Vintage Lenses for 4x5-good enough?

Discussion in 'Large Format Cameras and Accessories' started by gbenaim, Jun 30, 2005.

  1. gbenaim

    gbenaim Member

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    Hello,

    I'm scoping out the LF arena before taking the plunge, and was reading Wisner's article on vintage lenses for 8x10, goerzes, b&l's,etc. So I was wondering if anyone uses these kinds of lenses for 4x5, on a regular basis, and how they compare to modern glass. They don't have to be old old, I'm just attracted by the lower weight and price of even wollensaks and xenars from the 50's. My other option is going with recent vintage caltar/rodenstocks, heavier and a little more expensive. Thanks for the help.
     
  2. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    People do use vintage lenses for 4x5". Personally, I prefer the vintage lenses in general for the larger formats that I contact print, because I like the look of the older lenses that way, and more recent lenses (1965 or so and later) for 4x5", because they hold up better to enlargement.

    I have an 8-1/4" Gold Dot Dagor that's great on 8x10", for instance, but I use a 210mm Symmar convertible on 4x5". The Symmar doesn't have the coverage of the Dagor, but it's a sharper lens. Occasionally I'll use a 168mm ser. iii Dagor on 4x5" if I need the extra coverage. I also sometimes use an 11.5" Verito with 4x5" for the soft-focus effect.

    The recent Caltar II-N (Rodenstock) lenses are excellent. The older Symmar convertibles from the 1970s are a good compromise.
     
  3. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    ALL my LF lenses are "vintage" - made between 1928 and 1974. I prefer the coated post-WWII lenses in most cases...
     
  4. medform-norm

    medform-norm Member

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    A lot depends on your job requirements, aims, goals and ambitions. Will you using the lenses professionally, commercially, artistically or just plain passionately as an amateur?
    Can't give a focused answer before you tell us a little more about that.
     
  5. bobfowler

    bobfowler Subscriber

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    "Vintage" like "good enough", is a relative term.

    I have a lot of "older" lenses, in fact my collection pretty much covers just about every decade on the 20th century! :smile: With the exception of aspherics and designs that rely on the latest glasses, many "modern" lenses are based - at least in part - on designs that can be traced back almost 100 years. The biggest differences with such classic lenses and their modern offspring is quite often that the "modern" lenses are multi-coated and are in newer (not always better) shutters.

    The modern version may also have been tweaked a bit to give more coverage, but I think you'll find that quality vintage lenses will be very good performers. As I said earlier, "good enough" is relative. I don't necessarily want to shoot a portrait of a middle aged woman with a lens that is razor blade sharp, so an older Ilex Paragon would be a heck of a lot better choice than a modern Rodenstock APO Sironar. Likewise, if I'm shooting a table top set up for a brochure illustration of widgets and the art director wants to be able to read the fine print on each widget, I won't use an old Rapid Rectilinear...
     
  6. Nick Zentena

    Nick Zentena Member

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    To add to what the others have said. Long lenses IMHO can be just fine. Normals may have coverage issues. Wider lenses would worry me more.

    I've got a 150mm Xenar from the 1960s. A 127mm from the 1950s. Within thier limits the lens work just fine. But they aren't exactly coverage monsters.


    If all you're looking at is a 150mm then even the modern ones aren't too expensive used. The jump in price between a 1950's lens and something from the 70's or 80's isn't going to be huge.
     
  7. jimgalli

    jimgalli Subscriber

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    Yes. Michael Briggs and I dis-agree somewhat on this though. The ones that are "good enough" also have a cultish following that drives the prices to within or higher than their modern counterparts. Late coated Dagor's, Protar VII's, Red Dot Artar's, Voigtlander Heliar's and Lanthar's, and a few others are sometimes better than modern for how they divide up the contrast on certain scenes. There's a reason that a 135mm Optar is a $65 lens and a 129mm Protar VII is (or should be!) a $350 lens. Looking back on the last 12 months 4X5 work (which admitedly isn't that much because I've so gravitated to the bigger sizes) the 2 most outstanding shots were both with vintage lenses. Both are in my gallery here. A seascape taken with the tiny Protar VII, and the mushroom photo done with a 10 3/4" RD Artar.
     
