Long Lenses Don't Compress Foreground and Background?:Still Confused.

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About one week ago I raised the question of whether "telephoto-design" lenses produce pictures that look in any way different than "normal-design" lenses in the same focal length. The answer to my question was understandably universal: no. But in the course of answering the question some people pointed out that I was wrong in my perception of the effects of long lenses, in that LONG LENSES DO NOT COMPRESS FOREGROUND AND BACKGROUND, BUT (FOR LACK OF A MORE PRECISE WAY FOR ME TO PUT IT) MERELY "CROP THE IMAGE AND ENLARGE IT". Well, at the time I first read this, I didn't think much of it because I was much more concerned with the possible differences between telephoto and normal-design lenses. But since then, I have gone back and reflected on this other aspect of their answer, and simply can't understand, for the life of me, how this could possibly be true. If long lenses do not compress foreground and background space then why is that when I have used a 105mm lens (or a 135mm, or a 200mm for that matter) in a 35mm format to photograph people, for example, did the space between the subject and the background seem to shrink, and the things in the background seem to move closer to the foreground subject--or vice versa? And why is it that when I am watching a movie that takes place in a city and the camera has a long lens focused on a busy sidewalk full of people walking in one direction, do all the people appear to be walking on top of each other? And why is it that if a long lens was focused on two cars in the distance following each in a car chase would the two cars--even if they were separated by a great distance, be seemingly brought closer together by a long focal length lens--and the longer the lens, the greater the closeness? Or is this effect due exclusively to the illusion of diminishing perspective (inherent in our own unaided eyesight), and the fact that the long lens merely crops the portion of this diminished perspective, and appears to heighten it by presenting just a small piece of it? I am only really interested in answers to these questions, insofar as they relate to THE PROPER LENS SELECTION FOR LARGE-FORMAT CAMERAS. Basically my problem is this: I own 150mm, 210mm, 240mm, and 305mm lenses for my 4 x 5 camera, but I would like to get a longer lens that hopefully will provide greater "compression of space" in my portraits, making my pictures of people "more dramatic" by "exaggerating their size or presence". So far, neither the 240mm nor the 305 have really accomplished this effect for me. Is it true that the 210mm will yield a perspective that is IDENTICALLY THE SAME, for example, as a 480mm, as long as I move close enough to create the same cropping between the two lenses? But if this were the case, then why do people recommend long lenses, such as the 300mm or 360mm for 4x5-format portraiture? Isn't it true that the longer lenses alter the space, volume, perspective (call it whatever you like) and "flatten" the face, reducing any possible exaggerations of nose and chin etc, thereby effecting a more complimentary look?

But, then again, I have become quite confused lately because I recently compared pictures taken of a person with a 360mm and a 210mm, and the pictures taken with both lenses DID look almost the same (or perhaps exactly the same, but I can't quite believe it nonetheless), if I simply moved closer to the subject when I used the 210mm.

Is there any point in purchasing a long lens if one is able to move close enough with a 210mm, to produce the same cropping with the shorter lens?

Am I wasting my money on a huge misapprehension--if this is all I "plan" to accomplish with a longer lens? (In this case, the 360mm lens in question is about $1400--so the answer is really important.)

Will a 420mm or a 480mm lens not produce pictures that are in any way more "dramatic" or "foreground-and-background-compressing" than say a 210mm lens positioned much closer (to produce the equivalent cropping)?

Is the purpose of a long lens merely to bring distant objects closer that might otherwise be too small because they are too far away (as in the case of a nature or sports photographer)--WITHOUT EFFECTING ANY CHANGE IN THE SPACE OR VOLUME BETWEEN FOREGROUND AND BACKGROUND?

I have taken pictures for many years--albeit with 35mm more than large-format--and I am really embarassed that I don't know the answers to these seemingly basic but admittedly elusive questions. Embarassingly, they have dogged me for some time, now that I am shooting exclusively in large format and seeking to achieve a certain "look" or "effect" with my portraiture--and I've yet to grasp it or come to a clear answer in my head still in all the hours I have spent studying my prints. The answer is important because it determines which lenses it is necessary--or pointless--to buy.

Anybody's help would be much appreciated.

Thanks again.

Nick Rowan

-- Nick Rowan (nrowan@vf.com), March 13, 2000


The spatial "compression" you are after is a perspective effect determined by the distance of the lens from the objects being photographed. A simple example: imagine two people 10 feet apart. Case 1: position the camera 5 feet in front of one person and 15 feet in front of the other and use a short focal length lens. In the resulting photograph the people will look like they are at quite different distances because of visual clues such as their relative sizes.

Now position the camera 100 feet from the first and 105 feet from the second person. Case 2A: select a long lens to include the same cropping as in case 1 and take a photograph. The people will now look to be at the same distance (the fractional difference in their distance is 5% instead of 50%), except for visual clues such as the front person perhaps blocking the view of parts of the second person. This is the "telephoto compression" effect. The name is a misnomer since the lens need not be a telephoto, nor, as the next case shows, a long lens. Case 2B: imagine that you have extremely fine-grained film and only one lens, the short focal length lens of Case 1. Take the photograph and then enlarge a small portion of it to obtain the same cropping as before. With perfect film the image would be the same as Case 2A.

