View Full Version : 4x5 beginner lens choice-- Help, please!

26-Jan-2006, 11:51
Hello, All!

I just purchased my first 4x5 LF camera, a Toyo 45C and am pretty excited about getting started. My current photographic equipment is all digital (Nikon D70 based), so I am probably moving in the exact opposite direction of most who are giving up their traditional equipment in favor of new technology.

However, since I am absolutely new to LF gear, I would appreciate some advice about lenses. I did read the great and helpful hints and articles on this site, but am still a little bit unsure about what actual equipment to get.

I have a few preferences and constraints that might narrow down the field of available options.

A) I am willing to buy used, but would not like to spend much more than ~$600

B) The primary target is going to be landscapes and architectural scenes

C) Mostly B&W, some color

D) I would like to take full advantage of the tilt/shift movements that LF allows for

E) Ability to make large prints with excellent sharpness/ less grain

All help is greatly appreciated!


Jeff Moore
26-Jan-2006, 12:10
Everyone has their own opinion on a first lens choice, so here's mine. For your mentioned subject matter, I think a 135 would be a good first lens. It's slightly wide on 4x5, which would work well for landscape and be quite serviceable--but not ideal--for architechtural work. Best of all, for a first lens for someone just starting in LF, a 135 has two other important properties: 135s are cheap, small, and light. Anyway, that's what I would go with.

Take a look at KEH or Midwest Photo websites. For example, right now on the KEH site, there is a Nikkor W 135/f5.6, rated in "Excellent" condition, which can be had for $364. If you can settle for less than "excellent," they get even cheaper.

I have seven lenses in my 4x5 kit, ranging from a 58 to 450, and I find that I use my 135 more than any other lens. My subject matter is also primarily landscape, but also other stuff as well.

26-Jan-2006, 12:13
Hi Oliver,

First of all, welcome to LF. You are not the only one to move in this direction. I just did the same very recently and so am pretty familiar with your dilemma. As long as you pick a more modern lens (multicoated) from one of the big four (Schneider, Rodenstock, Nikon, Fuji) you can't go wrong with quality. If properly cared for, all these lenses can last a long time - I purchased the only lens I currently have from eBay and am very happy with it so far.

As far as focal length, it depends very much what angle of view do you normally see things in. Everybody has their own favorite focal length. The rough comparison would be 35mm x 3 for the 4x5, but since you're coming from a 1.5 crop factor, you should convert using 35mm x 1.5 x 3 = 4x5. For example, a 50mm lens would have the effective angle of view of a 75mm lens on D70 (in 35mm terms) and that would correspond to 225mm in 4x5. The closest common focal length is 210mm and many people find it very pleasing.

If you tend to see in wide angle, 90mm would be another nice focal length and it would roughly correspond to 28-30mm in 35mm terms. Keep in mind that the aspect ratio is different - more square - in 4x5 so these are just rough guidelines.

Maybe the best way to determine which lens suits your needs the best is to rent these two lenses for a weekend or two and shoot a box of film with each. You may find that you need something in between these two or even outside the range, but either way it will be YOUR choice and not someone else's.


Ron Marshall
26-Jan-2006, 12:20
Hello Oliver, Welcome to LF, you have come to the right place.

If you strictly want to stick to a lens budget of $600 then you are pretty much limited to two lenses. That is not a problem, I have four but mostly use two of them.

There are several good used LF equipment dealers, I will list a few that I have had good luck with, there are others. KEH camera brokers, Badger Graphics, Midwest Photo exchange. Check their websites to get an idea of what lenses are going for. You can get better deals on ebay, but I would not recommend it until you have a better understanding of LF lenses.

Lens selection always involves compromises. Wider aperature means more weight more money, but easier to focus in low light, larger image circle, heavier for backpacking etc.

The image circle for 4x5 is 153mm. Try to get a lens with at least 200mm.

For an example of a reasonable two lens kit around $600, KEH has a 90mm f8 fuji SW (image circle 216mm, weight 409 grams) at $379, and a Schneider G-Claron 210mm f9 (image circle 260mm, weith 285g) at $310. In low light the 90mm would be a bit difficult to focus, but f9 on a 210 should not be a problem.

