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Thread: Some tests rank-ordering a variety of classic and modern LF lenses

  1. #1

    Some tests rank-ordering a variety of classic and modern LF lenses

    With some trepidation, given the flame-wars that seem to occur too often when discussing lenses and other photographic topics, I am posting the rank-ordered results of tests that I have made of the LF lenses that I've accumulated over the past 45 years. I am not slighting lenses not listed here - I just don't have those lenses available for a variety of reasons, such as unafforability ( Schneider XL, etc.).

    I wanted to provide such information as I could, in the hope that it might be useful to others but with the caveat that I am not a professional testing lab and that I recognize that some others on this forum have a great deal of knowledge. I'm sorry for this lengthy introduction, but I hope that doing so will reduce misunderstanding and consequent posts.

    Although I have numeric data for each lens, I instead rank-ordered these tested lenses because the final results on the 5x7 Delta 100 negative were often very closely bunched when made at my normal shooting aperture of f/22. Rank-ordering was used as well to avoid pixel-peeping arguments to the extent possible and in the recognition of potential sample variation.

    I did review every test, retested every suspect initial result, and then reviewed the rank-ordering three times before this OP to reduce inadvertent cognitive bias. Rank-ordering results were consistent from review to verification review, suggesting that they were stable results. When re-tests were made of a particular lens, I always used the best negative as that was more likely to reflect inherent optical quality rather than poor technique on my part.

    These tests and any re-testing for verification, were done over the past several months in a consistent manner biased toward end-use rather than pixel-peeping. I basically wanted to sort out and cherry-pick the best lenses for a variety of backpacking and studio 5x7 camera outfits, with a stray 4x5 or two thrown in.


    Equipment used: Toyo G 5x7 and Rittreck View 5x7, verified film holders, ISO 12233 target, Delta 100 film developed in XTOL 1:2 with intermittent agitation for best acutance. Each final test negative was reviewed on a light table on several times with a well-corrected Wista 10X loupe. Rank-ordering were made directly from the best negative, not from scanning or post-processing, to avoid false results. All camera movements centered.


    I'll likely not reply to argumentative posts nor feel the need to get the "last word" nor the need to feel superior. The best-performing lenses are listed on top. With exceptions as noted, these are all very usable on 5x7, although the image circle on some is rather tight, not allowing much movement even though manufacturer-rated for 5x7. 4x5 lenses like the Angulon were shot on 5x7 Delta 100 for consistency but only the central 4x5 section was evaluated for these lenses.)


    All of the lenses in the top two groups are very close to each other in resolution at working apertures, with only mild to moderate differences between those in each group. The top lenses in the second group are very nearly as good as the bottom lenses in the first group, but I thought that several groupings would be a bit clearer.

    Lenses in the third group are still usable but would not be my first or second choice. The top several lenses in the first group are discernibly sharper than the bottom lenses of the second group, but all of the lenses in groups one and two are entirely usable and differences would not be very noticeable, if at all, in normal use. Really, how many angels can dance on a pin-head? At f/22 on a 5x7 Delta 100 negative, virtually all of these lenses are more than good-enough and LF pixel-peeping seems rather beside the point of actually using them to make good images.


    A few observations: There are several instances where I had and tested two copies of the same lens model, including the Kodak 203/7.7, Fujinon 125/5.6, and Fujinon 150/5.6. In all three instances, performance was virtually identical with each copy, suggesting not a lot of manufacturing variation in more modern optics. Although the rank-ordering suggests variation, the performance of Group 1 lenses are in fact are all very close to each other at f/22. (Dagors were stopped down to f/28.)

    There was more variation between similar older lens designs, such as Protar VIIa, with some in the top ranking and some well below that.

    The outstanding ultra-wide-angle lens in this group was clearly the Nikkor 90mm/f8, which was the sharpest UWA lens tested and covers 236mm despite its f/8 aperture.

    Later Fujinon EBC Plasmat designs generally did quite well and were very consistently sharp and contrasty. Fujinon's manufacturing variation seems low, suggesting good quality control. There was not a great deal of difference between Fujinon's earliest 250/6.7 single-coated Plasmat and its last-generation cousin, the 250/6.3 CM-W EBC-multicoated Plasmat. Some of the 1950s era US-made lenses, such as the Goerz 7" Dagor and 14" Red Dot Artar, and the 203/7.7 Kodak Ektars lived up to their reputations and performed on par with later-model Fujinon W and Rodenstock Sironar-N Plasmats.

    Sorry for the length below but I could not set up columns for readability - extra spacing was the next best option.


    Group 1 - First-Choice: Best-performing lenses in descending rank-order, all very close in performance at f/22.


    210/5.6 Fujinon NWS (Plasmat style, EBC, markings around outside of barrel)

    250/6.3 Fujinon CM W (Plasmat style, EBC, markings around outside of barrel)

    150/5.6 Fujinon NWS (copy 1) (Plasmat style, EBC, markings around outside of barrel)

    150/5.6 Fujinon NWS (copy 2) Plasmat style, EBC, markings around outside of barrel)

    180/5.6 Sironar N (Plasmat style, EBC, markings around outside of barrel)

    90 /8 Nikkor SW (105 degree UWA coverage)

    125 /5.6 Fujinon NWS (Plasmat style, EBC, markings around outside of barrel)

    183 /6.8 Dagor (Goerz American Optical Co, coated, Ilex 3

    203 /7.7 Kodak Ektar (copy 1) (Copy 1 in Prontor, single-coated, European made?)

