View Full Version : Architecture: Recommend Three Focal Lengths

Andre Noble
23-Apr-2006, 13:07
I decided to get serious about large format architectural shooting, and have begun to completely revamp my line-up. I now own just 1 lens - a 150mm. My goals are:

1) Avoid Nikon LF glass, if possible (long personal history with).

2) My 'vision' is of a wide angle one.

3) Sharpness across image circle is of paramount importance.

4) Large, quality image circle paramount for rise, which I use extensively.

5) Shooting mainly on 4x5 format, also some 6x9 and 6x12 roll film.

6) If covers 5x7 with movements, it's a bonus.

7) I am fortunate to own one lens already- the wonderful Rodenstock Apo-Sironar.

8) I fancy Rodenstock glass.

9) Prefer lens that's available brand new, (New is easier to return if it's dog, etc.).

10) Larger aperture and smaller filter size when possible.

11) I have set a budget to limit myself to just 3 more lenses.

Thanks in advance for any tidbits, especially amongst our experienced fine art or professional
architectural shooters out there.

ronald moravec
23-Apr-2006, 13:14
Consider the Schneider XL in 58, 80, 110, and the 150 you have.

I would not go that short if not for the roll backs

neil poulsen
23-Apr-2006, 13:44
Schneider is very strong on wide-angle glass:

75mm Super Angulon f5.6 (less expensive) or
72mm XL

90mm f5.6 Super Angulon (less expensive) or
90mm XL

120mm f8 Super Angulon (less expensive) or
110mm Super Symmar

These would mesh well with your 150mm. Just about all you work could be done with this glass.

I don't know as much about Rodenstock, so won't comment. On wide angles, get the largest f-stop available. They have a larger image circle than the smaller aperture versions. For example, you would never want to get an f8 S.A. in Schneider for architecture. (Except for the 120mm or 121mm S.A. This is the only f-stop available for these S.A.'s. Due to their longer focal lengths for wide angles, they have plenty of image circle.)

Armin Seeholzer
23-Apr-2006, 13:58
47 mm Schneider XL, 72mm Schneider XL, 90 or 110mm could be Schneider or Rodenstock on the 90 but only Schneider on the 110mm

Leonard Evens
23-Apr-2006, 14:04
Architectural photography, mainly houses and smaller buildings, was one of my main interests when I moved to 4 x 5 about five years ago. I started with a 150 mm f/5.6 Rodenstock Apo Sironar-S and a 90 mm f/6.8 Rodenstock Grandagon-N. These lenses suffice for the great majority of what I do, and I am happy with their performance. Originally, I found myself using the 90 mm most of the time, but more recently I find I prefer a longer perspective and use the 150 mm if I can manage it. Later I acquired a 300 mm lens which I don't use too often for architecture, and a 75 mm f/4.5 Rodenstock Grandagon-N. I got the 75 mm because I felt I needed a shorter focal length lens, but in fact I rarely use it. I'm happy to have it because there are certainly situations where the 90 mm won't suffice.

The problem for architectural photography with very short focal length lenses is that even with rises, you often end up with a quite large foreground. If there is something you can incorporate in the foreground for an Adams near-far composition, that may work, but often there isn't anything like that available. One problem with the 75 mm is that is has a relatively small image circle, so I can't rise much more than 20 mm. In retrospect, I would have been better off with the 72 mm Schneider Super Angulon XL because of its relatively large image circle. But another disincentive to using very large rises in architectural photography is the "perspective distortion" you get at the limts of the field, so I'm not sure I'm not better off with the lens I have which keeps me out of dangerous territory.

Note. In case someone objects to my use of the term " perspective distortion", let me remind one and all that while perspective is of course determined by the position of the camera, when you view the final image, how it looks depends on where your eye is placed. For images produced from wide angle lenses, your eye is typically well back of the center of perspective, and that is what produces these "distortions".