These are useful focal lengths both for architecture and landscape. Later you could add a 150mm for a reasonable three lens kit. Better would be 90, 150, 240, if you can find a cheap 240mm now.

Good luck

David Karp
26-Jan-2006, 12:27
Some questions to consider.

What do you use in the smaller format? Do you like wider angle compositions? Do you prefer long lenses? If you like both, what do you like more?

How much extension is your camera capable of achieving? My guess is your Toyo can add monorail extensions, so it is not much of an issue for you. For those looking at cameras that do not allow additional extension, this is a limiting factor in lens choices.

You may find that the lenses you end up choosing for your 4x5 are not the direct analogs of your 35mm or digital system, or you may not. My 4x5 lenses fairly closely mirror my 35mm and medium format lenses, although I use my 75mm far less than I use my 35mm on my medium format camera, so even for me, with a similar lens kit to my smaller cameras, I don't see things the same way through my 4x5.

My guess is that for landscapes I would start by considering the following lenses. A 135mm is a nice choice for landscapes. Many photographers prefer it to the 150mm (considered normal) for landscape. The downside with the 135 is that although it is a wider angle lens, it usually has a smaller image circle than the standard 150mm. An exception is the 135mm Fujinon CMW, which has an image circle equal to some of the standard 150mm lenses.

A 150mm is considered normal. They usually have good image circles, providing plenty of coverage to use the camera movements. Some people don' t like the normal lens because they think it is too "normal." I don't have one, and am starting to feel the need for one. A few 150s have quite small image circles. These include the 150mm Rodenstock Geronar or Caltar II-E (same lens) and the Schneider Xenar. They are small and might be perfect for some photographers, but if you want to work with the camera movements, especially rise, fall and shift, then I would skip these.

A 210mm is a short long lens that is used by many photographers as their "normal" lens. Others include it as part of a three-lens kit that consists of a 90mm, 150mm, and a 210mm lens. It is nice because it is not too long, and not "normal." Treat it like a 65-70mm lens in 35mm terms. 210s also have big image circles that allow you to really use the camera movements. Even the 210 lenses with smaller image circles, like the Geronar, Caltar II-E, or the Nikkor M (200mm) have generous coverage. It is different enough from a 300mm lens so that if you want to go longer, many photographers don't feel that their lens spacing is too cramped.

All that being said, the choice is very personal and depends on how you see things. Another photographer might suggest a lens like a 125mm like a Fujinon W or CMW, or a Schneider 110mm XL, so take what I have said with a grain of salt. The best thing would be if there is a store nearby that will let you try some lenses out in the store, or better yet, a store from which you can rent some lenses. Toyos are quite common, so many rental outlets in larger areas will have Toyo boards available for their rental lenses.

Finally, don't hesitate to buy used lenses. Good outlets like Midwest Photo, Badger Graphics, or KEH have used lenses in stock that are good as new. I only purchased one new lens - my first lens. After that all were used and all looked like nobody ever touched them before I got them.

Hope this is helpful.

26-Jan-2006, 12:33
went i was getting ready to go from 35mm to 4x5, i started paying attention to what focal length i used the most with 35. if you're using a zoom, that means taking a look at the lens and making a mental note after you take each picture.

this assumes that you're doing the same kind of work with the little camera that you plan to do with the big one.

some people compare the diagonal measurements of the two formats; for my purposes i compared the widths. at the time i was mostly sensitive to how wide an expanse the lens covered, so the width was more important to the height.

you'll see if you mostly use a lens that's normal, a little wide, a little long, etc...

then it will be pretty easy to pick. there aren't all that many diferent focal lengths to choose from within a given range.

i'd echo anyone who suggests getting one lens and sticking with it for a while, rather than building up a big toy collection right away. i had just one lens for my first four years. then i got a second one. ten years later i still haven't found the need for a third.

26-Jan-2006, 12:49
Thank you all for the quick and insightful answers!! I really appreciate all the helpful comments!

My preferred 35mm lens choice is definitely on the wide angle side. And, as far as the budget is concerned, I was planning on spending that one one lens only. I am sure in the next couple of years there will be opportunity for a second and third lens, but for right now one will be sufficient ;-)

One thing that I am not sure about is the image circle issue. If an image circle of 153mm is what I need to fill out 4x5, wouldn’t any lens that provides an image circle of 210mm+/f21 offer sufficient room to use the movements on the camera?

