Buying into Large format. Lens choices

Discussion in 'Large Format Cameras and Accessories' started by Matthew Wagg, Aug 3, 2013.

  1. Matthew Wagg

    Matthew Wagg Member

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    I've been wanting to get into Large format for years. I see it as a huge step forward in my usage and understanding of this all encompassing obsession I have called photography.

    I know what type of camera I want (a monorail), the manufacturer at the moment doesn't bother me as long as it has all the movements.

    What I am particularly concerned over is choosing a lens.

    Unlike 35mm where there are myriads of choice and medium format where for the most part you stick with the lens of the system you choose, large format is to me to be the place where all the serious photographic work has been and continues to be done. I know I want a portrait lens and a Petzval lens would be perfect for that as I love that effect and that would cover my love of making people pictures.

    But the main point of my post is what would be the best choice as a beginner to LF choose as a lens to get used to the larger format?

    I know coming from the smaller realm that it will depend on what I'll mainly be shooting. There's going to be a lot of landscape and architecture but also product photography as well.

    What could you good people point me in the direction of.
    Thanks.
     
  2. mjs

    mjs Member

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    As someone already experienced in photography you already know that one lens won't adequately cover the range of subjects you mentioned. For example, architectural photographers make good use of wide angle lenses, while portrait photographers often prefer a lens longer than "normal". Given that, if you want one lens you're going to have to work harder to make it cover all the variety of interests you have.

    I suggest a modern plasmat lens of 150mm from any of the major makers (Fuji, Rodenstock, Schneider, etc.) You aren't likely to notice a significance between lenses from these manufacturers, so long as the lens is relatively recent (that is, it's multi-coated,) and the lens and shutter are in good condition. As a bonus, lenses such as these are not expensive so far as large format lenses go.

    I can't help much with the Petzval lens as I don't know anything about them. Sorry!

    Mike
     
  3. clayne

    clayne Member

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    What format? 4x5? 8x10? I'm going to assume 4x5 so my first recommendation would be to start off with a 210/5.6 and go from there.
     
  4. Erik L

    Erik L Subscriber

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  5. grahamp

    grahamp Subscriber

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    Assuming 5x4: Looking at the range of subjects (portraits, landscape, architecture, products), you would probably do well with a 210mm. That's at the long end of 'standard'. It would give you some working distance for table-top work, and be a reasonable lens for portraits. Not good for cramped interiors though. Then you would probably look at a 90mm or maybe a 75mm. On the other hand, my Wista has a 90, 150, and 270 setup and I mostly do landscapes.

    Try and get your hands on a copy of Steve Simmons' 'Using the View Camera', or Jim Stone's 'A Users Guide to the View Camera'. That will not only walk you through the technicalities of lenses, but show some practical examples.
     
  6. Alan Gales

    Alan Gales Member

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    Most large format photographers (me included) would recommend a normal lens as your first lens. For 4x5 that would include 135 up to 210mm. Most 135mm lenses do not have a very large image circle so I would skip these as a first lens (I do love the 135 focal length). The larger the image circle the more room you have for camera movements. The most common normal focal lengths left are 150, 180 and 210mm. Any of these will do fine. I would recommend the 210mm because it is arguably the most versitile, it works great for most portraits (for head and shoulder shots you will probably want something longer), and it is inexpensive.

    I would buy a Fujinon, Nikkor, Rodenstock, Schneider or Caltar in a modern Copal shutter. There is nothing wrong with using old shutters but as a first lens I would want something newer and hopefully more reliable. Pick any of these lenses as there is very little difference in sharpness. I would let condition and price guide me. Most large format photographers including myself own lenses of various manufactures. That's part of the fun of large format so don't forget to buy your Petzval later! :smile:
     
  7. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

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    In the UK I'd suggest a 150mm is a better starter lens, a 210 is a touch long for many shots a bit like using a 75mm as a standard lens on a 35mm camera.

