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Thread: Why Are Tech Cams So Expensive?

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    Why Are Tech Cams So Expensive?

    Serious question. Someone asked it on Reddit in response to a link I posted to the RS600 thread, and I didn't really have an answer for them. So if anyone can offer a little insight..

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    Re: Why Are Tech Cams So Expensive?

    Extremely high precision, specialised piece of equipment, built from high quality materials to be robust and durable.

    The lenses are absolute leading-edge designs, especially in wide-angles. People on this particular forum are discovering usability flaws in the real world the technology is that new, these are not flaws like a firmware error, they are flaws in the optical design because it has never been done before.

    If you've never used say a Rodi HR40 or similar lens on a tech camera, you cannot imagine just how good it is.

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    Re: Why Are Tech Cams So Expensive?

    I don't know, colorspace, but its a perfectly legit question.
    I will assume its because they are tight-tolerance, custom machined appliances that are difficult to make well, and must be adaptable to a wide variety of camera backs and lens mounts with closed proprietary interfaces.
    That means demand and supply are low.
    I wonder myself why there are no inexpensive knockoffs and 3D printer plans for one out there already.

    e

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    Re: Why Are Tech Cams So Expensive?

    The cameras are the least expensive part of the total kit. If you add up the cost of a high megapixel back along with the cost of a wide, normal and longer lens, the camera is probably less than 25% of the complete package.
    I bought a Arca Swiss pancake; I would guess that the number of these sold new each year number in the hundreds or low thousands so there is little chance that the producers of these wonderful cameras can benefit from economy of scale

    Stanley
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    Re: Why Are Tech Cams So Expensive?

    Quote Originally Posted by stngoldberg View Post
    The cameras are the least expensive part of the total kit.
    Perhaps - that doesn't explain *why* they cost as much as they do - unless relative cost is something considered when they're actually pricing these things.

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    Senior Member darr's Avatar
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    Re: Why Are Tech Cams So Expensive?

    The quality of the lens one can use on a tech camera makes it unforgiving if there is any slop between the digital back and the lens. Guess what makes that connection as precise as possible? Manufacturing precision instruments takes time and money, and the clientele pool is small.
    "Creativity takes courage." ~ Henri Matisse
    Darlene Almeda, photoscapes.com
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    Re: Why Are Tech Cams So Expensive?

    Quote Originally Posted by colorspace View Post
    Serious question. Someone asked it on Reddit in response to a link I posted to the RS600 thread, and I didn't really have an answer for them. So if anyone can offer a little insight..
    Its basically a very low volume (sales), high quality (design, build quality / precision and materials / finish) camera body. They are almost custom made cameras. Once you hold one in your hands and use it you will understand. Some Cambo models can be had for not that much money. So there is a wide range in price.

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    Senior Member kdphotography's Avatar
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    Re: Why Are Tech Cams So Expensive?


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    Re: Why Are Tech Cams So Expensive?

    It doesn't help that these small volume, high precision cameras are built in traditionally high cost locations by small companies. In fact, some aren't even built by the company that you think but are built by suppliers. Alpa for example are in fact built by Seitz in Switzerland.

    Here's another factory tour by Seitz. Although talking about their Roundshot and panoramic own brand cameras, the bodies you see in the video laid out on the tables are in fact Alpa STC bodies.
    Sietz - Alpa manufacturer
    Last edited by GrahamWelland; 30th March 2014 at 17:17.
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    Re: Why Are Tech Cams So Expensive?

    Hi Colourspace,

    Here's the thing. Manufacturing with precision requires precision. I'm not sure if you have used Tech Cams before, but the quality is decades ahead of what any SLR can achieve. Getting that quality (opto-mechanical) requires precision. Getting that precision requires more precision. Try machining something with that micrometre precision and you will understand what I am saying, ie. the machines that make these machines themselves are (need to be) built with precision. These machines cost a lot of money to make and maintain. In fact, these machines are costlier than some of the machines that make medical and surgical tools.
    Hope that helps.

