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Thread: Teach me about Lens Design

  1. #1

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    Teach me about Lens Design

    Hi all --

    After having exclusively shot b&w film on 135 and 120 film since the 1980s, I recently got into LF photography and love it! Got me a nice Linhof Technika 4x5 and a couple of lenses. My frustration -- which is ironic! -- is that I find those more modern lenses way too sharp and clinical. What I am after is a more vintage look, moderately sharp in the middle, with a drop-off in image quality as you go further from the optical axis, a tiny DOF (being aware that focal length beats aperture), and use the movements of the camera to place the focal point where I want it. Sally Mann's images come to mind, even though I am aware that she uses collodion plates and ULF, a look that is hard to achieve with 4x5.

    In other words, I am looking for a lens that is far from perfect.

    Over the past weeks I have studied various lens design (e.g., Artar, Dagor, Plasmats, Petzval, Tessar ...) and did some search which images were taken with those lenses. Short of actually owning vintage lenses, I'm still not entire sure how these lenses actually perform. The closest I have gotten to the look I desire is by removing the rear group of two Dagor-design lenses that I have (two Schneider Symmars, one modern, one un-coated from the 60s, which I like best).

    What options do you think I should pursue? Get a vintage brass lens, mount a Packard Shutter behind it, use it wide open and use ND filters to regulate exposure? Maybe a triplet or an old Tessar?

  2. #2
    Big Negs Rock!
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    Re: Teach me about Lens Design

    I'd look into the Imagons. I have two of them, a 200mm & a 300mm. The amount of diffusion depends on the disk that is used. Love them!
    Mark Woods

    Large Format B&W
    Cinematography Mentor at the American Film Institute
    Past President of the Pasadena Society of Artists
    Director of Photography
    Pasadena, CA
    www.markwoods.com

  3. #3

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    Re: Teach me about Lens Design

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Woods View Post
    I'd look into the Imagons. I have two of them, a 200mm & a 300mm. The amount of diffusion depends on the disk that is used. Love them!
    +1. But the effect also depends on the type of lighting, a greater lighting ratio and practice.
    However, depth of field is greater with an Imagon then other lenses of the same focal length and aperture.

  4. #4

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    Re: Teach me about Lens Design

    Picking up a copy of Rudolf Kingslake's (1989) A History of the Photographic Lens would be worthwhile!

  5. #5

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    Re: Teach me about Lens Design

    Great suggestion!

  6. #6

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    Re: Teach me about Lens Design

    OP, what you're asking for is is exactly lens manufacturers have not tried to make. Your best bet in conventional (= not deliberately soft focus) lenses is an old relatively fast (f/4.5 or perhaps even f/3.5, certainly not f/6.3) Tessar type shot near wide open. Old means no later than the mid-1920s. Or a fast Heliar type, again shot wide open. And somewhat shorter than normal for 4x5. In other words, not a 150, probably not a 135. Think 120 - 130 mm.

  7. #7

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    Re: Teach me about Lens Design

    Camera is not relevant until your image goals and what lens and all related has been decided. Then the choice of camera is decide based on the lens's suitability to any camera choice.

    Back up more than a few steps, consider what your image goals are or what specific kind of print images would you like to produce?

    As exampled by Sally Mann, personalty I don't care for her images made using collodion plates and ULF and all that, the Sally Mann images that interest me were LF images of her kids growing up from decades ago. Know this is an opinion and not a lot more than an opinion.

    LF lenses are essentially divided into two basic groups, sharp or idealized optical performance and sort of focus or lenses specifically designed to have what are considered optical flaws specifically designed into the lens.

    As for sharp -vs- maybe less sharp, this could be a expression of contrast more than "sharpness" of any given lens as higher contrast can often deliver the illusion of sharpness. All of those "vintage" lenses mention "Artar, Dagor, Plasmats, Petzval, Tessar" can be plenty sharp in every way. The Symmar from the 1960's IS coated, single coated. If you're drawn to the image this lens produces, it is likely due to lower contrast not "sharpness".

