Bad lens suggestions for an 8x10. : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

Why a bad lens? I am inspired by the work of Sally Mann (her family series) and so I am looking for a lens (250mm or about 10in) that has a warm feel and maybe even a little distortion thrown in.

Looked on ebay and other sites and I am a little bewildered by the choice out there. Any suggestions? Lens can be new (ok they probably don't make them that bad anymore!) or vintage.

Also can you add very old lenses to modern shutters. I want to have the look and feel of the old lens, but use a newer shutter to get a reliable exposure.

Thanks, Camille.

-- Camille (, December 04, 2001


Define a 'warm feel' in a lens, please.
Try a 210mm Sironar convertible with the front half removed, or perhaps half of any 'plasmat' type lens.
A lens has to be pretty bad to give a noticeable effect on 10x8, perhaps a simple magnifying glass would give the effect you're after.

-- Pete Andrews (, December 04, 2001.

I'm not sure why we need to have 'bad' lens for certain photography, or "Diana" cameras. Why not get the the best image you can on the neg, and then make the 'corrections' in the darkroom? You can dodge and burn a print that is in focus on some parts of the paper and out of focus on others. Burn in corners to make it appear that lens didn't cover (vignet). By over exposing the print slightly with a lower filter (assuming the use of VC paper) you can get a flatter, look, like you might get with a cheaper camera.

This way, you've got a neg that can give you many different pics.

chuck k

-- chuck k (, December 04, 2001.

To answer Chuck, for some artists the process is very important. Sally Mann is one of them. That's why she's using wet-plate collodion negatives now. It has to do with the aesthetic of that process, its history, and the willingness of the photographer to allow accident and serendipity into the final result. To deliberately imitate the effect of a bad lens or plastic camera on the computer or in printing creates an entirely different realm of working and a different result. I've found such efforts to appear inauthentic. I worked with plastic cameras for 6 years and their characteristics changed the way I see. Your tools do influence your photographs if you are open to their particular tendencies. Not only that, it's more fun.

Camille, there is a book about vintage lenses - someone mentioned it on this site not long ago - search for a thread asking about so-and- so's book of soft focus and portrait lenses.

-- Sandy Sorlien (, December 04, 2001.

Camille: Some of Sally Mann's images are either done with a single element lens or part of a regular lens. You might try some of the "closeup" lenses sold for 35mm cameras. I am referring to the Plus lenses that screw in like a filter. I have used them in the past to play around with soft images with lots of flare when used wide open. You may be able to find one to fit directly into a shutter, or at least fit with a bit of tape on the threads. There is a difference in a soft focus flare when made on the camera and when made in the darkroom. When used on a camera, a soft focus lens flares the highlights. When used on an enlarger, the shadows flare, giving a look that is kind of unpleasant. As to lenses, I have an old uncoated Wollensak triple convertable that is soft focus and flares badly with one element removed and used at wide aperatures. It sharpens up nicely around f-16.


-- Doug Paramore (, December 04, 2001.

I would think any of the F4.5 Xenar's that made it into the modern era in Copal 3 would be good choices used at f4.5, or 5.6. Something to experiment with might be to increase the air space in any tessar type front group by unscrewing the rear element in that group slightly maybe 1 1/2 turns and remounting that way. If you're lucky enough to spot an old wollensak that has the numbers 1-5 on a moveable front element, grab it, even if it's in barrel. They de-focus depending on which number you set at. I've forgotten if 5 is the most de-focused or not. You will be able to use a fairly dark set-up and let flash set your exposure speed with many portraits. Finally, use movements to defocus keeping just the eyes sharp. Have fun, that's the main thing.

-- Jim Galli (, December 04, 2001.

I recall reading how for her Motherland images and others Sally Mann was using vintage lenses she had collected, but did't say what they were...

(Hey Steve - did this come up for any of the articles you have done on her for Viewfinder?)

Tim A

-- Tim Atherton (, December 04, 2001.

I strongly agree with the responses that you adopt the process the lens was made for and use it straightforwardly. To get in the general terrain Sally Mann's been farming, it seems to me you're looking either at the portrait lenses of the past OR the simply uncorrected and/or really funky [worn, damaged] lenses of the 19th century. It sounds like the latter is what Sally Mann's been using [suggested in View Camera article of about a year ago].... Some people actually LIKE the vignetting in some of Atget's street scenes (I do), though I'm sure this was not self conscious on his part.... As for the classic portrait lenses, there's no potent reason to look beyond the most generally available, such as the Rodenstock Imagon, the Kodak Portrait Lens, and the Wollensaks (particularly the Verito), which are pretty easy to find on Ebay and at Lens and Repro.... Look at the images of the Pictorialists (early Steichen & Stieglitz, Clarence White, F. Holland Day, Gertrude Kasebier, et al.), some of the most achingly beautiful photographs ever made and which involve not only those lenses but also what are now "alternative" processes (platinum, bromoil, direct carbon, etc.).... I have some literature on the portrait lenses, esp. the Wollensaks. And I can refer you to a compendium of "Camera Work" (I'm not at home and can't think of the exact name, etc.), which is an excellent look at the best work of the Pictorialists.... Email me separately if you want any of this stuff. -jeff buckels

-- Jeff Buckels (, December 04, 2001.

