View Full Version : Seeking recommendations on portrait lens

15-Dec-2014, 01:06
Hello all!

I just recently acquired a Kodak 2d in near mint condition with extension rail, and other misc accessories for $200.
My goal is to shoot 8x10 portraits. I would like recommendations as to what focal length for head and shoulders shots.
Also if there are any recommendations as to which lenses I can acquire on the very cheap, I would appreciate any info!
Thanks in advance! :)

Scott Davis
15-Dec-2014, 07:41
A really nice lens for portraits on 8x10, without being too terribly expensive, is a Kodak 14" Commercial Ektar. The reason that people start using shorter focal lengths with bigger formats than you would expect if you extrapolate from 35mm or 2 1/4 is that at 8x10 and larger, you're approaching if not exceeding 1:1 reproduction ratios, at which point bellows draw becomes an issue, as does light falloff due to bellows extension.

Peter De Smidt
15-Dec-2014, 08:18
A 420 Fuji L is a good choice, although there's lots of good options.

John Kasaian
15-Dec-2014, 08:41
12"-14"-16" are comfortable 8x10 portrait focal lengths. I find that shorter lenses kind of intrudes on your sitter's "space" while longer lenses require greater distance which will be limited by your studio space. For budget friendly lenses look at Wollensak and Ilex (Ilex made a 375mm 15"-er that's underappreciated) Commercial Ektars and Dagors are sometimes found at modest prices, but usually only after quite a hunt.

15-Dec-2014, 09:44
I have a bad habit of snarfing up Ilex Paragons and Wollensak Raptars on Ebay for my portrait project. No one ever wants them so they go cheap, and they're great performers, especially for portraits. Tessars (which they are) have a nice softness that isn't really visible, but is there underneath it all keeping them from getting an edgy modern look, built on a core of good sharpness. I have both the 300mm, which I use mainly on 5x7, and Ilex's Caltar version, 14-3/4" f/6.3, as well as some shorter ones you wouldn't want to use on 8x10. Both the 300 Paragon and the 14-3/4" Caltar cost me about $205 each. I don't know if you can find a real lens near those lengths with a working shutter for much less.

Scott Davis
15-Dec-2014, 11:54
Oh, and another option would be a Bausch & Lomb Tessar. I'll look up the model I have at home (which certainly covers 11x14, maybe more), but they're usually pretty cheap as they're most often found in barrel, and for whatever reason they lack the cachet of other brand name lenses. The f4.5 tessars are big-ass lenses, so you'd need a substantial lens board (my Tessar just barely fits on a 6 1/2" board, with a Packard shutter front-mounted) and a pretty beefy front standard to hold the weight. The 2D should be able to handle the 8x10 sized B&L Tessar, but the big beast I have would definitely stress it.

15-Dec-2014, 16:19
Ask yourself if you want extremely sharp, or just quite sharp. Then get a 12 or 14" Tessar IIB (F6.3), or IC (F4.5). Ask yourself if you want higher contrast (get coated), or not.

Dan Dozer
15-Dec-2014, 16:24
There are a lot of lenses for portrait type of work in the 350mm size range for 8 x 10 and that is what most of mine are. Longer than that and your bellows extension starts to get very long for head/shoulder shots. For head and shoulder portrait images, you may find that anything less than 300 mm may start to distort facial features too much (as well as have your camera disturbingly close to your subjects). So, I would recommend that you look in the 300mm - 360mm size range. I have a Kodak 2D, and if your rear extension bed fits snugly, then heavier lenses might work fine. However, if it is loose at all or wiggles, then heavier lenses will cause a problem.

The two big questions for portait type of work are (1) do you want tack sharp images or do you want more soft type of looks and (2) do you want a shutter on your lens. Many of the more modern lenses will work pretty well for portrait work especially for you just starting out and will give you very sharp images (as well as typcally having shutters). However, if you are looking for more moody soft lenses, then you would normally go towards the older lenses many/most will not have shutters on them.

Since this is your first venture, I would recommend that you look around for some of the less popular lenses that you can many times find for $100 or less (the ilex paragons were already mentioned). This could give you a good entry level sharper focus lens to start with. You can also consider one of Reinhold Schable's Wollaston Mensicus lenses. I have his 285 mm and it works well at less than $100. This would then give you a variable softer image lens as a starter.

Here's another "left field" idea. If you can find an old Petzval projection type of lens that may only have an image size that works for 4 x 5 or 5 x 7, take it apart and only use one of the lens elements. The focal length and image size will get larger (probably larger than 8 x 10) and they sometimes produce really great results for soft look portraits. Many times, you can find these for $50 or less.

Last thing is - come over to the Palm Springs area some time and I'll show you all the different lenses I use for my 8 x 10 portrait type of work.

Alan Gales
15-Dec-2014, 16:43
Yousuf Karsh used a 14" Commercial Ektar for most of his work. Richard Avedon used a 360mm Schneider for his American West portraits. Jock Sturges used a Fujinon 250mm F/6.7 lens for his early work.

You can look at these photographer's work to get an idea about the lenses.

15-Dec-2014, 19:33
pretty much any lens can be called a portrait lens.
you just need to decide what focal length you want
( do you want the lens in their face or some room between you and the subject.
do you want head+shoulders or 3/4 or full length or environmental portraits )

if you want inexpensive barrel lenses you might consider a wollaston meniscus
from all reports they are worth their weight in gold ...

16-Dec-2014, 00:04
FYI. shooting portraits with 8x10 is quite a bit different than small formats.