Ted Harris
23-Apr-2006, 15:10
Don't ignore the 45-55-65-75 mm Apo Grandagon's and Grandagon N's from Rodenstock. You will find there is no difference in Schneider and Rodenstock in terms of sharpness and contrast but you may prefer one to the other in terms of very subtle differences, mainly in the way they handle color. People use word slike warm and cool and saturation but none of these verbal terms really describe the subtle differnces. I know that for many years I preferred Schneider lens, my eye liked them better. However, I have found over the past decade whenever I make a decision to replace an existing lens or fill in a new focal length I find that more oftne than not I am replacing Schneider glass with Rodenstock glass .... with the exception of the Super Symmar XL 110 which may be come my all time favorite lens.

In the wide angle arena though you should give a serious look at the Rodenstock offerings. You can't do an exact apples to apples comparison because, in the shortest focal lengths the comparable Rodenstocks are a few milimeters shorter than the Schneiders. The Rodenstocks are also a bit faster but they also have slightly smaller image circles. Just a note that Schneider and Nikon are not your only choices in the shortest focal lengths. In 75 and 90 mm you also have Fujinons.

Merg Ross
23-Apr-2006, 18:13
It is important to know if the architectural work you propose will be for youself or for a client such as an architect. If for the latter, you must select lenses that will produce the minimal amount of distortion.

For many years I did architectural work, the majority being for architects. En masse they are a critical group and abhor distortion in photographs of their projects. Of course, this is sometimes unavoidable. My rule of thumb was to always use the longest lens possible.

For 4x5 my workhorse lens was a 90mm SA followed by a 150mm. You will need something shorter than a 90mm on some occasions and a 72mm would be a good choice. Personally, I would not go any shorter but others will surely disagree. Another lens that I found useful was a 250mm. You might consider something in a long focal length. If you want to stay short, then a 120mm would be a good choice.

Henry Ambrose
23-Apr-2006, 19:12
Unless you are going to do high volume work, have a lab next door that can only do roll film and not sheet film or some other practical reason I suggest you ditch the roll film backs. They do nothing for you you can't do on sheet film and you'll want wider lenses for roll film and end up compromising your lens kit for 4x5. Same lenses with bigger film always wins on quality considerations.

Everything written above is outstanding advice and covers pretty much every lens available. The 58, 80, 110 Schneider is a great combination using the same center filter - I like mine. I'd be equally happy to have the 72 and 90 XLs instead.

Glenn Kroeger
23-Apr-2006, 19:30

I am curious about your experience with Nikon LF lenses. I have used the 300M and been very please (in fact tested it against Apo-Ronar and found the Nikkor at least as sharp with nicer color). I haven't used any normal or wide Nikkors but was considering one of their 90's based on comments by others.


Eric Brody
23-Apr-2006, 21:31
I too am curious about your issue with LF Nikkors. Do you have some specific lens that was a problem? I would argue that no one can routinely tell the difference between images made by any of the major players in LF lenses, including Schneider, Rodenstock, Fuji, and Nikon.

While I respect those capable photographers with strong opinions about lens brands, the discussions remind me of the audio wars where self appointed gurus argued they could tell the differences between brands of speaker wire and wrote eloquently about it.

When one thinks about all the things that happen to a piece of sheet film between exposure and the final print, the differences between top notch professional quality lenses seem to me to be trivial.

Others have ably answered the basic question. Schneider, Rodenstock, or Fuji... or the "evil" Nikkor will fulfill your needs.

Andre Noble
23-Apr-2006, 21:52
I've owned appx 30 lenses in my life from 35mm, Med format, LF, toenlarging lenses. The vast majority purchased new: Nikkors, Bronica, Mamiya, Minolta, Sigma, Tokina, Schneider, and Rodenstock. I have seen fungus in 4 of them - all Nikkors -3 LF Nikkors (including a brand new 75mm I recently returned to the retailer, whence I picked up the 150 apo sironar instaed), and 1 Nikkor 50mm enlarging lens with fungus. The Nikkors with fungus were sharp as you-know-what.

I know fungus can grow in any lens, blah blah. But personally I'm not jumping to spend my hard-earned money on any more Nikkor LF glass.

Your Nikkor karma may very. I hope it is good.

