View Full Version : 14" Commercial Ektar Buying Advice Wanted

19-Dec-2011, 23:09
I have a chance to buy a very clean condition 1958 14" Kodak Commercial Ektar in a working but not speed-tested Ilex shutter with flange. I have handled the lens and it is in fine shape optically without coating scratches or cleaning marks. The asking price is $600.

I am short of lenses in shutters for my 8x10 gear (I use a Packard and/or lens cap much of the time). The closest lens I have in a shutter is a 300mm f/5.6 Caltar. Reputation and hype have led me to covet this lens for years. My questions are:

1. Is this a fair price? I can find only one "completed auction" for $519 for reference.

2. Is the lens worth owning for portraits and occasional "fine art" field work? I've heard it is a good lens, but that doesn't mean a whole lot at this point. I shoot mostly B&W but have some 8x10 Ektachrome to work my way through.



Frank Petronio
19-Dec-2011, 23:42
I've boughten two of them over the years and never paid more than $400 for nice ones. They pretty much all have minor cleaning marks and the large #5 shutters are never going to fire as fast as you hope their highest speeds will go (expect 1/50th at best). You can usually thread a 72mm filter onto the front. The lens is compact, the shutter is a huge thing. You need a long-throw cable release to make it fire. If you find a mint, unused one then perhaps it is a dog that never got used, it may not be the "find" you hope it is? I'd prefer a loved user, knowing it works well.

I think they are a wonderful, sharp yet smooth general purpose lens. I expect a modern 360 plasmat will be a tiny bit sharper and have more contrast but many people prefer the rendering of the Commercial Ektar. When it was made in the 1950s it was the absolute top-of-the-line in the world.

Avedon used a 360 Symmar and Fuji Plasmat for the American West portraits. Jock Sturges uses a 14" Commercial Ektar for his nudes.

I think they are a great portrait lens without being mushy, as how most people think portrait lenses should be.

That said, a $400 360 Symmar from the 70s-80s in a Copal 3 is also going to be a nice lens and the shutter is more capable - 1/125th (OK call it 1/80th) and a common, smaller mounting footprint (but the lens itself is larger and heavier than the Ektar).

I just sold a contemporary 360 APO-Symmar in a late Copal 3 for $600 -- that's as sharp as you can get, I think, more for cold landscape and harder portraits.

From a 14" on 8x10:


Alan Gales
20-Dec-2011, 00:19
Lately the 14" Commercial Ektars have gone up in price. At least what I have been seeing on Ebay. I hate to admit it but I paid $600.00 for mine plus shipping. It is the lens that I just had to have. Mine is a little older than the one that you are looking at but is really clean and had a recent CLA before I bought it. I have seen a couple go on here for less after I bought mine. So watch the forum if you are patient and are looking for a better deal.

Yousef Karsh also used a 14" Commercial Ektar. Just look at Frank's wonderful shot to see what all the fuss is all about. Fantastic portrait lens!

Brian C. Miller
20-Dec-2011, 00:35
There was an eBay auction completed a few days ago, and a Kodak 14" lens went for under $250. The buy-it-now lenses are $500. I bought one in the forum classifieds for $275. Just wait, and one will eventually come up for a decent price.

Now, as for "fine lenses," that all depends on what you want to do. c.d.ewen put a Busch Rapid Aplanat f/8 13inch in a Copal 3 shutter adapter, and wow, that lens is not a slouch! I don't know yet how it really compares to my Nikkor 240 or Fuji 300 and 360, but for sharpness that lens does not disappoint, and that was wide open! I need to do some real tests and find out what these lenses do, wide open and stopped down.

Is $600 a reasonable price for a 14" lens? I think so. You might pay about the same for a Fuji 360 in Copal 3, and gain one more shutter speed. The only problem is that there aren't many spare parts anymore for the Ilex #5 shutter. Carol Flutot makes a note of that on her page. The lens itself could be remounted in a Copal 3, but you'd lose an f/stop by doing that.

Now for the important part: how is the Caltar working for you? I'm guessing that the lens is in a Copal 3, and the speeds are OK. There is a focal length difference between 12 and 14" but it's not that significant. And on a contact print, I'm not that sure you would really notice a difference. A side-by-side test would have to be made. Can you cart your camera over to the owner's house and temporarily mount it on a piece of stiff cardboard? Then you could make a test with it and your current lens, and see what the difference between them really is.

