Large format lenses: specific wide-angle and normal lenses

Compiled by Q.-Tuan Luong for the Large Format Page

Overview: Dagors, Angulons, Super Angulons

By John Sparks

What is a Goerz lens?

Goerz is the name of a now defunct lens company who had a reputation for making very good lenses at the time. Goerz was bought by Zeiss in the 1920's or 30's if I remember correctly. There was also an American Goerz that remained independent until it was bought by Schneider in the 60's or 70's.

What is a Dagor?

The Dagor was one lens made by Goerz. By today's standards it would be considered a normal wide field lens not a true wide angle. It's still a pretty sharp lens, but not really in the same class as a modern lens. You will not have tons of coverage with a 90mm Dagor on 4x5 (I think it covers 80 to 85 degrees or so at f/45). Zeiss made a wide angle f/9 Dagor (most Dagors are f/6.8) that covers 100 degrees at f/32 and there is an American Goerz Wideangle Dagor that covers 90 degrees at f/45. Most Dagors are uncoated and will have less contrast than a modern lens.

What is an Angulon?

This is a very similar design to the Dagor, but made by Schneider as a wide angle lens. It has a little more coverage than the Dagor (100 degrees at f/45

This is an older lens design. It's not a bad lens by today's standards, but it has much less coverage than a modern lens like the Super Angulon. It will be slightly less sharp and contrasty compared to a modern lens and must be stopped down to at least f/22 for use and gets it's maximum coverage at f/45 (aprox 100 degrees). The Super Angulons and equivalents from Nikon and Rodenstock are usable wide open (not that view camera lenses are typically used that way), develop maximum coverage at f/16 or f/22 and cover over 100 degrees at these aperatures (the Angulon probably only covers about 80 degrees at f/22). The Angulon will also have more light falloff toward the edges than the modern lenses. For architecture with its large coverage requirements and work where large aperatures and absolute maximum sharpness are necessary the Angulon is probably not appropriate, but for many other uses it will work fine within the coverage and aperature limitations. It might be particularly appropriate for field work since it is much smaller and lighter than the modern wide angles.

What is a Super Angulon?

This is the current modern wide angle lens made by Schneider. It has been made for quite a while so there are slight variations. Now it's made as an f/8 and a really new f/5.6XL. There are slightly older f/5.6 versions and even older f/6.8 version I think. Other similar modern wide angle lenses are Nikkor SW (f/4.5 and f/8), Fuji (don't know the letters, but I think the only 90mm they make are wide angles), Rodenstock Grandagon (f/4.5 and f/6.8). The faster lenses (f/4.5 and f/5.6) are really big, expensive and not best suited for field work (because of their size and weight), they do cover a little more and are easier to focus and are especially liked by architectual photographers who need all the coverage they can get. I think the Schneider was the first of these modern designs so you can probably find used Super Angulons easier and cheaper than the others, but all are pretty similar. The Super Angulons in the chrome barrels are earlier versions that cost much less (because they are so obviously older), but are pretty much the same lens as the new black versions so represent especially good deals.

further comments on Angulons vs Super Angulons

An Angulon at f/22 should cover about 83 degrees (5x7 with no movements), at f32, it's probably about 90 degrees (5x7 with some movements) and 100 degrees at f/45 (285mm, not quite 8x10). It might cover 8x10 at f/64 but I think max coverage is reached by f/45. At f/45, I doubt you could tell it apart from a Super Angulon due to diffraction, the coverage only slightly less. The SA will be sharper at f/22 where it covers a whole lot more (it reaches max coverage at f/22 instead of f/45 on the Angulon). The 120 Angulon might cover 4x5 at f/16, but it probably should be used at f/22 for best results on 4x5.For a 90mm Angulon to cover 5x7, it would have to be stopped down to f/45. A 90mm Angulon will just barely cover 4x5 with no movements at f/22 and should be used at f/32 for best results on 4x5.

The Schneider rep on Compuserve once wrote that the Angulon could no longer be made because the glasses needed are no longer available. That's not to say that a similar sized lens with the same coverage could not be made with a different formulation and ne The Schneider rep said the Super Symmar was their modern answer to the Angulon. The coverage at f/22 is about the same as is it's closeup performance, but the Super Symmar is a whole lot bigger than an Angulon and probably has much smaller coverage than an Angulon at f/32 or f/45.

