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Thread: Lens for 5x7 & WP Portraits - 12" Ilex, 300mm f/5.6 Fuji or 300mm f/5.6 Xenar?

  1. #1
    Dave Karp
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    Lens for 5x7 & WP Portraits - 12" Ilex, 300mm f/5.6 Fuji or 300mm f/5.6 Xenar?

    Hi everyone,

    I have been looking in the archives and around the net and have sort of narrowed down my choices. I want to do some 5x7 and Whole Plate portraits and contact print them. Portraits have never really been my thing, but some of the work on this forum has motivated me to try something new. I am not really a soft focus guy. My lens arsenal tends toward the sharp.

    So, my choices are between the 12 inch f/6.3 Ilex/Caltar/Acutar/Orbit, the 300mm f/5.6 Fujinon L, and the 300mm f/5.6 Xenar. (And OK, maybe a 14 inch Ilex/Caltar/Acutar/Orbit would be a good choice instead of one of these 300mm. Feel free to chime in on that too.) I arrived at these choices because I am not a soft focus guy. I like much of what I have seen done here, but the older swirly soft focus lenses are not for me. Many of the portraits I really like were made with older Tessar types, so I am pretty sure that is my direction.

    I have a 300mm Nikkor M, which is a Tessar type, but multicoated and pretty sharp for portraits, so I am pondering these other lenses.

    I am interested in your experiences with them. Are they suitable? Have any of you had a chance to work with more than one of these? Any other recommendations?

    Thanks for your help.

  2. #2

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    Re: Lens for 5x7 & WP Portraits - 12" Ilex, 300mm f/5.6 Fuji or 300mm f/5.6 Xenar?

    I completely agree with you about tessars---sharp with a lovely smoothness that makes modern lenses look brittle. I started with the 12" f6.3 Paragon (same as the Caltar) and liked it so much I went on an American tessar binge, Paragons and Raptars, getting every FL I could find, ending up with everything between 135mm and the 14-3/4" Caltar (which isn't really a Tessar, being, probably, three elements, as near as I can discover). My two faves are still the original 12" Paragon, and a 36cm Heliar (which isn't a tessar either, but has the same smooth reputation), but I think the Paragon out-Heliars the Heliar, really. I haven't shot the long Caltar yet--it's too long for 5x7, and the shutter isn't convenient for strobes, so I've stuck with the Heliar for 8x10.

    On my LF Flickr page there's a representative sampling of these lenses, but my favorite rendition is still this one, which shows the combination of sharp and smooth of the 12"/6.3 Paragon:
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/michae...79160/sizes/k/

    Anyway, if you buy the 12/6.3, I think you will not be unhappy.

  3. #3
    Dave Karp
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    Re: Lens for 5x7 & WP Portraits - 12" Ilex, 300mm f/5.6 Fuji or 300mm f/5.6 Xenar?

    Thanks Michael. I appreciate the comments. That is the sort of look I am thinking about. In fact, I am sure that some of your work got me thinking about Tessars.

  4. #4
    Peter De Smidt's Avatar
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    Re: Lens for 5x7 & WP Portraits - 12" Ilex, 300mm f/5.6 Fuji or 300mm f/5.6 Xenar?

    I'm a fan of the Paragons, as well. If I remember rightly, the Fuji 300L is a tessar.
    "Why can't we all just get along?" President Dale, Mars Attacks

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    Re: Lens for 5x7 & WP Portraits - 12" Ilex, 300mm f/5.6 Fuji or 300mm f/5.6 Xenar?

    I can't help with the subtleties of those choices, but conclude you need two lenses. A 300mm for the 5x7 and a 14"/355mm/360mm for the whole plate. While close in size, those formats will definitely demand different focal lengths if you want to achieve the same look with both.

  6. #6

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    Re: Lens for 5x7 & WP Portraits - 12" Ilex, 300mm f/5.6 Fuji or 300mm f/5.6 Xenar?

    Quote Originally Posted by David Karp View Post
    Thanks Michael. I appreciate the comments. That is the sort of look I am thinking about. In fact, I am sure that some of your work got me thinking about Tessars.
    The 12" and 14" Commercial Ektars are also Tessars. You might want to look at them too. Yousuf Karsh mostly used a 14" Commercial Ektar for his portraits if you want to see some great examples.

