Big 4 lens makers - no difference - right? : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

Almost everything I've read in this forum and elsewhere (except advertisements) indicate that lenses for the big four are essentially all equal because of non-optical limitations like camera stability, film plane flatness, focusing errors, etc. It comes as a surprise though to hear from one of the very highly recommended salesperson (static pages) and respected contributor to this forum that I should consider getting an APO-Sironar S instead of a Nikon W.

How many people doing large format seriously think that these two lenses have real observable differences? and if so, at what degree of enlargement? I've observed (B&H catalog) that the Nikon lenses are almost always significantly cheaper than comparable lenses from the other three manufacturers without really sacrificing image circle, etc. The Nikon W and SW series are a few examples. Why do people still buy lenses other than from Nikon? Are they just after the very last bit of sharpness that cost so much, like some 35 mm photographers who spend so much and go for Leica and Contax instead of Canon and Nikon prime lenses?

-- Carlos Co (, January 23, 1999



Why do some people like a Pepsi over a coke, a BMW over a Mercedes, chicken over turkey, a Nikkor over a Rodenstock etc.? Because each brings a different mix of ingredients to the table. Some say apple pie is apple pie, but to an apple pie lover there is a great deal of difference between aunt Marys apple pie and Moms apple pie. You are just going to have to find out which brand suits you the best. Isnt choice great!


-- Pat Raymore (, January 23, 1999.

You are asking the wrong question which will never get you a knowledgeable answer.

The proper question is not how many people "think" they know but :

Who has compared these lenses in actual use so they can give an answer based on fact rather than personal theory?

Yes there are differences, yes they are very visible on film.

The analogy to cars is interesting in theory but very different in application.

If you can afford to buy a new car, and assuming you are sophisticated not to purchase one because "it's what your father drove" then you will pick your price range and style and go test them and pick the one that suits you best.

Unfortunately with lenses, since we are only talking about your money, we take the word of people we never met, whose work we may not have seen, who may not be as critical and who may never have actually tried anything but used lenses and who are determined to convince all that there are no benefits to anything they don't use.

Don't rely on verbage. Look at the charts and shoot with the lens. Then decide and then instead of asking the question you can help others as you will have the

-- bob salomon (, January 23, 1999.

I completely agree with Bob. After shooting with several older Kodak Ektar lenses and a few newer Schneiders and Nikons, I decided that I liked the contrast afforded with the modern multi-coated lens. Many fellow photographers allowed me to burn a sheet or two of my film in their camera with their assortment of lens. I took them home to process and review and as Bob mentioned, found a visual difference between even modern lenses that surprised me. In the end, I ended up with the less expensive of the modern vintage but was glad that I spend less time with opinion and more time with what I found to be appealing to me.

What works for you depends upon what you see in your results.

-- Michael Kadillak (, January 23, 1999.

Of course there are differences, but the differences may or may not matter to you. Right now you have no experience, so for you the important fact is that none of the four major lens makers makes a bad lens. Buy any one of them in the focal length you find comfortable working with, and use it. In time and with experience you may continue to use that lens, or you may change as your standards or objectives change. The important thing is to take pictures, not to worry about lenses.

-- Richard Deimel (, January 24, 1999.

I do get to compare chromes at the camera club I attend. We have lenses that cover almost every mfr. and era. The interesting thing is, nobody really mentions lenses at all. It doesnt seem to make much difference. I dont think anyone can tell just which chrome was shot with what lens, because there are so many other more important variables. The lighting and film selection are far more obvious. Almost all shots are diffraction limited, so sharpness doesnt vary much, it seems. One thing that seems interesting though, is Nikkors seem to have a better coating. A fair number of German lenses have odd looking coatings after a while, where none of the Nikkors do. Some folks use a mix, so they seem to be exposed to the same conditions, so who knows? I think most of the people in the club also buy used lenses, and whether they end up with Nikkors, Rodenstocks or Schneiders has more to do with what was available when they were in the market.

-- Ron Shaw (, January 25, 1999.

I have to take very strong exception to Bob Salomons statement that there are visible differences between current Fuji, Nikon, Rodenstock,and Schneider lenses. My challenge is this: I'll shoot the same subject with all 4 brands of lenses in 135 focal length. I'll send him the original transparencies, and have him identify which ones were taken with Rodenstock lenses. I will include shots with both the Sironar -S, and the Sironar -N, because Bob has stated several times in Usenet postings that there is a visible difference between these lenses as well.

Here it is, Bob: Your chance to convince folks once and for all that there is really a difference between these lense, and that you are critical enough to see that difference.

Until someone like Bob Salomon proves that there is a diffence, I'd say that you should just shop for price between that Big Four. They all make world class lenses, and you cannot go wrong with any of them.

