View Full Version : lenses

29-Dec-2003, 19:38
ok, another Q.

ever one to own the latest, greatest, top-of-the-line-most-celebrated STUFF, i need some help (one way or another). having worked in a pro lab & having met some very competent people thru various avenues. & having always been a stickler for perfection, whatever form that perfection takes in my work, & doing things according to the vision i have of that particular body. & being verbose... i have learned that much of the photo community is preaching to the choir. meaning, photography has a definite scientific base, but the naked eye couldn't care less about that. so... i will be shooting landscapes & want the utmost of clarity/resolution/acutance/etc. present in these images. but will my naked eye or any patrons naked eyes be able to TRULY discern whether i used a modern, multi-coated, top-of-the-line "ooooooh" lens as opposed to older or less celebrated (w/in that choir of the photographic "elite", so to speak) glass ? i know that in scientific terms there are differences. but come on ! honestly, can anyones naked eye tell just by looking @ a photo the type of film ? camera ? lens ? processing ? etc. ? that was used ? all else being precisely identical, will there be a greatly discernible difference between the same scene shot w/ a new top-of-the-line lens as opposed to an older but still quality lens ? photography has always been my passion ever since i was a teen & i continue to practice it @ various levels throughout my life. but always i am concerned w/ my images being personally satisfying to the utmost degree. which does not always have to do w/ what some densitometer tells me about it. & it used to be exclusively b&w, which is quite different from my new, color world.

i told you i was verbose.

Jay DeFehr
29-Dec-2003, 20:19
My 8x10 lenses represent distinct graduations in sharpness, contrast and bokeh, and I can easily discerne which lens made which image. None of my lenses represent the apex of optical science, so I have no experience with that level of lens. If you have an opportunity to make the comparison yourself, you'll have your answer, but I don't think you'll find it here. Good luck.

John Kasaian
29-Dec-2003, 20:29

You're right of course. I am the Warden for a colony of criminal lenses, sentenced to live out their days where they no longer pose a danger to the well being of the photographic community. Killer Kodak, Two Gun Goerz, Crazy Cooke, and Wild Man Wollensak are my concern these days. PrettyBoy Boyer, Mad Dog Dallmeyer, and Legs Ilex...as they say: "...bad lens bad lens, watch ya gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when they come for you..." You're invited to send all those older single coated felon Fujis, rotten to the core Rodenstocks and sociopath Schneiders up the (San Joaquin)River----We'll leave the light on!;-)

John D Gerndt
29-Dec-2003, 20:40

You got the money? Buy it. You’ll like it. Will you see the difference? Can you taste the difference between wines? The answer to both questions is: it depends (mostly on you).

Most lenses are quite good enough if you…keep vibration/movement to a minimum, check your alignments-all of them, use big film, enlarge at a maximum 3x, buy fresh materials.

If you need your money for other things then search the web for years and sort the hype from reality of image making lenses. I have made some blow-your-hair-back cool images (20x24) with $500.00 worth of equipment, including camera, enlarger, lenses and materials! It is 80% work/knowledge, 10% equipment and 10% luck. It has taken me 20 years AFTER getting my art/photography degree to figure out what really sings (to me) and I still have much to learn. Lenses are a fascination unto themselves, don't loose sight of the goal, making good images is about integrating knowledge and technique. Best to you in your studies.

Robert A. Zeichner
29-Dec-2003, 21:06
Most of the secrets of good lens making were uncovered before the turn of the century, the last century! While many advances have been made in the manufacturing process, coating techniques, computer aided design and testing, etc., the same demons that plagued the old school are still ever present. If there were such a thing as a perfect lens, we probably would find it unfit for pictorial imaging. It's purely a question of making the correct compromises for the application. I'm sure that in a laboratory environment, tests could be conducted that would conclusively prove one lens to be sharper than another or have better color correction or whatever parameter you were interested in comparing. The reality is that if you select any good quality lens, most of what will be right or wrong with your results will rest in how well you do your job as a photographer and a technician. Did you focus accurately? Did you establish the best subject plane? Did you select the optimum aperture? Did you use the correct filter and compensate accordingly? Did you shade the lens? Did you aim the camera at something worth capturing on film? You could no doubt add to the list. The point I'm trying to make is that when I do everything correctly, my 50 year old 203mm f7.7 Ektar with it's single coating, will give me very satisfying results. When I rush and make careless mistakes, my 110mm Super Symmar XL will give me very unsatisfying results. The only other thing I would add is that before making any evaluations on film, I would be ever so diligent about testing the ground glass alignment of my camera. Many lenses have been traded in based on soft negatives that were all the time due to ground glass/film plane misalignment!

