Telephoto Portrait Lenses for 4x5 : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I am searching for active discussion and feedback on the performance of telephoto lens designs for 4x5. These would include, but are not limited to, the Fuji 300-T, Tele-Artons, Tele-Xenars, Nikkor-T, etc.

My application is a Crown Graphic and I have a maximum flange focal distance of 225mm and still able to calibrate my rangefinder. The maximum bellows draw is about 323mm.

I would like to hear about user experiences with telephoto lenses for sharpness and image quality specifically at portrait distances, and also at infinity.

The MTF numbers available on the Schneiders appear to indicate that telephoto lenses perform significantly less than Tessars and Plasmat formulas.

Ideally, I would like to find a telephoto such as the Fuji 300-T that would be very sharp, similar to the 105/2.5 Nikkor telephoto for the Nikon 35mm format.

-- Bruce Gavin (, May 21, 2000


I once owned a Fujinon 300T and was very pleased with it. I did however use it for general landscape work, not portraiture. One of the downfalls of telephoto designs is that at close distances, where the subject size on film exceeds 1/10th of the actual size of the subject, you must take into account the exit pupil factor. I never did even find out what the factor was for that lens! Using this lens or any similar type for portraiture will require exposure compensation for the above reason.

-- Robert A. Zeichner (, May 22, 2000.

Do you really need (or want) a very sharp lens for portrait?

-- Pat Raymore (, May 22, 2000.

Amen to Patricks statement. For portraits, you need the worst "piece of crap" lens you can find and even then you may want to sandpaper the front element. Lens sharpness and protraits don't go together unless you want some unhappy customers. Even men don't want every pore and every imperfection to show. You may can soften a good telephoto with soft focus filters enough to use it with portraits, though. A super sharp lens for portraits requires a lot of retouching on the negative, which is time consuming if you do it and expensive if you sent it out. Incidentally, a soft filter on the enlarger is not the same as a soft filter on a camera. The effect on the lighting is exactly the opposite. If I were buying one lens, I would probably go for sharpness for scenics, etc. and get a good soft filter, such as the Harrison and Harrison filters which are made for the movie industry to make the aging movie stars look good. Hope this helps, Doug.

-- Doug Paramore (, May 22, 2000.

Don't overlook the possibility of using a soft focus lens. Fuji has (had) two. The 250mm SF Fujinon and the 180 SF Fujinon. Either should work on your camera although the 250mm, if I remember correctly, is in a #3 shutter. Then there is always the Imagon which is/was available in a number of focal lenghts. these lenses are great for portaits but very sharp if you stop them down so you can also use them for commercial, scenics etc. unlike the junk lens that was suggested earlier.

-- Joseph A. Dickerson (, May 22, 2000.

I can always "dumb down" a sharp lens... cannot sharpen up a junker. I've shot portrait since 1968 with Nikkor 105/2.5, which is one of the sharpest lenses Nikon ever made, and am very happy with it.

I figure a Softar would really soften up a sharp lens when the need arises.

Everything I read on these fora indicate the LF telephotos are significantly less sharp than plasmats and tessars. I'm hoping to stir up some comments from those who have owned and used LF telephotos as to their actual performance at portrait distances.

The Soft focus lenses (250mm, et al) are beyond my 225mm flange focus needs, unless I fabricate a reversed wide-angle lensboard. I am contemplating doing this for my Nikkor-M 300/9 lens...

-- Bruce Gavin (, May 22, 2000.

How about the lenses that came with Graphics? There were 10" and 15" Optars (Raptars) f:5.6 in barrel for Speeds and Graflex, and in shutters for Crowns and views. See them often on eBay for a lot less than Scheider or Fjui lenses.

-- Bill Mitchell (, May 22, 2000.

I use a Schneider Tele Xenar 240 (old). I like it. It isn't the sharpest lens in the world, but that's not what I want. I don't have much space so I like the focal length. Though it has little room for movement. I use it on a view, and am thinking of moving to my Crown so that's what I'd do. It would be a good Graflex lens, as you don't need that much circle.


-- Dean Lastoria (, May 23, 2000.

The more I research this topic, the more it looks like I am going to avoid a telephoto altogether in favor of long focus, narrow angle lenses. Evidently, the optical quality in LF telephotos isn't nearly as good as that of 35mm telephoto lenses such as the Nikkor 105/2.5 lens. For me, there isn't any sense in shooting 4x5 with dull optics when I can shoot 6x7 and get sharper negs, and a rig that is easier to pack.