For head and shoulders, you may instead want to go for a lens in the 200-250mm range.

-You will need to extend the lens quite a bit for head+shoulders. So that 200mm lens will be more like a 300- 350mm.
And it will be easier to find a lens in a shutter at a good price. Just about any modern lens will do at that focal length.

Whatever lens you get, make sure to compensate for the bellows extension.
You will be basically shooting at a macro magnification. 8x10 film taking a 16x20 scene. Thats like 1:2, or using 35mm to photograph a silver dollar coin.

For longer lenses in shutters, the ilex paragons/ ilex caltars are a best bet.

If you are not worried about a shutter, then there are many barrel lenses available.

16-Dec-2014, 05:36
I think we should pause for a reply from the original poster now. So often people post open ended questions, then we all start answering ourselves for weeks, with no further input from the questioner.

16-Dec-2014, 09:09
Thank you all for taking the time to answer my questions.
To clarify, I am looking to do mostly Hollywood "Hurrell" style black and white head and shoulder style portraits with 8x10. All the information I have found online has, for the most part been contradicting itself.

As for coated or uncoated, I rather like the look created by uncoated lenses for portraits, but am not going to insist if perhaps their is a certain unloved coated lens available inexpensively.

As for shutter, yes I would like one, particularly one with a flash sync. But I have no issue acquiring a packard shutter for such if needed. I would just need recommendations and advice on what type and size.

My main concern is the focal length, everything I have read gives me a completely different suggestion and I am confused largely because of the format and the near 1:1 ratio.

FYI - I am currently shooting 4x5 B&W portraits with an uncounted 380mm barrel lens.

To summarize - I am seeking an inexpensive (as in "I am nearly broke") lens that won't give me subject distortion.

Scott Davis
16-Dec-2014, 09:29
For Hurrell style portraits, you're looking at something like a Vitax or a Verito (both made by Wollensak). The Verito is SLIGHTLY less expensive than the Vitax, but both will run you in the $1K+ range for a version that will cover 8x10.

Peter De Smidt
16-Dec-2014, 09:41
He used an 18" Verito lens on a Century studio 8x10, and later on he use a Turner Reich triple 12-19-25. I have both an 18" (450mm) Verito and a Kodak 2D 8x10. That would not be a good combination. At best, the lens weight would damage the front standard. Packard shutters with sync work fine, but it's more convenient to have a regular shutter. Standard filter threads are nice, as well. I bought my 420L Fuji, a tessar, for about $300. Older lenses can be outstanding, but the shutters are more problematic, and they can easily require a CLA, which adds a lot to the cost.

The cheapest thing to do would be to buy a Packard with sync and then get a barrel lens.

William Whitaker
16-Dec-2014, 09:48
To summarize - I am seeking an inexpensive (as in "I am nearly broke") lens that won't give me subject distortion.

If you're nearly broke now, you'll be fully broke soon. Don't ask me how I know...

Not intended to be flippant.

There are some good suggestions above. In fact, almost any lens will suffice to get you started. The old Tessar 1c lenses are quite nice wide open at f/4.5. There were a lot of "commercial" lenses produced the first half of the 20th century which were intended to be used as portrait lenses at wide apertures and sharp lenses stopped down. The Gundlach Radar comes to mind, although there were many others. Peruse the old catalogs at http://cameraeccentric.com/info to familiarize yourself with what was around back in the day. Today that stuff is all over Ebay. If a Verito is what you want to eventually use, you'll find one in time. They're forever showing up for sale. But start now with what you can afford. The experience gained will only benefit you later!

16-Dec-2014, 09:53
For Hurrell style portraits, you're looking at something like a Vitax or a Verito (both made by Wollensak). The Verito is SLIGHTLY less expensive than the Vitax, but both will run you in the $1K+ range for a version that will cover 8x10.

depends on period. Actually later ones shot with sharp Celor and other stuff (some books would claim him being first one to actually starting close Verito to achieve sharper looks in portrait.. which i think is bogus claim, but hey).
"soft" look of later ones is more of retouching technique.

to OP: anything from 300mm onwards will do just fine. 10" , and 12" lenses in barrel or in shutter are out for sale for 200$ or so with shutter, or even less in barrel. However if you doing 380 on 4x5 you do look at much longer focals to get same unnatural compression of perspective (almost twice the diagonal - which means you need 500mm+ - plenty of 480mm+ are out there though).

16-Dec-2014, 09:55
If the 380mm lens you already have and are using will cover 8x10, and it should unless it's a tele, it would seem like that's the cheapest solution until you get your feet wet and start jonesing for something in particular.

16-Dec-2014, 10:02
The 380mm I have won't cover 8x10 - Its a tele

Alan Gales
16-Dec-2014, 12:03
If you look at George Hurrell's photographs his images were soft focus at first and became sharper later in his career. Also be aware that his images were highly retouched as was a common practice with Hollywood portraiture. You need a lot of light for shooting 8x10 indoors. Hurrell used hot lights but you could instead use strobes.

16-Dec-2014, 12:20
Thank you, I wasn't seeking info on lighting however just lenses.
I got lighting covered. I have multiple Fresnel lights I have converted to run off of my Norman Studio packs, up to 4000ws if needed.

Yes, I have seen how Hurrell's and the style of others changed with the times as diffusion came and gone. My personal preference however is for the lower contrast uncoated look.

Peter De Smidt
16-Dec-2014, 13:02
If your lens is too contrasty, it's easy to add an uncoated filter(s).....