View Full Version : Care to comment on proposed lens kit?

David Young
24-Aug-2004, 15:01
Ok, so the eternal questions always come up.... which camera, which lens, yadda-yadda-yadda. So what else in new and here we go again :-)

After researching and much gnashing of teeth (including getting my hands on a few options to try them out) I've determined my camera and the likely candidates for a starting lens kit (based on my preferences in MF and 35mm). I would like some feedback on the lenses however so I don't miss anything... particularly on the telephoto end of things. I know it's basically impossible to go wrong with a modern Schneider or Rodenstock, but while I wouldn't trade my Rodenstock loupe for a box of Schneiders, I seem to have a leaning to Schneider lenses. No real reason... but it's there. I'll be doing all sorts of diffferent kinds of shooting from landscapes (although not what might be considered "traditional" landscapes) to kinda-architecture (I'm partial to old abandoned buildings, urban decay, and ruins) to still life work. No macro, but some close-up types of stuff, even some figure studies. As for price, I'm no spendthrift but I'm willing to pay for bang-for-the-buck. My current list is:

Schneider SS-XL 110/5.6
The classic "if I could only have one lens" choice by many people here. A little heavier than the APO-Symmar 120, and double the price, but it seems to be the consensus that the bang-for-the-buck is more than worth it.

Schneider APO-Symmar-L 210/5.6
A good all around lens that gets me longer. Not as much coverage as the 210 XL, but I can't quite get to the $1700 price difference, and the size and weight of the 210 XL? Oof. I just can't quite get to the "bang-for-the-buck". Care to convince me otherwise??

Schneider APO-Tele-Xenar 400/5.6 compact
2 pounds... eh not bad. Price isn't so bad either. This is one I could be talked into something else simply because I'm not as comfortable with the various options in a telephoto design. I want a longer lens, say 400+, but need to have an infinity flange/film-plane distance around or under 300MM. (and this one falls in at about 285mm)

So.... any thoughts? Any other lenses I should consider (especially in the telephoto area)? Sound like a good kit to get rolling with? (I'd probably purchase these over a few months in exactly the order I have them listed here.)

Cheers, D.

Jim Rice
24-Aug-2004, 15:45
Sounds good, David. I started with a 90/6.8 Caltar II-N (Grandigon) and 210 Sironar-N (both for $1040 from midwest). The 210 is my most used, and I often run the 90 out of coverage, so the 100XL is probably a good choice. Too bad you don't have more bellows, because I adore my 16.5" RD Apo-Artar.

Ted Harris
24-Aug-2004, 15:55

Since you already know that you will get as many answers as there are people on this list I will throw in my two cents worth (and only worth two cents instead of one since we are talking about two lenses). I agree with all those who favor the 110 and in fact when I go out with a single that is the one that travels with me most freuently (second most frequent is the 135 Apo Sironar-S).

However, at the long end I would not consider the Tele-Xenar unless you needed the tele design because of bellows draw limitations. If you can handle a straight-forward long design lens then you should think about the 450 Nikkor M. It is the only Nikkor lens I own but I do love it. Finally, do you really think you need a lens as long as 400mm? Have yoyu rented one to try it out. Every once in a very long while I know I need a long lens but most often I will take out something in the 300 range only to back off to a much shorter lens. I find I seldom shoot iwth anything longer than 240 when I am shooting 4x5 in the field (studio is another matter).

Ralph Barker
24-Aug-2004, 17:04
My 110mm SS and 210mm Symmar-S are my most-used lenses on 4x5. You might hold off on the Tele-Xenar until you see what you really need, however. With only 300mm of bellows, I'd be concerned about the lens needing 285mm to focus at infinity. You might find, for example, that a Nikkor 360T will give you a little more breathing room, allowing for closer focus.

David Young
24-Aug-2004, 17:11
Ted, My camera choice did indeed influence the choice of a telephoto lens, as the base bellows draw is just over 300mm with the base kit. There are options to go longer on the bellows, and I may decide to do that for studio work where I don't have to carry an extra rail out into the field.... then again I may find I just want to go longer even when outside and take an extension rail everywhere (or move to a different camera with more draw).