Size and weight are big factors for my field camera use; movements are not. This makes the dialytes such as the Apo-Ronar and Red Dot Artar look very attractive. The Fuji 240/9 AS would be the winner for pure "small and light".

I have a request in to SK Grimes about fabricating a 70mm extension lens board for the Graphic that will allow me to use longer lenses including my Nikkor-M 300mm.

-- Bruce Gavin (, May 25, 2000.

Have you considered Medium format, especially since you don't need movements. In old Fuji large format catalogs Fuji warns specifically against using it's A series for portraits. If you have used these lenses then you know that they render detail with excruciatingly clarity that would be very unfaltering in a portrait.

-- Pat Raymore (, May 25, 2000.

I started this thread hoping to get input from owners of LF telephoto lenses about optical quality at portrait distances. The merits of soft focus vs hard detail in a portrait is a religious argument that will never be solved, and certainly not in this thread.

I've seen contrasty, bitingly sharp portraits where every flaw and blemish is highly visible. These portraits would be emasculated if they were shot with soft focus. This technique would never be used on a bride.

Choosing the correct tools to get the desired results is the responsibility of the creative photographer. For me, this means owning an excruciatingly sharp portrait lens, plus having an Imagon to create the opposite results.

Yes, I have shot medium format, continuously since 1968. In the studio, my 6x7 produces print sharpness that rivals 4x5 enlargements up to 16x20. However, there is a rich, subtle quality in 4x5 negs that 6x7 can't match, hence my reason for shooting 4x5.

When I need movements, or have a desire to be chained to a heavy tripod, I use a complement of Nikkor W and SW on a Sinar. My Crown Graphic application is strictly hand-held, rangefinder focused, and requires nothing for movements. I am researching very sharp lenses with narrow angles of view for this specific purpose. The Apo-Ronar, Fuji AS, and Red Dot Artars seem to all fit the requirement. It appears the telephoto designs fall short in image quality.

Everything considered, I will probably opt for the Nikkor-M 300/9 that I already own, then add a Rodenstock Imagon 300mm. The downside is fabricating an extension lens board for the Crown. If done properly, I can mount both 300 lenses in such a manner that both will calibrate correctly with the Kalart rangefinder.

-- Bruce Gavin (, May 25, 2000.

Consider the Fujinon 300/8.5 "C". Very small, light, and sharp.

-- john costo (, May 30, 2000.

John, I keep an extensive database of lens configurations, but have very little data on the Fuji C series. My last brochure from Fuji is from the 1980s, and more than a bit dated.

For the 300/8.5, I need the elements/groups, flange focus, and overall length. I know it comes in a #1 shutter, 52mm filter, and weighs 250gm, and has a 380mm image circle. It must be a modified plasmat, 6/6 or 6/4 construction to get that big of a circle.

So far, I have decided to sell my Nikkor-M 300, and tentatively replace it with an Apo-Ronar 300/9 lens. All the Tessar MTF charts I have examined so far, indicate the sharpness falls off radically at 60% of the image circle. This means my 325mm Nikkor circle is truly sharp within a 195mm circle. This is fine for 4x5 and small movements, and is probably almost as sharp as the Apo-Ronar.

Everything I have seen as far as telephotos leads me to believe they simply aren't as sharp as long focus lenses in LF. At portrait distances, my 300mm covers nearly the identical vertical angle that my 105/2.5 does on my Nikon 35mm rig. The 105 is my ideal portrait lens, so the 300mm on 4x5 fits my needs nicely. It needs about 370mm total flange focus distance to focus to 5 feet, and gives me 6 inches depth of field at f/22.

As for soft portraits, I will see if I can rent an Imagon to see how it performs compared to a Softar or other diffuser filter. Thanks to all who contributed to this thread.

-- Bruce Gavin (, June 05, 2000.

So what was your final decision on this? Which 300 did you go with? I am trying to decide on a 300 for portraits on a 4x5 view and would appreciate your findings. The Nikkor M300/9 seems great and I know a lot of people on this forum like it but the coverage would be an issue if I later move to 8x10. Alternatives I am looking at are the Fuji-C 300/8.5 and the Scheider G-Claron 305/9.


-- Peter Shier (, April 29, 2001.

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