View Full Version : Lenses for LF backpacking

Laura Lea Nalle
3-Jan-2006, 04:38
Howdy Yall,

I have scoured the archives, read Kerry Thalmann's future classics and lightweight lens articles at least a dozen times each, and read with great interest a whole slew of extemporaneous posts only peripherally related to lenses for backpacking.

I'm shopping around lenses intended mainly for landscape photography and backpacking in remote areas for extended periods of time. Kerry T. recommends either a 3-lens set: 90/150/240 or a 4-lens set: 90/135/200/300. I'm wondering if anyone (besides QT Luong) carries their 110mm SS XL on backpacking trips. Kerry says it doesn't meet his lightweight criteria, but in another section of his article says he doesn't use his 90mm nearly as much these days. Do you suffer the extra 300g for the SS XL? And if you do, does that change the other lenses in your selection?

Here's what I'm thinking (btw, I'll be using either an Ebony RW45 or SV45TI): a 110mm SS XL, a 150mm APO-Sironar-S, a 200mm Nikkor-M, a 240mm Fujinon-A, and a 300mm Nikkor-M. In this scenario, I could carry a 110/200/300 set or a 110/150/240/(w/ or w/out 300) set. For those of you who do backpacking trips, would either of these sets cover you?

In addition to traditional landscapes, I enjoy closer-up abstractions of cool rock formations, interesting patterns in leaves, etc. that would require a lens that lends itself to such work (Fuji 240mm- I've done my homework).

Am I on the right track here? If I bought three or four lenses, which should they be? I'm leaning towards the 110/150/240/300 set and adding the 200 would not be too difficult in the near-ish future.

Would I be better off with the 90mm f/8 Nikkor SW than the 110mm SS XL? Is the hype over the SS XL worth the huge price tag?

Also, how much could a person save by buying this stuff on the used market?

Thanks for your help,
Laura Lea

Ron Marshall
3-Jan-2006, 05:14
Hi Laura Lea,

I carry the 110xl, a Rodenstock 180 5.6 and fuji 300 8.5. If you substitute a fuji A 180 f9 for the Rodenstock that would be a reasonably light set with good coverage and spacing.

Steve Hamley
3-Jan-2006, 05:55

How much weight you can carry or justify while backpacking is a very subjective thing. If you're strong and in good shape, you can justify more weight than if you aren't. And 5 days of backpacking isn't always the same. Mileage and in what conditions you're backpacking has a large effect because of pack weight, terrain, and bulk of food, shelter, and clothing. Backpacking 5 days in winter in Alaska with large elevation gains would imply a heavier pack than backpacking 5 days in the Smokie's lowlands in mild weather on mostly jeep roads. You can make concessions on cameras and lenses, less for food, clothing, and shelter.

I like the SS XL series very much. I find them extremely flare resistant even pointed into the sun, something I can't say for the Fujinon-As I sold because of flare (although I miss their lack of weight). I use the 110mm a lot for near-far sunset and sunrise shots on 4x5.


The SS XLs also seem to have neutral bokeh if that's important to you. If you don't want to carry the 110mm, carry the 80mm SS XL and crop if you have to, and it will replace the 110mm or the 90mm focal lengths.

I actually bought a regular 120mm f/5.6 Apo Symmar with the idea of it being a lightweight replacement for the 110mm on more difficult hikes, but find I just suck it up and carry the 110mm. The 120mm will be sold or traded soon.

Now, is the 110mm worth carrying the weight? Yes, but I think it depends on how you "see" the world more than the mass of the lens. You've mentioned a couple of "sets" of focal lengths, but I'd give the following advice. First find out what focal lengths you're confortable with. I started out with the standard 150-210-300 and found that I was more of a "wide" person and sold most of them for a 135-180-240 set. This is personally more important to me than lens weight, although I admit I don't do extended backpacking. Secondly, your lens set for a given activity should depend on your subject matter and location. IMO, fixing your focal lengths before you know your location and potential subjects is not the best approach photographically speaking.

In the normal lengths, I'd probably choose an Apo Sironar-N over the S because of weight and I've also found my 135mm Apo Sironar-S is prone to producing a bad iris ghost pointed into the light although its superlative in every other aspect. Another choice would be a 150mm f/9 process lens like the G-Claron or even better, the multicoated 150mm f/9 Germinar-W Kerry was (is?) selling.

In the longer lengths, the Nikkor 200M and 300M are excellent choices.

Hope this helps,


Per Madsen
3-Jan-2006, 06:06
I would go 65 - 90 - 150 - 300 instead.

I love the 65 mm ultra wideangle, the 90 mm is a good moderate wideangle,
the 150 mm is good for general use and the 300 mm is long enough to make
a differance (and light enough to be portable (300 mm Nikkor M).

Steve Clark
3-Jan-2006, 06:36
Traveling light for me means, a 90mm f/6.8 Angulon, 135 Apo-Sironar N, and a Fuji 180 A series. Step up rings are used to bring them all to a common 52mm filter size and all will fold inside a Horseman FA. Don`t take anything you won`t use OFTEN. Sometimes, only the 90mm or 135mm will go with me.

Ralph Barker
3-Jan-2006, 06:51
I don't really "backpack" (hike for miles/days), so take my comments accordingly.

Personally, I find the 110mm SS/XL ideal for hauling around, and it has virtually replaced the 90mm lens's use for me. From there, I jump to a 210mm for 4x5. I seldom feel a need for anything in the 300mm range with 4x5. I'll sometimes add a 65mm to the set.

If I'm also shooting 8x10, I'll substitute a 240m G-Claron for the 210, and add a 150mm SS/XL and a 450mm Nikkor M. That setup gets rather heavy rather quickly, however. In this case, I usually leave the 4x5 field cam in the truck, and use a reducing back on the 8x10.

It's all really a matter of personal preferences, though - along with one's personal tolerance for a heavy pack.

Frank Petronio
3-Jan-2006, 07:07
Like Ralph, I don't backpack but your selection sounds like a groaner. The Ebony is no light camera, so you could argue what the heck does weight matter? But everyone loves the 110XL and Fuji 240/9, so why not buy those two only and start simple? If you decide that you really need an intermediate or need to go longer or shorter, then you'll have the cash left to do so. But I suspect you could do 99% of your work with those two lens - I know I could. But you're also looking at $1200 for the XL and $600 for the 240 on eBay.

