State of the art large format lenses for 4x5 and 5x7 : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I am a long time photographer principally versed in the use of medium format cameras. Recently, I purchased a Canham 5x7 camera which I will be using in the 4x5 and 5x7 formats.My work is 100% B&W. I own presently only a Schneider Apo 210 mm lens which I use for both formats. I do not live in a country where I can conveniently test lenses before purchase. I would therefore like to know what are the absolute best lenses that I can purchase in the focal lengths of ca. 90, 120, 300 and 360 mm (for 4x5) that will be also used when I am working with the 5x7 format. I am aware that the focal lengths are not equivalent. I am intersted in lenses that besides for having the best resolution possible and are also exceptionally contrasty. I have read conflicting comments on German versus Japanese glass. What is the truth behind the comment that Japanese lenses are warmer than German lenses? Should the new 110 mm 5.6XL Super Symmar lens from Schneider be considered based on the above considerations?

-- Dr. Eugene H. Johnson (, October 07, 1997


One of the very finest 90's that you an buy right now it the newer Schneider SuperAngulon XL series. If you do, you might think of their 72mm which cover 5x7. Approximately a 14mm on 35mm film equivalent. But these new XL lenses are excellent. As for 300, there are a lot of them. I use a 300 Nikkor M. Very nice, very sharp & lightweight as well. Then there are a whole host of lenses to choose from. Try almost anything current from the major manufactorors & call or writethem & they will be happy to give out info. One thing helps, and that is looking at Sinaron and Linhof Technica lenses. The best of the best.

-- Dan Smith (, October 15, 1997.

Recently a photographer (Loui Benson) showed me transparencies he got with the 110XL. He said it was the best wide-angle he has ever used and improved significantly on the classical wa lenses (ie super-angulon, grandagons, sw). He is preparing an article on this lens for the LF home page.

-- Quang-Tuan Luong (, October 15, 1997.

You'd really be hard-pressed to go wrong with a current lens from any of the Big Four (Fuji, Nikkor, Rodenstock, and Schneider). ("Sinaron" and "Caltar"--aka "Calumet" are just Rodenstocks with a different name stamped on them; there is no optical difference and neither brand gets any focal lengths or apertures that aren't offered under the Rodenstock name as well. Caltars cost less than Rodenstocks--new, although the resale value is disproportionately less--Sinaron costs more than Rodenstock does although some Sinarons have special trim.)

I've had at least two of each of the Big Four's lenses (I currently use at least one from each maker) and no one I've met can tell which pictures were taken with which lens. I personally have never been able to distinguish the "Warm vs. Cold" difference, and I'm frankly baffled by Calumet's recommendation to buy all of your lenses of the same brand. If there were a noticeable difference in color balance this might be valid, but given how slight the difference is if it exists at all and the fact that no manufacturer makes the best lens at every focal length, I'd pick and choose based on image circle, weight/size, aperture, and cost. Unfortunately, as Leslie Stroebel wrote in his thinner book (View Camera Basics?) price is not always a good indicator of quality; the Fuji 360mmf6.3 has been found lacking compared to the other three companies' 360s, for instance (barrel distortion), even though the lenses all cost about the same new (used, you can get the Fuji cheaper!). But this sort of anomaly is unusual among the Big Four. (In Fuji's defense, I use their 600 f11.5 and find it stunningly sharp; plus the image circle will cover 16x20, I think!).

But if I were in your shoes? I used to err on the side of the Japanese, especially Nikkor (John Sexton claimed he actually had to change his development times to compensate for the increased contrast when he switched to Nikkor, which he uses exclusively)--Fuji is no longer directly imported to the US, though you can easily get them--but then Schneider and Rodenstock came out with their superwides and when all else is equal more coverage is better (the Schneider XL's are remarkable designs; the 47mmXL may be one of the most amazing LF lenses ever. But not everyone needs to photograph subjects behind the camera!... and the "XL" term has been overused, I think--Nikkor's proven 150 SW, one of my favorites for 8x10, is far more "extrawide" than the Schneider 150 XL, for example).

You also didn't mention what you like to photograph; if you do architecture or product, coverage (i.e. large image circle) counts for an awful lot; if you backpack, small size/weight may be more important than coverage; if you're a Ph.D-doctor and not a medical doctor, price may be the deciding factor....

Bottom line: You'll get as many opinions on "best" lenses as the number of people you ask (or, as the above suggests, more!). Some people think a lens computer-designed in the past few years will automatically outperform older designs; others disagree, voting for the classic configurations. Again, you can't go wrong with the Big 4 (LF users are very fortunate, not having to buy only one brand of lenses the way MF people do!); again, base your decision on image circle, weight/size, cost, and--occasionally--aperture (don't automatically go for a wide aperture, however, as the optics aren't necessarily better and the lens will weigh and cost much more: the Nikkor 300 M (f9) mentioned in a post above weighs perhaps a third what the Nikkor 300 W (f5.6) weighs, costs less than half as much, and is probably just as fine optically.)

I don't know where you are; the best way to compare image circles and filter size (no source I know of lists the physical size/weight of LF lenses, so you have to judge by filter size) is the Calumet catalog, because they list all of the brands on the same page so you can easily cross-check and compare. If you're outside the US without a Calumet catalog, you'll have to wait for the mail or wade through B&H Photo's "Large Format Lens" descriptions, for which you can only see one line of one manufacturer at a time ( (Anyone else have other sources for reference?)

Good luck; e-mail me directly if I can be of help....


-- Bill Daily (, December 26, 1997.

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