View Full Version : How to choose a lens?

MIke Sherck
8-Jan-2004, 05:14
In researching specifications and comments about modern 210mm lenses for 4x5, I'll be darned if I can see much of a difference between them. They all seem like they would be fine lenses. I live too far from retail stores carrying LF gear to be able to rent them and try them out, and I'm not wealthy enough to buy one of each. They are all available from highly rated vendors offering return privileges, and generally cost about the same. How do I chose between them? Cost alone? Pick one at random?

Note that I'm specifically referring to newish modern lenses such as the Rodenstock Sironar-N, Nikon-W, Fuji, and (of course) Schneider, to use as a "normal" lens on my 4x5 for landscapes and such-like general photography. I shoot a lot of B&W, perhaps 10% color negative, and enlarge moderately (to 16x20, tops.)

In general, once you find several competing lenses meeting your criteria, how do you chose which one to buy?



James Phillips
8-Jan-2004, 07:01
I do not believe that there is an answer to this question... only opinions. I own all of the name brands that you mentioned (not the 210mm format though) and have been very happy with each lens.

If I was going new, my opinion would be a Schneider. No specific reason except that I like mine best for sharpness, contrast and color rendition (color rendition is strictly my opinion and quite subjective in nature). Second on my list (without much difference) is my Rodenstock. Nikkor and Fujinon picking up the last two spots. If I was buying used, I would let the condition of the individual lens and the price dictate my choice.

Just my 2 cents worth.

Kind Regards,

John Cook
8-Jan-2004, 07:05
We all have our personal favorites, but I really donít think there is a meaningful difference in quality among the brands you mention.

When I was running around the studios of Hollywood in the 1960's, everyone had Schneider lenses and a Spectra Combi 500 meter. So of course thatís what I got too. I also rubbed dirt on my gadget bag so I wouldnít look like such a newbie.

Absolutely nothing wrong with Rodenstock other than their weaker marketing which made them less popular. Fuji hadnít come on the scene yet.

Over the years, I discovered Nikkor lenses which are of absolutely superb quality. Other secondary benefits: the M lenses are cheaper, smaller, lighter, but just as sharp as the W lenses. Wonderful choices for field work. Several M lenses and shorter W lenses share the same 52mm front filter size. Wide lenses are notoriously difficult to focus, and the SW 90mm f4.5 is the brightest thing around.

Check out the directly-imported Nikkor lenses on the B&H website for an even better deal.

Mike Troxell
8-Jan-2004, 07:56
I used to only use Schneider lens on my cameras. I still have a Schneider 210 that I love to use. But earlier this year I was talked into buying a Fuji C 300 lens when I was looking for something which was longer for 4x5 but would also cover 8x10. The Fuji is just as good as the Schneider as far as I can tell. Plus its about half the weight. There may be differences in bench test but I can't tell a difference between a good Schneider, Fuji or Nikkor when taking pictures.

Ernest Purdum
8-Jan-2004, 08:13
If you do work requiring much use of movements, coverage would be a major factor. If you are a backpacker, weight may be very important to you. Some people have more difficulty focusing small aperture lenses than others. These are personalk matters and are important, but the nice thing is that you can't really go too far wrong with any modern lens from the brands you mention.

John Kasaian
8-Jan-2004, 08:19
All things being equal, such as lightness, compactness, coverage, and price, IMHO they're all great examples of modern optics. If I were going to stress over which one to buy, theres no substitute for just taking one out and seeing how you like it. Since you've specifically mentioned late model lenses that are probably available used, why not contact someplace like Midwest Photo Exchange that has a large inventory and a liberal exchange policy, try them out and come to your own conclusions. Spec sheets are useful, but only up to a point. Let your own preferences guide you.----------Good Luck!

Ted Harris
8-Jan-2004, 08:42
I'll stay out of the which brand to buy discussion <smile> but chime in with comments on where and what to buy.

If you feekl an absolute need to buy new then check with Badger, they are easy to dal with and sane about returns and exchanges. If used but like new will work for you then check with Midwest as recommended earlier. Talk with Jim, he is their LF expert. They will give you a reasonable length of time to try out the lens and will not hassle you about returning or exchanging it of you are not satisfied (I once dithered over a lens for 90 days before I decided ti keep it).

One small comment on the four major brands. I have run a side-by-side very unscientific real life shooting comparison of the Apo Symmar, Apo Sironar-N and Nikkor W lenses. Abolutely no descernible difference in the Shcneider and Rodenstock offerings from a Polaroid T54. The Nikkor was the equal in sharponess but was jsut a tad less contrasty, had to stop it half to one stop to get the same contrast.

Ken Lee
8-Jan-2004, 09:16
"...once you find several competing lenses meeting your criteria, how do you chose which one to buy?"

Price, availability, lens size, shutter size, filter size, condition, weight, circle of coverage, coating type

Frank Petronio
8-Jan-2004, 09:39
I keep buying lenses and haven't disappointed by any modern, mainstream ones. I really only see problems with a few of the older ones I've gotten, and mostly they are either blurry at the edges or not as contrasty as modern lens.

That said, I developed a loyalty to Rodenstock, for no particular reason. I never liked Schneiders after seeing the "Schneideritis" (flaking paint inside the lens) from their earlier lenses.

David Karp
8-Jan-2004, 10:43

If you are only considering the standard 210mm f/5.6 choices, and plan on doing mostly landscape work, you might want to consider the Rodenstock APO-Sironar-N, because (based on the specs) it is the lightest of the bunch, and uses the smallest filters (58mm). You might also consider the Caltar II-N from Calumet, which is manufactured by Rodenstock and is identical to the APO-Sironar-N.

