View Full Version : Best long lens for large format

bill proud
27-Feb-2004, 10:53
I'm considering buying a currently manufactured long lens in the 300, 360, 500mm and up range. It won't be a tele version so please eliminate those types from your recommendations. There was an earlier thread that mentioned a 480 A Ronar(?) but I didn't see any conclusions about it, good or bad.

I would be particularly interested in seeing examples of photos taken with the lens you would be commenting on if you have them, but please don't let this keep you from contributing.

What I'm trying to accomplish is the scene compression look you get with, say, a 300-500 35mm tele lens, but in large format.

Gem Singer
27-Feb-2004, 11:35
Hi Bill,

You didn't mention what format you are working with. It would also be valuable to know how much bellows extension you have. Do you have enough to handle a 480 mm lens?

Assuming you are asking about 4X5, you can probably use a 300mm lens, mounted in a Copal 1 shutter. Look at the Nikon 300M or the Fuji 300C. If you have the bellows length to work with, look at the Fuji 450C. Using an extension lensboard, I am able to use the 450C on my 4X5 camera. It's smaller and lighter weight, with a little longer focal length, than my Fuji 400T (tele), even with the added weight of the extension board.

As far as the scene compression you desire, you are probably going to need a telephoto lens design like the Fuji 300T, the Nikon 360 tele. or the Fuji 400T in order to accomplish that effect.

Jay DeFehr
27-Feb-2004, 11:42
Bill, the math suggests that you're talking about a VERY long lens indeed. Something on the order of 72" for 4x5. I can't think of any 4x5 cameras with 7' of bellows, so I think a telephoto lens is your only practical option apart from reconsidering your original intention and settling for a less direct comparison to 35mm, i.e. a shorter LF lens. While a long LF lens will give a short DOF, it will not create the kind of compression you're talking about with a 35mm camera and 300-500mm lens. I believe that Nikon makes a 1200mm tele lens that might approach your objective. The 480mm (19") Ronar comes nowhere close to the compression you want. It is more akin to a 135mm lens for 35mm format. All that being said, the Ronars are process type lenses, and good performers according to the majority of users (of which I am not one). Good luck.

bill proud
27-Feb-2004, 12:30
Eugene, I'm using a Cambo 4x5 monorail to which I can add extension rails. I'm not, literally, trying to match the 35mm focal length compression, just something long enough to give a similar effect. And do you have a link where I could see something with your 450C?

Jay, I think my rail is about 9 inches and I can get a 12" extension.

bill proud
27-Feb-2004, 12:47
I looked in my 98-99 Calumet catalogue and the lens comparison photo samples they used look like I could get by with a 300mm or 360mm.

Christopher Condit
27-Feb-2004, 12:52
I have and recommend the 450C, but it absolutely does not provide any compression to speak of. Gotta stick with smaller formats.

Terence McDonagh
27-Feb-2004, 13:11
Correct me if I'm wrong, but won't a 600 mm lens give you the same amount of compression regardless of what format you're using?

Yes, there will be "more" in the picture, but for a given focal length, an object 20 yards away and an object 500 yards away will appear just as "compressed" regardless of the format. Won't they? Does the fact that a 600mm for 35mm is retro-focus make a difference?

Or is this just another photographic mystery that will keep me awake late at night?

Gem Singer
27-Feb-2004, 13:18
Hello again Bill,

Sorry, I don't have a way to skan my prints to show you the results with the Fuji 450C.

A 9inch rail, with a 12 inch extension still only gives you enough length to use a lens in the 400- 500 mm focal length, maximum, providing your bellows will stretch that far.

A lens with a true tele design would eliminate the need for more extension, and still give you the effect you are looking for.

Is there some reason you are rejecting a tele lens?

bill proud
27-Feb-2004, 13:46

I've heard a number of comments that indicate a tele 4x5 lens is not as sharp as a regular focal length lens. I also talked to a fellow 4x5 shooter who lives locally, and he basically says the same thing. That there is some inherent softness in them.


Neal Shields
27-Feb-2004, 14:24
I have an old single coated 360 tele-xenar that has a ding in the filter ring where it has been dropped. I can resolve lettering on a construction crane that is 1 1/2 miles away and 1/10 of a mm tall on the transparancy. (and near the edge of the frame)


360 is a little short for what you want but while I understand that a telephoto lens is a design compromise it doesn't seem to me to be a major loss.

Michael S. Briggs
27-Feb-2004, 14:33
The so-called telephoto compression effect is really the result of using a long focal length for the format. "long" means longer than the format diagonal. The word "telephoto" is used for this effect because of the common mistake (particularly in 35 mm photography) of calling all long lenses "telephoto". The correct definition of a telephoto lens is one that focuses with a shorter extension than the focal length.

