View Full Version : Who the heck is buying all the lenses?

David Honey
11-Dec-2005, 13:14
...and when are they going to stop!


The way I see it, there must be an army of addicts out there, caffeined-up, eyes permanently glued to eBay waiting for the final countdown or in search of the next near-mint Schneider.

Hordes of bug-eyed amateurs, equipment resellers, collectors, and other obsessives with too much time and money on their hands! (but I'm not guilty, of course not!)

I'm just wondering where they all come from, what's happening to all these lenses, and how many times must they change hands? I imagine many of them spend their whole lives on shelves between UPS shipments. Seems a pity.

What are the economics of this? It doesn't seem there could be that much profit in it as they are never at any point 'cheap'.

I know there has been a surge of interest in LF lately. Will a saturation point of lens ownership eventually be reached?

John Kasaian
11-Dec-2005, 14:43

Thanks a lot, David! You just let the cat out of the bag! Everyone here knows the secret to retiring rich with LF photography isn't by taking great photographs.

What you do is get an old lens off eBay that no one has ever heard of---the more german sounding the name the better--- claim it possesses either:

1) rare earth glass

2) a world famous reputation for bokeh

3)Ansel Adams used one

4)Edward Weston used one

5)Sally Mann used one (only it was in better condition than yours---hence yours is worth more)

Then you relist it on eBay and watch the money roll in. You can even buy and sell the same lens over and over if you wish. At least one successful LF photographer nobody has ever heard of and who never had an exhibit is now living out his golden years at his waterfront estate in Grand Cayman after doing just that.

...But YOU had to go blab it on the web! ;-)

David Starr
11-Dec-2005, 15:55
5)Sally Mann used one (only it was in better condition than yours---hence yours is worth more)

And if Sally Rand used it, it's worth WAY more. (on a camera!)

jonathan smith
11-Dec-2005, 16:13
"...this lens was dropped by Ansel Adams, here's the dent right here...

...and that's Weston's thumbprint there etched in the coating, you can check it with the FBI...

...and you can see the Virgin Mary in the reflections when it's set at f22 and you hold it at an angle..."

David Honey
11-Dec-2005, 16:19
LOL John. I suspected there must be more to photography than just taking lousy photos! Sorry to have spoiled all you poor old shutterbugs' retirement plans!

Anyway, I just got me a shiny mint Fujinon 90/8 SW for $100+ less than the KEH price (sorry KEH).
eBay can be pretty cool -- if you keep your cool, and know exactly what you want. No room for the wishy-washy!

QT Luong
11-Dec-2005, 16:22
Kerry bought them all, to research his series of lens articles :-)

David Honey
11-Dec-2005, 16:26
BTW, I have an idea this particular Fujinon was used by that famous guy um, what's his name, you know... some say he was a legend in his own mind back in the day, etc etc...

Just for the record, so when you see it up on eBay next..


Victor Samou Wong
11-Dec-2005, 16:33
I suspect that thousands of bored camera store owners pan the web when they have nothing else to do.

But besides that, anybody have a 100mm wide field ektar with good glass they want to sell me? I'm buying! After this I will never need another lense ever again... I promise!!!!!

Yeah with some of these ads you would think that Ansel's farts would make anything remotely photographic valueble.


David Honey
11-Dec-2005, 20:39
'After this I will never need another lense ever again... I promise!!!!!'

Yeah right! You're one of those that's causing all this lens-flation then? I thought so!

(BTW, I got my lens -- why am I *still* watching eBay countdowns??)

Michael Graves
11-Dec-2005, 21:46
I've got all the lenses I can use right now; except maybe a wide for the 8x10. I'm the guy who's been sneaking up at the last minute on all the good darkroom gear.

Victor Samou Wong
11-Dec-2005, 21:58
Sir Honey.


Are still watching ebay to be reassured that you weren't ripped off when you bought your last purchase... Either that or you need to buy less gear and take more pictures (as do I incidentally).