Modern wide angles at 120mm are big, but not so big they can't be carried. The 210mm Angulon is where I see the real loss. It's plenty sharp enough for 8x10 and the 210 Super Angulon is a real monster! The 120mm and 210mm Angulons were produced for a while after the Super Angulon was introduced. I think that was before the current wide spread interest in using large format cameras in the field. I think there would be a lot more of a market for smaller lenses for field work these days than when the Angulon was discontinued! Fuji had a lot of good ideas too where many of their lenses reduced maximum aperature slightly to keep them in smaller, lighter shutters. I think at least some of their lenses would be a lot more popular today than when they pulled out of the US market. Particularly the 250mm AS in a #0 shutter, 250mm W, 360mm AS, 450mm CS lenses all in #1 shutters unlike any competative lenses and the 600mm CS lenses with no modern equivalent all particularly useful for 8x10 field use (though there probably aren't enough 8x10 field camera users to support a whole distribution network).

the longer wide ektars and angulons

The 135mm/6.3 (229mm circle) is a nice choice for 4x5. The 190mm/6.3 (318mm circle) is really a moderate wide angle for larger formats lens and (it can even be used with 8x10 with no movements). I think there are better choices for 4x5 in this focal length.

Again Angulons are moderate wide angles. The 120mm/6.8 (211mm circle) is nice on 4x5, the 210/6.8 (362mm circle) is nice on 8x10. There are much better choices in 210mm lenses for 4x5.

In general, there is a trade off between the angle of coverage and the sharpness of the lens. Wide angle designs are not the sharpest lenses, but they are necessary for wide lenses to get enough coverage. Wide angles are the case where modern lenses are really the best choice, there are few older lenses 90mm or wider than can be used with any movements on 4x5 and those few with really wide coverage are rather soft.

Better choices in older lenses in the 180mm to 210mm range are regular Ektars (the 203mm f/7.7 is often picked as a particularly good inexpensive lens in this range, it covers 5x7 so allows for good movements), Commercial Ektars, Schneider Symmars, Tessars, Dagors and series VI Protars. More modern lenses in this range can often be found in this range and will produce a good bit more contrast and somewhat higher resolution. Lenses like Caltar's (not the older Ilex-Caltars), older chrome Symmar-S, and older Sironar's are modern lenses with modern coatings but often sell for moderate prices because they are not the current offerings (and may be less expensive than older "cult" lenses like the Dagor and Protar especially the later coated versions like the Gold ring Dagors which seem way overpriced). The latest Caltar II-N lenses are identical to Rodenstock Apo-Sironar-N lenses and quite good but sell at reduced prices used, I bought a used 150mm Caltar II-N for $125 and it's the sharpest lens I own. The Caltar II-S are Symmar-S lenses and also good.

More on the Angulon

NdE: There seems to have a large variation in quality among the Angulons. If you buy one, make sure you can test it.

A 90mm or 120mm Angulon is not anywhere near the equivalent of a 90mm or 120 Super Angulon. The Angulon or regular Angulon as some people call them have excellant coverage. They throw a very large circle without vignetting but light fall of is extreme. I have used both the 90 & 120mm regular angulons and even on the 120mm with movements I saw light fall off of over 3/4 of a stop. The edge sharpness falls off also. If you don't use movements or if your use of movements are minimal either the 90 or 120 Angulon is a good cheap alternative to the more expensive Super Angulons. But if you do use movements, and want the sharpest image you can get to the edges of the frame I'd suggest buying a Super Angulon or Nikons version (SW) of the Super Angulon. Mark

I don't know anything about the 121 Super Angulon, but I have a 120 Angulon, and frankly, it sucks. I've never seen it produce a truly sharp image, even stopped all the way down or anywhere in between. I don't like it very much. Eric Volpe

I have the 90m f:6.8 Angulon, a 1958 lens, in fact, in as-new condition. It is sharp and contrasty from f:8 upwards, and is exceptionally small. I would suspect that the 12o Angulon (NOT Super), which is simply a scaled up version of the90, using identical glass and figuring, except the scaled-up dimensions, would perform as well as my 90, which is to say very well, indeed. The 90 is amazingly flare-free by anybody's standard. I have made numerous images with the disk of the sun in them, yet having no washed-out spots or muddy shadows. I have not bought a Super because they are so big and bulky, and by my standards, I can make gorgeous 16x20's. so who cares if I'm not up to date? Edward M. Lukacs, LRPS