Perspective is controlled by camera position. The "compressive" effects you seek are obtained by placing the camera far from the subject. The compressive effects are associated with long lenses because they are generally used to overcome the small subject size created by the large camera/subject distance.

In your example of portraits with 210 and 360 lenses, the relative distance we are considering is between the tip of the nose and perhaps the ears. With these lenses you are far enough away that the change in relative distances will be small. Now if you compared an image taken with a 90 mm lens and a 210 lens, both with a camera position filling the 4x5 negative, you should see a big difference.

If you want to experiment with what a long lens would produce, position your camera at the distance you would use for that lens and then use only the central portion of the negtive. E.g., to simulate a 600 mm lens with a 300 mm lens, move the camera twice as far away and use only the central 50% of the negative (50% linear, 25% area).

-- Michael Briggs (MichaelBriggs@earthlink.net), March 13, 2000.

Nick, you have it figured out, but think of it this way. If you stand next to a buildiing and are looking at another building, doesn't the nearer one looke bigger?even if it isn't physically bigger? and don't they look far apart from one another? (think wide angle here) now, if you are a mile away from both buildings, don't they look as it they are right on top of each other? (think telephoto here).

The theory of using long lenses for portraiture still holds, if I am one inch away from your nose and take a picture, and your nose sticks out one inch from your face, then your nose is halfway between your face and the lens. If I stand 20 feet away and take a pic, your nose is still an inch away from your face, but is much further away from the lens. Its all relational. You could do this with your naked eye and get the same effect, only when you are far away from your subject you can't crop out the useless areas like you can with a telephoto lens.

So, yes to make a long story short (too late) the telephoto lenses only crops out the extra space around the subject, the foreshortning effect is caused by the distance from the subject.

So the longer lens purchase isn't pointless, you are seeing the cure as the cause-- the telephoto lens doesn't cause the foreshortning, it only makes you move back to get more in the picture--the moving back is what causes the effect?

sometimes my explanations tend to ramble, so I hope that I didn't confuse you even more.

-- mark lindsey (lindseygraves@msn.com), March 13, 2000.

Jeez Michael, you beat me to it, and I thought that I was going to be the first to answer!

-- mark lindsey (lindseygraves@msn.com), March 13, 2000.

Thank you both for your very detailed answers, but I am still struggling to understand what you said.

Are you saying that the "compression" one senses (and won't you at least grant the fact that there is at least an APPARENT sense of compression caused by the view-cropping effect of long lenses?) in a photo taken with a long lens is due to the natural condition of foreshortening which the human eye is subject to simply being replicated--and, if you will, exaggerated--by the way a long lens crops out the "outside" portion of a frame and highlights one "center" portion, thereby removing the spatial-context for that center portion to relate to, giving all objects at whatever distance (both from each other as well as from the lens) within that central portion the appearance/illusion of being compressed or brought closer together, in relation to the lens/eye?

I'm sorry--that's probably way too convoluted...but I think I may be getting it, I'm not sure--I've been conditioned to think about this very simple idea very differently all these years, and I have to "unlearn" it now (I never thought about it from the perspective of how our eyes actually "do the compressing" naturally every time we see distant objects and diminish their perspective), but I still have some very practical questions, as they relate to lens purchases, which are really the most important in the end.

Having said all that both of you said: can you both (or anyone else for that matter) please offer me some guidance and recommendations as to what focal-length long lens(es) you think I should get for trying to achieve this "appearance" of compression that I am trying to attain? I have now a 150, 210, 240, and 305. I don't feel that the 210, 240, or 305 are capturing enough compression; I have recently considered purchasing a 360mm, aware that is the "high-end" of the traditional spectrum of 4x5 portrait lenses, but have tried it out and still feel it is too much like my 210mm (can barely see a difference when I simply move closer with the 210--is that possible?). I also tried out a 420mm (Red Dot Artar) and felt that focal-length came ALOT closer in increasing the "claustrophobic effect" of compression I am looking for--does that reaction make sense (it's only 60mm longer than the 360, and yet seems to yield a bigger difference than exists between the 210mm and 360mm [a 150mm difference])? And what about a 450mm, or 480mm? Would those be good choices too? (Forget about issues of bellows requirement; I have enought for all up to at least 480mm) Have either of you ever heard of using such long lenses in a studio setting to shoot a portrait with a 4 x 5 camera? Or SHOULD I JUST ABANDON THE WHOLE PROSPECT OF PURCHASING THESE LONGER (ie 360, 420, 450, and/or 480mm) LENSES, AND SIMPLY PHOTOGRAPH AT A CLOSER LENS-TO-SUBJECT DISTANCE WITH MY EXISTING 210MM or 305MM LENS?

Will I really capture the "dramatic" illusion of "compression" I am so desiring with any of these longer lenses, filling all frames HALF- FIGURE? Or do you think the effects will be inconsiderable, in relation to simply moving closer with one of the focal lenths I already have?

Thanks again--


-- Nick Rowan (nrowan@vf.com), March 13, 2000.