Frank Petronio
20-Dec-2011, 00:53
I don't think I've seen a 14 Com Ektar in a Copal 3 ever, might be too large.

I used to shoot with a 300/5.6 Xenar in a Copal 3 and regret selling that lens, it was like the Kodak being smooth/sharp. But when comparing shots, the 14" (360mm) versus the 12" (300mm) made a significant difference, especially for closer portraits.

That said, if I were shooting 8x10 in practical terms I'd want a 10/240 and 14/360 combo, or only a 12/300.

20-Dec-2011, 01:32
Thanks to all for the feedback. I have been debating about whether the additional 56mm beyond my existing 300mm lens (yes, in a Copal 3 that runs a tad bit slow) would be all that worth it. I have the ability to borrow the lens for a quick test, and I think I'll do just that. And I'm in no rush, so waiting for a better deal sounds like good advice. Plus, I'm not married to a Comm. Ektar per se, although I do have a vintage lens fetish (who doesn't?). The lens-in-hand purchase has appeal that the roll-of-the-dice E*ay auction does not, however.

Frank--thanks for the sample image. Very nice. I think I should do a side-by-side with the Caltar both for angle of view and image quality comparisons. Now to find the time!

20-Dec-2011, 06:17

IIRC, that recent $250 eBay auction was for an "ordinary" Ektar, which doesn't get the cult status of a CE. The shutter was the prize that the bidders were after.

Glad you like the Busch :D


The BIN's for 14" CE's on eBay seem to be around $800 - always an indication of top price. $600 for a good exemplar is not necessarily overpriced, but also not a bargain. If you're not in a hurry, bide your time.

My 14" CE is one of those "well-loved & well-used but well-cared-for" ones from a professional (came with the lacquered box). I like it, but I see I only used it once this year. I'll attach a photo of a bunch of squinting neices and nephews, so you can see what happens on a Sunny-16 kind of day (and try and get too many zones into your picture).


20-Dec-2011, 07:42
In addition to the smooth and well defined edge detail, I really like the out of focus look of the Commercial Ektar. I've not seen the $800 BIN. That's obscene. $600 is the higher end of what I've seen, but like you say, having it to inspect in your hand is worth a few bucks itself just to make sure the condition of the glass is what you want.
If the shutter sounds close, it's probably good enough. Frank Marshman can give it a tuneup for you too. He has all the old Ilex stock, so there's no question of him having any necessary spring replacement to get the timing right.

Michael Jones
20-Dec-2011, 07:45
The only problem is that there aren't many spare parts anymore for the Ilex #5 shutter.

Not quite true. While I send all my other shutters to Carol for work, all my Ilex shutters go to Frank Marshman (aka Camera Wiz) in Virginia. When Melles Griot decided to get out of the shutter industry -they bought the rights to make Ilex shutter & did; theirs are the ones with black face plates- Frank bought all the spare parts. The only shutter for which the parts supply is tight is for the Ilex 4. As I recall, I paid $125 for an overhaul last summer of an Ilex 5 and that included a new drive train.


Frank Petronio
20-Dec-2011, 08:07
I thought the idea behind the Ilex was that they were indestructible and made from bent tin - a masterpiece of low cost but smart engineering? As opposed to the Compur with all their finely fitted, hand-crafted parts that required routine service.

Mark Sampson
20-Dec-2011, 08:34
Well, as the very newest Ilex shutter is probably 35 years old, and the newest one with a 14" Kodak attached would be 45, you should expect that one you're using now will need service. Especially as many of them have been used hard over the decades, even if the glass and lens barrel look clean. I really like my 14" Ektar, even if I don't use it much. It's a very late version that has seen little use in its life, and the shutter is still working fine.

William Whitaker
20-Dec-2011, 09:15
If I had but one lens for 8x10, it would be a 14" Commercial Ektar. I paid $400 for a very clean, "pretty" one about 3 (?) years ago and thought I got a bargain. $600 does initially strike me as a premium price, but this is a lens that seems to be acquiring a following, so it may not be too far off. At the same time, condition is everything. Slow shutter speeds are to be expected with old Ilex shutters that have been sitting around. They can be adjusted within reason with a CLA. Mounting flanges are common and can be replaced. But damage to the shutter or glass is a deal killer. Don't settle for dented filter rings, broken pieces or any other "battle scars" (aka abuse) for that price.