For real lightweight, a late (7 million plus serial number) 90mm Linhof Angulon and a 210mm Rodenstock Geronar are hard to beat (about $600 for both on eBay).

Personally, I'd get a cheap Tachihara or some other lightweight with the 90 and 210-240 combo if I wanted to seriously backpack. Do you really need the fancy movements of an Ebony in the field? I kind of doubt it.

Bruce Watson
3-Jan-2006, 07:19
I've been down this same road myself. I too am backpacking my 5x4, and I went the light weight route where I could.

The one exception I make against K. T.'s recommendation is that I do carry the 110mm SS-XL. It's just such a good lens, and it's one of my most used lenses.

I generally carry a four lens set - 80mm SS-XL, 110mm SS-XL, 150mm Sironar-S, and 240mm Fujinon-A. If I'm in an area without the wide open landscape opportunities (that is, I'm not in a western national park) then the 80mm can stay home. On the east coast I normally carry just the 110, 150, 240 package you suggest. IOW, I think you are on the right track.

I would leave off the 300/360mm lenses for now. Why? The 300 is too close to the 240 - you don't gain enough to justify it's weight in the pack. A 360 seems like an attractive idea (I bought one myself) but it turns out to be my most neglected lens - I've only used if three or four times in the last three years. Again, it's not worth it's weight in the pack.

The joy of the 110, 150, 240 trio for me (besides the outstanding lens quality of all three) is the angle of view spacing - 60, 45, and 30 degrees (approx.) which I find very "user friendly." I like that consistent fifteen degree spacing.

Anyway, at least one person out here in LF land has been doing exactly what you are thinking about for several years, and I'm telling you that it works beautifully for me.

Antonio Corcuera
3-Jan-2006, 07:36
I think the best starting point is to convert your favourite/most used focal lenghts in 35mm or MF to 4x5".
Don't buy 4 lenses right away, take it easy and buy two. Go out and shoot, and soon you'll see if you need other lenses and which focals.

All this weight consciousness reminds me of my days as an amateur mountain bike racer. I had friends who would change all their steel bolts and nuts to titanium just to save 150g of their bike's weight.
If you are very really weight conscious, you will save more weight by choosing a Toho or Gowland or Pocket Expedition Wisner instead of an Ebony and using quickloads than with the lenses. You can save even more weight with a CF tripod and in choosing a light backpack.

Jack Brady
3-Jan-2006, 07:48

I've been hiking for near 40 years and doing photography longer than that.
Today, at 59 years old weight is a major factor in keeping my joints in shape to be able to hike long into the future.

I'm currently using the following:

Gitzo 1227MKII carbon fiber tripod with Arca head and a RRS Pano Head on the Arca.
This allows limited panaramics if I'm in the mood and is a fairly light configuration. It is adequately stable for my set up.

Ebony 45SU - fairly light and has the asymmetric back

Schneider 80XL; Rodenstock 135 and the Nikkor 210 lenses.

I'm finding this to be an excellent assortment with minimum weight and space taken up. Only lens I plan to add in the future would possible be the Nikkor 360 convertable, and up to this point I've done fine without it.


Once on film, I go digital and scan on my 8000 line drum scanner and find that I can crop to reflect what would be an in-between focal lenght from any of the above lenses and get very adequate resolution. Thus, I don't have to worry about the negative cropping issues that arise with a traditional enlarger; thus digital crop of high res file = fewer lenses. It works for me.

I would suggest Jim Andreki at Midwest Photo as an excellent resource for camera and lenses - be cautious on buying any of the Schneider XL's used as they had quite a few quality control issues with the early iterations of the XL's. Thus, I bought all of my gear new with full USA warranties.


Jim Rhoades
3-Jan-2006, 07:59
I stopped real backpacking 25 years ago. I still carry L/F gear into the field though. Steve Clark must be my long lost twin brother because light for me is a 90 mm f/6.8 Optar, 135mm Sironar N, and a 203 Ektar and all will fit mounted inside my Horseman HD. Going heavy for me means changing the 203 for a 210 f/6.8 Caltar. When needed a Fuji 300 tele goes along. Yeah it's heaver than a 300M but my camera weights half as much as yours. Not much bellows either. I never feel the need for big movements so the tiny 90 works for me. I have a Rodenstock 90 that sits at home or in the van but never in a pack. Same thing for the bigger cameras. The older I get the less I carry. The longer the trail the even less I carry. 100 feet from the van I'll whip out a 8x10 with a 5 lb. lens. YMMV.

3-Jan-2006, 08:01
You haven't even settled on a camera, yet. Until you have made some shorter "exploratory" trips there's no way you can decide in advance which lenses you might actually need and use. John Blakemore did it all with a sngle 180mm lens. Ansel Adams carried a whole station wagon full of equipment when he was on the road.
I suggest that you first buy (beg, borrow, steal, or rent) a camera, and then do a couple of week-enders with one or two lenses, along with the big tripod, film holders, light meters, dark cloth, changing bag, filters, and all the other necessary junk required for LF landscape photography. You will soon realize what other lenses, if any, you should consider.
Who knows -- you may even wisely decide to stick to whatever format you're using now.

John Kasaian
3-Jan-2006, 08:31

I'll echo the comments of others about experience being a good mentor. I'd suggest starting out with one lens, probably a wide since you're into close ups, and see what you think. Something like a 135 WF Ektar or 120 Angulon would be a good place to start. Anyway, it would help you determine if you want to invest in a 110 or 90 or even a more modern 120/135. I think something like s 240 G Claron or Fuji would nicely compliment your 120/135 if you feel pressed to add a longer lens to your kit.

Good luck and welcome to LF!

