View Full Version : First lens for landscape & architecture with Shenhao 4x5

Nghi Hoang
13-Apr-2004, 23:12

After some research, I have decided on the Shen-Hao HZX4x5-II A. The Shenhao fits my budget of roughly $1000, give or take a few hundred dollars more, for a kit (already have tripod and hand-held meter). I plan to use the camera for mostly landscape with occasional foray into architectural photography. I am having a tough time deciding which lens to get. I like wide angle lens, but am not sure if it would make a poor choice as a starting-out lens. Maybe I would be better off with a normal lens. On top of that is the brand choices. I am partial to Nikon since I have been using Nikon 35mm gear for the last eight years, but wonder whether or not I should consider other brand. What would you recommend as a starting-out lens for the above said applications? I don't see myself buying a second lens too soon down the road; maybe in 3 years time I can buy another one.

neil poulsen
13-Apr-2004, 23:57
If you like wide-angle, a 121mm Schneider Super Angulon f8 is a good choice. It's not too wide, but still wider than a normal lens. "Normal" for 4x5 is a 150mm lens. This lens was one of Ansel Adam's favorites. It's single-coated, high quality, and usually sells for about $350 to $450.

But, I think it's better to begin with a lens that slightly longer than a normal lens. A good choice is a 180mm, which is my preference. Many people like something a little longer, like a 210mm.

Check the "Beginner's Questions" category for other responses to related questions.

Kirk Gittings
14-Apr-2004, 00:09
Check out Steve Simmons book, Using the View Camera. It has loads of tips for first lens. I would ask what are you going to photograph? For landscapes a 210 is a good start. For architecture the 121.

14-Apr-2004, 00:34
Hi Nghi,

Congrats on your purchase. I have used 90mm lens solely for the past 3 years until I bought a 210mm this year. Brandwise all the modern Rodenstock,Scheinder, and Nikon are much the same in terms of optics. I have got a 90mm Rodenstock which is equivalent to a 28mm in 35mm format. You can always crop with a wide angle and that was my rational for getting the 90mm.Once you get wider than this you start to have to consider centre filters to prevent edge light falloff. Nikon lens are probably cheaper to get new or second hand than the German equivalents. Do keep us informed about how things go.

Li hsia

Graeme Hird
14-Apr-2004, 00:40
I also used a 90mm lens for 3 years and found it to be a good starting lens for landscapes and minor architecture work.

Li-hsia didn't mention Fujinon in the list of lens makers. They are also worth looking at.

Cheers, Graeme

Michael E. Gordon
14-Apr-2004, 00:51
You can't go wrong with a modern Nikon, Schneider, Rodenstock, or Fujinon. I think it's more important to analyze what your most common focal length is/was in 35mm (and triple the number for 4x5 equivalent) than to have people throw their personal biases/suggestions at you. Barring that, you might err on the side of buying slightly wider if it will be a few years before you can make another lens purchase. It would be wiser to have too much lens and have the option to crop than to not have enough.

With that, I'll suggest my 120mm Schneider. I love it, although it's not my most used lens. It's not too wide, nor too tight. Maybe just about perfect for the kind of work you plan to do.

Marco Frigerio
14-Apr-2004, 03:40
When I bought my first LF camera about two years ago, I was advised by the useful and generous members of this forum to purchase a "normal" lens as my first lens, mainly because every "normal" lens is extremely well designed and it's easier to use on a large format camera than a wide angle lens or a longer one (less problems in focusing, bellows extension or rigidity, etc. etc.)...in a world a normal lens is a better learning tool and produce excellent results...so I purchased a Schneider 150 mm. and never regretted that choice: I've been shooting with that single lens for more than a year before feeling the need for another lens...I think that any lenses in the 120 mm./180 mm. range will be ok for you...

Brian Ellis
14-Apr-2004, 05:01
I'm sure you know that translating 35mm focal lengths to 4x5 lengths is problematical because of the different aspect ratios. Also, the choice of a lens is often affected by the camera itself, i.e. you may find that you photograph differently with a 4x5 camera than you did with 35mm. There was an interesting article about the effect of the equipment on how we photograph in Photo Techniques magazine a few years ago.

