View Full Version : Wide Angle starter lens for landscape 75? 90? 105? 125? 135?

Ag Jones
19-Jul-2004, 13:00
Large Fromat wanna-be. Looking for a first lens for color landscape usage with chromes. In medium format and small format I prefer wides with about 3/4 of my shots done that way. Would like to start with a wider lens in 4x5 too rather than a normal 150. Reviewing the work of Dykinga and Meunch, I see a lot of pics done with a 75mm and I really like the look that gives. However after having read a lot of posts here, I am concerned about the difficulty of focusing a wide angle. I have looked through a 90 f/8 and found it really hard to see into the corners; and that was in the middle of the day with a dark cloth, lens open to f/8 and a fresnel. Cannot imagine how hard that would be 15 minutes before sunrise. Makes me want to avoid f/8 lenses alltogether in favor of faster glass.

Now I wonder if a 75mm like the f/4.5 Nikon would be harder to focus than a 90 f/8?

Is 75 too wide for a first lens?

I see the most commonly suggested starter lens is a 150 or 210, however, I would really rather have something wider. What about something in the 105-135 range? I have seen a few comments on the 135s and then the Schnieder 110 XL, but next to nothing on a 105 or 125. The 110 looks real nice, but I am not sure if I want to put that much into a first lens. A 105 or 125 Fuji seems like more of a moderate wide and fairly cheap. I know a couple have "smaller" image circles, but in landscape do you need that much?

What would you like and why?

Gem Singer
19-Jul-2004, 13:24
Hi Ag,

A good starter lens in the focal length you describe is the Fujinon f5.6 125 CM-W. It is a relatively small, light weight lens with a 204mm. image circle. It will cover the 4X5 format, with some movement capability . It is not a true wide angle lens, but the 125mm focal length is moderately wide for the 4X5 format. I find it plenty bright for focusing, even under dim lighting conditions. A new 125 CM-W can be purchased for less than a good used 75 or 90 wide angle lens.

As usual, I recommend contacting Jim, at Midwest Photo Exchange (www.mpex.com) for the best price on a new, or previously owned Fuji lens.

austin granger
19-Jul-2004, 13:36

I'm sure you'll receive a great diversity of responses to your question. But as far as adding my own two cents, I own the Nikkor 90 f8 lens, and while it's a great lens as far as sharpness, etc. goes, I do have difficulty focusing it in low light situations (and at 33, my eyes are still pretty good). Anyway, if I could do it all over, I think I'd get the f4.5 version.

Finally, if you like the "wide look" (Dykinga, Meunch) I'm not sure 135 or 125 is going to be wide enough for you...

19-Jul-2004, 14:30
I vote for a 90mm. Nothing will be ideal 100% of the time, but 90's are a tried and true and popular and easily found size.

Focusability is not the only problem with shorter lenses; coverage declines, and movements become restricted or even impossible. I have a 65mm that vignettes if I am not careful about aligning it straight on -- movements are out of the question.

When you are ready to go a little less wide, add a 210 to the 90 and you will be all set.

Eric Rose
19-Jul-2004, 14:53
Forget those weenies suggesting 90mm. If you want wide, GO WIDE! I use a 65mm for my WA work. But that's only for situations where I can't get back far enough. I bet when you start to get into the LF stuff you will find that using a 125mm or a 110mm will be all you need to get the feel you are looking for. Just by tilting the back you can exaggerate the forground for that 35mm WA look.

Scott Rosenberg
19-Jul-2004, 14:57
hi ag...

you failed to mention what your budget is, but if you are concerned about the difficulty of focusing one of the smaller lenses, i would give strong consideration to the Schneider 110 XL. i challenge you to find one person who has used this lens and does not consider it the sharpest in their bag. it's bright, has a very large image circle, and is unbelievably sharp. this focal length is also a good one to build on, as it's not too much of an 'in-betweener'. you could make it the wide in a 110 - 180 - 300 field kit.

they are a bit pricy when new, but call jim at midwest photo to see if he has any newish ones available.

good luck, scott

Ralph Barker
19-Jul-2004, 15:14
There are several ways to approach the decision, Ag, including budget-based vs. functionality-based. There are several lens comparison charts linked from the home page of this site, including this one (http://www.largeformatphotography.info/lenses/LF4x5in.html) for 4x5s. Pay particular attention to the image circle specs (bigger is better), along with the filter size and weight. You'll see that most of the 75mm lenses have small-ish, but adequate image circles for fairly straight work with some movements. Traditional designs in the "slightly-wide" category tend to be tighter, image- circle-wise, as they are typically designed for medium-format sizes.