    If you want to come & try some lenses I'm about an hour away :D

    Ian
     
  8. AgX

    AgX Member

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    By using only one half of a Gauss type lens (like the Schneider Symmar) one gains a longer focal length.
    With current models this is not advised by the manufacturer. Furthermore it is clumsy.
     
  9. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    Rather than thinking about a lens with a specific number of millimeters you might be better off thinking in generalizations of length and your current lens use.

    Do you like to use short lenses? For what type of work? Would you use a large camera for that work?
    Normal lenses? For what? Would you use it?
    Long lenses? For what? Would you use it?

    For example lets say you like taking candid portraits of the kids playing in the back yard with short lenses now. While that is doable with a large camera, the challenges of chasing the kids with a big camera are significant and your keeper rate will probably be low. Are you really willing or even considering that type of work with a LF camera? If that's all you use short lenses for now then you probably won't need a short lens for LF.
     
  10. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    hi matthew

    when using a smaller format like 35mm what lens do you reg ularly gravitate to?
    if you want a qwik wat to determinne what the lens may be like for 4x5
    just multiply the 35mm focal length by three and it will be a good aprox.
    for example if tou like using a 50mm you might enjoy getting a 150 have fun, using a lf camera isn't
    as hard as it seems

    john
     
  11. Matthew Wagg

    Matthew Wagg Member

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    Thanks everyone for your help. Its at least pointing me in the right direction now.
    With 35mm I tend to use are 35mm, 50mm and 85mm a lot of the time.
    Same goes for my medium format stuff, my ETRS has the 75mm and the 150mm though I do toy with getting a 40mm for it. That covers pretty much everything I shoot.

    We have some beautiful countryside in the Peak district that I'd really like to do justice of with a larger format neg. I'm guessing that the jump to 4x5 will be like the jump from 35mm to medium format.

    Cheers Ian, I might just have to take you up on that offer :smile:
     
  12. paul_c5x4

    paul_c5x4 Subscriber

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    That kinda suggests you'd be happy with 110-135mm, 150-180mm and 270-300mm - My standard kit to go consists of a 135mm, 180mm, and a 300mm. Sometimes a 90mm get packed, but rarely gets used.
     
  13. Alan Gales

    Alan Gales Member

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    Your lens selection for large format may end up being quite different then what you use now in 35mm and medium format. Everyone is different. Your first lens may not even end up being one that you keep. Don't worry about it. You can always sell it later for around what you paid if it's not for you.

    But one lens and go out and shoot it a lot. Eventually, you will learn what focal lengths you like and don't like.

    Take Ian up on his generous offer. He can help you with your first choice of lens.
     
  14. Rick A

    Rick A Subscriber

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    For 4x5, my main lens is a 127mm, occasionally I use a 150mm, I also pack a 210mm which sees more use that the 150. I also own a 105mm, a 135mm, an 8 1/4" (labeled 5x7), and assorted experimental lenses for play time.
     
  15. LJH

    LJH Member

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    Matthew,

    I'd suggest getting a copy of Steve Simmon's book (see here).

    I think that this will help not only with your question, but with others that will probably come up.
     
  16. OldBikerPete

    OldBikerPete Member

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    Just to underline what everybody else has said. Everybody's preferences are different.
    I shoot landscapes only and my lens kit is all Nikon - 65, 90, 135 and 210 mm

    Note that if you start with the 65, each next bigger lens is about 1.5 the focal length of the previous smaller lens.
    I'm missing a 300mm out of that set but I'm keeping an eye on for-sale classifieds.

    Peter.
     
  17. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    This is great advice.

    I own two lenses, a 6"(150mm) Petzval and a 150/265 convertable Schnieder. I was surprised to find that this has been plenty and that I rarely even convert to 265.
     
  18. pasiasty

    pasiasty Member

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    The good point of LF is that you seldom buy new - and if you buy used, you can usually sell for the similar price. So you can try some lenses until you find the best set for you.

    A few people already recommended you an old Symmar 150mm f/5.6, convertible to 270mm f/12 - it's a very good lens for reasonable money at 150mm, but don't even try it at 270mm.

