View Full Version : Perfect Lens for a 617 with Movements???

13-Apr-2012, 14:11
Hi Folks,

Iím in the process of very slowly designing a custom 6x17cm camera with bellows for movements. 120 is much easier to work with and costs a lot less than a 5x7 crop, and my camera design is significantly smaller than a LF camera. Most of the 617 cameras on the market and ones that are custom built typically have a fixed lens, or a lens board that shifts. Iím building mine with bellows intended to allow all movements, for maximum flexibility in creativity.

Iíve done lots of research on the best possible lens for this application, and have found the Rodenstock Grandagon-N 115mm f6.8 has the largest coverage and the least distortion of all the other 4x5 (semi 5x7) lenses on the market. But, Iím new to this game, so Iíd love to hear your thoughts.

Iím in med school and have an extremely limited budget, but I know better than most that itís best to invest in the correct tools rather than buy a series of cheap ones, only to eventually replace them with the expensive ones that would have worked the first time..

The Grandagon 115s go for anywhere between $250-800 depending on condition and who is selling, and I currently have an offer to buy one from a respectable photographer for the high end of that range. Before I shell out over a monthís worth of rent on a part of a project that might not work, I figured itíd be best to confirm my ideas with the folks that know the most about this game.

I know nothing of 5x7 lenses or 8x10 lenses, so I suspect there may be more options than the Grandagon. My ideal lens has enough coverage to allow decent sized movements, is a wide angle (wider than 115 would be fantastic, but I can work with it), has the least distortion, and is tack sharp closer to wide open.

Thatís a dream lens, but maybe you know of something close? If you do, and you happen to have one for sale, Iíd love to buy it from you. Or if you know of a cheaper option for the 115, the more money I save on the lens, the more I can spend on my build.. :)

Thanks for your help!


13-Apr-2012, 14:54
if you want to stay relatively wide, the Schneider Super Symmar 110/5.6XL is great. Great coverage, very sharp. I've seen it used effectively on 6x24. Others like the Nikkor 120SW are slightly longer but has more coverage again.

I would love to design a 617 with movements.. I've designed my latest camera, a 4x5 P&S. I figure a 6x17 should be easy enough... I would love to see your plans for making the rear of the camera though. I'm a little confused as to the best way to design the film spool carriage....

Best of luck with it, and please post as many pics as you can of the construction. I for one am very interested.

13-Apr-2012, 15:43
Your definitely against using the Chinese 6x17 backs on a 4x5? You'd end up with a nice 4x5 camera and a nice 6x17 camera, with movements.

A hard learned lesson: I'd rather be taking pictures than working on cameras. That's the inverse of some people, which is fine.

13-Apr-2012, 16:18
I have a 617 back on my 4x5.. Its pretty damned limited let me tell you. 90 to 150mm lenses only, the 90 allows 0 movement, and the entire setup weighs a ton. I think if you can build a 617 (folder or point and shoot) that weighs less than a 4x5 plus the chinese back and is more flexible then go for it.

I too definitely prefer making photographs than making cameras, but sometimes they are not mutually exclusive. Sometimes to make the photographs you want, you simply have to build the camera to do it... I guess you could very easily make a rudimentary 6x17 folder using a Shen-Hao NSH-617 film back as a base, then build a simple field camera around it. I reckon you'd get away with the entire camera up and running for sub $700.. Better than $1600+ for other 6x17's and should only take a day to make and a few days to iron out bugs.

Lachlan 717
13-Apr-2012, 16:20
Just buy a Shen Hao 617, a 90mm and get shooting.

Emmanuel BIGLER
14-Apr-2012, 01:48
Hello from France !

i'm not entering into the discussion regarding a self-built 6x17 camera, but let's continue about the choice of the lens.

