Got the camera, can't decide on lens. : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

It took a lot of decision making to pick the right 4x5 for me. It was frustrating because I couldn't try every brand "hands on" that I was interested in. It came down to a Wisner or the Arca Swiss Discovery. I tested the Wisner Traditional, and after fumbling with knobs, movements not working smoothly, and seeing the salesperson have a heck of a time trying to fold it up, the Discovery got a thumbs up. FYI = At B & H, $1334.00, no return, back ordered. At Badger Graphics, $1295.00, 2 wk return, will recieve in three days. Anyway, a Calumet 45N at $399.00, in perfect condition came my way. So it weights 8 lbs. instead of 5, like the Discovery, and so the movements aren't as extreme. $400.00 bucks and it was mine. ( much more in my price range ). Sigh of relief, well sort of. Now I'm back in the same dilemma. I can't decide on a lens. I don't know exactly what I'll be shooting mostly. Just getting started. But I can say close up really interests me, object size down to the size of say, an orange, but no makro work. I don't understand 1:3, as opposed to 3:1. Can anybody explain this? I will also shoot table top shots to lanscape and architecture. This lens will be a 150mm. I'm very critical about sharpness. I was going with the Rodenstock APO Sironar - S, optimised 1:5 to infinity, but was told about the Schneider G Claron. This lens offers "flat field design". Can anyone enlighten me on this meaning? Just curious. I used a Caltar 150mm general purpose lens, don't know exacly which one, in school. My assignments that were 1:1 are quite a bit sharper than the shots about 5-6 ft. away. ( We always shot at f64 ). If anyone can enlighten me on a decision, it would be much appreciated. Right now the APO Sironar - S with ED glass sounds awfully good. Much appreciated, Raven.

-- Raven (, July 17, 1999


Raven, At the risk of sounding anti-intellectual, I'd suggest not worrying too much about subtle differences among lenses. If you've decided on the 150 mm focal length, and feel comfortable with the Sironar S, then purchase it. I have a 135 mm S and am very happy with it. So if it helps, I think you'll be pleased with the 150 mm. But it is more important that you get on with making photographs than getting entangled in the technology. As you've probably read in other replies to questions about modern lenses, they're all quite good. Unless you're an engineer, photography is about vision. Work on that above all else. And you should work on camera technique if all of your images have been made at f64. You might want to experiment a bit with different apertures. Diffraction at f64 can limit the quality of your image. But aside from that, use of tilt and shift can minimize the need for very small apertures. Consider also the added freedom of allowing a part of the composition to be either softly focused, or even totally out of focus. In this regard, you can create interesting images with selective focus either with the lens and film plane parallel, or with tilt. Sheet film is expensive, but the best way to learn is by doing, and then thinking about your results. I think that it's also the most rewarding.

Best of luck! Bruce

-- Bruce M. Herman (, July 18, 1999.

Re the 1:3 vs the 3:1, the ratio is typically image size to subject size ratio. So 1:3 is 1/3rd life size and 3:1 is thrice life size. DJ

-- N Dhananjay (, July 18, 1999.

Since you are just learning, save yourself a LOT of money and use Arista 125 in 45 (assumming that you are shooting b/w), you can get it at Freestyle in L.A. for about 38.00 per hundred and it is a good film, and I might also suggest using a pyro devleoper, or at least try it in your search for the developer/film combination you want. Pat

-- pat j. krentz (, July 18, 1999.

After re-reading your questonI am still unsure about your "3:1 or 1:3" question. If you are refering to reproduction ratio (relationship of object to size on film) then the question has been answered above. If you are referring to the question of which focal length for 4x5 format corresponds (roughly) to which focal length in 35mm, the answer is that you take the focal length of the 35mm lens you like, and multiply it by three to find which lens for a 4x5 camera will give you roughly the same on film coverage of the subject from the same vantage point. When I say roughly I mean that usually you get a bit wider (on the long dimension and certainly wider on the diagonal and short dimensions) on- film coverage on the 4x5 film than you will on the narrower 35mm film.

-- Ellis Vener (, July 18, 1999.

Raven.... I have been using Schneider Symmar S lens for about 15 years and they have always performed well for all types of photography. As mentioned earlier, modern lens from the major 4 lens companies (Schneider, Rodenstock, Nikkor, Fuji) will all perform well. I have friends that use the Kodak Commerical Ektars and they love them. For the type of photography you will be performing, I would purchase either a 150 or a 210. Have fun and good luck!

