Large format lenses: specific longer lenses

Compiled by Q.-Tuan Luong for the Large Format Page

Overview and discussion of lenses in the 300-600 range

By John Sparks

One question you need to answer is how much bellows extension do you have? This makes a big difference on what lenses are options for you. The possible modern focal long lenses for 4x5 are 300mm, 360mm, 450-480mm, 600mm and with telephoto designs 500mm, 600mm, 720mm, 800mm and 1200mm. If you have the bellows for it, an non-telephoto design is smaller, lighter, cheaper and has more coverage than the telephoto equivalent.

There are basicly three types of lenses that can be used as long lenses on 4x5. There are the standard f/5.6 lenses in 300mm, 360mm and 480mm lengths. These are huge, expensive lenses with tons of coverage. They are really more useful with 8x10 cameras than 4x5's. I wouldn't want to carry one of these in the field or even us one on anything except the sturdiest camera. They are all in #3 shutters which are pretty big. The next choice is the slower normal lenses. Most are about f/9, the 300mm and one of the 450mm are in #1 shutters, are much lighter and more affordable. These are probably the best choice for 4x5 use assuming your bellows is long enough. The last group are telephoto designs. The require only about 2/3 the bellows extention at infinity of the normal lens designs. They are pretty large lenses, pretty expensive for good ones and are a little awkward to use since front movements don't center on the front standard, but at some point in front. They may be your only choice however.

The standard rule-of-thumb is that you need about 1.2 times the bellows extention of your longest lens for normal subjects and 2 times for closeups. With a telephoto, you need about 0.9 times the focal length for normal subjects or 1.7 times for closeups. With wooden field cameras, you can get up to about 2" more extension by tilting forward as much as possible with the front base tilt and using the front axis tilt to return the lens standard to vertical. You can also probably fabricate a lens board that extends the lens forward from the lens standard by a few inches and a few companies make recessed lens boards that can be reversed for some extra extension (I've heard of people using a 300mm lens on a Toyo metal field camera this way).

I find the 300mm is a really good focal length on 4x5 and is significantly longer than 210mm. Since 300mm is generally the longest available in a #1 shutter it makes a really nice choice for a field camera. I have a 300mm Nikkor-M and think it is about the best choice for that focal length on 4x5. It's an f/9 lens and fits a number 1 shutter and is actually a good bit smaller than my 210mm. It's also available as a 450mm in a #3 shutter. I haven't noticed a problem focusing with the smaller aperature. It's definately easier to focus in low light than my f/8 120mm (the light falloff with the wide-angle is the problem rather than the aperature and the more limited depth-of-field with the longer lens helps too). The price is pretty good too, at the time I got mine it was the least expensive 300mm lens available new, I think that is still true even with Nikkor's latest price increases.

I have the 300 Nikkor and use it on 8x10. It has quite a bit more coverage than the Nikkor specs would have you believe. I have used it at f/45 with about 1 1/2" of front rise with no loss of coverage that I could detect (and I enlarge my 8x10 negatives so this isn't just for contact prints). In a recent newsletter from Howard Bond, he found that the 300M at small stops will cover 11x14 and actually has more coverage than his 300 Fuji W (which has more coverage than the 300C Fuji). For 4x5, either the Fuji or Nikkor are good lenses, but I'd choose the Nikkor if you ever expect to use 8x10.

Some other similar lenses from other manufactures are Schneider G-Claron (305mm and 355mm) and APO-Artar (300mm, 480mm and maybe 360mm I can't remember), Rodenstock APO-Ronar (300mm and 480mm I think) and Fuji CS-APO (300mm, 450mm and 600mm). The Nikkors and I think Fuji's are optimized for infinity while the others are best at 1:1. The APO-Ronar and APO-Artars are basicly the same formula (the Rodenstocks are also easier to find and less expensive). The Nikkors cover more than either of these (the Nikkor 300mm is usable on 8x10 though it probably isn't the best choice, the 450mm Nikkor makes a great 8x10 lens), but any of these have plenty of coverage for almost any use on 4x5. The Fuji's are harder to find than the others as they have no U.S. distributor, but can be ordered from a few places like "the F-Stops here" in Santa Barbara (see their ad in Shutterbug). They are only really interesting in the 450mm and 600mm lengths. The 450mm is an f/12.5 lens in a #1 shutter. It's the only 450mm lens in a #1 shutter and is really tiny for it's focal length. John Sexton uses one and recommends it over the much larger 450mm Nikkor for 4x5 use. The 600mm is the only current 600mm non-telephoto lens available, but since it needs 28" or so of extension isn't usable on many 4x5 cameras. I can't remember, but it may also be in a #1 shutter.

