View Full Version : 300mm [12 inch] focal length optics for whole plate [6 1/2 x 8 1/2 inch] format

17-Dec-2008, 09:59
A while back, a few of us started building up a database of lenses (http://groups.google.co.uk/group/wholeplate/web) for whole plate photography on an open source basis.

I took some time to start collating information on a few specific lenses of the 300mm focal length for whole plate format:

Nikkor 300mm M f9.0 (http://groups.google.co.uk/group/wholeplate/web/brief-field-report-nikon-nikkor-300mm-f9)

Nikkor 300mm W f5.6 (http://groups.google.co.uk/group/wholeplate/web/3-56-brief-field-report-nikon-nikkor-300mm-w-f5-6)

Wollensak 12" f4.5 Soft Focus/Variable Diffusion (http://groups.google.co.uk/group/wholeplate/web/3-57-wollensak-velostigmat-soft-focus-12-f4-5)

Taylor Hobson Series III [6 1/2 x 8 1/2 inch] est. 270mm f7.7 (http://groups.google.co.uk/group/wholeplate/web/3-8-brief-field-report-taylor-hobson-series-v-whole-plate-270mm-est-f7-7-lens)

Having found the modern lenses rather disappointing (rationale in the reviews), and accidentally discovering this lens:Boyer Apo-Saphir 300mm f10.0 (http://groups.google.co.uk/group/wholeplate/web/brief-field-report-boyer-apo-saphir-300mm-f10-paris-france), it's a pleasure to see a historical survey of the lesser known company of Boyer Optique, Paris, France reviewed by Dan Fromm (http://www.galerie-photo.com/boyer-lens-optic.html).

Interested in hearing about experiences with other lenses, particularly from 8x10" format users, who perhaps have more experience in the field of the 300mm focal length than whole plate photographers. I wonder which optical features motivate a photographer to decide on a type of lens: optical definition; image circle/covering power; colour consistency; compactness; reputation; cost, availability etc....? Do modern optics make any impact on the contact print, over and above the classic or more obscure lenses from the past 50 years?

Kind regards,


Warren Clark
17-Dec-2008, 13:47
Hi RJ,

My favorite 300 is the Fuji 300 A. Excellent near and far and very usable
on 8x10 and all smaller formats.. Can be hard to locate but a little
searching and you can find one. Check with Jim Andracki at Midwest
Photo in Columbus, Ohio.

Warren Clark

Dan Fromm
17-Dec-2008, 13:52
RJ, thanks for the plug, but please note that I wrote the article with Eric Beltrando, to whom all credit is due. Errors and omissions in the article are entirely mine, what's good in it is his. I regard Eric's contribution as more important than mine.

I don't shoot whole plate but do have several 300 mm +/- lenses that will cover it. You've mentioned one, the 300/9 Apo Saphir. It won't cover 8x10. My other 300 or so lenses that will cover whole plate but not 8x10 are a 30 cm/9 TTH Cooke Apotal (tessar type, radioactive) and a 305/9 Apo-Nikkor (dialyte type). The Apo Saphir and Apotal are roughly equal, the Apo-Nikkor is a little better than either at apertures larger than f/16. From f/16 down they're equal. One would be happy with any of the three.

I've never tried to dismantle my 305/9 Apo Nikkor to see whether he's right, but Adam Dau of SKGrimes has told me several times that that lens' cells are direct fits in a #1 shutter. According to CEDIS-Boyer's fiches techniques, the 300/10 Apo Saphirs they made will go into #1 too. Eric tells me that older (pre-1970) lenses won't. My Apotal's cells won't fit any shutter I have; sorry, but I haven't measured to see if a #2 or #3 will accept them.

Why did I buy 'em? I bought the Apotal because it was very inexpensive. I bought the Apo Saphir for the same reason and because I'm fixated on Boyer lenses. The Apo Nikkor came as part of a package and, again, the price was right. All three have good reputations. A good lens that I can afford is better than a better lens I can't, and for my purposes there are probably no 300 mm lenses better than the three I have.

I used to use, still have and sometimes use anyway, a 300/4 TTH Telephoto that's good but not quite as good as the process lenses and that loses the ends of the frame to vignetting by the bellows. On the right camera it will just cover 4x5, won't cover whole plate.

IMO, for practical purposes nothing beats any of these lenses by enough to justify getting it. I carry and use the Apo-Nikkor because it is the lightest of the three.



