Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Lightweight large format view camera lenses

Another page from my old website...


Large Format Lens Field Kits

This is where I get to sound so much like the Oracle on the Mount... The following are my suggestions on what to carry into the field when photographing the world using a 4x5 camera. No attempt has been made to recommend lenses for use in a studio. Lenses are grouped into catagories in an attempt to illustrate different priorities. I have ranked these lenses based upon inspection of size, weight, and lens quality. Comments on each lens follow. I hope this proves helpful...

If Used/Very Low Cost/Weight is important

  • Wollensak 3 1/2" f/6.3 - $125 This lens is very reasonably priced and provides adequate preformance and coverage (no movements). These are very light and compact.
  • Schneider Xenar 135mm f/4.5 - $125 These lenses are of a tessar design, provide little movement, but are widely available, inexpensive, and quite sharp
  • Schneider Xenar 150mm f/4.5 - $150 These lenses are of a tessar design, provide a little movement, are widely available, inexpensive, and sharp
  • Schneider Symmar Convertable 150mm f/4.5 - $250 If you had room for only one lens to carry this might be the one. It converts into a 265mm long lens and provides adequate performance as a 150mm lens.
  • Kodak 203mm Anastigmat f/7.7 (uncoated) - $125 For an uncoated lens these test very well indeed! These are very light and compact. Not too much to fear for the lack of coating as this lens has only four elements that are air-spaced. So flair will not be too apparent. It's certainly not like having to coat a multi-element modern lens...
  • Kodak 203mm Ektar f/7.7 (coated) - $200 The quality of this lens is truely amazing when one considers that it started life as one of Kodak's Anastigmat lenses. The engineers did their job right. Mounted in a small Supermatic shutter, these lenses are a joy to carry into the field.
  • Rodenstock 210mm Geronar f/6.8 - $250 For a three element design that comes coated it'll provide adequate performance. The size is good for carrying into the field as well.
  • Schneider 210mm Symmar Convertable f/5.6 - $400 If you have to have a plasmat-design lens this one is adequate for the price and performance needed to properly render an image in the field.

If Used/Performance/Weight is important

  • Schneider 90mm Angulon f/6.8 - $200 Search for a Linhof shuttered example if you purchase one made in the 1950's. It's manufacturing quality was improved into the 1960's. Find one mounted in a Compur shutter that provides a focusing pre-view lever (there's lots that don't have this option, so shop carefully) to help make life easier. Shoot straight on as these have practically no coverage for 4x5
  • 1970's Schneider 90mm Angulon f/6.8 - $300 The last of the Angulons were probably the nicest as quality control was at it's peak for this series. Too bad these aren't made anymore... they are light and sharp.
  • Kodak 100mm Wide Field Ektar f/6.3 - $150/$275 This is a good lens. This lens has very nice coverage for 4x5, and allows a bit of movement where a 90mm Angulon does not. Search for good clean examples and have loads of fun!
  • Kodak 135mm Wide Field Ektar f/6.3 - $200/$375 This is a surprisingly good lens. Kodak had some of the best quality control/production control mechanisms in the industry. This lens has absolutely huge coverage for 4x5, and can be used straight on for 5x7. Search for good clean examples and enjoy the quality.
  • Fujinon 135mm W/EBC f/5.6 - $250 This lens has the quality of German lenses. F/11 and f/16 performance is good. F/22 performs right at diffraction limits. Just make sure you pick one up that has the multicoating. To know this look for the engraving on the outside of the front element rim and bright green highlights reflecting off the glass
  • Fuji 150mm W or WS f/6.3 - $350 These lenses should be more highly touted! Excellent optics with very reasonable coverage. Illumination circle is reported to be around 290mm. The usable area will be something less than this as this lens is most likely of Tessar design, but still providing 57 to 62 degrees of area to work in.
  • Rodenstock 150mm N f/5.6 - $350 This lens is small, light and provides outstanding quality. Resolution performance was outstanding in the one example we tested. Look for a recently manufactured lens as construction quality improved greatly during the 1980's.
  • Schneider 150mm Symmar-S/MC f/5.6 - $375 For a used lens you will find nothing finer. Simply excellent performance at a good price. Matches Rodenstock's Sironar-S most excellent 75 degree plasmat at half the cost used!!!
  • Nikon 200mm M f/8 - $450 These are not widely available, though they should be. These are very small, and very light. It's worth looking for as they are also very sharp. Keep your eyes open and launch that boat anchor-Plasmat design in favor of really great optics.
  • Fuji 240mm A f/9 - $500 If you're looking for the longest non-telephoto 4x5 lens mounted in a #0 shutter which is, at the same time, very highly regarded for it's outstanding image qualities (even at infinity), then look no further. Unfortunately you might pay a premium for one, even on the used market (Robert White sells new 240mm Schneider GClarons for less - thought that lens is only single coated and mounted in a #1 shutter). Kerry Thalmann considers this lens a Future Classic.
  • Nikon 300mm M f/9 - $450 These are widely available and are very small, and very light. It's worth looking for as they are also nice and sharp. Kerry Thalmann considers this lens a Future Classic.