Although Nikon doesn't call the Nikkor M an Apo lens, I think it's pretty close. Anyway, the G-Claron and Apo-Ronars are both optimized for 1:1 and are only Apo at magnification. For typical landscape applications, the Nikkor is probably sharper. The Nikkors are also smaller than the G-Clarons and have more coverage than the Apo-Ronars (I think the 300mm Apo-Ronar would be rather tight on 5x7).

The G-Claron actually covers more than the Nikkor. I bought my Nikkor for use on 4x5, but sometimes I wish I had gotten the G-Claron instead since I now sometimes use it on 8x10 (the coverage is pretty tight on 8x10 but more than the 325mm that Nikon specs it at, on 5x7 it should be plenty however). One possible reason for the lower price on the Nikkor (besides a general lower cost of Nikkors vs similar German lenses) is that the Nikkor has a bit simpler construction. The G-Claron has 6 elements and the Apo-Ronar has 4 air spaced elements compared to the 2 cemented and 2 air spaced elements of the Nikkor. I don't think this matters very much.

I've never used either of the Fuji 300 CS f/8.5 or Fuji 300 AS f/9, but I have heard from several sources that the Nikkor is sharper and has more coverage than the Fuji CS (even though the Fuji specs show more coverage). The Fuji AS is optimized for 1:1 and the others are likely better for distant subjects. The AS does have more coverage and might be a better choice for 8x10 (I've only run out of coverage once with the Nikkor on 4x5 and have used it with moderate movements on 8x10 with good results). I do have a Fuji 210mm W and the Nikkor is slightly sharper though Barry Sherman has the same two lenses and found the Fuji slight sharper.

The 355mm G-Claron is in a #3 shutter which makes it much, much bigger than the 300mm lenses. I don't know about the Apo-Ronar though I would guess it's in a #3 shutter as well unless it's slower than f/9 (the opening in the #1 shutter isn't big enough for larger aperatures). For the size difference of the shutter alone, I'd pick a 300mm over a 360mm for field use. My 450mm Nikkor is in a #3 shutter and it really makes the lens larger and heavier although the glass itself isn't that much different. The G-claron is supposedly optimized for close distances and flat field work. I've read reports that it works fine at infinity. The Nikkor is probably better because it's optimized for that but there is probably not that much difference.

Wisner has just introduced some convertable lenses that are supposed to be available as single focal lengths from 300mm to 600mm that might be good choices for 4x5 (well I guess the Fuji isn't the only 600mm, but was until very recently).

The Nikkor telephotos have better reputations than the other telephotos. They also allow interchanging rear elements giving 3 different focal length for less money and weight than three complete lenses.

Overview of lenses in the 400-600 range

By Donald Nelson

As I see it you have two choices - a regular lens or a telephoto.

I only cover those lenses which I have actually used. If your favorite
lens isn't mentioned, it means ONLY that I have not personally used

Regular lens implies you have enough bellows to focus. I will assume that
you are NOT using a short bellows field camera. So you've purchased an
extended bellows for your camera (or maybe it came with one that is long

	So your choices are Nikor 450, Rodenstock 480, Fuji 450 or 600,
	Melles Girot (de Golden Busch) 620mm
	and someone else will have to fill in the blank for Schneider___
	and any other lenses (what about older lenses, especially Protars,
	etc. What about that new line of convertable lenses that Wisner
	is offering?)

	Nikor 450 - greatperforming les, but not so good on weight.
	Rodenstock 480 - HEAVY. BIG FILTERS. Maybe a great studio lens
		but not for me.
	Fuji 450 - lighter than Nikor 450. Small size, great coverage.
		Recommended if you can find a source.
	Fuji 600 - heavier than 450. Excellent coverage for 11x14
	Melles Girot (de Golden Busch) 620mm - HUGE lense, Huge coverage.
		Not something you'd want to lug for 4x5. Works great on
		12x20 and 20x24.


Great because they use shorter bellows. Weigh more than comparable lens
of similar focal length. Generally cost more. 

	Your choices are Nikor T- (360), 500, 720 (interchangeable
		rear lens elements)
	Nikor T- 600
	Fuji 400 or 600
	Osaka has some I am not familar with, as does Schneider.
	Rodenstock currently makes NO telephoto design lenses.

	The T360-500-720 combination is the most manageable for weight
		and interchangeable rear elements. Costs a lot.
	T600-800(-1200) is HUGE and weighs a ton. Don't use this unless
		you dream about 8x10 (just barely covers at infinity).
	Fuji 400 - nice lens. Availability limited but try Dels. I prefer
		the Nikor T360 over this (also T360 can be changed to
		500 or 720, the Fuji 400 is nonconvertible)
	Fuji 600 - nice lens also. Better in weight than T600 Nikor.