Nick, Generally, you probably won't get the dramatic telephoto shots with large format that you can with smaller formats (e.g. 35mm) simply because lenses proportionally as long for the formats aren't available, practical or used very often. For instance, a 600mm lens on a 35mm camera is equivalent to 1800mm on 4x5 (multiply your 35mm focal lengths by 3 to arrive at a rough comparison). You just won't find one of those beasts! However, there are lots of "longer" lenses for LF in the 300 to 600+mm range. These are equivalent to 100-200mm on 35 mm. This is about as long as practical and affordable for most of us. So, when choosing your lenses, and in view of the above discussions, (which should have you coninced by now that the so- called "telephoto effect" is a function of distance and angle of view, not lens design), and, taking into consideration that LF offers lots of leeway to crop and still have relatively sharp and grain free enlargements, I would suggest that you purchase shorter lenses at first and crop when necessary for the shots that you need a really narrow angle of view for. This has several advantages: First, shorter lenses are cheaper. A 300mm Nikkor M or equivalent covers up to 8x10 and is downright affordable when compared to telephoto designs. Second, extremely long normal design lenses require appropriately longer bellow draw, requiring a larger, more cumbersome camera.(To circumvent this problem there are telephoto designs for LF. These, as you already know, trade shorter bellows draw for reduced performance and increased price!) Keep in mind that you can use one-half of your 4x5 sheet (i.e. crop to 2x2.5 inches) with a 300mm lens and still have a nice telephoto medium-format negative (equivalent to a 150mm lens on a 6x7 or a 100mm lens on 35mm)! Of course, if you find yourself cropping this small regularly, then you should consider shelling out for something longer and more exotic. Remember, your camera position (camera-to-subject distance) determines the perspective (large to small) relaionships in the scene and the longer lenses just narrow the field of view (which is the same as cropping). That means you don't "move closer" with a shorter lens to get the desired effect, you set up the camera at a distance where the perspective is correct and choose your lens or cropping to give the desired framing (angle of view). A rectangular opening cut in a piece of cardboard or a Zone VI viewing filter or the like can be helpful when composing. Hope all this helps, ;^D)

-- Doremus Scudder (ScudderLandreth@compuserve.com), March 13, 2000.

I am losing it again...I don't get it...if what you say is true, then all a longer lens does is CROP a view and make that portion of view full-frame: so why is that cropped view DIFFERENT than if I simply move closer to the subject and crop the picture to the same dimensions?

I don't want to merely "crop a picture closer", I want to alter the relationship between the ground and the subject--or the foreground and the background--

Either a long lens does that or it doesn't--

If it doesn't do that, then I'd just as well use a shorter focal length and move closer--

If it does do it, then I would like to find a lens longer than 360mm that will accomplish this "effect"--

I think the central idea in all these explanations is getting lost, that a long lens causes at least some perceived/relative--call it what you like--CHANGE IN "RELATIVE SPATIAL PERSPECTIVE"--I like to call it "compression", you may call it "cropping"--but "cropping" to me implies NO SPATIAL/DIMENSIONAL CHANGE--and I just can't see how that could be the case--

But if it is the case, then I don't see any argument for purchasing/ using a longer lens.

I mean: either a long lens produces a different-looking picture than a normal focal length or it doesn't--

You have to concede that the relationship between foreground and background within the frame undergoes SOME change by using a really long lens, or not-- -------------------

On another note, I don't have the option to crop my 4 x 5 negatives, as I am making mural-size prints and need to utilize the full frame-- to keep the enlargement ratio to a minimum (approx 12x).

I am already well aware of the bellows issues with regard to telephoto vs. normal design--I am not concerned with that--but are you implying that the view of a telephoto lens is DIFFERENT than a normal-design long lens, AT THE SAME LENS-TO-SUBJECT DISTANCE? Ie: if I stand 7 feet from a person with a telephoto lens, and then stand 7 feet from that same person with a normal-design long lens in the same focal length, that the two "cropped views" are different?

-- Nick Rowan (nrowan@vf.com), March 13, 2000.


1. Forget the design of the lens... all that matters is focal length.

2. Compression is a particular perspective caused by long film to subject distance ONLY. Focal length doesn't matter, only subject-film geometry.

3. We usually use long focal length lenses for distant subjects, thus we observe compressed perspective most commonly with long focal length lenses.

4. If you take 2 shots of the same subject, from the same distance with two focal length lenses, and crop the image shot with the shorter lens to match the image made with the longer lens, the perspective will be identical. Same subject-film geometry, thus same compression for distant objects. Obviously, the cropped image will be grainier and less sharp.

5. In addition to the geometric perspective issue, part of what you see in long focal length shots is less depth of field which accentuates the compression effect by rendering only a narrow range of distances in sharp focus.

-- Glenn C. Kroeger (gkroeger@trinity.edu), March 13, 2000.


Are you saying that if I stand, for example, 10 feet away from a person and point a 480mm lens at them and then stand 5 feet (or whatever distance would be necessary to create the same cropping of view as the 480mm creates) from the the same person and point a 210mm lens, that the photographs taken with these 2 lenses at these 2 distances would be exactly identical?

