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Thread: 203mm Ektar f7.7 vs modern APO Plasmats for color

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  1. #1

    Join Date
    Sep 2008
    Carmel Valley, CA

    Question 203mm Ektar f7.7 vs modern APO Plasmats for color

    First of all I work exclusively in color, sell wildlife/wilderness prints in galleries, and my primary reason for even getting into LF is bigger prints than I can muster from my MF gear (scanning and digitally printing, I'm thinking 24x30" on up). Hiking long distances in the wilderness, the prospect of my Meridian 45B as a folder not only greatly speeds up set up but simplifies dust control. Current thinking is that I can live with focusing challenges more than IQ issues. Few slow compact lenses are available nowadays, so I'm searching for the best image quality in small compact lenses, whatever the era or shutter issues.

    Yesterday, I was ready to pull the trigger on a pristine coated late-version Ektar 203mm f/7.7 in a Compur, until I allowed myself to be disabused of the notion by Leica/Linhoff/Schneider dealer who emphatically stated that images taken with such an older design would be obviously inferior to just about ANY modern MC lens (incl a 150mm Caltar-E-- though I seriously doubted this assertion), and that the lowered contrast and lack of color correction of the Ektar would be immediately apparent in a side by side comparison of prints. That I might get away with using the Ektar, but only in B&W.

    At apertures of f/11-22, test charts would seem to recommend this lens as being wicked sharp across the board, equaling or exceeding almost anything more modern.

    Is this really so, or was the dealer blowing smoke? Anybody using an Ektar 203 with Velvia/Provia/Astia F who can shed some light?

    Now, I'll concede the subtleties of color balance and contrast might be arguably improved by better multi-coatings with more air/glass surfaces in certain flare-prone situations, but doesn't the necessity of APO glass have more to do with correcting 3-color chromatic abberations introduced by extreme lens design than anything else? (Don't get me wrong, I've got a bunch of ED glass in wilder Nikkor zoom lenses for 35mm, and am a true believer in that milieu, but I just don't get it that there's any discernible improvement in modest lens designs of fewer elements that are proven stellar performers without it.). What's so extreme about a lens with a moderate image circle at this focal length? Does it not take sharp focus in all three colors to get sharp B&W test result, too, or am I mistaken about this? And, at the requisite f/16 or smaller taking apertures used in field photography for adequate DOF, isn't diffusion pretty much the great equalizer, anyway?

  2. #2

    Re: 203mm Ektar f7.7 vs modern APO Plasmats for color

    Hi Ivan,
    Also consider the Nikkor 200 M--excellent modern and multicoated. Very light
    and compact. One of my most used field lenses.

    Good shooting,

    Warren Clark

  3. #3

    Join Date
    Dec 2001

    Re: 203mm Ektar f7.7 vs modern APO Plasmats for color

    FWIW, EKCo sold the 203/7.7 Kodak Anastigmat (that's the pre-Ektar era uncoated version of the lens you're looking at) as a process lens as well as a taking lens. I have one such, the front of its barrel is threaded externally to attach to a prism. Point is, color correction is not an issue with this lens, anymore than with the very similar Apo Artars and Apo Ronars.

    Mine is sharp enough centrally, based on test shots taken with a Nikon. But I don't use it because I can't detach it from the board it is mounted on and because I have other 210s that are no worse.

    Leica dealers sell smoke and mirrors. Y'r Leica/Linhof/Schneider dealer wanted to sell you something he'd make more money on. Not that there's anything wrong at all with modern Schneider lenses.

  4. #4

    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    Windsor, UK

    Re: 203mm Ektar f7.7 vs modern APO Plasmats for color

    These coated Ektar are all post-war, and there are a gazillion wartime 4x5 Ektachrome still in existence today (many have been added to Flikr the last few months) And "color correction" have been known since Newton times; you can't make a sharp lens that would not be color corrected, even for B&W. And imagining a coated lens that would not be "corrected" is like imagining car with ABS and no brakes..

    So he is just trying to sell you his margin in modern, expensive lens. The Ektar 203mm is universally known to be excellent. Including on modern E6 film.