Kirk Gittings
23-Apr-2006, 22:09
Many professional arch shooters use both roll film and sheet film for good reason (including such luminaries as Norman McGrath and Timothy Hursley). Like myself they find loading film holders or running out of ready loads a real pain on extended out of town shoots, many clients don't need the extra quality of 4x5, for magazine repoduction the difference is negligable and film costs are significantly lower. Also you tend to take more chances with roll film which can lead to spectacular results sometimes on a whim. When you don't have to worry about running out of loaded 4x5 film you tend to loosen up some. Also the 664 Poaloid packs are half the price of 4x5 polaroids. All my personal work is done still in 4x5 but most of my commercial work is done in 120 even for national magazines and other national clients. See my site www.gittingsphoto.com. All the recent architecture projects are shot on 6x9 roll film (Velvia for many magazines and Pro 160S for architect clients)

I use a 40 year old 4x5 adapted to readily use both 4x5 and roll film and which will take a 47mm on a flat lensboard (very important). The lens I carry are 47,65,90,120,150,210,305 (all fairly new Schneiders except for the 120 and 150 which are Nikons). For 4x5 the most used lens are 90,210 and 65 in that order. For 6x9 the most used lenses are 65,47 and 90 in that order. I also carry a 40 year old Hassleblad with a 50,80 and 250 lenses and 4 backs. I always carry at least two Calumet C2N roll film holders and one or two Fuji Readyload holders and a couple of boxes of film.

A big thing these days is competing with DSLR shooters who are flodding the market with low rates. As I prefer to stay close to home on commercial shoots, I must remain somewhat competitive in the local market though I turn dowm as much work as I take. One way to do that without going digital is to shoot 120 color negas, scan everything in house and hide your film, processing and polaroid costs in a capture fee. It is very cost effective in terms of materials.

23-Apr-2006, 23:32
Don't underestimate the incredible usefulness of longer lenses. Any designs which are slightly more 'curvilinear' will GREATLY benefit from the control that a longer lens will give. This is because a wide angle lens will tend to make such curves even more greatly exaggerated and there won't be a logic to the curvature - relationships will be confusing. Take a look at the work of Paul Warchol, who is, IMO, the best architectural photographer that I know of. He has a website. You can see how he exploits this as well.

I've been exploring the use of longer focal lengths recently in my own work and have now come to the conclusion that shorter lenses are simply a necessary evil - and should only be used as a result of a lack of space. I personally strive to use the longest lens I possibly can in a given situaion. But - spaces are frequently so confined that one rarely has the luxury. As a result - my recommendation for ONLY three lenses would be: 58XL (for REALLY tight spots), 90, 150. Then infill with 75 & 240. Then 120.

that's my 2 cents.
Good Luck!

23-Apr-2006, 23:37
By the way, Kirk - I meant to congratulate you on your work. I saw one of your site links posted once. I was a bit skeptical (only because there's NOT a lot of good architecture work out there). But was really impressed with what you've been able to do! Do you know Chuck Choi? He's really good too. You should check him out if you don't know him. Really nice. Head and shoulders above the Hedrich-Blessings and the Estos of the world!

Kirk Gittings
24-Apr-2006, 00:45

Don't know Cuck Choi. I will look him up.

When I was younger, full of myself and stringing for Architecture Magazine, I got a couple of assignments to shoot buildings that had previously been shot by Nick Merrick and Peter Aaron (then with ESTO) for competing magazines. I have to say that it was a huge lesson in humility. Those guys at the big firms really know what they are doing. Their limitation is that they are exclusively commercial which limits their vision, but within that context they are hard to beat. I had to work my a-- off to come up with different and good, but I had the advantage of seeing their work first. I had the same humbling experience with Hursley. I have since got to know some of the guys at HB, because I take my class over there every year. I have developed the greatest respect for them.

Kirk Gittings
24-Apr-2006, 00:49
And thanks for the kind words Jonathan. Architectural Photogreaphy is my life, but I would give up the commercial work in a flash if I could make enough money off my personal work.

steve simmons
24-Apr-2006, 07:50
Anyone thinking of doing serious architectural photography should read

Photographng Buildings Inside and Out by Norman McGrath. It is the best book available.

