View Full Version : Looking for Recommendations for Sets of Lenses

26-Feb-2008, 11:20
Hi All,

I am an amateur photographer with a mathematical bent. I would like some help in developing a model for "optimal" spacings between lens focal lengths. I would like anyone inclined to help to post a recommendation for a set of 3 or 4 focal lengths for use by a photographer interested in landscape or architectural photography. Please make sure to include the format (or formats) you intend the set for. PM me if you prefer. I am not looking for sets for studio portraiture or table top photography here because I feel that other issues like studio size come into play and change the nature of the question.

I am asking for sets limited to 4 or fewer lenses because I want to observe constraints of budget or kit weight and bulk that affect most photographers. However, if you feel that a larger set of focal lengths is necessary please feel free to provide it, especially if it includes particularly long or short lenses. For example a 4 lens kit for 4x5 is unlikely to include anything shorter than 65mm, 75mm or perhaps even 90mm, yet I am still interested in knowing what lens photographers feel is "right" if one needs to go shorter than those lengths.

I am not interested knowing if you "have no use for" the 210mm length and much prefer a 240mm, but rather if you use a 210 or 240mm, what is the next length up (or down) you feel is sufficiently different, to be worth investing in, or carrying.

Not to prejudice anyone, but I have long felt that having a uniform common ratio between focal lengths (90, 127, 180) was a good strategy. Lately, I have observed that shorter focal lengths may need to be closer together, and longer lengths can be spaced further than a common ratio provides. I am trying to see if the experience of working photographers supports this observation and if it can be modeled mathematically to any purpose.

Yes, I know that most mentally healthy persons (for example, my wife) would advise me to "Step away from my spreadsheets, shut up and go make some photos - Please!" If you must say that, go ahead, but please consider lending your wisdom to my effort. If I can make heads or tails out of the data I get, I will impose on you all again and publish a summary here.

Thank You - Alan Duncanson

26-Feb-2008, 11:28
Some [lots?] of this will depend on what and where you photograph.

Here I keep wanting a long lens. Why? To get the towns across the valleys in the frame. But I also want fairly short lenses. Why? Roads are narrow and you can't back up without going into somebody's kitchen -)

Ernest Purdum
26-Feb-2008, 11:42
Architecture is the real sticker. This is the most demanding field when it comes to availability of lens selection. Landscape is much easier in this respect and many would probably say that a three lens selection (and maybe some fearless cropping) is adequate. In architecture, a four lens selection may be considered inadequate for serious work.

Regarding mathematics, I doubt its value in this area, bu then, I am totally incompetent mathematically.

26-Feb-2008, 11:49
Shoot. Trying to quantify and pigeon hole and prioritize and budgetize such things takes all the fun out of it. Besides, it's a highly subjective and most nearly personal choice. I'm reminded of the late Jim Varney, "Analize, Comparasize. Gas. Electric. Electric. Gas."

Case in point: My own personal accumulation of fixed focal length lenses:

35mm cameras: 24mm, 28mm (2), 35mm (3), 50mm (5), 75mm, 85mm, 90mm and 135mm

6x7 cameras: 45mm, 105mm and 150mm.

4x5: 105mm, 127mm, 150mm (more or less, it's not marked) and 7 7/8".

My personal common denominator: 105mm. Counting zoom lenses, I have 105mm covered on all 3 formats in my possesion.

Dan Fromm
26-Feb-2008, 13:02
Optimal? With respect to what?

FWIW, in the '70s Nikon recommended 24, 50, 105, 200, ... Work out the rest for yourself.

Gordon Moat
26-Feb-2008, 13:17
Optimal could be what matches your vision of a scene, or what allows you to compose a scene and not be too close, nor too far away. It is tough to make assumptions, and I think you might find that when you start with one lens, then you can figure out what the next step might be for you.

Just an example, I mostly use a 135mm on 4x5. I tried a 210mm for a bit, though decided it was not what I wanted to use. Since 150mm is too close to 135mm, I went with a 180mm. I have also borrowed/tried a 75mm and a 90mm. Don't forget that cropping is another option, because 4x5 gives you lots of room to edit that way. So with cropping in mind, I felt that a 75mm would meet my needs more than having both a 75mm and a 90mm. However, some of the nature of my work has changed, so I have not been in any rush to get a 75mm yet.

