How do I achieve Minolta Autocord image quality with a view camera? : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

A recent review of my favorite images surprised me when I realized the majority of them had been shot using a humble Minolta Autocord TLR and NOT my medium-format view camera. Laugh if you must but the Autocords that I own have the ability to capture a bitingly sharp image yet also impart a rounded, almost 3D-like quality that I am unable to duplicate when shooting with my view camera.

Obviously, it must be the lens that's responsible for this quality and to that end, I've tried a variety of older uncoated, single-coated and multi-coated lenses, all without success. Recently, I have bought and rented a handful of modern lenses and while they've been able to yield an impressive degree of sharpness, the "3D" quality that I want simply isn't there.

What's the secret? I enjoy the process of shooting with a view camera and would hate to give mine up but unless I can find at least one lens that can capture an image with Autocord-like qualities, it'll have to go. Ideally, I'd like to find a few lenses to cover the 55mm to 150mm range, but if I'm limited to just one, it would need to be in the 75mm to 100mm range since this is what I use most of the time.

Any suggestions or pointers will be greatly appreciated!

-- Jeffrey Goggin (, August 11, 2001



There have been a number of discussions of medium format vs. LF lens sharpness on this forum. Most of the responses are subjective. I have just finished testing a 55mm Apo-Grandagon on an ArcaSwiss 69FC. Resolution maxed out at 75 lp/mm which is not only outstanding, but is also just at the diffraction limit at the corresponding f-stop.

Medium format lenses peak at wider f-stops, but for most of my scenic work, I need the smaller stops for DOF anyway, so the MF lenses don't hold any advantage.

Some tips:

You need to find the "sweet spot" f-stops for your lens. For my 55, it is f/11-f/16... so I try to use no smaller than f/16 unless DOF demands.

Use good, modern roll film holders (Toyo, Linhof, Horseman, Wista). Old graflex goodies from the parts bin just don't work as well.

We all have a built in bias for our "old favorite" images. For a fair test, you must shoot the Minolta side-by-side with the view camera using the same film and lighting. Then do an honest blind test to see if the "3D" quality is really from the Minolta, or from your favorite subjects.

-- Glenn C. Kroeger (, August 11, 2001.

Some more info: I'm using a Toyo 23G with Toyo's 6x7 and 6x9 backs. I have modified a dark slide to mask off a 6x6 area and often shoot this way because I like the square format. I've shot direct comparisons to my Autocords -- real images, not test targets or newspapers -- and the "sweet spot" for my three is f/8 through f/16, with f/11 being perhaps the absolute sharpest of all.

I know lenses designed for medium-format cameras are generally sharper than large-format lenses but a lot of the lenses I've used were really medium-format lenses in disguise because they couldn't cover much more than 2x3. I have also shot with a (rented) 55mm Grandagon and while I was also floored by its sharpness, it doesn't have the 3D quality that my three Autocords seem to have in abundance. Only one lens that I've ever used has come close -- a 100mm/f2.8 Zeiss planar -- but sadly, it wasn't for sale. I eventually found another one but it didn't perform nearly as well as the one I'd borrowed so I sold it.

Unlike many people, I can get by with a fairly small image circle as I shoot primarily 6x6 and 6x7 and use only a small range of movement. I have thought about gutting an Autocord for the lens and then having it mounted in a shutter (or adapting the existing shutter to work outside the body) but haven't done it because I don't think the image circle's large enough to allow much, if any, in the way of movements.

Lastly, the Autocord images that I referred to are not "old favorites" but ones I've shot as recently as last week. Over the past two years, I've found myself reaching for an Autocord increasingly more often and my Toyo increasingly less often. Like I said, I'd really hate to give up on using a view camera but despite the Autocords' many limitations, they're the cameras that are coming up with the results these days.

-- Jeffrey Goggin (, August 11, 2001.

I wonder if the 3D quality you notice is due to subtle flare. Flare does not lower sharpness (hence, your Autocord images are sharp), but it can give a "romantic" quality, much like a weak fog filter. I also have an Autocord. I wonder if a weak fog filter, such as a Tiffen or Harrison 1/2 grade, would reproduce the 3-D quality with your view camera.

-- William Marderness (, August 11, 2001.