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    Re: Why Are Tech Cams So Expensive?

    seriously a relatively simple tech cam has nothing like the complex detailing and super fine precision in machining and assembly of, say a non-electric nikon or leica

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    Subscriber & Workshop Member GrahamWelland's Avatar
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    Re: Why Are Tech Cams So Expensive?

    John - I suspect though that building an analogue Leica M or Nikon SP in the quantities of the technical cameras today would cost more per unit than even Alpa/Arca/Sinar/Linhof/Cambo actually do. Exquisite as they are, they do or more accurately did, benefit from at least some economies of scale.

    I know that you could actually design and build your own technical camera if you wanted to and indeed have the tools and equipment to do so. How much would one cost though to actually buy given your New York overheads and component, assembly and raw material costs? You'd obviously not be doing this as a purely material and time cost only exercise and that alone probably accounts for more of the cost of the technical cameras we see at retail.
    Remember: adventure before dementia!

    As Oscar Wilde said, "my tastes are simple, I only like the best"

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    Re: Why Are Tech Cams So Expensive?

    Is a techcam more difficult to make than say a Sony A7? Techcam, I think, it's a rather "Low tech" piece of camera equipment given there are only few moving parts. What does it really do? To allow you to focus the optics (which made by other companies) and perhaps some vertical and horizontal movement. There is no autofocus, there is no light meter, there is shutter (other than Alpa FPS), there is no mirror box..... the list goes on. The only thing that hold the price is the low supply and demand by people using those outstanding optics with movement.

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    Subscriber & Workshop Member GrahamWelland's Avatar
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    Re: Why Are Tech Cams So Expensive?

    If Sony only made 500 A7r's per year, what would the cost per camera be?
    Remember: adventure before dementia!

    As Oscar Wilde said, "my tastes are simple, I only like the best"

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    Re: Why Are Tech Cams So Expensive?

    Quote Originally Posted by GrahamWelland View Post
    If Sony only made 500 A7r's per year, what would the cost per camera be?

    I agree with Graham and others here- whole heartily!! Being in manufacturing my entire life, it is always a misconception, to look at a finished product, have a beer and decide there is nothing to it - that is until you attempt to do it. Easy to copy (somewhat) difficult to innovate.

    The machinery alone is expensive, and to amortize it over the life of the product(s) is a fundamental consideration. This is to say nothing about the skill of the workers, and R&D.

    Manufacturing has some basic rules.

    1.How fast do you turn your money, from purchase of materials until payment is received.

    2. What is depth of the manufacturing run.

    Making product is not easy, specifically, when you have no room for errors, if any of the tech camera manufactures turn out a defective product, it can take years to reestablish your reputation. The tech companies, do not appear large in any sense of the word, they do not make a commodity product. I remember hearing for example that Rodenstock had to trash 2 entire runs of their 90 HR SW, due to being unable to maintain the quality, they guaranteed .

    As an owner of two techs, and two AS view cameras, I can truly understand the question of the OP. Do I sometimes feel that they are over priced, sure!! But then reality steps in, the moment I use them. This is not to say, that I feel they are prefect, I think all of us would like some small changes here and there to make them easier to use.

    How many manufacturing companies can you call up and speak to knowledgeable people, and then find them responsive. My personal experiences with Renee at Cambo and Rod from Arca Swiss - are unparalleled. Try calling up Sony or Nikon, or Canon. The dealer network is also fantastic, I could not ask for anything more from Capture Integration. Rod is also extremely helpful and knowable. All of these things are part and parcel of the purchase. It would be daunting to consider this investment without thier support>

    Also it is more than just a board - AS, Alpa, Cambo, all make tilt shift mechanisms. mount the lenses, and calibrate them. They all want you to have success with their products.

    As mentioned earlier, maybe with 3D printing, this will eventually bring down the costs, somewhat, I fine 3D fascinating.

    My 2 cents.

    Phil
    Last edited by alajuela; 31st March 2014 at 00:03.

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    Re: Why Are Tech Cams So Expensive?

