What range of lenses to own

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I am starting out in 4x5, and wondering what set of lenses I should consider to build my outfit. I am primarily interested in landscape/nature photography, so optimizing weight is an important factor.

I already have a Schneider 110mm Super-Symmar XL. I am considering these two lineups:

list1: 110mm, 180mm, 300mm list2: 110mm, 150mm, 210mm, 300mm

As you can see, my quandary is choosing how to fill the gap between the 110mm and 300mm. Two lenses provide more flexibility, but one means carrying roughly half the weight and bulk.

I am a longtime user of 35mm format, and according to the "New Large Format Lenses for 4x5" page (on this site), the equivalences are:

110 - 28 150 - 38 180 - 45 210 - 53 300 - 75

One of my most-used lenses for small format is the Leica Tri-Elmar, which provides 28-35-50mm. I have found all three focal lengths to be valuable. This tempts me towards choosing two intermediate lenses, rather than one. On the other hand, a 4x5 inch hunk o' film can withstand cropping more readily than small format can.

So, I ask, what would you do? (Or better: what have you done?)

Bear in mind that I plan to eventually add a 75mm or 80mm, and possibly even a super-wide (47mm or 58mm).

-- Michael Chmilar (chmilar@acm.org), April 02, 2001


For starters, you will need a 'normal' lens. Something like a 160mm. I would then choose a long lens, like a 300mm. Will you need longer? No way to tell until you use it. Keep track of what lenses you use, and how often. Also note down how many exposures you might have taken, if you had 'x' focal length.

You already have a 110mm. Quick question: will your 4x5 camera even work with lenses wider than 75mm? Good question to ask. Also note that for 65mm or wider lenses, a recessed lens board *and* a bag bellows will be required. Do you want to mess with this?

My $.02

-- Andy Biggs (biggs@entech.com), April 02, 2001.

My preferred lineup would be 110mm, 150mm, 180mm, 240mm, and 360mm. For example, you could get a 360mm telephoto. I find that 210mm is too much of a compromise for either a 180mm or a 240mm. It's too long for 180mm applications and too short for 240mm applications. Again, a personal preference.

-- neil poulsen (neil.fg@att.net), April 02, 2001.

My recommendation for focal length spacing is about a factor somewhat more than 1.5. Your selection 110, 180 and 300 fits this very closely.

Spacing the focal lengths closer together doesn't achieve much at the expense of additional cost and weight to carry. If a lens is slightly too long, you can either step back some or use a wider lens and crop. Yes, crop. It is not evil. Careless seeing that always leads to cropping is bad, but on occasion cropping to get a better print is fine. Unless you are making huge prints from your 4x5 negatives, modest cropping won't effect print quality.

If the focal lengths are spaced too far apart, then you find yourself wishing for an intermediate focal length. I find about X1.6 a good compromise.

180 mm makes a good normal lens, not excessively long. The longer focal length than 150 mm will give the lens plenty of coverage.

Many people like 300 mm, I find I rarely use it. In a three lens set I might skip it for 450 mm, thereby obtaining a very different "seeing" than the other lenses. So you might consider 110, 300, and 450 for three lenses, then fill in with 300 if you feel the need.

-- Michael Briggs (michaelbriggs@earthlink.net), April 03, 2001.

In my last sentence I meant to say 110, 180 and 450.

-- Michael Briggs (michaelbriggs@earthlink.net), April 03, 2001.

Don't be in a rush. A view camera is very different from 35mm, and your eventual choice of lenses may be very different from your 35mm lineup. Stick with your 110 for a while and see how you feel with more time and experience. You may want another shorter, or longer, or whatever. And in time, you'll find you could use still another focal length. Everybody's different. FYI, the single focal length most used by 4x5 landscape photographers appears to be 210.

-- Dick Deimel (Bbadger@aol.com), April 03, 2001.

110mm, 180mm, 300mm.

The next step downward I'd make would be to the 72mm Super Angulon XL and then down to the 55mm APO Grandagon. The 47mm S-A XL is comparable to the Nikon or Canon 14mm rectilinear, actually, because of the differences in format proportions, it is more comparable to a 13mm in height.

I also disgree with that assignment of focal lengths. For me, looking strictly at coverage of the long side of the format (not the diagonal), a 90mm (on 4x5) is more comparable to a 28mm (on 35mm), a 150mm is more comparable to a 45mm, and 210mm is more comparable to a 70mm. Many people don't agree with me about this, but for how I shoot and the subjects I'm most concerned with this approx 3:1 relationship between the formats works better.

-- Ellis Vener (evphoto@insync.net), April 03, 2001.