John Berry ( Roadkill )
3-Jan-2006, 09:02
My input is based on my experience of living out of a rucksack, for a year in the central highlands of VN 67-68. I would like to forward you to day two of this venture. Weight will not be an object, it will be THE object. You want to know what dinner will be tonight? It will be the heaviest thing in the pack. I would use readyloads or quickloads. In this case it's worth the expense. Worth it, in my book just for the dust spot problem reduction. ( you don't want to haul all that crap around for a week and have nothing to show, but dust spot portraits ) If not, did you remember to add the weight of a changing bag. I would only carry two lenses for 4x5. For me anyway, 135 Wide field ektar, and a 210 macro sironar. You may miss some shots, but with only two you will see shots you would have missed before.

Eric Leppanen
3-Jan-2006, 09:30

1) The SS110XL is the best modern moderate-wide lens for 4x5 landscape applications IMHO, so the hype is deserved. Superb weight-to-coverage ratio, excellent contrast and resistance to flare, extremely sharp. Whether this is the right wide-angle focal length for you (versus a 90 or 80) depends on your personal photographic vision. Many folks find the 110 to be wide enough; personally, I own both the 80 and the 110 since in my neck-of-the-woods (southwest U.S.) wide open spaces and close-ups of large subjects sometimes demand a wider-angle lens.

2) If you go with the SS110XL, consider getting the universal bellows for the Ebony camera, as this will allow more movement. The SS110XL allows an incredible amount of front rise, which you'll appreciate if you ever find yourself shooting up at trees, buildings, from the floor of canyons, etc. The standard bellows may restrict movements to some extent.

3) My experience with multi-day backpacking trips is that every bit of weight savings is appreciated! I would suggest a three-lens set such as 80-150-240 or 110-150-240. The Fuji 240A is so sharp that cropping it a bit is not a bad trade-off compared to carrying a fourth 300mm lens. IMHO 150-200-240 is too close together, you can skip the 200.

4) The Docter 150 Germinar-W mounted in Compur 0 shutter is arguably the best 4x5 backpacking lens, as it is considerably lighter than the 150 Sironar-S (132 g vs. 250 g). See www.thalmann.com/Ebay/150mm_Germinar_W.html (http://www.thalmann.com/Ebay/150mm_Germinar_W.html) for a description. Kerry Thalmann is actually getting ready to sell some of these lenses on the APUG forum, see www.apug.org/forums/showthread.php?t=22085 (http://www.apug.org/forums/showthread.php?t=22085). The main drawbacks to the Germinar are that it has a maximum aperture of f/9 (somewhat darker focusing) and you'd have to have a third-party mount it in shutter (such as SK Grimes).

5) You've read Kerry's articles and don't mention the Toho FC-45X, so I assume you prefer a folding field camera even though the Toho is lighter.

6) General rule of thumb is that you save roughly 25-30% when buying used top-notch, portable LF equipment. Definitely worth doing if you have the time and patience. Midwest Photo is a great place to start, as Jim Andracki is a great guy to work with and his prices are generally competitive with Ebay. Ebay is another good source, but there is a learning curve to using it successfully (know how to carefully evaluate products to ensure everything works as advertised, insist on return privileges, etc.). If you are new at this, then Midwest is a safer place to start.

Good luck!

George Stewart
3-Jan-2006, 09:47
I use the Wisner 4x5 Pocket Expedition with Schneider 90mm f/6.8 Angulon, Schneider 150mm f/9 G-Claron and Fujinon C 300mm f/8.5. I also carry a Contax TVS II with filters (B&W). I have resisted getting larger/cooler lenses like the 80/110 XLs because of weight-if I'm close to the car, I'll shoot 8x10 with its associated 5 lb lenses. The 90 Angulon has very limited coverage and I often wish I had a wide lens with more coverage, but it alsways seems to work. My recommendation would be to go for weight reduction first, then add higher end lenses later. In other words, having two or three backpacking lenses is ideal for an expedition, but having some others when the walk is not quite so far is not bad either.

Doug Dolde
3-Jan-2006, 11:05
I can't see a need for a 150mm lens if you have the 110mm that moving the camera won't cure.

My current kit is the 110mm SSXL and an APO Symmar 210mm.

neil poulsen
3-Jan-2006, 11:06
It sounds like you haven't bought a lot in LF yet. If that's the case, you're basing a lot of your strategy weight, when you should be basing it on your shooting tastes in lenses. Don't try to get everything at once; it's too prone to expensive mistakes in purchasing lenses that may not match your style of shooting.

What are your tastes in other formats that you've used? Do you like shooting wide, or do you like shooting longer lenses. What lenses do you like, and in which format?

Consider beginning with two lenses, one moderately wide, and one that's a little longer than 150mm. The one that stands out to me as a safe choice is the 110mm. It's very sharp, it has some advantages in weight over a 120mm or 121mm, and it's a very usable focal length. After that, it depends on what you like in focal lengths. For me a 180mm would be the next choice, but some find this lens too short, in which case, perhaps a 210mm would be better. Whatever you get, as you use them, you'll develop a sense of the directions that you want to go in lenses.

As Frank mentioned, the Ebonies are relatively heavy cameras. (They're excellent, though.) If weight really is a consideration, try to find something under six pounds that allows for interchangeable bellows. I looked at an all metal Canham the other day that was light and had quite solid controls. I can't make many suggestions here, because my camera weighs over seven pounds.

Eric Biggerstaff
3-Jan-2006, 11:19

There are many great recommendations here, but I will add my 2 cents worth.

Having been a backpacker for over 25 years, saving ounces in my opinion is important.

For me, going light means using my Tachihara with two lenses ( usually my Rodenstock 90mm and Rodenstock 210mm), a Fuji Quickload holder with Acros 100, a meter ( with a couple of extra batteries) and dark cloth( or dark towel which can do double duty). I combine this with a Gitzo CF tripod and a Bogen compact head. This seems to cover MY needs very well and is very light to carry. I know what I like to photograph and these choices cover about everything.

The equipment you list is all VERY good, tough to beat an Ebony. But if you are really looking at taking extended backpacking trips into the great outdoors then every ounce counts. You might want to consider other camera options, for example, ones that give you all the movements you will need for the lenses you want, but save a few pounds as well ( and are more compact when folded). Also, given what you like to photograph ( closeups of leaves, rock formations, abstracts) then perhaps you can do with a two lens set as opposed to a 4 lens set?