As for the question of whether or not I really need a 400mm lens, you may just have a point there.... and if I could find one to rent for a few weeks I'll likley do just that to make sure. But here's where my thinking was in deciding on those focal lengths... On the short side, I carry a camera *everywhere* with me. It's a great little Contax T3 with a 28mm lens and I'm constantly wishing it was longer... at least 50mm, but being it's my quick and light and alwaysa in my pocket camera, I'm willing to compromise. When I was shooting a lot of 35mm gear, I never wanted wider..... just longer and 135mm seemed to keep me fairly happy in those instances. 99.9% of my current shooting is done in Medium Format (6x4.5 format) using a 45-90 zoom lens that I got more for convienience of carrying one (big arse) lens. I rarely if ever use it near the 45mm end, and spend more of my time at the 90mm end of the range and wishing for just a skosh more. I'll also use a 150 lens on my MF.... but usually only in the studio for working with figures. because tht darn 45-90 is just too damned big to carry a second lens with it.

So the 110 and 210 were no-brainers... a little bit to the wide side and a little bit to the long side of normal. The 400 came in where I kept wanting something a bit longer than I had.... and doing the math from that 135mm lens in my 35mm kit.... I got something like a 400mm at 4x5 format. Again, the Tele Xenar seemed to fit the bill at just under 2lb, decent price, and bellows draw that'll go with my camera.

D. (Waiting expectantly for people to shoot holes in my logic!)

David Karp
24-Aug-2004, 17:29

If you have enough extension, you might want to consider a small 300mm, like a Nikkor M 300mm f/9.0 (which I have and like), or a Fujinon C 300mm f/8.5 (which is highly regarded). I believe that the Fujinon has the shorter flange to focal distance of the two, so you don't need quite as much extension as with the Nikkor. (You can find the actual numbers on Ebony's website.)

These lenses avoid the tradeoffs of using a telephoto lens. Although some may differ, I find the 300mm significantly longer than my 210mm. The small maximum aperture has not been a problem.

I hope this was not out of school, but you mentioned that you were not really sold on the telephoto.

Gem Singer
24-Aug-2004, 17:53
Hi David,

The 110XL and the 210L are excellent all around choices. If I were making the decision, I would add either a 135, or a 150 to that lens set. You're going to find that the 210 is a fairly long lens for the 4X5 format. In the future, you can add a Nikon 360 tele, or a Fuji 400 tele, if you dersire. Both will work with 300mm. of bellows extension.

As usual, I suggest that you call and talk to Jim (and only Jim), at Midwest Photo Exchange (www.mpex.com) for the best prices on these lenses, new, or previously owned.

Kevin Crisp
24-Aug-2004, 18:01
I agree entirely with Eugene. I think you will want something in the 135/150 range, they are very plentiful used and reasonably priced and can do so many things well. Without seeing what you photograph I am only going slightly out on a limb to say you will use that midrange lens much more than a 400.

David Karp
24-Aug-2004, 18:41

Eugene may be right. You might miss a lens in the mid range. Another option would be to consider the 125mm f/5.6 Fujinon CMW. It is reputed to be an excellent lens. I have the prior version (Fujinon W with 52mm filter size and smaller image circle). It and my 210mm are my most used lenses (for landscapes). The 125mm is also handy for architecture (if not as wide as the 110mm). I know it is sacrilege, but I'll bet that nobody will ever know that you used the Fujinon instead of a 110mm XL, if it turns out you opt for this focal length. This also opens the door for a 90mm some day, which is great for architecture, and which I bet you will want for that purpose some day.

He is also right about Jim at MPEX. He is the best, and if you decide to go for used equipment from him, they will look and perform like new at very reasonable prices. He is very knowledgable and will give good advice. (He talked me out of buying a used camera from him once, because he did not think it was the right camera for my uses. Very honorable.)

Doug Dolde
24-Aug-2004, 21:54
Sounds like a great kit to me. I have the 110 XL and a Symmar S 180mm. The 110mm is my favorite but the Symmar is just as sharp. I'm torn between a 300mm Nikkor M and a 400mm Tele Xenar compact for my next lens.

