Lenses - who's least expensive and still good?

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As the proud owner of a very green 8x10 Calumet C-1 through unusual circumstance (too many details to bore you with), I am now in need a lens or two for this beast. I plan to do B/W scenery - probably looking for a modest wide angle and a normal focal length.

As I research the different lens makers, could I call on the list's collective wisdom to help rank various lens makers by quality and price? Who's overpriced? Who's least expensive and still good?

Your experience and insight will be very welcome - Bill

-- bill youmans (bill@greatgrips.com), November 16, 2001


I have the exact camera and a pretty interesting story about acquiring it as well. For lenses, I picked up an uncoated 19" Apo Artar in a Copal 3 shutter for under $500 and a Fujinon A 240mm in a Copal 1. This would be the rough equivalent of a 210mm and 120mm for a 4x5. Both these lenses have excellent coverage and a as sharp as I could desire.

-- Robert A. Zeichner (info@razeichner.com), November 16, 2001.

You may want to look at the 305mm G-Claron from Schneider. Image circle of ample size for 8x10, excellent quality. This lens was discontinued recently by Schneider. As a result prices have dropped. Badger Graphics has brand new ones for $689.00. Of course I think it is safe to say that the Schneider lenses are simply the best, or is that just a family prejudice.

-- Dave Schneider (dschneider@arjaynet.com), November 16, 2001.

I own a Calumet or (Caltar) 180 5.6 lens which is manufactured by Rodenstock. According to Calumet it is the second sharpest lens they sell, the 210 5.6 is the sharpest.

-- Larry Sandt (lsandt@kvcc.edu), November 17, 2001.


I bought my C-1 about 7 years ago for a little over $600. The camera came with a 300mm/500mm Schneider Convertible Symmar. It also has a 4x5 reduction back. The Schneider is fairly sharp although I rarely use the 500mm option. It also works well on 4x5 closeup work in conjunction with the reduction back. In addition, the lens actually covers 11x14! The 300mm Convertible Symmar is heavy and, thus, might not make an ideal choice for scenery. Of course, if you have the stamina to carry the C-1 and a tripod into the field, the size of the lens probably won't bother you.

If you are looking for a moderate wide angle, I would vote for a 210mm. I use a Fujinon 210W which was purchased used several years ago for about $500. Obviously, many other manufacturers make 210mm lenses and a Nikon, Rodenstock, or Schneider would give good quality results.

There are several keys to picking up good, inexpensive lenses. First, buy used. Second, don't be afraid of older lenses provided that they are coated and have minimal damage. There are all kinds of older, post-WW II lenses that would meet your needs including the Kodak Commercial Ektar and the Goerz Red Dot Artar. Third, look for bargains where the same basic lens is cheaper in a larger minimum aperture (an f8 Super Angulon is normally less than a f5.6 Super Angulon). The image on the ground glass will be darker, but you will save money in the short run. Fourth, consider a barrel lens. You will need to shoot longer exposures (2 plus seconds) and use a lenscap/hat, but the inconveneince could save you $100-200.

If you buy new, consider a lens optimized for closeup work such as the G-Claron. These lenses work well as lanscape lenses. In addition, many individuals on this forum have purchsed new lenses from overseas dealers at a considerable cost savings. Take a look at Robert White's site for example.

I hope this helps and good luck with the C-1.


-- Dave Willison (dwillisart@aol.com), November 17, 2001.

Hey, guys, come on, don't tease us. I [for one] would love to hear your acquisition stories. Gives us all hope!

-- Alec (alecj@bellsouth.net), November 17, 2001.

For an affordable modest wideangle, I really like the 10" Kodak Wide-Field Ektar. It has a smooth look and a huge coverage circle with plenty of room for movements. In a working Ilex #5 shutter, it should run $450-550.

-- David Goldfarb (dgoldfarb@barnard.edu), November 17, 2001.

If you don't mind carrying around and stowing one of the largest and heaviest lenses going, you might consider a Caltar-S II. This is the same as a Schneider Symmar S 360mm f6.8 lens. They can sell fairly reasonably at around $700-$800. This isn't too bad for what you are getting. Or, I picked up a Caltar-S II 300mm for about $625, which wasn't a bad price, either.

The Caltar II S (there's a difference) is a Rodenstock lens, probably a little smaller, and I'm sure it also is top quality.

-- neil poulsen (neil.fg@att.net), November 17, 2001.

If your exposure times tend to be a bit on the long side, an enlarger lens would be an excellent choice. With labs going out of business they are going dirt cheap. Simply use the lens cap for a shutter. With your dark slide and a little practice you can get 1 / 15 sec.

Ditto on the 240 Fujinon A. There is one going on EBAY now. http://cgi.ebay.com/aw-cgi/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=1296616679

-- Bruce Wehman (bruce.wehman@hs.utc.com), November 20, 2001.

Schneider G-Claron 240mm 270mm 305mm all in Copal 1!! and 355mm Copal 3.