Sometimes it sounds like as if you can only achieve a large enough image circle if you go with a 150mm or longer lens?

Thanks again for your help!

John O'Connell
26-Jan-2006, 12:53
I'm always frankly puzzled by the universal love for the 135mm focal length. These lenses generally have small image circles, and if you want LF for movements, they disappoint. With a monorail you can quickly run out of rise with a more generous 150.

If you want to do architecture and landscape, I'd pick up a good 90/8 or 90/6.8 lens by any of the big 4 (Fuji, Nikon, Schneider, Rodenstock/Caltar). The Nikkor is preferred because it's image circle is bigger. If you buy a Schneider, you want a Super Angulon and NOT an Angulon. Don't go shorter than 90, because a 90 is usually the shortest lens which doesn't require specialized (expensive) equipment.

With whatever you have left over, buy a 180 or 210. The cheaper or older lenses are fine in these lengths for 4x5, because they'll have plenty of movement, but you might be able to afford a decent modern lens in those lengths.

That way you'll have a 4x5 system that can do what LF is best at: wides and normals.

David Karp
26-Jan-2006, 12:58

Let's say you need an image circle of 165mm more or less to cover your 4x5 film. Yes, a 135mm with a 210mm image circle has plenty of room to take advantage of camera movements. However, sometimes it may not be enough. An example might be if your are stuck somewhere and can't move backward without changing the photo you want to take. You might not have enough rise on a 135mm to get a mountain in for example, or enough of a tree, etc. You might be able to make essentially the same photo with a 150mm though, and have plenty of rise to accomplish what you want. Does not happen that much, just frustrating when it does. It has happened to me enough with my 125mm that I have been thinking about getting a 15o.

If you think a 135mm sounds about right for you, go for it.

Remember, you don't really have 210mm of movement, you have a 210mm circle. The amount of movement you have is the difference between the size of your film and 210mm.

Alan Davenport
26-Jan-2006, 13:25
John O'C. hit the nail squarely on the head. For landscape, you have many choices, but if you also want to be able to do architectural stuff, then you will probably want a reasonably wide lens.

The 90mm f/8 Super Angulon might be the best compromise between image circle and cost. Watch espectially for the Caltar-W II 90mm f/8, which is simply a rebadged Super Angulon and can often be had for hundreds less than the Schneider-branded lens. Later versions of the Caltar are multicoated. The image circle (215mm) allows plenty of movement.

Claims that f/8 lenses are hard to focus and that you can't see the image on the groundglass, are much overstated IMHO. A good loupe (which you should have for any LF setup) makes focusing fairly easy. Also, a fresnel on the GG helps immensely with any wide angle lens, but the most important thing is a good dark cloth.

Leonard Evens
26-Jan-2006, 13:56
You've got lots of good advice. Let me add a little more about comparing the D70 to large format. I also have a D70, but for me it was in the opposite direction since I was already into 4 x 5 view camera photography. I often use the D70 as a scouting camera to explore possibilities and then come back with my view camera for a more deliberate approach.

The first remark is that the D70 format is different from the 4 x 5 format. The D70 frame is just about 16 x 24 mm while the 4 x 5 frame is close to 96 x 120 mm. These have different aspect ratios: 16:24 = 2:3=1:1.5 for the D70 and close to 4:5=1.125 for 4 x 5. So the D70 frame, in landscape mode, is wider in comparison to height than the 4 x 5 frame. You can crop the D70 frame to 16 x 20 mm anywhere along the width to obtain a frame similar to 4 x 5, so one way to think of the D70 is as allowing "shifts" of up to 2 mm to the left or the right.

The difference in aspect ratios makes it a little difficult to compare focal lengths. Using the short dimension you would multiply by 5 and using the long dimension you would multiply by 6. I have the kit 18-70 mm lens and the 55-200 mm lens. Using the factor 5, which I prefer, yields for 4 x 5 the equivalent range 90 mm to 350 mm for the kit lens and 275 mm to 1400 mm for the other lens. You are highly unlikely ever to be using large format lenses at the extreme end, so that is one lesson. Get used to things in the range 90 mm to perhaps 400 mm, more likely something like 300 mm. That already makes a big difference in the kind of scenes you would seek out with 4 x 5 over what you might have been doing with your D70.