I don't know if mathematically is the best way to figure this out. Just to complicate things a bit more, I sometimes use a 56mm by 72mm rollfilm back. With that rollfilm back on my 4x5, and that sort of crop, that leads to other steps in lens choices, because it is nearly like having another lens.


Gordon Moat Photography (http://www.gordonmoat.com)

Dan Fromm
26-Feb-2008, 13:25
Um, Alan, I forgot to mention that I sort of followed Nikon's advice and don't feel particularly deprived. My current set of lenses for my Nikons is 24, 55, 105, 200, 400, 700. And I have one zoom, a 35-70, find 35 more useful than 70.

On 2x3, though, I've run amok. My travel kit contains 38, 47, 65, 80, 100 (actually a couple of 4 inchers for different purposes), 127, 135 (these two are too close but the 135 is tiny), 150 (x2, both very small), 180, 210, 240, 10.16" (can't explain why), 300, 360, 420, and 480. On a long trip I'll use most of them. Stay-at-homes include 58, 95, 120, 130, 12", and more. May start using the 58 more after it comes back from being put in a friendlier shutter.

steve simmons
26-Feb-2008, 13:49
There are several articles in the Free Articles section of the View Camera web site that might be helpful


here are my thoughts

90, 120-125, 180, 240

steve simmons

26-Feb-2008, 14:00
[excerpt from my blog]

The typical lens grouping for large format is 90, 150 210 with a possible 72 and 300 at either end depending on your preference. Being a stubborn, non-conformist fool, I decided I'd like to work out a completely different grouping for myself. I also wanted to work out my own equivalent focal lengths as the standard multiply by three or four figures seemed odd to me.

So we'll start with an equivalent focal length for a sample 24mm lens (for 35mm film). In my mind, when I take a photograph on 35mm and then crop to 4x5 ratio, this gives me a foundation for my equivalence. So, with width of my 4x5 cropped 35mm film is 24mm (35mm being 24mmx36mm). The with of a large format film is 4 inches or 4x25.6mm which is 102.4mm. Now this gives me a ratio of 24 to 102.4 as my EFL multiplier which is 4.267 or 0.234 depending on which way you want to work.

So lets look at a few 35mm lenses and see what equivalents we get:-

14 = 60
19 = 81
24 = 102
28 = 119
35 = 149
50 = 213
85 = 363

These seem like sensible equivalents to me. The next step is to work out what spacing of lens sizes I would like. Well I do like the 18-28 region and the standard spacing between 90-150-210 works out as about roughly 40% difference between steps.

Having a look at the lenses available and which lenses have a great reputation, I quickly found that the Rodenstock 150mm Sironar S is universally acclaimed as a large format standard. If we work with this as a starting point and work 40% down, we get to 107mm. This corresponds with a very highly acclaimed Schneider lens, the 110XL Super Symmar. 40% down again and we get 78mm which corresponds with the matching Super Symmar XL of 80mm.

Given these three lenses, I felt they gave a good, wide angle biased lens selection (Albeit at somewhat of a hefty price, at least for the Symmars). The 35mm equivalents for these focal lengths, 80-110-150 are 20mm, 27mm and 37mm which seem to give me a better landscape bias than 90-150-210 equivalents of 22mm, 37mm, 52mm. The bonus of the two Symmars is that they also share the same centre filter size.


Hope you don't mind me posting a copy of something I've already written. Since I posted this I've bought a Nikkor 360/500 which fits really well.. So far I'm very happy with the range (although I'm having problems getting lenshood/filter holder to not vignette with the 80+centre filter.)


p.s. the 40% differences predicts a 210mm and 300mm lens but I decided to go for a 240 and 360 as the 240A Fujinon and 360 T-ED Nikkor were attractive in performance and also in price when I bought them.

john borrelli
26-Feb-2008, 14:31
You have received excellent answers to your question so let me depart from it a bit. The particular lenses Tim has mentioned are extraordinary examples of the lens maker's art, unfortunately they can also be extraordinarily expensive. You mentioned you wanted to stick to a budget. There's an old axiom for the budget conscious: spend the most money on the lens you will use the most. I would work this problem out first then you can decide the focal lengths you'll need to complement that lens afterward.

26-Feb-2008, 14:34
For 8x10 I have been using 159 -- 210 -- 300 -- 480, though I would give up the awkward-to-use 159mm for a 165mm. This set is primarily used for landscape, though my landscapes tend to be tighter in than the grand landscapes of the deserts or mountains.

