View Full Version : Commercial Ektar vs Ilex

9-Mar-2000, 21:40
I'm looking at two used 14" lens at local shops in my area. I have narrowed my c hoices down to a 14" Commerical Ektar in VG condition for $500 and a 14-3/4" Ile x Calumet Caltar lens in E++ condition for $300. Does the Commerical Ektar in it 's condition justify the $200 greater cost over the Ilex lens? Both are in Ilex Universal #5 shutters. I will be using the lens to make 8X10 B&W contacts and an occasional 8X10 color transparancy. Thanks!

Doug Paramore
10-Mar-2000, 09:11
Ron: According to an article in View Camera magazine a few years ago on lens design, the 14" Caltar was a three element design. Three elements used to be considered the least number of elements which could be fully corrected. According to the article, the early 14 inch three element lenses were not all that great, but later ones were o.k. The Commercial Ektar was a four element lens and is one of the legendary large format lenses. I personally have used a 14 inch and presently own a 12" Ektar. They are good lenses. For contact work though, you probably won't be able to tell much difference, especially if the lens is one of the later Caltar three element lenses. Both lenses were quite popular for 8x10 work. Hope this helps, Doug.

neil poulsen
10-Mar-2000, 16:42
The same article states that the Ilex-Caltar 14-3/4" were only "ordinary" in quality, whereas the other Ilex-Caltar lenses were "spectacular." What does a "very good" rating mean for the vendor selling the Ektar? Usually, this rating can imply brassing, imperfections, etc. Based on most ratings I've seen, I wouldn't purchase anything below an excellent. Will they send the lens "on approval", allowing you to return it if it doesn't meet your expectations? $500 seems like a lot for a "very good" Ektar.

sheldon hambrick
10-Mar-2000, 21:55
"$500 seems like a lot for a "very good" Ektar."

True. I wasn't going to say anything, but since someone said if first. In the last year, Ive bought two 14" CEs in EX+ condition (NO scratches, VERY few light cleaning marks) off of Ebay for less that $400 each. Some camera stores are asking very high prices however - $600 and up in some cases. Look around.

Doug Paramore
11-Mar-2000, 09:53
Neal: I couldn't find the article on the 14 3/4 Ilex Caltar when I wrote my reply to Ron, so thanks for filling in the info on the other Ilex Caltars. I was writing from memory. Thanks for filling in the info on the other Ilex Caltars, which were four element lenses. Agree that the price is too high for the Ektar in VG condition. The three element lens, or even a two element, could give decent results with 8x10 contacts due to the size of the neg. Doug

11-Mar-2000, 10:17
Thanks to all for the comments! The Commerical Ektar has nice glass but has a ding (been dropped) around the filter ring area. The shutter will need to be CLA'd because slow speeds are way off. The Ilex Calumet Caltar lens is in very pretty condition, both glass and shutter. Shutter seems to be close to accurate but has not been tested on a shutter tester. How can I tell a 3 element from a 4 element Ilex Calumet Caltar. The serial number on the Ilex lens is 1531. I was told it was late 1960's. I have seen some 14-3/4" Ilex Caltar Acutar lens that do sell for a little less. Could this be the 3 element lens? By the way, I'm looking at local camera shops because of some bad experiences I have had with buying on EBAY. What you get is not always as described and shown on EBAY.

Thanks again!

neil poulsen
11-Mar-2000, 11:43
There are good places to shop and mail-order on the internet. For example, I've always had good luck with Midwest Photo and Kenmar. Check out Phil Greenspun's site at WWW.PHOTO.NET/NEIGHBOR for information on good and bad mail-order sites. neil

Peter C. McDonough
19-Mar-2001, 00:16
My first 8x10 lens was a 14 3/4 " Ilex Caltar in an Ilex #5 shutter. The lens really suprised me. It is extremely sharp and very snappy. I have no complaints.

