Is anyone using a Wisner Convertible Plasmat Set?

Discussion in 'Large Format Cameras and Accessories' started by Jim Moore, Jun 2, 2004.

  1. Jim Moore

    Jim Moore Member

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    If so I'm interested in your opinion.

    It seems to me that these would be a "backpackers" dream :wink:

    Thanks!
    Jim
     
  2. clay

    clay Subscriber

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    The only person I know who has any experience with this set is a local photographer who ended up sending the set back to Wisner because they would not create a sharp image, no matter what the cell configuration or what f stop he used.

    He was tremendously disappointed. I don't know whether he just got a lemon, or whether the design is inherently lacking. But I trust his evaluation enough to realize that this is an awful lot of $$$ to spend on a lens set that just 'might' work. Caveat emptor.

    If the focal length is right, I would look hard at the new Cooke convertible lens. I think Badger Graphic and the View Camera Store carry them. And I know Cooke is a full time lens manufacturer that has an excellent reputation.
     
  3. Jim Moore

    Jim Moore Member

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    Thanks for the info clay.

    I sure hope that he just got a "lemon" and they are all not like that because I won a "Mint" 5x7 set last night on eBay.

    I can't find much info on them, but what I have found sounded good.

    I guess I'll find out :wink:

    Jim
     
  4. mikewhi

    mikewhi Member

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    So, it ws you! I wondered who snapped that set up. I hope it works out. Please post when you've tried them out and let us know, ok? View Camera Magazine had a review of them a few years back. You might go to ther site and check their article archive. If you can find the issue it was in, I'll look it up and send you a copy of the review if I can find it. As I recall, it basically reiterated what has been true about convertible lenses, that no convertible folcal length will be as sharp as a fixed focal length made around the same time. So whatever focal length you select will not be as sharp as a modern Schneider of the same focal length. That's just the laws of physics at work, not something inherently wrong with the convertible lens. You have to trade off performance for the convenience of so many focal lengths in a small set. If that's ok with you, then you'll be happy. Just don't expect the best of both worlds. Besides, you probably won't notice much if you don't enlarge very much.

    Good luck with the lenses!

    -Mike
     
  5. Jim Moore

    Jim Moore Member

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    Yep, it was me.

    It's kind of strange. I remember one of these sets on eBay sometime last year, but I didn't have to funds to purchase it. I was thinking about that the other night and wishing that another would be listed.

    As I was browsing the listings there it was! I hit the "Buy-It-Now" button without any hesitation :D

    I print mostly 8x10 and have never made a print larger than 11x14, so I'm not overly concerned about the sharpness issue. The main reason I wanted this set is for it's light weight while backpacking.

    I checked the View Camera Magazine web site and couldn't find the review. If you would send me a copy it would be GREATLY appreciated.

    Thanks!

    Jim
     
  6. mikewhi

    mikewhi Member

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    Well, congrats on your purchase. When I saw it, I was tempted to hit BIN, too. But I had just bought a Canham camera and some other stuff on eBay so I couldn't do it. I wasn't surprised to see it gone before the end date. I will look for the review. The mags are boxed up right now, but as I unpack my books I'll go thru them and photocopy the review for you when I find it.

    I got to know Ron Wisner some when I lived back in Connecticut. We had him down for a few workshops and afterwards we'd go out for dinner and talk. He brought along some contact prints he'd made from older lenses and I commented that they weren't very sharp (I look for those attributes). He said that if you put your nose right up to them like I did,that no, they weren't sharp as modern lenses. But when viewed from an appropriate distance they were accceptibly sharp. I think he may have brought those values to the design of the convertible lens - acceptible shaprness and contrast with the convenience of convertible lenses. I don't recall him discussing plans or even the idea of this set, but it seems completely logical that he would. He knows more about the subject than anyone I know of and is a very bright guy.

    Regards,

    -Mike
     
  7. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Regarding the "acceptible sharpness" issue--I really like the look of many classic lenses (Dagor, Apo-Artar, Heliar, WF Ektar, and Verito are the ones I use) for 8x10" and larger negs that I plan to contact print. This is really the way they were meant to be used, and they are more than acceptibly sharp for that purpose. The aberrations that make up the characteristic look of these lenses for contact printing can become "defects" when enlarged.

    If I were to get a plasmat set, I'd be looking at it for 8x10" or 11x14", where the weight savings would be substantial and they would be sufficiently sharp at shooting apertures for contact printing.

    For negs 4x5" and smaller, I generally prefer more modern lenses--at least from the 1960s, with the exception of a few shorter focal length Heliars that I like for portraits.
     