    250 /6.7 Fujinon W (Original Plasmat formula, single coated, marked on front retaining ring)

    360/9 Kern Apo (Dialyte Style process lens, remounted in Copal 3 by Grimes)

    90 /5.6 Fujinon SWD (Later model Fujinon 105 degree UWA lens, EBC, marked on outside of lens barrel)

    105/8 Fujinon NSWS (Later model Fujinon 100 degree UWA lens, EBC, marked on outside of lens barrel)

    125 /5.6 Fujinon NWS (copy 2) (Plasmat style, EBC, markings around outside of barrel)

    203 /7.7 Kodak Ektar (US-made Dialyte-style lens, Supermatic shutter, 1947, single-coated)

    305 /9 Schneider G-Claron (Plasmat-style process lens, factory mounted in shutter, single-coated)

    305/9 Schneider Repro-Claron, mounted in Compur #1 (Another sharp Dialyte-pattern lens also fits Copal 1)

    355/9 Goerz Red Dot Artar (US-made Dialyte-style lens, factory-mounted in Ilex shutter, single-coated)

    240 /9 Schneider G-Claron (Early Dagor-style process lens, later fitted into Copal shutter, single-coated)

    165/290/290 Zeiss Protar VIIa (Triple convertible lens, uncoated, pre-WWII Zeiss in small Compound shutter)



    Group 2 - Second-choice: Nearly as Good, ranked in descending rank-order, again very close in performance



    75 /8 Fujinon SW (4x5-only, early model Fujinon 100 degree UWA lens, single coated)

    210 /9 Schneider G-Claron (Plasmat-style process lens, factory mounted in shutter, single-coated)

    90 /8 WA Dagor (Rated for 4x5 but OK on 5x7 small apertures, Goerz Am., coated, Rapax shutter)

    115 /5.5 Voightlander Ultragon (1950s model, single-coated, Compur #2 shutter, nice 5x7 wide angle)

    120 /8 Fujinon SW (early model Fujinon 100 degree UWA lens, single coated)

    152 /6.8 Dagor (Goerz American Optical Company, single-coated, factory mounted in Rapax shutter)

    183 /350/290 B&L Protar VIIa (US-made triple convertible lens, uncoated, factory-mounted in Acme #3 shutter)



    Group 3 - Third-Choice: Decent and Usable, but discernibly not as good as above, again in descending rank-order


    90 /6.8 Schneider Angulon (Decent 4x5-only lens, but not as sharp as W.A. Dagor and Fujinon 75mm/f8 SW)

    146 /290/220 Zeiss Protar VIIa (Triple convertible lens, uncoated, pre-WWII Zeiss in small Compound shutter)

    300 /9 Nikkor Q (Tessar-style Nikkor, predecessor to 300M, single-coated in Copal 3)

    450/9 Nikkor Q (Tessar-style Nikkor, predecessor to 450M, single-coated in Copal 3)

    400/8 Fujinon T (classic telephoto design, covers 5x7 barely, yet better than I expected)

    305 /6.8 Dagor (German-made bulky early uncoated Dagor in large Acme shutter)
    Last edited by Joseph Kashi; 12-Dec-2019 at 22:30. Reason: Added newly acquired Repro-Claron after tests

  2. #2

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    Re: Some tests rank-ordering a variety of classic and modern LF lenses

    What was your DV or DVs?

  3. #3

    Re: Some tests rank-ordering a variety of classic and modern LF lenses

    Quote Originally Posted by BrianShaw View Post
    What was your DV or DVs?
    Not sure that I understand the abbreviation? Are you referring to variance?

  4. #4

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    Re: Some tests rank-ordering a variety of classic and modern LF lenses

    Quote Originally Posted by Joseph Kashi View Post
    Not sure that I understand the abbreviation? Are you referring to variance?
    Oh sorry... DV = Dependent Variable... that which was measured. What did you measure to establish this ranking? I’m not picking on your ranking... just interested in your method.

    Interestingly, I don’t think you included a single lens that I use.

  5. #5
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    Re: Some tests rank-ordering a variety of classic and modern LF lenses

    Interesting that all of your Tessars are in the bottom group, I would have expected modern coated Tessars to rank equally with coated Dagors, at f22-28.

  6. #6

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    Re: Some tests rank-ordering a variety of classic and modern LF lenses

    Quote Originally Posted by BrianShaw View Post
    Oh sorry... DV = Dependent Variable... that which was measured. What did you measure to establish this ranking? I’m not picking on your ranking... just interested in your method.

    Interestingly, I don’t think you included a single lens that I use.
    Well I wondered the same thing. You mentioned in passing Resolution, Sharpness and Contrast and rank them by Performance (and goodness); so I also wondered if and how you measured your grades of performance or if the ranking was descriptive in nature. I don't have any of these lenses either and so no opinion as to the ranking although as my interests are in portraiture I suspect I might rank them in reverse.

