View Full Version : What's the end-all sharpest LF lens?

chris jordan
4-Aug-2004, 11:57
Hi guys, I'm wondering what you would all suggest as the highest-quality lens made for 8x10, in the range of 360-450mm. With the new Fuji films and amazing scanners and printers, it seems that the current limitation on image detail and sharpness (for huge prints) is the lenses. So what's the end-all LF lens, cost being no object for purposes of this discussion?



David R Munson
4-Aug-2004, 12:33
While I don't have any numerical data to back this up (meaning take it or leave it), about the sharpest LF lenses I have come across are the Nikkor process lenses. My 240mm makes negatives that almost hurt to look at they're so sharp. There were a variety made in longer focal lengths as well.

David L.
4-Aug-2004, 12:35
Assuming perfectly flat film, perfectly parallel standards, no camera shake etc…I agree that the lens seems to be the source for the current limitation on image detail and sharpness in a modern photographic system. However, the lens limitation is not a function of material or design, but of physics. Most modern lenses are diffraction limited at their optimal apertures (the aperture designed to minimize lens aberrations). I haven’t looked at an MTF chart lately so I could be completely wrong on this!

Steve Hamley
4-Aug-2004, 12:35

In this range, I'm partial to my Fujinon 450mm C.


Ken Lee
4-Aug-2004, 12:47
A number of 8x10 negatives, scanned separately and then joined.

If you follow the methodology used by Max Lyons at http://www.tawbaware.com/maxlyons/gigapixel.htm (http://www.tawbaware.com/maxlyons/gigapixel.htm" target="_blank), you can do the same thing that he does, but use 8x10 negatives instead of a dinky digital camera

Then, you can create an image much larger than a mere Gigapixel.

Humor aside, this is one way to increase the resolution of any image, with any format, as long as there is some kind of digital step along the way.

Dan Fromm
4-Aug-2004, 13:51
David, isn't film limiting? It certainly is in smaller formats.



David L.
4-Aug-2004, 14:09

Not if the film is Tech Pan.

4-Aug-2004, 14:13
Forget all the above philosophy:

455mm SCHEIDER Gold Dot MC

Assisted a NYC photographer for a while - he had top quality glass. But nothing was sharper then the 455mm SCHEIDER.

I sold it for him on eBay - now I regret that I didn't buy it myself!

Neal Shields
4-Aug-2004, 14:40

How are you finding film limiting?

I can get over 80 lp/mm on Tmax and have reproduced legiable type 1/10th of a mm tall near the edge of a 4x5 color transparancy with a single coated lens. The sign was over a mile away. (If you assume that it takes 6 to 10 rows of pixels to reproduce legable type, it would take over 100 meg pixel to reproduce that much detail.)

Once I capture that much detail, it seems to me that my wet and digital darkroom possibilities are endless.

However, back to the origional question. God willing and the creek don't rise, I am going to buy a 150 Symmar XL near the end of the year, on the theory that the shorter the lens, the greater detail that I can capture. It seems to me to be the state of the art for 8x10.

Armin Seeholzer
4-Aug-2004, 14:46

For distante shoots Rodenstock APO Sironar N 360mm a true killer lens for near shoots and far shoots APO Ronar MC 360mm or 480mm But im very sure sometimes it will get limited by the filmflatness and right position of the film in the holder! If your groundglass is very exactly at the right position, is even more important! Good luck!

Robert Skeoch
4-Aug-2004, 15:02
I'm real happy with my Fuji 450mm, but I'm not sure if it's the sharpest... it's just real sharp. -Rob

4-Aug-2004, 15:06
If cost is no object, the lenses made for the U.S. military for applications like the U-2 spy airplane and satellites are sharper than anything made for the civilian market. They occasionally become available in auctions, but are unwieldy for large format camera use.

Bob Salomon
4-Aug-2004, 17:39
" the highest-quality lens made for 8x10, in the range of 360-450mm"

For what application?

Product to infinity you can't get better results then with the Apo Sironar S (1:5 to infinity. Flat field copy work? A good process lens can't be beat. 3 dimensional macro work 1:5 to 3:1 a macro like the 180mm Apo Sironar Macro (current) or the 300mm Makro Sironar (discontinued) would work best.

There is no one lens that would be best for all applications if you are equally demanding for all applications.