Then why should I shell out $1500. for a long lens, when I can just use the 210mm I have now, and simply MOVE CLOSER to my subject when I photograph them?

-- Nick Rowan (nrowan@vf.com), March 13, 2000.

Nick: Moving closer has the opposite effect on the "compression" factor. The distance from the lens to the subject is what causes the compressed look. As previously said, it is easier to achieve with 35mm than 4x5. A 360mm is not going to give you much more of a compression look than a 300 on 4x5 film. You would need to go above 500 mm and back off to get the compression look you want. The cropping that seems to be confusing you occurs after the image is on the negative, not cropping in the camera. For instance, if you make a photograph at 50 feet with a 300mm lens and a 90mm at the same 50 feet, naturally the 90 will take in much more area. However, if you enlarge the full negative from the 300mm to 8x10 and a small section of the 90 mm to match the print from the 300, the images will appear identical. Hope I haven't added to the confusion. Doug.

-- Doug Paramore (dougmary@alanet.com), March 13, 2000.


No! I said that the image produced by different lenses given the SAME subject-film geometry has the same perspective.

If you shoot with a shot with a 240, then move twice as far away and shoot the same shot with a 480, the second shot WILL have a more compressed perspective. But the REASON is that you moved twice as far away, NOT that you used a longer focal length lens.

So, since we use longer focal length lenses at greater distances, we associate them with compressed perspective.

-- Glenn C. Kroeger (gkroeger@trinity.edu), March 13, 2000.


Thank you for saying what you did about long lenses on 35mm vs.long lenses on 4 x 5.

I have noticed the same difference--but correct me if I'm wrong in what I am about to say.

Part of my frustration over this whole issue stems from the fact that I am conditioned to being able to achieve a certain amount of "compression" using long lenses in a 35mm format, which I have been consistently unable to achieve in a 4 x 5 format.

Long lenses in 35mm seem to produce greater compression--or at least the feeling/appearance of greater compression--than long lenses in a 4 x 5 (or 8 x 10) format.

But is this exactly right? I mean if I compare the "compression effect" of a 105mm lens vs a 50mm lens in a 35mm film format, against the "compression effect" of a 360mm lens vs.a 180mm lens in a 4 x 5 film format, are the two "compression effects" the same? Or would the photos taken with the 105mm on 35mm film cause greater compression than the photos taken with the 360mm on 4 x 5 film, as long as the two lenses were positioned at exactly the same distance from the subject?

If a smaller compressive change would occur between doubling the focal length within the 4 x 5 format vs. doing the same within a 35mm format, is this one reason why large-format cameras (in this case, 4 x 5 ones) are routinely built with such "short bellows"--ie bellows that usually only accomodate lenses up to about 300 or 360mm in focal length--because there is a recognition that using longer lenses doesn't alter a picture as radically as they do when used on 35mm cameras?


Also, do you think that I should avoid contemplating purchasing any lenses longer than the 305mm lens I already have, to create the effect of compression I am so desiring? (I mean I don't think I want to get a lens that's longer than 480mm--or should I? Ie: does anyone ever use such long lenses--lenses over 500mm--to shoot simple studio portraits?!)

-- Nick Rowan (nrowan@vf.com), March 13, 2000.


Thank you for the clarification; I think that may have crystallized an understanding in my mind.

I still have more questions, but I hesitate to pose them, for fear that they are going to further confuse me--

-- Nick Rowan (nrowan@vf.com), March 13, 2000.

Nick: The reason it looks different on 35mm is because of the negative size. If you put your 305mm lens from your 4x5 on your 35mm camera, the look will be the same as with your 300 telephoto from the same distance. Try this: set up your 4x5 next to your 35mm, both on tripods, and shoot the same subject with a 210 lens on the 4x5 and a zoom set at 210 on the 35mm. Shoot a negative with each. Then take the scissors and cut out a 35mm section of the 4x5 negative. The photos will be identical in size and perspective. 400 mm on a 4x5 is just about pushing the limits of the bellows even on studio stand cameras for head and shoulders portraits. To fill the negative, you will need 800mm of bellows extension if you go to a 1-1 ratio. It becomes impractical. I learned studio portraiture on a stand camera which had about 36 inches of bellows. We used a 12" (305) or 14" lens (360) for head and shoulders. It took quite a bit of bellows extension. Doug.

-- Doug Paramore (dougmary@alanet.com), March 13, 2000.

Think about it this way. Perspective is essentially a function of relative sizes of objects at different distances. Something further away looks smaller than something closer. The ratio of their 'apparent' sizes is in direct proportion to the ratio of their distances to the lens (object A to lens divided by object B to lens). Focal length only alters magnification. A longer focal length will give you more magnification than a shorter focal length. However, the relative distances between the two objects (object A to lens divided by object B to lens) remains unchanged and therefore the ratio of their apparent sizes remains unchanged i.e., perspective does not change and all that the longer lens is doing is allowing you to crop out portions of the scene 'in camera' (which is why you will get the same effect by cropping the center of the image from the negative taken with the wider i.e., shorter lens while printing).

