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The "Best" 4X5 lenses

Greg Jones , Nov 09, 2006; 06:07 p.m.

Like Tom Vilot's earlier posting, I too am getting back into 4X5 view camera work. I used to work in a studio with 4X5 all the time and for my personal photography I have used Hasselblads for the last 30 years and that is the standard I am used to as far as sharpness and color fidelity. Is it possible to get Hasselblad sharpness in 4X5 or just out of the question?

I just bought a used kit (primarily for the view camera) that included a couple of lenses, a Schneider Symmar-S 210mm and a Nikkor-W 180mm (and an older lens too but that is another thing). These lenses seem "OK" sharpness-wise, but don't seem to knock my socks off. What lenses WOULD be at the top of the heap as far as sharpness in the 75mm, 150mm, and 210mm ranges? I know this is a highly subjective question and there are the Schneider camps, the Nikkor camps, the Rodenstocks etc. etc. But surely there is conventional wisdom out there about what is "the best of the lot."

I would be interested in hearing your recommendations.


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Dave Yuhas , Nov 09, 2006; 06:46 p.m.

Michael Axel , Nov 09, 2006; 07:05 p.m.

Okay Greg, put the pin back in the grenade before someone gets hurt!<g> I use Hasselblad as well, and I think the Schneiders give me the most consistent, sharp look. I.e., I could shoot an image with a Hasselblad and then a Schneider and they wouldn't look like they were from other planets. My opinion (which was hammered once before when I braved a similar response), is that Schneiders and Rodenstocks tend to be very sharp and contrasty, but the few Nikkors I've owned seem less sharp to me (except for the T's), but more saturated. I like the Super Angulons and really enjoy my 150mm G-Claron and 210mm Apo Symmar. I've got a Nikkor W that's a little shaky in the performance department, but I like the color rendition I get from some of the Nikkors I've owned, and the coverage is tremendous.

I'm surprised the Symmar-S doesn't do it for you. It would be at the top of my "heap" of lenses for sharpness. It's the one that Brooks Institute and some other schools used to require students to have. The problem with your question is that few people (including myself) can really generalize because they haven't been able to use a wide range of each brand and lens types.

Another factor that is worth mentioning is the camera the lens is used on. While I might mount a Super Angulon on my field camera, I wouldn't rely on it being as sharp as the results I would get if it were on the Sinar X in my studio. Those are my random thoughts.

Darcy Cote , Nov 09, 2006; 07:58 p.m.

The ones I don't have. :-)

Brian Ellis , Nov 09, 2006; 09:11 p.m.

I've owned several of each of the four major brands of lenses. I didn't notice a difference across the board from one brand to another and I don't think there's any consensus that one brand is the "best of the lot." There are a lot of factors that enter into "sharpness" besides the inherent quality of the lens. How good is your tripod? Do you know how to properly focus your view camera? Do you use the movements on your LF camera to their best advantage? How big are your enlargements (I didn't notice a consistent difference between MF and LF prints until the prints reached 16x20 size)? If you're using a darkroom then lots of factors relating to the enlarger and the enlarger lens come into play, as is also the case if you're scanning and printing digitally. The lens is one factor in "sharpness" of the photograph but it's far from the only factor. You can have the greatest lens in the world but if your tripod is off or your enlarger isn't in alignment or one of many other things isn't quite right your great lens will quickly be reduced to mediocrity.

Sheldon Nalos , Nov 10, 2006; 01:11 a.m.

72mm f/5.6 Schneider Super Angulon XL

150mm f/5.6 Rodenstock APO Sironar-S

210mm f/5.6 Schneider APO Symmar L or Rodenstock APO Sironar S

Alternate - 240mm f/9 Fujinon A

Christopher Perez , Nov 10, 2006; 11:36 a.m.

For a short time I too used a Hasselblad with their Zeiss lenses. Since that time I have been using Mamiya 7 and RZ in medium format. The resolution and "fidelity" you talk about seem to be common amoungst that group of cameras.

In large format, everything I have seen leads me to believe that if you shoot at f/16 or f/22 that your work should equal the feelings you have regarding medium format.

