View Full Version : 203mm Ektar f7.7 vs modern APO Plasmats for color

Ivan J. Eberle
14-Sep-2008, 10:30
First of all I work exclusively in color, sell wildlife/wilderness prints in galleries, and my primary reason for even getting into LF is bigger prints than I can muster from my MF gear (scanning and digitally printing, I'm thinking 24x30" on up). Hiking long distances in the wilderness, the prospect of my Meridian 45B as a folder not only greatly speeds up set up but simplifies dust control. Current thinking is that I can live with focusing challenges more than IQ issues. Few slow compact lenses are available nowadays, so I'm searching for the best image quality in small compact lenses, whatever the era or shutter issues.

Yesterday, I was ready to pull the trigger on a pristine coated late-version Ektar 203mm f/7.7 in a Compur, until I allowed myself to be disabused of the notion by Leica/Linhoff/Schneider dealer who emphatically stated that images taken with such an older design would be obviously inferior to just about ANY modern MC lens (incl a 150mm Caltar-E-- though I seriously doubted this assertion), and that the lowered contrast and lack of color correction of the Ektar would be immediately apparent in a side by side comparison of prints. That I might get away with using the Ektar, but only in B&W.

At apertures of f/11-22, test charts would seem to recommend this lens as being wicked sharp across the board, equaling or exceeding almost anything more modern.

Is this really so, or was the dealer blowing smoke? Anybody using an Ektar 203 with Velvia/Provia/Astia F who can shed some light?

Now, I'll concede the subtleties of color balance and contrast might be arguably improved by better multi-coatings with more air/glass surfaces in certain flare-prone situations, but doesn't the necessity of APO glass have more to do with correcting 3-color chromatic abberations introduced by extreme lens design than anything else? (Don't get me wrong, I've got a bunch of ED glass in wilder Nikkor zoom lenses for 35mm, and am a true believer in that milieu, but I just don't get it that there's any discernible improvement in modest lens designs of fewer elements that are proven stellar performers without it.). What's so extreme about a lens with a moderate image circle at this focal length? Does it not take sharp focus in all three colors to get sharp B&W test result, too, or am I mistaken about this? And, at the requisite f/16 or smaller taking apertures used in field photography for adequate DOF, isn't diffusion pretty much the great equalizer, anyway?

Warren Clark
14-Sep-2008, 11:06
Hi Ivan,
Also consider the Nikkor 200 M--excellent modern and multicoated. Very light
and compact. One of my most used field lenses.

Good shooting,

Warren Clark

Dan Fromm
14-Sep-2008, 11:15
FWIW, EKCo sold the 203/7.7 Kodak Anastigmat (that's the pre-Ektar era uncoated version of the lens you're looking at) as a process lens as well as a taking lens. I have one such, the front of its barrel is threaded externally to attach to a prism. Point is, color correction is not an issue with this lens, anymore than with the very similar Apo Artars and Apo Ronars.

Mine is sharp enough centrally, based on test shots taken with a Nikon. But I don't use it because I can't detach it from the board it is mounted on and because I have other 210s that are no worse.

Leica dealers sell smoke and mirrors. Y'r Leica/Linhof/Schneider dealer wanted to sell you something he'd make more money on. Not that there's anything wrong at all with modern Schneider lenses.

14-Sep-2008, 12:09
These coated Ektar are all post-war, and there are a gazillion wartime 4x5 Ektachrome still in existence today (many have been added to Flikr the last few months) And "color correction" have been known since Newton times; you can't make a sharp lens that would not be color corrected, even for B&W. And imagining a coated lens that would not be "corrected" is like imagining car with ABS and no brakes..

So he is just trying to sell you his margin in modern, expensive lens. The Ektar 203mm is universally known to be excellent. Including on modern E6 film.

Chamonix 45-N1, Ektar 203mm, Velvia 100

14-Sep-2008, 12:27
Your biggest concern with this lens and slide films will be with the shutter. It's likely that many of the speeds are off, so you'll want to have it tested, and possibly adjusted, or bring along a cheat sheet with the corrections. I print my corrections for each lens and tape it to the lens board. It'll be a fine lens for what you want to do.

