Portrait lenses rec. Perspective in 4x5

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I am wondering if my 203 Ektar is a little too sharp for family sittings. I'm thinking that maybe there's another (older style please) lens that would be better. Price is a consideration. How would a 135 Optar fair?

Secondly, I have read discussions of perspective in 4x5 portraits where shots are head and shoulders. The opinion is that 300mm lenses are better than something 203mm. Whats the solution when there's not enough bellows draw (mine is 300mm) and you don't have enough room to back up? Cropping?

-- Wayne Crider (waynecrider@hotmail.com), November 05, 2001


Personally, and I am sure this will draw some fire, I believe there is no such thing as a "portrait" lens. There is no reason why you can't use your Ektar, Optar or other lens of choice. The limiting factor would be your studio setting and belows draw on longer lenses. Use whichever lens the results of and application are able to give you what you and your subjects desire. Older lenses would be Protars, B&L's, artars, dagors..

A message, an acquaintance of mine passed on, which came from Arnold Newman during a Q&A session about his portraits was "...I have read the Bible, the Koran, the Torah, even the Gilgamesh Epos, and nowhere did it say that one must use a specific lens for portraits..."

Probably not the answer you were looking for but hope it helps non the less.

Good luck, James


-- James Christian (jcc928@aol.com), November 05, 2001.

I don't use 4x5 for portraiture!!!!I use my old canon 7 and 50mm F 0.95 wide open and enlarge it to 20x24 inches print instead. Grains can be ignored (even forgotten) when you start seeing (and appreciating) how the focus disappears rather quickly into the realm of bokeh. Sorry if this answer is not what you have expected or useless because is not a 4x5 related, but it is related to portraiture non-the-less.

-- Renee Galang (r.galang@chisholm.vic.edu.au), November 05, 2001.


I use a Tachihara 4x5 field camera (305 max bellows draw). For close portriat work I picked up old 10" and 15" Tele-Optars. Being teles, they don't require much bellows draw. The 10" lens's shutter will fit a #1 hole with a little sanding. The 15" lens's shutter is too big, so I had to rig up an extension spacer between the shutter and the board with some ABS plumbing pipe. These aren't the sharpest lenses in the world, but they weren't very expensive and they are plenty sharp for portraits.

-- Ken Burns (kenburns@twave.net), November 05, 2001.

Try a Tiffen blacknet32 filter. This will smooth tones but not diffuse the image.


-- Ellis Vener Photography (ellis@ellisvener.com), November 05, 2001.

For family portraits, shallow depth of field will give you more headaches than an especially sharp lens. I've used the 203 Ektar for family groups but only outdoors where there is plenty of room to back up. Indoors, depending on the size of the group, you may be happier with a shorter lens where floor space is tight. Clients never complain about a family portrait being too sharp as long as it is well composed, nicely lighted, and everyone has a pleasant expression.

-- C. W. Dean (cwdean@erols.com), November 05, 2001.

I have been using a 4"x5" back on my wisner 5"x7" for portrait work for a year now. I have found my Ektar 250mm to be an ideal lens in the studio for 4"x5" portraits. I find that 210mm to 250mm is a good range for both head and shoulders and waist up. My lens is sharp and I have had no problem with the results. The lighting that I choose has more to do with the overall feeling then my lens choice. I would think that a 203mm would work just fine as long as you can keep the perspective in mind. The shoulders can tend to look rather large if not careful. A 300mm can have depth of field problems that may or may not be an issue. When I shoot portraits on 5"x7" my lens choice is 300mm. In the end it all comes down to taste. I would rather have a sharp lens and work with lighting and diffusion techniques then a softer lens. This is just a matter of taste. The only way to find out is to shoot film and get a comfort level with the tools that you choose. Dood luck and happy shooting.

-- Bruce E. Rathbun (brath@iquest.net), November 05, 2001.

If you think the lense is to sharp then add a diffuser like a softar or some of the B&W diffusers that have the dimples like the softar. If you are doing black and white and doing your own enlarging then this is a very secret tip!!!! Take the pic with a very sharp lense then do a "perfect print. THEN redo the print BUT during about one third of the exposure use a softar to diffuse the image. THis will give a softness to the image and the tones will be terrific. If you can talk you r lab into this try it!!!!. I began by doing model head shots with a 3000 nikkor and plus X . This reall flattened out noses, OPticall I mean!

The specific lense and perspective will vary tremendously in portraits. Some of the best portrait phoitogs use a wide angle. Like a SWC for executives. of course they use a black net filter. So don't get too hung up on the lense length, Just adapt the sitting to the lense you have.

-- Ed Burlew (zeke@idirect.com), November 05, 2001.

Is the "Tiffen blacknet32 filter" Ellis refers to the same idea as the black bridal tulle, ie fine net-like material some portraitists get from fabric stores and then place over taking lens for softening? I've tried this particular method, softens the image nicely, but I wonder if it's widely used option for softening? It's alot chaeper than a Softar. Andre

-- Andre Noble (andrenoble@yahoo.com), November 05, 2001.

Use the 203 Ektar. Nice lens, and long enough to reduce perspective distortion, too. If you have an old skylight filter laying around, a few drops of clear nail polish on the surface (or even a bit of vasilene) can also make an effective soft filter. Personally, I prefer sharp portraits. If you want a softer look, why even use LF? Look through Kodaks excellent book 'The Portrait' for great portrait examples, all sharp as a tack.

-- Ron Shaw (shaw9@llnl.gov), November 06, 2001.

Won't cost you a thing to unscrew the front element and focus with just the rear on your 203. Just a guess but that would give you somewhere around 360mm f14.5, and might solve the sharpness problem about right. Let us know if it works.

-- Jim Galli (jimgalli@lnett.com), November 06, 2001.

Thanks to all for their insights and great ideas. I'm going to try Ed's, Jim's and Ellis's and see what happens. Please add anything you've tried, that might make a difference for the rest of us.

-- Wayne Crider (waynecrider@hotmail.com), November 06, 2001.

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