Portable 300 mm lenses

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I do landscape photography and I am considering a 300 mm lens for my Linhof Master Tech. which has a 400 mm bellows extension. I previously owned a brand new Nikon M 300mm but was very unhappy with its performance an experience which I am not about to repeat. I am considering the Rodenstock Apo Ronar and the Schneider G-Claron, both f9. These lenses are light enough for back-packing unlike the very large and heavy Sironar or even larger and heavier Symmar lenses. The G Claron has the problem that at infinity, the lens imaging quality is extremely poor at openings below f22. (MTF) The Apo Ronar, again acccording to MTF appears optically greatly superior to the G Claron at all distances and f stops but I am concerned that since this is a single coated lens and there are a great many more air-glass interfaces, the Apo-Ronar will be succeptible to flare, more so than the G-Claron. For landscapes this would be a major defficiency. 1) Has any one made a comparison of these two lenses in backlit scenes outdoors? 2) Other than these two lenses are there any other better options among lighter weight lenses perhaps with larger max. openings? 3) David Muench uses a 300mm lens (among others, see one of his latest books, "Plateu Light") and frankly anything he uses should be good enough for me. Because DM must backpack a great deal I doubt that any 300 mm lens in his bag could be a Sironar or Symmar. Does anyone know what lens it is that DM uses? 4) Has anyone used 360 mm lenses on a Linhof MT? I understand that to get the extra flage-film distance the lenses can be mounted on reversed wide-angle Linhof boards. Is is practical? Your response would be greatly appreciated.

-- Julio Fernandez (gluemax@ora.auracom.com), December 26, 1999


It is surprising that you have found the 300 mm Nikkor-M to have unsatisfactory performance.

While the G-Claron series has 6 elements, they are in four groups, so the number of air-glass surfaces is the same as the Apo-Ronar. These lenses are also single-coated. These factors predict similar flare levels to the Apo-Ronar, but not having compared the two lenses I can't say for sure.

While the desires for light-weight and large maximum opening are natural, they are also contradictory.

Another light-weight 300 mm lens to consider is the Fujinon-C 300 mm f8.5. My understanding is that this lens is optimized for distant objects, unlike the Apo-Ronar and G-Claron (but like the Nikkor-M).

-- Michael Briggs (michael.briggs@earthlink.net), December 26, 1999.

I think you should try the NIkkor M again. You may have had a bad lens or it may have been mismounted. Mine is as sharp as a razor.

-- Ellis Vener (evphoto@insync.net), December 27, 1999.

There are multi-coated 300 mm APO Ronars. You just need to look around a bit to find one. I have a 240 mm, multi-coated, f9 APO Ronar that performs wonderfully. I previously owned a 300 mm Nikor M lens. Although I liked the lens, I much prefer the APO Ronar.

-- Howard Slavitt (info@naturelandscape.com), December 27, 1999.

To anyone reading this thread:

I suppose these photographic myths start just like this: One person posts his opinions on the merits of such and such, and before long it's become an article of faith, repeated over and over by others. I'd like to nip two of these in the bud......

The first, is that your 300M is a terrible lens. Every Nikkor LF lens I've owned (and still own) is extremely sharp.

The second, and one that recently seems to be in vogue and repeated quite often on this forum, is that G-Clarons are only good for close up work.

G-Clarons are wonderful at infinity. Anyone who says otherwise has likely not used one, and is only perpetuating another uninformed photographic myth.

And, as for having to stop it down to f22 to gain acceptable quality, any long LF lens, especially one with a maximum aperture of f9, should be stopped down, at least, two or three stops. (My Nikkor 450M had/has a minimum aperture of f128, for god's sake!)

Do you really think shooting a long LF lens wide open is a good idea? Do you realize just how little DOF a long LF lens provides at maximum aperture? What are you trying to do, get good bokeh, or something?

The worst part about all this is that in a few days someone else will be repeating this stuff as if it were gospel.

Happy new year, Sergio.

-- Sergio Ortega (s.ortega@worldnet.att.net), December 28, 1999.

You go Sergio! I had the same response. What will the original poster do if/when he finds out that David Muench uses the Nikkor 300 M?

-- Simon (fourthpres@aol.com), December 28, 1999.

In posing the questions re portable 300mm lenses I was seeking informed opinion, not discussing religion although some responders seem to have interpreted so. This is lamentable since a religious attitude towards brands is detrimental to the truth. In spite of Mr. Ortega's experiences, not all Nikkor M users were as totally enthralled with this lens. One responder had to return his to Nikon who repaired it; the person I sold mine to, did not like it either. Indeed, one bad unit does not make the whole lot bad. But one hundred good units do not make one bad unit good either. Mr. Ortega seems to imply that it is quite impossible for Nikon to ever turn out a bad unit. This is unrealistic.

