My large format cameras & Lenses
I have been sharing my experiences in the field with video journals since 2009. In those videos I discuss the experience of going on each trip, finding subjects, and figuring out how to best capture them. I avoid talking about equipment or technical details because that seems far less important.
There is a time and place for that discussion as well, and I often get questions about the cameras and lenses I use, so I decided to create this resource. This page contains a list of all the cameras and lenses I have used, and my thoughts and experiences about using them in the field. Some of the cameras, and all of the lenses listed below have long since been discontinued. They can at times be difficult to find on the used market but thankfully there are still many camera manufacturers around these days.
My Past & Current 8x10 CAmeras
Ebony RW810 8x10 CAmera
Timeless Design, Top Quality Materials & Craftsmanship
Most of the photos in my portfolio where shot on an Ebony RW810. I purchased the camera on the used market in 2009 through the large format photography forum. It was in near mint condition when I received it, and needless to say I have been through a lot with this camera. It has been lowered over a cliff in Utah with a rope on my first backpacking trip, planted on a dune crest in Death Valley for 3 days straight while I waited for good light, and spent more nights on the salt flats of Death Valley than I will ever remember.
This RW810 is a wooden folding field camera with a very classic design. It is constructed of mahogany and titanium, and the bellows are made of leather. A single extension allows lenses up to 600mm without issue, and the unique bellows are a hybrid between bag bellows and traditional bellows. This allows plenty of movements, even when working with a wide angle lens. The widest lens I have used with this camera is the Nikkor-SW 150mm F/8.
The front standard accepts Sinar lens boards, and offers axial tilt movements, along with front rise, and front swing. The rear standard offers both rear axial tilt, and rear swing. The range of movements are plentiful for its intended purpose of landscape photography.
The camera weighs roughly 12 pounds — which sounds like a lot, but that is very reasonable for an 8x10. Because of the folding design, it is very well protected when in its folded state. I have taken this camera on multiple backpacking trips, and always felt that the camera was very secure when stored along with other equipment in my pack. Though the original ground glass does not have a fresnel, I never had a problem viewing it.
Perhaps my favorite things about the the Ebony RW810 is the smell. It has an intoxicating scent of wood stain mixed with the smell of the leather bellows. Few if any cameras will match that experience.
During the winter of 2017, my RW810 was heavily damaged after it was knocked to the ground by extremely strong wind in Death Valley. The ground glass was broken, and the front extension was damaged. An expert woodworker friend of mine rebuilt the front extension, and another friend of mine had an original ground glass from the exact same camera.
I went on to use the camera on my spring trip in 2017, but later decided to retire it because the Ebony camera company is no longer around, and if I has another accident, I wouldn't be able to find any spare parts. After 8 years of service, I decided to sell the Ebony. It now has a great new home where it will go on to produce some magnificent photos. My primary camera is now the Arca-Swiss F Metric 8x10.
It should be noted that the Ebony camera company is no longer in business, and these cameras are incredibly hard to come by on the used market. Other alternatives for wooden folding field cameras still in production include Chamonix and K.B. Canham among others.
Arca-Swiss F Metric 8x10
Precise, Strong & Fast
When I retired my Ebony RW810 from service in the spring of 2017, I purchased an Arca-Swiss F Metric as my primary camera. Unlike the Ebony or any other large format camera I have used, the Arca-Swiss is a monorail design. This means that the front and rear standards are attached to a sturdy metal rail that serves as a very strong and rigid backbone for the camera.
Most monorail cameras are heavy, bulky, and difficult to take into the field, but the Arca Swiss is very slim when retracted, and weighs only marginally more than the Ebony RW810. The rail is a clever 3 piece telescoping design that allows me to store the camera on a short 6 inch rail, then insert that rail into a larger rail when I am ready to use the camera. The small 6 inch rail keeps the camera protected while not in use.
I can use my 150mm wide angle lens all the way up to my 600mm lens without issue on this clever design. Since this camera is made by Arca-Swiss, the bottom of the rail can be clamped onto a Arca-Swiss type clamp anywhere along the base of the rail. This makes it easy to center the load on a tripod head.