I'm assuming that the lens you are considering is available locally so that you can inspect it yourself and ask the buyer any questions face-to-face. Plus you don't have to pay shipping. If that's true, then the difference between it and the completed auction you saw may not be that much. And Oregon has no sales tax, right?

For a brief while I had a late model 14" Kern Dagor, a widely acclaimed, sharp and contrasty lens. I compared it to a 14" Commercial Ektar on 8x10 chrome film and there was no contest. The Commercial Ektar provided a much more pleasing rendition. The Dagor was clinically sharp with very distracting out-of-focus areas. The Commercial Ektar was sharp, but had very smooth transitions that were quite pleasing.

One of the other things about the 14" focal length generally on 8x10 is that it provides a nice balance between perspective, DOF, ƒ-stop and subject distance. Frank's photo above is a good example of that and it's why I like 8x10 so much. It's not that other formats don't work, but 8x10 is kind of a sweet spot optically. The digi guys talk about the advantage of large sensors. That's one thing they got right!

Alan Gales
20-Dec-2011, 10:22
That said, if I were shooting 8x10 in practical terms I'd want a 10/240 and 14/360 combo, or only a 12/300.

That's funny! The second lens I bought for my 8x10 was a Fujinon 250mm 6.7 lens. I got a good price on it for just under $300.00 including shipping. It kind of help made up for the price of the 14" Commercial Ektar.

I was initially worried that the two focal lengths might be a little too close together for my tastes but after using them I absolutely love each lens and it turned out to be a great combination!

20-Dec-2011, 10:33
i think i paid 400 for mine a couple of years ago, they are great lenses, keh had one in a barrel recently that was pretty reasonable, i just looked for it and it was gone, i think it was 225 or so.

20-Dec-2011, 10:36
The 14" Commercial Ektar is indeed a classic portrait lens and $600 for one with flange in good shape sounds on the high end of just about right (premium mostly because of the hype surrounding it)

BUT whether it is "worth it" considering that you already have a perfectly decent lens, is a very subjective question: how badly do you specifically want a Commercial Ektar?

Frank Petronio
20-Dec-2011, 12:29
You can always buy it and compare to what you already have, then sell the one you favor less. If you buy at a fair price then you can always re-sell easily, so just be patient and snag a bargain, tomorrow or two months from now.

20-Dec-2011, 13:16
The big plasmats are dirt cheap these days. I had offered a 360mm APO Sironar-N (Caltar II-N) in a modern all black Copal #3 for sale here for just $300 and had no serious interest.

The commercial Ektar is a fine optic but, no way would I pay more for an Ektar than a modern plasmat in modern Copal shutter.

Frank Petronio
20-Dec-2011, 13:58
I agree the late Copal or Compur shutters are a lot nicer than the Ilex. I don't think that there is much "bad" bokeh out there, but you can see a difference.

Oftentimes bad bokeh is really just a bad background for any lens.

John NYC
20-Dec-2011, 15:15
My experience with my 14" Commercial Ektar is that it has a very nice look to it that IS, to me, a little different than a modern plasmat, especially when shooting color. It looks awesome and desaturated with color film compared to a modern lens. One thing it doesn't do as well as the moderns is corner to corner sharpness. If I were only shooting portraits, I'd probably have no other lens in 8x10. But since a lot of what I do is detail-intensive urban landscape, I also need other lenses. I have thought about even doing the urban landscape stuff with the Commercial Ektar and eschewing modern perfection, but after one test shot in that vein, I can't bring myself to that for those subjects for some reason -- although it might make my project more unique looking if I did... hmmmmm.

Prices change for these lenses but it seems like $300-500 is about the range. For a $600, it better be a late model and absolutely perfect (accurate shutter, no bubbles in the glass, no cleaning marks, etc.). It isn't an unfair price if it is like that, but it is at the top of the range.

John NYC
20-Dec-2011, 15:23
That's funny! The second lens I bought for my 8x10 was a Fujinon 250mm 6.7 lens. I got a good price on it for just under $300.00 including shipping. It kind of help made up for the price of the 14" Commercial Ektar.

I was initially worried that the two focal lengths might be a little too close together for my tastes but after using them I absolutely love each lens and it turned out to be a great combination!

That's a great combo for a two lens kit (have those also)... sorta like the olden days, where you have your landscape lens and your portrait lens.