The alternative to the budget-oriented "starter-lens" approach is to do more research and buy smart, buy once. ;-) For a moderately-wide lens, I'd now try to find a way to afford the 110mm Super Symmar instead of a 90mm lens. (I went the painful route, buying a 90mm/f8 to start years ago, then a 90mm/f5.6 (for ease of focussing), and finally the 110mm Super Symmar to get more useful coverage.)

Oh, and don't forget to factor in the cost of a center filter, since you're concentrating on chromes. The wider lenses will have enough light fall-off toward the corners that you probably won't like the results on chromes without the center filter.

19-Jul-2004, 16:23
In the FWIW department I offer this bit. Photographs with wide-angle lenses can be stunning. And I, too, both enjoy and employ wide-angle lenses if the subject matter is willing. However, I find that composing with a wide-angle lens (I didn't say anything about focusing) is more tedious than with a longer lens. Since the field of view is wider with more compositional elements, I often find too many distracting elements in the composition. Moving closer to the subject (if that's an alternative) may not give me a satisfactory perspective. By using a slightly less wide lens I can compose more effectively. I first noticed this during a trip to Yosemite when there was just way too much on the ground glass. I found that a longer focal length allowed me to better isolate the important elements. Yosemite is a photographically rich environment anyway. But other landscape venues respond well to very wide lenses. If the work of the photographers you mention speaks to you, then following their lead would make sense.

My basic 4x5 kit is an 8 1/4" Dagor and a 120mm Angulon. If you're just getting into large format, something in the 120mm range may work well. I'm afraid you might find a 75mm lens just a bit too esoteric. However, that's just my own experience. As usual, other people have their own preferences and you, too, will find yours.

Don Miller
19-Jul-2004, 17:33
A larger image circle is nice with a wide lens for landscape because most people will use rise.

If cost is a concern I suggest you start with an inexpensive 135 or 150 and then decide how wide you want to go. The cost/performance in this range is better than wider lenses. If you buy the 110 first and decide it isn't wide enough then you own an expensive lens.

Also look at the widest and longest lens your camera can use and think about how you lens selection will fit into that range.


John Cook
19-Jul-2004, 18:05
I agree with William Whitaker.

Every time I have tried to photograph the Rocky Mountains from a motel parking lot with a wide lens the resulting negative is 1% mountains and 99% parking lot. I have also done interiors with an acre of blank carpeting in the foreground and little tiny dollhouse furniture lined up along the walls in the background. Optical foreshortening seems to increase with large format.

My recommendation is to shoot multiple-framed panoramas with a 180 or 210 lens. If you don't want to stitch them together digitally, make and frame separate prints and hang them side by side.

David E. Rose
19-Jul-2004, 18:46
I agree with the 125mm Fujinon suggestion. If I had only one lens for landscape, this would be it. If I had only one lens for architecture, it would be a 90mm (f 8.0 Nikkor is what I use). I also have a 65 and 75, but I use them a lot less. You will get them eventually if you need them, but your first lens should be more versatile (a less exaggerated perspective). Think about the great photographs by Strand, Weston, Atget- none of them done with really wide lenses.

As far as being able to focus a 65/75/90, remember that depth of field increases as focal length decreases. Shorter lenses are generally easier to focus due to their great depth of field.

CP Goerz
19-Jul-2004, 19:16
If you like extreme near/far shots then the wider the better, for a wider view than normal of a landscape then a 125 is a good choice. The Fuji F5.6 W lens has very little room for movement, maybe an inch so don't expect much rise. The larger version of 125mm for 5x7/8x10 is better and one that I settled with. I'd pull the lens out and give you all the info but its underneath a bunch of stuff an LA is like an oven today!!

A cheap way to see if its a lens you really want to buy is to go to a camera rental place and ask to try a lens or two in the store to get an idea of angle of view, find the one that appeals to you then rent it for the weekend.

I followed the same formula as everyone did and thought that since I shot a 28mm on my 35 all the time a 90mm would be perfect for 4x5. I think I used that expensive chunk of glass three times for the entire three years I had it, it was just too much of a 'wide' view for me.

Good Luck though!

CP Goerz

Donal Taylor
19-Jul-2004, 19:48
"If you want the Muench 'look', get the 75."

Crikey - I can't think why anyone would want the "muench" look

I have a 90 that gets used regualry for architecture - I find it too wide for most landscape work.

The Fuji 105/125 or even 135 would be good choices. They are usually very good value fo money

try MPEX or KEH

check out the fuji specs here


ronald moravec
20-Jul-2004, 05:47
110 Schneider XL. Almost covers 8x10. What good is a wide that can`t shift more than a few degrees? Very sharp. Its got the German glass tones like Zeiss and Leica have. About equal to a 30 mm lens in small 35mm format.

Colin Carron
20-Jul-2004, 06:57
I started some years ago with a 90mm and still use that length and a 65mm more than any others. Next comes 210. I tend to like the 20mm focal length or thereabouts in 35mm. The darkness of the screen can be a shock at first but you can get used to it. A faster lens will help if you don't mind the much greater cost and size of these lenses.