The 'compression effect' you refer to is a function of many things 1/ typically long lenses in 35mm are used to isolate specific elements i.e., to isolate one subject and crop out the rest of the scene (by doing that, you of course delete depth cues associated with those things you've cropped out like the foreground) 2/ smaller DOF which essentially does the same - if it is not sharp, your eye has trouble focusing on the edges to separate figure from ground 3/ most importantly, you use long lenses at a distance and therefore all the objects in the picture are at more or less the same distance to the lens i.e., there are not much perspective cues in the picture.

Technically, the compression effect of a 300 vs 150 on 4x5 should be similar to the 100 to 50 on 35mm but keep in mind that their aspect ratios are somewhat different which may play a role also. In my opinion, the whole thing is moot. The biggest depth cues in a picture are the relative sizes of various objects that you want in the picture. If a particular element does not add to the picture, it should probably not be there anyway. Now, if you graph the apparent size i.e., size of image on ground glass against distance to object (i.e., as you back away from it), you see that size diminishes rapidly and approaches an asymptote quite rapidly i.e., you need to back off huge distances to reduce the size appreciably. In other words, the relative sizes of two same sized objects at different distances to the camera rapidly approaches 1 as you increase the distance to both of them. There is really not too much to gain beyond this by backing off even further and using even longer lenses because they are so close to being the same size as makes no difference. So the 'compression effect' levels out quite quickly also. Longer lenses in 35mm are really more for reach i.e., because you cannot get closer to the bird or the lion and are forced to shoot at a distance - and not so much for the perspective compression they produce. In other words, if you're using a 300mm lens for portraiture on a 4x5, thats pretty close to what you're going to get. The relative sizes of nose (which appears bigger since it is closer than the ear)and ear are pretty close at the kind of ditance you would use a 300 at and you're going to have to go to huge increases in focal length to equalize them further (and its doubtful that you can make out this further equlaization anyway). If a 135mm is regarded as an ideal portraiture lens in 35mm, its equivalent is roughly a 15" lens. A 300mm lens on 4x5 is roughly a 105mm on 35mm and I think it should allow you to operate far enough back as to prevent any unpleasant 'large' noses. DJ

-- N Dhananjay (ndhanu@umich.edu), March 13, 2000.

Hi Nick,You are struggleing with one of the problems I have found on this site; and that is every one wants to get too precise with all this. We are making pictures, that's all. Why make it sound like a big deal. Doremus above has it right. 4X5 AND 35mm are different animals. A long lens on a 35mm is a long lens indeed, and the compresson of the image is great. This is a 35mm "thing". This is part of the "distortion" 35mm is famous for. 4x5 has not the long lens "thing" and this is why the same effect is not possible.

When someone askes a question on this page, we need to answer as simply as possible. This is not a time to show off all the knowledge we have (or have not!) of large format. I have seen too much trying to "out do" the next guy or gal! Lets "Show off" our work and not try to impress each other with our expertise (or lack thereof). Come on Photography is Fun, Fun, Fun. Lets not turn it into an intellectual exersise!!

-- Bill Lindley (adley@ix.netcom.com), March 13, 2000.

Nick, Here's something to try to get your brain around this, and overcome the misinformation you were fed (before coming here). Take a piece of paper and make a side view of your camera and scene. Put a foreground and background object, and a large simplified camera. Draw lines from the top of the frame (highest point in the final picture) to the bottom of the film plane, and another from the bottom of the frame to the top pf the film plane through the middle of the lens. (These should be symmetrical about the camera). Now draw similar lines for the tops and bottoms of the foreground and background objects. This should enable you to construct a rough guess at what the picture will look like (and get an idea about the 'compression effect'.

The angle between the first two lines you draw represents the focal length of the camera.

Now if you can make more pictures varying the size of the film plane, subject to camera distance, and focal length. This should give you a visual means of comparing different changes.

You should find that 1) moving the camera closer and farther from the subject changes the 'compression'; 2) Changing the focal length enables you to move to the appropriate distance to get the 'compression' you want, and still not have to crop the picture to the point of graininess, 3) increasing the film size means the longer focal length is needed to get the same level of cropping (not compression).

Hope This Helps,

-- Topher

-- Topher (topher@intranet.com), March 13, 2000.