There are several issues here
In the 110-120 range of focal lengths, the 115 Grandagon-N, the 110 SSXL and the 120 Nikon SW have been mentioned, but
the Schneider Super Angulon 120 mm does not seem to have been mentioned here. Usually you find it more easily than the the Rodenstock 115 Grandagon-N. I have several Grandagons including the 115 and those lenses are really superb, if you can get a 115 grandagon, you'll never regret it.

Another important issue is the choice of the focal length in terms of perspective rendition. I have a 612 rollfilm back and I find the that 75 mm perfectly fits, it is like two standard 6x6 frames (56x56 mm) "glued together" side-by-side to make a "natural" panoramic shot.

Hence you should pay attention to the fact that if the focal lenght is too long, you'll get cropped landscape images in the vertical dimension, this might, or mignt not be OK for what you are looking for. With a 75 mm in 6x17, you'll get "natural" panoramic shot equivalent to three 6x6 frames glued together, but you'll enter into other difficulties like: light fall-off in the corners for example.
However there exist 75 mm lenses covering the 6x17 format with a small amount of available movements. (see below a small home-made spreadsheet to download, containing the relevant formulae to simulate the allowed movements on a 56x170 mm frame)

A small spreadsheet film to be downloaded ad libitum: Enjoy ! (http://cjoint.com/?BDokTx59I9N)

You enter the focal length and the angular coverage of the lens in degrees, e.g. 102į for a 6-lens-element Grandagon-N or 105į for a 8-lens-element-Grandagon N ; or whichever angular coverage as specified by the manufacturer.

You enter the format size in millimetres, for example
82 and 56 mm for the 6x9 format
112 and 56 for 6x12 format
170 (168 ?) and 56 for the 6x17 format

The spreadsheet computes and displays the X and Y values for lateral and
verticals shifts on both directions. E.g. if the spreadsheet says : '10 mm'
it means plus or minus 10 mm allowed in both +X or -X directions (or,
vertically, +Y or -Y directions)

example : format 56x168 mm (check for the actual image length delivered by the 6x17 roll film holder, this may vary from one make to another)
a 75mm covering 105į will allow + or -9.6 mm in X and + or - 22 mm in Y
a 120mm covering 100į will allow + or -56 mm in X and + or - 87 mm in Y, which is more than you'll ever need.


As a conclusion, i cannot but congratulate all of our readers who like to fabricate their own large format camera. This is a real pleasure.
Those who consider as a loss fime to fabricate a LF camera are right, from their point of view, but large format photography is a hobby where you find the ultimate photographic freedom !! Including freedom to use a self-built camera delivering professional-quality images !!

14-Apr-2012, 07:41
I've been out of practice for a long time and am just now getting back into larger film... film at all, really... so... grain of salt.

If I had a moderate budget and wanted the best I could get and wanted wider than 115mm (that provides for significant movements) then I'd look for a nice used 90mm SA XL. If I wanted to keep cost down by limiting the lens kit to three optics then I'd add a nice used 150mm SS XL and 300mm Apo Symmar (non-L).

90mm SA XL
150mm SS XL
300mm Apo Symmar

Okay... so those are really hurting a moderate budget. So will the ones below except for the 210 and 300 if you do your homework and shop wisely.

I prefer wider (72mm SA XL) as mentioned above and closer FL spacing but, if I'm reading you correctly, you want more movements available. If that's not set in stone and if budget allows then the following would be my choices.

72mm SS XL
110mm SS XL
150mm SS XL
210 Apo Symmar or just about any modern (post 1970) 210 plasmat.
300mm Apo Symmar or just about any modern 300 of dialyte, Dagor, or Tessar construction.

14-Apr-2012, 17:04
I don't think the huge and expensive 90 XL is really necessary for 6x17. I shoot my Nikkor 90mm f/8 on my 6x17 back and I don't get even a hint of fall-off in the corners. Though I've not shot chromes I really would have expected some to show up on my scans even on negatives...but nope.

I really want a 72mm XL but can't really justify it!

14-Apr-2012, 17:06
Corran... the OP stated he wants a lot of movements. So that's why I made those recommendations.