Brett Deacon
20-Jul-2004, 07:47
Hi Ag,

I was in your shoes a few months ago and spent countless hours researching this issue. Since I moved to LF primarily for the image quality, I was persuaded by favorable reviews of the Schneider 110 XL and purchased this lens from Jim at Midwest Photo Exchange. Despite the price tag, I haven't regretted it for a second. For me, this is the perfect lens for general-purpose landscape photography. It is reasonably wide but not wide enough to produce any perceivable distortion. My favorite focal length in 35mm is 24mm but for whatever reason I have rarely encountered a situation in which the 110 XL was not wide enough for my needs. It has a huge image circle that will allow far more generous movements than any of the wider lenses you listed. It is bright and easy to focus. And to drive Scott's point home, it is ludicrously sharp, sharper than any of my 35mm lenses and noticeably better than my excellent Fujinon 240 A. For me, the 110 XL has obviated the need for 90 and 135 mm lenses. I will eventually purchase a wider lens (probably 75mm) but I anticipate using this far less often than the 110 XL.

Leonard Evens
20-Jul-2004, 08:04
I echo others in advising not going too wide when you start. As was noted previously, you often get too much foreground, and objects in the background end up much smaller than you might have thought. In addition, although you get more depth of field, you may still have problems with getting what you want in focus. Wide angle lenses are more sensitive to small shifts in tilt or swing angle, and since often the standards will be slightly out of alignment, that will show up in your pictures. Finally, even if you are used to using wide angle lenses in smaller formats, their use in LF photography may involve a steep learning curve.

Edward (Halifax,NS)
20-Jul-2004, 08:07
Hi Ag,

The first lens that you should buy is the one that you will use most. If you like 75mm, then buy it. With practise you will learn to use whatever you buy. A f/4.5 lens will be easier to focus then a f/8 lens. I started with a f/4.7 127mm lens and now I use a f/9 150mm lens. The first was easier to focus the the second is fine as well - even 15-20 minutes after sunset. If you are looking at either a 75mm or 90mm lens I recommend taking a look at the Calter branded Grandagon f/6.8. They are a decent value and a bit brighter than the Super Angulon f/8. The 75mm is a bit tight for movements but the 90mm has plenty.

Frank Petronio
20-Jul-2004, 08:18
I'd start with a humble and inexpensive Rodenstock Sironar-N or APO-Sironar (newer version) 135mm f/5.6. True that it doesn't have much extra coverage, but for landscape you don't usually need the coverage - a little back tilt does 90% of what most people need. It is relatively inexpensive, and later, when you buy more lenses, it fills the gap between a real wide angle and a longer lens quite nicely. Did I mention it is slightly wide angle, bright on most fresnels, and sharp as a tack? It will probably be the sharpest lens you'll ever own. About $400 on eBay for a mint example. Oh, and it is very compact - it will fold up inside most folding 4x5 cameras.

The 110XL is great but should you really start with such an expensive lens?

Ernest Purdum
20-Jul-2004, 11:23
When you tried out that 90mm f8, your pupils may not have been fully open. It takes awhile to happen and lots of people new to large format expect to be able to use the groundglass before their eyes are ready. This said, it is easier, of course, to use a longer focus, wider aperture lens.

tim atherton
20-Jul-2004, 14:14
"The 110XL is great but should you really start with such an expensive lens?"

hey Frank - we see eye to eye on lenses... ;-)

"It has a huge image circle that will allow far more generous movements than any of the wider lenses you listed."

but something like the Fuji 125 f8 has as big an image circle (280mm as opposed to 288mm on the XL) and the 6cm (2 1/3") or so of movement available on the 125 5.6 135 5.6 Fujis is certainly plenty for most uses - same witht he rarer Fuji 105 f8 - (many4x5 cameras will barely give you that much rise or fall) and they can usually be had found in the $250.00 to $450.00 range if you are patient. ANd a 120mm f8 Nikkor SW is usually around half the price of the 110XL.

Now, if you might move up to 8x10 it could be worth getting as you can use it as a wide wide then as well....

Robert Jaques
22-Jul-2004, 01:03
Having just started out in large format myself earlier this year, I too had trouble deciding on a wide angle focal length. I opted for the 90mm Nikkor F8. I have been very pleased with this purchase (very sharp!) Its is a bit dim for low light stuff and if you budget can stretch I would go for a F4.5. Still the F8 is a very usable lens in most situations. The 90mm seems wider that its approximate 24mm equivalent in 35mm terms. It is not, it just seems very wide when I'm composing on the ground glass. I find my 150mm much easier to compose with and have been surprised that some of my photos taken with the 150mm look as though they were take with a wide angle.