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Thread: Favored Focal Lengths

  1. #1

    Favored Focal Lengths

    Well, I've got the stuff I need for developing 4x5, I've got enough things for sale on ebay to raise a little money...there's a real danger of my doing something large format in the near future.
    Here's the thing I'm wondering at the moment.
    I know I'm going to want wide angle...something maybe 65 or 75mm. I shoot a lot of wide landscapes and am looking forward to shooting them large.
    Here is the sort of thing I do in wide (21mm on 35mm film).


    At times though, I like to shoot a more compressed landscape and that's something that's got me a bit concerned. This shot was with an 85mm lens on a Canon crop dslr. That's about 135mm in 35mm terms and what...about 500mm on 4x5?
    Is this something I just have to learn to live without?



    I'm not a big fan of "normal" focal lengths, prefering to go wide or go long. Since long doesn't seem to be a practical goal with large format, I wonder if I shouldn't just plan my kit around wide and be done with it.

  2. #2
    Resident Heretic Bruce Watson's Avatar
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    Re: Favored Focal Lengths

    I wasn't a big fan of "normal" lenses either when I was shooting 35mm film cameras. I owned just two lenses, a 35mm and a 105mm. Did a lot of composing with my feet with my camera up to my eye.

    LF isn't like that. You can't in general compose with your feet. What I learned to do (and what most all LFers learn to do) is to walk the scene looking at it with my eyes, not my camera. Once I find the spot that gives me the perspective I want, I set up my tripod, then the camera. Then I give the scene a good close look and decide what lens I'm going to need.

    And about 1/3 of the time, that turns out to be a normal lens. A 150mm in my case, for 5x4. I resisted getting a normal lens for several years. I was wrong, and it cost me a lot of missed opportunities.

    Thing is, moving from 35mm to LF is about like moving from trumpet to saxophone. What you know about music (how to read a chart, basic rhythm and harmony, all that) translates pretty well. The instrument specific stuff doesn't really translate at all.

    LF is a different instrument compared to smaller formats. Once you climb the learning curves you'll see it. And the view is just excellent from up there! But if you're like me, you'll find that a "normal" lens is a whole lot more useful in LF than it is in smaller formats.

    My advice is to not make the mistakes I did. Start with a normal lens. It's much easier to learn focus and movements with a normal lens. Once you've gained some experience you'll start seeing scenes that you like but that you can't capture with the equipment you have. If this happens enough you'll know to start looking for another lens, and you'll have enough experience with using a view camera that you'll have an idea what's important in a lens to you, and that'll help a lot in finding the right lens for what you want.

    Bruce Watson

  3. #3

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    Re: Favored Focal Lengths

    I've been doing large format photography for about a year and can recommend dropping any preconceived notions about focal lengths in LF--or anything else for that matter. I recommend a 150mm or 135mm lens to start with and to figure out where you want to go. Expect to buy and sell some stuff in the process. I hated a "normal" lens in 35mm, but as Bruce mentioned, it's another animal in LF.

  4. #4
    Wayne venchka's Avatar
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    Re: Favored Focal Lengths

    I come from a 35mm background too. Still do, for that matter. And a little 6x7 for good measure. Here's what happened to me. With little or no planning. Stuff just happened.

    I was at a person's house buying a lightmeter. when I asked if he had anything else he said, "What about a Speed Graphic?" A few minutes later I had a decent Speed Graphic and a Kodak Ektar 127mm lens and a box of "stuff" for $100.

    At home I discovered a big brass lens in the box of stuff. A Collinear No. 4 7 7/8" f/5.4 mounted on a Graphic board. When the folks here told me about the lens I was excited. A 200mm lens that converts to about 300mm. Way cool! And it makes nice photos too.

    Later I did a bit of trading with a friend in Houston and came up with a 105mm Tominon macro lens in a Copal #1 shutter from an old Polaroid copy camera. OK, it's not the greatest wide angle lens ever. But it's small, light, not too slow and cheap! The same friend also gave me the lens cells of a Bausch & Lomb Rapid Rectilinear that screw right into the Kodak shutter from the 127mm Ektar. The R.R. also converts from about 150mm to about 250mm, or 6" to 10".

