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Thread: Lenses for LF backpacking

  1. #1

    Lenses for LF backpacking

    Howdy Yall,

    I have scoured the archives, read Kerry Thalmann's future classics and lightweight lens articles at least a dozen times each, and read with great interest a whole slew of extemporaneous posts only peripherally related to lenses for backpacking.

    I'm shopping around lenses intended mainly for landscape photography and backpacking in remote areas for extended periods of time. Kerry T. recommends either a 3-lens set: 90/150/240 or a 4-lens set: 90/135/200/300. I'm wondering if anyone (besides QT Luong) carries their 110mm SS XL on backpacking trips. Kerry says it doesn't meet his lightweight criteria, but in another section of his article says he doesn't use his 90mm nearly as much these days. Do you suffer the extra 300g for the SS XL? And if you do, does that change the other lenses in your selection?

    Here's what I'm thinking (btw, I'll be using either an Ebony RW45 or SV45TI): a 110mm SS XL, a 150mm APO-Sironar-S, a 200mm Nikkor-M, a 240mm Fujinon-A, and a 300mm Nikkor-M. In this scenario, I could carry a 110/200/300 set or a 110/150/240/(w/ or w/out 300) set. For those of you who do backpacking trips, would either of these sets cover you?

    In addition to traditional landscapes, I enjoy closer-up abstractions of cool rock formations, interesting patterns in leaves, etc. that would require a lens that lends itself to such work (Fuji 240mm- I've done my homework).

    Am I on the right track here? If I bought three or four lenses, which should they be? I'm leaning towards the 110/150/240/300 set and adding the 200 would not be too difficult in the near-ish future.

    Would I be better off with the 90mm f/8 Nikkor SW than the 110mm SS XL? Is the hype over the SS XL worth the huge price tag?

    Also, how much could a person save by buying this stuff on the used market?

    Thanks for your help,
    Laura Lea

  2. #2

    Join Date
    Feb 2005

    Lenses for LF backpacking

    Hi Laura Lea,

    I carry the 110xl, a Rodenstock 180 5.6 and fuji 300 8.5. If you substitute a fuji A 180 f9 for the Rodenstock that would be a reasonably light set with good coverage and spacing.

  3. #3

    Join Date
    Mar 2002
    Knoxville, Tennessee

    Lenses for LF backpacking


    How much weight you can carry or justify while backpacking is a very subjective thing. If you're strong and in good shape, you can justify more weight than if you aren't. And 5 days of backpacking isn't always the same. Mileage and in what conditions you're backpacking has a large effect because of pack weight, terrain, and bulk of food, shelter, and clothing. Backpacking 5 days in winter in Alaska with large elevation gains would imply a heavier pack than backpacking 5 days in the Smokie's lowlands in mild weather on mostly jeep roads. You can make concessions on cameras and lenses, less for food, clothing, and shelter.

    I like the SS XL series very much. I find them extremely flare resistant even pointed into the sun, something I can't say for the Fujinon-As I sold because of flare (although I miss their lack of weight). I use the 110mm a lot for near-far sunset and sunrise shots on 4x5.

    The SS XLs also seem to have neutral bokeh if that's important to you. If you don't want to carry the 110mm, carry the 80mm SS XL and crop if you have to, and it will replace the 110mm or the 90mm focal lengths.

    I actually bought a regular 120mm f/5.6 Apo Symmar with the idea of it being a lightweight replacement for the 110mm on more difficult hikes, but find I just suck it up and carry the 110mm. The 120mm will be sold or traded soon.

    Now, is the 110mm worth carrying the weight? Yes, but I think it depends on how you "see" the world more than the mass of the lens. You've mentioned a couple of "sets" of focal lengths, but I'd give the following advice. First find out what focal lengths you're confortable with. I started out with the standard 150-210-300 and found that I was more of a "wide" person and sold most of them for a 135-180-240 set. This is personally more important to me than lens weight, although I admit I don't do extended backpacking. Secondly, your lens set for a given activity should depend on your subject matter and location. IMO, fixing your focal lengths before you know your location and potential subjects is not the best approach photographically speaking.

    In the normal lengths, I'd probably choose an Apo Sironar-N over the S because of weight and I've also found my 135mm Apo Sironar-S is prone to producing a bad iris ghost pointed into the light although its superlative in every other aspect. Another choice would be a 150mm f/9 process lens like the G-Claron or even better, the multicoated 150mm f/9 Germinar-W Kerry was (is?) selling.

    In the longer lengths, the Nikkor 200M and 300M are excellent choices.

    Hope this helps,


  4. #4

    Join Date
    Jun 2005

    Lenses for LF backpacking

    I would go 65 - 90 - 150 - 300 instead.

    I love the 65 mm ultra wideangle, the 90 mm is a good moderate wideangle,
    the 150 mm is good for general use and the 300 mm is long enough to make
    a differance (and light enough to be portable (300 mm Nikkor M).

  5. #5

    Join Date
    Oct 2000

    Lenses for LF backpacking

    Traveling light for me means, a 90mm f/6.8 Angulon, 135 Apo-Sironar N, and a Fuji 180 A series. Step up rings are used to bring them all to a common 52mm filter size and all will fold inside a Horseman FA. Don`t take anything you won`t use OFTEN. Sometimes, only the 90mm or 135mm will go with me.