Bjorn Nilsson
14-Sep-2008, 12:36
You seem to understand the subject pretty well, including the way the dealer thinks. The figures on e.g. Chris Perez's lens tests (http://www.hevanet.com/cperez/testing.html#180mm_thru_270mm) shows that the Ektar is a very good performer. And as buze says, a good 'n sharp b/w lens is also a good color lens.
The only real difference is really with the shutter, which is of importance if you shoot slide film. You will get a good modern shutter (Copal or possibly Prontor) which is fairly reliable and consistent if you buy a new/newish/less than say 10 year old lens. The Compur shutter is liable to be more unconsistent. I.e. you have to run some tests and get to know the Compur. (It is common practice with older shutters to give them 4-5 trial exposures on the time choosen to "stabilize" the shutter before drawing the dark slide and making the acutal exposure.)
What is nice about the Compur is the shape of the aperture. More or less perfectly round at all openings. This will give you nicer out-of-focus renditions (bokeh) if you should go for that kind of shots. And don't forget the sound of the Compur, which is a pure and almost silent delight compared to the "modern" shutters which buzzes through the longer times.


Ivan J. Eberle
14-Sep-2008, 13:04
So I'm not just waxing nostalgic to think that dispersion is dispersion and sharp is sharp (at least, not on panchromatic B&W film)? It's easier to see the rationale of APO glass in newer computer designs where it comes to wide and super wide-angles (and all that extreme ray-bending)-- they almost always test better in the corners.

Particularly interesting to hear the 203mm Anastigmat was also used as a process lens.

As for color, nothing much obviously wrong with the likes of the 40's era 4x5 Kodachromes from www.shorpy.com, that's for sure. Figuring many if not most of these would have been made with Ektars. Find that even the coated 135mm Wooly Raptar that came with my Meridian isn't too shabby, looks about as sharp on low contrast scenes on Provia as a decent 135mm for 135mm lens would. (I was further delighted to finally get the 60-year old Rapax shutter escapement to within 1/6 of a stop, consistently, on the slow speeds with a simple naptha bath and lube, no-disassembly CLA, confirmed with my >$20 sound card tester and Audacity).

I was also thinking similar things about the better built and many-bladed Compur, that it'd be better for portraiture wide open, better bokeh than a modern #0 Copal with a skimpy pentagonal opening (and what about a Prontor from a Euro version of this 203 Ektar built in a modern thread? Any good?)

Robert A. Zeichner
14-Sep-2008, 13:28
The 203 Ektar approaches near apochromatic performance. Most of what we know about lens design is ancient history so I wouldn't write them off because of age. I own several of these in both Supermatic and Compur shutters and use them all the time for B&W and color and they are sharp performers with no visible gremlins (to my eyes, anyway).

Gene McCluney
14-Sep-2008, 13:49
The post-war Kodak EKTAR lens line was designed to be the best. I still use Ektar lenses for my studio product photography. They are fantastic. While computer-aided optical design has now made it "easier" to design lenses, the older pre-computer designed lenses are still fantastic, if "top-of-the-line" like the Ektars were.

Bob Salomon
14-Sep-2008, 14:23
1: It is impossible to buy a lens in a "newer" Compur shutter less then 10 years old as Compur and Prontor shutters have been in out of production for longer then that.

2: No one here can answer your question. Only you can.

Rent the lenses and see for yourself which is the best performer for your needs; a very high performer like the Apo Sironar S, a typical lens like the A (that is what the Caltar is) or an old lens like the Ektar.

Make sure to shoot the same scene under the same lighting with the same emulsion and processing and with meaningful detail in the center and the corners.

Stores like Fotocare Ltd rent lenses.

Dave Wooten
14-Sep-2008, 15:58
posted before,,, the graflex manual states the 203 ektar's highest resolution is at full open aperature

Ivan J. Eberle
14-Sep-2008, 16:42
Bob, I was under the impression that the aforementioned Caltar II-E was a rebadged Rodenstock Geronar triplet-- is that incorrect?