Brian Ellis
24-Aug-2004, 22:01
110, 135/150, and 210 seems like an odd starting lens combination to me. That's three more or less normal lenses and one very slightly wide lens. Why such a concentration of lenses in the midrange? Unless you're a dedicated, dyed-in-the-wool, never-use-a-wide-angle-lens- photographer, why not forget the 110, get a 90, then a 150 or 210, then something longer, maybe 300. Then you would have a nice spread of focal lengths and could fill in any gaps later if you found it necessary.

David Young
24-Aug-2004, 22:55
Ralph (et-al) - I'll take a look at that Nikkor 360T thanks for the tip.

Dave - Not out of school.... that is in fact the lens that I'm unsure of. I'm leaning more and more to renting something before I buy that length.

Eugene, Kevin, Dave - Is a 135 all that different from a 110?? you guys really think I'll miss having something like a 150 in the middle? I've rented a 110 in some of my explorations and I really can't see a 90 for me as I didn't find myself wanting for a wider lens than the 110.

Brian - That's what I was thinking and just saying.... seems like overkill on the midrange concentration, and frankly with 40-60mm difference in focal lengths I could likely walk a few paces forward or back and get the same viewpoint.

Note to all: I'm not ruling it out (the 90 or the 135/150).... just can't see it yet and definitly would want to rent one for a bit to see if I like what I see. I also feel that based on my past experience that I'll likely settle on two, or *maybe* three lenses that'll work well for me. I'm not ashamed to admit that I may take back that comment on wider lenses at some point, or that I may end up selling one or all of the initial lenses in favor of a completely different set.

Thanks all for the tips on talking to Jim at MPEX... I'll give him a call before I buy anything. I appreciate all the comments and still look for more!

Cheers, D.

David Karp
25-Aug-2004, 01:08

Its hard to tell you what will be best for you. And your preferences may change over time. So what you buy now may not be best for you later.

That said, A 210mm is considered by many to be a long normal lens. The 135mm is a wide normal lens. The 150mm is normal. Even so, it is not unusual for photographers to have either a 135mm or 150mm paired with a 210mm in their kit. In fact, two of these plus a 90mm is a very common kit.

Without saying it as well as Brian did, I think that I was thinking along the same lines as he is. That is why I offered the 125mm Fujinon for consideration. If you are going for the long normal 210mm, then a slightly wide 125mm is not so wide as to crowd a 90mm, but not so far from the wide normal 135mm. If you eventually get a 90mm, then you will have a nice spread - 90mm, 125mm, 210mm, plus whatever else you pick up.

Of course, then you have to consider things like filter sizes, budget, lens size, and everything else that goes into a lens buying decision.

It might be a good idea to rent a 90mm for a weekend and give it a try. 150s and 135s are also commonly available for rent. The problem with the 125mm is that it is not so common, and probably unavailable for rent.

For what its worth, I have a 75, 90, 125, 210, 300, and 450. A fairly good spread. The three widest lenses are often used for architectural subjects. If I had not purchased the 210 first, I might have ended up with a different kit, perhaps 75, 90, 125, 180, 240, 450 (or I might have skipped the 180). Who knows?

In the end, what makes sense to me or others, may not make sense to you. Also, what you buy first may not be what you want in the end. In addition to renting, I advocate buying used from a reputable dealer. That will make it easier to recoup your costs if you later decide to sell and buy a different lens.

David A. Goldfarb
25-Aug-2004, 06:30
For architecture, you'll probably want a 90. You might also find that your preferred focal length range does not correspond to your preferences in other formats. As I started experimenting with other formats after shooting 35mm for a long time, I decided that a wide lens often takes in too much information for a 35mm neg to render adequately, but I tend toward the wide end in large format.

If I were you, I'd start with one lens--maybe the 210. Get used to the camera, the movements, a feel for the format, and then you'll know what you really need.

Bruce Watson
25-Aug-2004, 07:24
As you can tell from a number of replies you've already gotten, there's a wide range of opinions.

My opinion is that you are making an unwarranted assumption. That is, your preference of lenses for 35mm somehow applies to LF. I thought that too, and I was wrong.

