View Full Version : Vintage Large format lens resolution & contrast

24-Jan-2004, 15:44
Can anyone recommend and tell me the differences in “Look” of different old large format lenses used for photographing people? One for 4x5 and one for 8x10 or one that will work as a portrait lens on a 4x5 and as a wide on 8x10.

This is the objective: I am trying to find a good lens to photograph people, one that will give me a very smooth gradational tonal scale, looks very sharp but actually has very low resolving power, Let me explain, in photographing people I prefer to use a 6x7 Pentex over my a Hassalblad, because I have found after many years of use that the 150 Hasselblad lens which is sharper and much smother then the Pentax lens almost never makes people look as good (shot side by side under same conditions), this is because the Pentax 165 f/2.8 looks extremely sharp but it is actually not sharp and not smooth, but this however always gives you a cleaner look due to the contrast and lower resolution that magically removes small flaws and bad makeup that become awful looking with the Hassy and usually need retouching. This is why almost every fashion photographer that I know in NYC doesn’t use a Hassy (not because the cost).

In addition the larger actual usable size negative, allows you to “push the film” or use faster ASA film increasing the “cleaning up effect” on people, without seeing too much grain because the large negative size. Understanding this and realizing that by using a larger format size film you can retain the smooth gradational tonal values, the trick then is to find a lens that looks very sharp but has a low resolving to eliminate small unnecessary details. The large film format compensates for the lower resolving power because less magnification is needed to blowup and make a print, The final print size will be under 20x24 so I’m not still sure if I should use only 8x10 or I can get away with 4x5. Also keep in mind that any new lens on the market (for my taste) looks extremely boring and commercial if used for people, especially because you just can’t shoot fast with a large format and what you gain in quality you lose 1000x over in character, making for a pharmaceutical type image that anyone can do.

Also does anyone know of any resolution results tests or comparison of these lenses? Or samples done side by side: Kodak Ektar Commercial Dagor Wollensak F:3.8 Vitax No5-Huge Portrait Dallmeyer London 17"/4.5-Rare 8x10 lens Carl Meyer 305mm/4.5-Beautiful 8x10 lens

Thanks Enzo go8x10again@yahoo.com

David A. Goldfarb
24-Jan-2004, 15:52
Wollensak Verito. Even as it gets sharper when stopped down, it keeps its smooth look.

Heliars also have a nice smooth look, and produce a kind of stereoscopic effect at wide apertures.

Dagors are nice for portraits at relatively wide apertures (as in wider than f:16 on 8x10"), but can get clinically sharp one or two stops down from there, particularly if you use hard light.

Jay DeFehr
24-Jan-2004, 16:00
I'll second the recommendation for the Verito, but I also like my Turner Reich Triple convertible. More contrasty than the Verito, and sharper wide open, but nothing like a modern, multicoated , or even single coated lens. I have three lenses that I use for 8x10 portraits, and they vary greatly in their characteristics. If you'd like, I could email you a sample portrait from each of them. Good luck.

CP Goerz
24-Jan-2004, 16:49
Hurrel shot most of his famous shots with a 12" Turner Reich Triple in a #5 Ilex. He also used the Cooke lens(Knuckle version I think) for some of the really soft and very early work.

CP Goerz.

John D Gerndt
24-Jan-2004, 18:51
Wouldn’t it be great if there were MTF graphs and corresponding prints from all the classic lenses? If I were a scientist with Bill Gates kind of funding… As it is, one can only sample, (I like the Heliar) just as you did in medium format. I suggest you go with 4x5 as it is more popular and experimenting will be cheaper. 8 – 12 inch uncoated barrel lenses are quite cheap.

One has to wonder if this MTF manipulation can be done digitally seeing as you are going for low spatial frequency refinements and not the more difficult high frequency…


Ernest Purdum
24-Jan-2004, 19:56
I tried to respond to this thread earlier, but somehow my answer got separated from the question. I'll try again.

Taking the lenses you mention one at a time: Commercial Ektars have a good reputation for sharpness. Not, I think, what you are looking for. Dagors were made over a very long time period, so there can be more variation from one to another. Early, uncoated items would be expected to have less contrast. The Vitax was a variable soft-focus lens. It had a control for diffusion in addition to the aperture control. The Dallmeyer Portrait is a modified Petzval type. Most of these also have a variable diffusion control. Carl Meyer is a Burke & James house brand name. Some Carl Meyers were remounted and coated versions of high quality British military lenses. Others, such as the one you mention, were of unknown provenance, at least to me. I would guess this one would probably behave pretty much like other early post WWII lenses of similar specification from makers like Wollensak. It is probably a Tessar type.

Perhaps the best way to find a lens with the "Look" you want would be to locate some photographs that have it, then try to find out what lens was used to make them. The biographical material for major photographers often mention the lenses that they used at various periods.

David A. Goldfarb
24-Jan-2004, 22:24
Early on Hurrell used a Verito mainly and later moved to a sharper Goerz Celor as his main lens, but changed his retouching technique (essentially adopting the Adams machine or some early version of it) to have a basically sharp look, but retain smooth skin textures, according to Mark Vieira's book on Hurrell. If you're after the Hollywood look, the retouching aspect is just as important as the lens.

24-Jan-2004, 23:12
...you just can’t shoot fast with a large format and what you gain in quality you lose 1000x over in character, making for a pharmaceutical type image that anyone can do.

Maybe you should have a look at the work of Sally Mann or Jock Sturges. I'm not sure I understand the point of your question as it looks as if you're already ruling out large format. Nevertheless, when trying to emulate a "vintage" look, consider using a blue filter or ortho film as the early films were not panchromatic.

For a little more information on the Verito, click here (http://wfwhitaker.com/verito.htm).


Darin Cozine
24-Jan-2004, 23:38
I think Enzo has a good point.. So often on the LF forums I hear how sharpness and contrast are subject to taste. Allthough I think instead of MTF or LPM charts, I would like to see some static subjects photographed with the same lighting but different lenses. Even that is hard though because so much is lost when transformed to digital.

Steve Hamley
25-Jan-2004, 06:33
Combined with lighting and film, there are probably quite a few lenses that will work. I've always believed that the lighting and processing had as much to do with the look as the lens. My favorite lenses (Like David) are the Heliars. They are sharp, but have the smoother tonality you're looking for. Unlike most of the early classic lenses mentioned, later ones were coated. The longer ones are very large and heavy.

For double duty on both formats, I'd suggest a Dagor in the 8-1/4 inch (210mm) to 12 inch (300mm) range. I use a 12 inch Dagor on my 4x5 field camera when I want a longer lens with the smooth look because the 300mm Heliar in its Compound 5 won't fit.

A lot of folks seem to like Artars as portrait lenses on 8x10, and Artars are reasonably close to the Celor mentioned above and there are plenty available, unlike good condtion Heliars. Steve Simmon's book has a landscape example on pp 118-119 shot with an 19 inch Artar on 8x10 by Morley Baer on pushed Ektachrome. The push was to lower contrast.