18-Dec-2016, 10:45
I wanted to bump this thread to make a comment. I have been very satisfied with my 14-3/4" Caltar, and wondered about the three-element description, which is always used as a convenient dismissal of the lens as a cheap and inferior product. Then just now it occurred to me that this would be easy enough to check. I took mine out and compared the internal reflections with my 190/4.5 Paragon (Tessar-type). The series of reflections is exactly the same. Both components front and back, have two elements, the front separate and the back glued, as you'd expect from a straight Tessar. I add this up, and I get four elements, total, not the alleged three. I don't know why this three-element rumor started, but it's not true.

In both lenses because of the glued pair in the back the middle interface reflection is very dim and far away, but it's definitely there. I didn't see it with the lens together, because of visual interference from the shutter, but removing the back component and looking against a plain background, it was immediately visible.

Mark Sawyer
18-Dec-2016, 11:29
Mine's a Tessar too, just like the Commercial Ektar. The lenses are so similar that I've always had a suspicion that when Kodak discontinued its Commercial Ektars, the whole production line and labor force just moved a few blocks to Ilex and went back to work. I've never been disappointed in an Ilex lens.

On the other hand, triplets, if well made, can be very fine lenses too. Anyone who disagrees is welcome to sell me their (triplet) Cooke Portrait Lenses at a discount! :rolleyes:

18-Dec-2016, 11:50
I agree about the 375mm Ilex/Caltar, I have the late Ilex Version with it's unusual colored coatings. It appears to be a clone of the 360mm Ektar. The 3 element 508mm was an entry level 8X10 lens. Here's a quote from 2004:

ILEX-Caltar 508mm 20" Lens

Lynn Jones, who was involved at the time these lens were made for and sold by Calumet, briefly mentions them in an article in the Jan/Feb 1996 View Camera magazine. It was designed to be an affordable lens for a 8x10 camera and so is presumedly designed for studio to far subjects rather than optimized for 1:1 like a process lens. The design is a triplet and L. Jones comments "The early offerings were variable in quality but by 1967 they were uniformly excellent, covering about 35 degrees."

John Jarosz
18-Dec-2016, 12:43
Does anyone have an idea where in the serial number sequence of this lens changes from 'early' to 'late'?


Mark Sampson
18-Dec-2016, 20:19
I will agree with the positive reviews of the 14-3/4" Ilex-Caltar. We had one in the studio at Kodak, and once we made a beautiful 12x enlargement from an 8x10 negative made with that lens. As in 8 feet square. The Ilex-Calumet Caltars were introduced after Kodak discontinued the production of large-format lenses in the late 1960s. And Mr. Sawyer, the designs were similar to Kodak's, but the Ilex lenses were made at ilex by Ilex personnel... Kodak's optics people just went on to other things. When I started there in the mid-80s, the optics dept. was still in the Hawk-Eye plant where I worked. To my surprise a grade-school classmate of mine was an optical engineer there. I told him that EK should re-introduce the Ektars, and his reply was that the market would be too small, more modern designs would out-perform them, and that that they would cost too much to make for there to be any profit in it. In fact later on we acquired a Sinaron (Rodenstock) 210mm, and it did produce better results than our 1953 8-1/2 Commercial Ektar, but you had to look very carefully for the improved resolution. As good as they were, and as much as I like the Kodak lenses I used there (and the ones I still have), lens design has advanced since 1946.
The only recent, American-made 3-element lens I can think of is the 508mm Ilex-Caltar from the 70s. That was supposedly meant for 8x10 table-top work. I've never seen or used one, though.

