German vs. Japanese Glass : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

Hello All,

I currently use 4 Fujinon and Nikkor lenses for 4x5 transparency shooting, and I hope to arrange a test soon comparing Japanese optics with Schneider and Rodenstock. Until I am able to run the test, I would like to ask if any of you have shot both Japanese and German lenses enough to comment on differences, if any. Specifically, have you seen something unique or special about the German optics? All brands of modern lenses seem to be plenty sharp enough, but is there something different about the contrast or the color of the Schneider and/or Rodenstock that give the images more of a palpable, 3-D quality? I have heard and read rumors to this effect, and my German lens-toting friends insist it is true, but so far I have not seen side-by-side examples to confirm it. Thanks for sharing your observations.

-- Ross Martin (, March 09, 2000



I have shot all 4 brands, and I think it is hard to generalize across all lenses. So here are my observations from opportunities I have had to shoot the same subject, at the same time, on same focal length of 2 manufacturers:

1. Two Rodenstock wide angles (75 and 90) appeared to me to be slightly warmer and contrastier, but not higher resolution than equivalent Nikkors. To me, the Nikkor images looked "flatter". I don't think this is true of all Nikkors, as my 300M produces wonderfully "3D" sensations.

2. A Fuji 300CS appeared to be contrastier, but not sharper than a Nikkor 300M. The Nikkor appeared to have slightly higher resolution and better out-of-focus character (bokkah?). To me these lenses are a dead heat.

3. A Fuji 180A and a Schneider 180 Apo-Symmar were a dead heat in color, contrast and sharpness.

Nore I refer to specific samples of these lenses... I am not even sure these results can be generalized to other samples of the same lenses. These observed differences are very small compared to exposure variations and film to film or batch to batch color variations. I am never sure if the slight color variations are due to slightly different exposure density due to lack of perfectly calibrated shutters and apertures.

Bottom line, I don't pick by brand. I own 4 lenses today, a Rodenstock 75mm, a Schneider 110XL, a Fuji 180A and a Nikkor 300M. It was not my intention to own one from each of the big 4, just individual choices in my favorite focal lengths.

-- Glenn C. Kroeger (, March 10, 2000.

I own a mix of German and Japanese as well; a 90mm Rodenstock Grandagon, and 150mm Nikkor-W, besides an excellent old 300mm Taylor-Hobson British lens and a poorish 75mm Komuranon-SW. I'd say that image quality from the 90mm and 150mm are equally superb, although comparing across focal lengths isn't easy.

I've used Symmars and Super Angulons in the past, and can't say that I noticed any magical or mystical qualities about them, apart from being darned good lenses. All lenses these days are computer designed, and have been for the last 40 years, so why we should try to ascribe any mystique, or arcane optical knowledge to one manufacturer over another, I don't know. Glass is glass, and as long as it's selected correctly, ground and polished carefully, and assembled with precision, the same laws of Physics will apply to it whether it was made in Japan, Germany or Canada.

-- Pete Andrews (, March 10, 2000.

Ross, you may want to check out a thread from last November called "Source of myth that different brands of LF lenses reproduce colors differently?" (It's archived under the "lenses" category, the last category--under "Workshops"--in the "Older Messages" section of this website.)

One contributor swore his German lenses were "warmer" than his Japanese ones, while another was sure the opposite was true. Most contributors agreed that though generalizations related to country of origin may have been possible to make in the pre-modern era, nowadays differences are greater among various designs and even various samples than between lenses made in Asia vs. those made in Europe.

Bottom line: every serious photographer wants to believe he (and it's usually a he) is more discerning than his peers, and "lens coloration" (let alone "3-D palpability"!) is perhaps the easiest to get away with (i.e., if they can't see it, they can't prove you wrong). I would say that if you're comparing modern lenses, unless you shoot test photos with several dozen Japanese samples and several dozen German lenses and find that numerous impartial judges are able to determine which is which, repeatedly and without prompting, such differences are indeed a myth. Others will disagree strongly, I know, but then no one with a heavy investment in one type of equipment (or association with one particular brand) is particularly willing to hear the statement that "brands don't matter all that much." To me, they don't--which is why I own at least one lens from each of the Big F

-- Simon (, March 10, 2000.

that's "Big Four." Gotta stop getting cut off!

extra extra extra extra extra

-- Simon (, March 10, 2000.

Glenn, Congratulations and welcome in the 110 XL Happy Owners Club! I would agree with you on your answer. Ross, I don't think categories can be made just by the lens producing countries. It's more a question of individual manufacturing specifications such as type of glass, number of optical lenses, surface treatment, age of lens. My german 10 years old Xenar 210 for example should be very neutral in color. In fact, if I hold it on a sheet of white paper, it is slightly yellow-green, but nothing to affect image quality. My other Schneider lenses are more neutral, the latest being the best. The Fuji C 300 which I thought would be warm being japanese, is in fact the more neutral of all my lenses. In practice, I have never noticed any disturbing cast in any of my slides taken with Nikkor, Fuji, Schneider and Rodenstock lenses, most recent, two being 25 years old. So I think it's more an individual lens problem than a general maker's trend. If I shooted a sheet of white paper with all my lenses, I would probably see as many whites as there are lenses. But the differences are so subtle, it would not make a good photography worse or better. In fact I recently shooted the same shot, a series of old roofs, with the Xenar 210, the Fujinon 300 and a 25 years old 360 Apo-Ronar. There is nothing in the image quality of the three slides to differenciate the lenses. The only situation I can imagine where not mixing lenses should be considered is when shooting products in different angles with a white background or very subtle tones such as gold. Then a difference could appear from the different lenses. Talking of the 3D effect, I think this is a matter of sharpness and contrast. Real 3D effect could only be attained by a dual lens device. I would wonder if the rumors you talk about are not propagated in the sake of some commercial or perhaps "religious" interests? Otherwise, I am not a technical guru and perhaps need my eyes to be opened by someone wiser? But to summarise my position, I would think all makers have in their range some good and some "oustanding" lenses.