    Quote Originally Posted by GrahamWelland View Post
    If Sony only made 500 A7r's per year, what would the cost per camera be?
    The fact of the matter is that Sony will never make make a product like A7r with 500 units as sales projection. That would not even cover the basic setup in their manufacturing processes.

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    Re: Why Are Tech Cams So Expensive?

    I don't think tech cameras are that expensive. Compared to a Sony A7r or similar mass-produced camera yes, but you should compare to other precision mechanics equipment made in small volume, ie not necessarily cameras. Small volume precision mechanics made by a western work force which has decent salaries and social security. These are manufactured in a totally different way than a mass-produced camera.

    It's not possible to make a low cost unit without automating most manufacturing steps, and letting the rest be assembled by cheap labour. And to make everything automatic you need lots of specialized manufacturing tools which cost a huge amount of money in setup cost, ie you need sales in large volumes to make it work, and the tech camera market is too small for that.

    If you look at tech cam lenses, lens prices are not too expensive compared to the performance you get, assuming you get them on a lens board . I mean a Zeiss Otus lens is not very cheap ($4K) and for landscape apertures I get just as much performance with shift and tilt using my 72mm Schneider Digitar (about the same FOV with MF sensor, costs less than $2K with lens board). The reason for this is that tech cam lenses can be made with simpler designs, as they don't require as wide apertures and as strong retrofocus designs (this might be changing though... :-\), looking at the amount of glass per dollar you get in a tech cam lens they are still considerably more expensive than mass-produced lenses though.

    And for some reason it seems like you really need these expensive things to get the precision you need. Not many cheap tech cams are made, but you can instead look at geared tripod heads if you want to compare. I have an economical manfrotto geared head, but the tightness and precision is no way near my Arca-Swiss D4 head. I've tried a few of these manfrotto heads and sample variation in terms of tightness here and there is startling, and I guess that is what would happen if you tried to make a cheap tech camera too.

    What I do think is mysteriously expensive though are the digital backs. They should be expensive due to their small sales volumes, but I just think it's too extreme as it is today.

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    Re: Why Are Tech Cams So Expensive?

    Where I think the technical camera stuff IS overly expensive is with the small accessories and custom helicoid mounts. As Torger will attest with his lenses on lens boards, there's a huge leap in cost between a nude Rodie 40HR and the same lens mounted on an Alpa mount with helicoid. The price difference isn't covered by the precision machined chunk of aluminium and bolted on helicoid & mounted lens - even with adjustment on a colimeter at the factory IMHO. As regards some of the things like plastic lens rear covers, delrin body plates, aluminiumt body spacers / mounts for viewfinders etc are also outrageously expensive too for items that are little more than a machined square piece of metal with two mounting screws ($200) or injection molded clip on covers ($40+).
    Remember: adventure before dementia!

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    Re: Why Are Tech Cams So Expensive?

    Spot on, Graham. The add-ons are ridiculously expensive.

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    Re: Why Are Tech Cams So Expensive?

    I think the pricing of the accessories follows the "Apple way". 30 Euros for an USB cable, or 80 Euros for a cold shoe adapter from Arca Swiss. Same concept. These are "luxury" items, so the price is only related to what the customer will pay - not to what it costs to make.

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    Re: Why Are Tech Cams So Expensive?

    With some accessories the manufacturers are a bit sloppy though.

    I don't mind "paying for the brand", if the brand means something, ie a guarantee that the design is good and quality assurance is good, so you know if you buy a branded accessory you get good stuff and don't need to worry about sample variation, poor fit or bad design.

    This is not always the case though. One example is the push-on lens caps that expand in warm weather until they fall off, and shrink in cold weather until they are difficult to remove, and I don't think that's really acceptable.

    I have a Linhof-branded B&W outdoor case, ridicously priced because it says Linhof on it, and still the custom-made foam insert is wrongly cut so the camera does not really fit without forcing it it in. That's not good.

    I don't like it when the only thing that happens with the company's brand stamped on the product is a raised price, and unfortunately it does happen for some accessories.