The "wide-angle" and "telephoto compression" effects are persective distortions resulting from viewing the print at the "incorrect" viewing distance. If you viewed prints taken with short-focal lengths lenses from a very close distance and prints taken with a long-focal length lens from a large distance, the perspective distortions would disappear.

All of these effects scale with the format size, so a 600 mm lens with 4x5 doesn't give the perspective effects that a 600 mm lens does in 35 mm. This is because the angle of the scence included in the photo scales with the format size. A 600 mm lens gives a wider view with 4x5 compared to 35 mm.

As Jay says, if Bill wants the scence compression effect obtained with a 300 to 500 mm lens in 35 mm, he will need a very long focal length lens. The ratio between the format diagonals is about 3.5, so the equivalent focal lengths for 4x5 are about 1000 to 1750 mm. Extremely few 4x5 cameras have the extension and bellows to handle such lenses (some studio cameras are modular so that extra monorail and bellows can be added), so the most pratical approach is probably a telephoto lens such as the 1200 mm Nikkor-T.

Previous postings on the forum describe that such lenses are difficult to get good results with. Vibration and other issues become big problems. Most photographers decide that really long lenses (compared to the format diagonal) aren't the forte of LF photography.

If you have the bellows for it, I second the recommendation of the 450 mm Fuji-C, though it won't give a strong telephoto effect. Past that, one might consider the 600 mm Fuji-C or a Fuji, Nikon or Schneider telephoto. There are postings in the archive about these lenses.

Paul Metcalf
27-Feb-2004, 14:39
TMM- You're correct. 600mm is 600mm, independent of film size. The coverage of the lens will determine how much film you can expose sufficiently.

Bill- I have a Nikon 450mm, and this gives a 35mm size image on the film for a subject distance of something like a mile (an estimate). But I also get a lot of other image elements on a piece of 4x5 film. This lens easily covers 8x10 (in case you're thinking of going larger). If you think you might be making multiple exposures, I suggest a self cocking shutter (Prontor) in these long focal lengths. I find it hard to keep the image from shifting with my 300mm in a Copal shutter which requires manual cocking.

Gem Singer
27-Feb-2004, 14:48

You probably shouldn't believe everything you hear. You could compare a 300-500mm telephoto lens to any of the non-tele lenses in that range of focal lengths. Teles from any of the major manufacturers are extremely sharp lenses.

Most of the softness you hear about is due to the camera operator attempting to use an extremely long tele lens, outdoors in the wind, and not using a solid enough tripod or camera support. That same problem holds true no matter what format is being used. A long lens, and a lot of bellows extension, magnifies even the slightest vibration.

Take a look at Jack Dykinga's book "Large Format Nature Photography". He points this out and offers a solution to the problem by adding an extra bracing arm to his Gitzo tripod.

Probably the reason why my Fuji 450C appears so sharp is because it was designed for the 8X10 format. It has a huge image circle. I am only using the brightest, sharpest center of the image circle when I use it on my 4X5 format camera.

I use the Fuji 400T on my Toyo 45A field camera, because the camera only has about 325mm of bellows available, and the 400T is the longest lens that will work with that amount of bellows extension.

bill proud
27-Feb-2004, 16:10

I shouldn't be making multiple exposures with it.


I read some reviews on Dykinga's book this morning and probably will get it. Also, reading your post I agree, using the sweet center will provide increased sharpness on 4x5 film. I shoot 6x9cm every so often with my 4x5 lenses and they are super sharp, (qualitatively speaking).

So the 450C Fuji lens is recommended a number of times. Any publication credits I can check using this lens either by a responder or by a reference? Does Dykinga recommend or use it?

Thanks again to all.

Gem Singer
27-Feb-2004, 16:50

In his book, Jack Dykinga uses Schneider lenses, exclusively.

I purchased my Fujinon 450C from Jim, at Midwest Photo Exchange (www.mpex.com). He has a large assortment of new, and used Fuji lenses at reasonable prices.

If you buy a lens from him, and you don't like it, he will gladly exchange it, or refund the purchase price.

bill proud
27-Feb-2004, 18:07

My friend here locally also recommended Midwest. Always good to have multiple recommendations.

Ernest Purdum
27-Feb-2004, 21:59
While many telephoto lenses have quite acceptable sharpness, ther is a disadvantage in using them on view cameras in that they can drive you batty if you try to use front swings and tilts. Instead of just altering the plane of sharp focus, the image goes wild. The reduced bellows draw is a major benefit, but it comes with a severe restriction.