Since you'll be using only one lens for quite a while, I'd second Marco's suggestion of a "normal" lens for the reasons he gave, "normal" for this purpose being 135mm if you want "wide normal," 150mm if you want "normal normal" or 210 if you want "long normal." 135 is kind of a bastard length that not too many people use but I use mine quite a bit for the subjects you mention. However, 150 is likely to be the least expensive of the three.

You can save money by looking for a used single coated lens. Single coating usually sells at something of a discount since many people perceive a bigger difference between single and multi coating than there usually is. If you elect 150mm the G Claron might be a good choice, it's single coated, F9, very small and light but also usually inexpensive. They appear on e bay fairly often and I think go for $250 or thereabouts depending on condition.

Tim Curry
14-Apr-2004, 06:53

I started in large format with the Shen Hao and a Fujinon 125mm CM-W lens two years ago. I've found it is a bit easier to focus, when depth of field is considered, than a 210mm length to learn on. It has adequate coverage to play with movements, so you can get a feel of the view camera's ability to do its thing. Focusing is easy, it is coated, and is an excellent value for the money. The 121 angulons are a great value in a used lens as well.

Gem Singer
14-Apr-2004, 07:52
Hello Nghi,

From my experience with the Shen Hao HZX 45-IIA, as a first (and only lens) for both landscape and architectural photography, I would get a new Fujinon 125 CM-W f5.6. Used versions of these lenses are difficult to find. The older Fujinon 125W is more common on the used market, but it has a slightly smaller image circle. Although it would be O.K. for landscape, it probably would not be as good for architecture. Check with Jim, at Midwest Photo Exchange (jim@mpex.com).

John D Gerndt
14-Apr-2004, 07:56
One other lens to consider for those who are just trying things out are the Symmar convertables. You get two focal lengths in one. Look for the dual f-stop ranges printed on the shutters and do have the speeds of the shutter checked out or you'll never know what your real exposures are.

I break photogrpahy into two types: indoor and outdoor. If indoor you'll need shorter length lenses. Outside calls for "normal" lenses, but really the choice depends more on how you see the world. That is up to you to determine. Don't worry too much about making the best first choice, best guess and go. Running with that feeling that leads to the guess is as good a guide as you will ever know.


Mike Lopez
14-Apr-2004, 08:18
I bought my Shen-Hao from Badger Graphics about a year ago. When I called, they happened to have a used Nikon 150mm W on consignment. I bought it, and I like it a lot. It's slightly wide for your basic exterior architecture, and I've used it in Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks, as well. Congratulations on your purchase.


P.S. Do you live near a camera store that rents equipment? If so, you might be able to try a few focal lengths before buying anything.

Brian Kennedy
14-Apr-2004, 08:22
I like the idea of a lens in the 120-180mm normal range as a starter lens. I think you'll find them easier to focus than a wide-angle, easier to see the effect of movements on the GG, not super expensive, and a good focal length for landscapes (if a bit long indoors).

Welcome to the club!

Bruce Watson
14-Apr-2004, 08:35
I did something similar. I jumped from 35mm to 4x5. I also thought that I should translate all my 35mm lenses to 4x5 and I'd be set. And... I was wrong.

I came to the conclusion that the reason for this is the difference between hand holding and using a tripod. When hand holding, you can look through the view finder and move side-to-side, back and forth, up and down for framing. Using a tripod, this is difficult to do. More importantly, it's an undesirable way to work.

Another factor is that I had learned the neccessity of "filling the frame" in 35mm and I persisted (still do when I'm not paying attention to it) doing this in the 4x5 world. With 15x the film area, this isn't a requirement anymore. Unless, of course, you are planning on making a lot of 4x5 foot prints or bigger ;-)

Here's what I would suggest. Plan on eventually owning lenses that give you a series of view angles that are useful to you. What I carry with me these days are lenses that give me close to 60, 45, and 30 degrees of view angle (what the film sees in horizontal). For me, these lenses are the 110mm Schneider Super Symmar XL, a 150mm Rodenstock Sironar-S, and a 240mm Fujinon-A. All outstandingly sharp, all with large image circles for lots of movements. Each of these gets about a third of my shooting time also.