Ed Eubanks
29-Dec-2003, 21:18
I once knew a guy who swore that he could identify images taken with Leica cameras, because the Leitz lenses had a distinct quality about them (contrast, tonality, whatever). I knew another guy who said similar comments about Hasselblad's Zeiss lenses.
Now, I know that these are top-shelf lenses, but I personally have never been able to distinguish "their" photos from others; or maybe it is simply that some bright fellows who have shown me their work knew enough about the total process to impress me with work that I would consider "equal" to the Leitz/Zeiss phenoms, yet taken with so-called inferior glass.
The moral of the story (for me)-- learn YOUR gear, not the gear you wish you had the $$$ to blow on, and you'll never exceed its capabilities... well, OK, maybe if you shoot with a Holga.

neil poulsen
29-Dec-2003, 23:51
While I've never compared the results side-by-side, I suspect there's a perceptible difference between lenses of the 70's-80's (whether multi or single coated) and the more recent "Apo-" lenses. The newer lenses probably have an edge on contrast and sharpness.

As far as coating on the Symmar-S lenses, I was told by a Schneider LF Technician that one wouldn't be able to tell the difference, except under certain circumstances. Their multi-coating filters IR and UV light, so one could possibly tell the difference looking at prints side-by-side in IR or UV prone situations.

For 2 1/4 work, I have an S2A Bronica, a camera made in the early 70's. I like the results that I obtain with this camera. The lenses are fast and reasonably priced. I would prefer a more current Bronica, but I'm doing just fine with what I have. I've shown my images to others, and the response is that they look plenty sharp to them. While Bronica provided Nikon optics with this camera, I like the results that I obtain with the non-Nikon optics that I have for this camera. I once saw an image at an art show who's color and sharpness blew me away. It turned out they use an S2A.

In fact, most of the great images that exist were made with lenses that aren't any older than my S2A.

At the same time, I do very little professional work. I need only please myself. However, if I were doing more professional work, I would probably feel a responsibility to update some of my equipment.

Darin Cozine
30-Dec-2003, 01:38
Lens designers have known how to make -sharp- lenses for quite some time. Multicoatings, special glass, and aspherical designs are theoretically better but the results may be insignifigant or subject to taste. The major difference between the newer lenses and older is coverage (ie schneider XL).

However, whenever you are buying an older lens, take consideration because any damage or misuse could affect the end result. Also budget for a CLA because the shutters are likely to be off.

Robert A. Zeichner
30-Dec-2003, 05:40
Several posts make reference to experts being able to tell what lens was used to make this or that photograph. This is less mysterious than is might seem at first. There is an attribute of lenses that determines their performance when visualizing out of focus objects and specular highlights. The Japanese have a word for it.... Bokeh. In fact, they have an entire lexicon of descriptive words that define what kind of Bokeh a particular lens has. There are a number of classic lenses that have become hallmarks of good Bokeh, the Leitz 35mm f2 Summicron among them. If the kind of work you were to show one of these experts contained areas that were out of focus, there is a good chance they could identify the lens used by examining the Bokeh. If you would like to read more about this, there was an article (actually three) in Photo Techniques a few years back that had examples, tests and a run down of the more popular types of Bokeh. Unless you plan to do a lot of selective focus type work where this characteristic would display itself, I'm not certain you would have as easy a time telling what lens was used to make what photograph, assuming they were all comparitively good to start with.