Ole Tjugen
17-Dec-2008, 15:32
On a slight tangent, the sharpest lens I have ever tried on 8x10" (or 18x24cm to be very exact) is a pre-WWII Hugo Meyer Aristoplanat 240mm f:8. Yes, it's an Aplanat. Yes, it covers the format. No, it doesn't fit in any standard or non-standard shutter size.

The "modern" 300mm lenses I have used on that kind of film size are a 300mm f:5.6 Symmar Convertible, and a 300mm f:4.5 Xenar. Both are good, the Symmar has more coverage compensated by significantly higher weight. Neither "shines" like the Aristoplanat, or even the 300mm f:6.8 Rodenstock Hemi-Anastigmat.

I just received a Prototype Steinheil Periskop 300mm lens - I'm looking forward to seeing what it can do! :)

Emil Schildt
17-Dec-2008, 16:20
Actually I have a Boyer Saphir 300mm F 4.5, fitted in a compur shutter.

I got it together with my first Gandolfi, around 1990, and it is an awesome lens..

I havn't tried it too much out un the nature, but for studio work, it is great..

a bad image of it here: http://www.emilschildt.com/EGO-%20objektiver%20-%20boyer.htm

Diane Maher
17-Dec-2008, 16:25
I have used my 300 mm Fujinon-C f/8.5 on whole plate a few times, but mostly used it on my 8x10 & 5x12. 270 seems to be my preferred focal length for the whole plate format. I also have a 12 inch Dagor f/6.8 in barrel, but haven't used it since I can't afford to put it into a shutter at this time.

17-Dec-2008, 16:44
Many thanks for your replies - there are some obscure lenses out there which I've not come across yet.

Warren - is this the Fujinon lens with the 336mm image circle? I didn't enjoy the clinically hard imaging of the Nikkor 300mm M series and wonder if the Fujinon optics offers anything different.

Dan - apologies! I assumed you had translated the article on Boyer Optique back into English.

I wonder if it's possible that cell fittings for the Apo-Saphir 300mm f10.0 lens might account for variations in the reported image coverage? The version which I've been using, covers whole plate format at full aperture. By f22.0, movements including 30mm shift and a few degrees of tilt are possible, compared with the Nikkor 300mm M f9.0 whose image circle of 325mm seems much less in practice. Nonetheless, I've found the sharpness of the Apo-Saphir less abrasive than that of the Nikkor M with no advantage to the the Nikkor M at the contact print level.

The number 1 shutter, is a Compur 1, I presume?

Ole - thank you for the fascinating recommendations. Those are some obscure lenses with quite a history too. Would love to see your follow-up on the prototypes too.

Kind regards,


Dan Fromm
17-Dec-2008, 17:30
RJ, Eric and I wrote the article in a mixture of French, extracted from his e-mails to me, and English. For the English version, I translated his (and others') French into English. For the French version, Emmanuel Bigler translated my English into French.

Mounting shouldn't affect Apo Saphirs' coverage. Boyer claimed 48 degrees for the 300 Apo Saphir, recommend it for 13x18 at infinity.

Boyer's coverage claims are, Eric insists and his calculations confirm, exagerated. If you'll visit his site and look at his calculated curves for the 1938 (or was it '39?) Apo Saphir, you'll see that it is nearly aberration-free over 30 degrees; that Eric didn't publish curves for a wider field is a strong hint that he found it much less well-corrected farther off-axis. Also see Henri Gaud's comments on his 600 Apo Saphir compared to his 600/12.5 Fujinon-C and be aware that he works to a very high standard.

But for working photographers such as us, coverage is in the eye of the beholder. Eric's standards are very high, yours may be somewhat lower.

As far as thickness, flange-to-flange; diameter and threading of the holes that accept lenses cells; mounting threads; and diaphragm position go, Compur #1 = cock-and-shoot Copal #1. Copal #1 Press and Prontor #1 Press shutters differ from each other and from the cock-and-shoots on diaphragm positions, otherwise conform to the standard. I know about the Press shutters' diaphragm positions because I have a set of 80/2.8 Planar cells.



Warren Clark
17-Dec-2008, 17:39

The Fuji 300/9 A is theoretically corrected for shorter distances and seems
very sharp at close range, similar to the Fuji 240 A. I don't notice a 'clinical'
sharpness at longer distances, just a nice rendition for B+W (8x10) and
color 4x5). The image circle is listed as 420 mm and seems accurate.
Copal 1 shutter so relatively small and light compared to a plasmat but
a little larger than the Fuji 300 C.

