Which old brass lens to choose?

Discussion in 'Large Format Cameras and Accessories' started by Willie Jan, Jan 30, 2009.

  1. Willie Jan

    Willie Jan Member

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    Hi,

    i currently use modern lenses, but want to try out a old (brass) lens without coatings etc. to see what for different picture this will make.

    What is the best (cheap) old lens to start with?

    Willie Jan
     
  2. nemo999

    nemo999 Member

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    Search APUG (and e-bay) for "Rapid Rectilinear". This type of lens was used mainly in the late 19th century before the invention of the "anastigmat" (all modern lenses are anastigmats). Early RR lenses take Waterhouse stops (little metal shims with apertures in them), later ones have normal aperture controls. Most RR lenses for general photography have a max. aperture of f8 (larger apertures are very rare and are called something else), despite their age it should be possible to find an RR lens in usable condition for not too much. Be unwilling to accept a lens in poor condition, and try not to buy one without a mounting flange, this will be hard to find, if you have to have one made, it will cost much more than the lens. An RR consists essentially of 4 elements in 2 cemented groups of 2 (called "achromats"), it is easy to unscrew these groups and clean inner surfaces (but not inside the groups!).
     
  3. Uhner

    Uhner Member

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    I would go to a second-hand bookshop and buy a vintage book, circa 1900, on photo theory. Several of these books contain discussions of the merits and drawbacks of different lens constructions, and they list different lenses, available focal lengths as well as coverage. After reading one these you will be able to narrow down your search a little.

    Or you could shoot from the hip and start with an Aplanat/ Rapid Rectilinear. They can usually be had for little money.
     
  4. Whiteymorange

    Whiteymorange Subscriber

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    The best lens to try is a cheap one. Why spend a lot on your first experiments? You don't say what format, but your website speaks of 4x5. There are lots of choices for up to 4x5 if you don't need much in the way of movements. The Rapid Rectilinear might should be a good place to start - surprisingly sharp in the center, but not like a new, coated lens at all. Bausch and Lomb are quite easy to find on this side of the Atlantic. They were on seemingly everything from the early 1900's, usually in a Unicum shutter, which will often still work, even if it only gives you 1/25 of a second on every setting.
     
  5. Willie Jan

    Willie Jan Member

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    you are right, for 4x5.
     
  6. Ty G

    Ty G Guest

    As long as it is a focal length that matches your camera; use any brass lens you can find. I do tintypes and only use brass lenses. You can even use a lens from an old magic lantern if you can find one.
     
  7. Willie Jan

    Willie Jan Member

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    Is it for you the feeling of the picture why you use brass lenses?
     
  8. Lukas Werth

    Lukas Werth Member

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    Since some time (2 years or so), I have started using old (mostly brass) lenses increasingly, and I like them more and more. I have used them mostly for 8x10, though. The issue of sharpness is here even less and issue than for 4x5, but I think many old lenses are quite sharp. I do like their softer contrast: I always seem to get details in the shadows, and those a little bit gleaming highlights. Even nocturnes appear to come out very nicely with the lenses I use.
    I picked up nearly all of them from ebay, two or three were not what I expected (not the seller's fault, it was just a try and hit from my side). I have an excellent Dallmeyer Stigmatic of about 300mm focal length, lots of movements, screw off the front lens and you get 600mm, still of usable quality. I don't remember exactly what I paid for it, but it was something between 40 and 70 Euro. Then there is an Emil Bush 470mm Aplanat (I think); looks like a stove pipe and works beautifully. Same price range. Had to calibrate the f stops, though - and these lenses need to be stopped down even for focussing. This is less because of a focus shift but because they are just not sharp with the highest f-stop.
    The most expensive lens by far I picked up is a ca. 230-250mm Rodenstock wideangle Aplanat, a small brass lens similar to a wide angle protar with a very large image circle, suitable also for larger formats than 8x10. I paid considerably more than 500 Euro for this (including customs tax).
    For 4x5, I think there is less choice for good old wide angle lenses; I do have a no-name Aplanat-type lens of about 210-230 mm which works well on my 4x5, giving me also enough movements. And there is a 110 mm protar, supposed to, when stopped down, just cover 8x10 which mine does not, but it is a nice, sharp but uncoated, moderate wide angle with ample movements on a 4x5.
     
  9. Willie Jan

    Willie Jan Member

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    that was also one reason for me to got into this....
     
  10. edtbjon

    edtbjon Member

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    The shadow detail is because of flare, which is inherit with these uncoated lenses.

    The Aplanats mentioned are very sharp, but have a bit less useable image circle than modern plasmats (Symmar, Sironar et al.). According to Ole, who have tested this, a good Aplanat can equal just about any lens for center sharpness, so if you are looking for a softer lens, the Aplanat or even a Rapid Rectilinear should not be your first choice.
    Also, there is plenty of information around about Petzval lenses if that is what interests you. Just search this site or LFPhoto.info for "Petzval".

    //Björn
     
  11. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member

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    As Björn said, a good Aplanat can equal just about any lens for center sharpness - and indeed some will surpass many modern lenses! I have a feeling that Rapid Rectilinears are less super-sharp, but have no evidence for this. But I'm certain that wide-angle Rectilinears are of a different design than wide-angle Aplanats, and that the WAR's have considerably more field curvature and other aberrations.

    The exception is the wide-angle configuration of the most common casket sets - they end up with a kind of WAR spacing, and are definitely not as sharp as a "real" WAR (and miles behind a WW-Aplanat).

    Casket sets are a nice way to get a complete set of focal lengths including "wonky" wideangle configurations - a 65+75 combo without spacers becomes a rather soft 350mm'ish portrait lens. Something like THIS is wonderful if the shutter is working. Or this one, if you have another shutter option (I use mine on a Speed Graphic).