  7. #7
    Drew Saunders drew.saunders's Avatar
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    Re: Lens for 5x7 & WP Portraits - 12" Ilex, 300mm f/5.6 Fuji or 300mm f/5.6 Xenar?

    Quote Originally Posted by David Karp View Post
    I have a 300mm Nikkor M, which is a Tessar type, but multicoated and pretty sharp for portraits, so I am pondering these other lenses.
    For 4x5, my most used lens is a 200 Nikkor M, and it's probably my sharpest lens. For portrait work, I have 3 older single-coated fast Tessars: A 165/3.5 Zeiss Tessar from c. 1950, a 180/4.5 Xenar from c. 1960, and a 250/4.7 Fujinar that's probably from the '70's based on the type of Copal shutter (might be early '80's). Wide open, they're all "gentle focus" lenses, as opposed to true soft focus, or very sharp lenses. The Fujinar is the sharpest and most flare resistant, sharp enough that it replaced a 250/6.3 Fuji. At about f/8 to f/16, they all get pretty sharp, but not as sharp as the multicoated Nikkor-M at the same apertures. In short, a modern, slow multicoated Tessar-type like your Nikkor-M isn't the same as an older, faster, single-coated or uncoated Tessar, but they're all good. From your list, for portrait work, I'd go with the Xenar but be sure you have a good lens hood, as my Xenar flares a lot more than even the older, faster Tessar, and both flare more than the newer Fujinar. I don't know if the Xenars were ever multi-coated, or if their single coating got better after 1960.
    Flickriver (to avoid Flickr's annoying new format): http://www.flickriver.com/photos/drew_saunders/

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    Re: Lens for 5x7 & WP Portraits - 12" Ilex, 300mm f/5.6 Fuji or 300mm f/5.6 Xenar?

    Once you stop down to f/11 I doubt you'll be able to see any differences unless the aperture shape becomes a factor with regard to specular highlights. See this comparison of lenses in the 210-240mm range if you are skeptical. (In addition to another comparison I made of 150mm lenses, I made a similar comparison of 300-360 lenses but never took the time to post it since the results are the same.)

    That leaves the range of f/5.6 to 9, at which depth of field is quite shallow on a 300mm lens at portrait distance.

    The lenses you're considering give you 1 to 1.5 stops more than the Nikkor M - which may be insignificant, depending on how you shoot.

    If you don't need that minor difference you can keep the Nikkor M and pass on the others. The Nikkor M is smaller and lighter and takes (smaller) 52mm filters. Since you have it already, it's free.

  9. #9

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    Re: Lens for 5x7 & WP Portraits - 12" Ilex, 300mm f/5.6 Fuji or 300mm f/5.6 Xenar?

    David doesn't say one thing, and that's where he intends to do this work. In my studio, with strobe modeling lights, I really appreciate having f4.5 for getting things lined up on the film. I tried an f10 lens for a while, and it was just too dark. 6.3 isn't as good as 4.5, but it's good enough. Mostly I shoot at around f8 or a bit wider, and on 5x7, the DOF is fine; on 8x10, with longer lenses, it's pretty tight. I also have noticed that the 4.5 lenses aren't really what I like to see, but at 6.3 they're level with 6.3 lenses wide open. There are a lot of considerations, when you start thinking about it!

    I thought about getting a more modern lens, a Fuji or something, but was worried that something modern would be "too good" for what I wanted to see. The old lenses were calculated with a different visual concept in mind from their more clinical modern versions, or at least that's what I've read, and a modern tessar formula would not necessarily be the same as, for instance, what B&L was using in 1920. Besides, old lenses are dirt cheap. I think I paid $40 for my 302/4.5 Enlarging Raptar. I have learned to love Packard shutters for portraits, too, and use them in preference to clockwork shutters, when I can.

  10. #10
    jp's Avatar
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    Re: Lens for 5x7 & WP Portraits - 12" Ilex, 300mm f/5.6 Fuji or 300mm f/5.6 Xenar?

    Tessars (and heliars) are a real solid choice. I've got a fujinar tessar for 4x5 and I love it. Commercial Ektar would probably be a top choice for indoor use tessar for your size.

    Many average triplets excel for portraits as well. I've got a Trioplan barrel lens which is real nice for 4x5; not sure what options are for 5x7 and in shutter, but many triplets are available that are "smooth not soft". I think the fuji soft focus lenses are triplets and I don't actually consider them soft enough. If you removed the strainer, and stopped it down two stops I bet it'd be a real smooth lens.

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