Christopher Condit
28-Feb-2004, 09:06
I just sold my Fuji 400T for the reasons Ernest mentions. Any swing or tilt requires reframing and massive refocussing. I bought it for a modestly-bellowed camera which I have since upgraded, so I can now use the 450C.

One more shortcoming of telephotos is the bulk, as the 400T is maybe 3-4 times as large and heavy as the 450C. Sure you can take great pictures with it, and it will let you go longer than otherwise, but at the price of certain inconveniences.

If you cut out the center 24x36 mm from a 4x5 shot with a 600cm lens, it will be identical to a 35mm shot with a 600.

bill proud
28-Feb-2004, 09:11
Ernest and CXC,

Interesting comments. I do use tilts quite often.


David Karp
28-Feb-2004, 09:50

I also recommend the Fuji 450 C if your camera has enough bellows. It is so small it is hard to believe it is a 450mm. Don't be put off by the f/12.5 max aperture. The image looks plenty bright to me under normal circumstances, and is within the range of my other lenses (f/5.6 and f/9.0) in lower light situations. I can't explain that, but others have had the same experience. Before the Fujinon, I had a Nikkor M 450mm f/9, which is also a nice lens. However, it is in a No. 3 shutter, uses 67mm filters, and is very heavy compared to the Fujinon.

In the 300mm range, I have a Nikkor M 300mm f/9.0 which I like a lot. I was interested in either this lens, or the Fujinon C 300mm f/8.5, and purchased the first one I found used in good condition at a reasonable price. From my research, I believe that I would have been equally satisfied with either lens. Both use 52mm filters and are in No. 1 shutters.

I have also purchased several lenses from Jim at Midwest Photo Exchange, including my 450mm Fujinon. It is used, but looks brand new. The prices are always very reasonable. He is a very straight shooter, and very helpful.

Good luck on your choice.

David Karp
28-Feb-2004, 10:50

I forgot you wanted a publication source for photos taken with a 450mm Fujinon C. Check out www.thalmann.com for some photographs (of course, at web resolution), and www.thalmann.com/largeformat under equipment, then lenses, then future classics for his discussion of the 450C.

Armin Seeholzer
28-Feb-2004, 12:46

I'm with Reinhard Wolf in thad game that means APO Ronars he used from 360mm up to 1000mm for hes NY book on a Sinar!

Scott Walton
1-Mar-2004, 06:21
I too have a 360 Tele Xenar and really have a pleasurable time using it. It's still in the old compound shutter, which I took apart, cleaned and lubed it myself and it is right on the times again. The 360 really gives a great view and the compression is great. Highly recommend it and the use of a lens shade... 67mm filter ring! Yes, it is old but great glass!

Michael Mutmansky
1-Mar-2004, 07:07

One problem with using the 450C on a 4x5 is the huge image circle. This lens will easily cover a 11x14 and it will hit the corners of a 12x20, so the image circle is extremely large. Because of it, you have to be especially careful of internal flare associated with light (that would make an image on a larger camera) passing through the lens, and bouncing around inside the bellows. This can result in a reduction of contrast, and in some cases where an especially bright region is on the bellows, it can also result in a fogging effect that looks a bit like a light leak.

I always, always use a Cokin P series filter holder and the Lee bellows lens hood accessory with this lens to constrict the extraneous light entering the camera. It's a great, inexpensive method to get an adjustable lens hood, and it is small and lightweight, so it travels well, too. As an addded bonus, you've got the ability to slip in a filter or two if needed.

I've used the 450C on 4x5, 8x10, 7x17, and 12x20 formats, and I think it is one of the best lenses on the market in this focal length due to it's performance, low size and weight, and relatively high availability, since it's still being produced.

Here is an image:


made with the 450C on a 7x17 camera. I had considerable rise (more than a normal 4x5 could provide, possibly even with indirect movements) in the camera, and was near the edges of useable coverage. It's not visible on the JPG, but the top corners are not quite as sharp as the middle.


Kerry L. Thalmann
1-Mar-2004, 12:47

It's a poor quality scan with compression artifacts at web resolution, but my Mt. Hood poster was shot with a 450mm Fujinon C.


The low resolution and compression artifacts completely mask the quality of the image created with this lens. In the actual poster, the image size is 21x28. It was printed from a drum scan of the original transparency, and the detail is outstanding. I have also sold prints of this same image up to 24x30, and it has been published in multiple magazines and calendars. In fact, it is my all-time best selling image.