Nick, If you take a piece of cardboard and cut a frame into it and then place it before your eyes, you will be able to view exactly what effect the different lenses will produce on your subject by simply moving the frame back and forward. Now, if you take a picture with, say a 90 mm and then decide to crop it, the result will be exactly the same as if the shot had been taken with a longer lens provided it was taken FROM THE SAME POINT! But of course, if you move forward to your subject to restrain the image, the picture you will get WILL HAVE AN OTHER PERSPECTIVE than the cropped image from the first place. This is simply because a lens is made to include a certain angle of view. Whatever your distance from the subject, this angle will always remain the same. If you take a portrait with a 90 mm wide-angle from a distance of 3 meters, the person will be entirely included in your shot, and the background will be included with an angle of 83 degrees. So you will see on each side of your subject a lot of scenery, sky, ground, other people, which can produce a very rich picture, but can also be very disturbing. Now, you move forward to your subject to a distance of 1 meter and with the same lens take a half body portrait. The way your subject looks in the picture will change dramatically! The person will fill half of your image, but if you look at the background, it will still be there included with the same angle as before. But now yourimage looks very DYNAMIC for the relation between the subject and the background has changed. The relation between different parts of the body will change also, producing some impression of distortion in your subject's face (big nose).If the background was disturbing in the first place, it might still be disturbing now even the subject has filled more space in your image. Now, if instead of moving forward from your initial 3 meter stand, you take the shot with your 90 mm and once back home, decide to crop it to include only a half body portrait, you will do exactly the same as if you changed your 90 mm for, say a 300 mm. The space occupied by the subject on your image will be the same as when you had moved closer, but the background will then only be included with an angle of 30 degrees instead of the previous 83. So taking a shot with a 90 and cropping will give the SAME PERSPECTIVE and SAME IMAGE as a the shot taken with a 300 mm except for one thing: the DEPTH OF FIELD. Your shot taken with the 90 mm at 3 meters will probably look sharp all the way through. Now, with the 300 mm, and although the THEORETICAL DEPTH OF FIELD REMAINS THE SAME, you will be able to make your subject sharp and keep the background out of focus by using selective focus and larger apertures. Also, if the background included is the same, being out of focus ISOLATES your subject, and concentrates the viewer attention on it. A way to take benefit of this rule is by using a roll film! Your same 90 mm will be approx. equivalent to a 24 mm small format lens on 4x5 and to a 35 mm on 6x9.

All this will certainly be obvious to you so far, but here is a word on the effect lenses have on perspectives. Imagine the face of your subject if you place your 90 mm 10 inches afar. You will see a huge nose, large chicks, large eyes, but as you move from the center to the edges of the face, the parts will be reduced in great proportions: small chin, small ears, small forehead, small body. Never take a picture of your girl friend this way unless she has a great sense of humor! At the opposite, if you use a very long tele for a portrait, the nose will be COMPRESSED and you will have large ears, a large neck, kind of a "Rambo look". Of course, in your 210-360 case, the differences are probably very subtle and would produce perhaps an overall impression rather than a clear difference. An other case of figure is group photography. I once had taken a group with a 90 mm. The people in the center of the image where looking fine, but all the faces near the edges where STRETCHED WIDE resulting in a quite embarrassing situation. However, none of these three situations can be qualified of DISTORTED. It is simply a MATTER OF DISTANCE. A shot taken close should be viewed close, that means with the same angle it was taken, and a shot taken from far should be viewed from far (something I have learned in this forum thanks to great contributors!). My 5x7 print from the group taken with a 90 mm on 4x5 looks good if viewed from a 5 inches distance! That means also an image should be taken according to the future enlargement and viewing distance it is designed to match. In this regard, portrait photographers have established that a focal of between 65 and 135 but usually 85 mm for small format, 150-200 for medium and 210-300 for 4x5 will give acceptable results for a normal size normal viewing distance photograph. When you move beyond, you may make the viewer experiment some distortion. I hope this is of some help! Did I get your question right?

-- Paul Schilliger (pschilliger@vtx.ch), March 13, 2000.

To all,

I truly appreciate all that everybody has written in on this most vexing of subjects (at least it is to me), but I think it will take me literaly several days for me to digest and process everything that you have written. I confess that I don't understand quite alot of it on first reading. My head is literally reeling with dizziness; I have more questions now than answers...

Barring a full understanding of all the technical aspects to your answers, can someone simply provide some simple, practical advice. I currently have a 305mm lens as my longest lens for my 4 x 5 camera. Will I gain ANYTHING in terms of "drama", "impact", "compression", "heightened presence", "exaggerated imminence" --all non-technical adjectives I would use to describe the quality of a good 35mm "long- lens shot"--by stepping up to a lens LONGER THAN 300mm, such as a 360mm, 420mm, 450mm, or 480mm lens, and shooting from a greater distance? Yes or no?!!!!! (Remember: I am trying to produce in these pictures the most dramatic, eye-popping, half-figure portraits possible, that look like they are literally jumping out at you--) If the answer is yes, would the difference be 1) great, 2) medium 3) negligible, or 4) none. And if the answer is "great", "medium", or even "negligible", is there a particular focal length among the focal lengths I have mentioned above which YOU would choose--all issues of bellows requirement aside? Would you choose the highest focal length, or would the "dramatizing effects" level off after a certain focal length? Please accompany your choice with a brief explanation. Thank you!

-- Nick Rowan (nrowan@vf.com), March 13, 2000.

Nick, I would like to know why you are going to 4x5 for portraits and not 2 1/4 ? 4x5 can be such a pain for portraiture (in many cases) and especially with as long of a lens as you want ( a 4x5 470mm only equals a 135mm lens on a 35mm camera). You would have to go into 8x10 lenses to get the focal length you want $$$$$$$ and how are you going to keep the shot composed correctly with such a static camera? My advice is against large format for what you are trying to do.

-- mark lindsey (lindseygraves@msn.com), March 13, 2000.


Just equate things back to 35mm terms. Shooting distances will be the same with either 4x5 or 35mm since the proportionally longer focal lengths just fit the proportionally larger film.

