View Full Version : Choosing a 150mm lens

Scott Knowles
30-Mar-2006, 07:53
When choosing a 150mm lens, what criteria do you use to choose between lenses? I'm looking at 150mm lenses but notice there are quite a range of them for specifications, namely angle of view. Realizing that use is an important criteria, landscape, architecture, etc., but you could only afford one lens, what criteria would be most important? An example is the Schneider 150mm Symmar series and Symmar XL lenses.

Ted Harris
30-Mar-2006, 08:22
Scott, you didn't mention what format(s) you shoot and that is critical information. If you only shoot 4x5 then any of the standard plasmat lenses will serve your needs well (e.g. the Nikkor W series, Fujinon CMW series, Schneider Apo Symmar ... recently discontinued ... or Apo Symmar L, Rodenstock Apo Sironar N/Caltar IIN. Similar earlier but still modern multicoated lenses from these manufacturers will also do the job.

If you shoot 5x7 then you need a larger image circle/mor ecoverage and will want the Apo Symmar L or Apo Sironar N and the now discontinued Apo Sironar W is the best choice for some movement.

If you shoot 8x10 then you would need to step up to the Super Symmar XL.

Each time you move up pin coverage you also move up in the size and weight of the lens thus, if all you shoot is 4x5 any of the first group will serve you well and are relatively small, light weight lenses in #0 shutters. When you step up some of the lenses are in #1 shutters (e.g. the Apo Sironar W) and are larger and heavier. The Super Symmar XL is a large,heavy lens although still in a #1 Shutter and is overkill unless you need it for 8x10 wide angle coverage which is what it is designed for. As an example, I shoot both 4x5 and 5x7 and my 150 of choice is the Apo Sironar W because it gives me adequate as a moderate wide angle on 5x7 and more coverage thanb I need as a slightly wide 'normal' on 4x5. It is worth the small amount of extra size and weight to me to be able to carry that one lens and use it for both formats since I will frequently carry a 5x7 with a 4x5 reducing back.

Joseph O'Neil
30-Mar-2006, 08:35
If shooting 4x5, then IMO, the best 150mm lens you can ever use is a 135mm.



Steve Hamley
30-Mar-2006, 08:37
The first criteria is what format you're going to be using, which is unstated in your post, so I'll assume 4x5. The 150mm Schneider SS XL is an 8x10 lens, uses 95mm filters, and likely costs 4x what a decent 150mm 4x5 lens does and weighs 6x as much. I think you mean angle of coverage instead of angle of view?

For 4x5, the criteria typically used are weight, brightness at maximum aperture, and coverage. People wanting brightness at maximum aperture and coverage would generally choose the latest f:5.6 offerings from Schneider or Rodenstock, while those wanting an ultralight hiking/backpacking lens might choose a 150mm f:9 process lens like the G-Claron, or a f:6.8 Dagor.

Always good advice is to start with a new or latest-version used lens. The Caltar series that are Rodenstock Apo-Sironar-N (72 degree) are always good choices in new or used lenses. The Rodenstock 150mm Apo-Sironar-S is an excellent choice (and mine) for a wider range of reproduction ratios and a little more coverage at 75 degrees. That should be enough to accomodate 5x7 or 6x17 if you choose one of those formats. If I had only one, this one would be it (although I prefer the 135mm FL).


Eric Leppanen
30-Mar-2006, 08:51
The only thing I can add is that, if you are a frequent hiker/backpacker who likes to keep weight to a minimum, the Docter Germinar W is arguably the best 150mm f/9 optic available for 4x5. It is multi-coated and much lighter than the f/5.6 plasmats (165 grams in Copal 0 shutter, compared to, say, 250 grams for a 150mm APO Sironar S). Kerry Thalmann is still selling a few of them here: www.apug.org/classifieds/showproduct.php?product=756&sort=1&cat=2&page=12 (http://www.apug.org/classifieds/showproduct.php?product=756&sort=1&cat=2&page=12). I own a 240mm Germinar W and have been very happy with it.