The lens I would recommend you get to start with is the 150mm Sironar-S. It's a great general purpose lens, it's not very expensive (compartatively) and you can probably find some on the used market. You can learn with it, and get some great landscape pictures, and a bit of architecture if you can back off quite a ways (won't work well in a big city probably). If you feel you have to start with a wide angle, it's hard to beat the 110 SS-XL. It's got the image circle to give you the movements you need for a lot of architecture and it does great in a landscape setting with the right scenes. But it's expensive (USD 1200+), and seldom seen on the used market.

Once you have either of these lenses, you'll make them a permanent part of your kit (they are that good). And if you decide that LF isn't for you, both are highly sought on the used market - you'll get almost all your money back.

Frank Petronio
14-Apr-2004, 08:42
135mm or 150mm Rodenstock Sironar-N is a nice compact and slightly wide normal lens - hard to beat at $300 or so on eBay. I think it is the best lens to start with.

Nghi Hoang
14-Apr-2004, 08:51
Good morning,

This forum is incredible! Full of awesome people! Many thanks for all your inputs thus far.

Let me elaborate on a bit more on my subject matters. I plan to use the Shenhao for mainly landscape photography, both natural and urban. I live and attend school in San Francisco, a city that just screams "Photograph me!" There is a lot of architecture in this city that I want to photograph and my 35mm and MF equipment does not afford me all the controls that a view camera would. However, my main use of the camera will be for nature landscape photography, where I want to maximize detail and quality for the final output to go on a wall. The Shenhao appears to be perfect for what I want to do. It is not too heavy, compact, and has a lot of movements for a camera of its price range that I can afford being a student and all.

Michael mentioned most common focal lengths used in 35mm. I like the perspectives of the 24mm, 85mm, and 105mm. However, I use all focal lengths with my 35mm Nikon gear, ranging from 17mm to 300mm, to get the composition I like. For MF, I love the 65mm f/4 LA for my RZ67II for all sort of situations, but also like the 110mm and 180mm focal lengths for less extreme angle of view and tighter composition. I did analyze my focal length preference for 35mm and MF, but quickly realize that I don't have an overwhelming favorite focal length for either format. Knowing that it will be a few years before I can make another lens purchase, I want to make the right decision for the kind of photography I plan to do with a view camera. The other reason why I don't plan to purchase a second lens so soon is because I want to use one lens to learn and master my camera as well as LF photography. I want to go slow and deliberate, as this has become my style of photography in the last few years.

After reading some more posts in the forum, it seems that the wide angles make focusing harder and seeing the effects of movements more difficult. I considered the Nikon SW 90 f/8 as one of my choices initially, but that might be unwise.

Mike said that the 150mm is slightly wide for basic exterior architecture. Since 150mm is the normal focal length for LF, equivalent to 50mm in 35mm and 75mm for MF. The times when I used 35mm for architecture, I always find that 50mm is limited and usually go for the 24-35mm focal lengths. For MF, my 65mm f/4 LA rules in this arena. I don't see how 150mm in LF could be wide for architecture. I still have a lot to learn!

John mentioned the way I see the world. My eyes see the world as one huge panoramic photograph. However, I am not going to get a panoramic camera. I just don't want to and like LF better. :)

It seems the Fujinon 125mm CM-W f5.6 is favorited by a few and that pops out at me. Also the APO-Sironar-N 150mm/5.6. Oh man! I thought I was going insane trying to choose a camera. This is even harder.

Thank you to all of you for helping me with my decision making. I am glad I decide finally to join the LF club. I should have done this a long time ago.

I'm still interested in hearing more inputs.


David Vickery
14-Apr-2004, 09:04
I agree with others who are saying that you should start with a 150mm lens. It is as normal and right in the middle of the road as you can get with 4x5. It is the easiest lens for making the compromises that you have to make when you only have one lens(this is not a bad thing at all) and are wanting to photograph a variety of subjects. After you use it for a while and you are ready to make a second purchase, you will know exactly what you want.

Ralph Barker
14-Apr-2004, 09:29
Lots of good suggestions, but I'll add my experience to the pot for you, too.

Like many, I picked up a 90mm/f8 early in my 4x5 experience, intending to use it as my "wide" for landscape. For me, however, the f/8 was too dim, and I had trouble focusing because of that. If you lean toward Nikon lenses, the Nikon SW90/f4.5 would solve that problem. I bought a Schneider 90/5.6. But, these are relatively large, and often physically inconvenient. Plus, the larger aperture 90s are fairly expensive. For not too much more, you could get the 110mm/f5.6 Schneider Super Symmar XL, which is much more compact and is an amazing lens overall.

