Going 8X10 by Jason Fung
We really want to give our readers a wide range of analog topics! So we were delighted when Jason Fung wanted to do a series of posts about large format photography! In this introductory, he shares with us his large format gear comparison between the Intrepid 8×10 and the Arca Swiss Oschwald C. There after he will begin a multi-part series akin to a large format for dummies. With that, I will leave it to Jason.
Head to Head between the Intrepid 8×10 and the Arca Swiss Oschwald C
In 2019, I learned that I could process 8×10 film without a dark room using a Stearman Press daylight processing tray. The rabbit hole has been fun but expensive. I purchased the Intrepid 8×10, film holders, dark cloth and it was going to be my covid project. However, due to an accident involving a small curious child (no one was hurt) and a tripod that wasn’t quite sturdy enough for an 8×10 camera, the Intrepid 8×10 found the floor in a bad way and was out of commission. That is how I found myself with the Arca Swiss Oschwald C from one of those local social media pages. The Arca Swiss Oschwald was a much easier camera to purchase because of all the accessories I had already procured from Intrepid Camera. For the past three years I shot both side by side.
In one corner, the new kid on the block, the Intrepid Camera 8×10. It is made from plywood and 3D printed parts. They have done so much to breath life into the large format community and have kept demand for large format film alive.
In the other corner, like a phoenix, the Arca Swiss Oschwaldre emerges from someone’s shed after a decade. This design was used from the mid 1950s to the 1980s. It was so over-engineered that it remained unchanged for 50 years. This camera is looking to make a comeback.
Movements and Bellows
One point for the Arca Swiss Oschwald
The Arca Swiss is a system camera. That means I can add as much stuff as I want to adjust its capability. The bloke that sold me this camera included an extra format frame and extra rails and extra bellows and a bunch of other extras. The extra bellows allows me to get the lens closer to the subject for macro work. In the final form, it is bigger, longer and unyielding. For the truly insane, they can add a second set of format frames and bellows to connect them into one giant monstrosity. I can’t imagine a scenario where someone might need more than 3 format frames.
The Intrepid is limited because it only has rear tilt. The Arca Swiss is for the adventurous who want to experiment with rear tilt and rear shift, rear swing, rear focus. I’m still looking to understand when all these extra rear movements might be useful; but for most individuals, the rear tilt is more than enough. It is for changing the shape of the subject.
For example, if I were to make a portrait, I can tilt the rear standard back to make the forehead bigger. Or more commonly, a photographer might want to keep the rear standard parallel to the side of the building so that it looks like it is standing straight. The Arca Swiss Oschwald has many more rear movements allowing it to twist into convoluted shapes. It has more movements than I know how to use. It is something I’m looking forward to discovering.
The construction of the Arca Swiss’ front stand has similar features. In this regard, the Intrepid Camera has most of the same movements too. The biggest difference is how the Arca Swiss can manage front tilt from the base of the front standard, and from the axis of the lens; where the Intrepid can only tilt from the lens.
Overall, the Arca Swiss Oschwald has gears and levers that feel more robust. Each movement is tensioned and tactile. It also has little dials that so you can see the angle of tilt. It has already lived in a professional studio for many decades and was made to last. In comparison, the 3D printed parts on the Intrepid feel hollow or flimsy by comparison. There were many times when I loosened the knob on the rear standard, only to notice that one of the guiding pins get caught. I loosen it a bit more, add some wiggling and I can manipulate the standard freely. In either case they still got the job done.
One point for the Arca Swiss Oschwald
The cliche, ‘They don’t make it like they used to,’ aptly applies to the robust levers and gears. The camera was unchanged from the mid 1950s to the 1980s; and was relied upon for professional studio work and withstood a professional’s studio. These cameras are made to last.
When I am looking to adjust the front standard to give me some front tilt (I do this to increase the depth of field) I have two options with the Arca Swiss. First for larger adjustments, I can tilt from the base of the front standard. After that, I can loosen the knob next to the lens board where I can make fine adjustments. Having both options allows for precise control. In contrast, when I use the Intrepid camera, the front standard jerks between adjustments. This means I spend a lot of time adjusting a little too much, undoing the knob and going back; then over adjusting again. The better build quality can be measured by the amount of times I need to go back and forth with minor adjustments.