As for the G-Claron, quite obviously, Mr. ortega did not look at the MTF for the G-Claron. It is available from Schneider. According to Schneider's own MTF data, the G-Claron at infinity and f22 drops sharply in contrast from the center out. At 60% of its image circle and 20 Lpm , contrast reaches a meager 10%. This is quite well below the performance expected for outstanding lenses at infinity and f22. Kepping in mind that these MTFs are based on Schneider theoretical calculations (and therefore optimal), and not on actual production samples, the actual results from a production sample can only be lower still. Of course, it is not possible to compare these MTFs with Nikon's. Nikon does not publish any performance specs. As for the idea that large format lenses should be used at very small openings, this is not always so. A large opening provides selective focus which is lost at smaller openings with increased depth of field. Some responders provided useful new information. To those of you that did, thank you. Julio Fernandez

-- Julio Fernandez (gluemax@ora.auracom.com), December 28, 1999.

Here is something to consider before you replace your lens with another only to find it too may be equally fuzzy. Are you sure the problem is a lens problem and not an alignment problem between the focus plane and the film plane. The longer the lens the more percise those two planes need to aligned. Short lens have a very large depth of focus while long lens have a very short depth of focus. For my system it became apparent that all my lenses under 500mm were extremely sharp including my Nikkon 300mm M lens. The minute I rsorted to using the 500mm or 720mm lens things started to go soft at enlargements greater the 11x14.

I then ordered two dozen brand new film holders. I took the back off my camera and measured the focus screen offset from the camera side of the camera back using a tooth pick, a ruler, and a cloths pin to attach the tooth pick to the ruler. I inserted each film holder with a scap piece of film in it and used my crude tooth pick and ruler tool to see if the holder had the same offset. The first 10 that were properly aligned I kept and I returned the rest. It was amazing how many that did not match including most of my old ones.

My 500mm and 720mm lens now produce very sharp images. In fact, I just did a 20x24 print photgraphed with my 720mm lens and it is quite impressive how sharp and clear the image is.

Hope this helps.

-- Stephen Willard (willard@lvld.hp.com), December 28, 1999.

I know I am talking to confirmed photographers and this will certainly not be something new to most of you, but for the newcomers who would want to get the most of their lenses, I will relate this. When I bought my large format equipment some years ago, I was climbing a lot and therefore, choosed a rather light tripod. I had lenses from 65 to 210mm and was getting nice, sharp images from them all. And I had this Topcor 2x teleconverter for 150mm that claimed to be sharp but never got me a satisfying transparency. So I thought this was a nut. Some years later I turned to a heavyer tripod and you guess what: This 300mm combination started to give me quite sharp images! So this is something to think about when choosing a lens for field work: There is a relation between the tripod stability, the focal length, the weight of the lens and it's shutter size and the stability of the camera itself. For instance, Sergio Ortega told me in an other mail that he had a Nikkor M 450mm but wasn't pleased with it. Then he got a Fujinon C 450mm and it has proven an excellent lens. He admitted that the Nikkor was certainly a sharp lens but it's weight and the Copal 3 shutter mechanism was not supported by his 4x5 camera-tripod set. Compared to the Nikkor's 640g, the Fujinon is only 270g and in Copal 1. This makes a lot of difference at the rail end of a field camera. In this regard, I have been tempted by a G-Claron that I could use for both reproduction and field work. But sharp landscapes being my primary goal, I ordered a Fujinon C 300 because it weighs only 250g whereas the 460 grams of the G-Claron. (I remember my ApoSymmar 150-Topcor 2x converter set that was too heavy to give me all the sharpness it was able to produce). I could have turned to a Nikkor M300 and have no doubts on the overall quality of this product, but wanted the larger coverage of the Fujinon in case, one day, I would add a 8x10 to my set. One final word to those who are not sure of the qualities of a long lens they own. Try this: In the dark, make a flash exposure of, say 1/10.000 of a second. If the image you'll get is soft, you where right about your lens.

-- Paul Schilliger (pschilliger@vtx.ch), December 28, 1999.

"Has anyone used 360 mm lenses on a Linhof MT? I understand that to get the extra flage-film distance the lenses can be mounted on reversed wide-angle Linhof boards. Is this practical? " Julio, I use an ApoRonar 360mm on a flat board and can focus down to 2.5m. Enough for landscape! It is an older version, single coated, very sharp, very good, but sensible to flare. Wista has a Technica type lens board with extension for long lenses.

-- Paul Schilliger (pschilliger@vtx.ch), December 28, 1999.


Try the fujinon 300mm f8 CS. It is one of the lightest lenses in its class. It is also multi-coated.