One of the optional features I added to my Arca-Swiss camera is the Micrometric Orbix control. This feature allows me to adjust the front tilt without having to re-focus the lens. With most other cameras, you need to re-focus the camera after you set the front tilt. The advantage of the Micrometric Orbix control is that it vastly simplifies the process, and allows you to quickly and easily set the front tilt. On a recent trip to Death Valley, I was able to setup several photos in the dark before sunrise because of this feature. I used available light to focus on a mountain in the distance, illuminated the foreground with a powerful LED light, then simply tilted for the foreground with the orbix control. This would have been a much more complex process with base tilt or axial tilt.
The front standard includes geared front rise, geared front tilt with the Micrometrix Orbix control, and geared front shift. Base tilt as well as swing that are not geared, but have detents in the zeroed position.
The rear standard has geared shift, and non-geared base tilt, both of which have zeroed detents. The rear standard also features a fantastic ground glass with an integrated fresnel, as well as a bail-back design to quickly and easily insert film holders.
I only wish the rear standard has axial rear tilt like my Ebony, but I realize that adds more bulk, complexity, and instability to the design.
I use my Arca-Swiss F-Metric 8x10 with the optional long bellows because they accommodate my 150mm wide angle through my 600mm long lens without issue. The standard bellows would be a bit short for the 600mm lens. It should be noted that the bellows overhang the rear standard, so you need to be very careful about how the camera is stored, especially when taking it into the field.
Overall, I am very satisfied with the Arca-Swiss, and it is an absolute joy to use. I see myself using this camera for many years or perhaps decades to come, and I appreciate the modular design — just in case.
If you are interested in purchasing an Arca-Swiss camera and you live in the USA, please reach out directly to the Rep, Rod Klukas. He is a wealth of information, and can help guide you to purchase the perfect camera for you needs. I purchased my F Metric 8x10 from Rod during the spring of 2016.
Richard Ritter 8x10 Camera
A Lightweight Camera Handmade in the USA
I purchased this camera on the used market in the spring of 2016. At the time, it was the lightest 8x10 camera available. Though the front and rear standards are made of wood, the framework that connects the two standards is constructed out of carbon fiber tubes. This makes for a very lightweight design, though it is a bit larger than my Ebony RW810 when folded. I purchased this camera primarily for backpacking, but it also served as a backup just in case something happened to my primary camera.
During the winter of 2017 when my Ebony camera was heavily damaged by high wind in Death Valley, the Ritter 8x10 allowed me to finish the trip. I was able to use my 150mm wide angle lens all the way up to my 600mm lens, but the camera was at times very difficult to work with.
I found that the front standard was not as stable as I would like, so I came up with a way of using cord to brace the front standard. This was especially necessary when using my wide angle lens.
When using a wide angle lens, you must release the front bellows attachment, partially disassemble the camera, reverse the front standard, and change the order of the carbon fiber tubes to allow the front standard to be close enough to the rear standard. After all that, I also needed to do a drop bed configuration. This meant that my heavy wide angle lens was perched very high on the front standard, and it was even more prone to wind vibration. Though it was workable, it was very slow to work with — even by large format standards.
On the positive side, I really liked the bellows on this camera. They are among the best I have worked with, second only to the Ebony RW810.
I really appreciated how light the camera was, though it didn't fold as compactly as my Ebony, which made it a bit of a challenge to carry in the field.
One of the side benefits of the carbon fiber tube construction was that the focusing, and front rise/fall were very smooth. I really enjoyed the process of unfolding the camera, even though it did take a very long time.
It should be noted that the small black knobs that lock the carbon fiber tubes in place are not captive. You must be careful that they are not spun lose and left behind.
If you are looking for a lightweight camera, I would instead look at the Intrepid 8x10, or the Chamonix Alpinist. Both of those cameras are far easier to work with in the field. I really wanted to love the Ritter 8x10 camera, but I lost a few shots because it just wasn't precise enough to hold the front standard in place for tricky shots. I made up my mind to sell the camera while I was on a return trip to Death Valley in early 2017, but unfortunately the camera suffered the same fate as my Ebony RW810, and was heavily damaged by high wind. This time, the mangled camera spent the night in a shallow pool of salt water.