So far for my 4x5 I have a very sharp 127mm optar, I have a 240 ronar coming in... so now all I need is a wide angle ektar and I'm set......


David Honey
11-Dec-2005, 22:24
LOL! You might be right, Vic. I still have eyes for some of those fancy Schneiders even though I sure as heck don't need 'em.

I'll have to be content with my 90 and 210mm Fujis for awhile.

(How DO you get off eBay?)

David Honey
11-Dec-2005, 23:21
'How DO you get off eBay?'

(Yeah I know, get off the computer and go and take some photos!)

Ole Tjugen
12-Dec-2005, 02:52
If it's less than 80 years old, it wasn't me! :)

Scott Knowles
12-Dec-2005, 05:56
Interesting post. I just bought a Schneider lens on E-bay (120mm Super Symmar HM) to start my LF system (camera due in January). The lens was highly recommended and the one in that focal length range I had initially decided to buy, but found it wasn't being made anymore. I paid less than retail and less than its newer equivalent (110mm version). I was surprised there was only one other bidder, so I don't quite understand the reason for your post, but I don't watch E-bay that much anymore.

My concern is that if there is a surge in interest in LF photography (like me as a post-retirement interest) what's happening on the film side. If camera and lens companies are still supporting to varying degrees, why aren't the film companies if only as a small side business. After all the high-end film and digital cameras don't make the companies rich, it's PR for the company. Too often it seems the mass market profits are overwhelming corporate decisions where small profitable interests are being dropped.

Just my take. I'll promise to watch my E-bay buying. My other two lenses will likely be new if they're not available used.


David Honey
12-Dec-2005, 09:04
' ...I was surprised there was only one other bidder, so I don't quite understand the reason for your post, but I don't watch E-bay that much anymore.'

Hi Scott.

Now and again I've seen a nice-looking lens with too high a starting price. It may be a fair price, but no-one will bid on it. I think people like to start bidding low -- it gives them the feeling they're not merely paying the asking price (they don't seem to mind that they may end up paying even more in the bidding frenzy!)

Anyway, glad to hear you're cured. Me too; I've been away from eBay for 8 hours now. oh wait I just got up...


Steven Barall
12-Dec-2005, 09:40
Ebay is all about democracy. Our elected officials are very important to every aspect our daily lives yet we often vote for them based on ideas planted in our heads by clever slogans and advertisements. Is it really so surprising then that we vote for unimportant things on Ebay for those very same reasons?

William Mortensen
12-Dec-2005, 09:58
I must confess that, like Ole, I enjoy buying older lenses for the, um, "personality" they can bring to an image. I also like the sense of history. But I've noticed that even lenses from Ebay are more likely to be scratched, hazy, fungus-damaged, have coating spots, etc., when compared to those from retail stores. I've also gotten "covers 8x10" descriptions that weren't true. Yes, you can usually send it back, but I haven't yet...

I figure that roughly 30% of the lenses are damaged beyond what the description indicates. Savings compared to retail are about 30%, so I guess it's a wash... The fun thing about Ebay is that the selection is so wide, sometimes you do get a real bargain, and, best of all, some of the lenses are just so darned weird!

David Honey
12-Dec-2005, 10:16
Mark, I would buy more older lenses if I knew a bit more about them. I'll learn in time. Now I'm more likely to get them from local photo swaps where I can at least see if I can make it fit the camera.. But yes, old glass is very attractive once you have a few nice new ones and know you can obtain ultimate sharpness when needed.. I would take a picture through the bottom of a Coke bottle if I could, just to see what it looked like!

David Honey
12-Dec-2005, 10:18
Er, just in case that wasn't clear -- I don't mean to imply that old lenses are necessarily like Coke bottles..!

William Mortensen
12-Dec-2005, 10:31
David- For contact printing, virtually any lens with adequate coverage and no major damage is quite sharp closed down, and anything not-too-large should be able to be fit to a lensboard for your 4x5. Many very old lenses are quite sharp even when the negatives are enlarged considerable. The problems tend to be lack of contrast due to internal flare (due to lack of coatings) on designs with lots of air-to-glass surfaces, unreliable shutter speeds or no shutters at all, and occassionally, weird aberrations inherent in the design.

