110 SS XL or 120 Digitar for architecture w/6x9

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Hi all, I read many old threads about the 110 SS XL lens but I still feel the need to ask again for advice for my particular situation. I want to buy a longer lens to use with my 6x9/6x7 Arca FC monorail. I am shooting only architecture exteriors and streetscapes. I already have a 47SA XL, 65 SA, and 80 SS XL. I may have gotten too close together with the 65 and 80, but I do use both in situations where I cannot move the camera or there are obstacles.

I want a somewhat longer lens to do streetscapes, for diminishing perspective which is less distorted than the wide angles give me, and town overviews from higher vantage points whenever possible. I often use the movements TO THE MAX. I shoot color neg so I can fix any uneven tones in the darkroom. I like the somewhat muted look I get with Portra 160NC film and the Schneider lenses. I do not want a vivid or brittle sharpness, but good sharpness to the edge of the image circle is desirable.

In reading the old threads I cannot decide bewteen the 110 XL or the Digitar 120. The latter, frankly, sounds too good to be true. Is the 110 really a big heavy beast?

Thanks, Sandy

-- Sandy Sorlien (sand44@mindspring.com), December 28, 2001



I have owned the 110XL, and now shoot 6x9. The 110 is excellent for what it was designed for... but most of its advantages are lost on 6x9. What the 110 is best for is exquisite coverage and sharpness at f22-f32. But you really want highest resolution at stops more like f11-f16. For that, the Digitar will be much better. The performance of the the aspheric XL lenses drops off pretty fast at stops larger than f/16.

And yes, the 110 is pretty large and heavy, and I found the fact that I couldn't use 67mm filters without a spacer to be a real pain... on the other hand, the 40.5mm filter threads on the Digitar are pretty non-standard, so you will probably use a step-up ring to attach filters that fit your other lenses.

-- Glenn C. Kroeger (gkroeger@trinity.edu), December 28, 2001.

120 digitar image circle 150 / apo symmar 120 image circle 179, if you need lots of movements, i would go for the apo symmar, you can find mint apo symmar in second hand (i've never seen any digitar in second hand !), for the same purpose i've just bought a mint (as new) apo symmar 135 (IC 195@22) for 210 british pounds, and i'm very happy with it. While i belieive the digitar to be sharper than it, i'm shure it perform better than you 65 ! an other alternative is to find the super symmar HM 120 in second hand (IC 211@22)... good luck, good light !

-- dg (sacripant@online.fr), December 29, 2001.

I'm ceratin there are advantages to the Digitar series when using them for what they were intended. Digital imaging has a quite a different requirement than that of film. A couple of things I feel it's important to understand about overall resolution is first, perceived sharpness is a product of resolution and contrast. This goes for both the lens and the film. A less contrasty lens with outstanding resolution can look worse in the final analysis than a contrasty lens with so-so resolution. Second, the combined resolution of any lens/ film or for that matter lens/digital imager, is the product of the lens resolution and the film resolution divided by the sum of those two. Mathematically, that prohibits the combined resolution to be any greater than the worse of the two! On one hand, this is reason enough to buy the highest resolution lens you can find. On the other, it's perhaps a waste of money to go too far when the real limit may be the film you are using.

In the area of 6x9 film imaging, particularly if you are going to employ a lot of movement, you do need good coverage. The Digitars appear to be best suited for the size of digital imagers which are smaller. You might consider something like a Nikor 105 W f5.6 which will just cover 4x5 at f22 and uses 52mm filters. I have the 135mm and 150mm versions of these and they are great performers. I also own a 110XL and am very pleased with it. It does take 52mm filters on the rear, but it is wise to use only the best filters back there (B&W or Heliopan) and to focus with the filter in place. The 110 will actually cover 5x7 so I doubt you will run out of image circle with it, although I read that when getting to the limits of its coverage, you might require a center filter.

-- Robert A. Zeichner (info@razeichner.com), December 29, 2001.