Bernice Loui
19-Dec-2016, 01:56
Some time during the mid-1980's got a 8-1/2" Commercial Ektar. At that time the most frequently used lens on the Sinar 4x5 was a Sironar N. The comparison was made. Much to my surprise, the CE not only equaled or exceeded the Sironar N in resolution (Agfachrome 50 & microscope) the color of the CE had better overall balance than the Sirinar N. This test was repeated using other color transparency films with much the same results. Beyond resolution, the overall contrast (lower and smoother gradation, if this is due to flare, it does not matter, the results do) and image rendition of the CE appealed far more to me than the Sironar N. Other modern Plasmat designs were compared from Schneider to Fuji to Nikon, with the CE continually producing a more pleasing image, specially in out of focus rendition. All this got me thinking and re-evaluaing what optics were to be the preference. That was when it occurred to me that the modern high contrast, hard color saturation, apparent resolution, every item in the image "sharp" was what the market demanded. As more film was burned, that image orthodoxy became less and less appealing. In time, only the modern wide angle lenses remained with the rest being Kodak Ektar, Xenar, Dagor or Artar. This is not a choice for everyone, it is not the type of image results some image makers are seeking. This is just another data point in the world of image making. Bottom line, like many things that blend science, technology and art, what is considered technically better or advanced is in the eye or perception of the user.

Essentially, use what every optic meet one's creative image making needs.

Ilex was not the only one who carried on the CE tradition, Osaka Commercial, Komura Commercial, and others were variations and copies of the Kodak CE after Kodak stopped production of the CE.


19-Dec-2016, 06:34
Have owned and used a 508mm Caltar in an Ilex shutter for many years on my 11x14. Even though its maximum aperture is f/7.0, the image it projects on the ground glass more resembles the image projected by a f/5.6 lens. My 11x14 negatives are only contact printed for silver gelatin prints or scanned to make 1:1 Digital negatives for printing Platinum/Palladium. Once I shot the same scene with a 14" Dagor, a 12 3/4 inch Protar, a 355mm G-Claron, and the 508mm Caltar, all set at f/64. Dagor and Protar images were a tad bit less sharp and little less contrasty, but then they are vintage optics and probably 80-100 years older than the G-Claron and the Caltar. Caltar and G-Claron images were more contrasty and under magnification sharper. BUT since I only contact print my 11x14 negatives, all 4 lenses give me excellent negatives to print from. I have been using a 508mm Caltar since the middle 1980s, and it has never let me down. Several years ago sold my ULF 11x14 camera outfit which included my first 508mm Caltar and shot only LF film. Then about 3 years ago missed not shooting ULF so bought a new 11x14 view camera to replace the one I sold. Replacing the 508mm Caltar wasn't that easy. Took me almost 2 years to find one in excellent condition. From little bits of information from here and there over the years, believe that only about 200 508mm Caltars were ever sold. For contact printing, I can 100% recommend the 508mmm Caltar optic.

19-Dec-2016, 08:17
There have been a few sold here
Serial numbers 4082, 4079 and mine- #133. apparently one of the poor early ones; I am unsophisticated, so I think it is a fine lens.

19-Dec-2016, 14:16
Found that View Camera article. What stumps me is that when I shine a high intensity flashlight through the front and rear elements, I get the same number of reflections as with my Dagor (Dagor has 6 elements in two groups). I'm very sure that the Caltar optic is not the Dagor formula, but reflections tell me that it has 6 elements in 2 groups. Who knows.... I love and regularly use the 508mm lens and that's what counts in the end.

Dan Fromm
19-Dec-2016, 14:39
Interesting. If the lens is a triplet, as we all believe, you should see two strong reflections from one cell and four strong reflections from the other. No weak reflections from either. A Dagor will have two strong and two weak reflections from each cell.

19-Dec-2016, 16:19
Lesson learned: Never check for reflections with a multi-celled LED flashlight under an in-ceiling fluorescent light fixture that has a clear gridded plexiglass diffusor.

Went back to carefully check for reflections with ceiling lights off and...
front cell: 4 strong reflections
rear cell: 2 strong and one weak.

Looking it up in my little Photographic Lens book, and looks to be of an Ektar design.

Totally open to comments.....