That being said, there is an apparent weak spot on the Arca Swiss Oschwald (which was fixed when Arca Swiss changed from the Oschwald line to the F-line). There is a plastic sleeve that connects the standard to the rail. This is pretty old plastic and have a tendency of breaking down over time. There is no repair option for when the plastic fails.
The Intrepid camera has two design weaknesses that irk me and often gets me running back to the Arca Swiss until my old arthritis ridden back tells me to pick up the Intrepid. Firstly, the film holder is held to the rear standard by a 4 small 3D printed clips. I have broken these clips twice already and have learned to keep spares on hand. I have heard about some Etsy sellers selling more sturdy parts, but I have never tried them.
The second is that the ground glass sloshes about. It is held in by two clips and it has never fallen out, but hearing it rattle around in the bag has been disconcerting. I am currently using some folded paper and a bit of glue which act like shims to hold the ground glass down better.
*The second is that the ground glass sloshes about. It is held in by two clips and it has never fallen out, but hearing it rattle around in the bag has been disconcerting. I am currently using some folded paper and a bit of glue which act like shims to hold the ground glass down better.
One point for the Intrepid 8×10 camera
When I broke my camera and ground glass, everyone at Intrepid was very helpful. They are there to make the shooting process a joyful adventure. It was! Intrepid Camera has a much more robust community that especially caters to new users. Their online shop has the added benefit of being able to source almost everything you need in one stop (I definitely saved on shipping). In comparison, Arca Swiss does not have a social media presence. I would not have known that Arca Swiss made cameras had it not been for Ben Horne’s YouTube channel. Arca Swiss doesn’t actually have a website for their cameras, and solely rely on retailers. (www.arca-swiss.de are actually a retail representative based in the EU.)
Looking for replacement parts for the Arca Swiss can be a long arduous and expensive process. They don’t show up too often on the market and technicians who service Arca Swiss cameras are rare. I have wondered whether it is possible to get replacement bellows for the Arca Swiss. In contrast, when I think about replacing the bellows on the Intrepid, I’m pretty sure a quick email to Intrepid Camera will point me in the right direction.
Weight and Transportability
One point for the Intrepid 8×10 camera
When you are carrying an 8×10 camera nothing is going to be light. If weight was going to be a major concern, leave the 8×10 at home and head out the door with anything else. That being said, the Intrepid and the Arca Swiss fit comfortably in the Peak Design Cube large. That allows me to use any bag that fits the large cube. Such as their 65L duffel bag, a Pelican rolling case, or another large hiking bag with a frame. With the right bag, I can carry either camera through the busy streets of Hong Kong. On the days where I’m feeling my age, my back appreciate the weight savings of the Intrepid.
The Intrepid also allows me to get away with a much smaller tripod. When I choose to carry the Intrepid camera out, I can choose to carry a rock solid Gitzo 5 series; or a much more compact 2 series and hope for compassionate weather. On the most humid days, much like the humidity in central Japan, the reduced weight of a lighter tripod and camera makes a big difference.
While they both shoot 8×10, they are too different to compare. Both cameras are super cool. They both look awesome and produce amazing images. There can’t be any losers here today.
I feel as though the Intrepid is like furniture you pick up on Facebook marketplace to furnish your college apartment. It is the couch where you had to put a book under one of the legs to level the couch. You are going to still have a blast with your friends eating, drinking, and playing D&D. Finding an Arca Swiss camera is like finding a Herman Miller Eames chair, a timeless piece that lives up to the legacy and whose fine craftsmanship will last more than a life time. Either way, your butt is just happy to have a place to sit.
I’ve been most fortunate to be able to benefit from both cameras. When weight is the priority, I appreciate the Intrepid. When I’m looking to learn about what crazy movements, there is nothing better than the Arca Swiss Oschwald. Using both has showed me how one brand compromises some features over others. I have learned more about managing perspective and more about taking the different camera movement to manage the shape of the subject with the Arca Swiss Oschwald. I’ve also greatly appreciated the support and weight savings of the Intrepid Camera.
For the new user the Intrepid Camera is a great starter camera, and for most it is enough. It gets you learning the fundamentals. It isn’t until you hit the limitations of the Intrepid Camera do you really appreciate what a more robust camera can offer.