Basic Lenses : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I am looking to purchase a large format and i am having problems choosing a lens. i am a graduate student, so money is far and few and i'm looking for a relatively inexpensive lens with a standard shutter. the requirements f/5.6 min and above f/32 (i thought all large format lenses went up to f/64, apparently, i am mistaken). i just plan on going 4x5 for that is what i used as an undergrad and have a sense of familiarity with it -- if figure, if i must, i can go to 8x10 and keep the lens just getting an Emmett Gowin look :) My other question: what is standard? the one i used as an undergrad was 210mm but i have also seen 135 and 150 considered as standard, please, suggestions, comments and any other info would be greatly appreciated. thanks!

-- ally k. (, May 30, 2002


Ally: What do you most want to take large format photos of? You'll get much better answers if you let people know that up front.

-- Kevin Crisp (, May 30, 2002.

i mostly do self portraits, but i don't know where my work is going, i'm in a slump. i don't work with studio lighting (ugh) and i would like to do more outdoor work.

-- ally k. (, May 30, 2002.

For me the "standard" 4x5 lens is either 190mm or 115mm, depending on what I want to photograph. Honestly, I don't think there is a 'standard' lens that suits everyone: we all see things a little differently. 150mm is often considered the "standard" 4x5 lens for the same reasons that a 50mm lens is considered "standard" in 35mm; in theory it gives roughly the same field of clear view as our eyes do. In reality, in 35mm a 35mm lens seems more "natural" to me in that it more closely matches what my eyes see (thus the 115mm 4x5 lens preference.) On the other hand, lots and lots of 4x5 photographers report a strong preference for a 210mm lens as the one they use most often. See what I mean? Previous questions related to the subjects you are most interested in are very relevant to the answer to your question. Regarding inexpensive lenses, I've had good luck with Ilex Paragons. Most of them are copies of Kodak Ektars, are single coated, and provide good performance at affordable prices.

-- Mike Sherck (, May 30, 2002.

"Standard" generally means a lens with a focal length which is equal to the diagonal of the image. That would be 150mm for 4x5, 210mm for 5x7, 300mm for 8x10, and 135mm for 9x12cm (German standard film size, along with 13x18cm).

Using a 210mm lens on 4x5 gives you a good portrait lens, and LOTS of coverage for movements and the like...

A 150mm f4,5 is nice and compact, 210mm f4,5 is getting large, 300mm f4,5 is ridiculously big and heavy (I know, because I've got one).

-- Ole Tjugen (, May 30, 2002.

Ally, Self portraits? Super tight budget? 4x5? If you'll be shooting black and white, I'll got out on a limb and suggest looking for a 127mm Wollensak Velostigmat. $50-60 max in a working shutter, probably a rapax. A pretty highly regarded (uncoated)speed graphic lens in its day(1940s) and a good example should do a credible job if you do your part. Not in the same class as a G-Claron, but do you really want to pay for eye-popping sharpness in portraiture? OR, you might want to take a look at books by photographers you find inspiring and note what focal length lens they used. Its a place to start! Good Luck!

-- John Kasaian (, May 31, 2002.

The classic approach to portraiture is to use a longer lens. A 210mm would probably be considered the 'standard' portrait focal length on 5x4. But the classic head-and-shoulders portrait look, with a flat perspective, may not be what you're after.
Perspective only depends on distance, not on the lens used. So, if you're talking about full-body portraits, then a shorter lens might give you more flexibility in terms of the 'studio' space required.

Whatever focal length you decide on, I wouldn't try and skimp on the lens quality. You can always soften a sharp lens with a filter, but you can't make a poor lens any better.
On the other hand, there's no need to go over the top to get those apo or xl labels on the lens either.
The Nikkor-W range of lenses are excellent value for money if you're buying new, although they tend to hold their price on the 2nd hand market. You won't go wrong with a Schneider Symmar, or Symmar-S, or a Rodenstock Sironar either.
If you shop around, $350 US should get you a nice clean 2nd hand 210mm lens of a reputable make such as those I've just mentioned.
When you consider that film is at least $25 a box, one new double-darkslide costs $30, and a scrappy 5x4 camera body is going to set you back about $400; to fit a really cheap lens is a false economy, IMHO.

