Help me buy a better lens!

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jovo

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I recently exchanged prints with Donald Miller (which was a very pleasant and rewarding experience). I liked the print I sent him, and very much liked the print he sent me...but...his print, using the same 4x5 format and the same focal length lens (210) is far crisper, sharper and more detailed. It is exactly what I want from large format and am just not getting with my Geronar lens (it's okay of course, it's not as if it were made by Mattel, but it just isn't really good enough). So....what to buy when I can afford something? I think a 180mm lens would be a good choice as far as focal length, but I have no idea how lenses from Fujinon, Nikon, Schneider or Rodenstock compare at a comparable price point. Keh Camera Brokers has a decent selection at reasonable prices so there's at least one dealer I can look to for a used one. I'd appreciate your experience with the various offerings. Thank you for your help apug!
 

Francesco

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Try the Schneider G-Clarons. Should be quite affordable and most come in shutters. I believe they have a 180 (could be wrong). They certainly have a 210 and a 150. My 355 is as sharp as any lens out there.
 

mikewhi

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I own Fuji, Schneiders (G-Claron, Symmar-S) and Nikon. I just recently purchased a Nikor-W and I'm amazed with it. It is the sharpest lens that I have and I have about LF lenses. You can find them in your focal length on eBay often. I can also second the vote for the G-Clarons. I use the 305mm on my 8x10 and it's quite sharp but I believe my Nikor-W outperforms it.

-Mike
 

Donald Miller

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jovo said:
I recently exchanged prints with Donald Miller (which was a very pleasant and rewarding experience). I liked the print I sent him, and very much liked the print he sent me...but...his print, using the same 4x5 format and the same focal length lens (210) is far crisper, sharper and more detailed. It is exactly what I want from large format and am just not getting with my Geronar lens (it's okay of course, it's not as if it were made by Mattel, but it just isn't really good enough). So....what to buy when I can afford something? I think a 180mm lens would be a good choice as far as focal length, but I have no idea how lenses from Fujinon, Nikon, Schneider or Rodenstock compare at a comparable price point. Keh Camera Brokers has a decent selection at reasonable prices so there's at least one dealer I can look to for a used one. I'd appreciate your experience with the various offerings. Thank you for your help apug!

John,

I think that there are other factors that come into play here aside from the taking lens.

I don't know anything about your enlarger or enlarging lens. By way of further explanation, the taking lens was a Schneider Symmar F5.6 210 mm. The enlarging lens that I used on the print was a 150mm El Nikkor and the enlarger is a Durst condensor 138L. I think that what you are describing as an observable difference is a condition of local contrast. While a taking lens will have an effect on local contrast, I think that equally important are the enlarging lens and a well designed condensor enlarger.

Also involved are the film and developer. The film (TriX) and the developer (HC110) are not my choice today but I have noticed a really nice local contrast with this combination of late since I switched to the Durst system.

It may be that you have the other bases covered. I just wanted to mention all of the factors that may come into play. I like your print a great deal John.
 
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Thank you for your responses so far. Donald, I have the El Nikkor 150 lens as well. The enlarger is a new LPL4550VCCE with diffusion illumination. That it's not a condenser head would likely account for some of the difference I'm sure. As to film and developer, I use the same materials for both large and medium format and the smaller P67 negs make far sharper and 'better' prints than the 4x5 ones do.
 

Tom Stanworth

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Sounds fishy. How large was the print? Unless your print is above 16x12, you are unlikely to get an unsharp print unless the 5x4 lens is a real dog. The rest of the process is more likely to explain this. The sharper 6x7 negs would probably be due to increased apparrent sharpness as grain come into play (even tho is may hardly be visible). As an example, my 5x4 acros negs dev'd in Dixactol make 'soft' looking prints at 8x10-16x12 as the grain is just too fine (6x6 negs look far sharper). At 20x16 and above the acros is incredibly sharp from 5x4 and the 6x6 negs look poor in comparison.

I can honestly say that the poorest 5x4 lens I have owned (still fine) looked as sharp as the rest on a 14x11 print, even 16x12. The film developers, enlarger head used etc etc made far more difference. As an example a print made from an uncoated 105mm leans on my Circa 1918 Goerz folder (6x9) is still stunningly good on an 18" print. I would try to borrow an alternative lens and shoot some comparison negs using identical prcesses to determine if the lens is at fault.

Sure I have some lenses that have the edge over others (65 f4.5 grandagon/Nikkor SW 90 f8/Ektar 203), but my ancient 150 symmar still keeps up to all practical purposes.

I have an 300 f9 Geronar (as yet unused) and will deliver a verdict on this once on a lensboard. I expect it to be fine. Roger Hicks rates the Geronars well as did a magazine article I reae eons ago, which stated that altho 'some' hd not rated the 150 geronar highly (in a review of a cambo monorail that came packaged with it) he had no complaints at all...

With B&W it is VERY hard to compare unless EVERYTHING is the same. Whats teh focal length?

Good luck,

Tom
 

mwtroxell

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"but...his print, using the same 4x5 format and the same focal length lens (210) is far crisper, sharper and more detailed"

Is a 4x5 contact print from your negative as sharp as the print Donald sent you?
 

Loose Gravel

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Check camera focus, too. My 5x7 back was way off. It was old, but was off in the opposite direction I thought. I thought the back would wear closer to the film, but it was too far out. To check you camera, focus up close on a ruler the goes from near to far relative to the lens. Focus at 1 foot. Develop film. Is 1 foot in focus or is it 11 inches or 13 inches. Get what I mean? You can also measure it directly if you have a caliper. HOpe you find it.
 

