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Thread: Looking for Recommendations for Sets of Lenses

  1. #1

    Join Date
    Aug 2007
    Indianapolis, Ind.

    Looking for Recommendations for Sets of Lenses

    Hi All,

    I am an amateur photographer with a mathematical bent. I would like some help in developing a model for "optimal" spacings between lens focal lengths. I would like anyone inclined to help to post a recommendation for a set of 3 or 4 focal lengths for use by a photographer interested in landscape or architectural photography. Please make sure to include the format (or formats) you intend the set for. PM me if you prefer. I am not looking for sets for studio portraiture or table top photography here because I feel that other issues like studio size come into play and change the nature of the question.

    I am asking for sets limited to 4 or fewer lenses because I want to observe constraints of budget or kit weight and bulk that affect most photographers. However, if you feel that a larger set of focal lengths is necessary please feel free to provide it, especially if it includes particularly long or short lenses. For example a 4 lens kit for 4x5 is unlikely to include anything shorter than 65mm, 75mm or perhaps even 90mm, yet I am still interested in knowing what lens photographers feel is "right" if one needs to go shorter than those lengths.

    I am not interested knowing if you "have no use for" the 210mm length and much prefer a 240mm, but rather if you use a 210 or 240mm, what is the next length up (or down) you feel is sufficiently different, to be worth investing in, or carrying.

    Not to prejudice anyone, but I have long felt that having a uniform common ratio between focal lengths (90, 127, 180) was a good strategy. Lately, I have observed that shorter focal lengths may need to be closer together, and longer lengths can be spaced further than a common ratio provides. I am trying to see if the experience of working photographers supports this observation and if it can be modeled mathematically to any purpose.

    Yes, I know that most mentally healthy persons (for example, my wife) would advise me to "Step away from my spreadsheets, shut up and go make some photos - Please!" If you must say that, go ahead, but please consider lending your wisdom to my effort. If I can make heads or tails out of the data I get, I will impose on you all again and publish a summary here.

    Thank You - Alan Duncanson

  2. #2

    Join Date
    Sep 2003

    Re: Looking for Recommendations for Sets of Lenses

    Some [lots?] of this will depend on what and where you photograph.

    Here I keep wanting a long lens. Why? To get the towns across the valleys in the frame. But I also want fairly short lenses. Why? Roads are narrow and you can't back up without going into somebody's kitchen -)

  3. #3

    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Harbor City, California

    Re: Looking for Recommendations for Sets of Lenses

    Architecture is the real sticker. This is the most demanding field when it comes to availability of lens selection. Landscape is much easier in this respect and many would probably say that a three lens selection (and maybe some fearless cropping) is adequate. In architecture, a four lens selection may be considered inadequate for serious work.

    Regarding mathematics, I doubt its value in this area, bu then, I am totally incompetent mathematically.

  4. #4
    Wayne venchka's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2007

    Re: Looking for Recommendations for Sets of Lenses

    Shoot. Trying to quantify and pigeon hole and prioritize and budgetize such things takes all the fun out of it. Besides, it's a highly subjective and most nearly personal choice. I'm reminded of the late Jim Varney, "Analize, Comparasize. Gas. Electric. Electric. Gas."

    Case in point: My own personal accumulation of fixed focal length lenses:

    35mm cameras: 24mm, 28mm (2), 35mm (3), 50mm (5), 75mm, 85mm, 90mm and 135mm

    6x7 cameras: 45mm, 105mm and 150mm.

    4x5: 105mm, 127mm, 150mm (more or less, it's not marked) and 7 7/8".

    My personal common denominator: 105mm. Counting zoom lenses, I have 105mm covered on all 3 formats in my possesion.
    Deep in the darkest heart of the North Carolina rainforest.

    Wayne's Blog


  5. #5

    Join Date
    Dec 2001

    Re: Looking for Recommendations for Sets of Lenses

    Optimal? With respect to what?

    FWIW, in the '70s Nikon recommended 24, 50, 105, 200, ... Work out the rest for yourself.

  6. #6

    Re: Looking for Recommendations for Sets of Lenses

    Optimal could be what matches your vision of a scene, or what allows you to compose a scene and not be too close, nor too far away. It is tough to make assumptions, and I think you might find that when you start with one lens, then you can figure out what the next step might be for you.

    Just an example, I mostly use a 135mm on 4x5. I tried a 210mm for a bit, though decided it was not what I wanted to use. Since 150mm is too close to 135mm, I went with a 180mm. I have also borrowed/tried a 75mm and a 90mm. Don't forget that cropping is another option, because 4x5 gives you lots of room to edit that way. So with cropping in mind, I felt that a 75mm would meet my needs more than having both a 75mm and a 90mm. However, some of the nature of my work has changed, so I have not been in any rush to get a 75mm yet.

