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Thread: Brass Lens to cover Whole Plate

  1. #1

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    Brass Lens to cover Whole Plate

    Hello, I am fairly new to wet plate photography and large format in general. I really took an interest in it earlier this year and had Star Camera Company build me a whole plate Anthony bellows style camera.

    Not long after the camera came in my work got really busy so I never even got to use it. I have made a few plates on a Cambo 4x5 but I never got a lens that will look period and cover at least the whole plate size.

    I did buy a Petzval style brass lens with no markings and I put it on another camera but had to put the subject inches from the lens to even get an image on the ground glass. I could not get it to work for me so I'm looking for another.

    What should I be looking for in a lens for the whole plate camera?

    How do I determine what will work for this camera?

    Please forgive me for the novice questions. I want the next lens I buy to work.

  2. #2

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    Re: Brass Lens to cover Whole Plate

    The full plate camera was a perfect size for cabinet sized portraits in the 19th century. Lens makers were very backward in engraving the maximum format on lenses. At best, there was a number/letter identification, which could be translated into focal length and coverage in the maker's very brief catalogue. As Petzvals were designed for Portraits, the coverage given relates to portrait distance. Information is typically something like "head and shoulders at 18 feet".

    Full plate for wet plate requires a big and heavy lens. This partly due to the massive brass sleeve and front focussing system. It will be about 2.5kilo for an F3.2 lens, going down to 1.5 kilo for an F6.
    Anything with a "name" at this size is going to be expensive. The only bargains I have seen in the last five years have been lesser known makers, who were often just retail outlets for lenses made by "overseas" makers of repute.

    And, of course, there are the larger magic lantern Petzvals. But again, the fewer larger versions also command a high price.

  3. #3

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    Re: Brass Lens to cover Whole Plate

    Probably a dumb question, but are you sure your lens elements are in the correct order?

  4. #4

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    Re: Brass Lens to cover Whole Plate

    The primary variable is focal length. The diagonal for whole plate is about 10 inches so the standard lens is about 10 inches focal length. For portraits a lens having one and a half to two times the diagonal is sometimes preferred, this gives 15 inches and 20 inches, these are approximate values, some people prefer the perspective given by an even longer lens, say 24 or 30 inches. Now you need some bellows extension!

    The second variable is the aperture, the size of the hole. An f4 lens gives shorter exposure times than an f8 lens (four times shorter) but the f4 lens is much bigger and heavier and usually more expensive. An f4 lens is easier to focus because the image is brighter on the ground glass. The f4 lens has shallower depth of field (nose out of focus, eyes in focus) than the f8 lens.

    I would place brass finish secondary in importance to finding the appropriate focal length and aperture.

  5. #5

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    Re: Brass Lens to cover Whole Plate

    Quote Originally Posted by Rael View Post
    Probably a dumb question, but are you sure your lens elements are in the correct order?
    No question dumb in my opinion. I did think about this and took it apart and swapped them around but still could not get it to throw good image on the ground glass without being inches away.

  6. #6

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    Re: Brass Lens to cover Whole Plate

    Quote Originally Posted by Ted R View Post
    The primary variable is focal length. The diagonal for whole plate is about 10 inches so the standard lens is about 10 inches focal length. For portraits a lens having one and a half to two times the diagonal is sometimes preferred, this gives 15 inches and 20 inches, these are approximate values, some people prefer the perspective given by an even longer lens, say 24 or 30 inches. Now you need some bellows extension!

    The second variable is the aperture, the size of the hole. An f4 lens gives shorter exposure times than an f8 lens (four times shorter) but the f4 lens is much bigger and heavier and usually more expensive. An f4 lens is easier to focus because the image is brighter on the ground glass. The f4 lens has shallower depth of field (nose out of focus, eyes in focus) than the f8 lens.

    I would place brass finish secondary in importance to finding the appropriate focal length and aperture.
    Thanks. I do agree about the brass finish being secondary. It would be nice to kill two birds with one stone but its not a must.

  7. #7
    Tim Meisburger's Avatar
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    Re: Brass Lens to cover Whole Plate

    Dallmeyer 3b

  8. #8

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    Re: Brass Lens to cover Whole Plate

    I'm back inside my lens..... is there a diagram that shows the lens layout so I can confirm which way they go?

  9. #9

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    Re: Brass Lens to cover Whole Plate

    Quote Originally Posted by Wheeler331 View Post

    I did buy a Petzval style brass lens with no markings and I put it on another camera but had to put the subject inches from the lens to even get an image on the ground glass. I could not get it to work for me so I'm looking for another.

    What should I be looking for in a lens for the whole plate camera?

    How do I determine what will work for this camera?

    Please forgive me for the novice questions. I want the next lens I buy to work.
    Hi there,

    welcome to the whole plate format

    The fastest check test, if you have a range of brass lenses before you, is to hold the lens with the objective end facing a pin point light source about an arms reach away from a white flat sheet of paper, and draw the lens closer to the paper until the image of the pin point light source forms on the paper. Thus in a shop or flea market, you can estimate the approximate focal length.

    If you are finding a lens from the internet, you can reference search the pages here for many names of lens makers, which offer many standard lenses around the range of 10 3/4 inches - 12 inches, or more modern - 270mm - 300mm as a minimum for whole plate coverage. Historical references such as the lenses' appendices in Arthur Cox' Photographic Optics cover a number of specific manufacturer lenses. For unknown lenses, asking the seller to do the light point source test above may or may not offer answers.

    You are very fortunate with the whole plate camera; there are a substantially greater number of cheap and high quality lenses which form a sharp image circle for whole plate compared to the next usual format up. There are many late 19th shutterless century brass lenses which are appropriate for the long shutter durations required for your imaging style.

    Steven's suggestion for you to balance weight with the maximum aperture size is really important; some of the whole plate lenses are monstrous and unwieldy. I'm not a wet plate user yet, although I use dry plates and whole plate and personally love the Taylor Hobson Series III whole plate lens or on the opposite extreme, the Docter Apo-Germinar 300mm f4.5 lens (no dark cloth required to focus...!) . Even the Series III half-plate lens renders sharp coverage across the whole plate field. There are many triplet and anastigmat lenses abound for whole plate - enjoy discovering!

    Kind regards,
    RJ

  10. #10

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    Re: Brass Lens to cover Whole Plate

    If you are on a budget, and going to shoot your plates outdoors, you can get a 12" Tessar pretty cheaply, that at F4.5 will take very nice plates. Then, when you get the process down well, and know what you are wanting, you can get a Petzval. A 12" Tessar by Bausch and Lomb, Zeiss, or Wollensak will cost you about $100 in barrel. A 12" Petzval may cost you $800.



    These are usually black lacquered. If you want a brass lens on a budget, look for a Landscape brass lens of about 8 inches. Darlot, Dallmeyer, and the American companies made them, and they're often pretty cheap, because they're slow, around F11. Yet, for outdoor landscapes, they work fine and look "right" on an antique Star camera.



    Check in on the Collodion.com board too, for specific wetplate questions. Search it, lots of answers there.

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