20-Dec-2011, 15:29
I purchased an 8 1/2 and a 12" CE on the forum awhile back and while both lenses are dated to 1948 all I needed to do with slow shutters was a very small amount of shellite on a cotton bud to carefully clean then clockwork. I do understand the lack of parts etc but these lenses will never see the use a pro studio would put them through so I expect them to last as well as a modern Copal three I have. I would probably say the modern lenses may appear sharper but they are not as smooth as the CE in the overall rendering of the image. My opinion of course :)

E. von Hoegh
20-Dec-2011, 15:38
If you want smoothness, get a Dagor. If you want an excellent all-round lens with a large image circle, corner to corner sharpness, and a bargain price, get a 360 Plasmat from any of the big four. If you want an updated Tessar with a smaller image circle and a bit less corner sharpness at large apertures, get a Commercial Ektar.

No matter what you buy, wait for a fair price and you'll always be able to resell and get your money back.

20-Dec-2011, 16:51
I suppose since I already have the Caltar (a rebranded Schneider if I'm not mistaken) which is a good all-around lens for 8x10 I was looking for something more portrait-specific, hence the Commercial Ektar fascination. But I am not married to the idea, and the responses here have been enlightening. I really appreciate everyone's two cents. Six hundred bucks stretches the budget a bit right now, so I will hold off on the purchase. If one pops up for a good price later on I will consider it, but I will consider a modern plasmat as well.

I'm still rather new to these forums but have found them to be a helpful resource, and the people here, on the whole, earnest and thoughtful. My thanks to you all.

John Kasaian
20-Dec-2011, 16:58
$600 does sound like a premium price. I know things have gone up though. IMO 14" Commercial Ektar is a sweet lens. I 'd suggest contacting Jim at Midwest Photo and seeing if he's got one in stock.
The 14" was my main lens on the 8x10 for years and eventually a 10" WF Ektar and 19" Artar joined the party. I can't find fault with any of these lenses.

20-Dec-2011, 17:01
My 14" Commercial Ektar came in the original box and a mounting ring which was on a Calumet C1 8x10 metal board. The caps were original and the shutter is in excellent condition. I bought it at a time when they were scarce and high priced, I paid close to $500.00 and have to say it's been a great lens.

20-Dec-2011, 17:04
Like John I have a 10" CE Ektar and a 19" Artar plus some others.

John Kasaian
20-Dec-2011, 17:10
If money/size/wieght/fear of Ilex is an issue, but speed isn't (and you've still got your old filters from an old Nikon SLR) you might consider a 240mm G Claron. Sharp, lightwieght, in a modern shutter and a lot less than $600---and another sweet 8x10 lens.

Steve Hamley
20-Dec-2011, 17:13
I agree that today $600 is not overpriced for a pristine lens without cleaning marks and a robust shutter (no uneven sounds when releasing, etc). And no external barrel marks from mal-adjusted push-on filter adapters. But it is high, so look for a "time capsule" lens at this price point. I'd be looking for an original box and caps at $600.

My 14" Ektar I bought off the forum at about $450 and the glass is perfect, and I had the shutter serviced and lens caps made.

In practical use, I shot a country store on B&W and thought the red roof would do well in color, so I shot it on 4x5 with a Rodenstock 180mm Apo-Sironar-S on 4x5, and the 14" Commercial Ektar on 8x10. As far as color rendition and contrast go, the results were indistinguishable. I didn't do any magnified peeping, so I can't tell you about resolution, but a 14" Commercial Ektar is something you should not have to worry about.

I have more 14" lenses than I should have, and like the Ektar as much as any. It's a keeper.

Cheers, Steve

21-Dec-2011, 07:40
I've veen very interested in this discussion but playing my cards close to the vest. I have a 12 inch and find it an AWESOME lens. My assumption is that the 14 inch is just as awesome and I'd like to find one too, but I want a great lens at bargain price so I'm looking and watching. Are all of the CEs about the same in terms of performance (except for FL)?

Here's my example of 12 inch, wide open with FP4+

Mark Sampson
21-Dec-2011, 08:20
Kodak's lens design skills and build quality were unsurpassed when these lenses were made, say 1946-66. The German firms were recovering from WW2 and the Japanese were not yet competing in the LF field. So Kodak and (American) Goerz led the field. I've used many different Kodak lenses, and they were all top quality. Certainly there have been many improvements in LF optics since those days, but it's still hard to beat an Ektar for daily use.