the side of a stock tank. Thought the shadows looked interesting and then found myself in the shadows too.

On a side note you can see the Arca is set up on a smaller Feisol Tripod. I find this lightweight model (3401) will hold the Arca well. I do not think I'd make it the everyday model but it will serve as a packable and light travel 'pod.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Double Time

Photographing on the open range of southern New Mexico is fun. It is also a lonely, empty, and dusty place.

As I mentioned in prior posts it is a difficult place to capture in one image. So in addition to trying to put it on a single sheet of film I was working with the DSLR too. The hope was to be able to stitch several images into a long pano that can begin to capture the size of the land here. Stitching is one are that I just cannot make work like I want it with film. I think the scanner is the weak link. But even with all else being same on the exposure and processing I still play havoc getting scanned images to stitch right. On the other hand it is a quick and easy process with a digital capture. A couple of clicks in PS and you have an image.

So my plan this day was to work with the DSLR for panoramas and to work a scene for one image with the view camera.

It meant two ways to think and kept me busy working two tripods. It was a double time day.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Out on the Range

Here is an image of me out photographing Alamo Mountain on the wild Otero Mesa of New Mexico.

A string of several individual peaks that make up the Cornudas Range straddle the state line between Texas and New Mexico.

They also mark the southern end of the Otero Mesa grasslands. Well kinda. The grass continues into Texas but the Texas side is all private property. The New Mexico side is mostly public land.

This view shows the westernmost mountain of the range-Alamo.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

On The Open Range

This last fall I made my first solo trip out on the Otero Mesa on southern New Mexico.
It is an area I had seen from afar for several years and that I had spent a couple of days out on at different times. This was my first chance at a longer trip and I devoted three days and two nights to seeing it.
This is an amazing place with some 1.2 million acres of open range. You see more information about the mesa on my Wilderness Photographer Blog as The Lost Mesa.
This is one tough location to photograph, even with a big camera as it is so hard to capture the vastness of the range in any one image. Long lenses slice it and even wides are not wide enough. Maybe a 6x17 could do it justice, but none of the sheets I got back did.
This view of the camera overlooking this great wide expanse of open range land can only hint at the vastness here.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Little Buddy

As if carrying a backpack full of large format was not enough, I finally got going into the digital world.

I had started photographing with a 35mm system, then went into medium format. That jump was amazing as the larger increase in film size gave my images a much better quality and detail than 35mm could deliver. But after a few years I came to realize that bigger is better yes, but also to make the kind of images I wanted I needed the abilities in a camera that only a view camera could offer. That led to several months of reading, studying, and practice until I finally got the Arca.

At first I would bring all three on a trip. Using the 4x5 and the 645 at dawn and dusk for the best light. Then I would use the 35mm and occasionally the 645 during the day when hiking. What I found was that I no longer liked the images from the 35mm. The sheer size of the 4x5 film and the technical capabilities of the camera overwhelmed what I could get out of 35mm. Even the 645 images paled in comparison to what I could get with the 4x5.

So I sold most of my 35mm gear keeping only one body and two lenses. But after another year I had only only run three rolls through it and kept none of the images. So I sold out of the 35mm game. I still kept the 645 but even it's use had become less.

In summer 07 I decided to dip my toe into digital and got a DSLR. I was back to taking three formats again. This time the 645 became the odd man out. At dawn and dusk I was still using the 4x5 but my backup quickly became the DSLR. I sat down a few weeks ago and looked over what I used the 645 for in the past year and realized I had only run 5 rolls through it. The 4x5 was where I was doing film and everything else was now digital.

So then I sold the medium format.

Now I am back down to two formats. The 4x5 and a DSLR. A morning in the field means a backpack for of large format, a small bag over my shoulder with the DSLR and a tripod in each hand (carbon fiber helps here).

I am quite pleased with the two as I think they compliment each other very well. The 4x5 allows me to work slow, think about an image and use it's capabilities (like tilt) to make special images. The DSLR lets me work fast, in the wind, handheld, and has "free film". I got the best of both worlds going.

Here is an example of both at work in Canyonlands NP. I am working the wider view of the canyon with the 4x5 and can work the distant landscape with the zoom on the DSLR.