    So, now I have 4 lenses (2 of which are convertable), 3 shutters (focal plane in the Speed Graphic) and I reckon I'm all set.

    Last summer I met a Zone VI field camera and a Nikkor 180mm lens that made me take them home. The kit came with 4 lens boards. I was able to mount my other leaf shutters on Zone VI boards. I'm really happy now.

    The current crop is: 105mm, 127mm, 150 (250), 180, 200 (300). I have to use the 200mm on the Speed Graphic and the 180mm only lives on the Zone VI. It's all good and the price for all of those wasn't too bad at all!

    Some day, if I have some spare cash, I would like to have a nice wide lens and a nice 240mm to 300mm for the field camera. In the meantime, I'm having fun.

    EDIT to ADD: The 127mm Ektar is a decent lens, generally cheap in a working shutter, small and makes decent, kinda wide photos. The image circle isn't the largest, actually kinda small, but for landscapes it's fine. You could spend more and do worse.

    Good luck!
    Wayne
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  5. #5
    Wayne venchka's Avatar
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    Re: Favored Focal Lengths

    In the beginning, spend money on film. Any lens will get you jump started. Someday you'll know which lens to get next. After you have exposing, developing, etc. down cold.
    Wayne
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  6. #6
    Vaughn's Avatar
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    Re: Favored Focal Lengths

    I will echo the suggestions of starting with a "normal" lens...my preference was a 150mm, but 135mm will do (but careful not to run out of movement) or an 180mm will do you fine.

    You'll have to get use to the blocky rectangle of the 4x5. Your posted 35mm images certainly take full advantage of the longer proportioned rectangle of 35mm! But it looks like moving to 4x5 will be a good fit with your present imagery!

    Vaughn

  7. #7
    Ron Miller
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    Re: Favored Focal Lengths

    As a newbie (less then a year) I'll also 2nd or 3rd the normal lens on 4x5. I use one a little on the 645 but quite often on LF - maybe 30-40% of the time. Normal for me is a 125mm (a little wide for normal). The rest of the time I split between a 210, 14", and 90mm. Although interestingly enough, my 90mm does not get as much use in LF as it does in MF or digital.

  8. #8
    Downstairs
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    Re: Favored Focal Lengths

    dazedgonebye,
    I do admire your cactus. It's got depth.

  9. #9
    Wayne venchka's Avatar
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    Re: Favored Focal Lengths

    Aye! I'm trying to picture the cactus photo in pt/pd from a really big negative.
    Wayne
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  10. #10

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    Re: Favored Focal Lengths

    It's almost uncanny how so many of us have had similar experiences. I used to use my 20mm lens a lot when shooting 35mm, and initially bought 58 and 80mm lenses for 4x5 thinking that I'd use the 58 most of the time. Instead, I found the 80 to be plenty wide, and used the 58 so seldom that I ultimately sold it. The aspect ratios of 35mm and 4x5 are so different that lens focal lengths just don't translate well from one format to the other. You just have to try things out yourself, and adjust your lens lineup as required as you gain experience.

    BTW, I use my normal lenses more than any other LF focal length these days. I just like the realistic perspective that these lenses provide. I rarely used normal focal lengths when I shot 35mm landscape photography. Go figure.

    As for long lens photography in 4x5, it's definitely possible, but there are limitations (and opportunities). LF depth of field is extremely limited versus 35mm, so LF long lens landscape work tends to be of fairly distant subjects or certain near-to-far compositions where front tilt can be used. That being said, I fairly routinely use a 600mm lens with my 4x5 (recently I've purchased a convertible Arca setup where I can use my 8x10 lenses on a 4x5-sized camera, enabling use of a 1200mm lens if desired!), and for those subjects where it works, it works extremely well. You do have to learn a variety of tricks to ensure sharp long lens photos, though; there are a variety of threads here on the LF forum discussing this topic.

    Very nice cactus photo, by the way!

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