If you are new to LF, then you might want to ease into it and start with a smaller kit. You cannot go wrong with any of the equipment listed by you, or anyone else, on this thread. You can, however, spend a great deal of money and then realize that either LF is not right for you OR the equipment is not suited to your style of working.

Good luck and have fun.


Joseph O'Neil
3-Jan-2006, 11:21
90mm Angulon, 135mm Rodenstock and 180mm Rodenstock. The 90, 135 and 180mm seems to be a common theme here. :)

I am finding more and more however, that my 90mm angluon stays home, replaced by my Fujinon 105. For backpacking, I find the 105 just as usefull as the 90, and the greater range of movements a nice thing to have.


3-Jan-2006, 11:35
I really wouldn't sweat too much over the weight of lenses. You're talking about saving maybe a pound, and the lenses are presumeably central to why you're out there anyhow. All else being equal, go for a light one, but no reason to obsess over it.

There are many, many other ways to save weight. Check out resources for alpine climbing. Climbers face similar issues as camera backpackers: the need to keep weight down, and the need to bring a lot of extra technical crap. Lightening the technical crap can only be taken so far, so you reduce other things. You can probably find a pack that weighs half as much as the one you're using now. Same with whatever kind of shelter you're using. There are extremely light stoves. Light clothes. Light shoes. Light food. Much of this stuff is pricey, but the money spent on saved ounces will be a lot less than with lenses.

3-Jan-2006, 11:44
A couple of thoughts:
1. I think 240mm and 300m are too close. If you want the reach of a 300mm and also the 110XL, a 3-lens set with 110XL, 180mm (say Fuhinon A), and 300m (say Nikkor M) would give a good spread. I settled on a 135mm / 240mm combination a light weight kit that I can walk around with all day long.

2. Several people cautioned against the weight of Ebony cameras. The Ebony RW45 (one of the 2 under consideration) is not noticeably heavier than a Tachihara, is it ?

William Mortensen
3-Jan-2006, 12:02
Should you get a "90/135/200/300 set" or a"110/200/300 set" or a "110/150/240/(w/ or w/out 300) set", or some other variation?

Looking at the spacing, nearly all are identical sets, with a little variation in the spacing. I don't see where one set of focal lengths would impact your images over another set. I'd look more at which individual lenses you want, and build your set around one or two prime choices. (Sounds like the 110 XL is a prime candidate there!)

There aren't any obviously bad choices in modern lenses, but quite a few of us develop favorites, which is why people end up trading this lens for that, making minor changes based on experience. Some people choose for weight, some for coverage, some for a common filter size, some for resolution, some for contrast or flare-resistance, heck, some spend a bunch for spherical aberration or bokeh! So it's hard to choose for someone else...

I'd echo the "start with one lens" approach, or maybe two widely spaced, and see what you like and dislike, or feel that you need. Maybe with say, a 110mm and 210mm, you'll find yourself needing nothing else.

(Personal disclaimer: I have about a dozen 12" lenses for my 8x10, and with carefully practiced self-delusion, I'm sure I need them all...)

Christopher Perez
3-Jan-2006, 12:19
For ultra-light weight work, you might look for an Ikeda Anba, Nagaoka, or Toho camera body. Or even a Tachihara would be nice.

Any of the lenses people have discussed will work to your advantage.

To be honest, the 110XL is a brilliant lens. But who wants to worry about dropping $1700US worth of optics on stone or into water?

Here are a couple lens sets that I use in varying situations:

- 90Angulon, 150Germinar-W, 200Nikkor M

- 75Grandagon f/6.8, 120APO Symmar (a 125mm Fuji W/EBC will do), 200NikkorM, 300Nikkor M

- 110SS XL, 200Nikkor M

If money were a concern (and apparently it's not), I'd suggest something like:

- 90Angulon ($150), 150 Sironar-N ($250), 240GClaron ($350)

YMMWV. :-)

Good luck.

Jack Flesher
3-Jan-2006, 12:48
I think we should perhaps look at what you defined as "backpacking" -- as there are two types I do...

The first is when I spend multiple nights out in the field and am carrying all my pack gear and camera gear in my pack -- as you described above. The second is when I'm out for an entire day of hiking or perhaps a simple overnight for the express purpose of photography.

Now days I usually only do the latter and usually carry four and sometimes five lenses; 55 and/or 75, 110, 150 and 300.

However, when I regularly did the former I would usually carry only two lenses: either a 75 and 150, or a 120 and 300. Personally I felt my 90 Nikkor and 110XL were too heavy, though Kerry's 90mm Congo certainly would work.

FWIW, the Schneider APO Symmar 120 is a very sharp, yet tiny and featherweight lens that covers 4x5 with more than enough movement for landscape needs (I get over 25mm of rise/fall with mine). It and the Nikkor 300M weigh close enough to nothing and take up very little room.

Jack Flesher
3-Jan-2006, 12:53
PS: For close-ups of interesting patterns, I have migrated to a Schneider G-Claron 210.

David A. Goldfarb
3-Jan-2006, 13:05
My minimalist ultralight kit these days is the Gowland 4x5" Front-moves PocketView, 90/6.8 Angulon and 135 Caltar II-N (same as a Sironar-N), which I've been testing as a convertible lens, Grafmatics, Linhof 42mm drop in filter set and shade, Gossen Digisix meter, Linhof Report tripod and ballhead.

I'm usually not that minimalist though, and tend to use this combination mainly together with another camera. I'm not averse to doing a day hike with a Tech V and six lenses or 8x10" Gowland PocketView and five lenses.

Dave Henry
3-Jan-2006, 13:43
Hi Laura:

Re-read John Berry's and both Erics' comments. Once you're out there, you will quickly discover weight IS important and creature comforts such as hot food, that extra packet of toilet paper (especially for the ladies) and an extra bottle of Deet is worth the weight.

Like several of the others here, I have backpacked and hiked a long time. I define hiking as not spending the night out and backpacking as taking out a 60 pound pack for three days. My shooting kits vary with both. As mentioned above, you really need to consider everything you take in addition to your camera equipment. I count every ounce. Now that I've turned the corner on 55 it has become even more important. I used to go out for 3-5 days but I can't carry that much and my back lost its ability to conform to the terrain. I may even consider overnights only this year.