My lenses were 58, 75, 90, 125, 180 and 240.

steve simmons

Paul Metcalf
24-Apr-2006, 08:28
"Thanks in advance for any tidbits, especially amongst our experienced fine art or professional architectural shooters out there"

I may be very loosely qualified in providing this advice, but here goes anyhow FWIW, mainly from "experience" (without the "ed" necessarily). I have a Schneider 72mm XL and it easily covers 4x5. In fact, I bought it to cover 5x7 for interiors of old structures. One thing to make sure of is that your camera can handle these short focal lengths. Especially if you're going to use rise. I find, even with a recessed lens board, that rise pretty much necessitates a bag bellows setup (normal bellows just can't bend sharply enough when compressed to near-zero length). The rear element needs room obviously, some cameras simply can't close enough to allow use of a lens that has very much physical depth. Additonally, watch those recessed lens boards (you will most likely need one), as they are mostly a PITA to use (my experience). There is very little room to get in and work the aperture and shutter-cocking levers, even with the small copal 0 shutters (a packard-shutter setup might be the preferred). I have to use a long narrow tool, e.g. a pencil. Reading the aperture scale is a wee bit of a challenge with recessed lens boards, especially in low light and when the tripod is elevated to it's maximum height and I'm standing on my tip toes trying to look through my cheaters from a couple of inches away! And, I know my 72mm has huge front glass (therefore filter). If I recall, it's something like 100mm. And lastly, the Schneider does not necessarily require a center filter (the reason I went with it) with the amount of rise I've typically used so far (but I'm shooting B&W, so it's easier for me to balance the tonalities), but some of these really wide lenses (Rodenstock included) need a center filter even with no rise. With big filter diameters = big (additional bucks) for center filter.

Leonard Evens
24-Apr-2006, 11:25
I agree with the assertion that you probably are better off with a center filter for the Rodenstock 75 mm lens and possibly also for the 90 mm lens. The 90 mmf f/6.8 and 75 mm f/4.5 both use the same 67 mm filter. That is particularly true for color work, at least when using color negative film. I haven't done much with my lenses with transparency film.

Kirk Gittings
24-Apr-2006, 22:24

I was not blown away. I looked at Chuck's work and to be honest he is good, probably even very good, but he does not blow away the Hedrich-Blessing or ESTO guys. Every city has a couple of guys at this level and each big city has a dozen or so. It is not like in the old days when there were a handful of good arch shooters in the whole country. Now there are at least a couple of great shooters in every city. Like New Mexico, we have 4 0r 5 at any given time who shoot at that level and New Mexico doesn't even have 2 million people in the whole state.

Frank Petronio
24-Apr-2006, 22:49
While I don't have anywhere near the experience that a guy like Kirk has, I have done a fair amount of architectural work for ads and brochures. I don't like working for most architects though, which is another topic. By art directing the shoots myself, I avoid getting pushed by an inexperienced client to "get it all in one shot" and can avoid using the goofy superwide angles that most mid-level commercial architectural shooters have to use to satisfy the client requests. Note that the esteemed ESTO - HB shooters hardly ever use the superwides, at least for their portfolio shots.

That said, just get a late model Rodenstock Grandagon 90/4.5 and use the heck out of it -- along with that nice 150 Sironar you already have. Keep it simple and save your money until you need some other lens (or a Noblex or DLSR or some other item).

The faster, more expensive lens is easier to focus, has more coverage, and is more even without a center filter. It is large, but so is everything else...

As for using roll film, if you are not shooting at Kirk's quantity and it ends up forcing you to buy a couple of $1000 lenses, then is it really a savings afterall? Readyloads are expensive per unit substitute for a roll back, but you can buy a lot of them for the cost of a $500 6x12 back and a couple of extra superwide XLs or Grandagons.

Kirk Gittings
24-Apr-2006, 23:10
There is something to what Frank says. For years I got away shooting only a 90 and a 210! That sounds absurd probably, but it is true, I only owned two lenses and shot regularly for Architecture Magazine, then I bought a 120, then a 65 etc. The point is that if you are shooting 4x5, 90% of your images will be shot with a 90mm lens (it is an old saying in arch photography).

Frank Petronio
24-Apr-2006, 23:29
Last year I used a compact outfit consisting of a Technika IV with Readyloads and a 90/6.8 Angulon and a 210/6.3 Geronar - either lens would fold up into the camera, and the whole outfit fit into the small Lowe CompuTrekker with 40 sheets of film, a laptop, and DSLR! It was great for travel.