Good shooting,

Warren Clark

17-Dec-2008, 20:05
Emil - that looks like a great lens. Is it convertible?

Hi Diane,

Wondering if your Double Anastigmat can possibly share the same shutter as the Goerz Series III no.2, of the same aperture?

You're quite right - I think most whole plate photographers would prefer to use 270mm as a starting focal length, were it not for the abundance of the 300mm or 12" focal length lens in both classic and modern options.

Thanks Dan. The coverage issue of the Nikkor M is vastly disappointing; peripheral field sharpness is significantly poorer than the Apo-Saphir, so perhaps I find it a little confounding, that such a popular and well-liked compact lens, fails to cover even whole plate format. Far from being a solitary anecdotal report, I've since come across a number of others, including use for whole plate, which identifies the Nikkor 300mm M f9.0 lens as inadequate for whole plate format and 8x10" format in terms of both coverage and peripheral field sharpness. There are plenty of reports indicating otherwise, however my experience of this lens is in the minority who have found it too difficult to work with or own.

Boyer, like Rodenstock, Schneider, Nikon and Fujinon, may only have published data for 5x7" or the European equivalent in centimetres, or 8x10" formats. The whole plate data seems absent for at least 50 years in all of the major lens manufacturers - perhaps more indicative of the general wane of the whole plate format in the last century, than an absence of coverage of the whole plate format itself.

It's a blessing to have Mr Gaud's terse yet notable comment on the quality of the Apo-Saphir lens. One of the fascinating empirical discoveries about working with whole plate, is chancing across a lens like the Apo-Saphir with few expectations, and noticing something distinct about its rendered light drawing on the whole plate contact print, compared to a modern lens like a Nikkor Tessar or Plasmat type. I think you're correct on this score once again; I have much less requirement than Mr Gaud's technical criteria and rely mostly on the visual Gestalt of the image to guide me. The lateral (uncorrected) coma of the Heliar designed Apo-Saphir troubles me little, yet the corrected-not corrected, possibly corrected at the upper limits, coma of the Tessar design, coupled with a lack of sufficient image sharpness in the peripheral field is a little perturbing.

Thanks again Warren - I'll update Whole Plate Column in the future with the Fujinon findings. From what you've indicated, there are plenty of reasons why it is such a hard to find lens.

Kind regards,


Oren Grad
17-Dec-2008, 21:09
The only 300 I've used on WP is the very non-exotic Caltar II-N (Apo-Sironar-N; yes, mine's a late one). It's got a crisp, clean, modern look with Rodenstock-flavor OOF rendering, plus gobs of coverage for the format. For my purposes the only thing not to like is the size/weight.

300 is not my normal for WP, though; it's a second lens. When I go out with a WP camera and only one lens, it's either a 210 or a 240.

Boyer, like Rodenstock, Schneider, Nikon and Fujinon, may only have published data for 5x7" or the European equivalent in centimetres, or 8x10" formats. The whole plate data seems absent for at least 50 years in all of the major lens manufacturers - perhaps more indicative of the general wane of the whole plate format in the last century, than an absence of coverage of the whole plate format itself.

The LF lens reference tables in my Nippon Camera annual for 2005 specify maximum coverage by format. For the Japanese lens lines - Fujinon, Nikkor, Congo - yatsugiri is among the formats cited.

Alex Wei
17-Dec-2008, 21:30
RJ, I am looking at my lens as I write this. It says : H.D. Taylor patent lens. Series V 81/2X61/2. Focal length 11.1 inches, has a max aperture of F8.

It has plenty coverage for whole plate and the image quality is very good. The glass is very clean, only bad thing is the shutter doesn't work properly, even after Carol's rescue, she managed to make the T and B working. I just love it.

Also I have a 12 inch dagor should cover whole plate nicely, but I didn't get any time to try it out yet. Maybe this weekend I will give a try when out shooting with the NYC large format group.

Diane Maher
18-Dec-2008, 06:50
It seems to me that I was told that the 12" Goerz Dagor f/6.8 would need a Copal 3 shutter. I can't confirm it by looking at the lens since it is at home and I'm not. I can look later this evening and see, but if I recall correctly, it is considerably larger than the Series III, No. 2 (mounted in a Copal #1) which I had posted a photo of on the WP forum.