  6. #6
    Moderator Ralph Barker's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 1998
    Rio Rancho, NM

    Lenses for LF backpacking

    I don't really "backpack" (hike for miles/days), so take my comments accordingly.

    Personally, I find the 110mm SS/XL ideal for hauling around, and it has virtually replaced the 90mm lens's use for me. From there, I jump to a 210mm for 4x5. I seldom feel a need for anything in the 300mm range with 4x5. I'll sometimes add a 65mm to the set.

    If I'm also shooting 8x10, I'll substitute a 240m G-Claron for the 210, and add a 150mm SS/XL and a 450mm Nikkor M. That setup gets rather heavy rather quickly, however. In this case, I usually leave the 4x5 field cam in the truck, and use a reducing back on the 8x10.

    It's all really a matter of personal preferences, though - along with one's personal tolerance for a heavy pack.

  7. #7

    Join Date
    Jun 2002

    Lenses for LF backpacking

    Like Ralph, I don't backpack but your selection sounds like a groaner. The Ebony is no light camera, so you could argue what the heck does weight matter? But everyone loves the 110XL and Fuji 240/9, so why not buy those two only and start simple? If you decide that you really need an intermediate or need to go longer or shorter, then you'll have the cash left to do so. But I suspect you could do 99% of your work with those two lens - I know I could. But you're also looking at $1200 for the XL and $600 for the 240 on eBay.

    For real lightweight, a late (7 million plus serial number) 90mm Linhof Angulon and a 210mm Rodenstock Geronar are hard to beat (about $600 for both on eBay).

    Personally, I'd get a cheap Tachihara or some other lightweight with the 90 and 210-240 combo if I wanted to seriously backpack. Do you really need the fancy movements of an Ebony in the field? I kind of doubt it.

  8. #8
    Resident Heretic Bruce Watson's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    USA, North Carolina

    Lenses for LF backpacking

    I've been down this same road myself. I too am backpacking my 5x4, and I went the light weight route where I could.

    The one exception I make against K. T.'s recommendation is that I do carry the 110mm SS-XL. It's just such a good lens, and it's one of my most used lenses.

    I generally carry a four lens set - 80mm SS-XL, 110mm SS-XL, 150mm Sironar-S, and 240mm Fujinon-A. If I'm in an area without the wide open landscape opportunities (that is, I'm not in a western national park) then the 80mm can stay home. On the east coast I normally carry just the 110, 150, 240 package you suggest. IOW, I think you are on the right track.

    I would leave off the 300/360mm lenses for now. Why? The 300 is too close to the 240 - you don't gain enough to justify it's weight in the pack. A 360 seems like an attractive idea (I bought one myself) but it turns out to be my most neglected lens - I've only used if three or four times in the last three years. Again, it's not worth it's weight in the pack.

    The joy of the 110, 150, 240 trio for me (besides the outstanding lens quality of all three) is the angle of view spacing - 60, 45, and 30 degrees (approx.) which I find very "user friendly." I like that consistent fifteen degree spacing.

    Anyway, at least one person out here in LF land has been doing exactly what you are thinking about for several years, and I'm telling you that it works beautifully for me.

    Bruce Watson

  9. #9

    Join Date
    Jun 2005

    Lenses for LF backpacking

    I think the best starting point is to convert your favourite/most used focal lenghts in 35mm or MF to 4x5".
    Don't buy 4 lenses right away, take it easy and buy two. Go out and shoot, and soon you'll see if you need other lenses and which focals.

    All this weight consciousness reminds me of my days as an amateur mountain bike racer. I had friends who would change all their steel bolts and nuts to titanium just to save 150g of their bike's weight.
    If you are very really weight conscious, you will save more weight by choosing a Toho or Gowland or Pocket Expedition Wisner instead of an Ebony and using quickloads than with the lenses. You can save even more weight with a CF tripod and in choosing a light backpack.

  10. #10

    Join Date
    Oct 2005

    Lenses for LF backpacking


    I've been hiking for near 40 years and doing photography longer than that.
    Today, at 59 years old weight is a major factor in keeping my joints in shape to be able to hike long into the future.

    I'm currently using the following:

    Gitzo 1227MKII carbon fiber tripod with Arca head and a RRS Pano Head on the Arca.
    This allows limited panaramics if I'm in the mood and is a fairly light configuration. It is adequately stable for my set up.

    Ebony 45SU - fairly light and has the asymmetric back

    Schneider 80XL; Rodenstock 135 and the Nikkor 210 lenses.

    I'm finding this to be an excellent assortment with minimum weight and space taken up. Only lens I plan to add in the future would possible be the Nikkor 360 convertable, and up to this point I've done fine without it.


    Once on film, I go digital and scan on my 8000 line drum scanner and find that I can crop to reflect what would be an in-between focal lenght from any of the above lenses and get very adequate resolution. Thus, I don't have to worry about the negative cropping issues that arise with a traditional enlarger; thus digital crop of high res file = fewer lenses. It works for me.

    I would suggest Jim Andreki at Midwest Photo as an excellent resource for camera and lenses - be cautious on buying any of the Schneider XL's used as they had quite a few quality control issues with the early iterations of the XL's. Thus, I bought all of my gear new with full USA warranties.


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