For b/w work, contrast can be adjusted for in processing, and while it does change the appearance of the final image, it can be preferable for some of us. My shutter speeds tend to be long enough that they are manually timed, so that's not an issue (for me). And people are paying a lot just to get those weird aberrations these days...

Given the low price on some of the lenses (especially for ones with 4x5 coverage), you should pick one up someday. Just wait til you run into one that looks back at you like a puppy in the dog pound, whimpering "take me home!"

12-Dec-2005, 11:57
you guys gave me an idea. i'm going to start a lens re-naming company. send me your old lens (a humble kodak or bauch and lomb whatever), and i'll send it back to you with new silk screening and a Certificate of Authenticity(tm), as a Vintage Schnouser-Blitzkrieg Uber-Megafotar, or some other like-sounding thing. For a small additional fee, the Certificate will be written in German, so dense with jargon and made-up words as to be indecipherable even to a real German optical engineer.

As an added service I can guarantee your new lens name to be one-of-a-kind.

Donald Brewster
12-Dec-2005, 11:59
It is all Jim Galli's doing. ;-)

David Honey
12-Dec-2005, 19:33
Mark, tell me more: ' ...people are paying a lot just to get those weird aberrations these days...'

Paul -- don't forget 'Weitwinkel'.

William Mortensen
12-Dec-2005, 23:14
"Mark, tell me more: ' ...people are paying a lot just to get those weird aberrations these days...' "

David- Ever since lens designers started designing lenses, they've been trying to make them as sharp and crisp as possible, which has meant, among other things, designing out aberrations which soften the image. Soft-focus lenses,on the other hand, deliberately allow aberrations, specifically spherical, and sometimes chromatic, aberration to soften the image. Older soft-focus lenses, such as the Pinkham-Smith, Wollensak Verito or Vitax, or others have been in pretty big demand. Soft-focus lenses are still made, and are among the more expensive.

In these high-precision, small f/stop days when an image from any decent lens looks pretty much the same as an image made by any other decent lens, it's somehow reassurring that there are a few lenses that, properly used, can make a very significant difference to an image...

Paul- Just gold-plate my front rim! (Haven't you always wanted a Golden Raptar?) I think I have the world's only Red Dot Optar. Wonder what it's worth...

Ole Tjugen
13-Dec-2005, 03:34
I sometimes feel that anyone who thinks old lenses are unsharp should be requited to examine a vintage Daguerreotype under a microscope. Those were mostly shot with Petzval lenses, wide open at f:3.5. The central sharpness surpasses just about anything modern. The same goes for well-made Aplanats (=Rapid Rectilinars) too. Admittedely the sharpness drops off rapidly towards the edges of the "coverage", but that's part of the reason why these lenses are still attractive!

Jim Galli
13-Dec-2005, 10:52
Guilty. You know that picture on the front of 50 year old Burke and James catalogs that shows the bank vault door with the floor to ceiling shelves with a ladder on wheels just to reach up to the high shelves and the guy in the long white lab coat walking out the door of heaven with a lens that weighs 36 pounds and is about 22" long...........not quite there yet, but working on it.

Kerry L. Thalmann
13-Dec-2005, 12:02
Jim G. - not quite there yet, but working on it.

I'm guessing the only thing you currently lack is the long white lab coat. You can probably find one of those on eBay, too.


13-Dec-2005, 14:40

It IS Jim Galli's fault. All of it, I tell you and it's witchcraft!

Darn, just look at this serial number! I've become a dog-gone collector! By accident!

Ron Bose
18-Dec-2005, 17:18
My local 'dealer' told me that he was selling a lot of his LF lenses to the Department of Defence here in Canada, they of course wouldn't tell him what they were going to use them for !!!