Greg Y
14-Apr-2012, 17:22
ONF....... We must have a different view of 'modest budget'.....The OP also said "I’m in med school and have an extremely limited budget".....He also mentioned $250-$800 for the 115 Grandagon... PM me if you hear of any XL lenses in any focal length in this range....:)

14-Apr-2012, 17:25
Greg... Yes, I know but he also stated that he recognizes "buyer's remorse" with respect to buying less than adequate lenses for his purpose. I did address cost moderation in my post. :) What other (wide) lenses will meet the OP's requirements... regardless of cost? The normal and long lenses can easily be substituted but not the wide ones.

Greg Y
14-Apr-2012, 17:41
ONF....I'm with you...
.but at the risk of seeming glib, I wouldn't waste my time putting those great lenses on a 617cm when 5x7 would kill it every time, all day long.
I'm also not sure why the OP would go to the effort of building a 617 view camera when you could buy a Shen Hao for just under $1600....?

14-Apr-2012, 17:47
I get as much movement as my camera can provide at that FL with my Nikkor on 6x17. I think my suggestion is still justified. Unless he is shooting a vertical panorama and wants even more vertical rise, I don't think the Nikkor would disappoint, ever. Not to mention it's fantastically sharp, cheap (comparatively), and not very rare.

Greg Y
14-Apr-2012, 17:51
You're right Corran. I don't know the project....but if I wanted wide....I'd drop down to 6x12 and use a 47mm...which is what the panorama master Jay Dusard does at times....:)

14-Apr-2012, 18:23
Very true! I want a 6x12 back to do that very thing since I can't get close enough to my DaYi 6x17 back to even use anything shorter than 90mm.

Frank Petronio
14-Apr-2012, 19:15
What's the matter with the 115 Grandagon? That's a nice lens!

14-Apr-2012, 19:46
Frank... Nothing is wrong with the 115mm Grandagon. It's an outstanding optic. But polymerase wrote the wider the better and a 72mm SA XL will cover 6x17cm with a little wiggle room. He also hinted that bulk and weight are issues and the 115 Grandy is HUGE. Since he also stated that he wants considerable room for movements then the 90mm SA XL is the logical choice, IMHO.

Greg... polymerase wants to shoot 6x17cm, not 6x12cm. Otherwise I'd agree with you except, for the ultimate in ultra-wide on 6x12cm, I'd opt for a 38mm SA XL.

Greg Y
14-Apr-2012, 20:20
ONF..... Your S. Tex oilwells must be doing better than mine in Alberta....
my 4 3/8" Dagor is it for me on 5x7.....

14-Apr-2012, 20:31
Greg... Understood but, unfortunately, I own no erlwells, as we Texans would say. :) The OP was pretty clear that he has experienced "buyer's remorse" by trying to save money on his purchases. I posted lenses that he would surely never regret owning.

Greg Y
14-Apr-2012, 20:35
:) I wouldn't regret owning them either....

Frank Petronio
14-Apr-2012, 21:01
Hold on, I went back and re-read.

First the OP wants to build a better camera than any yet-so-far ever made. Good luck!

Second, he says he doesn't know about 5x7 or larger lenses. I wonder if he has even used 4x5 yet? I'm betting he hasn't.

Third, he is in medical school... !?!

And fourth, he is tight on money. Any wonder?

While I am sure a $1200 90XL would be amazing, the sort of lens this guy needs is a $250 Schneider 120 Angulon or something in that ball-park. An inexpensive vintage wide-angle -- a simple tiny, slow 90 year old lens... seriously. They are usually quite sharp and have a wonderful rendering... I know the mindset is to shoot with the sharpest most-modern glass but you'll just end up compromising further down the workflow chain (mediocre scans render the $2000 lens pointless for example). So why not learn to adjust to mindset of making a good picture instead of owning bragging rights? Besides when the money kicks in, you could always trade up and mount the four-figure $$$$ Uber-lens, become bitterly disappointed with it and find out I was right ;-p

(It's up to you if you want to be messing around with camera design and building at all given the time and financial constraints of medical training. But my advice is to forget about reinventing the wheel and just buy something more modest and less than you can afford... then go out and enjoy shooting making the most of your limited resources and time.)