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    Senior Member dchew's Avatar
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    Re: Why Are Tech Cams So Expensive?

    Anders,
    Those lens caps are my pet peeve. I put a filter on each lens just for protection while stored in the backpack.

    Expensive accessories has always been the case though, and a basic part of any premier product pricing model. From cocktails at an expensive restaurant to floor mats in that shiny new car. In some cases it is the accessories that provides the sustaining profit for the rest of the business.

    In Alpa's case it is the more substantial accessories that add up and bite me every time. Back adapters are ~$1,300, That little wake-up switch is like $675, and a square 17mm adapter is over $500 (and it is just a glorified extension tube with no electronics).

    We love this stuff!

    Dave
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    Re: Why Are Tech Cams So Expensive?

    My back adapter plate is made by Linhof, but I got the tip to instead buy the Phase One-branded plate (it's the same Linhof-made plate but with Phase One logo). As Phase One is a cheap budget brand that plate is substantially cheaper than the Linhof-branded.

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    Re: Why Are Tech Cams So Expensive?

    agree Graham as to economies of scale, but the poster was stating the tech camera cost was due to quality and precision of machining and high cost of machines.

    and you bet, overhead is high in NYC, especially for manufacturing. Alpa and Linhof must have even higher overhead, if that is a metric

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    Re: Why Are Tech Cams So Expensive?

    Consider these small volume manufacturers as more than just fabricators. They are also design/prototyping operations, and sales/distribution organizations. I wonder if that doesn't use up more of their budget than the manufacturing side.

    Linhof are masters of small volume production runs, and makes the Techno. An early check on serial numbers suggested production in the hundreds, maybe a thousand or so. While based on existing 6x9, there are a lot of unique parts on the camera. Leave aside some "in-production" modifications, run the numbers, and figure some overhead for admin, design, testing, marketing( not too much!), and inventory. In design/engineering firms, we had a 2.5-3 times multiplier on direct labor to cover the full costs. One wonders how much of the sales cost of the camera goes to just production expenses. My guess is much less than we think, likely less than half.

    If folks can charge significant amount for a mere bottle of water (cost of bottling/distribution/marketing), this suggests why small accessories are so expensive: the pipelines for distribution are small and not nec. economical.

    That these manufacturers might be shooting themselves in the foot with their high prices and limited markets has been a point well made for some time. It's hard for these companies to change, especially when the roadside is littered with others who didn't make it. I'm glad some of these small manuf. are still doing what they do, although some of the prices are a bit much.
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    Re: Why Are Tech Cams So Expensive?

    If I were a tech cam manufacturer I would be a bit concerned by that often more than half of the money spent on a system goes to the digital back manufacturer. I'm convinced that if backs were cheaper, tech cam manufacturers would sell more. Not sure though if the need/want to sell more than they do though. I have no ideas how their business are. I hope it's good.

    For a while it was popular to state that the reason digital backs are as expensive as they are is because of the sensor. A large sensor is $1- $3k (indeed expensive), but the backs are $25 - $40k. Somehow I get the feeling that even if the tech cam precision mechanics is expensive you get more for your money than when you buy the digital back.
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    Re: Why Are Tech Cams So Expensive?

    As the caps, I have never understood why both Schneider and Rodenstock use the push on style. The first thing I have to do is order a new "standard modern style plastic cap" and put the push on in the drawer.

    Paul

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    Re: Why Are Tech Cams So Expensive?

    Quote Originally Posted by GrahamWelland View Post
    Where I think the technical camera stuff IS overly expensive is with the small accessories and custom helicoid mounts. As Torger will attest with his lenses on lens boards, there's a huge leap in cost between a nude Rodie 40HR and the same lens mounted on an Alpa mount with helicoid. The price difference isn't covered by the precision machined chunk of aluminium and bolted on helicoid & mounted lens - even with adjustment on a colimeter at the factory IMHO. As regards some of the things like plastic lens rear covers, delrin body plates, aluminiumt body spacers / mounts for viewfinders etc are also outrageously expensive too for items that are little more than a machined square piece of metal with two mounting screws ($200) or injection molded clip on covers ($40+).
    With regards the spacers, why would you expect these to be (relatively) cheap? They still have to be made to the same tolerances, and presumably in even smaller volumes than the cameras themselves.