I think I know what you mean by the 3D impression that some lenses impart - when used in the correct manner. I've had a few lenses that give me the same "wow" factor - a 6 element 35mm Summicron (not the last pre-aspheric, but the one before), a Rollei 2.8F Planar, an 80mm Rollei Planar PQ, a Zeiss 100mm/f2.8 Planar for the Graflex XL, the Grandagon 58mm/f5.6 for the same camera, and, to a certain extent, the 100mm/f3.5 for the Fuji 690 (the old one, a Tessar), and a Nikkor- M 105mm/f3.5 (also a Tessar). None of the large format lenses that I have owned (with the exception of the Nikkor-M) have given the same impression (which I favor). It may have something to do with how you use these lenses. For example, the Summicron mentioned above was great for this when used at closer distances (3m-10m) at moderate f- stops, but definitely did not maintain this performance at infinity or wide open. Many "view camera" type pictures are the "Get it all in focus" types...for which every lens I've ever used doesn't give a "3-D" impression. Something to do with the sharp parts of the picture that contrast with unsharp areas, perhaps. View cameras tend not to be used this way. Medium format SLRs and TLRs, on the other hand, are often used for portraits and other types of photos which value an unsharp background, which makes the sharp foreground look more "3-D" (perhaps). Could this be what's going on?

-- Dan Kreithen (, August 11, 2001.

Hmmm ... I don't think flare is an issue (I always use a lens hood and also shade the camera with my hat during each exposure) but Dan may be onto something with his observation about focus distance. Most of the images I shoot with my Autocords are focused much closer than infinity but then, that's also the case with my view camera since I shoot about the same way (slow and very methodical) with either camera. I shoot a lot more close-in detail shots than grand panoramas and I'd guess that most of my shots are of subjects in the 5m to 30m range.

Although it suffers greatly by comparison to the original, the image I posted above is a good example of the kind of subjects I like to shoot -- fwiw, the focus distance was ~1.5m -- and it also gives you a brief hint of the sort of "3D" quality I'm after. Perhaps I should try some lenses designed for macro work instead of general purpose ones?

-- Jeffrey Goggin (, August 11, 2001.

Oops ... I guess that didn't work. For the curious, here's a link to the image: il.jpg

-- Jeffrey Goggin (, August 11, 2001.

Here's hoping that the third time's the charm...

-- Jeffrey Goggin (, August 11, 2001.

I think you just need to find the right lens for your view camera.

I find that Heliar-type lenses are very good at producing that stereoscopic effect. Try a Voigtlander Heliar (coated if you can find one) or if you can find a defunct Kodak Medalist, take the 100mm/3.5 Ektar from it, which is an excellent coated Heliar-type lens. I have a Heliar 360/4.5 that I like for 8x10" portraits, and a 250/4.5 Heliar for 6x6cm. I've also adapted the 100/3.5 Ektar for 35mm use. There are some test shots at:

-- David Goldfarb (, August 11, 2001.

Yes, I believe that the Kodak heliar-type lenses are very similar in formulation to the Planars found on Rollei TLRs (and also to the 100mm/f3.5 Planar for the XL that I mentioned above). Interestingly, the XL Planar that I had produced this sort of effect, but only in the right lighting conditions, and, again, at certain distances and apertures. I don't think it is surprising that lenses have a "sweet spot" for aperture, but it is perhaps interesting that they have the same thing for focal distance. I would also seek out the aforementioned Nikkor-M, which is a medium format view camera lens (no longer produced). If you get a good sample, this sort of effect can be seen. You won't be surprised by how good a Tessar can be, given your experience with the Autocord, but some people may. If you can find a good sample of the Grandagon 58mm/f5.6, that may be worth investigating also (don't ask me why this lens seems to be so good, despite being 30-40 years old and single-coated, but my 90mm/f8 Super Angulon MC was nothing to write home about).

-- Dan Kreithen (, August 11, 2001.


I think the last post is right on. I would look for an older lens in the Xenar,Tessar or Heliar families (uncoated) and I would try shooting without using movements. My guess is that some of the 3D quality you refer to comes from the Autocord's inability to be corrected the way your Toyo can.

Good Luck

-- Kevin (, August 12, 2001.

Another good Heliar type lens to try is the Ektar 105mm f3.7. Similar to the Medalist lens. Came with a lot of 2x3 Graphics and should be easy to find. Some are coated also.

-- Chuck Pere (, August 13, 2001.

My question is whether you are using a good loupe, focussing properly, and if your camera has been aligned properly and the roll film holder has been aligned with the camera back. Dedicated MF cameras such as autocords and mamiyas and hassy's are aligned at the factory. The lenses are aligned when built. And the different formats are made for different types of shooting. And we always have a liking for a certain camera and that usually colors how we see. If you are happy with your autocord then by all means get rid of the LF camera. Buy a second or third or forth autocord. More power to you. I don't see where there is even a question here. Sounds like your mind is already made up. No need to bash LF because you lean toward MF. But why were you using a large format field camera as a MF roll film camera with a lens that wasn't designed for field work? Obviously the quality wasn't there in the first place. But if you want to use the LF camera for what it designed to do, with a decent lens and use it with 4x5 film, then the autocord won't stand a chance at the same enlargement ratio as the LF. You are using the LF camera, with an inferior lens, with roll film. But that isn't a big deal. Get rid of the LF camera and stick to MF because that's what it sounds like you want to do anyway.

