the f 64 club : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

As I recall from some readings a while back, Ansel Adams and other had a fictitious club they refered to as the f64 club. It was so named to emphasis the fact that small f stops mean greater DOF and should be used often. I have been curious whether these fellows considered the loss of lens resolution at these smaller stops? Maybe a silly beginner question, but I keep thinking about it.

-- roger rouch (, September 12, 1999


Have you ever taken a close look at the prints these people made? A couple of hours in a top notch art museum will cure you of this instantly.

Prints by Ansel Adams, The Westons, Imogene Cunningham, Wynn Bullock,and their friends look very sharp indeed. These people were obsessed with not having any out of focus areas in their images though. (the opposite of many people today I think)

Serious time spent with these master prints can change the way you think about shooting in a very powerful way.


-- Brian Yarvin (, September 12, 1999.

At a time when most pictorial photographers were trying to imitate paintings these people committed themselves to showing the photograph as stand alone art. And that, to them was realism expressed by foreground to horizon sharpness.

Although you would get better sharpness from middle apertures because of diffraction at f64, the "idea" of f64 is metaphorical. The problem of diffraction was not addressed since "f64" is the name for their group, after all, not their taking aperture. Perhaps "f32 and a bit of tilt" would have been a more appropriate name, but not nearly as wonderful.

-- David Grandy (, September 12, 1999.

The Group f/64 photographers mostly printed by contact. The diffraction effects in an 8x10 print from at 8x10 negative taken at f64 will be very similiar to the diffraction effects in an 8x10 print from a 35 mm negative taken at f8. This is based on the relevant equations. And from past viewing of some of their prints at museums.

-- Michael Briggs (, September 12, 1999.

The f/64 Group was not fictiticious at all. A good, brief account of the groups founding and aesthetic/philosophical ethos, even why they chose that name, can be found in the excellent and very readable Mary Street Alinder biography of Ansel Adamsthat came out a couple of years ago. It is a wonderful book and will bust up a lot of myths & misunderstandings.

-- Ellis Vener (, September 12, 1999.

My misunderstanding of this group and its philosophy had a negative consequence in my own photography. For this group sharpness was a chief objective and they claimed to find it in the smallest apertures available. What they were also working against were diffused focus lenses which were very popular in the early years of this century. What I have subsequently discovered however is that many of the staight lenses available available to me are actually sharper at f16 or f22. My 127mm ektar is noticeably sharper slightly open. But, not understanding this and following the dictates of this "f64 philosophy", and the misteaching of "beginning" photography teachers I shot closed down. In this case a little knowledge was truly ignorance. If sharpness is important test lenses, don't just go with received wisdom. So now when I seek the aridity of sharpness I seek it at f22. Otherwise I use an old dallmyer lens that at wide apertures allows a fuzzy life inside.

-- jim Ryder (, September 13, 1999.

Im sure these pioneers knew that lenses were sharper when not closed down that much, but when working with an 8x10 or larger, you do need to stop down that much for the DOF they wanted. 8x10 needs smaller apertures than 4x5 for equivalent DOF and angle of view. And, as Michael mentioned, contact printing was common in earlier years.

-- Ron Shaw (, September 13, 1999.

for those of you who don't seem to get it----f64 is a mid range stop for many large format lenses!!!!!

-- mark lindsey (, September 13, 1999.

For those of us who certainly DO get it: f/64 is not a mid range stop for many LF. Most modern lenses go down to only f/64. Another, possible, reason for the choice of "f/64 group" as a moniker for their approach to photography is that possibly many view cameras of the era did not have swings or tilts or depth of field calculators built-in. certainly none of the lenses made then were not multi-coated or possibly even single coated.

If you are going to look backward for inspiration try to get the historical context. It explains why many of the technical and aesthetic decisions made by those who went before us were often the only or the best solution availible at the time.

-- Ellis Vener (, September 14, 1999.

From Mary Alinder's biography of Adams: "Historically, most avant garde movements in modern art...have proclaimed themselves with manifestos. So, too, did Group f/64, whose creed was actually nailed to the de Young gallery walls:

The name of this Group is derived from a diaphragm number of the photographic lens. It signifies to a large extent the qualities of clearness and definition of the photographic image which is an important element in the work of the members of this Group...The Group will show no work at any time that does not conform to its standards of pure photography. Pure photography is defined as possessing no qualities of technique, composition or idea, derivative of any other art form."

"...The Group f/64 manifesto was a declaration of war on the photographic infidel: the pictorialists.

...Group f/64 was formed not merely in reaction to the pictorialists, but as a response to the challenge everywhere posed by modern art....Group f/64 was an expression of modern art in photography, its aim to marry everyday subject matter to a clear, sharp camera vision rather than the precise edges of line in paint.

Group f/64 had two commandments: The first...held that there was one God, and its manifestation was detail...If God dwells in the details, are photographs our best window on God? Ansel would say yes."

The second commandment admonished, thou shalt not covet any other art by imposing its presence upon photography.

...Ansel evidently considered f/64 to be a state of mind, not an unbreakable doctrine."