>that has a warm feel and maybe even a little distortion thrown in

I've got a Gibson SG that fits that description to a T, you just can't see through it...

-- Chris (, December 04, 2001.

hi camille - have you considered trying to adopt a meniscus lens for your purposes? i have a several of turn of the century box cameras with meniscus lenses that take 4x5 film holders and even polaroid backs (both a #500 and 545i). the lens is always a single element, the fstop i never calculated but it is probably about f3.5ish and the shutter clicks at about 1/100. i have found that the image quality is very similar to what you are looking for - soft&distorted. i find all my box cameras on ebay and they usually cost about 15-30$ depending ... i know you are looking for a lens 8x10, maybe one of these simple cameras shutters & lenses can be adopted to fit your needs. - john

-- john nanian (, December 04, 2001.


Are you certain that Sally Mann's pictures of her children involved the use of a "bad" lens? The ones I've seen suggest the use of a modern lens at a relatively large stop to limit depth of field. I was under the impression that her "bad lens collection" had been reserved for her more recent soft-focus landscape work.

-- James Meckley (, December 04, 2001.


I'm pretty sure the family series images were pretty much taken with more modern lenses.

I understood the vintage lenses were being used in her more current landscape work

Tim A

-- Tim Atherton (, December 04, 2001.

Thank you all so much for your help and suggestions. Great responses.

Chris, you had me so confused. But now I know what a Gibson is. Learn something new every day.

James & Tim, I am pretty sure a lot of the images from Immediate Family are taken with older lenses. The way the images pull and vignette (Diana like) at the edges does not seem to be a trait of any newer lens. But I could be wrong.

Thanks again to all the people who gave me specific lenses to try and look at.


Sorry to anyone who tried to email my account. I didn't know Yahoo closed it a long time ago!

-- Camille (, December 04, 2001.


I think the images you were thinking of are from Motherland. In discussions about that series of images Sally Mann refers to seeking out old lens that have serious problems, such as fungus, scratches etc. She uses shallow depths of field in her shots. In some cases she has "baked" her lenses to promote edge separation. I would call any of the major used dealers to see if they have any junked lenses for sale.

Good Luck,

-- Kevin Kemner (, December 04, 2001.

If this link works.....

-- J. doe (, December 04, 2001.

Try a Wollensak Verito. As for starting sharp and fuzing in the darkroom later, that is a preconception that is based on all that f64 bias. A soft focus lens will 1) have a range of in focus, not just an out of focus, 2) the light spreads in the opposite direction. Mann uses junk lenses wich are a little different from the Verito's, but using taking one element out of a lens and shooting wide open will have some of the same results. It has to be wide open to keep the aberations. Use neutral density filters to slow the exposures, not coloured ones as that will reduce chromatic aberations. You could also try pin-hole. Camille, Mann's work is amazing and it is not in the area that most LF photographers are used to, so be carefull of sugestions like "Kick your enlarger" it will not do what Mann does. Dean

-- Dean Lastoria (, December 04, 2001.

Sally Mann has inspired many of us. While I don't have a suggestion for 8x10, my favorite "bad" lens for 4x5 was a 90mm Wollensak raptar enlarging lens. This lens fits your specs: warm, fuzzy around the edges, and noticable fall off (1-2 stops?) at the corners.

My experience is that lenses are "worse" near their limits of coverage, and generally the limits are easier to find and exploit with shorter lenses. 250mm is probably a good place to start, although you might want to go down to 210 or even 180. An old, uncoated lens made for 5x7 or an old enlarging lens might work well for you.

Beware, however, that old doesn't always equate with bad. I have a very old 12" Wollensak Velostigmat that performs nearly as well (but with slightly lower contrast) as my 12" Goerz Dagor. Go figure.

-- Dave Brown (, December 05, 2001.

Use a lens out of a pair of reading glasses. A 2 diopter is a 500mm lens.

For added intrique, mount (tape) a soft focus filter behind it. Use a #1 lens board, tape the reading glass lens to the front, the soft focus lens to the back. 500/18 or so. Total cost under $20 plus the soft focus filter.

Results might be better than you hope for...

-- roof guy (, April 02, 2002.

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