  8. Tom Stanworth

    Tom Stanworth Member

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    Hello all,

    Without commenting on specific examples (there will invariably be bad examples about), the idea that some of these classic lenses can ony just cope with contact prints is not fair to them in general. I will always go for a modern lens when affordable for the better shutter and betters overall lens performance, but there are many older lenses that are truly amazing (ektar 203 f7.7 being one I own - and it is as sharp as the best of the rest including a 90mm f 8 nikkor sw and a 65 f4.5 grandagon....). I find it hard to beleive that the wisner plasmats (if made by schneider) can only just push out an OK contact print. Can this be right? Even if resolving only a pathetic 15 lines per mm on film this would appear razor sharp as a contact. I suspect that soft contact print are either down to a dog lens, poor film register, or a poor choice of neg developer that has not produced the required acutance to give good apparent sharpness at zero enlargement. After all, Ansle Adams' moonrrise over hernandez was taken with a single element of a cooke convertable (I think) and is more than sharp at a roughly 20x16 enlargement - having seen originals. I would suspect that as mentioned in one review, the 5x7 plasmats will produce 20x16 prints with 'no excuses'. PLease let us know as I have my eye on the new cooke convertble too!! Good luck!

    Tom
     
  9. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    It's not that you can't get a decent enlargement from a classic lens. I sometimes use a Goerz 168/6.8 ser. III Dagor on 4x5" when I want the big image circle, and the enlargements are fine when viewed on their own, but put it side by side with even an old single coated 150/5.6 Symmar convertible, and the Symmar will look much sharper from corner to corner.

    On the other hand, I wouldn't trade my 12" Dagor that I use for 8x10" for anything. It's got excellent contrast, is very sharp with a very smooth look. But if I started enlarging 8x10", I might start thinking otherwise.
     
  10. Emile de Leon

    Emile de Leon Member

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    I just tested 2 new lenses of recent purchase, a used and uncoated Protarlinse 305/480/590 convertible at 305mm against a new and unused 360mm WA Apo Nikkor process lens of reputedly great sharpness and coverage with the focus point at about 75 feet. The results surprised me. I expected the 60+ year old Protarlinse to be thoughly trounced by the Nikkor. Not so.The contact prints were slightly different but this was really splitting hairs. I needed maximum DOF on the ULF shot and stopped the Protarlinse down to f90 and the Nikkor to f128. Both lenses tested very similar in the prints. Maybe an enlargement would be more telling. Or used with the optimum f stops instead of all the way down. I think for contacts though that these convertible lenses might just be the answer for overall convienence as well as low weight. The Protarlinse will get a lot of use!
     
  11. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    At very small apertures, the design of the lens is increasingly less relevant, since diffraction becomes the major limiting factor. At f:90 on 8x10" two lenses of the same focal length should produce virtually identical results, as you noticed.
     
  12. Jim Moore

    Jim Moore Member

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    I went home for lunch today and the lens set had arrived!

    Can't wait to try it out this weekend. Hope the weather's nice.

    Jim
     
  13. mikewhi

    mikewhi Member

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    I did find that in the View Camera index on their web-site they did review the lens in the Jan/Feb 1998 issue, pages 48-53. I found the issue in my collection. I will photo-copy the article and mail it to you if you send me you mailing address. My e-mail is mikewhi@comcast.net.

    Perhaps someone out there has a back-issue they'd be willing to give\sell you (it has a portrain of Humphrey Bogart on the cover)? It is a long review and well worth reading. BTW, it has a happy ending<g>.

    Good luck with the lens.

    -Mike
     
  14. Jim Moore

    Jim Moore Member

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    Thanks Mike!

    Jim
     
  15. mikewhi

    mikewhi Member

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    I bought this plasmat set on eBay and I picked up it up today.

    It is simply beauitful. Right after I picked up the package, I went for my regular weekend morning coffee at Starbucks and opened it up and examined it. I got a lot of attention from other customers and a nice lady even came over and talked to me about the set. She had no idea what it was and was attracted to it like a bass to a shiny lure<g>. I didn't know the lens set was a babe magnet, too!

    I haven't photographed with it yet but I have set it up on the 5x7 and pointed it at a bright contrasty subject and examined the projected image with a 10x loupe and 1.75x reading glasses - that's a lot of magnification.

    When 2 elements are used, it is very sharp and compares well to any modern fixed focal length lens that I have of similar design, etc. When I use a single element (e.g. 350mm) the quality does drop off but still is more than acceptible. I put on a Nikkor-W 360mm and it was much better than the single element at the aperture, but not so much better that I would totally dismiss the plasmat by any means. One big advantage the Nikkor has is that the front glass is so huge that it gathers a lot more light and projects a much brighter image so it's a lot easier to see image detail. Still the single-element shows a lot of detail. I pointed it at a lamp with the shade removed. It projects a sharp edge around the bulb and fixture. Shadow detail is good but not as contrasty as the Nikkor.