My backpacking kit is a Tachihara 4x5, 90/8 Schneider, 135 Nikkor, 210 Nikkor, Canon 20D w/28-70. If I'm only spending one night out I'll include a Fujinon 300T. I too, only shoot Readyloads. They are much lighter than holders and I like making notes directly on the film sleeves. 20 Readyloads weigh the same as 5 holders.

For hiking I add a Fujinon 300T and/or 400T to the kit depending on my mood and the location. My hiking only kit weighs approx. 20 pounds. It's a big difference from hauling around food, shelter etc.

The luxury I added to my kit this season is an Apple iPod Nano. The thought of walking along listening to Piccini and photographing the grandeur before me is just exhilarating. I rationalized the expense because I can make voice notes in the field... that's important, isn't it?

I was reading a thread on this forum last month about living in an RV and it was suggested that one should really seek out someone with a lot of knowledge before making the plunge. The same applies here and even more so because it is all on your back.

Anyway, proceed very slowly and you'll enjoy the experience. If you're ever in California, send me a note.

Jack Brady
3-Jan-2006, 14:17
I would like to add one item to my above posting - My Ebony 45SU is made of mahogany, not ebony and is quite a bit lighter than the ebony. Getting it in mahogany is a special order, but I feel the weight saving is worth the wait.

Ted Harris
3-Jan-2006, 15:33
At yet another comment .... my travel 'kit' that is what I take on a plane consists of a small field camera (which one varies sometimes but usually a Toyo AII ..which is not a lightweight) and 2 lenses, 135 Apo Sironar S and Fuji 240 A. Both lenses are small and lightweight and make it possible to put the camera, both lenses, spotmeter, loupe, film and quick/readyload holder, along with some small accessories, all in the Orvis bag that Kerrry and I have been talking about. For the past several week when shooting out in the snow I have been purposely limitingmyself to these tow lenses most of the time just to see how constrained I felt. Answer, for the most part they worked fine. For most single day hiking I packmsot of the gear in the backpack before i leave the house but put a bag with a larger assortment of lenses in the truck and make my final choices when I decide exactly where I am going (yeah yeah yeah I know I should have made up my mind before I started but then plans frequently change). The two lens set is usually as above. If I know I am going to want wide angle then a 75mm or the 110 goes and the 135 does not; further I may also add a 180 Sirnonar N in the middle.

Laura Lea Nalle
3-Jan-2006, 16:04
Thanks for all your suggestions.

To clarify: The ebonys I am looking at are both made in mahogany--much lighter than the ebony wood. The RW45 weighs in under 4 pounds, the SV45TI is just over 4. I will probably opt for the lighter--and less expensive RW45 (w/ universal bellows). I looked at the Wisner's (I asked yall's opinion several months back and opted against them) I considered the Canham, Tachi, etc.

Also, I will be carrying a CF (G1228) tripod with modified Slik ballhead, readyloads, etc.

My camping equip is as light as it gets, including the stove, tent, bag, pad, food, pack, and misc gear.

I also do a combination of day hiking and backpacking. On a recent trip through the Southwest, I did mostly day hikes and camped in the campgrounds. I did do several nights of backpacking in Bryce (that was an adventure- monsoons, hail, lightning, mudslides, (it doesn't have to be FUN to be Fun!)).

In any case, I think the general advice of buying in slowing is sage. My favored 35mm focal lengths translate to the 110/150/240 lenses. I can add in other focal lengths from there, but I think that is a good start with high quality lenses.

Thanks again for the input.

Kerry L. Thalmann
3-Jan-2006, 16:15

You've gotten several great responses already, but since this is an area of interest (some would say obsession) for me, I'll toss in my 2 cents.

Steve makes a very good point - when and where you will be backpacking along with trip length will have a bigger impact on your total pack weight than your lens selection. Even here in the Pacific Northwest my pack weight varies greatly depending on the season and location of my trip. For summer trips and/or low elevation where snow and ice is unlikely, my pack total pack weight, including a full large format system, is usually in the low 40 lb. range. For week-long October trips at high elevation when cold temps are a given and heavy snowfall a definite posibility, I carry more and warmer clothes, more stove fuel, extra food, etc. When the conditions can turn nasty, you need to be prepared and have a larger saftey margin. For these trips, it is not uncommon for my pack weight to push 65 lbs. So, during short summertime trips, I can carry an extra lens or two and not even notice the added pack weight. Where are you located, or more importantly, when and where do you plan to backpack? If it's someplace that has a mild climate, I wouldn't worry too much about the weight of the lenses.

You also seem a bit unsure about what focal lengths you want. I think you need to answer this question first, before you worry about specific lenses. Focal length preference is a very personal thing. Some landscape shooters just LOVE the wide and ultrawide lenses. I personally like lenses in the moderately wide to slightly long range best, followed by longer lenses, with ultrawides bringing up the rear. I have never been a big user of ultrawide lenses in any format. But that's just me personally and based on the way I see and photograph - and it has nothing to do with the way you (or anybody else) sees and photographs. Don't base your decisions on what I (or anybody else) use and recommend without first factoring in your own personal preferences.

WRT your specific question about the 110mm Super Symmar XL - it is indeed a very wonderful lens. The enthusiasm and glowing praise of this lens should not be considered "hype". Based on my personal experience, all good things said about this lens are definitely true. It offers a unique combination of size/weight, performance and coverage. I also happen to really love this focal length (again, just MY personal preference). It is a nice, gentle wide angle. To me, it's wide enough for most of my needs. However, for 4x5 you don't really need the huge coverage. So, if weight is a BIG concern, you might consider something smaller in a similar focal length. For years, I've been using a 120mm APO Symmar for 6x12. The rated 179mm image circle would imply insufficient coverage for anything beyond modest movements on 4x5. However, Schneider's coverage spec is conservative. I took this lens on a backpacking trip last fall and it ended up being my most used lens (for 4x5) of the five I carried. The newer 120mm APO Symmar-L is just a bit bigger and offers a little more coverage (189mm published image circle). One of these, or perhaps even a 105mm Fujinon CM-W might be a lighter (and much cheaper) alternative to the 110mm XL.