Discussions on some lenses

I have an older, probably early 1930's, Apo-Artar in a shutter. It is an astonishingly sharp lens even at infinity. The old ones are un- coated and have some flare compared to the later Red Dot series which are single coated. A 12" Artar will just barely cover an 8x10 film at infinity and should be stopped down to about f/16 to f/22 to get the corners sharp. Its the right FL for 4x5 head shots but you might want a less sharp lens. Dagors, especially older ones,used at large stops have enough uncorrected spherical aberration to give a nice "glow" around highlights and still give an overall impression of sharpness. Artars seem to be going for good prices lately, barrel mounts particularly. These are easily put into service with a "Packard" shutter, which are still made and lots cheaper than having an old lens remounted in a modern shutter. Richard Knoppow

I like Dagors, Protars of all types, and any convertible lens. A modern option is definetely the G-Claron. At f:9 and for the price, this is a very desirable lens. It is the modern equivalent of a dagor, but with an added airspace, and it covers 80 degrees at f:45. Never mind what published data says about it. I know, for instance that the official Schneider specs say 64 degrees at f:22. This is an an unnecessarily conservative representation of the lens, and typical of german engineers. Being symmetrical like its Dagor type forebears, is good for virtually everything from landscape to 1:1. I highly recommend it, and it is small. Ron Wisner

I have a 300 Nikon M and also a 450 Nikon M. I use them on 4 x 5 and on 8 x 10. For me the attractiveness is two-fold: price (moderate for Nikon, due to being f9) and size---I backpack, and these are small and thin. I have the impression that their formula is excellent both for infinity and for macro-distance work, but can't remember where I got that or how to document it. I greatly prefer the 300 Ninon M to my very big and heavy Symmar-S, which has only one advantage: a brighter image on the ground glass. (Yes, I know the Symmar-S will "cover" more). With the f9s you just have to be sure to have a good piece of black cloth and some clothes pins or velcro! I once several years ago "sort of" tested the covering angle of it vs. the Symmar-S, stopping down to 32 or 45 maybe, and although I don't remember saving the results I do remember finding that as a practical matter neither the gradual fall-off or the actual cutoff of the image (when, for example, I racked up the front rise on my 8 x 10 Deardorf all the way) was actually nearly as much in favor of the Symmar as the "spec sheets" would have you believe. I just about don't take that big Symmar with me anymore, even when bulk and weight aren't a problem. I haven't tried any of the "Super" Symmars because of both size and price. Alan Heldman

I have the 300mm f/9.0 Nikkor-M. I shoot 4x5, so coverage wasn't a concern for me, but of course sharpness is. I know several people who own and use the 300mm f/9 Nikkor, and all of them are very pleased with the sharpness and contrast, as I am. In addition, I think that you might want to consider size and weight; the Nikkor is both small and light, a real bonus when you're slogging to the car at the end of the day. Perhaps 40 percent of the images I make are shot with lens; I've been very pleased with it. I know of at least two other people who own one and feel that it's the sharpest glass they own. Paul Butzi

the Nikkor T360 f/8 is a convertible, also uses the T500 f/11 and T720 f/16 rear elements. Weights with shutter and front element are: 360=28.2oz, 500=26.8oz, 720=27.5oz. I don't have stats but rear element alone is fairly light and small. Flange focal distance for the T360 is 261mm, for the T500 it's 349.9mm, and for the T720 it's 469.2mm. For comparison the Nikkor M300 f/9 weighs 10.2oz, M450 f/9 weighs 22.6oz. I use the T360/500. It's a good lens, very convenient, very sharp but a bit low contrast. To compensate, I usually underexpose about 1/2 to 1 stop and overdevelop about +1/2. Also be aware that with a tele design the rear nodal point is displaced, so although tilts and swings are usable it takes some getting used to as the image flies around. Lou Kipnis

Fuji 450 mm f12.5 lens: The filter size is 52mm, the construction is 4 lenses in 4 groups, but not symmetrical as in the Apo-Artar type constructions.It resembles a Tessar with the cemented element split up (that could be regarded as the Unar, the Tessars predecessor at Zeiss) and then turned around. I had the chance to compare it with the Nikkor-M 9/450 (which is much larger, in the No. 3 shutter, and of the Tessar type) and for me both looked (subjectively) the same in contrast and sharpness, at least within the range useful for 4x5. The image circle diameter is 486mm (at f22, I assume) according to my Fuji brochure, and the angle 57 degrees. Front diameter is 54mm, filter size IS 52mm. Back diameter 48mm, overall length 53.3mm, weight 270g. Flange focal distance (that is, measured from the back side of the shutter) is 425.3mm. Largest aperture is 12.5, the smallest official (read: engraved on the f-stop scale) aperture is 64, but in reality one can stop down to 128. Arne Croell

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