To summarize, one thing you could do is go out and take some pictures using your D70, assuming you are going to crop to 4:5 aspect ratio. Try a range of scenes at different focal lengths in the range 18 mm to 60 mm (or shorter if you have a wider angle lens). Find the choice that fits you style best and multiply that by 5.

One final warning. Compared to your D70 shots, you are going to have much less depth of field for a similar angle of view and f-stop. Again that factor of 5 is a good gauge. If you had adequate depth of field with your D70 at 30 mm and set at f/4, and you used a 4 x 5 150 mm lens (same angle of view), you would have to set it at f/20 (or f/22, which would be close enough) for the same depth of field. For a similar exposure, your shutter speed would have to be longer. One consequence of this fact is that while subject movement is seldom an issue with the D70, you can easily encounter situations in 4 x 5 where it is. This is true even for landscape photography. You may find that you have to pay attention to wind, so your 1/15 sec exposure won't show the movement of leaves.

26-Jan-2006, 14:38
Thank you all so much for your input.

It is still not an easy choice, but I have a few ideas now. I think I will go with a 90mm with a large image circle.

My closest contender is the SW 90mm/8.0 from Nikon. It is reasonably sharp from what I read and has a 235mm image circle. Since I am not photographing in the dark very often, I am sure my eyes can deal with the f8 limitation.

And, at $750 it is not too far above my budget.

Many thanks again!

David Karp
26-Jan-2006, 15:59

Sorry to keep weighing in here. The 90mm f/8 Nikkor seems to be universally regarded as a great lens. The extra image circle compared to the other small aperture 90s makes the lens highly desireable.

I would recommend trying out a 90 before you buy one first. I find wide angles very much harder to work with than longer lenses. This is my opinion, so it is worth whatever you paid for it, is that it is easier to learn how to use a view camera with a longer lens than it is with a 90. My first lenses were a 210, quickly followed by a 75 and a 90, both with f/4.5 max apertures. I was photographing interiors, and needed the wide angles. If I had to learn on the 75 and 90 only, I think I might have given up. After years of practice, I feel much more comfortable using them, but at the start I wondered what the heck I was doing with those lenses.

Perhaps you can find an inexpensive 150 to help you learn, and a used 90mm Nikkor instead of a new one.

Conrad Hoffman
26-Jan-2006, 23:50
The focal lengths around 210 are traditional student and studio lenses. They make learning to use a view camera easier, and are good for isolating studio shots of products and the like. They have enough image circle so you can use reasonable swings and tilts, without the lens having to be a special wide angle design. They're great first lenses, being low in cost, but IMO they're just too long for the things I like to shoot.

Image circle rules. It sounds like you'll be far happier with a shorter lens. A 135 is nice if it has the coverage, but if you shoot archetecture, the 90 is almost essential. The problem will be learning what you need to learn with the 90. I'd suggest finding something inexpensive in the 150 to 210 region, even "borrowing" a lens and shutter from an old folder or press camera, then putting your money into a fine example of a shorter lens. That way you'll at least have something close to a normal focal length with minimum DOF and a large enough aperture to see the effects of movement and learn more quickly, plus the lens you really need to do the work you want to do.

Leonard Evens
27-Jan-2006, 07:26
In line with my previous comments, if you usually shoot at 18 mm with your D70, then you may find 90 mm appropriate. But for some of the reasons I gave and some others, wide angle with large format doesn't have the same feel as wide angle with mini formats. Often objects look smaller than you expect them too. Masters can work wonders in landscape photography with 90 mm or even much shorter lenses---see Jack Dykinga's Large Format Nature Photography, for example. But beginners can often end up producing dull looking photographs with the scales all wrong. 150 mm is usually considered "normal" for 4 x 5, but if you have a preference for wider angles, you might be better off with something in the range 110 to 135. Of course, eventually you will probably need something like a 90 mm, but it is not clear it is the best choice to start.

I assume you have checked that your camera will allow full use of potential movement at 90 mm. Bellows stiffness often becomes a limiting factor at shorter focal lengths. This is easy to check if you haven't done it already. Set the standards about 90 mm apart and just measure how far you can rise or fall from the default position and still have room to focus a bit.

