View Full Version : No zooms in LF?

18-Sep-2006, 07:04
Very new to LF.

I am intrigued by the apparent lack (at least to me) of zoom lenses in LF. Why is that? And if I have just missed the zooms somehow please correct me on this.

Ole Tjugen
18-Sep-2006, 07:56
There have never been true Zooms for LF. A century or so ago there were some "variable focal length lenses", and there have been convertible and set lenses all along.

But take a close look at a zoom lens for 35mm film format: there are lots more lens elements than in any fixed focal length lens in the range, and it's also significantly larger and heavier than any of those lenses. I the image quality is going to be even half as good as a fixed lens, it gets even larger and heavier. This isn't too bad when the zoom range is something like 35-105mm, but what do you think a 120-360mm zoom lens with excess coverage for 4x5" film would look like? And with a usable aperture (5.6?), and fixed apertures throughout the range? Remember that most LF cameas have no TTL meter which automatically corrects for changes in effective aperture. I'd much rather drag along a 120, 150, 180, 210, 270, 300 and 360mm set than one single 20-lb zoom lens (which would be too heavy for my camera anyway).

18-Sep-2006, 08:03
Every LF camera has a zoom. It's in your feet :)

Bruce Watson
18-Sep-2006, 08:26
No zooms. Why?

There are a few reasons for this, IMHO. First, one doesn't shoot LF the same way that one shoots smaller formats. That is, one doesn't put the viewfinder to ones face and compose with ones feet and/or zoom. In LF, most people walk the scene without the camera. They figure out where to make the photograph then setup on that spot and use the correct "prime" lens to give them the angle of view that they want. Clearly, this is a completely different way of thinking from small format photography. That's not to say that small formats are bad, only that they are different, and that they are used differently.

Second, LF photography generally will trade convienience for higher quality. Prime lenses have fewer elements which generally means fewer aberations.

Third, movements. When you can move the lens stage independently from the film stage (think rise/fall, tilt/swing), composition becomes more interesting. Telephoto lenses become more difficult to use because the rear nodal point isn't close to the plane of the lens stage. IOW, tilts and swings become hard to manage. With a zoom, I would imagine that the rear nodal point would be a variable depending on focal length. Composing with tilts and swings would become a serious PITA I would think.

There are many other considerations too, like cost, weight, coverage, etc. In any case, no zooms.

Walter Calahan
18-Sep-2006, 09:20
But the fun of LF is Zoom Zoom. HA!

David A. Goldfarb
18-Sep-2006, 09:37
Also, when large format press photography was the norm, the large negative and inherent image quality of newsprint meant that if you couldn't get close enough to the action, you could always crop in the darkroom. With 35mm, it's more important to frame precisely in camera and use every square mm of film.

You'll notice that there aren't too many zoom lenses for medium format either, and they aren't very popular.

18-Sep-2006, 09:59
A very long bellows and rail with the right lens might do the trick!

19-Sep-2006, 08:34
Excellent answers all. Especially the zoom zoom poster :].

Coming from a Nikon background and DSLR to boot, I am getting the idea that LF can be the most inexpensive photography to get into equipment wise. You just have to be willing to look for a few good deals.

Yep, LF is going to be fun I think. I have yet to take a single pic yet but really look foward to that. I am getting familiar with my older Cambo 4x5 that I got last weekend. I have all the pieces but have yet to put them all together yet. I guess I need to go into the closet and load a few sheets of film before I do much else eh... lol.

Donald Brewster
19-Sep-2006, 11:38
Zoom lenses? There are people here still reeling from the apostasy of telephoto lenses.

Michael Daily
19-Sep-2006, 14:37
And as for cheap: price a new Phillips 8x10, a couple of new lenses, film, darkroom, enlarger, etc. and see whether a small house might be cheaper... And that doesn't even include the digital stuff and the learning curve!

PS. I also loved the "zoom, zoom" and the "feet" comments.

19-Sep-2006, 17:18
One could stick on a Mamiya 100-300 RB67 (or is it a 100-200) zoom and put a 6x7 back on a LF body. Is that close enough? Personally, I love the sharpness of my cheapo Canon 35mm zooms (28-90 and 70-210) but the barrel distortion at the wide ends drives me crazy!!! Even my Sigma 24mm has way too much distortion. One has to spend at least $300 for a wide angle prime without distortion and possibly 3 times as much. Does anyone make a wide angle lense for the smaller aps size digital sensor DSLR without distortion? Correction in the computer might be somewhat possible but at will degrade the picture-at least my scanned negs. and photoshopped can only handle so much perspective control without the staight lines pixelating.

Dan Fromm
19-Sep-2006, 17:32
6x7 is LF? I didn't know that. Live and learn. Always something new under the sun, eh?

Huge polluting old Ford car with inadequate brakes, if you want rectilinear lenses use fixed-focal length lenses that aren't retrofocus or telephoto. At the wide end, if you're going to shoot 35 mm still -- a large format relative to 8 x 11 Minox -- this means using a rangefinder camera.

About keeping costs down, become acquainted with, say, www.keh.com. Used lenses, especially for manual focus 35 mm SLRs, can be very inexpensive these days. As for buying new lenses, all of my lenses, including the ones I bought new, are now used lenses. They're still just fine, and that includes the ones made before 1914. Sorry, I didn't buy them new. I'm a young, relatively, curmudgeon. There's no reason not buy used lenses, especially from a reputable seller like KEH.

Good luck, have fun,


19-Sep-2006, 18:07
Dan, thanks for your insight! Very helpful sarcasm. Are you Canadian? (eh) My large Ford's are made there.