Don't tell anyone, but I have several 30x40 prints, a 30 x 72 stitched panorama, and a double-page full bleed magazine ad done with that outfit. Of architectural subjects no less. I doubt you could tell which shots were done with the 90/4.5 or the Angulon...

Andre Noble
24-Apr-2006, 23:42
Frank and Kirk, I think there is a lot to be said for just getting a Rodenstock 90 right now to add to my 150. That will do. I hope to continue to have good 'Rodenstock karma'. My Apo Sironar-S 150 is extremely sharp. But 90mm is my favorite focal length in 4x5. 150 is a good compliment to the 90.

Thanks all so much for taking time to post your suggestions.

25-Apr-2006, 23:28
Thanks for the thoughts, Kirk. Great to know, that stuff. I'd also love to hear some more on your billing strategies one day! Since I'm in the same condundrum and have been trying to find a solution - which I usually deal with by trying to inform my clients as best I can that digital capture on the same order of magnitude of quality as 4x5 is something they just couldn't afford (nor could I, of course!) - and it would probably involve a scanning back - which is (logistically) a huge problem, as you could imagine.

I'll admit to being a 90 junkie as well, though. I suppose my attitudes come from being kind of 90'ed out. 75s are super useful in certain spaces. If I'm doing interiors - and they're not huge spaces - I'll split time with my 90 and 75 pretty much equally. I've been using a 58XL for really tight spaces - but they're just so WEIRD looking (the photos I mean!). A bit extreme.

I like what you're doing with the 6x9 though. Very interesting strategy. Roll film could be pretty handy. Too bad there's not a bigger market for 70mm though (lack of good emulsions).

I dunno. HB and ESTO do absolutely NOTHING for me. Just not my thing. I've seen Aaron do some decent work - but it leaves me kind of cold. Choi and Warchol are the only ones I'd seen that really impress me. To each their own though, I suppose. I think I like them because they're trying to get away from a more traditional architectural photography. Something I strive to do myself. But I design buildings myself too - so I guess that gives me a certain perversion others don't have.

Macht's gut!

Kirk Gittings
26-Apr-2006, 01:01
To be honest with you Jonathan. I have not seen anything really new in commercial architectural photography in a very long time. Which is not to say I have not see some great photographs, but new and good are different no?

For a fresh look I think you have to look at the more "art" architectural photographers like Mark Citret or Gabriele Basilico, or whoever, but outside the commercial arena to see anything fresh. In a sense the conventions of arch photography are stricter than the conventions in architecture so that arch evolves faster than commercial arch photography does. What you see sometimes in the work of some arch photographers is fresh architecture seen in a photographically conventional way, but that reads as fresh photography when it is actually the same old way of looking at a box. When I look at Choi's work I see well executed images with some moving bodies thrown in but that is not a fresh way of seeing but just a fresh way of proping traditional arch photography.

I am not holding myself up as anything different. I do commercial arch photography to pay the bills. If I could make a living off my personal work I would drop it in a minute. I work so much for magazines and architects, and they are not interested in new and inventive ways of seeing but competent images so I gave up fighting them on that and save whatever creativity I have for my personal work. It is the very rare magazine designer that can appreciate an arch photo that is truely outside of the box.

Andre Noble
3-Jun-2006, 06:15
Well, because I am a sucker for bang-for-the-buck Japanese products, and particularly well built, sharp lenses, I went against my own anti-Nikkor advice, I must 'fess up, and snagged the Nikkor SW 90 4.5 and SW 120 f8 'imported' lens from B&H.

They were both $900 brand new and the glass looks pristine.

Armin Seeholzer
4-Jun-2006, 06:48
Hi Andre 941
I have 2 LF Nikkors the f4.5s 75 and 90mm and 8 35 mm Nikkors and never had fungus on them! Nock on wood!
You will be happy with the wide Nikkors I love mine!
Cheers Armin

Andre Noble
4-Jun-2006, 09:44
Thanks Armin, yes these two Nikkor SW wide angle lenses look fabulous. Knock on wood.