I own a casket set of six Goerz Pantar cells in a Copal shutter. Focal lengths range from 116 to 419mm for use with 5x7 and 8x10 (where possible).

-- Chad Jarvis (cjarvis@nas.edu), April 03, 2001.

Michael: I worked for years with a lens arsenal consisting of a 90, 150, 210, and 300. I always felt good working with the 150-210-300 combination, but there always seemed to be be too large a gap between the 90 and 150. Back then there was no 110 available to cover 4x5. I finally got a 120 to fill the gap, but sometimes that spacing seems too tight for me. From my personal viewpoint, your 110-150-210-300 list is very good. You might notice that the spacing factor for this list is about 1.4 (the square root of two, the most-used number in photography!!!). If I were you, I would also use that factor to get a rough estimate of a starting point in the spacing of any shorter or longer focal lengths.

-- Ken Burns (kenburns@twave.net), April 03, 2001.

I don't agree at all with the "equivelent focal length to 35mm lenses. You have an entirely different negative proportion. You aren't wasting a third of the negative with 4x5 like you do with 35mm when you make an 8x10 proportion print. You can consider the 150-160 to be the normal focal length and work in both directions from there. A 210 is a long normal, and 300 mm doubles your image size above normal focal length. My choice would be the 110, 150, 210 or 240, and 300. That will cover much of your images. At a later date, I would consider a 75 or 80 mm. This is a dream list that many photographers never achieve because of cost considerations. You can make many fine photographs with a 150 or 210, even if you never have another lens. The same applies to your 110mm. As noted in the post above, a little cropping in the enlarger can take care of framing with that big ol' 4x5 neg. I suggest using the 110 for awhile and deciding what you really need. I find myself using the wider lenses much more than the longer ones, but that depends on where you live and what you photograph. We are kind of short of great mountain vistas here in the South.


-- Doug Paramore (dougmary@alaweb.com), April 03, 2001.

On another photographer's recommendation, I started with a 210 and used that for several years. Then I got a 120. The 120 is the lens I use most now. I have since gotten a 90 and a 450. These two get the least use.

-- Keith (kapitman@msn.com), April 03, 2001.

Thanks to everyone for their answers. To address some of your specific remarks:

Andy: Camera is an Ebony SV45U. Ebony states it can be used down to 47mm with a normal lensboard. Universal bellows recommended for 90mm and shorter (bag bellows probably needed for 47mm, I would think). I have standard bellows.

Ellis and Doug: I have seen a few different scales for comparing 4x5 and 35mm focal lengths. I can see arguments for matching lenses based on: narrow dimension field of view; wide dimension fov; diagonal fov. You're right that, since the aspect ratios are so different (2:3 vs 4:5), this will always be controversial. I am really just interested in a "ballpark" equivalence.

Ellis: Thanks for your advice on wideangle lenses. The specs on the 72mm SA-XL look very good - huge coverage! It's big (95mm filter size!?!. To quote Neo: "Woah!"), but the weight isn't bad. I'll also look at the 55 AG when the time comes (not too soon). The other candidate is 47 SA-XL. It'll be more a year before I have to decide.

I'm probably going to go the 110, 180, 300 route. I just have to decide which 180: APO-Sironar S (more coverage) or APO-Symmar (stay in the Schneider "family"). Still gonna wait a while before making a decision.

-- Michael Chmilar (chmilar@acm.org), April 05, 2001.

For my 4x5 I have a 90, 135, 180, and only recently added a 305. You learn to shoot whatever you can with what you have. I havent used the 90 in years (and its my most expensive glass), use the 135 (my cheapest lens) for at least 60% of my shots and the 180 (next cheapest) 35%.

Its nice to have a broad selection to choose from at first, but chances are you'll find yourself working with a couple favorites most of time anyway, and perhaps like me, once you buy them you'll be unable to consider parting with the ones that are just dead weight.

To stop my babbling and answer your question, I'd go with the 180 list. You dont need 4 lenses, and you certainly dont need 6, since you'll only use 2-3 of them anyway

-- Wayne (wsteffen@skypoint.com), April 05, 2001.

I also started with a good 210 that I shot for the first 2 years I owned a 4x5. I then added a 90 Super Angulon, which made sense as I use a 24 quite a bit when working in 35mm. These two lenses work great for me outdoors, but when doing still lifes at home I find the 210 a bit too long and the 90 distorts the perspective too much.

I recently added an old Wollensak 165 for about $50.00 to see if I like the perspective. If I do, then I will consider upgrade it to a newer multicoated lens, probably a 150.

Hope this helps, -harry

-- Harry Pluta (hspluta@msn.com), April 11, 2001.

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