More Thoughts on Selecting a Long Lens for 4x5 Cameras

By Bruce M. Herman for the Large Format Page

I began working with my 4x5 camera about four years ago. I started with a 90 mm lens, and purchased a 210 mm lens shortly afterward. I next purchased a Nikon 360 mm telephoto lens. My original choice was based on two factors: several other professionals using 4x5 cameras employed the Nikon telephoto, and it was possible to interchange the read element and thereby convert the lens into 500 mm or even 720 mm lens. I was reasonably happy with the lens for most compositions. It was sharp, and I liked both the contrast and color that I obtained with it. It was no more susceptible to flare than my other two lenses, which were both made by Fuji.

I did have two problems with the lens. The first problem that I encountered was when I used tilt to establish a horizontal plane of focus. If the tilt was more than 5 , I had to open the lens about = stop. Unfortunately, an angle of roughly 10 is required when the camera is 5 feet above the ground. Keeping track of and making correcting exposure for tilt may not be burdensome for some folks, but I tend to be working very quickly as light changes in the morning and evening. I prefer to minimize the number of factors for which I must account.

The second problem was significant deterioration of the image quality when the subject size to image size ratio was less than about 10. In the end, I stopped using the lens for close subjects, and would change the composition so that I could use my 210 mm lens. This wasn't always satisfactory because there were times when the wider angle brought in background that I did not want.

After two years of using the Nikon, I began to search for an alternative lens. I wanted a lens that was as sharp as the Nikon at traditional landscape distances and also when the subject was closer. The lens had to work with tilts of 10 -15 . Based on everything that I had read and heard, I concluded that a simple 360 mm lens designed for an 8x10 or larger camera would satisfy my needs. I have a Linhof Technikardan, which is capable of 500 mm of extension, and so was not limited to telephoto lenses in this focal length. However, I couldn't purchase a normal f5.6 360 mm lens because it would be both too large and too heavy for my camera. That meant that I had to look for a specialty lens, such as a copy lens. Such lenses are commonly used for landscape work.

I ordered a number of lenses, one at a time. I made several images in the field with each lens and also with my Nikon 360 and then compared them using 8x and 20x loupes. Here are the results of my tests. Keep in mind that I only tested one lens of a given model, and that I did not do true resolution and contrast tests.

I first tried a Fuji 360 f10 A lens. I had heard many positive comments about this lens, and was surprised to find that the one I had was not quite as sharp as my Nikon. In addition, the Fuji 360 f10 A was only single coated. I was worried that a single coated lens would be more susceptible to flare. This is an issue for me because I do a lot of compositions with the sun near or within the field of view. As it turns out, this type of lens is generally only single coated. The Rodenstock Apo-Ronar 360 f9 that I tested next was about as sharp as the Nikon. It was with this lens that I discovered a drawback that most lenses for larger cameras have - they use #3 shutters. They are big shutters! I didn't purchase this lens because I was still intent on finding something with multiple coating. I next tested a Schneider 360 f9 Apo-Artar. This lens was noticeably sharper than the Nikon, but unfortunately was single coated, too. I have to admit that I have often wondered if I was wise to give up this lens, because I never had the opportunity to test it for flare. It may be that any lens with a single coating would perform reasonably well with sun in the composition.

The last lens that I tested was a Schneider 355 f8 Goerz Gold Dot Daggor (MC). Unlike the other lenses, this one is multi-coated. It's about as sharp as the Nikon, but not as contrasty. I purchased this one for about $1400 as a used lens. I believe that these lenses were last manufactured in the 1970's. They seem to be rare, because I've seen only a few for sale. But then, used Schneider Apo-Artars are also rarely available for sale, but may actually be commonly owned.

I'm quite happy with this lens, and have used tilts well beyond 10 simultaneously with rise and have never had to correct my exposure. Images photographed with nearby subjects are somewhat sharper than those made with the Nikon, but not as sharp as I would have obtained with an Apo- Artar. Looking back on the whole episode, I have to admit that I was perhaps seeking something unattainable. It's not that a lens like the one I wanted can't be designed, but there appears to be too small a market for it. If you rarely have the sun or strongly back-lighted subjects in your compositions, the Rodenstock Apo-Ronar 360 f9, the Schneider 360 Apo-Artar, and I would think the Schneider 355 G-Claron, would all be fine lenses for a 4x5 with adequate extension. I would note again that the Nikon 360 mm telephoto is a good choice for many photographs that would be made with a 4x5 camera. And if your camera does not have adequate extension for a true 360 mm lens, then the issues I have raised here are Baroque worries, anyway.

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