Hand-held Linhof Technika lens choice?

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What new lenses are suggested for hand-held available light photography with rangefinder coupled lenses for a 4X5 Linhof Master Technika? More specifically which lenses perform well at (heaven forbid) large apertures (f8-16)? A 2 lens outfit would be very versatile (120mm & 210mm) vs. a 90/135/210 combo.

After studying the MTF curves for various Schneider lenses (available online at www.schneideroptics.com) I no longer feel that the 110mm super symmar XL lens is a good choice for hand-held available light photography. The performance at f22 is indeed impressive but wide open it is not. The performance of the super-symmar HM 5.6/120mm and especially the apo-symmar 5.6/120mm are far better wide open, so I assume that they would also be better at f8, f11, etc. The super symmar HM 120mm has a much larger image circle (180mm at f5.6, 210mm at f22) than the apo-symmar 120mm (148mm at f5.6, 179mm at f22). The MTF curves for the 120mm apo-symmar are very impressive wide open, and at 200 grams I assume that this lens could be left on the camera when folded? The size of the image circle could be a problem... What do you think? Perhaps a 120mm and 210mm lens combo would be better (i.e. more versatile and portable) than a 90/135/210 or 75/135/210 combo?

I do not yet have the MTF curves for the Rodenstock 75/90/135/210 lenses but I assume they compare well to Schneider.

I have seen resolution tests for the above lenses on the internet, but there is more to lens quality and sharpness that just resolution...

I would be interested to hear your thoughts.

Regards from Toronto,

-- Mark Nowaczynski (archivalprints@home.com), January 31, 2000


I would guess that for hand-held photography that you will use the lenses straight on, i.e., no movements such as rise, tilt, etc. If so, then all you care about is the lens performance in the circle that covers a 4x5 negative. This is about 150 mm diameter, 75 mm radius. Note that the Schneider MTF curves are shown as a function of Maximum Image Height in percent. If my guess is correct, you should care only about the performance of the Super-Symmar HM 5.6/120 to 71% max. image height, the Apo-Symmar 5.6/120 to 84% and the Super-Symmar Xl 5.6/110 mm to 52%. Comparing the MTF curves for the same image circle in mm (using the above max. image height percent values), it looks like the Super-Symmar HM is the best at f5.6, not the Apo-Symmar.

For more typical applications, the desire for coverage will lead to a different conclusion. If you want to be able to do more than small movements, the 120 mm Apo-Symmar is eliminated. If you want to be able to do huge movements, the 110 XL would be the choice. One would also typically be more interested in the MTF curves for f22.

Lens dimensions are more likely to determine whether the lens can store in a folded camera than the lens weight.

I would be cautious about interpreting small differences between MTF curves from different sources. Reasonable differences in the methods (measured vs calculated, measurement methods, calculation assumptions) would probably mean the curves wouldn't be exactly comparable.

-- Michael Briggs (MichaelBriggs@earthlink.net), January 31, 2000.

I agree with Michael. I don't see much difference in the curves to begin with (at same image circle dimensions), and given that these are small scans of graphs, it's pretty hard to extract exact numbers. Add to that the fact that all of these curves are computed not measured, it's likely that lens-to-lens variations are larger than the difference between the models.

As I replied to another thread, I shoot the 120 Apo-Symmar, mostly on 6x9, but quite often on 4x5. It is a fine performer and has some movement. For landscape work, where I can use mostly back tilt, it works fine, and is substantially smaller and lighter than the other options.


-- Glenn C. Kroeger (gkroeger@trinity.edu), February 01, 2000.

Oh come on! We are talking hand-held 5x4 here are we? At f/22 in available light?

MTF curves! Taking a couple of tranquiliser tablets would surely have more effect on image quality than whatever lens is on the camera.

Or is this just a leg pull?

-- Pete Andrews (p.l.andrews@bham.ac.uk), February 02, 2000.

To expound on some previously made enlightened comments:

One of the most celebrated images of the 20th century, Migrant Mother, was taken in 1936 by Dorothea Lange using a hand-held 4X5 camera (Graflex). To quote Robert Cole's essay in "Dorothea Lange- Photographs of a Lifetime" regarding the taking of 'Migrant Mother': "She was retutning home on a rainy, cold, miserable March evening... Lange spent less than ten minutes with the woman, making five exposures." He further added: "She seldom shot indoors, seldom used artificial light."