  8. John Kasaian

    John Kasaian Member

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    I think it depends on what your after. A lot of really cheap old "press camera" lenses don't allow much movement on a 4x5. If you're shooting B&W there isn't much of an advantage to multicoated lenses either, though some single coated lenses, like the Ektars and Symmars I think handle color very nicely.

    FWIW all my current 4x5 lenses are old---some very old--- and they work fine for me: 127mm Kodak Ektar(uncoated ww2 surplus), 162mm Wollensak Velostigmat(uncoated), 7-1/2" Kodak Anastigmat(uncoated) 203mm Kodak Ektar, 240mm G Claron, & 13" Cooke Anastigmat(uncoated, soft portrait).

    If I shot more 4x5 and was looking for more vintage lenses, I'd consider the WF Ektars, the Symmar convertibles, and some of the Angulons.

    Good Luck!
     
  9. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Multicoating does improve contrast for B&W as well as color, and makes possible improved lens designs, which are sharper both for color and B&W.

    If you do decide to use older lenses, a strong monochromatic filter (yellow, orange, red usually) will improve sharpness by reducing the effect of chromatic aberration.
     
  10. jjstafford

    jjstafford Inactive

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    Why not Green?
     
  11. gbenaim

    gbenaim Member

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    Thanks all for the helpful replies. I shoot mostly landscape details, often using a 2500mm in 6x6, but will also use a 50mm, and in both cases want sharpness and detail. I usually achieve this using Hassy's Zeiss glass, though some of my early (and very nice ) work was done with a 1930's Rolleiflex Tessar and a cord Xenar. So I have some sense of the difference in look between old and new glass, I just don't know how that look looks in a larger format.
     
  12. gbenaim

    gbenaim Member

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    Thanks all for the helpful replies. I shoot mostly landscape details, often using a 2500mm in 6x6, but will also use a 50mm, and in both cases want sharpness and detail. I usually achieve this using Hassy's Zeiss glass, though some of my early (and very nice ) work was done with a 1930's Rolleiflex Tessar and a cord Xenar. So I have some sense of the difference in look between old and new glass, I just don't know how that look looks in a larger format. I shoot 80%b&w, the rest color, but love those color shots from the Hassy glass. Anyway, that's the basic idea.
     
  13. Eric Rose

    Eric Rose Subscriber

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    they seemed to work just fine for Ansel and Edward among others. An arresting composition will trump an ultra-sharp contrasty boring pic any day.
     
  14. Amund

    Amund Member

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    Please post a picture of this lens. :wink:
     
  15. MattCarey

    MattCarey Member

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    He will when he gets his 1mm wide angle, so he can fit it in the frame!
     
  16. jimgalli

    jimgalli Subscriber

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    Out here at work we've got a 2975mm lens we use on half frame 35mm quite regularly. Can't afford one for home though. 117" f8
     
  17. gma

    gma Member

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    Consider that coated lenses did not become commercially available until after WW II. Many of Adams' and Weston's best known photographs were made in the 1920s,1930s and 1940s. With proper exposure, filtration and processing the vintage lenses are capable of producing stunning images. Modern lenses are no doubt easier to use and more forgiving.

    In other words a person can acquire a lot of basic LF knowledge by using some old lenses. I do not suggest that anyone should avoid new lenses.
     
  18. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    "Modern" (read: Multicoated) lenses have inherently greater contrast than uncoated and (to a much lower degree) single-coated lenses. This makes "modern" lenses less forgiving than older lenses, which give "pre-flashed" shadows which are easier to get correctly exposed. Some of my high-contrast landscapes can only be fitted on film with single-coated lenses - at least all charts and analyses say that what I do is impossible, and none of the lenses I have used so far are multicoated ...
     
  19. medform-norm

    medform-norm Member

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    Here's a rough scan from a 1925 Zodelar 250/4.5, taken mid day at f16 - shot was underexposed, but managed to salvage something to get an impression of what it can do. Scan was made through the plastic neg cover. We made a better shot at f45, but that one was even more underexposed (forgot the lightmeter and did the wrong headmath...).

    It's not a 4x5" neg, just a 6x9, but perhaps it gives you some clue what you might expect from an oldish lens (-still a lot younger than Jim Galli is currently showing off in another thread).
     

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