One thing to check: The accuracy of your groundglass with regards to the actual film plane in your holders. Sometimes even the slightest variance can return unpleasing results. This, particulary when shooting LF at wider apertures.

Regarding LF optics, just like your MF system, you may see more lens to lens variation within a product line than you will between manufacturers. For consistancy in modern times I feel that Schneider and Fuji have done the best job. But Nikon and Rodenstock are nothing to sneeze at.

Kelly Flanigan , Nov 10, 2006; 08:01 p.m.

Re One thing to check: The accuracy of your groundglass with regards to the actual film plane in your holders. Sometimes even the slightest variance can return unpleasing results. This, particulary when shooting LF at wider apertures.

When one uses a 4x5 digital scan back. one can cheat and due prescans, tweak focus and reduce this error. This tweak can reduce the common slight focus error that Chris mentions.

One must remember too that getting 50 line pairs per mm on film camera is many times easier with a 80mm lens on a MF camera; than a 300mm lens on a 4x5 camera. its less arc angle, the film flatness is better, there is less of a chromatic abberation issue with the shorter lens, plus the expected enlargement is less with the larger format.

Eric Leppanen , Nov 11, 2006; 12:38 a.m.

Justin Black , Nov 16, 2006; 01:04 a.m.

Here is a list of lenses that I consider best of class optically, while still being suitable for field work (that is, nothing too huge and heavy):

75mm: Schneider Super-Angulon MC f/5.6 or Rodenstock Grandagon-N f/4.5. The 80mm Super-Symmar is great too if you can find a good one and don't mind the cost. I use the 75mm SA, and I am consistently impressed with it's sharpness given the age of the design.

90mm: Rodenstock Grandagon-N f/6.8 (No need to look further than this. The Caltar II-N version is the one I use. It's a good value and top, top notch. Very sharp for a 90mm.

110-120mm: Schneider Super-Symmars HMs and XLs. I use the 120mm S-S HM and it is exceptional!

135 & 150mm: Rodenstock Apo-Sironar-S f/5.6. There are a lot of good lenses around in these focal lengths, but these two are absolutely the best in class.

180mm: Schneider Apo-Symmar f/5.6 (I use an Apo-Sironar-N and I find it extremely sharp and don't need more coverage, so I see no need to upgrade. However, a number of photographers I know and respect swear the Apo-Symmar is the best 180mm they have ever tried. I would be surprised if the Apo-Sironar-S didn't match its sharpness though.)

210mm: Rodenstock Apo-Sironar-S f.5.6 (a bit large but stunning, and visibly superior on comparison to results from other 210s).

240mm: Fujinon-A f/9.0 (A marvel! It is light, tiny, and quite sharp and contrasty at all apertures from wide open to f/45) 300mm: Nikkor-M f/9.0 (Simply excellent for landscape work). 360mm: Fujinon-A f/9.0 (the Nikkor-T is a good tele design if you have limited bellows draw) 400mm: Schneider Compact-Apo-Tele f/5.6 450mm: Fujinon- C f/12.5

That said, here are a few more that are really, really good (and in some cases a much better value):

90mm: Super-Angulon MC and Nikkor f/8.0 150mm: Apo-Sironar-N or Caltar-II N (same thing) 180mm: Apo-Sironar-N / Caltar-II N (excellent lens!), or Fujinon-A f/9.0 (a tiny lens great for close-up work and backpacking) 210mm: Apo-Symmar 240mm: Just get the Fujinon-A! 300mm: Fujinon-A f/9 (the 305mm G-Claron is damn good as well, and it covers 8x10 too, though I prefer the Nikkor-M or Fuji-A for 4x5 field work due to their smaller size and multicoatings).

Remember that when judging sharpness of large format lenses, you always have to take techinque into consideration. Placement of the film plane, choice of aperture, tripod techinque subject movement, etc. all seriously effect the final result, even when shooting lens test charts (which I don't bother with - I prefer to evaluate real world results). Some large format lenses will shock Hasselblad users with their sharpness, but many factors conspire against maximizing their potential under real-world conditions.

My best to all, and happy shooting!


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