Would you like to have some pics of the 300 mm/12 in. lenses on the WP forum?


18-Dec-2008, 16:26
Hi Oren,

Many thanks for the feedback. I find the Rodenstock lenses very impressive, regardless of the N/S/W/Caltar designations too. I take it yours is as heavy as the Fuji 300mm CMW or L f5.6 lens? If it is, I understand why a single focal length on the field makes sense.

Thanks for the information about the Nippon catalogue: I didn't include either the dai meishi or yatsugiri formats which are smaller than 5x7" format, however being in western Europe it is very easy to overlook these.

Alex ~ the LVM reports that the Series V triplet had a patent along with the Series III (a/b) lenses for an interchangeable rear element, making the lens convertible, otherwise they seem to have been mostly process lenses. Are you a fan of the Thornton Pickard block type shutter installations? These have a peculiar period charm.

Thanks Diane - it'd be great to start piecing the information on the 12" Dagor on the Column too. The Copal 3 shutters contribute a significant hefty load to the lens. I'm not sure how that would fit on the small lens panel of the Charten without an extension spacer?

Kind regards,


Sal Santamaura
18-Dec-2008, 19:37
...I didn't include...yatsugiri format...smaller than 5x7" format...When embarking on my 6-1/2 x 8-1/2 inch Ebony project, Ian Wilson told me that Hiromi remembered yatsugiri format being widely used by Japanese portrait studios when he (Hiromi) first started out in photography. Yatsugiri is the Japanese name for 6-1/2 x 8-1/2 inch format. Lately Ian reports that it's become one of Hiromi's favorite sizes.

18-Dec-2008, 19:44
Hi Sal,

My goodness. You're right. I think of it as '八切' from the Kanji but never thought that it translated as 8/12 x 6/12, although the Hanzi is virtually the same etymology (八 = 8).

Kabine = 'Cabinet' format (calqued) = 6 1/2 x 4 3/4 inch.

It makes sense!

Kind regards,


Ernest Purdum
19-Dec-2008, 21:13
For very many years, 1/2 plate and full plate sizes were much more common in Japan than the American equivalents. As late as the early 1970's, there were cameras on the Japanese market which very obviously derived from British types of around 1905. Very naturally, these took 1/2 and full plate film (in book-form plate holders containing film adapters).

Eric Leppanen
19-Dec-2008, 23:19
The following comments summarize my experience shooting 300mm lenses on 8x10. I shoot 8x10 and 4x5.

My biggest requirement is that I have enough coverage so that my compositional decisions (within reason) are not compromised by coverage limits; since I occasionally shoot architecture, I tend to prefer lenses with a lot of coverage. When the sun is setting quickly and I'm trying to compose a shot, the last thing I need is the distraction of coverage limits! Since I usually print for enlargement (even from 8x10 negs), I am particularly sensitive to sharpness. I prefer modern, multi-coated optics since I like having the option of shooting at/near the sun with a minimum of flare artifacts. I frequently shoot in dim light (pre-sunrise and during alpenglow) and find f/5.6 lenses much easier to compose and focus. Since meeting all of these requirements typically equates to a huge lens, I usually own at least two lenses in each major focal length (one heavy, one light).

I have used the Nikon 300M in a pinch; within its rated image circle I find it acceptably sharp (it is extremely sharp at the center), but its coverage is so tight that I currently use it only for 4x5.

I use a Fuji 300A as my light weight 8x10 hiking lens. It has enough coverage that I don't have to worry about exceeding the image circle with typical movements, is reasonably sharp and very compact. This lens represents a good compromise between compactness and practicality.

The best "no compromise" 300mm 8x10 optics I have ever used are the Sironar-S (which I currently own) and the Cooke XVa (which I once owned for a time). Despite its bulk, the Sironar-S has become my 300mm lens of choice; it is sharp at the edges, has excellent contrast, relatively large coverage (short of something really huge like a 300 Sironar-W), yet is still small enough to fit in my pack and work with my Lee filter setup (I use a special Lee 115mm press-on holder with a doughnut spacer ring). As long as I am fairly close to the car (and can therefore accept its weight), the Sironar is my "no worries" lens. Normally used 300 Sironar-S's go for around $1500, but with the current economic conditions perhaps one could be had for a steal (a copy is for sale on Ebay as we speak, I have no association with the seller).