I do have a big beast of a 600mm, but I am not yet man enough to use it, let alone carry it any distance. But it would probably work well into an evenly-spaced 165 - 240 - 360 - 600 lineup.


Ole Tjugen
27-Feb-2008, 05:26
Spacing by a constant factor is often considered a good idea.

So something like 90 - 135 - 180 - 270 could be fine for 4x5".

Oddly enough that's very close to what I use most for 5x7": 90 - 150 - 210 - 300

I sometimes add 65, 120, 180, 240, 360 and so on (the 65mm only on 4x5"), though...

27-Feb-2008, 06:26
Ole has got it together. A 20% spread is a good start as a rule of thumb for a big kit. Now as you reach the wider end a tighter spacing may be desirable depending on they type of work to be done. On the longer end a wider spacing would work. Now to be more specific to your question. A 4 lens kit is usable with sacrifice. now without being to analytical i would say for 4x5: 90, 150, 240 is a great 3 lens kit. for a 4 lens kit 80,135,210,305 would work quit nice for most applications. also if the longest lens were a flat field type it would work well for table top as well as infinity shooting.

Bruce Watson
27-Feb-2008, 06:38
What I've found that works for me is to space the angle of view (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angle_of_view) for the various lenses about 15 degrees apart. Using conventionally available focal lengths I ended up with this set for 5x4 film: 80mm, 110mm, 150mm, 240mm.

While this works really well for me, clearly YMMV.

Frank Petronio
27-Feb-2008, 06:55
Pfft field of view and subject matter don't matter, you need the proper numerological feng shui and and the multipliers need to be in balance:



or if you're daring 90-135-180

Don't break the chain (or mix brands) or it will be years of bad luck....

27-Feb-2008, 07:31
I believe one can get by quite nicely with three lenses in a 1:1.5:2.0 ratio of the film width.
With the advent of scanned and digitally printed negatives, it is no longer necessary to have an extended range of focal lengths available for static subjects (such as landscapes and architectural views). For example, the need for super-wide lenses can be better satisfied by multiple shots stitched together, and finer details can be extracted from cropped segments than with traditional printing.
Based on the 4x5 negative image width of 120mm, this would encompass a slight "wide-angle" lens (110-120mm), a "normal" (150-180mm), and a "long" (210-250mm).
For hand-held dynamic subjects, the old-timers knew what they were doing when they specified a wide "universal" lens (127mm) so they could get up close to the action and still get it all in, and twice the focal length (250mm) if they had to shoot from a distance or individual portraits. Cropping was always anticipated.

27-Feb-2008, 08:44
You have received excellent answers to your question so let me depart from it a bit. The particular lenses Tim has mentioned are extraordinary examples of the lens maker's art, unfortunately they can also be extraordinarily expensive. You mentioned you wanted to stick to a budget. There's an old axiom for the budget conscious: spend the most money on the lens you will use the most. I would work this problem out first then you can decide the focal lengths you'll need to complement that lens afterward.

Ah ... my apologies for not seeing the budget bit... I got a very good price on some of these but the retail is not cheap at all.. I did have the symmar-s 150 which was a beautiful lens though and not expensive at all (it wasn't multi coated though). The Super Angulon 90mm 6.8 is also very good and reasonable (at least the ones I've seen have been). Not sure about the longer end..


Armin Seeholzer
27-Feb-2008, 08:59
For 4x5 is it 47 mm XL 75mm, 90mm,135mm, 210mm,300mm for Archi. things

for 8x10 is it 155 or 150mm, 240mm,360mm,480mm,

Happy buying, Armin

Mark Sawyer
27-Feb-2008, 09:08
For my 8x10, I like a 12" coated Tessar, a 12" Imagon, a 12" home-made lens, and just to vary the focal length, an 11.5" Verito...

27-Feb-2008, 09:11
I'll start by saying that while I plan to own more than 3 or 4 lenses, I plan to take only 2 or 3 with me on any backpacking or hiking trip. I use my topo map software to approximate the lenses that I will need for my primary purpose and then try to take lenses that I think will be complimentary. On one trip that could mean 65, 125, 210 while on another trip it could result in 90, 125 and 150. Also 4x5 film offers enough breathing room to crop to the next longer focal length.