    I don't know if mathematically is the best way to figure this out. Just to complicate things a bit more, I sometimes use a 56mm by 72mm rollfilm back. With that rollfilm back on my 4x5, and that sort of crop, that leads to other steps in lens choices, because it is nearly like having another lens.


    Gordon Moat Photography

  7. #7

    Join Date
    Dec 2001

    Re: Looking for Recommendations for Sets of Lenses

    Um, Alan, I forgot to mention that I sort of followed Nikon's advice and don't feel particularly deprived. My current set of lenses for my Nikons is 24, 55, 105, 200, 400, 700. And I have one zoom, a 35-70, find 35 more useful than 70.

    On 2x3, though, I've run amok. My travel kit contains 38, 47, 65, 80, 100 (actually a couple of 4 inchers for different purposes), 127, 135 (these two are too close but the 135 is tiny), 150 (x2, both very small), 180, 210, 240, 10.16" (can't explain why), 300, 360, 420, and 480. On a long trip I'll use most of them. Stay-at-homes include 58, 95, 120, 130, 12", and more. May start using the 58 more after it comes back from being put in a friendlier shutter.

  8. #8

    Join Date
    Dec 1999

    Re: Looking for Recommendations for Sets of Lenses

    There are several articles in the Free Articles section of the View Camera web site that might be helpful

    here are my thoughts

    90, 120-125, 180, 240

    steve simmons

  9. #9
    Still Developing
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    Leeds, UK

    Re: Looking for Recommendations for Sets of Lenses

    [excerpt from my blog]

    The typical lens grouping for large format is 90, 150 210 with a possible 72 and 300 at either end depending on your preference. Being a stubborn, non-conformist fool, I decided I'd like to work out a completely different grouping for myself. I also wanted to work out my own equivalent focal lengths as the standard multiply by three or four figures seemed odd to me.

    So we'll start with an equivalent focal length for a sample 24mm lens (for 35mm film). In my mind, when I take a photograph on 35mm and then crop to 4x5 ratio, this gives me a foundation for my equivalence. So, with width of my 4x5 cropped 35mm film is 24mm (35mm being 24mmx36mm). The with of a large format film is 4 inches or 4x25.6mm which is 102.4mm. Now this gives me a ratio of 24 to 102.4 as my EFL multiplier which is 4.267 or 0.234 depending on which way you want to work.

    So lets look at a few 35mm lenses and see what equivalents we get:-

    14 = 60
    19 = 81
    24 = 102
    28 = 119
    35 = 149
    50 = 213
    85 = 363

    These seem like sensible equivalents to me. The next step is to work out what spacing of lens sizes I would like. Well I do like the 18-28 region and the standard spacing between 90-150-210 works out as about roughly 40% difference between steps.

    Having a look at the lenses available and which lenses have a great reputation, I quickly found that the Rodenstock 150mm Sironar S is universally acclaimed as a large format standard. If we work with this as a starting point and work 40% down, we get to 107mm. This corresponds with a very highly acclaimed Schneider lens, the 110XL Super Symmar. 40% down again and we get 78mm which corresponds with the matching Super Symmar XL of 80mm.

    Given these three lenses, I felt they gave a good, wide angle biased lens selection (Albeit at somewhat of a hefty price, at least for the Symmars). The 35mm equivalents for these focal lengths, 80-110-150 are 20mm, 27mm and 37mm which seem to give me a better landscape bias than 90-150-210 equivalents of 22mm, 37mm, 52mm. The bonus of the two Symmars is that they also share the same centre filter size.


    Hope you don't mind me posting a copy of something I've already written. Since I posted this I've bought a Nikkor 360/500 which fits really well.. So far I'm very happy with the range (although I'm having problems getting lenshood/filter holder to not vignette with the 80+centre filter.)


    p.s. the 40% differences predicts a 210mm and 300mm lens but I decided to go for a 240 and 360 as the 240A Fujinon and 360 T-ED Nikkor were attractive in performance and also in price when I bought them.

  10. #10

    Re: Looking for Recommendations for Sets of Lenses

    You have received excellent answers to your question so let me depart from it a bit. The particular lenses Tim has mentioned are extraordinary examples of the lens maker's art, unfortunately they can also be extraordinarily expensive. You mentioned you wanted to stick to a budget. There's an old axiom for the budget conscious: spend the most money on the lens you will use the most. I would work this problem out first then you can decide the focal lengths you'll need to complement that lens afterward.

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