choosing equipment : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

The simplicity of purchasing 35mm is out the window when it comes to 4x5! I can't walk into a store and put different lenses my camera. I only have one copal size board, and bisides, with this format, I couldn't tell in a store setting what focal lengh is good for me. Hands on is gone with this format. Even the enlarger I want, I have to look at pictures. I won't be able to see the lenses I've chosen. Just pictures. Just starting out, I don't know what focal lengh I want. I can only get feedback from fellow photographers, and equipment is such a personalized thing. I will shoot tabletop shots, architecture, and anything in between. Anything I think will make a good shot. I tend to shoot close to a subject, not especially landscapes. So, I'm told 210mm for tabletop, and something shorter for the field. Well, with limited income, and expecting to spend roughly $800.00 for a lens, I wanted something "all around". This is to much money to make the wrong decision. I just don't know which way to go. Do I go with a 180mm? Or do I invest in that 210mm (Rodenstock APO Sironar S)now, and down the road get something shorter. I don't even have my enlarger yet, and thats a grand$, plus lens and accesories. So, I will be shooting for now, and will not be able to print to really see the quality of the lens. Do I go with a Calumet 180mm, with the thought in mind that its probably a temporary lens, or should I invest in Rodenstock/ Schneider 180mm? Just how sought after are 180mm's? Is it worth the investment? I wonder what would be my return $ if selling? I will be checking out the used market, but I'm anxious. And will only wait so long before purchasing new. I was told that a 150mm could give distortion when shooting close, this is why I went to 180mm. I wish I could see what a 210mm would give my out in the field. I shoot 35mm with longer focal lengths. So frustrating!

-- Raven (, February 27, 2000


p.s. Just out of curiousity, so much rave reviews about the Rodenstock Sironar S 210mm in terms of sharpness. Anyone have feedback on the 180mm. John Sparks says in his review here that the 210mm is too big and weighty. Such great reviews on the Schneider 110 XL. I can't find this lens in the B+H catalogue. Is it still made?

-- Raven (, February 27, 2000.

Symmar 110 XL is definitely still made. I don't know your views on gray market, but if, like me, you do not necessarily enjoy flushing large wads of cold cash down the loo, you can buy it for about 50% of the US price from New Sankyo Camera ( is their email). Very reliable, courteous, etc. Still going to exceed your $800 budget, and not necessarily the best bet for tabletop, but I have its big brother the 150 for 8 X 10 work and it is a lovely lens.


-- Nathan Congdon (, February 27, 2000.

if you're starting out and not sure what you want, why spend big $s on a new lens when you could find 2 very good used ones for nearly the same money. you should look for a g claron 210 (good for table- top and field, cheap and easy to find used) and a symmar-s 135 (a wide normal similar to 35 on 35) or a super angulon 90/8 non mc(single coated but still v. good for arch. and field). i bet you could find 2 of these for not more than $800 and maybe all 3 for $1000. use them and figure out which are best for you, and if you don't like one you can sell it for close to what you paid (another benefit of used lenses). of course the rodenstock or nikkor equivalents would be just as good, i'm just not familiar with them.

-- adam friedberg (, February 27, 2000.

I know many who contribute here will tell me how this and that modern multi-coated optic from S, R, N or F will run circles around what I'm about to suggest, but I really do feel you'll be better able to "find your way" optically if you spend a little less at first and try and buy several classic lenses used. I got a virtually perfect 300mm Repro Claron for under $300 in a Copal shutter. I picked up an excellent 203mm f7.7 Ektar in a Flash Supermatic and it is a very sharp lens with incredible coverage, again, for less than $300. The thing is, if I decided I needed something that much better, I could turn around and get at least what I paid for this stuff, if not more, down the road. If you're concerned about ultimate sharpness, test your groundglass and film holders. The investment in a little film to assure those are working properly will, I believe, serve you better than spending every last dime of your budget on one lens.

-- Robert A. Zeichner (, February 27, 2000.

Robert made a good point that is worth repeating I think. Before you start losing sleep over this decision, remember that one nice thing about photography equipment is that it is relatively easy to resell, particularly now with the on line auctions. In general, with equipment that you purchase new, with a quick turn around you should be able to resell it for around 75% to 80%, maybe 90% if it's something that's in demand,of what you paid for it assuming that you keep it in good condition. With used equipment you should be able to sell it for about what you paid for it. So making a mistake isn't financially fatal. Relax and just buy whatever seems like it has a reasonable chance of working for you, without worrying about whether it is the absolute, ultimate, perfect lens.

-- Brian Ellis (, February 27, 2000.

Raven: Robert is absolutely right about getting a whole set of classic lenses for the price of one new one. If you are gonna be making great prints instead of trying to impress the peasants with the latest offering from the lens grinding gods, go for the classic lenses. Incidentally, you won't find much difference in lenses between Calumet, Schnieder and Rodenstock except for price. The Calumet is made by those those two companies and the lenses are identical. Classic lenses were made for large format when that was the professional camera of choice, so most of them made since WWII are coated and are good lenses. A few do not have as much coverage as a lens made in the past few years, but coverage is adequate for most situations including most movements for normal photography. Single coating is sufficient if you use a lens shade, which you should use with any lens. If you enjoy including an image of the sun in yours photos, you may need multicoating. Pick the focal lengths you want and call Midwest Photo Supply or any of the other companies which deal in large format used equipment. Explain to the salesman what you need and what you have to spend. I bet they will come up with what you need for that amount and give you a 30 day return priviledge. Incidentally, you ought to be able to find a used Omega D-2 enlarger for a two or three hundred hard earned dollars if you shop around. One of the great things about large format photography is you can spend almost anything you want. You can put a good outfit together for a few hundred dollars that will make great photos or you can spend an amount approaching the national debt. It depends on whether you want to impress folks with your prints or with your camera and lenses. If you are an equipment freak, you can spend as much as you can make working 24 hours per day and still not get better pictures than a guy with a battered old Linhof or Graphic. Good shooting, Doug

-- Doug Paramore (, February 27, 2000.

Thanks for your advise. No, I'm not an equipment freak. Quite the opposite. As far as the expensive enlarger, I have limited space, and I want a diffusion enlarger. The Omega is a monster. Absolutely no room where my darkroom is. I would like the Saunders 4500, and so far I can't find it used. This will fit in my darkroom nicely. I must take height into consideration as well. As far as a lens goes, to me, this is probably the most important piece of equipment, and I wanted to make the right choice. All the fancy and expensive equipment in the world can't give anyone more talent. I'm using one of the cheapest view cameras, and would love to "upgrade", not for people to ogle over it, but because my bad back demands a lighter camera. Ditto on my tripod.

-- Raven (, February 27, 2000.

Raven: You have the correct attitude as far as I am concerned about equipment. Good luck on your search for the right stuff. The Omega D2 was made with different height columns. I have the shorter column due to limited ceiling geight in my own darkroom. A D2 with a cold light head is a super diffusion enlarger and isn't large at all. They are good solid workhorse enlargers at a decent price used and will make great prints. Good shooting, Doug.

-- Doug Paramore (, February 28, 2000.

Yeah, the Omega D2 is a great enlarger and you can get a really great deal if you look around. I actually picked mine up for free. It was a little rusty and hadn't been used in a few years, so it needed a little work, but it looks and works great now. One nice thing about the D2 is it's a very solid enlarger and very durable. Just make sure you get a sharp enlarging lens, whatever enlarger you choose. Otherwise, your camera lens investments will be for naught.

-Dave Munson

-- Dave Munson (, February 28, 2000.

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