I reached out to Richard Ritter via phone, email, and private message about repairing the camera, but he never returned any of my messages. After a while, I gave up and sold the camera for scrap on ebay.
Intrepid 8x10 Camera
Compact, Lightweight & Affordable
During the fall of 2014, a company based out of England introduced a new concept for large format photography — a lightweight and affordable 4x5 camera made out of high grade plywood that is machined to produce the front standard, rear standard, and the focusing bed. The camera debuted on kickstarter where it went on earn nearly $85,000 from just shy of 500 backers. Before the intrepid 4x5 came on the market, most large format cameras were heavy and bulky and expensive. The Intrepid 4x5 was different because it was both lightweight, and also affordable.
After the success of their first generation 4x5 camera, Intrepid went on to create a second generation of the camera that was a bit more refined. It was in the spring of 2017 that they launched their kickstarter for another big milestone for the small camera company — a big camera — the Intrepid 8x10.
The kickstarter was a huge success, and went on to raise nearly $295,000 from 473 backers. Before the Intrepid 8x10, most 8x10 cameras on the market sold for $3000 or more, not to mention the fact that none of them were as slim and lightweight as the Intrepid.
It was after I had my mishap with the Ritter 8x10 in Death Valley that Intrepid launched their kickstarter for their 8x10 camera. I was very interested in this camera because it was slim, lightweight, and much easier to work with than the Ritter 8x10.
I was given the opportunity to produce three tutorial videos for Intrepid in return for a copy of their 8x10 camera, and I was very happy to do so. My goal was to use the Intrepid 8x10 on backpacking trips, and also as a backup camera.
I received my Intrepid 8x10 in March of 2018, just in time for my spring backpacking trip. I haven't yet filmed a video review of the camera, but will do so in the coming months. The camera performed very well on my backpacking trip, and I appreciated having a much lighter pack. I will post more impressions about this camera in the months to come, but in the mean time, please visit the Intrepid website for more information.
Large Format 8x10 Lenses
I have been gradually fine tuning my lens selection since I started shooting 8x10 film in 2009. Over that time, I have developed a set of lenses both for regular use, and also a lighter kit of lenses for backpacking. The tradeoff for the decreased size and weight is the light gathering ability, and range of movements. If I am working from my vehicle, I will almost always grab my regular use lens kit, but the backpacking lens kit saves several pounds form my pack when I venture deep into the wilderness.
Regular Use Lens Kit
Nikkor-SW 150mm F/8
Wide Angle, Does Not Require Center Filter
When I researched wide angle lenses for 8x10, there were two lenses that caught my attention, The NIkkor-SW 150mm f/8, and the Schneider Super-Symmar XL 150 f/5.6. Both lenses have a massive 95mm front element, but unlike the Schneider, the Nikon also has a massive 95mm rear element. This will push some front standards or adapter boards to the limit. Both are very sharp lenses, but I decided to go with the NIkkor because it does not require the use of a center filter. Both lenses will show a soft vignette even when stopped down, but it is very minor and correctable on the NIkkor — even when shooting with slide film. The Schneider will require an expensive center filter that eats up the difference in light gathering ability. You can't go wrong either way, but I prefer not having to use a center filter. This lens has taken 3 tumbles on my cameras through the years, and has even slpashed down in some extremely salty water. It continues to work like a champ, and is very sharp. You can't go wrong with the Nikkor-SW 150mm F/8.
Nikkor-W 300mm F/5.6
My Most Used Lens, Great for Closeups
This is my most commonly used lens. Much like the NIkkor-SW 150mm, this lens has a 95mm front element thread. This means that filters can be shared between the two lenses, which is convenient. Unlike the NIkkor-SW 150mm, the rear element is much smaller than the front, allowing you to to use this lens on a smaller Technika type lensboard with an adapter if need be. I prefer to keep it on a full size lensboard to better accommodate the weight of the lens.
