How fast a 90mm should I start with? : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I'm getting set up to do some architectural work (exteriors and interiors about equally) and I'm looking around at 90mm lenses. Most of what's on the used market are Super Angulon f/8 's and f/5.6 's, Caltar/Rodenstock f/8 's and f/4.5 's, and the occasional Nikkor f/8. These obviously encompass a large range of prices ($300-$1000), and, presumably, a range of quality and flexibility. I read the specs for the lenses on Tuan's site, but they didn't tell me much about how much coverage I might actually need on assignment.

Basically, what I want to know is: how soon will I run into the limits of a cheaper lens? The f/8 's are far more common and cheaper; does that mean most people are using them for landscape and they're not suitable for architecture? How much difference does that extra 20mm make between 215mm and 235mm? Do some need center filters more than others? The extra stop?

-- Josh Wand (, January 27, 2002


Most definitely for architecture, get the larger aperture lens. Like the S.A. 90mm 5.6, or the corresponding Rodenstock or Nikkor. Personally, I like the S.A.'s, But whichever, you need the additional movement available with the larger aperture.

-- neil poulsen (, January 27, 2002.

There are two different issues to address here. First the f/stop. The extra f/stop you gain from a f/5.6 or even a f/4.5 will make a difference on the groundglass and it will make focusing easier. The other issue is coverage. There is some but not that much difference in between the f/8 and the f/5.6 lenses in terms of coverage. The real choice here is in between a "normal" wideangle and the Schneider XL series of lenses, where the XL really makes a difference. (Along with that goes the price tag of course.) As for image quality, the f/8 is an excellent lens. The more expensive ones, regardless of brand, will probably perform even better, but it is probably hard to tell the difference. If you are shooting slide film and often use shift, a center filter would probably be needed with any of the lenses that you have to choose from in the 90 mm area.

-- Björn Nilsson (, January 27, 2002.

I have the SA f-8 and it is a wonderful lens, I have prcticed with it indoors, just to practice table top etc, and it was ok to focus with it under incandescent bulbs, if you are using flash with modeling lights you should not have any problems focusing with the lens, plus at f8 you get a little bit more sharpness than when you are at f5.6. OTH if you can afford a 5.6, go for it, you will not be sorry.

-- Jorge Gasteazoro (, January 27, 2002.

I agree thta coverage is more important than speed of the lens. Next would be the correction of the lens. While there is not a great deal of difference in single coating v. multicoating for b&w shooting there is more of a difference for color work in terms of overall color corretion and elimination of flare. If you rae buying used take the single coated/multicotaed issue into consideration.

Finally, to me there is a significant difference in coverage. The Super Angulon f8 has an image circle/field of view of 181 mm/100 mm v. 198 mm/105 mm for the 5.6 (although the published figures for the f8 are at f16 and for the 5.6 at f22 so the difference may be a little less). You will find similar differences between the 6.8 and 4.5 Grandagons/Caltar II-N's. You can't really compare the Fujinons because the f8 is a discontontinued single coated lens.

If you don;t need extreme movements I seriously doubt you will see much difference in your ability to focus the lens if you go with an f6.8 (or even an f8) and you shouldn't see any difference in image quality. You are paying for the faster glass.

I have used a Fujinon SW f8 and had no problems focusing it. I now use a Grandagon f6.8 and find it to be the equal of all my other lenses in terms of sharpness, resolution and color rendition. It is one of my three most used lenses for 4x5 landscape work.

-- Ted Harris (, January 27, 2002.

Josh, in my limited experience, the Nikkor f8 is definitely usable indoors, but oftentimes you'll need to put a loupe to the ground glass for a satisfactory intial focus.

-- Andre Noble (, January 27, 2002.

Whichever lens you choose, you will find that the Ebony viewing screen for wide angle lenses an enormous help. It fits most backs, but check with an Ebony seller.

-- Brian Colin (, January 27, 2002.

In my limited experience I've found the Ebony wide angle screen to be brighter than most, which makes for easy use of the slower Nikon .

-- Arthur Gottschalk (, January 27, 2002.

The 90SA f8.0 is sharper than the 5.6. When using a tripod, as you undoubtedly are, I'd go with the sharper lens.

-- Jay wolfe (, January 27, 2002.

IMHO, if you don't need the miles of extra coverage afforded by the bigger 90's, I would go with one of the f/8 versions. I use a SA XL 90/5.6 and while I think it's a great lens for architecture (have yet to run out of coverage- pretty much covers 8x10), it's probably overkill for most general applications. As for f/5.6 vs f/ 4.5, it's probably just a matter of personal opinion. To me, f/5.6 is plenty bright, even when making compositions in low-light situations. There's a pretty big difference between f/5.6 and f/8 in some situations to me, but how much further it would go with f/ 4.5 I don't know. One thing I will say about the SA XL is that, while I own the center filter, I have never really needed to use it when shooting 4x5. When I shoot ultra-wides with it on my 8x10, I use the CF then, but the light falloff in 4x5 is subtle enough that it pretty much negates the need for the CF in most situations. Let us know what you decide.

-- David Munson (, January 28, 2002.


Comparisons or claims of sharpness of one lens over another are technical navel gazing. Any one lens could be either a gem or at the outer limits of the acceptable limits of production testing.

The main issue, particularly for the architectural photographer is image circle. If the SA XL 90mm will fit your camera, and if you can afford it, then that's the way to go. Having said that I have recently changed from the SA XL 90mm to the Rodenstock 1:4.5 90mm because the former would not fit my Linhof MT 2000 and I'd flogged my Sinar.

The Rodenstock has proved to be an absolute cracker!

A 15 person group portrait of a choir and clergy framed loosely in the sanctuary of an old stone church showed eye-lashes and threads in the embroidery of the vestments on both E100S and T-Max 400.

Buy right and you'll only buy once.

Walter Glover

-- Walter Glover (, January 28, 2002.

For architectural work I'd go with the 5.6 . The f:8 on my camera makes a nightmare to focus with. In addition for architecture you need far more coverage than that of a SA 90/8 .

-- Roberto Manderioli (, January 28, 2002.

Update: I snagged a 90/4.5 Grandagon (non-N) on eBay for under $500. I think I got the best of all possible worlds, eh?

Thanks for all your help! Man, I love this place.

-- Josh Wand (, January 28, 2002.

hmmm - i use a nikkor sw90 f/8 - image circle is 235mm. the image circle on the f/5.6 version is also 235mm. other makers do offer a bit larger image circle on the faster version of the 90mm lens, but at a very high additional cost, and of course the faster lenses are much larger and bulkier. i went with the f8 version largely because of the last two reasons. with a bright screen coupled with a fresnel, i dont have any problems - the nikkor is an excellent lens.

-- jnorman (, January 28, 2002.

Congratulations Josh,

You find that some relationships are made in heaven - You and your Garndagon is one such.. Good luck and happy snapping!


-- Walter Glover (, January 28, 2002.

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