Even Alfred Stieglitz used a 4X5 camera hand-held. There is a long and rich tradition of hand-held 4X5 photography. Press photography was, for many decades, dominated by hand-held 4X5 cameras (look at Weegee).

And no, I doubt that f22 would be the aperture of choice for hand-held available light 4X5 photography. That is why MTF curves at f5.6 and f8 are so important, because these apertures would actually be used if necessary!

'Migrant Mother' was taken in poor light, hand-held, without flash, using a relatively slow emulsion by today's standards. I am sure the lens was close to being wide open... Today we have faster and sharper films, sharper and contrastier multicoated lenses and better engineered and built equipment for hand held range-finder 4X5 picture taking (Linhof Master Technika?).

As for the unkind suggestion to take tranquilizers... Pry open your mind and expand your imagination and accept new creative possibilities. Not all large-format photographers are worrying about what zone to place the foot of Mt. St-Ansel in as they try to pre-visualize it with the entire scene in focus, their lens at infinity and set at f22, displaying ultimate depth of field...

Diversity of thought and creative expression is what makes the art of photography so rich, compelling, and absorbing.

I will enjoy a different way of making images with a large format camera. I certainly will not be the first to do this, nor the last. Let the nay-sayers laugh, for they will cry at my next exhibit and wonder how the hell I did it!

Regards from Toronto, Dr. Mark Nowaczynski (I am only licensed to prescribe tranquilizers in the province of Ontario)

-- Mark Nowaczynski (archivalprints@home.com), February 02, 2000.

Interesting statements above! What was the most thrilling (and frightening) experience: Charles Lindbergh crossing the first time the ocean with the "Spirit of Saint Louis" or the long forgotten pilot making it the other way on the first Concord flight? Hard to say! What matters more than the pleasure taken in doing the thing? If there is pleasure, talent shouldn't be far!

-- Paul Schilliger (pschilliger@vtx.ch), February 02, 2000.

Today we have faster and sharper films, sharper and contrastier multicoated lenses and better engineered and built equipment for hand held range-finder 4X5 picture taking (Linhof Master Technika?).

We also have far more stressful lifestyles and therefore much greater potential for camera shake!

The power of both Ms Lange's and Weegee's work was in their subject matter, not how sharp their pictures were.

-- Pete Andrews (p.l.andrews@bham.ac.uk), February 03, 2000.

Two things: for hand-held 4x5, presumably with coupled rangefinder --- 1) Get a good monopod like the Gitzo; it isn't that much trouble and it will make a big difference. 2) With no movements, consider the 135mm f3.5 Planar, 135mm f3.5 Xenotar, 150mm f2.8 Xenotar (albeit larger and heavier), 150mm f4.5 Apo-Lanthar, 210mm f4.5 Apo-Lanthar. Any of these will yield a great image at f8 or f11.

regards Dave Blocher

-- Nelson David Blocher (dblocher@lckb-law.com), December 13, 2000.

Much has happened since my original posting almost one year ago. In June I took delivery of a Linhof Master Technika with cammed 90/135/210 lenses (Grandagon N and Sironar S). The lenses were also bought through Linhof and the camming was done at the Linhof factory in Munich. The system is expensive, but built to last a life time. The cost, when amortized over several decades, is actually quite low compared to trying to keep-up with rapidly obsolete auto-everything technology. There is nothing obsolete about the superlative mechanical quality and highly refined design of the Technika. A pinnacle of acheivement from the opto-mechanical era.

The result is that rangefinder focussing is extremely accurate and hand held shooting is actually quite versatile once one masters many now forgotten tips and tricks. The results far exceed the image quality that one can obtain with 6X6 negatives. Candid portraits are not impossible, and the resultant 16X20 B&W prints are wonderfully life-like.

The secret to hand held 4X5 photography is to pretend to use the Technika like a 35mm camera, and to similarly shoot alot of film, relative to what on does with the camera on a tripod. It's a whole different mind-set from the zone-system style of large format photography.

Long live the great tradition of hand-held large format photography!

-- Mark Nowaczynski (archivalprints@home.com), December 14, 2000.

I am just starting out with a Tech and it's great. Do you ever use flash? Bulbs (I do not know if they are even availbale commecially as opposed to used) seem to have potential for the curious / experimental photographer. PS I like Tri-X the best in 4x5, there's just something about it.

-- Lad Perenyi (ladper@swbell.net), May 15, 2002.

Mark, Just how is the Rodenstock sironar s wide open? What is your experience with it?

-- Emile de Leon (knightpeople@msn.com), May 15, 2002.

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