Of course, focusing is a bit darker with an f/9 lens, although for daylight applications this should not be a big deal. If you shoot architectural interiors or from the bottom of dark canyons, etc., then an f/5.6 lens is preferred.

I shoot both 4x5 and 8x10 and have found that, for the most part, trying to shoot lenses common to both formats compromises both. For 4x5, I use a 150mm APO Sironar-S, as it is reasonably light, has excellent coverage for the format, and projects a very bright image on the ground glass (I only occasionally hike with the LF kit these days). For 8x10, I use the 150mm SSXL for the same reasons.

steve simmons
30-Mar-2006, 09:34
If you are working with 4x5 you need an image circle of at least 161-165mm, more if you want to be able to use the rise and fall movements front and/or rear, the shift movements front and/or rear, or the front swing and tilt.

Two other considerations are size and weight and max f-stop. The f5.6 lenses will be a little bigger while the f8 or more lenses will be a little smaller.

If you are new to large format you can go to this link and find several free articles that might be helpful


Personally I usually suggest staying with a lens mfg'd in the last 10-15 years unless there is a specific reason for using an older lens.

steve simmons

Bruce Watson
30-Mar-2006, 10:11
My understanding is that angle-of-view is determined directly by focal length. That is, all 150mm lenses have exactly the same angle-of-view. Perhaps you mean angle-of-coverage, which is related to image circle. If that's what you are after, a larger image circle is often better in the field than a smaller image circle. Two reasons. First, more movements which can matter if you are trying to keep the film plane plumb and need lots of front rise to see the tops of the trees, for example. Second, a larger image circle usually puts your film in the "sweet spot" near the center where aberations and light fall off are less than near the edges of the image circle.

For a 150mm lens, I picked the Rodenstock Sironar-S for this reason. It's razor sharp, small and light, and has an image circle I've yet to find the edges off in three years use.

Frank R
30-Mar-2006, 11:03
Kerry is sold out f the 150 Germinars.

steve simmons
30-Mar-2006, 11:16
<<<<<My understanding is that angle-of-view is determined directly by focal length. That is, all 150mm lenses have exactly the same angle-of-view. Perhaps you mean angle-of-coverage, which is related to image circle.<<<<<<<<<<<

The above is confusing to me.

Angle of coverage is related to the design of the lens but not necessarily to the focal length. For example, a 150mm lens with an agle of coverage of 75 degrees will have a slightly smaller image circle than a 150mm lens with an 80 degree angle of coverage. Here, the film format size does not matter. The design of the lens is the design of the lens.

Angle of view is determined by the film format size. A 150mm lens on a 4x5 will have one angle of view but the same lens on a 5x7 will have a larger angle of view. In this case the lens's angle of coverage remains the same but the larger film size simply takes a bigger piece of the image circle.

The necessary angle of coverage is generally determined by the diagonal measurement of the film. For 4x5 it is between 161 and 165mm. A lens with an image circle, which is determined by the angle of coverage, smaller than that will vignette the corners, a lens with an image circle just that size will cover the film area but not allow for movements, and a lens with a larger image circle will allow for some movements.

steve simmons

Don Miller
30-Mar-2006, 11:29
What criteria? At 150-180 I would buy the lowest priced multicoated lens in good mechanical condition from the four most common lens makers. Optical quality is very good in this range and there is very little difference between brands. Since you new at this you may want to go with a 5.6 to make focusing a little easier. The XL lens above 110 I believe are intended for formats larger that 4x5 and this should be reflected in higher prices. Have you read Kerry's articles?

Choosing between 135, 150, and 180, the main consideration is the lenses above and below. For me, I knew that I've never taken a landscape shot with a normal lenses, so I went from 110mm to 210mm and skipped "normal" completely.

Bruce Watson
30-Mar-2006, 12:55

Well duh. Of course! I should have said: "... angle-of-view is determined directly by focal length for a given film format. That is, all 150mm lenses have exactly the same angle-of-view for the given film format.

I thought that would be obvious, but it's not. Sorry for confusing you.

steve simmons
30-Mar-2006, 13:10
Sorry Bruce, what you said was not correct, or at best incomplete.

