Advice on focal length and lens for 4x5 environmental portraits

Discussion in 'Large Format Cameras and Accessories' started by CreativeMJP, Jan 30, 2013.

  1. CreativeMJP

    CreativeMJP Member

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    Greetings,

    Being new to this forum and to large format photography, I would very much appreciate advice from anyone who has experience shooting 4x5 portraits.

    Here are my questions:
    What focal length (longer than normal or 150mm) would give me a comfortable working distance for environmental 4x5 portraits? And could you recommend a specific lens (that might sell for around $500) in that focal length?

    Here is some background:
    I have a Super Speed Graphic, which came equipped with the original Rodenstock 135mm f/4.5 lens (and thankfully, a working, super speedy shutter! (and just who shoots at 1/1000 anyway?!)). It’s a very nice lens, and its gentle wide angle works well for the environmental, black and white portraits I’ve been doing. But I am thinking of getting a second lens with a longer focal length in order to capture more tightly framed heads and faces at a comfortable distance and to draw background details closer to the lens.

    Here are my assumptions:
    1. I will be working in unfamiliar interior spaces (people’s homes) that could be spatially tight.
    2. In addition to headshots and head/shoulder shots, I may want to have the ability to capture waist-up shots or fuller body shots and show some of the environment within these limited spaces.
    3. I would like a lens in the 180mm to 240mm FL range. The SSG’s 315mm bellows may not allow for enough working room to focus a lens much longer than the 240mm on people in close quarters. According to some (possibly incorrect) calculations, the working distance (closest plain of focus) of a 240mm lens using 315mm of bellows extension would be:

    1/f = 1/w + 1/E
    1/240 = 1/w + 1/315
    1/w = 1/240 - 1/315
    w = 1/(1/240 - 1/315)
    w = 1/(0.0041666667 - 0.0031746)
    w = 1/0.0009921 = 1086 mm = 42.7 in = 3.56 ft

    or

    w = E*f / (E - f)
    w = 315 * 240 / (315 - 240)
    w = 75600 / 75 = 1008 mm = 39.7 in = 3.3 ft

    4. I’m not really interested in a tele-design lens, since it seems like they cast smaller images circles, which would impair front standard movements—and I like those movements!
    5. Even though the SSG is somewhat of a sturdy camera, my tripod isn’t the heftiest (though I could upgrade, if I had to), and consequently I would need a lighter-weight lens, something in a Copal #0 or #1 shutter or equivalent.
    6. I really like the idea of an older lens that has character (like the Heliar, Skopar, Dagor, Ektar, and Raptar) and maybe isn’t optically perfect, but I also would need the lens to be set in a reliable shutter, which may imply the need for a modern lens and shutter combo.
    7. I would like a lens that is on the softer side of sharp (as is appropriate for portraits), but not a soft-focus lens.
    8. I would like a lens that performs well wide open in addition to being stopped down—I like the selective focus.
    9. I’m shooting Ilford Delta 100, using gel sheets to increase contrast, so maximum aperture could be a significant deciding factor.
    10. The lens may serve other purposes in addition to portraits, such as landscape/cityscape and tabletop photography.

    Now you may say that the answer to my problem is to just get a lens and put it through its paces and see how it works for me, and I am willing to do that, if absolutely necessary. But any advance advice would be greatly appreciated!

    To get an idea of the kinds of photos I take, you may like to visit my Flickr page: http://flic.kr/s/aHsjCZSZKB

    Many thanks,

    Mike
     
  2. BrianShaw

    BrianShaw Member

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    I've very successfully used 135mm for that purpose (environmental portraiture), including the Optar you mention. If you need wider, then a 90 might be your best option. For close-up portraits, something inthe range of 190 - 300 is my preference... but not the 300 used on a SuperGraphic. Two of my favorite lenses that might fit your desires are the Gundlach Radar and Kodak Commercial Ektar
     
  3. adelorenzo

    adelorenzo Subscriber

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    I like shooting around 8 inches/200mm for head and shoulders or close-up portraits. I'm quite happy with my 8 inch Kodak Commercial Ektar from the 1950s, I use it for all kinds of photography including table top stuff, although I find it not wide enough for landscapes. I paid about $250 for it. It has flash sync so I can use it with a speedlight or my monolights.

    My other main lens is a 135mm so the two of them are a nice combination that covers off a lot of stuff I want to do.

    Another option, since you have a speed graphic, is to use a fast barrel lens. I just got an F2.9 8.5 inch Pentac lens to play around with, I bet it would be awesome on a Speed Graphic. Although definitely not lightweight, it's a tank!
     
  4. BrianShaw

    BrianShaw Member

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    ... not with the SuperGraphic; it has no focal plane shutter.
     
  5. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    look for a schneider symmar convertible maybe the 135 / 235 or a 150/265

    they aren't wide and with the front cell off they are long and have a nice softness opened up.

    make sure you have enough bellows, the FL are deceptive, while they are 235 and 265 it takes more bellows
    than that at infinity because the nodal point is further than a "normal" lens

    good luck !
    john
     
  6. Rick A

    Rick A Subscriber

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    It's always boggled my mind how people can complicate everything and over-think things. Find a lens you like and use it. This ain't rocket science, and everything is subjective-esthetics.
     
  7. cjbecker

    cjbecker Member

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    i always liked the 150 for portraits. It gives an intimate feeling. I used it for all styles or portraits.
     