Of course, if it had been shot with a 450mm Nikkor M, I'm sure it would still be my best selling image.

A little background on that image. It was shot from the north shore of Lost Lake during the heart of winter (early January). The road to Lost Lake is not plowed in the winter, so I had to go in on cross country skis. Please note: I am not an advanced skier. In fact, the term novice would be most appropriate; intermediate would be stretching it. I believe that was about my fourth or fifth time on skis.

I had photographed from that spot before, but never in the winter. Originally, I envisioned a wider angle shot of the mountain reflecting in the surface of the lake (something in the 110mm - 150mm range). I almost left my longer lenses at home, but I remembered from a previous shoot how much detail could be brought out in the mountain with a longer lens. In the past, I had shot it with a 360mm/500mm Nikkor T-ED. As my pack already weighed 35 lbs. (including camera gear, extra clothes, food and water), if not for the lightweight of the 450mm Fujinon C, I would not have brought a long lens with me. It's a good thing I did. When I arrived at the lake, I found there was a very thin layer of ugly brown ice floating on the surface. No beautiful reflection this time. The 450mm focal length was perfect for shooting over the lake and isolating the mountain and beautiful lenticular clouds (and eliminating the ugly brown ice covered lake in the foreground). Sure, I could have shot with a shorter lens and cropped, but with the 450mm I was able to fill the frame and get the composition I wanted.

In short, there are other great lenses in this focal length range, but none come close to the Fuji in terms of small size and lightweight. The best lens in the world is of little value if you leave it at home due to the weight. I used to own a 450mm Nikkor M, and it is a wonderful lens. While it's not exactly an enormous boat anchor of a lens, it's still 2.5 times as heavy and much larger than the Fujinon. Given the choice, assuming equal quality, I'll personally choose the lighter lens in the smaller shutter every time. In addition to less weight and bulk to carry around on my back, a lens in a Copal No. 1 shuter puts a lot less stress on the front standard of my camera than something in a Copal No. 3. This can make a difference at long extensions - less chance for vibration.

In any case, I think the 450mm Fujinon C is a great lens. It offers a unique combination of long focal length, big coverage, small size, lightweight and excellent performanc. I've never had a problem focusing at f12.5. If you want something even longer, the 600mm f11.5 Fujinon C would be a great choice. L:ike the 450mm Nikkor M, it's in a Copal No. 3 shutter, but weighs only 575g. Most barrel lenses in this focal length weigh considerably more. As far as I know, this is the longest non-telephoto, multicoated lens available. It also comes in a modern shutter and is reasonably priced as well (for something this long).


bill proud
1-Mar-2004, 15:27
Michael, thanks for posting your shot. It doesn't show the near/far perspective I'm seeking but does make me want to go to Portugal. And thanks for pointing out flare problems.

Kerry, That's it. The shadowed foreground trees show the compression effect I'm looking for. Killer image, by the way.

Now, to find one.

Thanks once again to everyone for your responses.

Michael Mutmansky
1-Mar-2004, 15:34

Sorry, I was thinking more on the line of the whole image circle thing, not the near/far issue you raised.

The flare problem is a condition with ANY long focal length lens that has only a small portion of the light from the image circle actually forming the image. It's no greater with the Fujinon than it is with the Nikkor.

But it will be greater with the Fuji or Nikkor compared to a telephoto design, because the telephoto design has a much smaller IC normally, so a larger percentage of the light will directly hit the film.


Kerry L. Thalmann
1-Mar-2004, 16:51

Just to give you some idea of the scale of things in that Mt. Hood image... The trees are on the opposite shore of the lake, about a mile from the camera position. I don't have a topo map handy, but the summit of Mt. Hood is probably about 10 miles from the camera position (give or take). The vertical relief between the surface of the lake (the shot is cropped so the suface of the lake is just below the bottom of the frame) and the summit of the mountain is just a hair under 8100'.


Kerry L. Thalmann
1-Mar-2004, 17:03
Also, regarding the Fujinon A series... In addition to the well known shorter focal lengths (180mm, 240mm, 300mm and 360mm), Fuji also made a couple longer models back in the 1970s that were single coated and came in Copal No. 3 shutters - a 600mm f11 and a 1200mm f24. I've never seen either of these longer Fujinon A series lenses in person, but I have seen a couple of the 600mm Fujinon As sell on eBay (nothing in the last few years). Should you ever find one, the 1200mm Fujinon A is probably one of the longest shutter mounted non-telephoto lenses ever made. Just keep in mind that it's a heavy lens (about 5 3/4 lbs) and will require nearly four feet of bellows extension just to focus at infinity.