-- Gary Helfrich (, January 26, 1999.

To Bob and Gary: I am very pleased to hear from two very strong-minded individuals with opposing beliefs on this subject. I think the two of you will make a significant contribution to my plight and others if one of you can convince the other of what they believe in. I'd really appreciate that.

-- Carlos Co (, January 26, 1999.

I think it's unfair to demand that a viewer (in this case Bob) be able to identify the exact lens that was used for individual chromes. What I think would be a more fair and useful test would be to make numerous exposures with different lenses and see if a person could separate the chromes into piles which correctly assemble all the shots from a given lens. That is to say, take thirty shots with four lenses of three different subjects. Each lens will have made at least two identical images of each subject; some lenses will have made more. Mix 'em up and give them to Bob. See if he correctly collects all the xyz1, xyz2, xyz3 and xyz4 images in their proper piles. If he can, I bet he can also make a good stab at which lenses took which image. But asking a person on the basis of just one chrome per lens is asking a lot.

-- Erik Ryberg (, January 26, 1999.

1: No one could care less if I can tell shots apart and, if I can, it is meaningless to you. It's about as valuable as shooting flat charts. What is meaningful is if you can.

I can to believe that you would buy a car because I tested them and I felt best about my car.

2: What matters is what you feel is best. Editors and photographers have published several statements and reports about the S. You could check them.

3: As I told you in rec photo we will be happy to direct you to dealers who rent so you can do your own test. What we ill not do is send lenses out to individuals for testing. If you can convince a magazine to print your test we would supply lenses to the magazine for testing. At this moment the Apo Grandagon is being tested by a well known archetectural photographer for a magazin

-- bob salomon (, January 26, 1999.

I think that Erics suggestions are a great improvement for my test.

I have borrowed Rodenstock lenses from time to time. They were great. So are the Fuji and Schneider lenses that I currently own. The fact that the lens is being reviewed by a magazine is not of any particular value unless they are conducting some sort of scientific blind test like Eric suggested.

I don't believe that ANYONE could tell a Rodenstock from a Schneider (or Nikon or Fuji) in a controlled blind test. Not myself, not Bob, or any of the "well known photographers" that write these lens reviews. I have a feeling that the real reason that blind testing is never done is that it will show that the emperor is running around naked.

-- Gary Helfrich (, January 26, 1999.

But Gary,

It isn't what you think. That is only supposition.

What counts is what you know. And you can only know by doing it yourself.

You don't even know if the testers and potential testers on the web are even as qualified as you to do a test to your satisfaction. Or if they shoot like you do. Or the condition of their equipment used to make the test. or their ability in the darkroom or the quality of their enlarging lens, or their loupe, or their eyesight, or simply what they accept as good or bad.

Yes you will be able to see the difference. There are even posts from 3rd parties who have seen the differences.

But then you shouldn't even accept their word, or major well published authors word, or major magazine editors word - even when the pictures are published.

Trust your own eyes and learn for your self and not rely on someone elses ability or lack o

-- bob salomon (, January 26, 1999.

Perhaps I need to make myself a bit more clear. I have shot current Rodenstock lenses (Grandagon and Sironar -S) and I cannot see the difference looking at the film on a light table. At one point I examined the film with my toolmakers microscope, (I'm a machinist by trade, a photographer as a hobby) and could not see any difference all the way down to the grain of the film (Velvia in this case).

From my observations, modern large format glass is so good that the differences are lost in the "noise floor". Camera vibration, film structure and flatness, film holder registration, etc. are all bigger contributors to shortcomings in image quality than the lens is.

Bob seems to harp on shooting rather than making judgements based on others' observations and opinions. Sound advice. I don't see any difference between modern large format lenses other than coverage and focal length. So in my case, I just shop for the best bargain between the big four. I also think that anyone who feels that they can tell the difference is blowing smoke and could not seperate out images in a blind test. This is also something I have done for fun with one of my friends who bought a new Zeiss 135mm lens for an absurd amount of money. I shot a ten images first with the Zeiss and then with my $600. Fuji 135mm CM-W. We put all twenty images on a light table and he tried to sort them, and failed. So once again, based on my experience, I don't think that a person can tell one transparancy from another based on which lens was used to shoot it.

-- Gary Helfrich (, January 27, 1999.

I think enough has been said on this. After looking at the USENET archives, I really really wish now that people can delete their own questions before they get out of hand. Thanks for confirming my thoughts on this topic, Gary. Bob, eventually when I become more experienced, I will do what you say and try out various lenses for myself and try to see the differences, but for now, I'm going for Nikon all the way because they are the cheapest at B&H. Since I asked the question, and started this, do I have the right to stop it too, so I don't get more than what I bargained for?

-- Carlos Co (, January 27, 1999.

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