Frank Petronio
30-Dec-2003, 06:09
At middle apertures most brand name lenses are going to be sharp enough - the difference between lenses will have more to do with edge contrast, bokeh (shape of the aperture), and overall contrast (freedom from flare). You will see better results from a Leica Summilux 35mm f/1.4 used wide open compared to a pedestrian 35mm lens, but by f/5.6 I doubt you could tell them apart. Edward Weston used a cheap $10 lens, Penn and Avedon used 1950s vintage Rolleis, Ansel used all sorts of uncoated glass - all of their photos are plenty sharp enough. With digital processes, contrast is easily controlled and the open shadows of uncoated lenses may actually benefit your photos...

30-Dec-2003, 10:04

cla ? my lf lexicon is lacking... i am infering it means clean & calibrate in essence ?

30-Dec-2003, 10:17
you have all been very kind & helpful. i greatly appreciate the opportunity to benefit from your experiences & hindsight. you are all giants among men...

so now for more brain picking ! being one to always want to maximize my budget (or lack thereof), what would you recommend as good, older used lenses (generally or specifically) that are as cheap, no, inexpensive, as i am :D ? but would be quality glass & not to problematic to clean, repair, calibrate - whatever may be needed for an older piece to breathe new life into it if necessary.

Kevin Crisp
30-Dec-2003, 10:46
Jason: A little guidance, like what forcal length(s) you want, would go a long way toward getting you helpful answers.

30-Dec-2003, 13:44
oh no ! not specifics !

focal lengths i would rely on heavily would be 300, 210, 150. 90'ish, 60'ish, or wider would be used heavy as well. i have some specific shots in mind that a 47'ish would be needed, but that wide a lens would not see REAL frequent use, but would definitely be used. the wide lenses i really do like & use quite a bit, but i will have to set priorities as to which to get 1st, 2nd, etc.

Kevin Crisp
30-Dec-2003, 14:42
Jason: What camera are you putting these on and what are you going to be taking pictures of? What's your price range?

David Karp
30-Dec-2003, 14:58

Here are a few off the cuff ideas about lenses that might work for you. I am assuming that since you are interested in photographing the landscape, and may be using a monorail (different post), you will want lightweight lenses. These recommendations are based on my preferences, yours might be different. One major preference is Copal shutters over the older ones. This is just because I want something somewhat newer, and to avoid the hassle of repairs to older shutters. I am not completely adverse to an older shutter if it came on the right lens, and have had my eye on a few older lenses in discontinued shutters (but not the budget!). With that in mind, I primarily look for relatively modern used lenses in good condition mounted on Copal shutters. All but one of my lenses are used, and most of them look as if the prior owner(s) never used them! You can really do well buying used.

With that in mind, here is a list of used lenses that might work for you.

300mm: 300mm f/9 Nikkor M, 300mm f/8.5 Fujinon C, 300mm f/9 Fujinon A, 305mm f/9 Schneider G-Claron, 300mm f/9.0 Rodenstock APO-Ronar, 300mm f/9.0 Rodenstock Geronar. All are lightweight and in Copal No. 1 shutters I believe. The Geronar is a triplet, but multicoated. Some people have a problem with that, I don't. I have the Nikkor M and like it. If a Fujinon C had come along first, I would have grabbed it too. By the way, most of these lenses use relatively small filters, 52mm or so. Another option might be a 12" Kodak Commercial Ektar, but it has a bigger shutter.

210mm: There are a lot of these available. The most common are the bigger f/5.6 versions. From what I understand, they are all good lenses. Rodenstock Sironar, APO-Sironar S and APO-Sironar N, Schneider Symmar (a convertible), Symmar S and APO Symmar, Fujinon W and CMW, Nikkor W, and Caltar II-S, S-II and II-N are good options. For landscape use, a smaller and lighter lens might be in order. Rodenstock makes a multicoated triplet, the 210mm f/6.8 Geronar, which is also sold by Calumet as the Caltar II-E. It is small, lightweight, and uses small filters. I have one and like it. Others would not be caught dead with a triplet. Schneider makes a small 210mm Xenar. I believe this lens is single coated, and is of a Tessar-Type design. These lenses are much smaller than the others listed above, have simpler designs, and smaller image circles.