As for finding a bad Nikon300M, it is certainly possible, but unusual. The many responses indicate just how loved this lens is amongst those who frequent the large format forum. Years ago I would have been eager to blame my lenses for fuzzy shots. Then I became fanatical about technique and things like GG position, Now I am less eager. There are lenses that are just adequate, the majority good to very good, and a few are exceptional. The exceptional ones are either so because of their coverage, or their sharpness at larger than normal working apertures. My working aperture is f22, but I routinely use f16 and occasionally even f11 at infinity. (Why f11 - a story for another time). F22 does amazing things even for a mediocre lens thanks to diffraction. So if you are getting fuzzy images at F22, it still could be the lens, but

I find that long lenses are more susceptible to problems in technique than is generally believed. With the field camera's rail/track extended, and your bellows stretched, it does not take but a whisper of wind, or a slight tug on the shutter release to cause a significant drop in resolution. For me the most annoying problem associated with using these long lenses comes from their speed. With a f5.6 aperture it is easy to tell if you are at the point of best focus. But at F9 the point of decisive focus is much harder to find. It looks like it is in focus but is it is? The increased depth of field at f9 can fool you. Hence, for me, focusing these slow lenses becomes a more deliberate process.

Theoretically any error in holder depth should affect your shorter focal lengths lenses more than the longer lenses. The reason is that a 0.50mm error (in holder depth) is a proportionally larger focusing error for a 65mm lens than it is for a 300mm lens. I may be wrong.

Baring a bad sample, or a flaw in technique, maybe you just did not like the characteristic image produced by the Nikon 300M. Some would argue that a sharp image is a sharp image (and the lens that produced it is irrelevant). I beg to disagree. After using many lenses , and brands of lenses, over the years I have come to like the subtle characteristics of some lenses and hate the characteristics of others. I am speaking subtle characteristics (which may make or break a picture). You may say that a beer is a beer, but to a beer lover this is not so. Looking at the alcohol content on the bottle is only marginally helpful to a beer lover.

Many lenses originally made for close-up will perform more than adequately at infinity. The artar design is particular forgiving in this regard. In general, however, I try to adhere to the designers/manufacturers intent. Indeed, I do get the best results in doing so. But then again f22 does wonders for a lens. One of my favorite lenses is a little Fujinon 180mm f9 AS. I routinely use it at infinity. I can not see the difference between it and my other 180mm f5.6 at f22, assuming I took the time to really focus.

I hope you find that lens that suits you. Let us know how the hunt turns out.

-- Pat Raymore (patrick.f.raymore@kp.org), December 29, 1999.


I think that there's a serious lack of accuracy in this thread regarding effects of filmplane to groundglass misaqlignment.

One poster has stated that the effects are worse for long lenses than for short; Another has stated that they are worse for short lensesthan for long. In truth, NEITHER is right.

For a traditional (i.e. non-tele, non-retrofocus) lens the f-number is defined as the ratio of focal length to the exit pupil diameter. eaqch individual point in the image is formed by a cone of light, the base (wide part) of which is at the exit pupil, and the point of which is at the film plane. When the GG and film are misaligned, the film isn't positioned at the point of the cone, and points in the subject are therefore rendered as discs in the image. The diameter of these discs follows trivially immediately from the definition of the f/number: it's simply

blur_diameter = defocus_distance/f_number

That's all there is to it. The focal length of the lens is utterly irrelevant. I'm sure that these myths will return by next week, though ;-).

-- Patrick

-- Patrick Chase (patrick@sdd.hp.com), January 01, 2000.

I have a 300/9 Nikkor-M that has performed well for years. It is small, light weight, and uses Nikon-standard 52mm filters.

After hauling a Sinar-F around the country side in a footlocker, the word "portable" has value to me. The 300/9 is indeed portable, which is why I sold its heavy weight big brother, the 450/9.

To avoid the footlocker, I have switched over to using a Crown Graphic and a backpack. The 300/9 also uses every drop of bellows draw on my Crown Graphic, just to focus at infinity. Portable yes, usable (on the Crown), mostly No.

I am faced with using telephoto lenses, or fabricating a reversed wide-angle lens board for the 300/9 lens to provide additional bellows draw. My Crown allows a maximum 240mm of flange focus while still being able to use/calibrate the Kalart rangefinder. I need another 60mm of draw to use the 300/9.

-- Bruce Gavin (doc@compudox.com), May 14, 2000.

Before anyone starts trading in lenses based on gg/film plane measurements made with toothpicks, rulers and other household items totally inappropriate for these kinds of measurements, you might want to check out my article on this topic. You'll find it in the Nov./Dec. 1996 issue of ViewCamera. Mine is a totally non-invasive test that uses film, of all things, to prove or disprove there is a problem. Changing $30 plastic and aluminum film holders to "match" a misaligned gg is a bit like moving your '67 Chevy upto the mountains to solve an overly lean carb. adjustment. When the gg is perfectly aligned, most, if not all but broken film holders should work just fine.

-- Robert A. Zeichner (razeichner@ameritech.net), May 15, 2000.

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