My Angulon is a very old one. I suspect the problem is that Schneider's quality control wasn't very good in the early thirties. Since the lens is a variation on the Dagor design it ought to be capable of excellent performance and from what I hear later ones live up to this. Schneider seems to changed radically after WW-2. My impression is that before that they were an economy lens maker with a reputation well below makers like Zeiss, Voigtlander, Rodenstock, etc. The Xenotar for the Rollei camera seems to have been the turn-around. I wonder if anyone has actual knowledge of the company and can confirm or refute this. Richard Knoppow

I couldn't agree more that some old large format lenses have marvelous qualities as compared with modern offerings. All you have to do is see the fairly substantial prices that places like Lens & Repro regularly get for 50+ year old optics to know that they are valuable, and are often the best choice in a situation. The Angulons, in 4 x 5 and in 8 x 10, [in 8 x 10, eg., the 165mm and the 210mm] are tiny, flat lenses, which take modest-sized filters, often will close into a field camera without removing from the camera, and weigh I'd guess one-tenth what the enormous, modern Super-Angulons do. It's really hard to make a case for the new very pricey S-A's and Grandagons and Super-Symmars unless one is doing extremely demanding architectural work or product work. For those of us who do landscapes, especially where weight and size are factors, the older lenses are marvelous. And as the prices for old top quality (eg Artars) long focal length lenses indicate, they are extremely attractive for portrait work. Alan Heldman

Older wide-angle lenses

Older wide angle lenses were not particularly good. There was tremendous advancement in thiese lenses following WW2. The Schneider Super Angulon and Rodenstock Grandagon were among the first really good WA's on the market. What you have is the last of the Dagors, probably made in the 1960's with modern glass and redesign. Its a noticably better lens than older versions so shouldn't be used as a criterion to judge pre-war lenses of any type. Unfortunately, there do not seem to be any real bargains in WA's. Older f/8 Super Angulons are available at reasonable prices and perform well for what they cost. There wasn't much choice pre- about 1950. In the pre-war era most photographers used B&L or Zeiss WA Protars (f/18!) or Wide Angle Dagors or Angulons. None of these lenses will touch a modern WA.

The Metrogon is an arial photography lens made by Bausch & Lomb. The stated angle is 90deg. at small stops, so a 155 will just about cover an 8x10. These lenses have great fall off of illumination and were intended to be used with a center-filter. All of the center-filters I've seen for this lens were combined with a yellow filter. They are critical about element spacing so some care is reqired in remounting in a shutter. The Wollensak is an old design and the ones I've seen varied quite a lot in quality of manufacture. One had enough bubbles in one of the elements to affect the performance.

The 159 Wollensak will give you a decent picture on 8x10 if you stop it down. Just barely covers the format. And watch out for the accuracy of the older shutters. Robert Gurfinkel

There are some other extreme wide-angle lenses out there that offer decent performance, stunning coverage, and small size and weight. I almost bought a 3" Goerz Rectagon once; this lens was designed as an aerial reconaissance lens for use with 5" rollfilm Metrogons and a few other lenses meant for aerial recon use were made in more focal lengths than the Rectagons I've played with; you might see if you can find one that suits your purposes. The 3" Rectagon was smaller than the 90/8 Angulon I had in my bagat the time, a far cry from the size of the 65/8 and 75/8 Super Angulons I've since owned, which have been the largest lenses in my bag by far. As a medium wide-angle, I find my 100mm WF Ektar very good; sharper than the 90/8 Angulon was, and somewhat more coverage, though it pays to take a loupe to the corners as there's an outer anastigmatic point well within the circle of illumination, which can be misleading. Thor Lancelot Simon

American Press lenses

By Timothy Takahashi

>can anyone give me some recommendations for inexpensive (around
>$200 street) used lenses for 4x5 cameras. Specifically, I'm using
>a Crown Graphic, so I don't need to allow for a lot of movements.

The 8" 203mm f/7.7 Kodak Ektar is a highly regarded optic.
It is of the 4-element symmetrical air-spaced design, is sharpest
at f/7.7 and retains its corrections closeup.
The 203 will cover 5x7. Consequently, it may be used with
considerable movements.