14-Apr-2012, 21:11
Frank... I agree but the OP posted "mixed messages". He stated that he wants "low cost" but admitted that he he's experienced "buyer's remorse" by not acquiring "better optics". My experience is to buy the better optics because experiencing an empty wallet is better than the remorse of buying what I never wanted.

15-Apr-2012, 20:01
Thank you all for your fantastic replies so far!
Here is my incredibly long response, with lens bits at the bottom:

First, to answer some questions:
Old-N-Feeble is 100% right about my ďbuyerís remorseĒ comment. It took a long time, but I finally learned itís best to do things right the first time, else kick yourself along the way until you eventually buy what you knew was right in the first place (at a higher cost, waste of time, and headache). Iíll happily shell out a few hundred extra bucks to get the right lens for the job. At this point in my life, Iím okay with eating Ramen and PB&J instead of steak... :) That being said, if I opt for a pricier lens, Iíll have to be more careful with my materials/building process. If youíre dumping a ton of money on something, go big or go home, else feel the remorse.

Frank hit it on the head too:
ď...the OP wants to build a better camera than any yet-so-far ever made.Ē
The reason to build a 617 camera is to make something customized to how I want to capture the world. Thereís a sizeable list of shots Iíve dreamed of taking that I canít capture without the flexibility of my design.. There are a large number of 617 cameras out there with movements, but theyíre very expensive. Why pay extra if I can build it myself for less than half the price? And itís fun to sculpt something new.
Also, as far as med studies go, Iíd die without art in my life.

Greg & Corran, youíre also absolutely right about the 6x12 wide game, but 6x17 has a special place in my heart, and on my/my clientsí walls (I print 24Ē wide, so panoramas look incredible at 60+ inches long). For whatever reason, the 6x12 format has always seemed too short to me.. But lots of people love it.

Alexn, Sully, & Lachlan, itís a good thought, but Iíve got two reasons not to start with a Shen-Hao back, 1) I can do it better, 2) I can do it cheaper. Also, thanks Alexn for sharing your experience with the back on a 4x5!

Also, thanks for the calculator Emmanuel. Iíve just been using charts from the manufacturers for my comparisons.

Now, more details:
Iím in the early stages of this project. Right now I have a solid pile of my design sketches, a huge library of images of other 617 camera designs, and a small but growing collection of parts.

My timeline for this project is design and parts collection between now and the end of June. The building/assembly process will happen after I move into my new apartment in July. The reason for the long process is limited free time. I take my medical board exam (STEP1) on June 16th. Between then and now, my life is mostly dedicated to studying, with fun/creative things like this on the backburner.

Ideally, Iíll have a fully working camera by the end of July, just in time to capture some excellent shots of summer.

As far as some folks concern about shooting rather than building, no worries! Though I recently sold my 5DMkII because Iím out of the business sector and back into the fine art game, on my bookshelf I have a nice selection of 28 wonderful film cameras to play with on a whim. I regularly walk around with my Widelux F7 and almost always have my Olympus 35RC in my pocket. (All of the cameras I own were sold to me for parts, and I restored/CLA/nursed them back to health. And my 24Ē printer was a gift from a very kind artist, which was also terribly broken, but is now fully restored, in case you were curious.)
Just for fun, Iíve attached one of my Widelux shots I recently scanned.

Also, I do have a 4x5 camera and have played with plenty of 4x5 lenses, but Iíve never had the pleasure of using any 5x7, 8x10, etc. cameras. I think 4x5 is a fantastic medium, but carrying the camera, film holders, lenses, etc. takes a lot more effort and space than a pocket full of 120 film. 4x5 has a special place in my heart, but the goal of this project is to make a 617 with the power of LF movements. Hopefully I can minimize the size and weight of the camera if Iím clever.