The members were Ansel Adams, Imogene Cunninhgham, Edward Weston, Sonya Noskowiak (EW's student and lover at the time), John Paul Edwards, Willard Van Dyke, Mary Jeannette Edwards, Henry Swift, Consuela Kanaga, Alma Lavenson, EW's son Brett Weston, & Preston Holder.According to Alinder, "...Holder recalled that the group only met three or four times, on occaisions that were probably more social than official."

-- Ellis Vener (, September 14, 1999.

Ellis this is old news to many of us, and unlike you, I have seen many lenses with f64 as a mid range f stop, you should get out more often

-- mark lindsey (, September 14, 1999.

Sorry to swing back in the general direction of the topic, but some time ago I did a test of my lens and my weary eyes couldn't tell a difference at all from f11 to f64 on my 12 inch ektar. I only contact print (8x10) so that is probably a source of the lack of difference, but boy was there ever a difference in DOF.

Except in conditions of low light or when I am deliberately limiting dof (something I am doing more of lately) I just about always shoot at f64 now and while it may be lack of experience with truly sharp prints made from modern glass, I am very happy with the technical quality of the images I make at f64. I have found I am sure to botch a tilt. The aesthetic qualities, well, that's another matter!

-- Erik Ryberg (, September 14, 1999.

There are many older lenses which have an aperture marked with a number greater than 64. I have an old rapid rectilinear, the type Weston used extensively which goes to f128. However most of those are lenses with markings using the now out of date "uniform system." According to Picture Taking and Picture Making (1898) p. 19 the equivalencies are: U.S. 4=f8 U.S. 8=f11.3 U.S. 16=f16 U.S. 32=f22.6 U.S. 64=f32 U.S. 128=f45.2 According to the text the Uniform System had "been adopted by almost all manufactures." Presumably f64 would be about U.S. 256. So in the U.S. system 64 is a mid range aperture. Note the table uses the prefix f only for the modern system. The text explains the f stands for the relationship between the diameter of the stop and the length of the lens. My guess is that the name f64 was also an endorsement of the f system of marking, with its inherent and explicit photographic meaning, over the U.S. system. In the f system of marking f64 is about the inherent limit of the aperture.

-- jim ryder (, September 14, 1999.

Once again, from Mary Street Alinder's bio of Adams (page 86): "...Willard remembered that he proposed "U.S. 256," the old system name for f/64 in the new aperture-marking system. he said that Ansel responded, "U.S. 256 is not good, it sounds like a highway." Willard continued, "He then took a pencil and made a curving 'f' followed by a dot and 64. The graphics were beautiful and that was that." At first, itwas written "Group f.64" in the style of the old aperture notation, but that was soon updated to the new notation with its slash, "Group f/ 64."

Mark, just quickly looking over Nikon's 1999 listing of large format lenses (from 65mm to 1200mm, 26 lenses all told, in Copal 0 to Copal 3 shutters) only two -- the 300mm f/9 & 450mm f/9 M-Nikkors to be precise, had minimum f-stops below f/64 and those two only went down to f/128.

But you are right in one aspect: I do need to get out more.

-- Ellis Vener (, September 14, 1999.

Ellis, I never restricted myself to only new lenses and thus missing out on all the wonderful high quality lenses of old, why should you? (I shoot almost all black and white and know that color would be a different situation)

-- mark lindsey (, September 14, 1999.

Mark, I use modern lenses for two reasons.

No. 1) I shoot mainly color: 95>98% of what my large format work is color transparency. This is by choice: I like the challenge of color.

no.2) Because photography is how I make my living, I prefer to use modern equipment for most of my work on the basis that it is easier to degrade a sharp, contrasty image (either through exposure, filtration & development techniques) or in post production (Photoshop) than it is to do the vice versa.

-- Ellis Vener (, September 15, 1999.

color a challenge, eh okay.

Yeah I make my living at photography too and there are still many lenses that are up to the test of advertising ( what lens couldn't stand up to magazine reproduction?)

oh well, to each his own

-- mark lindsey (, September 15, 1999.

A 160 page book titled "Seeing Straight" (subtitled "The f.64 Revolution in Photography") is (was?)available from the Oakland Museum, 1992. Mine cost $29.95. (paperback) It has all the pictures in the Group's initial show, lots of wordage about their aims and ideals, etc. All the pictures are not technically sharp.

-- Bill Mitchell (, September 22, 1999.

If you are thinking about resolution a lot, I think you are missing the point. For all practical artisitc purposes, lens resolution in lf is a moot point. The fact that Adams, Weston, Cunningham et al produced such stunning images with low resoultion lenses lacking multi-coatings, special glass, and computer aided design emphasizes this point. Resolution does not make phototgraphs: photographs are about form, texture, contrast and luminosity, not about lines/mm.

-- jonathan lee (, September 24, 1999.

I will disagree with that statement. They went through lenses like people go through underwear. They would know of a lens that was for sale and try it out. If they liked it they would buy it if the money was available. Good lenses were around and the quest was for the good ones. But the whole point of f64 was the ideas behind the images. Yes the images should be sharp technically but the ideas of the artist should be sharp also. No longer were they complacent being figuratively bound to other arts such as the painters. They would forever after change the way things were portrayed and how they were portrayed. Social issues came into sharp focus and could be shown with the new 35mm and 2x2 cameras coming onto the scene. james

-- james the butcher (, September 25, 1999.

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