    From my experience one cannot transfer ones shooting customs from small or medium formats to large one. Even if you usually shoot wide angle using your (D)SLR, it may be quite otherwise using a view camera. Only aspect that remained unchanged in my case was inability to take good pictures...

    As for Petzvals - they usually don't have a shutter, so you have to solve this somehow:
    - stick to slow films or wet plate and use a hat as they did in the 19th century
    - stick to orthochromatic or blue-sensitive materials, shoot with flashes or light painting and use safe-light in the otherwise dark studio
    - install the lens behind or before a shutter (a big 'modern' one, or a kind of Packard)
    - buy a Sinar with behind-the-lens shutter
    - buy a Speed Graphic or any other camera with focal plane shutter (you may have much less movements than you would like)
     
  19. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    Or

    http://youtu.be/ICLG3HCDlhk
     
  20. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

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    Actually Thornton Pickard made shutters that can be used with Petzvals, either front or rear (beween lens and lensboard), they vcan be bought quite cheaply.

    Ian
     
  21. Alan Gales

    Alan Gales Member

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    The Nikkor 300-M f/9 is a fantastic lens for landscape. You will love it!
     
  22. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

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    I've had one for over 20 years, used it a few times and never printed from the negatives. I'd sell it except it's my only 10x8 lens with flash sync :tongue: (of that FL).

    We don't really have the wide open landscapes in the UK for lenses like the 300mm M Nikon, I don't in Turkey either (where I shoot). Maybe it's my way of working I found a 135mm to long for 35mm and later used mostly the 70-90mm end of my 70-210 zoom.

    A down side to the 300mm Nikon is they require full extension on most 5x4 cameras which can be problematic if there's any wind or breeze about, in many ways a 270mm Tele lens would be much more practical but a bit heavier.

    Ian
     
  23. DREW WILEY

    DREW WILEY Member

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    I'd keep things simple until you've gotten past the learning curve. Pick a single lens. Just make sure it has an ample image circle for its focal
    length. But it is indeed funny how different people gravitate toward different angles of perspective. Last year I was backpacking for a couple weeks with a pal who only owns and uses wide-angle lenses, while every single lens I was carrying was conspicuously longer than "normal" - yet we were shooting the same nominal subject matter. My own predilection for narrow perspective seems to be the case with every single format
    I use, whether 35mm, MF, 4x5, or 8x10. I do own some wide-angle lenses, but only use them a small percent of the time, generally for architectural subjects.
     
  24. PKM-25

    PKM-25 Member

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    Really?

    I find that odd for as a professional shooter who uses 35mm, 120 and 4x5 to earn good money off of landscapes, the mindset around the subject, light, timing and emotional connection to that subject is far more the "serious work" over what format I may choose to use. Don't get me wrong, I am not saying LF can not lead to serious imagery, but to be 100% honest, I find a lot of the work I see in LF to be very boring in terms of being a great photograph or not.

    Now if your focus is coming up with a bigger technically well put together negative regardless of it is a good photo or not, then yes, 4x5 and larger will allow you to do that. But if the end result is a photograph with the most impact, you probably ought to lose the gear mindset and work on more important aspects of photography.

    I still find I do my best work overall with 120, it is the best combination of fast setup and reaction time, dust prevention and large enough negative to make very nice silver gel prints from....
     
  25. TimFox

    TimFox Member

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    I've been buying lenses (almost all used) since I started in 4x5 more than 20 years ago.
    My full kit for the monorail ranges from 72 mm to 600 mm (both extremes require changing bellows and/or rail length).
    These are carried about on a cart in a collection of cheap Office Depot "catalog cases" which are a perfect fit for the boards with lens wraps around the mounted lenses (lenses mounted on 6" square Cambo boards).
    My minimal backpackable kit (lightest weight using a carbon-body Toyo field camera) is a Fujinon 150 mm and a Caltar 210 mm, which work for almost everything except high-rise architecture. The Toyo can be folded up with small lenses such as the Fujinon still mounted.