View Full Version : is there a "best" 210 portrait lens?

26-Apr-2009, 08:44
i mean.. a 210 is a 210 right? what would make one better for portrats than another?


David Karp
26-Apr-2009, 08:47
Some rate lenses based on the look of the out of focus areas, or "bokeh." Many believe that the Rodenstock lenses have the nicest rendition of out of focus areas.

So, if you are going to use the lens open wide so that the background is out of focus, this might be a consideration.

The bonus here is that there are a lot of Rodenstock 210s out there under the Caltar II-N label at prices generally lower than that of the Rodenstock branded versions.

Oren Grad
26-Apr-2009, 09:28
Some people believe that to be good a portrait must be flattering of its subject, in the sense of minimizing the visual impact of skin blemishes and other imperfections that are inevitable in a real human.

Historically, there have been many lenses called "portrait lenses" that are designed specifically to do just that. Some of these lenses are overtly soft focus, while others produce more subtle effects. They do it in different ways, using different optical approaches, so each type has its own character, and it's a matter of personal taste which you prefer.

My own taste is to favor straightforward, accurate rendering, so I use the same modern lenses for portraits as I do for any other subject. But there are plenty of people here on the forum who have much experience in using special portrait lenses and can provide good advice about them, if that turns out to be your preference too.

26-Apr-2009, 09:30
No, there is not -- there are favorite ones, though. And I am assuming that you are referring to a 210mm on a 4x5. Then one needs to know what type of portrait one wishes to achieve (head, head and shoulders, 1/2 body, full body, enviromental, self, and so on.) One tool (lens) does not work on all.

A 210 is not just a 210 -- lots of variety in "looks" and performance. I suggest you look at the various portrait threads for examples.


Bjorn Nilsson
26-Apr-2009, 09:30
I looked for and found a pre-WWII uncoated Heliar, which can be both sharp when stopped down and have that particular "sheen" to it when used at or close to wide open.
Besides, on the issue of bokeh, these older lenses are either barrel lenses or mounted in Compound shutters, both versions have lots of blades for the aperture so that the opening is always round (as opposed to the modern Copal shutters which have some 5 or possibly 7 blades).
A less expensive alternative would be a vintage Tessar or Xenar. They are not the same as the Heliar, but still very nice wide open and very when sharp stopped down too.
I do think Ken Lee have some shots made with both Heliars and Tessars/Xenars on his website. Lovely work.


Drew Wiley
26-Apr-2009, 09:35
Take a look at the Cooke. They're about to make another batch. Wish I could afford

Oren Grad
26-Apr-2009, 09:38
The other comments remind me that I should also add that even among lenses not specifically called portrait lenses, there are some whose imaging character is distinctive in a way that some will find especially pleasing for portraits.

The bottom line is, there is quite a bit of variation in the way different lenses render, which is why someone can talk sensibly about a lens being better or worse for portraits.

Jason Greenberg Motamedi
26-Apr-2009, 10:44
Take a look at the Cooke. They're about to make another batch. Wish I could afford

This is exciting news! Thanks for mentioning it, I see them for pre-sale at Badger.


Walter Calahan
26-Apr-2009, 11:07
Get in line for the next batch of Cooke's if you can afford one.

I have an XVa for my 8x10 system. The best glass I've ever owned.

Frank Petronio
26-Apr-2009, 12:09
An older Schneider Xenar 210/4.5 in a Compur Compound or later shutter -- with lots of blades (unlike later ones) -- so you can have a circular aperture opening -- would be my choice. $100 to $300, a lot less $ than most.

In fact I would probably buy one when I find a good cheap one, so nevermind...

Otherwise any modern 210 will do a nice job and you can always make things softer in post.

sun of sand
26-Apr-2009, 13:10
not to take off but 210 seems short
but as you ask about 210's maybe 210 is what you want

Don't do portraiture but am beginning to move to a longer 270mm from 210 -which I don't find worth the weight over 150 and really enjoy it
much better compression in the landscape
enough room for infinity with most 4x5 and pleasing fl for shallow dof/facial rendering etc
270mm gives the same look as the classic rangefinder 90mm "portrait" lenses

Don't know if 270mm is a common modern fl, though

You do a lot of color if not only color so coatings/lens design/flare will probably matter
seems like any coated specifically made portrait lens will be a great and expensive one

Ken Lee
26-Apr-2009, 13:57
A longer-than-normal lens allows you to shoot from a slight distance, where people look flatter. (They look flatter, because from far away, the length of their nose and other facial features become comparatively smaller.) For many people, it's an improvement to look a bit flatter.

Shooting from a slight distance also prevents you from invading the personal space of the subject. Many people get nervous when having their photo taken, and pushing the equipment too close to them can make matters worse.

The longer the lens, and the wider the aperture, the greater will be the blurring effect in out-of-focus background or foreground areas. This helps to set the subject apart from the rest of the scene, even when lighting, tones, or other visual cues do not.

I like vintage Heliar and Tessar lenses for portraits. If you stop them down as much as you might stop down a modern lens - to get everything in focus - they are just as sharp. If you open them up a bit wider than modern designs can go, you get qualities that are can be very flattering. Because they open to wider apertures, you can also shoot in softer light, which is often more suitable for portraits than harsh bright sun.

Most modern designs improve on the older ones, by virtue of their smaller size, lighter weight, wider circle of coverage, and better correction for colors. These are welcome features for landscape photographers who trek with their gear, but less important for portrait work.

Here (http://www.kenleegallery.com/html/tech/still3.html) is a 4x5 image made with a vintage 210mm Heliar, at f/8 if my recollection serves me. Note that the depth of field is pretty shallow, but where the subjects are in focus, it's quite sharp. And the out of focus rendition was intentionally designed, by the optical engineers of the day, to be especially smooth.

Frank Petronio
26-Apr-2009, 14:16
However boobs look bigger and rounder with a shorter lens! Who cares about their nose?

26-Apr-2009, 14:20
However boobs look bigger and rounder with a shorter lens! Who cares about their nose?

you mean ... nude portraits? :) wouldn't boobs be more of a still life thing?

26-Apr-2009, 14:22
I had a Wollensack Raptar 203mm, but found the results to be too soft, not to mention lacking in contrast.
I have since bought an older Fujinon-W 210 and haven't looked back. They are very reasonably priced, and deliver a lot of sharpness and contrast.
I hope that helps.

26-Apr-2009, 18:04
21cm tessars are nice for portraits
they offer a nice smooth look - open,
and stopped down can be sharp .. that is
if you like sharp

Kirk Fry
26-Apr-2009, 20:30
An old 8 1/4 Commercial Ektar ain't bad either in one those wonderful Ilex shutters.


John Kasaian
26-Apr-2009, 20:45
I'd say it is the lens you have on your camera when your subject shows up with an interesting expression. There are banana boats full of soft lenses and sharp lenses, but the lens dosen't make the portrait nearly as interesting as someone who is inteesting to look at.

Paul Fitzgerald
26-Apr-2009, 22:09
"is there a "best" 210 portrait lens?"

Yes, a 240/4.5 Heliar, pre-war, uncoated. ;)

You could try TTH Cooke, Steinheil Cassar, Wollensak Varium (classic Cooke triplets)
Voigtlander Heliar (modified Cooke triplet)
Tessar, Xenar, Ysar, Ektar, Raptar, ect. (modified Cooke triplets)

There seems to be a thread here, all are wonderfully soft/sharp, great OOF rendition, fine color rendition and large aperture for narrow DOF.

Have fun with the hunt.