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Thread: Portrait lens focal length for 4x5: distortion, FOV and focusing distance

  1. #1
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    Portrait lens focal length for 4x5: distortion, FOV and focusing distance

    I'm looking for a portrait lens for a 4x5 Gowlandflex TLR I'm planning to buy, and I've narrowed the focal length of the lens between 240mm and 300mm. I'm new to LF (shoot MF film with a TLR and crop sensor digital 35mm) so the idiosyncracies of LF are mostly new to me. I'd be shooting mainly full-length in a spacious studio, but would also like versatility to do tight facials.

    I've been looking at quite a few 4x5 photos online, and I've found the full-face shots with 240mm show too much distortion to my tastes. Head and shoulders are marginal, but full-length is good. It looks like the relatively long minimum focusing distance would make tight facials with the 300mm impossible, though. I assume this is due to the bellows length of the Gowlandflex?

    According to Mr Gowland's website a 240mm lens would focus at 1m. FOV calculator shows roughly 38cm x 30cm FOV at that distance - pretty much perfect for a facial. While there's no minimum focusing distance listed for a 300mm lens, it looks like it's well beyond 1.5m - and that would mean 48cm x 38cm, a head and shoulders shot.

    So now I'm torn between two choices: the appealing perspective of the 300mm without the ability to shoot uncropped facials, or the versatility of the 240mm with (admittedly minor) distortion.

    Do I have other options, or is there something I'm missing as an LF newbie? I would also appreciate some more examples of facials shot with a 4x5 and a 240/250mm lens - googling "240mm 4x5" shows mainly pictures of such lenses.

    edit: found some 240mm shots on the portrait topics, and they confirm that the focal length shows a bit too much distortion for my taste.

  2. #2

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    Re: Portrait lens focal length for 4x5: distortion, FOV and focusing distance

    Take a step backward and crop. You'll have better results with focusing accuracy too.

  3. #3

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    Re: Portrait lens focal length for 4x5: distortion, FOV and focusing distance

    Using the lens formula I get a minimum focus distance with a 300mm on the Gowland of 6 meters.

    One possible solution is two top-hat boards; you would need about 11 cm of extension to get it to focus at 1m.

  4. #4
    neophyte
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    Re: Portrait lens focal length for 4x5: distortion, FOV and focusing distance

    Well there is always 270 mm as a compromise focal length....

  5. #5
    Downstairs
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    Re: Portrait lens focal length for 4x5: distortion, FOV and focusing distance

    Quote Originally Posted by feppe View Post
    ...found some 240mm shots on the portrait topics, and they confirm that the focal length shows a bit too much distortion for my taste...
    For my taste, you need distortion, otherwise you are no better than a photocopier. Anything longer than a 180 squashes a face flat as a pancake and places the camera so remote from the subject that you have no handle on interpretation.

  6. #6

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    Re: Portrait lens focal length for 4x5: distortion, FOV and focusing distance

    I'll second Mr. Broadbrent's view, I use a 135 on 4x5 most of the time myself. Where you stand plays a bigger role in creating unpleasant distortion imho.

    But you probably want that short depth-of-field floating head that seems so popular these days, everyone is doing it (!) But the thought of hand-holding the Gowlandflex with a pair of racked out 300mm lenses seems ridiculous and if you end up tripod mounting the thing, you defeat one of the main reasons for using such a contraption.

    You could get a pair of matching telephoto lenses though. They have wide apertures and since you won't use movements there won't be any wierdness... perhaps twin 360mm Schneider Tele-Artons or Tele-Xenars? Then the bellows would ony be racked out 10-12 inches (I think, please double check). Note they are usually vintage lenses so you'll need to shop around and maybe get them cleaned and adjusted.

    If this is your first 4x5 you might want to get a cheap "basic" 4x5 to learn on, or at least put the beast on a tripod and shoot some still-life. Adding the Gowlandflex to the mix is hard enough even once you are an experienced large format shooter.

  7. #7
    joseph
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    Re: Portrait lens focal length for 4x5: distortion, FOV and focusing distance

    If your lens is racked out to 300mm, at whatever distance,
    then it's acting like a 300mm lens-
    that is, if you're used to comparing focal lengths between formats.

    A small format shot, tight on a head, might add a few mm to the focal length,
    on a larger format, it'll add a considerable percentage to your nominal focal length.

    Frank is right, everyone is doing it, if they're not doing something else-
    but I suppose that's the problem with instant mass communication,
    as soon as something is seen, it's replicated immediately...

    Regarding the floating heads, well, maybe they all float to some degree-
    but at the scale that pictures are presented here,
    it might be difficult to see, unless they're helped by big apertures and uncorrected coma...

    Tight head shots are difficult on the larger formats-
    they're essentially macros, and depth of field is extremely limited-
    and there might be a limited number of sitters who will suit that interpretation anyway-

    As Christopher mentioned ages ago, and as Frank demonstrates with every picture, using a wider lens and getting closer (but not too close)
    allows the subject's attitude to show, and can make for more interesting compositions...

    In my limited experience, I find 210mm long enough for 4x5, 300mm for 8x10-
    and lately I've been using a little 180mm Petzval on 4x5, that doesn't nearly cover the format-

    I've still got a few heads I need to see float...

  8. #8
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    Re: Portrait lens focal length for 4x5: distortion, FOV and focusing distance

    Some of us like longer lenses for everything, especially portraits.


    Sinar P, 250mm Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar
    4x5 TMY, Pyrocat HD

  9. #9
    multi format
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    Re: Portrait lens focal length for 4x5: distortion, FOV and focusing distance

    don't forget with the tlr you will have
    a lower angle of view. unless you are standing on
    something that makes you really tall, or you are really tall yourself
    your pov will reflect this low-angle portrait.

  10. #10
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    Re: Portrait lens focal length for 4x5: distortion, FOV and focusing distance

    Thanks for all the input! The massive minimum focusing distance calculated by Mr Marshall makes the lens all but unusable for my needs.

    I think I'll be able to live with the distortion from a 240/250mm.

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