If New/Low Cost/Weight is important

  • Congo 90mm Wide Field f/6.3 - $275 Want something that's multi-coated, in a new shutter, and light? This is worth considering. I've heard that quality control is non-existant at the factory, but for a peice of glass costing not much more than a new shutter, what can one expect? Well, for starters you can expect quality on par with the old Wollensak 3 1/2 inch wide field lenses... and that ain't 1/2 bad...
  • Congo 120mm Wide Field f/6.3 - $295 Still want something that's multi-coated, in a new shutter, and light? This is also worth considering. Think of this lens as a new 120mm Angulon, but without the quality control. So test before using, and you could come out very happy...
  • Schneider 150mm Xenar f/5.6 - $375 I was surprised to find this lens is still made. It's very small, light, and would make a great traveling companion to a Nikon 200mm M.
  • Congo 210mm tessar f/6.3 - $325 ? You roll your dice and take your chances. If you buy one test it. I think you'll find that it's performance is real similar to the Wollensak lenses of 40 years ago. That is to say, adequate for the job.
  • Schneider 210mm Xenar f/6.1 - $500 Here too I was very surprised to learn that this lens is still being made. It's mounted in a #1 shutter so is larger to haul around than an Ektar or Nikkor. But if you have to have new and like the way tessar-formula lenses render images then here it is.

If New/Performance is important

  • Schneider 80mm f/4.5 Super Symmar XL - $1300 from Badger Graphic (no idea yet what Schnieder USA will be charging). I guess I should have been surprised by the addition of more aspheric lenses from this company. This may seem a rather odd focal length but it neatly replaces two lenses at once - a 75mm and 90mm and it's smaller and lighter than either of them. Coupled with the next lens on this list and you'll have the short end of your lens collection covered.
  • Schneider 110mm f/5.6 Super Symmar XL - $1200 from Badger Graphic Give me the option of carrying only two lenses, and money no object! This would be right in the running for providing the shorter focal length. Words cannot describe the image quality of this lens. You can see it on the test negatives standing three feet away (well, if a Wollensak 108mm negaive shot at wide open is hanging literally next to it :-). It's reasonably small, fairly light, and would be worth selling one's first born for if you had to make your living in photography. Or maybe just a limb or two. Badger Graphic brings these into the US apparently straight from the factory and offers this wonderful lens at 1/2 the street price of equipment coming through other distribution channels. Kerry Thalmann considers this lens a Future Classic.
  • Schneider 120mm f/5.6 Super Symmar HM - $900 from Badger Graphic I used to poo-poo these lenses as too expensive. That was until Schneider came out with it's 110XL. If I had nearly unlimited budget I'd seriously consider purchasing this lens. When combined with a new APO 210mm lens one's field kit could accept the small weight gain and launch the 75, 90, and 150mm lenses in favor of a two lens kit. This lens is a super performer in every way. And it's cheaper now in the US by buying directly from a reputable supplier!
  • Fuji 125mm f/5.6 CM-W - $600 Don't have the money to spend on the Super Symmar? The Fuji lens continues to support their highly regarded reputation for constructing great lenses. At over half the price of a Schneider this lens provides decent coverage and excellent preformance. This is an outstanding value.
  • Rodenstock 150mm f/5.6 APO Sironar-S - $700 Need a little extra coverage for movements? This 75 degree plasmat is truley surprising. It matched an outstanding 72 degree plasmat in the Schneider 150mm APO Symmar in terms of size, weight, image quality. These guys have done their homework! Combine this lens with nice 90 and 210mm lenses and you'd have one rightous field kit.
  • Nikon 200mm M f/8 - $625 Small and sharp are the right words to describe this beauty. If you need new and want the latest coatings but need to romp the hills of Easter Island this is a great lens. In fact it should be the cornerstone of any light/portable field kit. Too bad everyone thinks they need the image circle of a nearly 8x10 lens and end up carrying those boat anchor 210mm plasmats... this is the only modern lens in my kit that fits into the folded body of an old Linhof Super Technika III.
  • Schneider 210mm APO Symmar f/5.6 - $1000 As expected this is a truely wonderful lens. It's sharp beyond sharp. If weight didn't matter this is the one lens I'd pair with that incredible 110XL or 120 Super Symmar HM. But I'd do it only if I could stand the weight. Maybe this is why God gave us mini-vans... to carry all this wonderful stuff... just don't stumble too far from home as the weight might become important.
  • Fuji 240mm A f/9 - $655 This is the longest new lens a person can buy that's mounted in a #0 shutter. And it's wonderful. Use this lens as the cornerstone of a 90/150/240 three lens field kit and you'd have a truely outstanding combination. You'll find nothing finer. And if you buy one from Badger it's also very reasonably priced.
  • Nikon 300mm M f/9 - $900 If you have enough bellows this lens is small, light, and sharp. Like it's less well known sister, the 200mm M Nikkor, this is a great performer.
  • Fuji 300mm C f/8 - $650 If you have enough bellows this lens is small, light, and sharp. Like it's well known cousin, the 240mm A Fuji, this should be a great performer.

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