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  1. #1
    CreativeMJP's Avatar
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    Advice on focal length and lens for 4x5 environmental portraits

    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. #2

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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. #3
    adelorenzo's Avatar
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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. #4

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    Quote Originally Posted by adelorenzo View Post
    Another option, since you have a speed graphic, is to use a fast barrel lens.
    ... not with the SuperGraphic; it has no focal plane shutter.

  5. #5

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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
    silver magnets, trickle tanks sold
    artwork often times sold for charity
    PM me for details

  6. #6
    Rick A's Avatar
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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.
    Rick A
    Argentum aevum

  7. #7
    cjbecker's Avatar
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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. #8
    fotch's Avatar
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    I like the 203mm that is on my View II for portraits.
    Items for sale or trade at www.Camera35.com

  9. #9

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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!

  10. #10
    Allan Swindles's Avatar
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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?
    I'm into painting with light - NOT painting by numbers!

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