Any Bad Modern LF Lenses? : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I notice that people are always posting questions here asking whether or not a certain model large format lens is any good. It seems as if 99.9% of the time people always respond positivley to just about every inquiry. I realize that Large Format really allows us to get past many pitfalls that poorly designed lenses in other formats can not overcome. My question is this. Does anyone out there have any stories or expierences with Modern Multi-Coated or Single Coated Large Format lenses that they would like to share?. We all know that lenses such as the Schnieder 110 XL or 150mm APO Sironar-S are truly amazing performers, I'm just curious to see if there really are any lemons out there. Thanks, Tom Mangan.

-- Tom Mangan (, August 07, 2001


In my experience, lens quality is never the problem...dropped or dirty loupes, warped film holders and incorrect lens mounting are just the beginning of the list of things that can ruin the sharpness of large format images, but lens quality...?

Remember though that when buying used lenses, you never know their history and how they were handled could have a big impact on your results too.

Best of luck!

-- Brian Yarvin (, August 07, 2001.

Hi Tom

The todays lenses are normaly very fine and sharp and I think the bigger problem is the camera itself and the filmholder accuracy and the film flatness.To put the sharpness on the right place in the picture is even more a weak point in the beginning. The most differences you will find if there is really one, will be in very long lenses and in very short wide lenses. Good light!

-- Armin Seeholzer (, August 08, 2001.

Well, we're forgetting the most obvious weak link....the photographer! I won't speak for the rest of us, but I bet I very seldom take a picture that's as good as my lens.

Many thousands of breathtaking pictures were taken with optics not nearly as good as those we have today. I remember reading reading somewhere about Edward Weston buying some junk lens in Mexico for $5. I'm sure he took great pictures with it.

If my pictures were as good as the closet full of optics I've got, I'd be one damn fine photographer!

-- Kevin Bourque (, August 08, 2001.

Check this site for good information on lens quality: It seems it is quite difficult to find a bad lens for LF work. The one bad example Terry and others found was defective.

-- Ron Shaw (, August 08, 2001.

Weston's "junk lens" was an old Rapid Rectilinear, considered outdated in the age of Pictorialism. The expensive, fancy, new lenses at the time were largely soft focus lenses.

-- David Goldfarb (, August 08, 2001.

Some footnotes to David's interesting response -- If you read through Adams' "Examples" book, also his autobiography, etc., there are of course numerous references to lenses that he and others (often Weston) were using, basically in the era of the late 30s through the 50s. Just sitting here, I can think of an exchange of letters between Weston and Adams -- I think in the 40s -- where Weston is complaining that some lens he'd picked up was giving him all this trouble. Adams responded with the suggestion that EW go with one of the new Zeiss Protars of the day, which are so "razor sharp" etc. I also recall Adams in another place remarking that a certain image he was discussing was so extraordinarily sharp because the exposure was made with a Zeiss Tessar of some length or other. These were single-coated, symmetrical lenses whose basic designs were thirty to fifty years old when Adams and Weston were discussing them in the late forties (I'm thinking the Tessar around 1905, the Protar around 1920 -- please correct me, anyone). Well, point is, both these and other classic lenses are disparaged on this Forum and elsewhere in comparison to the new multi-coated and/or aspherical lenses. The point is that Weston and Adams produced images of fabulous apparent sharpness with these and similar classic lenses, including uncoated lenses. The limitations of the lenses couldn't stop them. Conversely, and as suggested in one of the previous responses, I don't guess a new German multicoated aspherical lens can COMPEL fabulous sharpness, if all the other variables aren't in place (full disclosure: I've never had or used such a lens).... A practical matter is that there are great deals on Ebay and elsewhere for classic single-coated and uncoated lenses. It's just a question of the condition. Certain dealers consistently offer fine stuff, by the way, and I'd be happy to discuss that with you by private email. Also, don't let the old shutters put you off (esp. Compound, Ilex, Compur, Alphax/Betax/Rapax); they are very repairable .... -jeff buckels (albuquerque)

-- Jeff Buckels (, August 09, 2001.

Tom, you raise an intersting point, and I think the posters addressed your question very well.... I will say that some lenses do seem inferior to others if compared side by side.... I own 11 new LF lenses, and for some reason, I think the Nikor 450 M is bit soft and lower contrast than all my other lenses. But if one did not compare chromes side by side, they would not complain of this...

-- Bill Glickman (, August 09, 2001.

Here's a vicarious experience with a modern LF lens. I was going to buy a used Congo lens at one time because it was of recent manufacture with a modern shutter and was about 2/3 of the price of an equivalent Schneider, Rodenstock or Nikkor. I did some 'net research and found a number of bad comments about the line in general - mostly poor quality control as I remember. Perhaps others may have comments on Congo lenses?



-- Duane K (, August 10, 2001.


If you look at specs of those modern LF lenses, they are all great on paper. I once compared a late Nikkor-T 600 mm multicoated Telephoto with an Apo-Germinar 600 mm single-coated plasmat. The Apo-Germinar is sharper and contrastier. Is the Nikkor a bad lens? No, it's a better lens compared with ones made 50 years ago. Be your own judge. Shoot a few chromes and look at those images to see if you can spot a bad LF lens. They say beauty is in the eyes of beholder. It's funny that my favorite 8x10 lens so far is my almost 90 years old 12" dagor (not even coated).

If you put a Schneider Super Symmar 210/5.6XL in your backpack for travel, it's a pretty bad modern LF lens! Too much weight! But you know it's a great lens....... Cheers,

-- Geoffrey Chen (DB45TEK@AOL.COM), August 10, 2001.

Thanks guys for the responses so far. Without question the most important tool is the photographers vision, and there execution. I am very aware that Large Format allows us to make excellent images with older and less advanced lens designs. I was just trying to gauge if any other photographers feel that there are some lenses that just are not all that good. For example I own a 110 XL and it is an amazing lens. It has a certain snap to it that myself and many others have raved about. My 210 APO Symmar also has a very simmilar snap to it, extremly sharp and stunning. However, I have noticed that my 150 APO Symmar although still excellent, lacks that overall snap of the other two lenes. Its not soft, the images it helps to create are still amazing, but its just not the same as the other two. The same situation occurs when I compare my SA 90mm F8 with a Nikkor 90mm F8, although both produce great images, side by side one can tell the Nikkor is just a tad better(snap thing again). Granted these are not sceintific tests but I shoot alot of LF and these are things I have noticed over time. With 35mm we see this kind of thing all the time. Sometimes some of the most modern, well thought out lens designs seem to produce lenses that can only be categorized as lemons. I was just trying to gauge if this happens in 4x5 as well. Tom

-- Tom Mangan (, August 11, 2001.

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