Classic 10x8" Lenses : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread


I'm just getting my 10x8" together, and one of my next purchases will be a lens that I can use for portraiture. I would like to aim for Hollywood/Hurrell-style (I've got a tungsten spot, fresnel, and a book on retouching!). I've been using a new Rodenstock 210S with my 5x4", but find that I have to get quite close to my subject for head & shoulder shots. Should I be looking for something a bit longer than this (in relative terms) for 10x8". The equivalent would be 420mm - should I go for 480mm or something else?

I will be platinum (contact) printing, and I suppose there is no need to buy a new lens. I've been trying to find out about some of the older lenses; Cookes, Kodak, Goerz, etc. Any thoughts on these? Also, can you recommend any clued-up dealers, preferably in the UK.

Also, what is a Kodak Portraiture lens - is it a soft-focus lens similar to a Rodenstock Imagon?

Finally, on a different note, is Kodak Tri-X in 10x8" readily available in the USA? I live in the UK, and have been waiting about two months for it. Kodak don't import it, and I'm going through a dealer who's ordered it from someone else, who is importing it from the USA. I obviously can't wait this long whenever I need more film. Any suggestions for dealers who would send to the UK would be much appreciated.

-- David Nash (, April 02, 2001


8x10 (as we call it!) Tri-X is very available. You might try Calumet. I believe they have an outlet in the UK. Their website is:

-- Keith (, April 02, 2001.

You should definitely be looking for something longer. Probably something in the high teens, inch wise. You want something that will put you about 8 or 10 feet away from the subject, so perspective will compress, so sunken eyes will come forward and noses go backward.... assuming you want to "stuff the frame" with the head.... err on the side of length, you wont regret it....

I seem to be preaching this daily on these newsgroups....

Good luck with the hurrel style, I hope you can work with some good- looking people.... or at least some interesting looking ones.... but then its your job as hurrel to make them interesting, isnt it?

-- Chris Yeager (, April 02, 2001.

David, you might want to try the 480 before you buy it. The shallow DOF may be a little concerning.

Check out a 300.


-- dave anton (, April 02, 2001.

i'll repeat the advice i've given in similar threads. dof with 8x10 is an important consideration. with a 300 @ 1:2 or so (for a tight portrait) you'll need to stop down quite a bit (f32) to carry focus. figure in bellows factor and even at 400asa you'll need a lot of light. the old guys used pretty powerful lights and many of them. i've shot editorial portraits (head and neck only) with a 360 on 8x10. i had a lot of strobes. i just managed to keep both eyes, chin and forehead in focus at f22 1/3, but i had to use front tilt and swing (i was using a p2 with auto shutter and 2 assistants and, yes, i have very long arms). the ears were way out of focus. the distortion/compression was not objectionable. i wouldn't have been successful with a longer lens nor would i want to attempt to shoot a portrait with a 480 or longer.

my recommendation is a 14" commercial ektar. they are good quality, easy to find, cheap (relatively) and hold their value if you resell.

-- adam friedberg (, April 02, 2001.

Hi David, yeah with my tiny bit of unprofessional experience, I say go with 12 to 14, and for portraits it don't have to be much of a lens. What I want to know is where did you get the book on retouching? what's its title? is it any good? tri-x might be kind of fast, I don't know. What's wrong with Ilford? While you're waiting for the Kodak shipment to leave their expensive dock in Rochester, you might try some Ilford Ortho plus. For a portrait, shoot it a stop or two fast and develop by inspection a little longer than usual, but don't build up too much density for a portrait. The old Kodak book I found said, you should be able to read a newspaper easily through a portrait neg. Best, David

-- david clark (, April 03, 2001.

I think you'll want an lens around 500mm or so. A 360 will do bellybutton-and-up framing from a fairly comfortable distance but for a fairly tight head shot you'll be way too close.

Also bear in mind that you'll need to shoot at very small apertures, probably use a little camera front movement, compensate for extension and use several kilowatts of light to use that sort of lens on an 8x10 that way. Better buy a headclamp for your subject too.

-- John Hicks (, April 03, 2001.

You know what asking opinions does around here...

My two cents:

Since your end product is going to be Pt/Pd, I would suggest sticking with the Tri-X suggestion. Speed is of the essence, since you will probably need to expose more deeply and boost your development more than normal just to get the contrast you need for any type of alternative printing. It's always best to create the best neg (and it beats the Hell out of screwing with dichromate to boost the contrast in your paper). So, fast film...

Of course you may using a flash or hot lights, which would nullify the need for fast film.

Since your priority is portraiture, I would go for a softer lens of longer focal length, but if you also want sharpness for potential landscape or still life or whatever, I would think that a Symmar convertible would be in order. Just pop off the front element and you have a softer, longer lens for portraits. Isn't there a 240/360 version of this lens? You inquired about "classics," and I think this one qualifies.

Personally I'm a fan of convertibles and casket sets; don't get me started.

-- Chad Jarvis (, April 03, 2001.

If you are interested in the Hurrell style, take a look at Mark Vieira's book ""Hurrell's Hollywood Portraits." It contains numerous examples of Hurrell's work along with some bits and peices about techniques, including retouching. (I think Vieira also published an article in View Camera about Hurrell.) The book sheds some light on Hurrell's choice of lenses. Early on, Hurrell used a Wollensak Verito. Contrary to poular useage, Hurrell used the Verito at small apertures to increase sharpness and retain some soft focus "halo" effects in the highlights. The use of small apertures (combined with slow films) forced Hurrell to rely on large wattage film lighting. Interestingly, Hurrell seems to have given up the Verito in favor of a Goerz Celor lens. I get the impression that his success allowed him to move up to a "better lens." Hope this info helps.


-- Dave Willison (, April 03, 2001.