The reason for this is that photographing with LF means a tripod which hinders your ability to move the camera around when framing the shot. Photographing with 35mm means handheld, and mobility. When you are using 35mm, do you look through the viewfinder and move around to compose your shot? Walk forward and back? Side to side? Most people do. What they are doing to some extent is accommodating their lenses. Much harder to do with LF.

When I was into 35mm, I had exactly two lenses, a 35mm and a 105mm. In LF, I've now got three that I use almost equally - 110mm, 150mm, 240mm. There's very little correlation here.

I started with a 110mm myself. Used it alone for a few months before deciding on another lens. I resisted the 150mm for a long time - didn't need no stinkin' "normal" lens. Yet, I do need it in LF.

My advice is that you start with a 150mm. That lens that you think you really don't want and don't need. They are less expensive that others, and you can always sell it later if you don't use it. The reason to start with a 150 is that it's easier to learn movements, and easier to learn what you'll have to learn eventually - to frame the shot in your head and decide from where to take the shot before you start setting up your tripod.

From there I suspect that you'll like the 110mm. From there you'll either go shorter (75mm) or longer 210/240mm. This gives you angles of view in 15 degree increments, which seems to make a lot of sense visually to me. Of course, YMMV.

Edward (Halifax,NS)
25-Aug-2004, 07:42
"Schneider SS-XL 110/5.6 The classic "if I could only have one lens" choice by many people here. A little heavier than the APO-Symmar 120, and double the price, but it seems to be the consensus that the bang-for-the-buck is more than worth it. "

I would prefer the APO Symmar 120 AND Grandagon 90mm f/6.8 for the same price as the 110mm f/5.6. That seems like more bang for your buck.

Gem Singer
25-Aug-2004, 07:59
Hello again David,

I have the same set of focal lengths that David Karp has, with the addition of a 150. I'm not saying that you need all of those focal lengths. What I am saying is that you should have at least one lens in the "normal" range, as well as a wide angle lens and a long lens. I find the 210 to be in the long lens category.

It is not always possible to move forward and backward to get the composition you are looking for. The 110XL is definitely a wide angle lens. It is more like a 90, than a 135. A 150 and a 135 are almost identical in the way they see the world, except the 150 usually has a larger image circle.

For many years, the standard lens kit for the 4X5 format has been 90-150-210. They are three focal lengths that seem to work comfortably with most 4X5 cameras, without the need for a wide angle bellows or an extension lensboard. They will cover almost all picture making situations. Fred Picker advocated the use of only two lenses for outdoor landscape photography, a 120 wide angle and a 210 long "normal" lens. He believed that the 90 would be better for indoor architectural work. I tend to agree with him.

Kirk Gittings
25-Aug-2004, 09:43
I do arch photography almost exclusively. The lenses I use regularly are 47, 65, 90,120,150,210,350.

In the commercial arch photo business we have a saying "90% of the images are taken with a 90mm lens". There are two reasons for this. On interiors the human eye "scans" a room and wide angle lenses simulate that in a fixed image. A 90MM lens is about as wide as you can go without starting to get into significant distortion, though you often have to go wider. And for exteriors, in order to get an in an entire facade and be close enough to it to avoid all the street signs and crap you need a 90.

On my fine art arch photography I tend toward longer lenses. I would say I use a 90 about 30% of the time, a 120 10%, a 150 5%, and a 210 about 50%.

Herb Cunningham
25-Aug-2004, 17:55
Hoo boy! how many opinions-most of us would be embarrased to tell exactly how many lenses we own.

You might want to experiment with convertibles-Ron Wisner swears by them, and I have about 4, two schneiders and two Turner Reich, on 5x7 and one 8x10- the 8x10 is way too big for 4x5, but the 5x7 provides three focal lengths and usually sell for about $150 to $200. The Schneider convertibles sell on ebay sometimes by sellers who do not know they are convertibles. I got a 135/235 schneider on an old wista that I got for $100, and it folds up in the camera, portablility plus.

Nobody disputes the superiority of modern vs older, and single vs convertibles, but you could find out about focal lengths (not in wide angle) pretty cheap, and cover all the focal lengths that have been mentioned so far.

You will also get a different feel with the older lenses.