For those curious, Iíll create another thread detailing the stages of designing and building this camera, every step of the way, as soon as I start the assembly process.

For now, my focus is finding the perfect lens. And as Old-N-Feeble suggested, Iíll eventually have a set of lenses to play with on this camera, but I am looking for the best of the best as a starting point until I can save enough money to expand my focal range.

Back to Lenses:
The general consensus here seems to be go with the Schneider 90mm f/5.6 Super-Angulon XL.

The Schneider 72 SAXL has an image circle of 226mm.
The Nikkor SW 90 has an image circle of 235mm.
The Schneider 90 SAXL has an image circle of 259mm.
The Schneider 110 SSXL has an image circle of 288mm.
The Grandagon-N 115 has an image circle of 291mm.
The Nikkor SW 120 has an image circle of 312mm.

Do any of you folks have any experience with these lenses wide open? Iíd love to hear your thoughts on light falloff and sharpness..

Do you think the wider 90SAXL is worth the shorter movements compared to the 110-120 lenses? To give you an idea of my shooting style, my favorite 35mm-format lenses are all 24mm, and my favorite MF lenses are 40mm.

Thanks again for all of your help!


My Widelux shot I mentioned earlier, titled Falling Into Symmetry:

Lachlan 717
15-Apr-2012, 21:25
I didn't write that you should get a Shen Hao back; I wrote that you should get a Shen Hao 617 camera.

I'd be interested to know what it is you think you can achieve with your alleged design that this camera cannot do.

15-Apr-2012, 22:04
I didn't write that you should get a Shen Hao back; I wrote that you should get a Shen Hao 617 camera.

I'd be interested to know what it is you think you can achieve with your alleged design that this camera cannot do.

Mostly just cost less, but also be physically smaller, and have the ability to add a longer bellows/possible macro ability, and be something I've created rather than purchased. The art of designing/building is as much fun as snapping the shots. (Ironically, I don't want to be a surgeon.)

15-Apr-2012, 22:32
Also, in the parallel thread I have on APUG, a fella named Oren Grad made a similar comment to Frank about starting with a cheap older lens and moving up. After hearing the different thoughts/ideas from a lot of people, I'm inclined to do just that. It'd be easier to work out the kinks if I have more money to play with for the body, and lenses tend to retain their value so I can just sell it back when I need to upgrade.

So, I suppose I'll hunt for any of the recommended lenses and jump on the one I can find for the best price. I'm in no hurry.
I just need to find the best deal...

That being said, my questions about the lenses stand. Any personal accounts about falloff and sharpness at wider apertures are appreciated.

Thanks again!

Frank Petronio
15-Apr-2012, 22:57
You should probably just shoot with an affordable lens and see how it goes. Your questions are good ones but wanting to shoot wide-open and also use a lot of movements runs counter to each other, since lens coverage is dependent on how much you stop down. Plenty of lenses will cover 5x7 with ample movements at f/22 but be barely usable wide-open. Also the depth-of-field effect on separating your subject from the background that you might be hoping for from a 90mm on 6x17 will likely not be as dramatic as you might expect. You will likely only use shift and rise movements, and stop down to f/16-22 in your practical use of the camera.

Oren posts here too. Sometimes he answers differently just to mess with your head.

25-Apr-2012, 19:19
Hey folks,

I just wanted to let you know that even after our great discussion, I ended up buying a brand new Caltar II-N 115 a moment ago for $500. I figured I couldn't pass up that deal. Worst case scenario, I sell it for at least what I bought it for and move on to something different. The 115 will let me do all the crazy movements/shots I've been planning, then I can move to something physically lighter and wider (I'll keep this chat in the back of my mind in the future).

I'll post another thread when I start building/assembling my beast (probably around the start of July). Until then, I'm collecting parts and refining my design.

Thanks again for all of your help! Happy shooting!