On the other hand, if you feel you NEED the coverage of the 110 XL (or just WANT the legendary performance), and you plan to buy new, ask Schneider about getting a lens mounted in a Copal No. 1 Press shutter. The Copal No. 1 Press weighs 50g (about 2 oz.) less than a standard Copal No. 1 shutter. Yeah, big deal, it's only two ounces, but it actually gets the weight of the 110mm XL (387g) down close to the 90mm Nikkor SW. Sort of the best of both - the coverage and performance of the 110 XL with the weight of a slower 90mm (f8 Nikkow SW - 360g, f8 Super Angulon - 390g, f8 Fujinon SW - 407g, f6.8 Grandagon-N - 460g). The one thing you do give up with the Press shutter is shutter speeds faster than 1/125th second. That is not an issue for me personally, but it might be for some folks. I actually stumbled upon this weight advantage of the Copal No. 1 Press shutter quite by accident. I bought a used lens off eBay and couldn't believe how light it was when it arrived. It actually felt light as a feather in my hand. So, I broke out the scale and weighed it. Sure enough it was a couple ounces lighter than the manufacturer's spec. For an ounce-counter like me this was a pleasant surprise. Over the last year, I have converted many of my lenses in No. 1 shutters to Copal No. 1 press shutters. In addition to the weight savings (a No. 1 shutter that weighs the same as a Copal No. 0), I also like the way the Press shutters work. I find them faster to operate and less prone to operator error. If you do decide to go this route, contact Schneider and see if they will supply you with a new lens factory-fitted in the Press shutter. The performance of this lens is sensitive to cell spacing, and while end-user shutter swapping is possible, it might negatively impact the performance that you are paying extra to get.

As far as focal lengths, I agree with others that you need to get a better idea of what focal lengths you like before plopping down the cash to buy four or five lenses. Get one or two first and see how you like them and then add others/make adjustments as needed. You might end up with a combination totally different than what you currently expect. You may also find that you can get by perfectly well with just two lenses (perhaps 110 and 240 or 110 and 210) - which would allow you to have two REALLY top notch lenses that weigh less than ANY four or five lens combo. Sometimes less is more. On the other hand, you may find you really do need four or five lenses to adaquately meet all your needs - but still better to start with one or two and add more as you figure out just exactly what you need.

Finally, as others have mentioned, the Ebony model you are considering is a bit on the heavy side. There are certainly lighter cameras out there if weight is of the utmost importance. Of course, the Ebony cameras are beautifully made and a pleasure to use but ebony is a very dense wood and despite common perception titanium is NOT an ultralight metal (it does offer a great combination of strength/weight, but aluminum is lighter and often plenty strong enough). Of course, if you have your heart set on an Ebony, by all means get one. After trying just about every camera made, I have come to the conclusion that I NEED two cameras to meet all my needs - one ultralight model (a Toho FC-45X in my case) for backpacking and one heavier, general purpose model (ARCA-SWISS F-Line these days) for everything else. Perhaps a Toho or an Anba for backpacking combined with an Ebony for everything else would be a good option for you.


Harley Goldman
3-Jan-2006, 16:43
Lots of good info here.

I backpack with a Toho camera, an 80mm, 150mm and 240mm (the Fujinon, an outstanding lens). I have a Gitzo 1127 and a RRS BH-40 ballhead. The Gitzo is a bit on the light side, but I carry a mesh bag and weight it down with rocks hanging on the center hook. I use the same lenses when not backpacking, adding a 58mm and a 450mm on an Arca. I have never tried the 110mm. It is supposed to be a fine lens, but so far, I have never felt like I have a huge gap in my lens lengths.

Wilbur Wong
3-Jan-2006, 16:47
When I bought my first lenses, I wasn't nearly as critical of weight as I am today 25 plus years later. I consider the 90mm f 4.5 a serious mistake which I still carry around at age 59 and looking forward to replacing it with an f8.0. Sure it is only a difference of maybe 10 or 12 ounces, but even multiplying less than that for the impact on a 5 lens kit adds up to a jacket or part of a days food. There are some who feel faster lenses focus easier, I find that this applies the most to wide angle lenses, and a really good ground glass / fresnel set-up will allow the use of slower wide lenses.

My current kit is a 1.5 to 1 progression: 65, 90, 135, 210 (to be replaced in the future with a lighter 200) and 300.


Christopher Perez
3-Jan-2006, 16:59
A couple further notes:

Call me strange, but my 4x5 lens kit comes nowhere close to matching what I used to use in 35mm. I "see" differently in the various formats. So there was no way I could predict what I'd end up with in LF work.

I find the 110SS XL to be quite close to 150mm. When I carry the 110, I never use the 150. But when I carry the 90, the 150 seems like a perfect fit.

If you can, rent a couple lenses to help figure out what's best for you before you make your final purchases.

Ernest Purdum
3-Jan-2006, 18:18
Laura, I'm wondering if your 35mm work has been mainly the same sort of subjects you intend to search out with the 4 X 5. If so, your selection of LF lenses based on your previous experience would probably be quite valid. If, however, you are buying into 4X5 because of its desirability in landscape work and that is a new field for you, I think it would be a good idea to slow down on your lens purchases. Lenses are expensive little pieces of glass. If you start off with one and ask yourself each time you use it whether some other length would be better, how much you might crop if youi find the lens too wide, or how often you just find that lens just isn't wide enough to get the shot, you will be gaining experience that will help enormously in making good choices. Focal length selection is a very personal matter.

You got off to a very good start by looking at Kerry Thalmann's comments. You have also received some very good advice here.

If budgeting is at all important to you, you might want to consider an inecpensive first lens as a temporary learning tool. I'm thinking of something like a 203mm Ektar or a 150mm G-Claron. Several very experienced people adviise something in these focal length ranges as a "starter" lens. Both are small and light. Both are only single coated, but careful lens shading can help greatly in reducing any disadvantage as compared to multicoating. The 150mm G-Claron is often extremely inexpensive in barrel and the cells fit right into a Copal 0, and I echo the suggestion that a "Press" type is desirable. As I recall, there are Polaroid Copal shutters which are suitable and cheap. You might luck out and find you really like the lens enough to keep, but if not, you can probsably sell it for close or even as much as you paid for it - even more, perhaps, if you put a G-Claron into shutter.