Herb Cunningham
4-Aug-2004, 18:50
Most of the answers are correct-I used an ancient Goertz for portraits in the 50's and some of the prints are still so sharp you can count the filaments in the bride's veil. I think it was around 210mm, but it is long gone.

I had Grimes mount a new Nikkor Apo 455mm f9 in a #3 shutter, and the writer who said the process lenses were really sharp is on target.

More to the point, though, is do you really want to win a sharpness contest?

A. Adams and the recently departed H.Cartier-Bresson made wonderful art with pretty junky lenses.

Michael Kadillak
4-Aug-2004, 19:15
If sharpness was your only criteria, some of the flat field lenses used in serious aerial mapping photography would blow your mind in reference to this the one dimensional criteria of sharpness, but your image would be so dominant with middle grey that it would be a visual disaster from an artistic perspective. Hey, those map guys knew that you cannot evaluate military equipment in a dark shadow.

I feel after shooting a number of lenses in your desired focal length that the best combination of sharpness and contrast balance is the Nikon 450M. When you center cut a tessar lens with massive coverage as this one has on 8x10, it just sings. My 450C Fuji may be a bit "sharper" in the purest sense of the word, but the edge effect that the contrast component incorporated in the Nikon design just adds a better inner quality that includes, but is not limited by only sharpness. My next candidate would be the 14" Kodak Commercial Ektar.


tim atherton
4-Aug-2004, 19:23
what about those swiss Kern Dagors? did they make them in the 360mm+ range?

I saw some of the massive prints at the Natinal Gallery of Canada that Lynn Cohen made using one - spectacular detail

CP Goerz
5-Aug-2004, 03:54
Nikkor Fax Ortho beats all but is expensive, quite rare and in the 500mm size almost too big to use unless the camera front standard has been modified. The 250mm is a beauty and the 400mm is tasty too.

CP Goerz.

Jean-Louis Llech
5-Aug-2004, 04:36
The end-all sharpest LF lens simply doesn't exists !
If you use it for architecture, landscapes, portrait, reproduction and copy work, you'll never need the same lens.
Could you be more precise ?

Bob Fowler
5-Aug-2004, 09:43
You've gotten as many answers as there are photographers. Since I doubt that any of use have ever been able to use and test EVERTHING available, we can only respond to what we have found to be our own personal favorites.

Having said that, I really like the APO Nikkor process lenses and Red Dot Artars. My APO Nikkor is a 305mm f/9 (a bit short for your range) and is killer sharp - almost too sharp for many things. I also use a 14" R.D. Artar that can make you bleed if your not careful! :-)

5-Aug-2004, 12:35
Without getting into the issues of perceived sharpness (acutance) versus measurable resolution (MTF) I would point out that by stopping down to f/22 or so, almost any decent lens will be sharp enough, at least in the center of the field. Some _designs_ will be better at the edges, some will have more contrast than others, and some will have inherently flatter fields.

As far as individual lenses go, some designs are inherently more tolerant of small manufacturing errors, but there will always be small variations in the performance of individual copies of mass-produced optics. Legend has it that in the 1960s Nikon shipped their best lenses to New York, because that was where the value of a good "rep" was highest for marketing purposes. The ones sold in military PXs in Japan were supposedly the worst, even though nominally identical to the best copies. Arguably, you could expect to find, among the top tier of brands, variations that would put individual LF lenses from one manufacture ahead of or behind the worst or best examples of another brand.

For general photography, it is probably more important to know which lenses are _generally_ excellent, and recognize that the specifics of the application largely dictate a specific choice. It is doubtful that any major manufacturer will knowingly put a real dog on the market, and it is even more unlikely that comparing prints by different photographers, using different film and processing, of different subjects, will reveal anything definitive about the taking lenses.

Dan Fromm
5-Aug-2004, 16:33
David, I just got off Compuserve's photo forum, where I read a fresh post by Ctein. He reports that Kodak has just announced Tech Pan will be discontinued. 120 will finish this December, other sizes early next year. So there goes that option.

Deepest regrets,


Jon Wilson
21-Jun-2005, 22:11
I concur as to the APO Nikkor Process lens, I have been fortunate to pick up several, ranging from 240mm up through 480mm. This is a 4x5 scan using an APO Nikkor 480mm process lens, albeit with all downloads on the net, the resolution is not great. http://www.photo.net/photodb/photo?topic_id=1481&msg_id=00C7ag&photo_id=3340985&photo_sel_index=0