-- Ron (, July 18, 1999.

Raven, I would echo Bruce--try your best not to fall into the "tech trap". The vision is the most important thing to be concerned with. Hone your vision (is this a subtle play on words?). One of my favorite photographers was Clarence John Laughlin (and luckily I had the opportunity to meet him once before his death) and the man couldn't print for crap, but his vision was marvelous. I learned a lot from him visually, but have always felt that the most important lesson was that a photographer should first get the image for which he is searching. I have been shooting a long time in 8x10 & 4x5 and personally feel this is the only way to go for quality work, but, having said that, I am now moving into the digital realm. New challenge and all of that stuff. Anyway, I find digital to be terribly exciting right now. I haven't given up on film, and don't think that we will for many years, but I have found that it has expanded my horizons, challenged me a bit more, and rekindled an interest which was waning. I'm rambling. Sorry. DO NOT get a flat field lens. I have used and loved both the Rodenstocks and the Schneiders as well as many older lenses. They will both perform well.


-- fred deaton (, July 18, 1999.

'Flat field' means that if the subject is flat (such as a document), the image will be flat (i.e. the entire image should be sharp). Other lenses will have some curvature of field. If you don't do copying work, don't worry about it.

-- Alan Gibson (, July 19, 1999.


Be wary of people giving you advice like "don't fall into a tech trap, your vision is blah blah blah"...these are the folks who'd like to sell you their old press lenses and tell you they are fine for tabletop work....honestly the more you know about the lens you consider purchasing the keep asking questions..especially if you are going to shoot "critical" work like commercial tabletop...if you are shooting landscapes/fine-art you can "hone your vision" otherwise you'd better get serious about the "tech-trap" because you are walking towards it quickly with pocketbook in hand!

-- trib (, July 19, 1999.

No offense but if you obtained better results with a Caltar 150 in the macro range than at longer distances and all of that at F64 then I'm not sure your testing is over . A general purpose lens should deliver far better results at distances other than close up. Also, results at, say, F22 should be superior to those at F64. In fact, I'm not sure a 150 lens would be marked to F64 (f45 should be the minimum aperture).

Anyway, none of that matters except the point that you've got to start shooting to gain the experience that will tell you intuitively what lenses you need and want. I also see you aren't sure what type of photography you'll do yet.

I'd start with a general purpose lens that provides excellent results up close - for me, that's the 150 "S". Should you eventually specialize in table top or macro, you can add a macro at that time. In the interim, you'll be happy with the results. Plus, the infinity shots will be outstanding.

As a final note, you can consider an orange on 4x5 film to be in the macro arena. It might not be 1:1 but it's close

-- Mike Long (, July 19, 1999.

Raven, I absolutely recommend buying a Rodenstock Geronar. I got started in 4x5 about a year ago and bought a 150mm Geronar used in excellent condition for about $250 from KEH ( The Geronar series are, as far as I know, availabe in at least three lengths (90mm, 150mm, and 210mm), and can be bought used just about anywhere. The lens is wonderfully crisp and would give you as much sharpness as you would probably ever need. Sure, if you can afford it, go for a new lens w/ED glass. However, you'll get more bang for your buck with the Geronar than with just about any other lens. Good Luck!

-- Dave Munson (, July 22, 1999.

Raven, There are probably dozens of lenses that will do the job for you, assuming the one you select has adequate coverage and is in good working order (shutter accuracy is important when shooting color transparency material). If you want to do something that could quite possibly help you avoid sharpness problems and numerous trade-ins of lenses that were all perfectly fine, test your ground glass alignment! With a used camera, this is particularly important because you don't know what someone else did to the thing in an effort to "improve" it. The addition of brightening screens can, if they're installed incorrectly, throw ground glass focus off by a mile. f64 won't help that problem either! Sometimes, a well meaning person will remove the screen to clean it and lose or forget to replace shims in exactly the same order. This can result in similar misalignment. Read my article in the Nov./Dec. issue of ViewCamera and you'll gain some insight to the importance of all this and perhaps, save yourself a heap of trouble and money! Best of all, you'll get to realize the performance that any of those dozens of lenses are capable of right from the start. I might also suggest downloading a Quick Disc at the following location. This will help tremendously in compensating for bellows extensions needed in doing close up work! Best of luck to you.

-- Robert A. Zeichner (, July 25, 1999.

I suppose it would help if I mentioned that article was in Nov./Dec. 1996 issue of ViewCamera.

-- Robert A. Zeichner (, July 25, 1999.

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