If you are really using extreme movements, also consider the Nikkor SW120 f/8, which will offer you an enormous range of movement on 6x9 as it covers up to 8x10. It is also very sharp and contrasty - only downsides are a 77mm filter size and the fact it is a relatively large lense.

-- fw (finneganswake@altavista.net), December 29, 2001.

FW, I use a bino viewer so I want a brighter max aperture than f/8 -- so the Nikon won't do.

Glenn, I'm not sure I understand your response entirely -- why do I want to use f/16 or f/11 if the 110 SS XL is optimized at f/22 where I would get better depth of field anyway? I'm shooting architecture so I don't need fast shutter speeds, unless there's a flag or tree in the wind. With good timing I can stop a flag at 1/15.

I'm inclined to stick with Schneider because I have 3 Schneiders and don't want to risk any unnecessary variation in color rendition or contrast across this body of work.

Thanks for your help so far,


-- Sandy Sorlien (sand44@mindspring.com), December 30, 2001.


If you NEED f/22 for DOF, use it! But smaller f-stops incur a sharpness penalty from diffraction effects. Whether that penalty is important depends on subject, film size and lens design.

A perfect lens, would be sharpest wide open. But real lenses aren't perfect. They get better as you stop them down because most (but not all) imperfections are improved with smaller f-stops. But at some point, those improvements are cancelled out by the increasing diffaction that occurs at smaller f-stops. Traditional wisdom suggests many lenses are "best" 2-3 stops down from maximum aperture.

Since most view camera lenses are used with large format film, 4x5 or greater, where absolute on film resolution can be lower due to smaller magnification in printing, these lenses are optimized for apertures like f/22 which are in turn necessitated by DOF requirements. With smaller film sizes, you get equivalent DOF with larger f-stops, so, ideally, you would like a lens that hits its stride at larger f-stops. So lenses like the Apo-Grandagons are optimized from f/11-f/16 since they are often used with roll films. With digital sensors being even smaller, the digital lenses are designed to peak at apertures like f/8.

A lens that is sharpest at f/8-f/11 will perform identically to a traditional view camera lens at f/22-f/32. So if you need those apertures for most shots, then there is no advantage to the "digital" lenses. But if you are trying to maximize the image quality on roll film, you should be using larger apertures WHEN POSSIBLE... you'll get sharper results.

I think the key is to use the f-stop you need for DOF. As I have often said, I suspect far more images fail from lack of DOF than from reduced sharpness from diffraction. That said, using roll film to its maximum potential involves avoiding loss of sharpness from diffraction when possible. Seasoned 4x5 shooters who instinctively shoot roll film at f/32 like they did sheet film don't realize the full potential of the smaller format.

It sounds to me like movements and DOF are critical in your work, in which case, the "digital" lenses probably aren't for you. For me, in landscape work, I use movements sparingly, and there are times when I can work with f/11 (or need it to kill wind), so I am considering a "Digitar" lens.

I should also add that the Apo-Symmar 120 is a very nice lens. I have used it on 6x9 and 4x5, and while its coverage for 4x5 was limited, it was very sharp over the whole image circle, so it provides great movement potential for 6x9. It is small, lightweight, uses very standard 49mm filters, and is very affordable both new and used. You can find them used because 4x5 shooters often sell them because they find the image circle a bit too small.

-- Glenn Kroeger (gkroeger@trinity.edu), December 30, 2001.

Sandy, the 120 super-symmar HM is the way to go (if you can find one..) I bought one 2 years ago and kepy telling myself that it was a bit of a "nothing" lens and that I needed a 110 XL instead, but after trying a 110XL (as wonderful as it was!) I decided to same myself the extra coin and perservere with the 120, and it's now one of my favorite lenses (after my 58XL, that is..) It's really sharp and bright and small and it's a nice perspective on roll film and it gives you good movement on 5x4 if you need to...BTW, I just checked out your Holga pics and I must say, nice work...using holga's and diana for my personal workin the last 3 years has re-invigorated my commercial work no end...I even have art directors buying Holga prints out of by book to put on their walls at h

-- Mark Munro (markandanna@bigpond.com), January 05, 2002.

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