Cambo WRS-1600 or Alpa or Arca-Swiss to hold a PhaseOne medium format digital back?

Phase One medium format digital camera company of Denmark has training sessions in cities and countries around the world. They had an August training session in St Louis, Missouri, at Bullivant Gallery, a fine art giclee printing facility of Robert Bullivant. By coincidence I was in St Louis (and not photographing in Istanbul, Shanghai, or the rain forests in Guatemala) so I went to see the Phase One cameras and medium format digital backs.

Murray Elliott, from megapixels digital was showing the impressive Phase One digital cameras, Phase One IQ4 digital backs, Schneider lenses, and Rodenstock lenses, plus also Phase One's own lenses. We will have separate web pages on the lenses and Phase One; the page today is on the Cambo WRS-1600.

Cambo WRS 1600 Camera Rodenstock lens Phase One 100mp
Cambo WRS-1600 camera and Phase One medium format digital back, at Bullivant Gallery, in training session by Murray Elliott.

This Cambo WRS-1600 camera is easy to use, built to last, and important for field work: this camera is not filled with silly frilly features: it is made to do what is helpful and necessary.

Alpa and Arca-Swiss, are these viable options for medium format cameras?

In the Photokina 2018 exhibitor list, neither Alpa nor Arca-Swiss is present. But Cambo Fotografische Industrie BV is listed and they had a nice booth. Arca-Swiss never had a web site (I lived in Switzerland for three years and my younger brother attended ETH university, the Swiss equivalent of MIT; so it is no surprise that a Swiss company would not enter the era of the World Wide Web).

The best camera tripod head that I have used in over half a century is the original Arca-Swiss big ball head, the Arca-Swiss Monoball. I have my original (functioned for literally decade after decade after decade).

But when I bought their next generation, Arca-Swiss B1, it turned out to be the most defective tripod head every made: even tripod heads Made in China don't lock tight and refuse to open. So far Arca-Swiss has not returned my money nor offered me a new head in replacement: the Arca-Swiss B1 head has been repaired twice and still is next to worthless.

How is it that a Swiss-made tripod head does not function? Because it is over-engineered, and second, because it probably had a few quirky aspects (not to mention perhaps parts from a not-so-Swiss supplier). What is even more typical, Arca-Swiss refused to admit it was their mistake: they said that the end-user was simply too stupid to know how to avoid having the head lock-tight and too dumb to know how to open it back up themselves.

Sorry, when I am out on a field trip I have five tripod heads and don't want to waste time or patience trying to wrestle with the non-functional second-generation Arca-Swiss B1 head. But they do make heads not as quirky as the tripod head used in this Phase One training. But I could not find it, because Arca-Swiss does not have a web site. But eventually I will locate its model number, and if Arca-Swiss can take back the B1 and replace it with the new one, then I can have a nice Arca-Swiss head. It looks like the Arca Swiss Leveler L60 FlipLock Quick.

What other options besides Arca-Swiss or Alpa or Cambo? Silvestri camera, Made in Italy?

At Photokina 2000, 2002, 2004, etc. every Photokina I would visit the Silvestri booth. I even visited the Silvestri factory. But once the original owner, the original engineer, passed away, the company continued but larger companies such as Cambo, Arca-Swiss, and Alpa took over the shrinking market.

I have not noticed a Silvestri booth at Photokina 2016 or Photokina 2018. If they had a booth there, it was not findable (and I am at each Photokina for many hours many days).

The Silvestri BICAM III is similar size and shape and concept to the Cambo WRS 1600. Since the PhaseOne training programs feature Cambo, I did not have a chance to test-drive the Silvestri BICAM III, and unless Silvestri has a booth at Photokina 2020, it will be tough to test one.

Based on my experience with the various other brands, I would not recommend a Silvestri camera to hold a medium format digital back because Cambo comes out with newer models that are less complicated.

Cambo WRS 1600 Camera Rodenstock lens Phase One 100mp
Cambo WRS-1600 camera with Rodenstock lens on front and Phase One 100MP medium-format digital back. What I like about this is the ability of this Cambo camera to switch from vertical format to horizontal format in 2 seconds. If you want to do panorama photos you would tend to put the system in vertical format (to be sure to get the plants near you and yet also the top of the rain forest trees or mountain tops in the far distance. If the camera is horizontal you can't get everything in a panorama.

Since all brands are available, and we each have to chose, frankly I would tend to opt for Cambo for several reasons; first, they are a reliable company that still exists in full function; they still exhibit at Photokina so you can see and compare all their products, plus you can speak with their pleasant, knowledgeable, and hospitable Cambo team.

I have visited the Cambo factory, and I have visited the Silvestri factory. This is another major reason why I would select Cambo for sure.

Cambo has a functional web site as well, and clearly the company is in full function every year. It is rather notable when other companies have no NEWS for a decade and do not exhibit any more at Photokina.
Cambo WRS 1600 Camera Rodenstock lens Phase One 100mp
Here is Nicholas Hellmuth in the Cambo factory in November 2010. Renee Rook is at the left.

Visiting a camera factory is how we learn whether a camera brand is solid or not: visit the factory, and then test the actual camera. Don't have a Cambo WRS-1600 but we can document that their factory is multiple times more impressive than another brand whose "factory" we visited elsewhere in Europe.

 

Medium format digital vs Large format digital cameras

My first digital camera was a Dicomed, which was the original BetterLight tri-linear scanning camera. It was awesome and we used it for over a decade. It took lots of space to carry all the equipment. It took about 30 minutes to set up the camera and line-up each aspect and get ready to do test photos. But after one hour (from begin of set up) you had panorama photos that could not be beat until Gigapan came along.

But today, with the quality of PhaseOne, and with both Schneider and Rodenstock making lenses for medium format digital backs, for a portable camera, large format is not realistic unless you are being paid so much you can afford a large team of assistants all of whom have full-time experience with the complexity of large-format lenses, cameras, and accessories.

That said, I look forward to Photokina 2020, to see what large-format digital camera offerings are still extant. I have owned Linhof 4x5", Linhof 8x10" (both of which I used in 1980's to do photography for a Japanese coffee table book company: 18 months photographing Aztec, Teotihuacan, Toltec, Zapotec, Mixtec, Olmec and Maya art throughout Mexico plus Maya art in Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras.

Had a 4x5 Wisner to use the BetterLight digital back. Have also tested Sinar. I can still remember Photokina in the old days (when Kodak had an entire hall, and when the Sinar booth was clearly the focus of large format sophistication, with Linhof a solid competitor.

Presently, the large-format brand that most impresses me is RENCAY GmbH, Made in Germany quality, www.rencay.com. If you are a museum, library, or interested in cultural heritage, you should definitely get to know RENCAY. Since FLAAR has been focused on archaeology for half a century, and now are working in botany, zoology, and ecology, we are still interested in digital photography equipment that is top quality. So I can also mention that Phase One has options for cultural heritage as well, in the medium format digital range. About 20 years ago Cruse gave FLAAR one of their $75,000 scanners. They sold so many they upgraded it 3 years later with a $25,000 upgrade. So we have experience with overhead scanners. For flatbed scanners we have two models of Creo (Creo Scitex, Kodak Creo Scitex Eversmart Supreme is one of the two models).

First posted: August 2019.

 

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