In early 2009 I published a first-look stylereviewof the then newSinar arTeccamera by Michael Heinrich. It included an interview with architectural photographer Rainer Viertlböck, who had worked with Sinar in developing the arTec camera concept.
What is the arTec concept, you ask? After a couple of weeks of working with an arTec, kindly loaned to me for testing by Bron Imaging, the US distributor, I can describe it as follow…
The smallest, lightest, technical camera for use with medium format digital backs, offering a full range of movements suitable for the architectural photographer.
I should add right away that the arTec isn’t just for architectural photographers. Anyone that needs rise, fall, swings and tilts (front standard only) and who works primarily outside the studio, will find the arTec to be a very well conceived tool.
I should mention that the reason for revisiting the arTec with this review is not simply because I was curious to try one out myself, but also because the camera has now become available with mounts for Hasselblad H, V, and Mamiya / Phase One backs, as well as the (now discontinued) Hy6 and Leaf Afi backs, and of course other Sinar backs.
No disrespect to Sinar, but the vast majority of backs in use by pros around the world are either Phase One or Hasselblad. To have created a specialty camera that only works with ones own brand of backs, was perforce a self-limiting exercise.
So, now that the arTec is available in mounts for all the major digital backs it definitely is worth a fresh look.
What You Get
Most people will buy the arTec as a kit, with lens (es), a mount for their brand of digital back, and viewfinder, all in a fitted case. The one that I tested included a 28mm f/4 Sinaron HR lens in helical focusing mount, and adjustable lens shade. There is an open cut-out in the case’s foam for a digital back, and so the case itself becomes an almost complete kit, and easily airplane carry-on friendly, as well as providing appropriate protection for ones $50,000 worth of gear.Simply add tripod – can travel.
The camera body itself consists of a rotating mount with a frame inside which a sliding dual-mount mechanism operates. One side of the mount takes the digital back and the other a viewing accessory, likely the kit-provided articulated magnifier loupe.
Opposite the digital back, on the front standard, one attaches the lens of ones choice in a helical focusing mount. Sinaron HR lenses from 23mm to 135mm are available, and are priced between about US $4,000 and $12,000. Like the camera itself, not priced for the faint of heart or skinny of wallet.
There are micrometer knobs for rise and fall, as well as tilt and shift. The diagram below, taken from the camera’s PDF manual, shows these better than I can explain.
What the diagram doesn’t show is that each of these micrometer knobs has a locking collar and that all movements feature engraved scales for setting measurement.
The sliding back has a clever mechanism which allows the viewer to be position anywhere within the larger mount opening, so that stitching as well as back shifts are possible. Then, when the back is slid over to take the shot the mount stops at the matching position for the back.
This is all easier to demonstrate than to describe in detail, so I have produced a brief HD video which hopefully will illustrate the camera’s main features.
Click The Above Image to View
A Seven Minute-Long Video Explaining
The Main Features of the Sinar arTec
and Showing it in Use.
The photograph below was done at the end of this little demonstration. As can be seen in the video, a 500W bounce fill was used.
I didn’t have an opportunity to use the arTec on a landscape shoot, though it would have been as appropriate for this as for architecture. My two weeks with the camera found me city-bound, so I decided to try my hand at some architectural shots, though this type of shooting isn’t something that I’ve done professionally for some time.
Once I became comfortable and familiar with the camera I found the arTec to be a very precise and pleasant tool to use. Not as comprehensive in its movements as something like a Sinar P or aLinhof 679, for example, but much smaller and lighter. Architectural photography often means working in cramped quarters or difficult to access positions, ie; the top of a ladder or construction scaffolding. Due to its relatively small size and light weight the arTec will come into its own in situations such as these .
Concerns and Conclusions
My only real concern is that, unlike the Sinar, Hy6, and Afi back versions, the version of the arTec designed for use with Phase One and Hasselblad backs does not have a rotating mechanism. The MF back must be removed from the camera, rotated 90 degrees, and reattached for vertical shots.
This isn’t a huge hassle by any means. But any time that a back is removed it’s exposed to dust, the potential for scratches, or even of being dropped by accident. Such is the way it is, but as someone that once had to pay $1,500 to have the cover glass on a P65 replaced when I accidentally scratched it, I am all-too aware of this potential hazard.
My only other concern is the price. At $14,359 US for the kit as tested (body, 28mm lens, case etc – excluding digital back, of course), the arTec is clearly targeted at the photographer who knows what he or she wants, and is willing to pay for quality and versatility. Given that any potential purchaser will already have somewhere between $15K and $30K invested in a medium format back (not to mention other associated gear), I can’t say that the price will likely phase potential purchasers (no pun intended).
The build quality of the arTec is as good as anything that I’ve used from either Alpa or Arca Swiss, and unlike so many cameras these days it was clearly designed by a photographer rather than engineers or marketing suits. If a camera with these features and capabilities is of interest to you I can heartily recommend the Sinar arTec.