My kit for 4X5 will include

With this selection, one interesting geometric pattern that develops is that the vertical angle of view of one lens is roughly the same as the horizontal angle of view of the next lens in the series.

27-Feb-2008, 13:54
Lately, I have observed that shorter focal lengths may need to be closer together, and longer lengths can be spaced further than a common ratio provides. I am trying to see if the experience of working photographers supports this observation and if it can be modeled mathematically to any purpose.

Lets see if I am following along with your train of thought. If we say we are talking about 4x5 and arbitrarily use 180mm as a dividing line for 'shorter' and 'longer' the hypothesis would be that a more useful progression would be either 90, 127, 180, >252, >>360, etc. or >>>64,>>90, >127, 180, 252, 360. May be difficult to know because of the limitation on what is available from the lens companies.

Not many LF manufacturers made a system of lenses, however, Horseman did. This was the progression for the 6x9 view camera system. Normal = 105 in this progression : 65, 75, 90, 105, 120, 150, 180. A graph of that may provide some insight on what that manufacturer was thinking.

Personally, well, I do have all those Horseman lenses for 6x9, but only 150 for 4x5 and 210 for 8x10.

Turner Reich
27-Feb-2008, 18:32
A set is an unordered collection of elements. Elements might be people, days of the week, colors, numbers, etc. We may indicate the elements of a set by listing them between brackets. The set of prime numbers less than 10 is expressed {2, 3, 5, 7}. Alternatively, we may use the notation {x: property} to indicate the set of all elements x satisfying the indicated property. In this manner, the same set of prime numbers less than 10 is expressed as {x: x < 10 and x is prime}.

Get one lens and use it until you have mastered it. Unless you are the type that takes up golf and buys every club in the shack after asking every golfer what they have.

27-Feb-2008, 22:42
For 4x5, I use 75, 90, 150, 210, and 300.

28-Feb-2008, 08:33
Thank you all for your contributions to my little project. I truly appreciate the wit and wisdom and the indulgence you all have shown. There were some great bits of advice offered that shed light on some important insights. As usually seems to be the case in these survey exercises, the real lessons are how difficult it is to communicate what you are asking for, and how nearly impossible it is to ask a question without influencing the answer.

That said, this is what I have been able to draw from an initial analysis of the responses I received:

1) There seems to be no evidence for my hypothesis that the ratio between focal lengths lens should be larger as lenses become longer relative to the negative diagonal. In fact the spacings on average seem a little wider at the shorter end. (However, this may be an artifact created by the non-Gaussian distribution of recommended spacings and the smaller number of recommendations for longer lenses. When I learn more statistics - a very low priority of mine - I might be able to explore this further.)

2) The most frequently occurring ratio in a recommended set is about 1.4:1. Half of all spacings were 1.45:1 or lower. Fewer than 10&#37; were lower than 1.33:1 or higher than 1.6:1. This may be conventional wisdom, but it also would have been strongly influenced by my request for sets of 3 or 4 lenses. It also would have been influenced by what is available to buy. (There are a lot of 210s and 150s. 210 / 150 =1.4.)

3) More than 94% of all recommended focal lengths fell between 65mm & 305mm (when normalized to the 4x5 format.) This also would have been influenced by my request for sets of 3 or 4 lenses.

Again, thanks to you all, I think this has been worthwhile - Alan

28-Feb-2008, 09:08
All I can add here is that I wanted a standard, a wide and a short telephoto for my landscape work. I have a Ebony RSW which has a limited bellows extension so the short tele was a challenge. I have now settled on 80, 150 and 270 lenses (equivlent to 25,46 and 83 in 35mm format). For fullness I could happily add a 110 and a 180 but I want to keep the weight of my pack down. So compromise is always going to be a factor. If I were to add just one lens I would probably extend my range by going for a 65 (or the 58XL) wide end of the range.

Jim Jones
28-Feb-2008, 10:40
When every bit of a 35mm negative was often used, Leica sold a neat battery of lenses for their rangefinders. I found that 21, 35, 50, 90, and 135 suited me well. With better film, a Nikon series of 20, 50, 105, 200, 300, and 400 sufficed. However, these are my choices based on availability. Others, with different goals in photography, may prefer much different coverage. From a mathematical viewpoint, the big jump from 21 to 50mm seems wide. I didn't find it so in practice.

28-Feb-2008, 16:44
I don't know if this is too geeky but I've made a spreadsheet with various calculations on..

