Buying into Large format. Lens choices
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.
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!
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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.
Stop worrying about grain, resolution, sharpness, and everything else that doesn't have a damn thing to do with substance.
Not a monorail, but a full kit to get started in large format. Sorry for the shameless plug
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.
I feel, therefore I photograph.
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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!
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
By using only one half of a Gauss type lens (like the Schneider Symmar) one gains a longer focal length.
Originally Posted by mjs
With current models this is not advised by the manufacturer. Furthermore it is clumsy.
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.
Mark Barendt, Ignacio, CO
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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
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