    The other factor that is often not considered enough, lighting, composition, film processing then print making. It all functions as a print making system with the camera being relegated to being nothing more than a light tight box that is flexi in the middle.

    If you go into the direction of soft focus LF, know 4x5 is too small a film format. There are plenty that will completely disagree with my assertion of this. Fact is, soft focus lenses used on 8x10 film then contact printed with proper lighting of the subject to achieve an image in mind is special.. and not a print image that can be equaled by enlargement of a smaller film format.. been there, done this.

    For now, it might be best to spend plenty of time in museums, art exhibits, Foto galleries and such to take in as many images as possible to aid in figuring out what your print image goals are.. then it is time to consider and figure out how to achieve that. Once you're at a place where some of these print image goals are met, ponder how you can impose your own style and personality upon these print image goals.


    Bernice



    Quote Originally Posted by giganova View Post
    Hi all --

    After having exclusively shot b&w film on 135 and 120 film since the 1980s, I recently got into LF photography and love it! Got me a nice Linhof Technika 4x5 and a couple of lenses. My frustration -- which is ironic! -- is that I find those more modern lenses way too sharp and clinical. What I am after is a more vintage look, moderately sharp in the middle, with a drop-off in image quality as you go further from the optical axis, a tiny DOF (being aware that focal length beats aperture), and use the movements of the camera to place the focal point where I want it. Sally Mann's images come to mind, even though I am aware that she uses collodion plates and ULF, a look that is hard to achieve with 4x5.

    In other words, I am looking for a lens that is far from perfect.

    Over the past weeks I have studied various lens design (e.g., Artar, Dagor, Plasmats, Petzval, Tessar ...) and did some search which images were taken with those lenses. Short of actually owning vintage lenses, I'm still not entire sure how these lenses actually perform. The closest I have gotten to the look I desire is by removing the rear group of two Dagor-design lenses that I have (two Schneider Symmars, one modern, one un-coated from the 60s, which I like best).

    What options do you think I should pursue? Get a vintage brass lens, mount a Packard Shutter behind it, use it wide open and use ND filters to regulate exposure? Maybe a triplet or an old Tessar?

  8. #8

    Join Date
    Nov 2017
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    366

    Re: Teach me about Lens Design

    Alan Greene describes 2- lenses to make yourself in his book "primitive photography". They are based on old designs. Might be a starting point. They don't have a shutter, can't recall if they have apertures (probably waterhouse stops).
    Expert in non-working solutions.

  9. #9

    Re: Teach me about Lens Design

    Quote Originally Posted by Dan Fromm View Post
    OP, what you're asking for is is exactly lens manufacturers have not tried to make. Your best bet in conventional (= not deliberately soft focus) lenses is an old relatively fast (f/4.5 or perhaps even f/3.5, certainly not f/6.3) Tessar type shot near wide open. Old means no later than the mid-1920s. Or a fast Heliar type, again shot wide open. And somewhat shorter than normal for 4x5. In other words, not a 150, probably not a 135. Think 120 - 130 mm.
    I agree with most of this. And older lens made to be sharp, so not a soft focus lens. I would personally not use shorter focal lengths than meant for the format. Yes, that would introduce softer/blurrier corners, but since the focal length wouldn't match the format this effect would feel artificial. At least for me. I wouldn't exclude three element lenses, as they were made to be sharp at a lower price point. They will have less critical sharpness in the corners even when you stop down a bit for DOF. From the German manufacturers you have triplets like Radionar, Trinar, Trioplan, Corygon, Actinar, preferably in a Compur shutter. And there are of course American made triplets.

  10. #10

    Join Date
    Aug 2018
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    157

    Re: Teach me about Lens Design

    Go to Flickr.com and search for Calceman. I had his contact copies in hand, and seen the toned cyanotypes, wonderful!

    Sent fra min SM-G975F via Tapatalk

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