    I think the one drawback is that when the single elements are used on the back, you are really limited to how much light enters the lens element - limited by the size of the Copal 1 shutter basically. The Nikkor is in a Copal 3 and the front element is about 4-inches in diameter - so the comparison isn't really fair. The fact the single-element 350mm looked so good compared to the Nikkor really says a lot about the Wisner, in my opinion. I'll try comparing to more like-sized lenses like some Schneiders and Fujinon's that I have.

    Since I own the set and have other modern lenses (Schneider, Fujinon, Nikkor-W to compare it to (and a 19" Red Dot Artar and 9 1/2" Dagor) I can do a lot of comparison.

    But so far, my impression is that when used with 2 elements, it is a very good lens. When used with single elements the quality really does not drop off so drastically. I'm sure it would not only make good contacts, but enlargements, too. I need a lot of field experience with the set, but given the chance I will use the fixed-focal lengths when I can over the single-elements but I'll use the 2-element configurations without worry. Also, it is a slow lens with a max aperture of f\9.6 (or slower) for a 2-element configuration and a max of f\13 for all single-element configurations.

    If you have any questions, please let me know. For the one person who return his, I have to believe it was some sort of abberation - this lens set is just too good to not form a good image.

    -Mike
     
  16. darinwc

    darinwc Subscriber

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    Mike, for us amateurs talk of these lenses is the stuff of legend.
    Allthough I have compared enough lenses to know that the image on the GG is not indicative of what the lens can do. So for all reading this take the initial review with a grain of salt. However I am excited to hear the results and I wish you the best of luck.

    As far as a comparison of modern vs. classic lenses, I believe that sharpness is the least important factor. Lens designs like Artar, Dagor, Heliar, Tessar, etc have been around for allmost a century. I beleive the big differences are in coverage, coatings, and condition.

    Allthough one exception to this is the wide-angle lenses. The modern designs allow for shorter focal lengths or less light-falloff and more movements. I really havent taken the wide-angle raptar, optar, ektar, and dagors seriously.There isnt much of an argument for using the old wides except for weight and maybee cost.
     
  17. mikewhi

    mikewhi Member

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    I worked with the len set a little more tonight and I'm liking it even more. I put some of the elements onto my 8x10 (I have the 5x7 set) and the smallest element, the 250mm, easily covers the 8x10 with lots of room for movements. The largest single element, the 500mm, does too but really calls for a lot of bellows draw to focus on something in the same room! Still, my Canham managed it. The quality of the image for the single elements really does improve at f45 and beyond - in fact the improvement is quite dramatic. I'm sure the difference would be noticable even on an 8x10 contact print. I'm glad I have a fresnel on my gg as I'm sure focusing in the field will be relatively dark with the widest aperture being so small and getting even dimmer when stopped down to f45. I did not notice a focus shift when stopped down, btw.

    I'm re-reading Gordon Hutching's review of the plasmat set in VC when it was first introduced and I think his assessment is fair, although I can't compare to vintage convertibles (or any convertible since this is my first). I beleive that Gordon basically says that these lenses are not the greatest, but they are very good and their real value will prove to be their compactness and ability to cover a wide range of focal lengths in a compat 5x7 package. They will make very good contact prints and moderage enlargements (say, 4x). 4x enlargements is the highest I ever go, so this is good enough for me.

    Now, if my Cooke Series XVa would just arrive!

    darwinwc: what do you mean when you say that sharpness is the least important factor? If I'm going to enlarge, isn't sharpness and resolution important? If I can see resolution and sharpness on the gg, why isn't that indicative of how the lens will perform in terms of those qualities? It seems to me that if the lens won't resolve beyond a certain point and this is easily seen on the gg, then I will know what to expect in the field. If I photograph a boulder with detailed cracks and lichen on it, I will want to know if the lens will resolve all that detail or not. Why isn't studying the aerial image a good indication of that? I agree that if I'm just making contact prints, then sharpness isn't as great of a concern. Since you mention coatings, these lenses are coated and my set is in perfect condition. The coatings are different when I compare them to my Symmar-S 210, though. The coatings on the plasmat set seem lighter and have a different (greenish) color cast compared to the Symmar-S. Still, they are coated.

    -Mike
     
  18. darinwc

    darinwc Subscriber

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    "what do you mean when you say that sharpness is the least important factor? If I'm going to enlarge, isn't sharpness and resolution important?"

    -I mean that im not going to quibble over small differences in sharpness. I am not going to take a microscope to a negative. Considering a 16x20 print from a 4x5 negative is only a 4x enlargement, a small difference in sharpness is not very important.
     
  19. isaacc7

    isaacc7 Member

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    Hmmm, I thought an 8x10 was considered a 4x enlargement from a 4x5 neg. Isn't it calculated by area? That would make a 16x20 a 16x enlargement. That would imply to me that if you can see differences under an 8 power loupe, those differences would be pretty obvious with a 16x20 print...

    Isaac