I forgot to mention the following link:

This site offers a book on classic soft-focus lenses. I have not ordered/read the book, but it looks like a useful source. Hope this helps.


-- Dave Willison (, April 03, 2001.


If you are interested in the Hurrell style (which was not unique to George Hurrell, but was a style used by all Hollywood photograhers during the "Golden Years") I would recommend two books. "Hollywood Portraits, Classic Shots and How to Take Them," by Roger Hicks and Christopher Nisperos which analyzes a large number of photos to determine the lighting techniques that were used. This is a new book from Amphoto. The second book is "50 Years of Photographing Hollywood, The Hurrell Style," by Whitney Stine. In this second book, Stine gives a little bit of techniccal info for each of the photos included. This is an older book that (I believer) is available only on the used market today.

Most of the photos Hurrell shot were made with a 16" (about 450mm) lens at f/16. Though he started out with a soft focus lens and ortho films, he switched to better lenses and films as soon as he could afford to do so. One of the real beauties of these old photos is the simultaneous sharpness and softness. The sharpness of detail was acheived with the large format negatives while the softness was acheived with shallow depth of field. Poses were used that were easy to hold for long periods without chances of movement. This allowed the photographer to focus accurately without having to worry about subject movement while the film holder was inserted, the darkslide was pulled, and the exposure was made.

Exposures were usually rather short considering the slow film speeds of that era. Super Speed Pan and Super XX were considered the high speed films back then. The density of the negs was usually kept rather thin to facilitate retouching.

-- Ken Burns (, April 03, 2001.

Thanks for all the answers so far. There's obviously split opinion about focal lengths. I suppose my gut feeling is to go with a longer focal length, but the limited depth of field is my only concern. I find the 210mm is border-line for perspective on my 5x4" - sometimes it can distort features slightly by giving a slight 'roundness' to the face that's not always there. It can also be inconvenient to position reflectors from below the subject's face with the close working distance - I have to rest them on the tripod.

By the way, what is a 'convertible lens'? I've seen them mentioned, but I'm not sure what they are. Are they similar to the Nikon Telephone lens range where you can change a rear element to obtain a different focal length? As for a casket set...the mind boggles!

I do have a couple of the Hurrell books, including the Roger Hicks one. They're very interesting, but I still feel that one shouldn't just 'ape' a style by reproducing the same shots - I prefer to let a little bit of individuality creep in.

For what it's worth, I rate Tri-x at ISO100 (sometimes ISO64 if I'm using flash on some subjects). I've found that this suits my developing and printing methods.

To conclude, I'm still confused about what lens to go for. Either some sort of soft focus, or something a bit sharper. It would be nice to be able to try some before buying, but I'll have to buy mail- order which is a bit limiting. Also, for the older lenses, I'm a bit concerned about the different shutter types, and not sure about how accurate/reliable they would be.

-- David Nash (, April 03, 2001.

David: You can use your 210 lens as a tool to determine approximately what focal length lens you need. Put the 210 on your camera. Then position the camera at the working distance you feel gives you a good perspective. Measure the height of your subject image on the ground glass. Then, determine by what factor this image height would need to be multiplied by in order to get the final image height you want. The 210mm focal length of your present lens is then multiplied by the same factor to determine the approximate focal length you need.

Maybe an example would help here. Let us say that you position your camera with the 210 attached at a distance that gives a good perspective. Let us say that the image on the ground glass is 5 inches tall, but you would like for the image to be 8 inches tall. That means that the height of the image needs to be increased by a factor of 1.6. Therefore, the lens focal length would need to be increased by the same factor to acheive an image with a height of 8 inches. To get that exact sized image, you would need a focal length of 336mm. So a 300 or 355/360 would be good choices. That will at least put you in ball park.

-- Ken Burns (, April 03, 2001.

A convertible lens is a lens designed so that it can be used at more than one focal length by unscrewing one of the elements. There's double convertibles (two focal lengths in one lens) and triple convertibles (three focal lengths in one lens). They were popular years ago but not so much today. I don't think any of the four major manufacturers still makes a convertible lens - certainly there aren't many made. They are, however, readily available used, usually at very good prices ($300 range is typical). Their general reputation was that of being good at the focal length at which both elements were used, not so good at the "converted" length or lengths. However, if you're doing only contact printing, and particularly for portraits where the last word in sharpness isn't necessarily desirable, I think they would work fine. I have a triple convertible Wollensak, 330 mm with both elements, 500 mm with the front element removed, 612 mm with the rear element removed. I've been very pleased with it for my 8x10 contact printing. It is single coated, fairly large and heavy in a Betax #4 shutter, but no more so than a longer Super Angulon in a modern shutter.

-- Brian Ellis (, April 03, 2001.

Hi David

I have for example a Schneider Symmar f 5.6 210mm and without the front elements I get a f 12 370 mm statet in green at the front element that would be a fine lens for you. But with the 370mm version you need about 430mm bellows so I could not test up to now! A men from Schneider told me it is`nt tack sharp at the corners but have a look for something like thad you don`t need it tack sharp at the corners for portraits ! If you are next time somewhere in Switzerland you can test mine, but I don`t sell mine! For me I would not go longer then 360 mm because you should not fill the frame fully with the face,if your model is going just a bit to the right or left when you but the film in and close the shutter etc.

-- Armin Seeholzer (, April 04, 2001.

Hi David

I just tested an new variation for my Symmar. I take the back elements away and not the front elements, now I can focus already with my Horsemann at about 250mm and i get a David Hamilton touch at f11 and it gets sharper at f16 and very sharp at f22-32. Now it is my best dreaming lens for portraits and in thad missused version I have also about 370mm. But for portraits I prefer a 300 mm lens for 4x5 or a 240mm.

-- Armin Seeholzer (, April 06, 2001.

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