Larry Gebhardt
27-Jan-2006, 08:07
My vote would be for the 135mm Sironar S. It is my most used lens and has plenty of coverage for 4x5. I started with a 90mm f/8 Super Angulon and found it a bit on the dim side for evening work. It is also too wide for the bulk of my photos. If you are looking for a 90mm I would try to find an f/6.8 or f/5.6 instead of the f/8. I know the Caltar (Rodenstock) 90 f/6.8 is noticably brighter than the f/8, though it is also heavier.

Don Wallace
27-Jan-2006, 09:53
I was an LF beginner not all that long ago so let me give you my two cents. If you prefer slightly wider angle lenses, then a 90mm is a good start. There are lots out there and several people in the thread have mentioned them. A classic is the Schneider f/8 Super Angulon - excellent lens, with a great reputation, easy to find, never more than about 600 bucks, tops, for one in superb condition. Ones with more use can be had for $300. Make sure you get the most recent one you can find, and make sure that it is in a fully-functioning shutter (preferably a later model lens in a Copal shutter). It has more than enough coverage.

bob woitaszewski
27-Jan-2006, 13:38
Welocme to LF, you have entered the world of the greatest photographic "rewards" and the source of your greatest flustrations as a beginner. I started in LF 2 years ago after shooting 35mm and MF for over 25 years and am still working on technique.
I also think U should re-visit the 90mm decision as the FIRAT lens. I live in AZ so I have the opportunity to do a lot of macro, as well as the "grand scenics. I have a 90 and 150 and I use the 150 a LOT MORE than the 90.
According to all the research I did, the 90 was to be similair to a 35mm's 28mm lens, however, I found that the 90mm perspective is more like a 22mm than an 28-30mm. I was amazed. My 90mm f/4.5 Rodenstock has a much WIDER angle than the 24mm Nikon I own on my 35mm gear.

I use the 150 a lot, but again I do a lot of landscapes and macro here in AZ. and I'll tell you there IS a difference on that groundglass between a 4.5 and f/8. even in normal sun light, so I'd try to neighbor with someone or if U live in a bigger city, I'd try and go to a LF camera shop and try to do an A-B comparison on any lens side-by-side, just to make sure that the f/8 is bright enough. Course U can also buy a Battie Brightscreen to compensate?
Anyway best of luck on your future pictures
BTW check with the opservations from Karry Thalman on this site al well as some equipment reviews by Paul Butzi on his web-site. View camera magazine aslo has a CD that U can buy that gives some lens information

Richard Deimel
27-Jan-2006, 15:49
If you are going to have only one lens, 90mm is NOT the way to go for the type of general outdoor photography you are talking about. The best compromise for a single lens outfit is a 150, which is a very slightly wide normal lens. It will handle more situations than any other single lens.

Leonard Metcalf
27-Jan-2006, 17:52
I am setting up a one lens camera system for long bushwalks. I used to use a Technica III with a Nikkor W 135mm f5.6, retrospectively I took some great landscape photographs with that lens camera combination and have heaps of respect for it. I have now chosen a 135mm for my latest light weight camera project. I have settled on a Rodenstock 135mm Sironar N, but this is for weight (& Bokeh) not image circle.

The speed graphics usually came with a 127mm lens, which may also give you an indication of the popularity of similar focal lengths. I must also say I stongly recommend that you start with one lens, it is a fantastic way to focus your learning and creativity. Unfortunatly you can't afford it, but you would love the Schneider Supper Symmar 110mm f5.6 XL. Stunning lens, and many peoples favorite lens, including me.

Hany Aziz
30-Jan-2006, 17:29
The focal length you use the most on the D70 should give you an idea of where to start assuming similar subject matter for your D70 and 4x5.

Like a lot of users on this forum I would also vote for a 135. While I have over ten lenses the 135 is usually the one on my camera most of the time; moreover my Caltar II N (same as the Rodenstock Sinornar N 135) is absolutely tiny and extremely sharp. The coverage is not massive but should be enough for most uses specially in landscapes. You may wish to add a 90 later if you plan to do architecture. You should be able to find a used modern 135 for $300 to 350 form a reputable dealer (Midwest photo recommended) or off of ebay. $600, which is your stated budget, would buy you a new lens in that focal length.