Your 305mm is about the equivalent of a 90-100mm lens on 35mm. Slight "telephoto" perspective, but not the dramatic compression of a 300mm.

One way to get more compression would be to use your 305 from a greater distance, and crop the image down or use a roll film back. But you seem to want enormous enlargments and feel you need to use the entire image. That is a problem since this is not what LF excels at.

A 450 (Fujinon C for example) would be more like a 135mm lens in 35mm. A bit more compression, but not the dramatic effect you seek. A 600mm lens would be about like a 180mm, pretty good compression, but now you need LOTS of bellows and probably a rail camera with 2 tripods for stability. This is not what most folks think of as a handy portrait setup.

A final choice (expensive)for compression would be the Nikkor T 800mm f/12 telephoto which would be like 250mm on 35mm. That about the limit of practicality (if you consider a $2800 lens and a yard of bellow practical).

You could use a 450mm and a roll-film back, and enlarge the 6x7cm image accepting the resulting grain. You are probably going to have to make a choice between sharpness/grain and cost/compression.

-- Glenn C. Kroeger (gkroeger@trinity.edu), March 13, 2000.


I am working in 4 x 5 because I am making 8 feet x 10 feet (24x) fibre-base BW enlargements, and need the larger negative. I have tried 6x6, 6x7, and 6x9--and the negative is not big enough to produce enough clarity and resolution. If anything, I am considering moving to an 8 x 10 format, but the cost--among other things--has so far deterred me--but I am quite happy with what 4 x 5 can do. As far as the act of shooting goes, I arrange for my subjects to remain still or within a certain restricted physical zone, and use strobe to freeze any possible movement. Believe me, I have thought this through! But what has defied my understanding so far is this notion of a "long lens" for the 4 x 5-- Any suggestions?


-- Nick Rowan (nrowan@vf.com), March 13, 2000.


Thank you--this time I understood every word!

I have considered telephoto-design lenses in the past, but decided against them, because some people told me that they do not produce optimally sharp pictures at close ranges (in my case, about 5-12 feet, depending on the focal length). Would you agree? Recently, I have come around to the notion of using long-focal-length copy/process lenses, under the assumption that they are optimized for 1:1 to 1:5 or so, and generally among the best quality/sharpest lenses available. I have thought about the Fuji 450C, but am somewhat aesthetically biased in favor of German glass, so at the moment I am thinking alot about going with a Red Dot Artar. But, at the risk of sounding contradictory, I also do not want to reduce my depth of field to something little or none, by going with such a long, long lens (say beyond 480mm)--but maybe I'm looking for a lens that just doesn't exist, given all the large-format optical perameters you and everyone else have already laid out--

-- Nick Rowan (nrowan@vf.com), March 13, 2000.


I forgot to mention, you wrote in your last post: "just equate things back to 35mm terms". You see it is something that simple that I have been having so much trouble with, and which caused me to start this whole discussion in the first place. It is my feeling--and maybe it is just my own feeling--that the two formats are NOT visually "interchangable" like that, because it seems like the pictures taken with a 105mm in 35mm-format look different than a 300mm or 360mm taken in a 4 x 5-format--I know people have written that they are convertible like that, but when I look at my pictures taken with a 300mm they just don't look as dramatic as when I did the same with a 105mm in 35mm-format. So I sense a "gap" when comparing the two, even just conceptually--although, in the end, I do use 35mm as a general, albeit approximate, reference point. But I've gone on too long about this, and don't want to beat a dead horse.

-- Nick Rowan (nrowan@vf.com), March 13, 2000.

Four example photographs to illustrate persective vs focal length and camera position are on pages 48 to 49 of "A User's Guide to the View Camera" by Jim Stone in the section "More About Perspective". Perhaps in this case 4 photographs will be worth more than 4000 words?

-- Michael Briggs (MichaelBriggs@earthlink.net), March 13, 2000.

Nick - try using a cutout frame to simulate the 'effects' of different focal lengths. If you use one size you just move it closer or further in relationship to your face. The relationship of focal length and image size = a lens of twice the focal length doubles the size of every obnject you see in the frame. Keeping your position unchanged, the 'perspective' will remain the same. - Good shooting - Josh

-- Josh Dunham Wood (nstrad@aol.com), March 13, 2000.


I agree that the LF will look different, mainly due to less grain and smoother tonal scale, not geometric factors such as perspective.

While I love German glass, particularly Rodenstock wide angles, the Fujinon C series is tack sharp and more "germanic" in terms of contrast than the Nikkor M series, although I love the resolution and tonal scale of the Nikkor M, the Fujinon seemed to produce contrastier images.

I agree that the telephoto designs are not optimal for close working distances... but they are the only practical way to go beyond 500mm if you want that much compression.

Good luck on your decision

-- Glenn C. Kroeger (gkroeger@trinity.edu), March 13, 2000.

Nick, what type of film are you using? ever tried tech pan? extreme resolution. If you haven't, try it out.

-- mark lindsey (lindseygraves@msn.com), March 14, 2000.