The first few sheets show the different ways to calculate the conversion from 35mm to large format using the long side, short side or diagonal (and using the 120x95mm actual film size for 4x5 rather than the commonly used 102x127). The first page shows the leica range mentioned in the previous post. The next page shows the nikon series.

Worksheet three and four then show what happens if we use a 40&#37; ratio of focal lengths but start with 80mm or 150mm

Worksheet five shows what happens if we start with the ratio between 90 and 150 and extrapolate.

Worksheets siz and seven show what happens if we work in 40% increments of angle of view starting with 80mm or 150mm.

Feel free to copy this spreadsheet and play around with it yourself..


29-Feb-2008, 00:01
timparkin - That is pretty geeky, but I would never want to betray on this forum just how much time I have wasted with spreadsheets.

I don't see the rationale for using a common ratio between angles of view. I think the reason for a common ratio between focal lengths is pretty clear. You simply put the camera where you where ever need to to get the perspective you want, and the common ratio you have chosen determines the worst case of how much negative you will have to crop away in making the print.

My reason behind suggesting that long lenses did not need to be so close together is based on an observation that I like to have wide lenses fairly close together as necessary to allow me to get the image, but that beyond a normal or short normal length, I am content to jump to something almost twice as long to give a distinctive "long perspective." I think the problem with that theory is that achieving a distinctively long perspective depends on what is normal for a given subject and that depends on the perspective from which we normally see that subject. For example, while it is possible to fill a frame with photo of an airplane with a 150mm lens (on 4x5), we usually see them from much further away and our normal perspective on an airplane is pretty flat. So to get a distinctively long perspective on an airplane you may need a much longer than 300mm lens and have to get much further away. (Of course at some point you just say "Forget large format for this picture. It is easier to get what I want with medium or small format." You are still walking as far, but the camera is smaller and the swings & tilts are not coming into play anyway.)

I looked again at the ratios between lens recommended by contributors to this thread, and it is pretty much all over the map. To say that any trend is observable would probably be indefensible. There is a little evidence though, for spacing lenses with a slightly wider ratio at both the long and short sides of normal, keeping the ratios near normal a little closer. That would be consistent with the idea that most photos are taken with a lens around the normal length so cluster your lenses there. That might have been Mr. Mark Sawyer's impetus (#19).

Now I really must apologize for all of your time I have wasted on things other that making pictures. - Alan

Matus Kalisky
29-Feb-2008, 05:59
I started in LF with having the landscape in mind as the primary subject, now I tend to go to architecture too. I started with 125 and 210, followed later by 400 (tele) and very recently 75mm. So the spacing in my lenskit is rather large, but it seems to work for me fine (the 210 - 400 gap is a bit too large and I consider 270 or 300 for the future)

You've mentioned you want to do architecture - well - than you need to choose your wide angle lenses carefully. You may go witht he XL Schneider lenses but they cost a lot. a Good starting point could be 90 & 150 lenses and then you will see what you need next. You may decide on 75 or 210 or whatever else - our you will sacrifice one lens to get the Schneider 72/5.6 XL - if you need it.

My most used lens in the landscape photography is the 125 followed by 210.

Math is a good point to make some judgements, but will not replace your experience. Just take a large piece of cardboard, cut out 4x5 hole and atach a cord to it - and have a walk. You will look a bit strange but may get an idea what you need.

Whatever lenses you get make sure that they work well on the camera you will use (true especially for wide angle lenses). The 75mm is a limit on my Tachi and requires a recessed lensboard to get some reasonable movements. Shuold I be photoghaphing architecture more often - a monorail with bag bellows would be better option probably.

29-Feb-2008, 10:19
hi,you doing a gud job,even this model will be an invention
in the world of photography.I could suggest u some links ,from where u can get much info about the same,
I found some articles for landscape & architectural photography,that'll be useful for u.
gud luk.

29-Feb-2008, 11:43
This is a thread after my own heart. I did'nt set out to do this, but I ended up with a perfectly spaced set of 4 lenses for my 8x10 (1 every 4 inches). Since I generally hike a good distance to photograph, weight and size were a consideration. Here goes:

159 wollensak - 6"
240 fujinon - 10"
360 artar - 14.5" (the one beast in my bag)
450c fujinon - 18"

I probably use the fujinons for 8 out of every 10 exposures - last week on Block Island, I shot 21 sheets all with the fujinons.