Eric Leppanen
3-Jan-2006, 18:30
I second Christopher's comment on "seeing" differently in different formats.

For example, when using wide-angle lenses, I've found that the "squarer" 4x5 aspect ratio frequently allows me to more easily fit my desired subject matter into the frame than the more rectangular 35mm aspect ratio. Therefore, my 4x5 wide-angle lenses need not be as wide as their 35mm counterparts. For example, I frequently used my 20mm lens on my 35mm camera, but when I moved to 4x5, I virtually never need anything wider than 80mm (which is ostensibly equivalent to a 24mm lens in 35mm format).

As always, YMMV.

3-Jan-2006, 18:44
If weight of the lenses is a real concern, then leave the nonessentials at home, excercise, diet to loose the weight you don't need, and be happy. You can then probably load on more LF photogear than you can afford. You won't get stronger by typing. Get out there.

Chris Avery
4-Jan-2006, 15:18
You already have some great advice here, but you will ultimately need to rely on your own experiences and preferences. Some photographers use llamas and "sherpas" to carry their gear into the backcountry, but I'm assuming that you want to carry it on your own back. In that case, I hope you can profit from my mistakes. I see that you have spent some time in Bryce, and have a health attitude about your experiences there, which means that you will soon suffer progressive canyon fever, a disease native to the Colorado Plateau. You may start high and dry, but you will soon find yourself searching for slots and creeks and potholes and waterfalls and slickrock, and walking toward thunderstorms.

For rough country photography--as opposed to "backpacking along an established trail" photography--you need simple, rugged equipment. The primary focus of this thread has been with your lens selection, but let's first discuss other equipment. Apart from the camera/lens/meter/filmholder, you need three other essentials: a tough tripod--which is more important than a light one, weatherproofing, and a microfiber towel.

(A fourth essential, though not directly related to photography, are "Stealth rubber" or sticky rubber shoes, such as the La Sportiva Exum Ridge or 5.10 Canyoneer).

I carry a heavy tripod--a ten-pound Gitzo with aluminum legs, and a Gitzo G1376 Ball Head. It has survived many a dropping, whacking, or scraping that probably would have demolished a lesser tripod--and has survived a few trips that have resulted in the demise of some of my companions' lesser tripods. It also sets up high, which helps when two legs are under 3 feet of water and the other is on a boulder. I took one shot this summer in water up to my neck, in that particular case, no substitute for a tall tripod would have worked. There's no easy way to attach a tripod to a pack, so I find that I carry mine in my hand, most of the time, and attach it "ice axe" style alongside the pack when I need both hands for balance, climbing, ropework, or swimming. (Umm, well, Tripods don't float. If you can hold your breath long enough, and dive deep enough, though, you might be able to retrieve it.) Holding a tripod in your hand, instead of on your shoulders, works better than I ever expected when I stumbled onto the habit, even on long trips. A tripod is surprisingly useful for pushing against willows and brush. You'll find that you can switch the tripod from left hand to right, depending on the terrain, and after a little while you'll find yourself doing it automatically. I hang onto one leg, right at the "balance point." In colder weather, I'll wrap the leg with duct tape or athletic tape on the balance point to keep my hands warm. If I really need to pack "light" I trade the Gitzo for a shorter, lighter Bogen 3021 (about 5 pounds) with a small ball head--which I found for a great price--but I do not expect the Bogen to survive for long. During the past 20 years, I have dropped a pack full of lenses into a pool, had several light meters quit, bent and dented the corners of my camera, and suffered other adventures, but nothing has been as frustrating as a broken tripod.

I recommend the "Canyon Dry Kegs" sold at canyoneeringusa.com for keeping things dry--I have found nothing better. The large kegs (6.4 liter) will, at least, keep your lenses and film dry should you decide to go wading or swimming. You probably won't be able to fit a camera in there, but you can suffer a damp camera if the lenses, film, and light meter are dry. A keg will work well as an ammo can replacement for river trips, as well. They are also dust and dirtproof, as long as the lid is on. Stash the microfiber backpacking towel in the keg to wipe your hands and keep them clean as you are setting up. If the "keg" is too much, then I recommend the "new generation" dry bags like the Pacific Outdoor Equipment Pneumo or Sealine "Black Canyon" series, but watch for pinhole leaks. There is also a high-tech "zip-lock" baggie on the market, called the "Aloksak," that helps to keep your light meter, water, dust, and sandproof. For about 15 years, I used dry bags to hold my camera and gear, this solution will work for short swims, but will eventually fail you if you are going to be wet for a long time. My kegs, on the other hand, have kept my gear dry on days when my pack was in the water for 5-8 hours. You will find a useful assortment of gear at C-USA, and some sage advice as well.

My backcountry cameras are Speed/Crown Graphics, with all of the non-essential parts removed. They are tough and hold smaller lenses inside their protective clamshell, but if you're looking at an Ebony, you are way out of that league. Movements (other than rise) are overrated in canyons. If I had your budget, I'd look seriously at the Toyo A series, which would be similarly protective.

Because the tripod and keg are already pretty heavy, I should probably not worry about saving weight with lenses--but I have. So all of my lenses are light and small. If forced to pick one, it would be the 105mm Fujinon CM-W--a lighter (and much cheaper) alternative to the 110mm XL, mentioned in Kerry's post. This is, by a wide margin, my favorite lens. Next, I would grab either the 75 mm 6.8 Grandagon or the 150 Sironar-N, depending on whether I expect more "normal" or "wide angle" shooting. If I'm in a really narrow, tight place, I take the 75, more "open," the 150, and then finally the Fuji 240 A/9. When I'm in the high country, as opposed to a canyon, then the roles reverse--if forced to carry only one lens, it would be the Fuji 240 A/9, then the 150, 105, 75, but that's a matter of personal preference. With the exception of the 105 Fuji, all of these lenses will nestle in my old Graphic cameras.

I have my eye on a really narrow, really dark, really difficult slot, that requires much sideways traversing, pack in hand. There, I will take only the Bogen tripod, with pipe insulation padding for the legs, the Crown Graphic, a few film holders, and the 75 mm. I hope to not leave anything but skin behind.