Nick: One other note... we often use a factor of about 3 between LF and 35mm... but if you compare just the short side of the film, the ratio is closer to 4 (95mm/24mm). So your 305mm is much closer to an 85mm than a 105mm in 35mm. The factor of 3 allows for lots of slop around the edge of the 4x5. I use 3.5 as a more realistic factor if you are making 4x5 ratio prints.

-- Glenn C. Kroeger (gkroeger@trinity.edu), March 14, 2000.


Yes, exactly: Fuji lenses are more "Germanic" than NikkorM lenses, in terms of their contrast and overall "look". At least that is what I felt after studying prints I made with the Fuji 240 A vs. the Nikkor 300M--so I WOULD like to try the Fuji 450C. The only problem is that Fuji lenses are not available to rent in any of my local rental houses--and are sold in just a few places nationally--so it makes it a little difficult to try out as a possibility.

-- Nick Rowan (nrowan@vf.com), March 14, 2000.

It is just a ratio of the area seen by the lens, the 3x or 3.5X factor when comparing a lens for a 35mm camera to a lens for a 4x5. The visual effect of a 300mm remains a 300mm whether you use it with a 4x5 or a 35mm or an 8x10 format camera, what alters is how much horizonal and vertical coverage of the subject you get. If you are going to equate a 105mm lens on a Nikon or Canon or whatever to a 300mm lens used on a 4x5 you will also have to acknowlege that depth of field at anny given f/stop will change too. My feeling is that this is often negated by what is a prime f/stop for a lens for a 35m system is often something in the f/5.6 to f/8 range whereas with a lens for a large format camera the prime f/stop will be in the f/16 to f/22 range.

-- Ellis Vener (evphoto@insync.net), March 14, 2000.


I have never really tried Tech Pan film extensively--I tried it once or twice awhile back and felt its exposure latitude was too narrow for the way I work, and perhaps too contrasty (although I do like bold tones), as is common with slow-speed films.

I use mostly Ilford Delta 100--and occasionally HP5+320--and feel the Delta is sufficiently fine-grained.

-- Nick Rowan (nrowan@vf.com), March 14, 2000.

Photography is the same as life. Perspective depends on viewpoint

-- Garry Edwards (creativephoto60@hotmail.com), March 14, 2000.

Here is a simple test to get the visual end of this down for you. Take your widest lens and your longest lens and shoot the same subject with each, without moving the tripod. Then, crop & enlarge the negative from the wide angle lens to an exact cropped match of the longer lens. Next, move back with the longer lens until the subject on the ground glass is the exact match of what you shot with the wide angle lens. Now print & compare all 3 shots. Shoot each image with the same aperture to eliminate some problems that can crop up if you change much of anything other than camera location and film. Shutter speed won't matter much. Try to have some objects in both foreground and background to help with depth and perspective when viewing the prints. This should show you, quickly and easily, in a repeatable fashion, just what you get from the lenses you use. After looking and enlarging the center of the wider shot to match the longer lens you will also get a good sense of whether or not working with the wider lenses will fit your needs and wants for the highest quality. As an aside, portraits using large and mammoth camera formats have their own 'feel'. I shoot 5x7 and 8x10 portrait work and find it is worth the effort. A good friend just gave me one shot on 12x20 and the contact print in that size is excellent. Not quite the same as shooting with a 6x7 and enlarging. If you want to use 4x5, go for it.

-- Dan Smith (shooter@brigham.net), March 15, 2000.

Nick - I think by now you've had enough "perspective vs. focal length vs. subject distance" info. Now I'm going to throw a wrench in the works by suggesting that you're making matters worse instead of better (in terms of achieving your stated goals) by going with a long lens. I think you should at least experiment with shorter lenses (and consequently closer distances). Here's why: You say you're looking for images with dramatic impact, that leap off the paper at you, etc. You won't get that by backing off and using a long lens. Quite the opposite - compression "flattens" perspective, creating emotional as well as physical distance from your subject. The "palpability" of the person in the image is reduced rather than increased. My theory on this: the mind, consciously or unconsciously, learns to equate a flattened perspective with distance because that's the way it is in nature. Therefore, the image seems less compelling. When someone is distant from you it's easy to ignore them. Try that with someone looking at you from, say, two feet away, directly in front of you. Almost impossible to ignore, for anthropological reasons (survival instinct, among others).

I suggest you get close to your subjects. Get involved. Your images will be involving. HOW close is up to you. You might not want the distortion that comes from being very close with a wide lens, but a few test shots will tell you. Also, being close will elicit a response from your subjects which will show up in the print and effect the viewer, hopefully giving the impression you're looking for.

Your project sounds very interesting. Please tell us more about it when it's done. I'd also like to hear about the mechanics of making 10'x12' prints.

Best of luck!

-- Mark Parsons (Polar@thegrid.net), March 16, 2000.

In a nutshell: the only thing that determines the relationship between objects in a photograph (that is, persepective) is the location of the lens taking the picture. You can see the exact relationships by using your eyes. A long, or telephoto lens, magnifies a smaller part of the image to full-frame (in effect, it "crops") than a short, or wide-angle, lens.

-- Charlie Strack (charlie_strack@sti.com), March 21, 2000.

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