19-Dec-2016, 16:26
Interesting. If the lens is a triplet, as we all believe, you should see two strong reflections from one cell and four strong reflections from the other. No weak reflections from either. A Dagor will have two strong and two weak reflections from each cell.

Yes, this is why I revived the thread; because the "what we all believe" is wrong.

19-Dec-2016, 16:58
I have all three suspects on hand, a 12" CE, a 14" Caltar and a 20" Ilex Acutar (is it the same as Ilex Caltar?), and upon flash light inspection, they all exhibit the same reflection pattern.

19-Dec-2016, 17:11
One thing that should also be considered when we talk about lenses... how different samples of one same optic can vary in image quality. Back in the 1990s, I purchased a pre-owned 24mm-120mm AF Nikkor zoom lens. Its reputation only so-so at best. definitely not one of Nikon's better optics. Mine was a gem... used it professionally for years. Over that time I would visit the Photography store that I pretty much did all my business with. Whenever they had a 24mm-120mm AF Nikkor for sale, I would stop by with my lens and take both outside and shoot some frames with each lens down the same street. Probably tested a half dozen other 24mm-120mm AF Nikkors over the next dozen or so years and none (even the more modern models) came close to my original lens. As for LF lenses, only once I was able to test my lens against a similar lens that a friend owned. Same tripod, same scene, same film, same aperture, and same high quality film holders. Under a bit of magnification, my friend's lens was definitely sharper than mine. My lens I'd rate as very good, his I'd rate as excellent

Dan Fromm
19-Dec-2016, 17:12
Yes, this is why I revived the thread; because the "what we all believe" is wrong.

If I'm not mistaken, the belief traces back to H. Lynn Jones, who claimed to have been involved in the creation of Ilex' last LF designs (Acugons, Acutars, Acutons).

See http://www.largeformatphotography.info/forum/archive/index.php/t-30957.html, which quotes and links to http://www.ilfordphoto.com/photocommunity/forums/theforum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=7641

I went a little farther back. Ask www.archive.org to retrieve http://www.austincc.edu/photo/pdf/usdlens.pdf. Its a table of "Good buys in optics for large format" that Lynn Jones put together. It contains a few howlers, e.g., that tessars are convertible, and says this of the 508/7 Caltar (= Acutar):

This is a 3 element (Cooke Triplet Type) design. It was introduced in 1967 and was variable in quality through 1969. From 1970 until the demise of Ilex, these were superb for all formats through 8 X 10. The photographer should note, carefully, that the circle of illumination ( about 45o) is quite a bit greater than the 35o circle of excellent definition.

19-Dec-2016, 18:33
Is it possible that Ilex may have changed the design of the 20" Lens from a Triplet to a Tessar design, hence the claim that the earlier version were not as "good" as the later version? I mean so far I have not seen any one step up with a Triplet version of the 20" (with the reflection test).

Dan Fromm
19-Dec-2016, 18:56
Nah, Mr. Jones was referring to improved QC, not to a new design. He had quite a good career, did many good things but in his old age he seems to have gone off a little. He used to defend the canard that Goerz Americal Optical Company, originally the US branch of Optische Anstalt C. P. Goerz A.G. of Berlin is the same firm as American Optical Company.

If the people who've reported that their 508/7 Acutars' rear cells are cemented doublets are right, we have another instance of Mr. Jones being mistaken and sticking with it. That said and to be fair to him, I'd swear I've seen Ilex propaganda that said the lens was a triplet. But I can't find it, so could well be mistaken.

19-Dec-2016, 19:24
Well, I can't speak for Mr Jones, nor the Ilex Propaganda, but the rear group of my 20" Acutar is definitely cemented doublets. Just took it apart to look.

19-Dec-2016, 20:03
here is another Tessar claim from Donn in conversation with Kerry:


13-Jan-2017, 11:35
here is another Tessar claim from Donn in conversation with Kerry:

https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/rec.photo.equipment.large-format/yhFgb_UW0JMThanks for posting the link. Mighty interesting conversation.