210mm G-Claron will cover 8X10 at f22 and smaller in spite of what Schneider's page says. Yes MTF degrades some way in the corners but at least your sky won't vignette.

I'll admit to a little heavy breathing last nite over a NIKKOR 300mm M that has a fair price on Ebay but then I checked Chris Perez and Kerry Thalmann's lens test data page and there's the Nikkor with way lower numbers and way smaller circle than the G-Claron 305 I already have. That's a great resource, and I am much appreciative. J

-- Jim Galli (jimgalli@lnett.com), November 20, 2001.

Not to dispute Jim's recommendation of the G Claron. He's right on the mark They are great lenses at truly bargain prices.

However, WRT to the 300mm Nikkor M I offer the following opinion...

At f22, the first 300mm Nikkor we tested (my personal lens bought new several years ago) was almost identical in resolution to the one 305mm G Claron tested (54, 54, 54 vs. 54, 60, 54). By f32, resolution of either lens will pretty much match the diffraction limit. Most 8x10 shooters I know rarely shoot any wider than f22 (f454 seems to be quite common), and even at f16 the Nikkor is 48 lp/mm corner to corner. I consider that plenty sharp enough for critical enlargement of at least 6x (a 48" x 60" print from 8x10). So, in terms of practical use, I consider the two to be pretty equal in terms of resolution at normal working apertures.

The Nikkor, however, is slightly higher in contrast, being a multicoated 4/3 design (6 air:glass interfaces) vs. the single coated 6/4 G Claron (8 air:glass interfaces). The Nikkor is also considerably smaller and lighter than the G Claron (52mm filters, 270g vs. 67mm filters 460g).

In the end, they are both great lenses. I just didn't want to see the Nikkor get unfairly criticized based on the results of our tests. As a 4x5 color landscape shooter, I prefer the smaller, lighter, multicoated Nikkor. I generally shoot it at f22 or there abouts, and have found the results to be wonderful - both in terms of sharpness and contrast. If I was an 8x10 black and white shooter, I may indeed prefer the G Claron. Like I said, they are both outstanding lenses and I think most users would be happy with either.

Finally, I must point out that our tests results are not meant to be universal. We tested a VERY limited number of samples of any lens (in this case 2 Nikkors and one G Claron). Many were older, used lenses with unknown histories. In the end, our results are really only valid for the EXACT lenses we tested. There can be sample to sample variations between even relatively new lenses, but especially between older used samples. We post our results to share what we've learned, but mostly as fodder to inspire other people to test their own lenses. How good, or bad our lenses are, is really only applicable to OUR lenses. Testing a lens (or a camera for ground glass alignment, or a film holder for proper film position) is a simple excercise that requires just a little time and effort. Rather than take our word as gospel, we encourage everyone to test their own equipment. We learned a lot in the process, and wouldn't want to deprive anyone else of a similar educational opportunity.


-- Kerry Thalmann (largeformat@thalmann.com), November 20, 2001.

I think the commercial ektars are great lenses. I've got a 14" in a Ilex no.5 Universal and it has served me nicely for the past four years. Ihave no intention of trading it in ,or adding another lens to my kit. Ive had some experience with Artars(nice but pricey in the lengths that have a suitable image circle for an 8x10] and wollensak velostigmats which are fine lenses,too. When I was looking for a lens for my 8x10 I asked the advice of an old time pro who shot LF and he recommended the Kodak Commercial Ektars as the place to start. I took his advice and I'm glad of it. I see them on E-Bay every so often and Midwest Photo Exchange usually has one. I think you could pay $450 to $550 for one in a good Ilex shutter. If you want a new lens look at the G-Clarons. If you don't plan on using your cameras movements, The 300mm Nikkor M is excellent, but for the price and a BIG image circle, try a Coommercial Ektar!

-- John Kasaian (kasai9@aol.com), December 10, 2001.

I second the vote for Commercial Ektars. I bought an 8 1/4 inch for 4x5 about a year ago and was very impressed. I was amazed at how good it was for colour (see Richard Knoppow's comments on that at : http://www.cs.berkeley.edu/~qtluong/photography/lf/classic-experts.htm l )

The Commercial Ektars were really high quality lenses and if you can get one with the shutter in decent condition, they are one of the best buys out there. A 14" can be had for around $400-600. I just bought a 14" for 8x10 and can hardly wait to use it.

Don Wallace

-- Don Wallace (don.wallace@nlc-bnc.ca), December 11, 2001.

I highly recommend the Fujinon-C 300/8.5. It's razor sharp and a great deal smaller and lighter than the G-Claron (which is also a fine lens). It has greater coverage than the 300/9 Nikkor, but less than the G-Claron. It goes for about $725 new from Badger Graphics these days. Since your C-1 is a substantial camera, the small size and light weight of the Fujinon would be a good match for you.

If you're looking for a longer lens, the 450/12.5 Fujinon-C is also an outstanding performer.

-- Rick Moore (rickm@cauto.com), December 11, 2001.

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