  8. fotch

    fotch Member

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    I like the 203mm that is on my View II for portraits.
     
  9. E. von Hoegh

    E. von Hoegh Member

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    Get a 180 or 210 and see how you like it. No amount of calculations will tell you if the lens works for you, just get one and use it. I'm betting you'll settle on something in the 180 - 210 range. A Tiltall tripod for $75 will hold your SSG just fine. Don't overthink and overcomplicate things!:smile:
     
  10. Allan Swindles

    Allan Swindles Member

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    Although I do use 5x4 I don't use it as often I would like, doesn't the same rule apply, about double the standard focal length?
     
  11. wiltw

    wiltw Subscriber

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    What do you like to use, to fit things into the small dimension of the 135 format frame at the standard working distance which you enjoy? Simply use the same multiplier, except use 90mm rather than 24mm frame short dimension. For example, if you like using 75mm for environmental portraiture on 135, 75/24 = 3.125; 3.125 * 90mm = 281mm on 4x5 format.
     
  12. juan

    juan Subscriber

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    With the Super Speed, you need to stick to the lenses that were made for it and have the cams if you want to use the rangefinder. Those are not necessarily the same lenses and cams made for the Pacemaker series. If not interested in the rangefinder, have at it. I made a lot of environmental portraits on 4x5 with a 210.
     
  13. Sirius Glass

    Sirius Glass Subscriber

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    Hold it! I am confused! Are portraits taken outside of an environment on planet Earth? Please clarify because I must be doing something wrong! :eek:
     
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  15. E. von Hoegh

    E. von Hoegh Member

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    Yes and no. A 300mm lens won't work on the OP's camera, anyway. I like 210 on 4x5, 420 on 8x10. And 105 on the Nikons.:smile:
     
  16. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    I'd second the recommendation of an 8-10" Commercial Ektar (although the shutters are somewhat limited and decidedly not modern), or a 210-240mm Heliar (although you'll have a tough time finding a Heliar longer than 210 in a shutter to begin with, and definitely NOT in your budget range). I know you said that you were concerned about tele-lens' limited image circle, but if you're using them for portraits, it's unlikely that you'll need movements in the first place, and if you use them for tighter compositions (3/4 length, head & shoulders, head only) they'll have more than enough image circle to cover your film. I used to have a Fuji 300T which covered 5x7 with a tiny bit of movement - more than enough for portraiture purposes. Unlike a standard 300mm lens where the falloff from sharp to illumination to end of coverage is gradual, the transition from useable image circle to no image was fairly abrupt. Here's an example where I shot a triptych of 5x7 negatives with that lens - http://www.apug.org/gallery1/showimage.php?i=30749&catid=member&imageuser=6785 . You can see clearly the effect at the edges of the image circle. Also, there's something funky that happens with movements with tele- lenses because their true nodal point is not at the iris/lensboard where the movements are happening but somewhere actually in front of the lens. With rise/fall/shift this is not an issue at all, but with swings and tilts it may be. But when you're using a telephoto lens, it would be unusual to apply much of anything other than a little shift or rise anyway.
     
  17. Richard S. (rich815)

    Richard S. (rich815) Subscriber

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    For environmental portraits the lens you're using should be fine. For longer there are so many choices in the 180-250 ranges its overwhelming. I have 180/5,6 and 210/5,6 Fujinons but they are quite sharp and may not be what you want. The longer Ektars might work, get one and try, worse case you sell for about what you paid.

    I like your Flickr stuff and added you as a contact.
     
  18. E. von Hoegh

    E. von Hoegh Member

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    I always step outside the local time/space continua to make portrats, don't you??:smile:
     
  19. Richard S. (rich815)

    Richard S. (rich815) Subscriber

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    Likely you're all being tongue-in-cheek but just in case,

    From Wikipedia:

    "An environmental portrait is a portrait executed in the subject's usual environment, such as in their home or workplace, and typically illuminates the subject's life and surroundings. By photographing a person in their natural surroundings, it is thought that you will be able to better illuminate their character, and therefore portray the essence of their personality, rather than merely a likeness of their physical features. It is also thought that by photographing a person in their natural surroundings, the subject will be more at ease, and so be more conducive to expressing themselves, as opposed to in a studio, which can be a rather intimidating and artificial experience."
     
  20. E. von Hoegh

    E. von Hoegh Member

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    I much prefer an almost "abstract" setting of careful lighting and featureless neutral background for a portrait, but that's just me.:smile:
     
  21. Richard S. (rich815)

    Richard S. (rich815) Subscriber

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    Two of my all-time favorite environmental portraits:
     

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  22. E. von Hoegh

    E. von Hoegh Member

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    The one of the cook is excellent.
     
  23. Richard S. (rich815)

    Richard S. (rich815) Subscriber

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    Yeah, love the whole thing about it. The tonality, the subject, the enviroment, etc.

    The one with the birds? That's the painter Henri Matisse, photographed by Bresson.
     
  24. E. von Hoegh

    E. von Hoegh Member

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    I know. It's far too cluttered IMO.
     
  25. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    August Sander was a master of the environmental portrait. That one is a perfect combination of subject and context. There's enough context to provide meaningful information about the subject without distracting from it.
     
  26. Alan Gales

    Alan Gales Member

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    +1!