    Chamonix 45-N1, Ektar 203mm, Velvia 100

  5. #5
    Drew Saunders drew.saunders's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Palo Alto, CA

    Re: 203mm Ektar f7.7 vs modern APO Plasmats for color

    Your biggest concern with this lens and slide films will be with the shutter. It's likely that many of the speeds are off, so you'll want to have it tested, and possibly adjusted, or bring along a cheat sheet with the corrections. I print my corrections for each lens and tape it to the lens board. It'll be a fine lens for what you want to do.

  6. #6

    Re: 203mm Ektar f7.7 vs modern APO Plasmats for color

    You seem to understand the subject pretty well, including the way the dealer thinks. The figures on e.g. Chris Perez's lens tests shows that the Ektar is a very good performer. And as buze says, a good 'n sharp b/w lens is also a good color lens.
    The only real difference is really with the shutter, which is of importance if you shoot slide film. You will get a good modern shutter (Copal or possibly Prontor) which is fairly reliable and consistent if you buy a new/newish/less than say 10 year old lens. The Compur shutter is liable to be more unconsistent. I.e. you have to run some tests and get to know the Compur. (It is common practice with older shutters to give them 4-5 trial exposures on the time choosen to "stabilize" the shutter before drawing the dark slide and making the acutal exposure.)
    What is nice about the Compur is the shape of the aperture. More or less perfectly round at all openings. This will give you nicer out-of-focus renditions (bokeh) if you should go for that kind of shots. And don't forget the sound of the Compur, which is a pure and almost silent delight compared to the "modern" shutters which buzzes through the longer times.


  7. #7

    Join Date
    Sep 2008
    Carmel Valley, CA

    Re: 203mm Ektar f7.7 vs modern APO Plasmats for color

    So I'm not just waxing nostalgic to think that dispersion is dispersion and sharp is sharp (at least, not on panchromatic B&W film)? It's easier to see the rationale of APO glass in newer computer designs where it comes to wide and super wide-angles (and all that extreme ray-bending)-- they almost always test better in the corners.

    Particularly interesting to hear the 203mm Anastigmat was also used as a process lens.

    As for color, nothing much obviously wrong with the likes of the 40's era 4x5 Kodachromes from, that's for sure. Figuring many if not most of these would have been made with Ektars. Find that even the coated 135mm Wooly Raptar that came with my Meridian isn't too shabby, looks about as sharp on low contrast scenes on Provia as a decent 135mm for 135mm lens would. (I was further delighted to finally get the 60-year old Rapax shutter escapement to within 1/6 of a stop, consistently, on the slow speeds with a simple naptha bath and lube, no-disassembly CLA, confirmed with my >$20 sound card tester and Audacity).

    I was also thinking similar things about the better built and many-bladed Compur, that it'd be better for portraiture wide open, better bokeh than a modern #0 Copal with a skimpy pentagonal opening (and what about a Prontor from a Euro version of this 203 Ektar built in a modern thread? Any good?)

  8. #8
    Robert A. Zeichner's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 1999
    Southfield, Michigan

    Re: 203mm Ektar f7.7 vs modern APO Plasmats for color

    The 203 Ektar approaches near apochromatic performance. Most of what we know about lens design is ancient history so I wouldn't write them off because of age. I own several of these in both Supermatic and Compur shutters and use them all the time for B&W and color and they are sharp performers with no visible gremlins (to my eyes, anyway).

  9. #9

    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Van Buren, Arkansas

    Re: 203mm Ektar f7.7 vs modern APO Plasmats for color

    The post-war Kodak EKTAR lens line was designed to be the best. I still use Ektar lenses for my studio product photography. They are fantastic. While computer-aided optical design has now made it "easier" to design lenses, the older pre-computer designed lenses are still fantastic, if "top-of-the-line" like the Ektars were.

  10. #10

    Join Date
    Sep 1998
    Buford, GA

    Re: 203mm Ektar f7.7 vs modern APO Plasmats for color

    1: It is impossible to buy a lens in a "newer" Compur shutter less then 10 years old as Compur and Prontor shutters have been in out of production for longer then that.

    2: No one here can answer your question. Only you can.

    Rent the lenses and see for yourself which is the best performer for your needs; a very high performer like the Apo Sironar S, a typical lens like the A (that is what the Caltar is) or an old lens like the Ektar.

    Make sure to shoot the same scene under the same lighting with the same emulsion and processing and with meaningful detail in the center and the corners.

    Stores like Fotocare Ltd rent lenses.

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