150mm: Again, the same list as for the bigger f/5.6 versions of the 210s. A 150mm f/5.6 Fujinon W offers a very nice combination of weight/size/image circle at what are usually reasonable prices. Fujinon also made an f/6.3 150mm Fujinon W that I believe was a Tessar and single coated. Kerry Thalmann holds this lens in high regard. Rodenstock also makes a 150mm Geronar multicoated triplet 150 f/6.3 (also available as a Caltar II-E), and Schneider makes a 150mm Xenar. My recollection is that these smaller lenses have pretty small image circles. Since the standard versions of the 150s are generally small, use small filters (with the exception of the Fuji CMW and the new Schneiders) and offer generous image circles, you may decide that their slightly larger size is small enough.

90mm: For small size, you might consider a 90mm f/8 Nikkor SW. It offers an image circle comparable to the larger 90mm lenses in a much smaller package. Another alternative might be a 100mm Wide Field Ektar.

I have not really thought much about lenses wider than this beyond my 75mm f/4.5 Grandagon-N (which I like for shooting architecture). So for these super wides, I really don't have too much to offer.

I have found Jim at Midwest Photo to be an excellent source for used lenses at reasonable prices, especially Fujinon lenses.

Best of luck.

30-Dec-2003, 15:06
hey kevin,

camera is as yet not 100% sure. have been searching & asking & thinking & changing my mind regularly. BUT... i see an old (1990) cambo on e.bay i like w/ a soft case & extra boards. if my max. bid is not high enough then i will proceed on a 45nx. i see these for ~ 450+/- on the web @ various places.

my price range i would LIKE to keep below 500/lens. i think i can do that easily enough. i have heard positive stuff regarding the fujinon w's, & again, e.bay has one i currently like. or i have also seen them @ other places on the web.

i am going to be shooting landscape both far flung & intimate (some very tight slots). & i am no fair weather hiker, either. i enjoy the experience of the elements in all manifestations & hike/pack quite frequently. so this camera gear is likely gonna see some miles & varied conditions. much i will do from the truck, or day hikes, though. & am definitley NOT gonna let it get swamped or otherwise harmed. will take necessary precautions or it will not come.

David Karp
30-Dec-2003, 15:06

It occurred to me that I forgot to mention a couple of alternatives in the 210mm range: 200mm f/8 Nikkor M and 180mm f/9 Fujinon A.

ronald lamarsh
30-Dec-2003, 18:04
As to what lense as quality itself has been beat to death. I can highly recommend a 180mm computar symmetrigon if you can find one, very good lense all around and a good compromise between the 150 and 210. My 135mm schneider symmar(convertible) is plenty sharp and converted to 235mm with a yellow filter its great enlarged up to 3x(bear in mind the quality of these varied greatly either test before buying or get a linhof select like mine they did the testing). Getting an inexpensive lens? Haunt your local pro shop that obtains estates; they are so busy pushing digital they don't bother gettin their used lenses CLA'd they just sell "as is" I got a 90mm f8 shcnieder super angulon for $95 and everything works great! Bottom line...read article in JanFeb 1998 view camera featuring discussion with Ron Wisner and Roger Hicks its very enlightening! Rock On

Jim Galli
30-Dec-2003, 21:29
Hi Jason. The voice of experience tempered with a couple of glasses of wine.

75mm f6.8 Caltar (Rodenstock Grandagon N) 125mm Fujinon-W 180mm Fujinon f9A 240mm fujinon f9A 305mm f9 G-Claron 420mm f9 Repro Claron. These are my favorites that have served me well so far. None are "classics" as far as prices. The 420 in shutter is a bit scarce but they surface from time to time. Thing is you go down the ultra latest multi zoomy super-coated road and pretty soon you're standing in front of a picture you'd sell your soul to have made and you find out it was made with a 12 3/4" f4 Wollensak Veritar with defocus control.

30-Dec-2003, 23:01
If there were only one lens and camera left in the world.... you would figure out how to get a good photograph out of it. There are so many great lenses out there...both old and new...try em...see the differences for yourself and can the ones you don't like. Sometimes you will see the best art coming out of not so stellar equipment. Passion, Vision and Ideas count more than physical things.

Frank Petronio
31-Dec-2003, 07:13
I don't think anyone has mentioned it yet, but Kerry Thalman has several useful articles on inexpensive and classic lenses on his website: http://www.thalmann.com/largeformat/

And Kerry: please update and add to your website!