After getting the 110mm SSXL, my 90 sits in the safe most of the time. I'd say about 80% of what I do on 4x5, which is similar to your preferred subject matter, is done with either the 110mm SSXL or a 210mm Schneider APO Symmar. My 150mm gets almost no use at all.

What might help is to make yourself a framing aid (http://www.rbarkerphoto.com/misc/Photo-gear/FramingAid1-500.jpg) out of a scrap of matte board and a piece of nylon cord. Tie the knots sequentially at various focal lengths, measuring from the surface of the board. The one I've linked to has knots at 65mm, 90mm, 110mm, 150mm, 210mm, and 300mm. Hold the knot to your cheek, close the opposite eye, and what you see through the aperture cut in the board is what the film would see. Carry this around with you for a few days, framing make-believe shots, and you'll get a good idea of which focal lengths will be your favorites - your way of "seeing".

Armin Seeholzer
14-Apr-2004, 10:53

I would take of course not a 150mm it is just normal and even AA did not like it! I recommend a 90-135mm or at the long end a 210mm, but only you can decide! The 110 mm sounds to me a good compromise!

Good luck!

Nghi Hoang
14-Apr-2004, 12:39
Okie! The Rodenstock APO-Sironar-S 135mm/5.6 is by far the most attractive lens for me right now. It could be considered the wider end of the normal range or the more telephoto end of the wide angle range. I think I have read every beginner lens question on this forum and the ones over at photo.net. It is going to be a bit expensive for my budget, but hopefully I can find it used at Badger or eBay. If not, I will just eat ramen for a few months.

Gem Singer
14-Apr-2004, 14:13
Hello again Nghi,

The 135 APO Sironar-S is a fine lens for general photography with the 4X5 Shen Hao camera. When you stipulated an approximate $1000 budget limit, I thought the amount included the camera ($600). That only allowed $400-$500 for the lens.

Midwest has a new APO Sironar-S (approx $700). Badger does not have a used one. Call Jim (and only Jim), at Midwest (www.mpex.com). Also ask him about the newer Fuji 135 CM-W, or the older Fuji 135 W that he has in stock. They are fine lenses, at a lower price, and may fit your budget better. Thurs. is Jim's day off, so wait until Fri. or Sat. The call will be well worth your while.

Graeme Hird
14-Apr-2004, 17:44
Hi Nghi,

Many respondants have talked of ease of focusing as being really important. Well, yeah, it's kind of important, but if the resulting image is beautifully focused and still uninteresting, will you keep using the camera? Get the focal length which most suits your photographic style. To me, a 90mm lens in 5x4 has a similar feel to 24mm in 35mm format. Hire or borrow one for a few days.

Ralph's suggestion of a focusing frame is a brilliant one. Try it for a few days or weeks.

15-Apr-2004, 03:05
I second the use of a composition card, it really helps me a lot.

Stan. Laurenson-Batten
17-Apr-2004, 13:42
If I were starting out the 150mm would be my choice. Nikon large format lenses are up with the established leaders. The 150mm is the most used focal length for general photography. For the type of photography you are interested in a medium wide angle is very useful as a second choice, but bear in mind the any distortion will be accentuated with any wide angle lens, the wider the angle the more distortion. But of course you may want to distort! Congratulation on your choices.

Gregory Jones
24-Feb-2006, 07:51
Having recently made the jump to 4x5 from 35, I'll second Ralph's opinion on the 90/f8. It's a great lens, but quite dim and not particularly easy for this beginner to focus. I just picked up a tiny little repro-claron 305 and am amazed how much brighter the GG image is. I'm sure I'll get tons of use out of the 90 for architecture, but it hasn't turned out to me an optimal learning lens for me.

Ken Lee
24-Feb-2006, 14:47
"mostly landscape with occasional foray into architectural photography"

Everyone has their own concept of "landscape" and "architectural". To some, landscape implies sweeping vistas, while others think of mountain tops. Architectural: indoors ? outdoors ? The whole building, or just details ?

Consider the lens you'd use in the 35mm world, and multiply by around 3 to get the 4x5 equivalent.