Long Lens Selection - Telephoto vs Normal Design

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I have been going round and round trying to determine what long lens to purchase for my 4x5 outfit. I think that some expert input will help.

Currently, my lenses range from 75 to 210mm (two Rodenstocks, a Caltar, and a Fujinon). My camera is a Calumet 45NX monorail, which has a short (approximately 11.5") monorail, and a longer (21") monorail. Normally, I use the short monorail for all landscape photography with all of my lenses. Now I am trying to decide what to do for a longer lens, probably my last (at least for a long while).

One consideration is a Nikon M 300mm f/9.0 or a Fuji C 300mm f/8.5. I have read threads on these lenses and both seem outstanding. I would be interested in comments from any photographer that has used both of them. At first blush, I donít think that I want to go any longer than these lenses because I donít want to have to move to a bigger lens with a #3 shutter.

When thinking about these lenses, the small size and light weight are very attactive. However, I believe that I will be pushing the envelope using the short rail with these lenses. I know some tricks to grab a little extra extension with this camera, and I would always be able switch to the long rail and have plenty of extension for these lenses..

It would be easier (and more compact too) to use the short monorail as much as possible, so this started me thinking about a telephoto lens. The Nikons are too expensive for me, even used, so I am looking at either a 300mm or 400mm Fujinon. After reviewing the threads discussing telephotos, I am still not certain that I understand the practical differences in operation between the telephoto lenses and standard designs other than greater weight and size.

I would appreciate some comments on using the 300mm standard lenses vs. a 300mm or 400mm telephoto. I have seen various rules of thumb on how much extension you need with a given telephoto photo length (.9 x focal length comes to mind), but what does this mean practically? How close can I focus with that much extension? Are the telephotos that much more difficult to work with? Would I be better off biting the bullet and carrying the longer rail with me and switching when necessary when using a 300mm or 360mm lens of normal design?

Thanks in advance. I appreciate the input.

-- Dave Karp (davekarp@ix.netcom.com), February 13, 2002


A 300 mm normal lens would definitely be pushing things with an 11.5 inch rail. To focus at infinity you'd need 12 inches,. Even assuming you could gain the extra half inch by fiddling with the front standard, that would still leave you able to focus only at infinity. I used a 300 mm on a 4x5 Tahihara which has a 13 inch bellows and even there I couldn't focus closer than about ten feet. I didn't consider that to be a problem since I use a 300 mm lens with more distant subjects but I think anything shorter than 13 inches would probably have been impractical. I've used a 400 mm telephoto lens and didn't find using it to be significantly different from using a normal lens. From reading about telephotos I was expecting it to be a pain but it wasn't. About the worst thing I found was that when using front tilt I sometimes had to go through one more iteration of "focus on the near," "tilt," "check the far focus" than I did with a normal lens. It added perhaps fifteen seconds to the focusing time, hardly worth mentioning. So I wouldn't be too concerned about using a telephoto if you can find one that suits your needs.

-- Brian Ellis (bellis60@earthlink.net), February 13, 2002.

The extension for a telephoto design is more like .7xFL. You might want to go ahead and get a Fuji or Nikon 300 and check out the Fuji 450C - it's in a #1 shutter and weighs MAYBE 2ozs. more than the 300C. Carry your long rail and be happy.

-- Wayne DeWitt (wdewitt@snip.net), February 13, 2002.

it is about .7x but also keep in mind that telephoto lenses also project a smaller image circle than non-telephoto designs of the same length. Smaller image circle means of course, less movements.

-- Ellis Vener Photography (ellis@ellisvener.com), February 13, 2002.

Careful about early telephotos, whether or not they're coated.

I don't have one, but Kingslake advises that non-telephotos will generally be better than telephotos, because designers are put in the position of using some degrees of freedom for achieving the telephoto design, versus using all degrees of freedom to optimize the image.

Also, tilt or swing doesn't work correctly with telephoto designs.

-- neil poulsen (neil.fg@att.net), February 14, 2002.

Consider the 15" Tele-Raptar. It easily covers 5x7 so there's plenty of room for movements on 4x5, and it's cheap, cheap, cheap.

-- (wmitch3400@aol.com), February 14, 2002.


I use the Nikkor 300/f9 M lens on my Arca Swiss. Some points to consider:

Lots of coverage for any movements you'd want. (or putting it on a 5x7 down the road.

At maximum extension (400mm), I can focus to 4 feet, but I have a huge surface area & am much more prone to wind-induced movement than with a shorter extension. (This is the major drawback.)

Very sharp & contrasty. Even at F/9, it's easy to focus on a plain ground glass back.

Very good coating. I have shot a number of photos looking straight into late afternoon sun. With a long shade, I get very little loss of contrast from flare.

Genreally, I am happy with the lens & as I mentioned, the long bellows extension is the major drawback. I can deal with it for what the lens gives me.

I would recommend "sucking it up" & taking the longer monorail. Use a photoflex reflector or an umbrella to block the camera from the wind.

-- Ted Brownlee (omfbh@aol.com), February 14, 2002.

Hi all,

Thanks very much for your responses. Based on these and other research, I am leaning toward a non-telephoto design, probably a used Nikon or Fujinon 300mm, or perhaps an APO-Ronar if a used one priced in my range comes along. Then maybe someday a Fujinon 450mm f/12.5.

I appreciate your taking the time to give your opinions.

-- Dave Karp (davekarp@ix.netcom.com), February 18, 2002.

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