Looking at the comments of others, there appears to be almost unanimous approval of a 110/105 mm lens and a 200/210/240 sort of lens. I share this approval. In those focal lengths, for backpacking/rough country work, the 105 CM-W/5.6 and 240 A/9 are superb lightweight lenses, and you can probably find both of them for close to the cost of the 11o XL. If you start with two lenses in this range, you can add the "normal" 135-180mm, and the wide-angle 55-90mm at your leisure.

Good luck, and enjoy your time off of the beaten path. Taking a view camera out there, even a limited movement "press" camera, is not an easy task, but it is well worth the effort.

5-Jan-2006, 00:30
"A fourth essential, though not directly related to photography, are "Stealth rubber" or sticky rubber shoes, such as the La Sportiva Exum Ridge"

isn't it a bit much to call this an 'essential?' think of the outrageous things that were climbed in hobnail boots, klettershues, tennis shoes, clogs, cowboy boots ... sure, sticky rubber's nice, but then so's a helicopter.

one good resource on saving weight is http://www.backpacking.net/

and this book is supposed to be excellent: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0963235931/104-5504208-6981500?v=glance&n=283155

it's by ray jardine, the inventor wild country friends (this will mean something to climbers in the group), and an all-around yosemite hardguy and convert to ridiculously lightweight travel. he can be a bit of a crackpot, so be sure not to take everything at face value ... his basic ideas are good though.

Frank Petronio
5-Jan-2006, 07:23
You'll also need special felt soled waders, rigid crampons and stuff mountaineering boots, some aiders and rappel devices, a rack of carabiners and camming devices, a 800 plus European down jacket and sleeping bag, a Gore-tex bivy, oh my, the list of wonderful things to buy goes on and on...

Large format photography drives the economy...

Chris Avery
5-Jan-2006, 10:32
One could conclude that describing a microfiber backpacking towel as an "essential" infers a playful use of the word--that, or clean, dry fingers and equipment really are indispensable to photography. Though sticky rubber soles might afford more purchase in slickrock conditions, nothing beats a pair of hobnails for climbing across "chocklogs" and cruising downed timber in the burned out areas. In fact, given the recent two-part incineration of virtually all of Mount Lemmon, plus last summer's smoking of Mount Wrightson, they should probably be mandatory in the Tucson area.

Jerry Fusselman
5-Jan-2006, 23:45
I almost completely agree with Frank, but a Gore-tex bivy? Ick! (sorry) A Stevensons Warmlight is so much more wonderful.

Kerry L. Thalmann
6-Jan-2006, 00:08
A Stevensons Warmlight is so much more wonderful.

Agreed - as a tall person, I love mine. It's the only ultralight tent I've found that is long enough (more than long enough) for me and has enough room to keep all my camera gear inside out of the weather. It's big enough for me, all my gear and one of my kids. At only 3 lbs. (actual weight, not some ridiculously optimistic manufactuer's spec) it barely weighs more than a tarp or bivy. And it's downright palatial inside (kind of like the Weasley's tent in Harry Potter 4). Just be sure to get the double-wall version, preferrably with the side windows, to avoid condensation problems - especially if you backpack in wet, and/or humid environments.


Frank Petronio
6-Jan-2006, 00:54
Or backpack nude. Now that's a catalog that'd be fun to shoot.

John Kasaian
6-Jan-2006, 07:58
IMHO if you're intent on being a relic of photographic antiquity by tramping around with a view camera, why change gears with your camping kit? Go Vittorio Sella Style! A dozen or so porters, a caravan of pack camels, enough marquis tents to create a DP camp, and a cast iron bed frame and mattresses , all those ULF glass plates and how about a REAL changing tent/darkroom so you'll get nearly instant feed back just like those nice digital folks ? And of course a small flock of chickens for fresh eggs and a milk cow for those lattes! ;-)

Jerry Fusselman
7-Jan-2006, 19:46
To Kerry's terrific description of the Stevesons Warmlight tent, which I agree with completely, I will just add that you probably need to order it a month or two or three before when you need it. They might have what you want in stock for immediate delivery, but I preferred to have them make mine exactly how I wanted it. They mailed me a sample of all of the color choices to help me choose my two colors.

Kerry L. Thalmann
8-Jan-2006, 12:52
I will just add that you probably need to order it a month or two or three before when you need it. They might have what you want in stock for immediate delivery, but I preferred to have them make mine exactly how I wanted it.

Definitely. Stevenson Warmlite tents are only sold direct from the manufacturer (www.warmlite.com). You can't buy them at your local outdoors store. They occasionally have one in stock, but as the tents are custom-made to order (and expensive), it's best to order exactly what you want and wait for it to arrive. When I ordered mine, they had one in stock, but it was some awful combination of colors (purple, yellow and black, if I remember). I prefer my gear to be less visually shocking, and I wanted the side windows. So, I ordered exactly what I wanted. Now is a good time to order to make sure your Warmlite tent will arrive in plenty of time for the upcoming backpacking season. I don't recall exactly how long it took for my tent to arrive, but I'm pretty sure I ordered it in February and it was here in plenty of time for a backpacking trip to the Olympic wilderness coast in late April. But, that was nine years ago. Things may have changed. I do recall that the estimated delivery date they gave me when I placed the order was VERY accurate (the tent arrived within plus or minus a day or two of their estimated delivery date).


8-Jan-2006, 20:56
Why not consider a convertable lens like the 150/210 Computar f9 (2 lenses in one)? Eliminate all shutters and use as a barrel lenses w/cap for shutter (you will be stopping way down anyway). And use an ultralightweight Protar V 80 to 90mm for a super coverage wide angle. I use all these with a Rodenstock f12 Perogon too when I want extreme light weight and great coverage for 5x7/8x10 and ULF. I cant imagine any camera more portable than my Anba Ikeda 5x7 at 3.8lbs and a Protar or Perigon. The Anba 4x5 is even lighter, under 3lbs. Emile/www.deleon-ulf.com

Frank Petronio
8-Jan-2006, 21:05
No association with the seller but there is a very late model 90/6.8 Angulon selling on eBay. It is so late that it is in a Copal 0 shutter! I want it but can't use it, but it should be a real gem...