The very bright f/5.6 aperture allows a lot of light into the camera, which projects a very bright image on the ground glass. This lens is a normal focal length on 8x10, which is very ideal for many subjects. I especially enjoy working with this lens when photographing smaller intimate landscape subjects on the ground. Just be sure to measure your bellows extension and factor that into your exposure
It should be noted that I own another lens at this focal length, the Fujinon C 300mm f/8.5 which is listed below. That lens weighs a fraction of what the Nikkor does, and I use that lens for backpacking purposes.
Nikkor-M 450mm F/9
A Moderately Long Lens with Generous Coverage
This was the first lens that I purchased for my 8x10 back in 2009. At the time, I was working with a 4x5 camera, and really enjoyed working with my NIkkor 210mm. I wanted that same angle of view, but on 8x10, so I doubled the focal length and found that the NIkkor-M 450mm was the closest choice.
This is not a very fast lens, but it has an enormous image circle to work with. You will be hard pressed to reach the limit of the image circle on 8x10. It should be noted that this lens can be used on 11x14 and larger cameras without issue. The lens uses a modest 67mm filter, and fits nicely on a Technika type lensboard which helps reduce the overall bulk. I have been very happy overall with the sharpness of this lens, and it is a lens I rearch for when I am looking for moderate compression.
Fujinon C 600mm F/11.5
Awesome Lens, Very Rare on the Used Market
I was on a trip to Zion in the fall of 2015 when I realized the need for a long lens. At that point, my longest lens was the Nikkor 450mm, but I wanted something just a bit longer. A friend of mine suggested the Fujinon C 600mm, but that lens proved very difficult to find on the used market.
It took a while, but eventually I found a Fujinon C 600mm, and it has become one of my favorite lenses. In 35mm terms, the 600mm focal length is similar to 100mm. Though this might not sound like a very long lens, it's the longest you will find for 8x10 that is a non-telephoto design. Nikon and Schneider both offer telephoto designs, but they are also much larger and heavier, and in the case of the Schneider, incredibly expensive.
The Fujinon C 600mm uses a modest 67mm filter size, and is about the same overall size as the Nikkor 450mm F/9. Much like the Nikkor 450mm, the Fujinon C 600mm can be mounted on a compact Technika-type lensboard and used with a lensboard adapter to match your camera's lensboard type. This allows you to cut down the overall bulk of your lens lineup. This lens is incredibly difficult to come by on the used market. You will be lucky if you find one available at a reasonable price.
Backpacking Lens Kit
Fujinon C 300mm F/8.5
Tiny, Lightweight, Covers 8x10 With Room to Spare
Several years ago, a good photographer friend of mine suggested I buy a set of lightweight lenses specifically for backpacking. This proved to be fantastic advice. My Nikkor-W 300mm F/5.6 lens weighs 2.5lbs, but the Fujinon C 300mm F/8.5 weigns only 0.5 pounds. That is a 2 pound savings in exchange for just over a 1 stop loss of light. I have used this lens on two backpacking trips, and used it to shoot several photos that are now in my portfolio. Though the image circle is smaller than the Nikkor-W 300mm F/5.6, it is plenty large enough to cover 8x10 with moderate movements. Don't push the movements too far though, because you will lose some sharpness near the edge before you reach the actual limit of the image circle. Overall, I am very happy with this lens, and plan on using it on many future backpacking trips.
Fujinon C 450mm F/12.5
Small, Light, and Sharp
Closely related to the Fujinon C 300mm F/8.5, the Fujinon 450mm F/12.5 offers a moderately long focal length in an ultra compact size. Though the size and weight difference between this lens and the NIkkor-M 450mm F/9 isn't as dramatic as the difference between the two 300mm lenses already mentioned, there is still a very notable difference in size and weight between the two 450mm lenses. This is my newest lens and I have not yet used it on any photos, but I hope to on my next backpacking trip. Much like the Fujinon C 600mm F/11.5, this lens can be difficult to find on the used market.