-- Pete Andrews (, May 31, 2002.

The "standard" lens for 4x5 is a 150mm lems. I use a 105mm, 135mm and 190mm instead. If you want inexpensive lenses, keep an eye on EBay. The closed auctions will give you an idea what various lenses are going for. I use old (vintage 1960s?) Wollensak and Rodenstock lenses for 4x5. I use the 135 the most. There are better lenses, but as an amateur, it's hard to justify the price of brand new top of the line lenses. $65.00 a lens is pretty good, since I just do it for my own enjoyment anyway. For self portraits, you might like something in the 210-250mm range. Of course if you plan to turn professional, bite the bullet and get the best lenses you can. They cost, but a pro needs them.

-- Steve Gangi (, May 31, 2002.


My first lenses purchased on a budget were Kodak Ektars: 127mm and 203mm. Both excellent lenses sharp and good contrast. They are getting harder to find but check Shutterbug and Ebay. They are not normal lengths, but I found they allowed for a nice range of options at first.

Also keep in mind that any used lens will have a used shutter. You need to make sure that where or who you purchase from allows you to return if the lens and shutter are not in the condition as advertised. That doesn't mean the shutter will be accurate, but it should operate to some degree at all settings.

Old shutters usually stick and are way off on slower settings, also off but consistently so at faster settings. So you will need to test film to establish an exposure index for the shutter you have and when you get the chance have it cleaned and adjusted, usually $100 to $150.

I would advise you review the archives of this forum, the Large Format Photagraphy Page and SK Grimes website for excellent information about shutters and lenses. If you have no one local who can work on LF lenses he is highly reccomended.

-- James Chinn (, May 31, 2002.

Ally: I strongly second John K. If you're doing portraiture, think seriously about getting a portrait/pictorial lens. In the first place, they're designed to your purpose. They take a little "getting the hang of it," but so what.... There are good options besides John's good suggestion of the Velostigmat. (BTW, that name ("velos" = fast; "stigmat" = astigmatic) reminds me that these pictorial lenses are faster than std. "sharp" lenses, most right around your f5.6 requirement.) Wollensak was, far and away, the most prolific maker of pictorial lenses (Velostigmat, Verito, Veritar, Vitax, etc.), its Verito probably being the most celebrated. Also, there is the Rodenstock Imagon (250mm for 4x5), and the similar Kodak Portrait Lens. If you're going to stick w/ portraiture, really think about one of these. There are bargains on all of them, esp. some of the old Wollensaks. Just watch ebay and be patient....

-- jeff buckels (, May 31, 2002.

during my years pursuing the holy grail of "fine art", i completed about four portfolios of self-portraiture, generally in unique settings that i would run across. in most cases, the image included a full, or near full body and included a considerable amount of the setting, rather than a "head-and-shoulders" type portrait, so longer lenses would not have been appropriate. i would recommend something along the lines of a 135/5.6 rodenstock, nikkor, or schneider - this is a super all-around lens that can handle "standard" views of environmental portraiture, smallish architectural subjects, landscapes, etc. if you would like to see a couple of my self- portraits, there are two on the website of the Seattle Art Museum - - sign in at the site, click on the search button, then click on "artist name (list)", scroll down the list of names to "james b norman" and hit the "next" button. on the next screen, my name will appear, and you hit the "search now" button. the first of the self- portraits will then show up - you can click the image for a larger version, and/or hit the >> button at top to go to the second image.

-- jnorman (, May 31, 2002.

If you could only have one 35mm lens for this project, what would it be? Take that focal length and calculate the equivalent in 4x5. A 50mm lens in 35mm is basically equivalent to 150mm in 4x5.

