portrait lens for 4X5

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what would some of you suggest as a portrait lens for 4X5? although i'd like hear the details about focal lengths, i'm also interested in particular makes or specific lenses. i have a Speed Graphic, so barrel lens are not out of the question. do you use the same focal length for the body shot as well as the head shot? are portraits shot a wider opennings better? any and all comments on this subject are welcome. thank you.

-- david clark (doc@ellensburg.com), February 23, 1999


Style is a personal thing, OR is dictated by the use of the portrait, if it's commissioned work. Arnold Newman uses short lenses - including real WA's - and includes some environment. Karsh varied between long and short until he went to color in the 70's, then it was all short. Short lenses keep nearly everything sharp, right? Long lenses, when used for a head & shoulders or a head-only [if focused on the eyes] is "soft" by the time it gets back to the ears. This gives a more rounded effect, called modeling, and adds dimensionality or a more 3-D effect. When I make personal portraits, I use 8x10. I have a favorite lens. It's a 1950's Kodak Portrait, 305mm. What's fun about this lens [and I'll bet the Rodenstock Imagon will do the same thing] is that it's very soft, until you get down to f/8. I find a full-frame, head and shoulders for a middle-aged male, works nicely at f/8. It's just a little flattering, but isn't "movie star fuzzy". At f/16, this lens is really sharp, and at f/32, I can't tell the results from a Commercial Ektar. I know this doesn't really apply to your Speed Graphic, but I wanted to suggest that there are several factors to consider, with style not the least of them. Specifically, I have used a barrel lens on the Speed Graphic, using the focal plane shutter. While the results were fine, the slap of of the focal plane shutter was very disconserting to the subject. The lens was a 15" Wollensak telephoto - lots are around on EBay - and again, we're talking full-frame head & shoulders, but with the lens fairly open to get those ears soft (!). A suggestion: shoot a young person, up close and personal, with any lens on your Speed Graphic. Fill the frame with the head only. Watch how the ears go out and how you get that nice roundness when you focus on their eyes. No need to flatter 'em, 'cuz they don't have wrinkles!

-- Dick Fish (dfish@javanet.com), February 24, 1999.

As Dick says, it is a highly personal decision, and depends (for example) on how much of the person you want to include, and the distance you want to be from the subject. For 5x4 format, something around 150mm would be conventional. I'm a wide-angle freak, and love the results from 47mm (Schneider Super Angulon 47 XL). Some results (not all 'portraits') are here. I don't know if that lens would fit on your camera.

-- Alan Gibson (Alan.Gibson@technologist.com), February 25, 1999.

Coming from a lousy portraitist, namely me, I would agree with the others. Find your style, then pick a lens. If you don't know your style, there's nothing wrong in sticking to the old "2X normal" rule, that is 300mm or so for 4x5. I have a pretty neat Wollensak 300mm Velostigmat variable focus, which works well as an all-around lens, especially for portraits of the head/head and shoulders variety. The front element is designed so that the distance between the two lenses can be varied by turning front of the lens. A setting of "0" is sharpest and would work well for photographing children with pure, unblemished skin, while a setting of "5" would be best for a subject in need of some diffusion, like a prune or an old woman. The added benefit of this lens is that it is fast; it opens up to f/4.5. But being fast means that it is fat and heavy (mounted in a #5 Alphax) and would not work on a Graphic. There must be other lenses of this type out there.

-- Chad Jarvis (chad_jarvis@yahoo.com), February 27, 1999.

I think that,generally speaking that one of the more important aspects of photographic portraiture is the subject to camera distance. This has a lot to do with the psychology of the session itself and also with the sense of the sitter as experienced by the viewer. I then select my lens based on cropping and compositional considerations. So my choice goes from 150mm>210mm>300mm with occasional use of a 90mm or (rarely) a 65mm. (on 4x5 of course)

-- Ellis (evphoto@insync.net), February 28, 1999.

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