Sorry if you feel insulted.

steve simmons

Scott Knowles
30-Mar-2006, 13:27
Thanks for the information. My mistake, it's angle of coverage. I was wondering if the larger coverage lens, such as the Symmar XL, is really useful over the Symmar series lens. But it doesn't seem likely since I'll be shooting 4x5 nature-landscape and architectural, when John gets the L-45A produced and shipped. I have the Schneider Super Symmar 120mm HM and Symmar-S 300mm lenses, and am looking for one or two in between those since I don't plan to use shorter or longer focal length lenses. It's all a learning curve.

Brian Ellis
30-Mar-2006, 14:16
I don't know that there is a single factor that's always the most important. Once the focal length has been decided upon I consider the following things in no particular order of importance: price, coverage, size of maximum aperture, size and weight of lens, coating, and in a used lens the type of shutter (modern or older) and of course condition.

Size and weight are always important to me because I never photograph in a studio, I know I'm always going to be carrying the lens around. Coverage is always important, if the lens doesn't have enough coverage to allow a decent amount of movement then I wouldn't buy it, I don't like lenses that just barely cover the format. Price is relevant but not the overriding consideration. I've paid as much as $1400 for a lens and as little as $250. Size of maximum aperture is important in a shorter focal length lens, not so important in anything from about 150mm up. I've used several f9 lenses at 150 to 300 but I don't think I'd use an f9 lens in anything shorter than about 135. Coating is unimportant if it's at least single coated (i.e. I don't worry about the minimal difference between multi and single coating) but if it's uncoated that would be a disadvantage though not a killer. In a used lens the type of shutter is relevant but not critical. I prefer a modern Copal shutter but older shutters in good condition are fine too. Hope this helps.

Ken Lee
30-Mar-2006, 14:21
Speaking of 150mm lenses, is there a fundamental optical reason why we often find that the best-performing lenses are the so-called "normal" lenses for a given format - Or is that a misnomer to start out with ?

(I know that a "normal" lens is one whose focal length is close to the diagonal length of the film).

steve simmons
30-Mar-2006, 14:24
Since I do not know the answer let me try and make some guesses

The optical problems are easier to solve because you are making the lens do fewer special things

more of them are made so the optical problems become cheaper to solve

steve simmons

Ken Lee
30-Mar-2006, 14:26
"...what criteria would be most important?"

Image quality, image coverage size, suitability to close focus, lens size, lens weight, filter size, cost.

If it's an old lens, then there may be issues with the shutter.

David Karp
30-Mar-2006, 15:15
This is for a 150mm for 4x5 only. I considered my experience with other lenses I own from the different manufacturers. Since a 150mm was the last lens I purchased, I have some of experience with lenses from different companies. Based on my experience with Rodenstocks, Fujinons and Nikons (I only had a Schneider for a little while, then sold it without using it) I felt that any one of them would be a fine performer.

I then looked at image circle specifications, hoping for as much as possible. I also factored in that most of my lenses are 52mm filter size or smaller, so I hoped to make sure that any lens I bought would fit that bill.

Based on my experience with other Fujinon W lenses, and the large image circle that the 150mm Fujinon W offers (approaching the Rodenstock APO-Sironar S), combined with its 52mm filter size, I decided that it would be a good fit for me. In addition, these used lenses are usually available at reasonable prices. I bought one and am very happy with my performance using it so far.

Not very scientific, but then neither am I.

John Kasaian
30-Mar-2006, 16:23
My criteria? Passion!

Having a variety of lenses already, any new ponies in my stable are there due to GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) What drives GAS is passion. I've got feel passionate about a lens. This passioin comes from either seeing what other photographers have done using like lenses or from real or imagines scenarios where I've convinced myself that a Commercial Wide Field Rodenschnieder triple convertible is what i really really need.

That and how much that sucker is going to cost!

Don Miller
30-Mar-2006, 16:24
150 is too close to your 120mm. I would look at 180.

steve simmons
30-Mar-2006, 18:01
My spread was 90, 125, 180,240. The 120/125 and 210 is another popular combo.

steve simmons