In addition to the lenses recommended, you might want to look at Caltars. Calumet sells these, but they are Rodenstock or Schneider lenses. I have a 150/5.6 Caltar S-II in a Copal 0. The lens was made by Schneider and is coated. I've been very pleased with it and I got it on fleabay for $200.


-- Dave Willis (, May 31, 2002.

From the perspective of an avid armature, who couldn’t sell the idea of a $700+ lens to the wife, I am a big fan of “60’s” era Wollensak Raptar lenses. They are sharp, light, and fast. The Vologstigmats (spelling?) were an earlier design, and I am not familiar with them. Here is some data that may be of use to you.

162mm Wollensak Raptar f4.5max Angle of Coverage 64deg. IC 202mm 190mm Wollensak Raptar f4.5max Angle of Coverage 64deg. IC 237mm 240mm Wollensak Raptar f4.5max Angle of Coverage 64deg. IC 300mm

If you consider 45deg of coverage on film as “standard,” then a 180mm comes the closest. Only you can decide if this suites your needs the best, but it does make the price point for students. I have seen 240mm Raptars go for under $100 in “good “ condition. You can pick up a 162mm or a 190mm for around the same price. Hope this helps.

-- Jonathan Bundick (, June 01, 2002.

thank you for all the response! everyone has great advise, but i think the cheaper lenses are going to be in my future, rather than a good portrait lens. my self portraits are not traditional self portraits -- think along the lines of pin-hole and rigging up a holga :)

now i guess my final question would be the shutter -- does it matter what kind it is? (copal, etc?)


-- ally k. (, June 01, 2002.

Based on my experience, it is important to have a shutter that is accurate. If you get a shutter that is too slow or fast, I would suggest having it calibrated, even if you are using B&W film. An accurate shutter just makes life easier.

-- Matthew Runde (, June 01, 2002.

I wrote my previous post when I was in a bit of a hurry, and when I read it again a while later I though, "Well, isn't that a nice bit of blindingly obvious advice?" So, to clarify (or at least not make it worse)...

I'm borrowing an older lens that is mounted in a Synchro-Compur shutter. When I first used it I tested some of the slower speeds against a clock. I found that each speed was about 1/3 of a stop slow. I used this lens/shutter with some transparency film, and I had a hard time getting perfect exposures - even when I compensated for the slow speeds (I don't have this problem with my 35mm camera). I didn't have much trouble with B&W film, but I prefer to use Fujichrome. This problem with the shutter has kept me from using my favorite film, and consequently I haven't photographed as much as I would like. Eventually, I got an estimate for the cost calibrating the shutter (and fixing another problem), but it turned out to be more than I felt comfortable spending, and I didn't anticipate needing the lens for much longer. In short, I didn't trust the shutter very much, and would have been better off having it calibrated before I used a bunch of film.

So, I think that it is important to make sure that any shutter that you buy has accurate times. Even if you buy an old, worn-out shutter, make sure that you have it checked (and calibrated, if necessary) so that you can trust it.

I see that in making my answer more specific, I have made it no less blindingly obvious. Perhaps next time I will have it translated into Farsi. Anyway, I hope that someone may learn from my mistake.

-- Matthew Runde (, June 01, 2002.

I am with Jonathan, in that my Raptars and Ysarons have worked out very well, in the original Rapax and Prontor shutters. So far, I've been very fortunate in my purchases. For testing the accuracy of the shutters themselves, a good indication is to meter a scene or subject, and then shoot a Polaroid. If the picture looks right, you are in good shape. If not, you'll have a good idea of how far off you are, in short order. Reshoot for a better looking Polaroid and then note what exposure the shutter was set for. You could do the same test with a slide film, but the Polaroids give instant feedback. Then, you can either make a mental note, or a little cheat sheet for a reminder. Best of luck there.

-- Steve Gangi (, June 02, 2002.

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