New is likely off the table, given what huge depreciation film equipment suffers, and what I as a buyer of used equipment now benefit from. Plus there are darn few ultracompact lenses available new that are capable of the most exquisite image quality, near as I can tell. The vintage Ektar might be one such ultra-compact, however.

The Apo Sironars and Apo Symmars aren't off the table yet, they're just a bit heavy and a tight fit in my Meridian for it to be a folder, that is to say without having to remove and store them each time (in a very dusty--ashen, acutally) environment literally right out my door-- the Ventana Wilderness which just recently burned a quarter of a million acres.

Re: shutters, all I can say so far is that I've got a 60 year old Rapax that is once again within spec for a brand new shutter, at least from 1/100th to 1s where it counts most (speedier than that, LF is probably not my first choice anyway). I don't consider "old" to be necessarily inferior; the build quality of the Graphex/Rapax/Compur stuff impresses me more than a Copal knockoff with a cheap build (glaringly few diaphram blades in a Copal #0, barely improved with six blades in a #1).

Another problem is that back-pack friendly lenses are just not as available for rental or as ubiquitous as the f/5.6 monsters for studio monorail work.

Sal Santamaura
14-Sep-2008, 16:55
...glaringly few diaphram blades in a Copal #0, barely improved with six blades in a #1...All modern Copal #1 shutters have seven diaphragm blades. With new lenses in Copal #0, it varies depending on lens maker and time of manufacturer. Today's Fujis have five; NOS Nikons and current Rodenstocks have seven. I'm not sure about Schneider. Caltars had five.

14-Sep-2008, 17:30
I don't know the answer regarding the specific lens you're looking at. But I do shoot color with old single coated lenses and less old multicoated lenses. In single coated, I have a Symmar-S 150/5.6, Super Angulon 75/8 and Super Angulon 65/8, all dating to 1971 or 1972. My multicoated lenses are Fuji -NW lenses.

I haven't noticed much difference between the Symmar-S and the Fujis and none of the single coated lenses have caused issues with color accuracy.

Kirk Fry
14-Sep-2008, 18:36
No one has said much about lens and especially bellows flare. What happens is that the clear areas on your negative are filled in with random light. It generally degrades the image. This is light which is randomly reflected at air/glass interfaces. Non-coated-surfaces bounce the most light around, and single coating greatly reduces this and multicoating incrementally reduces it over single coating. The more elements the worse the problem.

However, there is another source of flare no amount of multicoating is going to fix: in camera, off image light bouncing around inside the camera (bellows flare). Ever wonder why the inside of you camera is flat black. That is to prevent off axis light from bouncing back onto your film. No black is really black, some light still bounces. The best way to get rid of this is with a compendium bellows to block all off image light from entering the camera. The hand or dark slide shadowing the lens really does not do it. More pictures are probably destroyed by camera flare than by using uncoated or single coated lenses. Modern lenses with big coverage only make the problem worse as they let even more light in to bounce around in your camera and destroy your image. Those old (or new ones) Tessars with limited coverage win if you don't use a lens shade to cut out off image light.


Allen in Montreal
14-Sep-2008, 19:08
I see positive references to the 203mm fairly often, are some of these Ektars better than others, where there certain focal lengths that were real jewels or shined above average?

Don Dudenbostel
14-Sep-2008, 19:28
I also have one of the compur mounted 203's and had another years ago that was given to me. Superb lenses by any standard. I plenty of fine modern glass but purchased the Ektar for trips where size and weight count. I don't enlarge to the size you're talking about but do find the lens to be exceptional in resolution and quite pleasing in contrast and color.

Another series of glass to consider, the Schneider G Clarons as well as the Nikkor M series. I have a very tiny 150 G claron, a 240 G Claron that's in a copal 1 and a 305 G Claron in a Copal 1. The 150 and 240 are particularly small for their FL and apo lenses with exceptional covering power, color, contrast and resolution. The 210 would be a fine lens that's very small as well. I also have 300 and 450 Nikkor M lenses. The 300 is quite small and in a Copal 1. Excellent by any standard.

Give these some thought if you're looking for modern glass. The Schneiders are single coated which is no big deal in my book and the Nikkors are multi coated if I remember correctly.