  7. #7

    Re: Some tests rank-ordering a variety of classic and modern LF lenses

    Quote Originally Posted by Jody_S View Post
    Interesting that all of your Tessars are in the bottom group, I would have expected modern coated Tessars to rank equally with coated Dagors, at f22-28.
    There were only two Tessar types, the Nikkor Qs, which are older single-coated pre-M variants in a factory Copal 3 mount. They are certainly usable optics but that lower ranking surprised me as well. However, the sample size is too low to draw any conclusions about Tessars generally. I surely would have liked a modern Nikkor M or a Commercial Ektar, but did not have any.

    There were enough Dialyte variants to form a broad, generally favorable conclusion about them in terms of consistently good sharpness in longer focal lengths. (Two 203/7.7 Ektars, a 14" Red Dot Artar, and a 360mm Kern Apo, with a 305mm Schneider Repro-Claron enroute.)

    One modern Dagor, the 7", was exceptionally good, near the top in fact, and one Dagor, the 6" was pretty good, but not quite as sharp as the 7". The third Goerz Dagor, an old German 12" in an Acme #4 shutter, would be good enough for 8x10 and 11x14, but both too bulky and too soft to be optimal on smaller formats. The 90mm Goerz American Wide Angle Dagor was better than expected but still not quite up to the more modern UWA Nikkor and Fujinon lenees. Of the two Dagor variants made by Schneider, the early 240mm G-Claron was very sharp. The 90mm Angulon performed as expected for a good copy, sharp enough for field work, but the newer wide-angle lenses were very noticeably better.

    The three tested G-Clarons (including the 240mm Dagor variant) and the three Protar VIIa lenses showed similar variation among focal lengths. Although this may simply be copy to copy variation or small sample size, there was more variation than shown by the more modern Fujinon W Plasmats. I also have a Protar VIIa 12"-19"-23" set in a CLA'd Volute and a Protar V that I have't tested yet because they are currently unmounted. These and the 12" Dagor are part of a currently unused 11x14 outfit. I will add the other Protars and the 305mm Repro-Claron when I have a chance to test them as well

  8. #8

    Re: Some tests rank-ordering a variety of classic and modern LF lenses

    Quote Originally Posted by BrianShaw View Post
    Oh sorry... DV = Dependent Variable... that which was measured. What did you measure to establish this ranking? I’m not picking on your ranking... just interested in your method.

    Interestingly, I don’t think you included a single lens that I use.
    I measured visually perceived acutance and resolution directly on Delta 100 5x7 negatives on a light table with a loupe. I used sufficient ISO 12233 targets (modified to include some additional continuous tone and other imagery), with the targets laid side to side to cover the horizontal field of view. Each negative was scored on an arbitrary numeric scale, compared with similarly scoring negatives, and then sorted in rank order.

    Although this sounds too subjective in some ways to be entirely satisfactory, you could think of it as consistent with expected real-world usage and as a crude sort of Bayesian approach. Mostly, I wanted to cherry pick the best lenses of the lot for a studio 5x7 kit and for light and medium weight 5x7 and 4x5 field kits. Putting these results out was very much an after-thought to the practical sorting out of lenses.

    Multiple negatives were made of nearly all lenses and the sharpest/highest acutance negative for each lens was selected for ranking to reduce the effect of any poor technique on my part.

    What most surprised me was that I re-evaluated these many final negatives three times over several weeks and the scoring and ranking were pretty consistent each time, which gave me a bit of confidence that this was not so subjective as to be useless.

  9. #9

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    Re: Some tests rank-ordering a variety of classic and modern LF lenses

    Quote Originally Posted by Joseph Kashi View Post
    I measured visually perceived acutance and resolution directly on Delta 100 5x7 negatives on a light table with a loupe. I used sufficient ISO 12233 targets (modified to include some additional continuous tone and other imagery), with the targets laid side to side to cover the horizontal field of view. Each negative was scored on an arbitrary numeric scale, compared with similarly scoring negatives, and then sorted in rank order.

    Although this sounds too subjective in some ways to be entirely satisfactory, you could think of it as consistent with expected real-world usage and as a crude sort of Bayesian approach. Mostly, I wanted to cherry pick the best lenses of the lot for a studio 5x7 kit and for light and medium weight 5x7 and 4x5 field kits. Putting these results out was very much an after-thought to the practical sorting out of lenses.

    Multiple negatives were made of nearly all lenses and the sharpest/highest acutance negative for each lens was selected for ranking to reduce the effect of any poor technique on my part.

    What most surprised me was that I re-evaluated these many final negatives three times over several weeks and the scoring and ranking were pretty consistent each time, which gave me a bit of confidence that this was not so subjective as to be useless.
    Tested within the optimization range of the lenses? Optimal magnification ratio? If not for copy work at different field curvatures?

  10. #10

    Re: Some tests rank-ordering a variety of classic and modern LF lenses

    Tested at 1:20, approximating my normal working distance and with flat field target perpendicular to lens axis. I was basically sorting out which lenses would work best for my own use and working style.

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