triple convertable : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I am totally new to LF and have just purchased an old Calumet that has 14.5 in of bellows draw.Main intention of usage is portraits(head & shoulder to full length on location)using B&W film.I have seen this ad in a camera store about 2 lens,one is a series I velostigmat triple convertible in betax shutter $195 for 7",12",18" and the second is a Series 1a Raptar in post war rapax shutter(8 1/4",12 3/4",15 1/5" and they are coated).

It is difficult for me to assess the lens since this shop is not in the same city I live(shop in US and I am in Canada).I would appreciate if someone who have experience in this issue can provide some help.

Any opinion will be greatly appreciated.

thanks Robert

-- Robert Choi (, October 19, 1999


Hi Robert, as you are new to this business, it occurs to me that you might expect either of those lenses to come with shutters that perform in accord with the speeds inscribed on them, and that might be an error. For instance those old Betax shutters have rather limited selections of speeds on their best days- which was a long time ago. Also, be aware that older convertable lenses like you are looking at could be more or less "centered" which could produce more or less acceptable performance from your point of veiw. And you might want to look into the size (and or weight) of the item; my best head shot lens for 4*5 is 12" and it is just a little smaller and a tad lighter that the alternator on my truck. It's a great lens for me, but if you are going to be porting your gear around from place to place you might want to find out the size of these things. Then again, if you are going to be doing any kind of enlargement the performance of the lens is going to be more critical that those doing contact printing, or so I have been told. And you should prepair yourself by learning about imperfections in old glass and "oxidation" too. Having said the above, you got to start with something, and that will be partially determined by your buget, and there is no reason why a cheap old lens will not provide a lot of satisfaction. But you might know going in one of those old shutters might be lucky to have a fastest speed of a 1/25 no matter what is printed on it. If you get something that needs repairs right away, you might have been better off getting something newer. Maybe find an company in Shutterbug where there is no question that you can return it if it doesn't work as promised. There might be some place near your home where you could rent a lens for a weekend to see if you like the focal length? My experience with old lenses is basically they do they job, provide satisfying photographs, but they can also be source of great frustration with a tall learning curve learning, learning how to work with their limitations. I mean, if you think you are going to go take a photograph of a friend by picking a nice sunny day, sticking some 100 ASA film in a holder, and then setting your old Betax on f16 at 1/100, if that's your idea of the process, then do some more research. Good luck, David

-- david clark (, October 20, 1999.

Davids observations are right on the money. To expand further, when you "convert" a lens, removing a cell, you need to use a filter to correct for the missing cell. Typically this will be an orange, -2 stops, or yellow, -1 to 1 1/2 stops filter placed behind the lens. Taking into account the already slow lens, David is correct when he says that the best you might expect from an old Betax style shutter is 1/25 top speed, you are going to need a lot of light. Add to that the contrast that the filter brings, and your portrait might be less than you expect. To complicate matters even further when you focus a converted lens, the filter must be in place and it must be stopped down to the taking aperture to correct for the focus shift that occours with the filter behind the lens.

All of that said, if you can find a 12, 19, 24 lens, you have a usable 12" studio lens, the shortest focal lenght is the unconverted focal length, and a very nice convertible for in the field. The only problem you have is lack of bellows. A 14.5 inch bellows and 12" lens doesn't give you a lot of room for focus. Convertibles are fun and useful lenses, but the older ones have a lot of foibles that may get in the way of your creativity.

At any rate, the price isn't bad, and if experience is the best teacher, you might want to give one a try.

-- Marv (, October 20, 1999.

Marv and David ,thanks for the input.I think I know what you mean.It does sound like a road that may need more consideration. Before LF,I use a Pentax 67.While I admire it's picture quality,I find myself worrying about it's transport mechanism and when I want longer lens,they are just hugh in dimension.The super cambo I got is only 1lb heavier than the Pentax. I guess the most difficult part of LF for me is to get a longer focal length lens with decent and reliable performance without breaking the bank(my bank is pretty small).Is there any 12in lens I should consider other than the obvious like the Nikor 300M. thanks again Robert

-- Robert Choi (, October 21, 1999.

Hi Robert, with regards to your follow-up question, my "feeling" is, if, with your relative inexperence, you point a highly corrected lens (like a 300mm Nikkor) at a pretty woman, what you will get in your print is make-up lines, nose hairs, and black heads (in short everything you don't want); and from my limited experience, when the subject sees results like this they get really pissed-off. If that risk seems reasonalbe to you, you could look at the 200mm Nikkor or 210 or 240 G Claron, there are a lot of those corrected things out there for sale. You might be real surprised what they do to someone's face though.

I think what you will find is good people taking lenses are lucky finds and often unexpectedly real funky things.

I also agree with the guy above; with only 14" of bellows, I don't know how you are going to use a 12" lens, not unless you go to a lot of work and make some kind of weird exstended nose cone (I don't know?). If you figure that you want to push your lens to 1:1, then 14" of bellows kind of indicates a 7" lens to me? I'm no expert though.

You say you want to take pictures of people. This is just a suggestion, but maybe, given your camera, you might try experimenting with a tessar design first. Maybe you could borrow or rent or get a real cheap deal on some older 6" to 8" Zeiss or Xenar (anyone of the knock offs of these). Some of the most interesting people shots I've taken were with a 5" Ilex Paragon which is uncoated; you kind of have to park one leg of the tripod in their lap, but the results where pleasing. I think you are entering the realm of experimentation and personal taste. I found people the people I've taken pictures of kind of like posing real close-up to a big camera; they have never had the experience before, and the novelty kind of carries things along. One woman thought the camera was too close, and so I told her to look at me through the ground glass, and when she did she was just fine with things.

Well, whatever you gamble on, make sure it has shutter speeds you can live with (like you can have a modern light meter and an old shutter and then you are always transposing numbers-one more thing to do), and have those speeds checked for accuracy and reliability by someone you can trust, that's important! Good Luck

-- david clark (, October 21, 1999.

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