I can't see anyone buying the Cooke XVa for just WP (the single cell configurations require too much extension), so I'll cover it on the odd chance that someone shoots both WP and 8x10. The Cooke seemed to have the best contrast and flare characteristics of any lens I've used in any format. I found the coverage of its 311mm "dual cell" focal length a bit tight, but it would definitely be OK for WP. Its single-cell focal lengths (476mm and 646mm) had plenty of coverage but weren't quite a sharp as my dedicated focal length lenses; whether this was due to camera shake (these focal lengths require an enormous amount of extension) or some other cause I couldn't say. I know there are folks on this forum who swear by their Cooke's. The Cooke is currently out of production.

20-Dec-2008, 13:15
For very many years, 1/2 plate and full plate sizes were much more common in Japan than the American equivalents. As late as the early 1970's, there were cameras on the Japanese market which very obviously derived from British types of around 1905. Very naturally, these took 1/2 and full plate film (in book-form plate holders containing film adapters).

Hi Ernest,

Post-Meiji Restoration Japan opened up to British influences, which is how the engineering of the British camera came to become a standard in Japan. This is mentioned briefly here:


It was indeed in 1905, when the Russo-Japanese war took place, which forced the Japanese whole plate camera to evolve along a pathway completely independent from the British whole plate camera of the era. The parallel is, that pre-Meiji Restoration era, Japan's insularity left no scope for such technological advances in all disciplines; post-Meiji Restoration, the technological influences of western Europe and the United States informed Japan's development in an early mimesis. The embargo on Japan in place during the Russo-Japanese war was intended to hurt Japan's economy, market and development, however by 1905, Japan had already significantly reinvigorated its technological foundation in industry across many disciplines; from military to photographic.

Thus, we see an evolution of the Japanese whole plate camera which is not merely cloned from British designs; these take the best aspects of British designs (for instance, swing movements), combined with light weight field materials, suitable for the Japanese terrain, in addition to using select woods, endemic to East Asia to deal with humidity and expansion/contraction issues.

There is an interesting reference which I've just discovered on the distinctive Japanese format standardisations in use during this era:


I've found it helpful in clarifying the different formats in Japan for myself, and the inclusion of the original Japanese Kanji text makes it less ambiguous too. I hope this is useful.

Kind regards,


20-Dec-2008, 13:22
Thank you for your feedback Eric.

Your views seem to echo many here about the notably impressive Fujinon 300A lens, as well as the limitations of the Nikkor 300mm M lens for larger format work.

The Sironar S is an admirable gold standard series of optics for any whole plate format photographer; at least everything from 180mm upwards will cover the whole plate format, with the reassurance of sufficient movements towards the standard focal lengths as you have emphasised too.

Whole plate cameras like the Ebony SV/S editions are capable of 1200mm extension, so the Cooke XVa lens would not be out of reach, were it not for its limited availability.

Kind regards,


Diane Maher
20-Dec-2008, 15:36
I could use the Cooke on my Century whole plate with the rear extension rail. I have successfully used my 600 mm Fujinon-C on it.

David Karp
20-Dec-2008, 16:40
As so frequently is the case, "different strokes for different folks."

I like most of my photographs sharp, front to back if possible. For that reason, I often like Tessar formula lenses. Not too many elements, in just a few groups. The multicoated Nikkor 300 M is really sharp. I use my 300 M with my WP Improved Seneca, and have been happy with the results.

31-Dec-2008, 21:52
Many thanks for your input David.

Your aesthetic point about image definition and characteristics is one I share, however I realise that this view runs contrary to the more historical pictorialist movement in whole plate photography, and places whole plate format aesthetics in a modern contemporary camp.

The tension between finding a vision which is not overtly infused with historical nostalgia, nor completely lost without traces of its history isn't an easy tension for whole plate format photography. In some respects, I agree that servitude under the limitations of optical (mechanical) properties can serve to limit vision, however perhaps I still continue to wonder where whole plate photography fits into the modern world, at least in terms of its aesthetic.

With respect to the information provided on this thread, I've aggregated the data on whole plate lenses onto the Whole Plate Column page for easier reference in the future under Whole Plate Optics (http://groups.google.co.uk/group/wholeplate/web/3-01-which-whole-plate-lens-to-start-off-with).

Kind regards,


Whole Plate Column (http://groups.google.co.uk/group/wholeplate)