    ALPA 12TC - 1928 CHF.
    FPS Lens mount 11mm (does exactly the same thing, just doesn't have mounting holes for accessories) - 653 CHF.

    I'm pretty sure they'll sell more TC's than the 11mm FPS lens mount, and it's almost a third of the price - a veritable bargain

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    Re: Why Are Tech Cams So Expensive?

    Gerald,

    The TC has baffles inside, mounting hardware threads, clips and spring loaded bearings. A lens mount and things like 11/17/34mm spacers are a single machined piece with some anti-reflective blackening on the inside. Once you've set up the CNC machine it basically builds itself (ok, you have to anodize/paint it). In my view that's a big difference to a body with all of the manual assembly and parts.

    $0.02. (which would be $20.00 in Alpa terms )
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    Re: Why Are Tech Cams So Expensive?

    Quote Originally Posted by GrahamWelland View Post
    Gerald,

    The TC has baffles inside, mounting hardware threads, clips and spring loaded bearings. A lens mount and things like 11/17/34mm spacers are a single machined piece with some anti-reflective blackening on the inside. Once you've set up the CNC machine it basically builds itself (ok, you have to anodize/paint it). In my view that's a big difference to a body with all of the manual assembly and parts.

    $0.02. (which would be $20.00 in Alpa terms )
    No - the FPS 11mm lens mount is effectively a camera.

    Yes, it is missing the baffles and threads, but everything else is there ready to attach back and lens.

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    Re: Why Are Tech Cams So Expensive?

    Gerald - Fair point the FPS does have all the clips - the normal adapters are only 1/2 TC's by comparison. At least the adapters do have the clips mounted etc. A lens adapter is really just the machined spacer with a hole in the end for the helicoid.

    Anyway, they're all expensive but I would challenge anyone to get one made to the same precision for the same or less money - in a quantity of one.
    Remember: adventure before dementia!

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    Re: Why Are Tech Cams So Expensive?

    Quote Originally Posted by GrahamWelland View Post
    Gerald - Fair point the FPS does have all the clips - the normal adapters are only 1/2 TC's by comparison. At least the adapters do have the clips mounted etc. A lens adapter is really just the machined spacer with a hole in the end for the helicoid.

    Anyway, they're all expensive but I would challenge anyone to get one made to the same precision for the same or less money - in a quantity of one.
    Yup - I think you've hit the nail on the head there.

    I remember when the FPS came out commenting that in some scenarios you could have as many as 6 interfaces between the lens and the back. Everything in the system has to be manufactured to the same tolerances, and that will be neither easy nor cheap.

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    Re: Why Are Tech Cams So Expensive?

    I read many responses here and all excellent points except one was not said so its calls for some humor. Bottom line we are all crazy enough to buy them. LOL

    But as far as photo gear there not much sexier than having a tech cam. Truly a piece of art in itself.
    Photography is all about experimentation and without it you will never learn art.

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    Re: Why Are Tech Cams So Expensive?

    Quote Originally Posted by gerald.d View Post
    Yup - I think you've hit the nail on the head there.

    I remember when the FPS came out commenting that in some scenarios you could have as many as 6 interfaces between the lens and the back. Everything in the system has to be manufactured to the same tolerances, and that will be neither easy nor cheap.
    I never before realized the FPS 11 could be a camera. They should add threads to the bottom so we can mount it to a tripod!

    I don't want to take anything away from the manufacturing precision, but this Alpa/Seitz design is smart in that for most of the adapters and lenses there is only one spot where the dimension is critical: That little rib that runs around the base and defines the length. Everything else can have lower tolerance because of the way the mount tabs opposite the "ears" give when assembled.

    The cameras and the FPS 11 are different. Those milled faces have to be close to perfect.

    Dave
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