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Thread: Good, sharp, cheapish portrait lens, for 4x5 crown graphic

  1. #1

    Question Good, sharp, cheapish portrait lens, for 4x5 crown graphic

    So, I've got my crown graphic, and find the lens is not as nice I'd like. I'd really like to take advantage of the format, and do pictures of people.

    I particularly like taking black and white photographs of the elderly. (who knows why?) Anyway, I know that there is an inverse relationship between money and quality in a lens, but I'm a university student.....in a wheelchair.....so, what might be considered affordable for a person who's fully employed is unattainable for me.

    However, I'm a man of simple needs, and budget well, so I think if I stretched it, and I thought a lens would definitely last me for several years, I could see saving 400 or 500 dollars over a period of 6 months or so.

    Still, I'd really rather keep it under $250, if that's a possibility. I'm also into target shooting and rifles and ammo add up.

    Any suggestions?

  2. #2

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    Re: Good, sharp, cheapish portrait lens, for 4x5 crown graphic

    Cheap and sharp? My vote would go to the Kodak Ektar 203mm.

    Wayne

  3. #3

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    Re: Good, sharp, cheapish portrait lens, for 4x5 crown graphic

    Ektar 203mm 7.7?

    Edit: Wayne beat me to the punch there

  4. #4
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    Re: Good, sharp, cheapish portrait lens, for 4x5 crown graphic

    HI, Bobby.

    I am guessing that you have discovered the delight of ebay. If not, that may be your best source for savings on large format lenses.

    You don't mention whether you are after extreme sharpness or a softer look, but since I enjoy using both, I'll dare to offer a couple of suggestions.

    First of all, if you are doing fairly close images such as head shots, you will likely want a longer lens as the normal range (135mm to 180mm) may give you a bit of distortion in the face.

    One of my favorite lenses is a Calumet or Ilex 215mm convertible...meaning it becomes about a 360mm when you use only the rear element. As a Calumet, the lens is known as a Caltar. In it's Ilex version, it is the Acuton. (Calumet also offers more than one 210mm lens, but they are not convertibles. Be sure you search for the 215mm.)

    Either is mounted in an Ilex Acme #3 shutter that may or may not be totally accurate. If the shutter needs work, I recommend Carol Miller at Flutot'sCameraRepair.com. Unless something has to be fabricated, she usually charges only $50 for a complete going over that leaves the shutter well within speed tolerances.

    The one thing to remember about a convertible lens is that you have two fstop scales. They are color coded and one is for the basic 215mm length and they other for the longer length. That is because there is a difference in light transmission to the film.

    I have seen several of these go through ebay and they usually go for about $200 to $220. Be sure you ask what kind of shape the glass is in. You don't want separations, bad scratches or fungus. Slight scratches or cleaning marks should have almost no effect.

    There are several older soft focus lenses out there as well.

    I am not as familiar with that general type of lens, but I am well acquainted with one, the 254mm (10 inch) Wollensak Veritar. I own one and use it to emulate the beautiful soft portrait styles of some of the great Hollywood artists of the thirties and forties. It yields lovely highlights and nice shadow detail as well...depending on how you use your lighting.

    Since I've owned this one for thirty years, I haven't bothered to look at finding one on ebay, much less at prices.

    As to the other soft focus lenses, there are many real lens experts on this forum that can tell you much more about any of those than I can.

    You might also look at Cameraeccentric.com and look at the info pages about lenses. This site shows the catalog covers for many lenses and if you click on that cover, it will open to complete info...page by page...that was published for the lens.

    Good luck.

    Tim
    "One of the greatest necessities in America is to discover creative solitude." Carl Sandburg

  5. #5

    Re: Good, sharp, cheapish portrait lens, for 4x5 crown graphic

    Quote Originally Posted by lenser View Post
    HI, Bobby.

    You don't mention whether you are after extreme sharpness or a softer look,
    Tim
    Thanks Tim, BTW, I'm looking for a lens so sharp that I'll need a box of bandaid's to make enlargements. Sharpness is the reason I switched formats.