-- james (, August 13, 2001.

Hmmm ... the reason I shoot with a view camera is not to get a larger film size but to manipulate the plane of focus with movements. I use rollfilm instead of sheetfilm for a number of reasons and I don't see what my personal preference for shooting in a square format has to do with the question I asked. That said...

No, I don't use a loupe (I use a monocular viewer instead); Yes, I've verified that the relationship between the ground-glass and film back is correct and No, I'm not presently using inferior lenses. I bought the Toyo because 1) I got a very good deal on it and 2) I don't shoot just in the field but a little bit of everything.

As for my "bashing LF," I've reread my original question and frankly, I'm at a loss as to how you came to that conclusion. All I'm looking for is some information about what lens(es) might offer the same sort of image quality I've grown accustomed to getting from my Autocord...

Speaking of which, I appreciate the pointers from everyone else and I will check out the various lens suggestions as they become available to me.

-- Jeffrey Goggin (, August 13, 2001.


Consider yourself lucky. You've found two things that work for you: your Minolta Autocord and your view camera. I can't imagine it would cost too much for Steve Grimes to mount an Autocord lens in a modern shutter and give you the best of both worlds. Good luck.

-- Dave Brown (, August 13, 2001.

You have a point, but what's the benefit of using an Autocord lens on a view camera (as opposed to leaving it on the Autocord) if the image circle is so small as to preclude the use of any movements?

As best I can tell, the useful image circle of the Autocord's lens is ~2.5", which is fine for a 2.25" square image but not quite enough to permit much tilt or swing. :^(

-- Jeffrey Goggin (, August 13, 2001.

Jeff, rear centered tilt/swing doesn't require more coverage and it will allow you those shots where everything is in focus. Yeah, rise will not be possible.

-- Sorin Varzaru (, August 14, 2001.

Correction, rear tilt/swing combined with a little shift will allow for a tilt/swing effect with no additional coverage required.

-- Sorin Varzaru (, August 14, 2001.

I meant :

Correction, rear forward or backward tilt or swing combined with a little fall or rise or shift will allow for a tilt/swing effect with no additional coverage required.

I'm having a bad day ... :-)

-- Sorin Varzaru (, August 14, 2001.

Yeah. I used a monocular viewer and it was no where near as sharp as when using a good loupe. And I'm just telling you how your question sounded to me. If autocords are your thing, what's the question? We usually see what we want so you probably are predispossed to believing the autocord lenses are better than a normal LF lens. No big there. I feel my LF images will blow most MF images of the paper they're printed on. And I've printed a lot of images over the years. Mine and a lot of others. I've pprinted Lieca images, mamiya images, Hassy images, Imagon images, Nikor images, Canikonolta images and I haven't seen 3d quality in any of them over the others. Sorry but that's my story and I'm stickin to it.

-- james (, August 14, 2001.

James, I understand what Jeffrey is after. I don't think he's saying that the Autocord produces a "higher quality" image exactly, but that the lens on the Autocord has a certain aesthetic effect, and he's interested in a lens that will produce the same aesthetic effect with a larger neg and the controls of a view camera. I feel the same way about certain lens types, and I seek them out for all the formats I use, and I'm willing to adapt lenses to do it.

-- David Goldfarb (, August 14, 2001.

I meant to say: "I think I understand what Jeffrey is after" in that first sentence. Didn't mean to come off so harshly.

-- David Goldfarb (, August 14, 2001.

Bingo ... David has hit the nail on the head!

-- Jeffrey Goggin (, August 15, 2001.

Jeffrey, I've read through this thread more than once, fascinated, and in fact bought a Voightlander 21cm Heliar for use with the 5X7. Just finished looking at the first fruits from that lens and think perhaps there is an intangible "something" to it! I'd love to hear an update from you. What has turned up after 5 months. Thanks, and best regards. Jim Galli

-- Jim Galli (, February 04, 2002.

Except for selling all but one of my lenses -- I kept the 100mm/f5.6 Sironar-N so I had something to use on my camera -- nothing much has happened since my post. Most of my free time has been spent sorting out my portfolio and making prints since I have lucked my way into a local gallery and am trying to get serious about selling my work. I have been shooting quite a bit with my view camera recently, though, and while I still prefer the aesthetic quality of my Autocords lens, sometimes there's just no way to get around using movements! If and when I have anything new to report back on this subject, I will...

-- Jeffrey Goggin (, February 04, 2002.

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