Glenn Thoreson
14-Sep-2008, 19:30
The 203 Ektar is a fine lens for any application. I also test my shutters and put a piece of tape with the actual speeds on the lens board. In my not so humble opinion, the Ektar line of lenses will stand up to most any modern lens on the market. The 203 Ektar is really the cream of the Kodak crop. For what it's worth, the Ektar line of lenses were, according to Kodak, "fully corrected for color". Of course there are those who would disagree, such as your Leica salesman. It's a prestige thing.

John Kasaian
14-Sep-2008, 19:45
I see positive references to the 203mm fairly often, are some of these Ektars better than others, where there certain focal lengths that were real jewels or shined above average?

The Ektar name dosen't represent a specific design but is a proprietary name used by Kodak. Some, like the 203mm were dialyte and others like the Wide Fields are most likely semi gnauss. Many like the Commercial models were tessars. Nearly all are excellent performers and were certainly highly regarded during much of the 40's and 50's up 'til today.
The 203 f7/7 is IMHO a fine lens which I use on a 4x5 GVII and 5x7 Speed Graphic. When I shot a 4x5 Crown Graphic I really liked the 127mm Ektar---hardly any room for movements but on a hand held Crown Graphic that is IMHO a non issue. The 14" Comercial and 10" Wide Fields are some of the most used used lenses on my 8x10. While I don't have one, the 135mm WF is very highly regarded as well, especially by backpackers. I believe the 100mm WF is also considered very desireable. IIRC there is even a Heliar design Ektar. There is plenty of info on the Large Format Homepage and in the archives---a veritable education in Ektars---I really like mine.

Brian Berry
8-Aug-2019, 11:57
posted before,,, the graflex manual states the 203 ektar's highest resolution is at full open aperature

This is an old thread but the subject is dear to me. And the 203 Ektar represents tremendous value at any price. A little background: as a fulltime salaried photographer (7 years) and a former pro (15 years), I used this lens thousands of times. I did all kinds of freelance photojournalism but for years it was photographing artworks for museums and galleries that boiled the pot. I used this lens on 4x5, with a Linhof Technika, as my go-to travel out of the studio camera. During the same years I also used Red Dot Artars, Apo-Symmars, Nikkors, Commercial Ektars, and Sironar M's, and found surprising variability among them. The Ektar was the equal of all of them and better than most. Apochromatic? It sure behaves like one. Posters made from my photographs of paintings and drawings have often been reproduced often as posters, and the ones made with this lens really shine. The edges of the field hold up, both for contrast and for sharpness. My current one is late production, coated, in a Compur shutter, and pristine.
What else to tell? It is SMALL and LIGHT (hallelujah!). I often traveled by train in this work and every day I don't have to l lug a 40-pound case is a plus. I even appreciate the small threaded lens hood that screws right on (it's a Kodak Sseries VII hood.) The lens covers the 4x5 image field evenly, a quality rarely discussed but actually important. It has enough coverage for modest movements with no loss in image quality. The Compur syncs with strobes. Draw backs? It has a little less contrast than the Ektars and Apo-Symmars, but much more than the Red Dot Artars.
Is it best wide open? I don't really know that, but when I have had to use it wide open it has come through for me, many times. I like it best at f16 - 22. Those f-stops give me corners equal to the center, practically speaking. Do I need those f-stops when I use movements? Apparently they help -- practical experience speaking here, not tests.
Now a piece of ancient history, first hand: In 1973 Ansel Adams said to me, while sitting in the Beinecke Rare Book Library at Yale looking at Paul Strand prints, "That 203 is my favorite lens. Give it a try." I don't think he was blowing smoke. I gave it a try and I have stuck with it :)

8-Aug-2019, 12:09
Now a piece of ancient history, first hand: In 1973 Ansel Adams said to me, while sitting in the Beinecke Rare Book Library at Yale looking at Paul Strand prints, "That 203 is my favorite lens. Give it a try." I don't think he was blowing smoke. I gave it a try and I have stuck with it :)

My 203mm Ektar is my favorite lens on the 4x5 (and sometimes on the 5x7), used often for making wet plate collodion images, and almost always shot wide open. Superb lens.