  6. #6

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    Re: Good, sharp, cheapish portrait lens, for 4x5 crown graphic

    For a Crown Graphic, you probably can't fully use a lens longer than about 210mm, unless it is a telephoto design. Any of the 210mm range plasmats, Symmar-S, Sironar, Nikkor, etc., will be very sharp. If you want to go longer, and still do relatively close-up photos, like head shots, then you will need to get a telephoto design lens, which will focus with less bellows extension. All of these choices can be very sharp.

  7. #7

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    Re: Good, sharp, cheapish portrait lens, for 4x5 crown graphic

    FYI..a "portrait" lens, traditionally has not been a "tack" sharp lens, as most people do not like to see themselves in the stark reality of all their flaws. So, if you want a "tack" sharp lens, then you really do not want a "portrait" lens, but rather a long-focal-length lens for taking close-ups.

  8. #8
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    Re: Good, sharp, cheapish portrait lens, for 4x5 crown graphic

    You're welcome, Bobby.

    You are getting some great feedback from some really good people. Tack sharp is pretty much what I get with my 215mm Caltar at both focal lengths, but My 210mm Caltar II is a bit crisper....perhaps it's the contrast in a newer lens with better coatings.

    The comment about the Graphic not having a very long bellows is true, but who says you are staying with that camera. The longer lenses will work well on a field or monorail that you might buy in the near future. Of the two, a field camera like the Wisner, Zone VI, Toyo and several others is about as portable as your Crown Graphic and considerably more versatile...when you are ready to move to that genre.

    Gene's comment about a "portrait" lens is dead on. Most of the portraits I've seen with tack sharp lenses are pretty brutal. Facial lines like canyons, liver spots, sagging eyelids and pits for pores don't do a lot for me although for others, this might be the "honesty" they want.

    If you don't want to invest in a soft focus lens (which will sharpen to a degree when stopped down), you can experiment with soft focus filters or even a couple of layers of nylon from a pantyhose or from the fabric store... some black nylon netting.

    I've shot many a wedding photo with one, two, or three layers of the netting with a few holes (about 1/4 inch) burned through to allow the effect of sharp within soft impressions. One layer is just a bit off the sharpness, two is softer and three (for close-ups only) really takes the edge off imperfections. As I recall, I opened up about 1/2 stop for the three layer rig.

    Enjoy the journey.

    Tim www.Cameraworksassociates.net
    "One of the greatest necessities in America is to discover creative solitude." Carl Sandburg

  9. #9
    lenser's Avatar
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    Re: Good, sharp, cheapish portrait lens, for 4x5 crown graphic

    Addendum: No one has mentioned that changing the lens on either a Crown or Speed Graphic to a new focal length will remove your ability to focus with the range finder. Because that feature operates from a small cam that is matched to the focal length of the lens, it will no longer focus the range finder image at the same plane as the lens image on the film plane.

    You will need to focus directly on the ground glass with a good loupe, just like with the monorail or field cameras.

    It might be possible to have a cam made to match the new lens. Some one like SK Grimes might be able to make that happen for you.

    Tim
    "One of the greatest necessities in America is to discover creative solitude." Carl Sandburg

  10. #10

    Re: Good, sharp, cheapish portrait lens, for 4x5 crown graphic

    Quote Originally Posted by lenser View Post
    Addendum: No one has mentioned that changing the lens on either a Crown or Speed Graphic to a new focal length will remove your ability to focus with the range finder. Tim
    Yes, sadly. Although I've not gotten used to that luxury yet, so I might not miss it. My rangefinder is in pieces in a plastic baggie, the previous owner left it in. The 50/50 transmittance mirror is a wreck. I'll have to get on that eventually. Perhaps after I put in a new ground glass.


    I know that others don't like to see themselves in sharp focus, but that's the benefit of being an amateur I guess. Since it's on my dime, I try to get the results I want and the subject can go jump in a lake if he/she doesn't like my work.

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