Other choices in the 210mm range that might be appropriate for landscape work are lighter, and even smaller than the APO-Sironar-N. The Nikkor M 200mm f/8 is a Tessar type design in a Copal NO. 0 shutter, reputedly very sharp and a great lens for landscape photographers. It weighs less than 1/2 pound and uses 52mm filters. The 210mm f/9 Schneider G-Claron and 210mm f/6.1 Schneider Xenar (another Tessar type design) are also potential candidates. The Rodenstock 210mm f/6.8 Geronar and Caltar II-E (a triplet design) is also quite lightweight. All of these lenses have a smaller maximum aperture, and smaller image circles than the lenses you listed in your post.

I have a Caltar II-E. The results with it are surprisingly good for such a simple design. However, if I was buying something in this focal length today for landscape photography I would seriously consider a 200mm Nikkor M, especially if I could find one used (probably a tough task), even though I believe it has the smalles image circle of the 200-210mm lenses. I have the 300mm version and like it very much.

Lens choice is a very individual decision. From everything I have heard and read, you are right, the performance difference between the standard 210s from the big four manufacturers is negligible.

I also recommend buying used and second Jim at Midwest Photo Exchange as a great source. I owned used lenses purchased from him at reasonable prices that look like they were never touched.

Chad Jarvis
8-Jan-2004, 11:57
Eenie, meenie, minie, moe always works for me.

Peter Collins
8-Jan-2004, 12:42
I also can't resist! Keep in mind what others have said in another thread: Ansel didn't have ANY glass equivalent to any modern 210 (i.e., made since 1980). Yet he made very sharp B&W prints from 4x5 negs.... This invites some serious thinking about amount of enlargement you will need to make your biggest prints, as well as the role of other factors affecting the creation of a fine print--accutance and grain (i.e., film speed/developer), etc.

I think it would be less expensive and also very instructive to buy some recently-made used lens (any lens with multi-coating) via advertisers in photo.net, ebay or elsewhere. Multi-coating is advantageous in B&W work because flare is substantially less.

However, there is one other consideration which may change your approach: Any plans to do color work, where color rendition/fidelity may be a big concern. If, like me, you want to do B&W only, then maybe try something used, and be more economical.

Armin Seeholzer
8-Jan-2004, 15:41

I only whant to disagree with Ted on the contrast of the Nikkors. It's not just my opinion thad the Nikkors are the most contrasty lenses especially the wider ones for sure. Maybe thats the reason why John Sexton uses them only!

Danny Burk
8-Jan-2004, 16:59
Hey Mike,

Since you live about 10 miles from me, if you want to take a look at some of my lenses sometime, just let me know. My 210 is a Schneider, BTW.

Best, Danny www.dannyburk.com

Alan Davenport
8-Jan-2004, 17:18
They all seem like they would be fine lenses.


g. wiley
8-Jan-2004, 21:37
From a price standpoint the first place I'd start looking is at used Calumet Caltar II N's. New Calumet sells both the Caltar II N and Rodenstock Apo Sironar N for the same price at $699- which is considerably less than what an APO-Symmar would cost new. However on the used market the Caltar II N sells for considerably less than the identical Apo Sironar N simply because of the Rodenstock name. On ebay they can often be had for less than $300.

Slightly older Symmar-S and Fuji W lenses often provide good value on the used market, but the fact that you can find a 5-7 year old Caltar II N for the same price or less than a 20 year old Symmar-S make it the first place I'd start looking.

g. wiley
8-Jan-2004, 21:52
Also take a look at Keh.com's used lenses. They've got quite a bit available right now in the 210mm range at quite resonable prices.

Scott Walton
9-Jan-2004, 06:56
Mike, All are good lens. I have Fuji's in 210 and 150mm and really like them. My first lens being the 210mm. I also have older lens, Linhof/ Schneider lens from 65mm, 90mm, 135mm, 150mm (came with the Tec I bought years ago), 240, a 250mm Imagon and a Linhof 360mm. They are great lens too albeit single coated and whether I shoot chromes or negs, there is little visual difference, as far as sharpness, between them! Well, except the Imagon... what you want to consider, and not as an after thought, consider the lens you get AND the filter size. Choose the largest filter size, buy those filters and if needed, get step down adapters to fit on the rest of the lens you will get. As far as choosing the lens, for some people, it is because they have more resolving/sharpness but when you look at the end result (with modern large format lens), they pretty much are all sharp. It boils down to personal preferences. There are some really excellent older lens that are easily and cheaply (relatively speaking) gotten and with a good CLA, the shutters will work well too. You can also have an older lens retrofitted with a new shutter if you need... I have taken apart all of my lens, some with great trepidation in the beginning, but with the info on the web you can get step by step instructions on taking apart and reassembling a Seiko, Copal and even compound shutters to clean them. A good blowing out of dust and grit, a small (size 0 or 00) brush and some isopropyl alcohol will bring back most shutters from being frozen or lagging in the lower speeds which is where you will find a shutter starts to fail when it needs a little TLC!

Ted Harris
9-Jan-2004, 17:43

Armin and I don't disagree. It was one unscientific sample on Polaroid film. I have lenses from each of the 'big four" and use them all. Probably the best advice you have gotten is "enie, menie ....."

Armin Seeholzer
12-Jan-2004, 04:44
I think you can get from any four bad examples especially if you get missused ones, but I look sometimes on MTFs and also on some other homepages with recomendations and sometimes I buy out of my stomach! So I have lenses from Nikon, Schneider and Rodenstock lenses and I like them all. Don't worry be happy!