I think the closeup performance and movement potential will
be more than sufficient given the limited bellows draw of
a crown graphic.

I've seen 'em as inexpensive as $69 and as pricey as $275.
They were made over many years.

The other Ektars 127mm and 152mm f/4.7 and f/4.5 are tessar
type lenses. Quite sharp, 152mm can be used with minimal motions
127mm is designed for 3.25x4.25 and should not be used with
any motions. They are designed for use from 4 feet to

>I recently acquired an inexpensive 4x5 press camera (limited
>movements). The camera was supplied with an optar 135mm f4.7 lens
>in graphex shutter. After an experiment I was quite dissapointed with
>the performance of the lens 

   The 135mm Optar is a fine lens. My impression is that your camera
is out of alignment. If the lensboard is not parallel to the film
plane, it follows that the corners will not be focused at the same
distance as the center. If you have a Graphic, the lens board is
alignable (re-alignable, mis-aligned). I'm not sure if a B+J or
Busch is adjustable for alignment (my 2x3 Busch *isn't*). 

   I have good things to say about American press lenses. The stuff
is quite good within limitations (mostly image circle size problems).
I particularly enjoy the simplicity of domestic shutters, as others
have heard privately, I am no fan of Compur Rapid shutters. As far
as sharpness is concerned, my Ektars are better than my Schneider
Angulon (particularly at the corners!).

   In any case here is a rough outline of image circle sizes (150mm is
needed to cover 4x5").

127mm Ektar/Tessar/Xenar/     ~160mm
135mm Optar/Tessar/Xenar/     ~160mm
150mm Ektar/Tessar/Xenar/     ~180mm
210mm Tessar/Xenar/           ~250mm
135mm Symmar                        ~190mm
150mm Symmar                        ~210mm
90mm  Angulon                       ~152mm
90mm  Super Angulon                 ~215mm

Less expensive lenses for 4x5" include :

127mm Kodak Ektar f/4.7
127mm Wollensak Raptar f/4.5
135mm Graflex Optar/Wollensak Raptar f/4.5
135mm Schneider Kreuznach Xenar f/4.5
152mm Kodak Ektar f/4.5
162mm Graflex Optar/Wollensak Raptar f/4.5
190mm Graflex Optar/Wollensak Raptar f/4.5
203mm Kodak Ektar f/7.7

The 203mm is a 4-element/4-group Symmetrical design (good for closeups),
the others are nominally "Tessar" types. Curvature of field seems to
be the predominant lens abberation within the nominal image circle
(corners improve with stopping down).

Comparisons between modern normal lenses

By Barry Sherman

The APO-Symmar is the current Schneider offering, the Symmar-S is the preveious offering and the Symmar predates the Symmar-S. Just something to consider.

I've compared my Fuji 210 f5.6 with the Rodenstock Sironar 210 f5.6 and with the most recent Rodenstock APO-Sironar-N 210 f5.6. I mention this because I would expect that the these Rodenstock lenses would be roughly comparable to the Schneider offerings. I could detect no difference in sharpness between the Fuji and the two Rodenstocks at enlargement sizes of ~24x30. I was considering replacing my Fuji with a "latest model" German lens but decided not to after doing these tests.

On the other hand, my Schneider APO-Symmar 135mm is definitely and noticibly sharper than the Fuji 210mm (the reason that I was considering replacing the Fuji). So it might be that a Schneider APO-Symar 210mm would be sharper. I didn't compare one with my Fuji because I can't afford the more expensive Schneider APO-Symmar 210mm.


Another contender might be the Caltar II-N 210/5.6 - this is reputed to be Rodenstock glass assembled for Calumet. This is what Calumet told me when I talked with them a few weeks ago. They said that "Every second lens that comes down the Rodenstock assembly line is stamped 'Caltar II-N' and every third is stamped 'Sinaron'". We were talking about the "Symmetrical" versions, not the "Compact" versions. The sales person swore up and down that a Calter II-N 210mm f5.6 is identically equal to a Rodenstock APO-Sironar-N 210mm f5.6. This is what I bought, compared to my Fuji, determined to be no sharper than my Fuji and to have slightly less contrast and returned.

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