-- Paul Schilliger (, March 10, 2000.

I agree with Glenn about your choice of film making a far bigger difference. I choose film based on my desired outcome, and I have never seen this much difference by changing lenses.

-- Ron Shaw (, March 10, 2000.

With all due respect, I don't care what anyone else says, there IS a difference in look between German and Japanese glass, as there is a difference in look between Fuji and Nikkor, as well as between Schneider and Rodenstock (although I would argue the differences are smaller, at least to my eyes, between the two German manufacturers); all of these differences are admittedly small, but nonetheless apparent--and perhaps even quite considerable to a very sensitive eye- -enough to make me recoil from Nikkor, for instance, and choose to go with Rodenstock or Schneider, because I felt the Japanes glass was clearly too warm for my tastes and purposes (I am aware of reactions to the exact opposite, but I simply can't see how they come up with that) and I shoot black-and-white only! No color. I recently compared the Nikkor 300M, Fuji 240A, Schneider G-Claron 305, Rodenstock Apo-Ronar 360, Schneider Symmar-S 360, and Rodenstock Sironar N 480--along with the several Rodenstock Sironar N lenses I own and am accustomed to shooting with--and there were definite "AESTHETIC" differences in look and feel among all of them (the difference between warm and cool one of the biggest), that went beyond all the technical data that each lens carried. I often wonder why these subective "aesthetic" factors get all too readily passed over in the anxious attempt to quote the lens's "circle of coverage" this or the "angle of view" that. Yes, a lens's aesthetic qualities are ultimately subjective and much harder to concretize, but such characteristics are just as important as its technical data in my opinion, and need to be aired and addressed far more often.

-- Nick Rowan (, March 13, 2000.

Nick, please don't take this the wrong way, I'm not trying to be contrary, I'm simply extremely curious about ephemeral subjects in general.

You obviously see something that most of us don't, but what exactly is it? "Warm" and "cold" don't really tell us much about what attracts or repels you from the quality of a lens, especially as you say that this is apparent to you in B&W prints. Could you elaborate and perhaps quantify those rather vague adjectives?

I don't consider myself an insensitive person, in fact I've been nearly moved to tears by some pictures, even landscapes, but I've never been repulsed by a picture because it was taken with the "wrong" lens. The subject matter, composition and other objectively definable qualities have always over-ridden any vanishingly subtle technical flaws in my eyes.

So please, enlighten us.

-- Pete Andrews (, March 13, 2000.


Are you saying that you can't see ANY difference between pictures taken with Fuji, Nikkor, Rodenstock, and Schneider lenses?

I don't see how the differences between these 4 lens manufacturers is such a foreign or difficult concept.

Isn't it quite natural that most man-made products differ--if sometimes only slightly--from one manufacturer to the next, and that a company, no matter what it makes, whether it's cars or pants or bread or wallpaper has a "house style", a conceptal design approach to the material they are producing, that necessarily informs all of what they make and, and permeates all their products from top to bottom with a certain "signature".

Now, HOW TO CHACTERIZE those differences between these 4 lens manufacturers is another story. In my opinion, that's alot more murky, as then we enter the realm of taste--and that is ultimately subjective. What one may see as warm another may see as cold, and vice versa.

Personally, I felt the b/w tones with the Nikkor (and to a lesser extent, the Fuji) were more saturated-- "rich" and "chocolatey" is about the best way I can describe it--whereas the Schneider (and to a lesser extent Rodenstock) was more sterile and clinical and "remote" in its feel. I associate the former with "warm" and the latter with "cold". To put it in musical terms, the Nikkor would represent music that has alot of lush, resonant reverb; and the German lenses music with very little or no reverb: dry, spare, spartan, skeletal--"cold".

I may have sounded extreme when I said I "recoiled" from the Nikkor, but I did sense a big difference when I first saw prints made with it, and it felt wrong. It was also the first time in many years that I had ever used a Nikkor lens to shoot large format; for all the years prior I had shot with nothing but Rodenstock. The Nikkor, at that point, was demonstrably too "sweet" and "treacly" for a taste grown accustomed to Rodenstock--

I think all of these values are relative and subject to experience and conditioning : I mean if I had for all these years been shooting with Nikkor lenses I'd probably prefer Nikkor now, because I was conditioned to see in those terms. And if there were 40 different major lens manufacturers to choose from instead of the current 4, then I might not like either Nikkor or Rodenstock, because there was something else (something, in other words, that isn't even imaginable in our present system) that was a whole lot different still--than what we have accepted as the realm of possiblity now.

-- Nick Rowan (, March 16, 2000.

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