John McCallum

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When I read your posts about this John, I was inclined to think the same as Tom suggested. I have found on occasions that 4x5 negs lose their apparant sharpness. Certainly grain and accutance can give a feeling of sharpness, that is likely to be more obvious in med format, and (as already stated) doesn't really become apparant off 4x5 until the print is enlarged to at least 11x14". Using a developer that gives what is described as an 'honest' grain rendition and has high accutance propertes such as Agfa Rodinal seems to assist if your prefer that look. High speed / grain 'dissolving' developers such as microfine and even ID11 can reduce the apparant grain in the negative, making it tough to find it, esp on low speed films.
Tom's further advice, I wholeheartedly agree with. Pls don't rush out and spend the hard earned funds on new glass, only to find that this wasn't really the problem. It does seem strange that your lens would contribute this much to the apparant lack of sharpness on a small print off a 4x5 neg.

Now, otoh, if you are just looking for a good enough excuse to go out and buy another lens (something personally I can relate to), and you can afford to go new or slightly second hand, and you want German, I've found the Rodenstock APO-Sironar-S 150mm/5.6 to be absolutely exceptional. Sharp as a tack, nice and contrasty, reasonably small and lightweight. There is also a 180mm available costing a bit more, and I expect (though don't really know) it would perform very well also. Good value lens imho.
best, John.
 
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Thank you all so far. There is much here that needs to be considered and, especially regarding focus, I will indeed test for accuracy. Perhaps I should also change the question a bit though. If you were recommending a lens as a solid performer (as the G Clarons have been thus far) at a reasonable cost, what would you suggest? If some of you are knowledgeable about the various brands, do you percieve a difference (as has been noted about the Nikon) between them? LF lenses are the most diverse and, in a sense, mysterious creatures that inhabit the world of traditional photography. When one commits to a Hassie, Bronica, Pentax, Fuji etc., there is no choice but to sign on for the system ride. Not so with LF.
 

lee

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John,
Possibly what you are seeing is the difference in a condenser system (Don has a Durst condenser system) and the LPL 4550 system you use. That said, Don makes very fine negs anyway and I have noticed that even his older negs print very sharply. He also likes to shoot in the f:22\f:32 range. With his lenses, that seems to be the sharpest f:stops. Everything everyone else has said could affect the sharpness.

lee\c
 
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Thanks John. I hadn't read your post as I was then writing mine. Yes...perhaps there's a quest here to justify "new glass" (the Geronar came with the camera), but there's also a genuine interest in the circumstances that have generated my frustration (and the notion that small enlargements don't reveal what larger ones do is interesting in itself....the 11x14's I've made are more satisfying than the 8x10's). However, it can't be possibe that a 3 element lens is comparable to a more complex and expensive design can it? So I maintain the question. The more you can offer the less likely I will be to just squander bucks needlessly. BTW...I'm not an equipment junky by any stretch of imagination. I just want to get a good enough kit together that I can forget about the kit and make photographs (as has been my experience with the P67)
 

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:smile:. It's a thinking Man's (or Woman's!) game. Clearly you are not adverse to that. When I moved to LF (still reasonably fresh in my mind) apparant sharpness and various contributors seemed to need more consideration than previously. Perhaps because of my expectations of what LF would deliver. best,
 

roteague

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jovo said:
Thank you all so far. There is much here that needs to be considered and, especially regarding focus, I will indeed test for accuracy. Perhaps I should also change the question a bit though. If you were recommending a lens as a solid performer (as the G Clarons have been thus far) at a reasonable cost, what would you suggest?

Good idea. Short of testing the lenses, I think most of our ideas about the lenses are subjective. For example, I've read good comments about the Nikkors, but I don't see that my 90mm Nikkor can even begin to match my 135mm Schneider in terms of sharpness. I'm going to eventually replace my Nikkor with the 80mm Schneider SuperSymmar XL lens. As a lens the Nikkor really irritates me; it's slow F8 and the shutter speed dial works backwards from my other lenses. I would check out the Schneider series of lenses.
 

Jon Shiu

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Hi, I have the Caltar IIe 210mm lens (which is the same lens) and find that at 11x14 enlargment it is quite sharp. May not be as sharp at f8, but at f22 and 11x14 enlargement I don't think you could tell the difference in sharpness from a more expensive lens. (I have also Caltar IIN 150mm and 240mm).

Jon Shiu
 
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John McCallum said:
:smile:.. Perhaps because of my expectations of what LF would deliver.

AHHH!! Expectations! Dangerous and hard to fulfill. (to think that decades ago it was all about the She who must be dated! And now it's about a @@##$%^^ lens....whoa....)
 

John McCallum

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:D Exactly! They get us out in the rain, and empty our bank accounts!! (er ... expectations that is:smile:)
Robert's suggestion of a wide angle i agree with also. The Schneider SuperSymmar XL 80mm is really outstanding. It is big (and beautiful), and needs a center weighted filter to counteract the falloff of light intensity. best, John.
 

mikewhi

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Hi Jovo;

As you can see, you'll get a myriad of answers to this question. I wonder if you'll get what you want out of the post.....

One thing that you can take comfort in (this is something I do), is that on eBay you can buy a lens mentinoed here, try it out and if you don't like it, re-sell it on eBay for what you paid for it and buy another make\model. You'll learn a lot that way. Take notes as you use each one so you'll know what negative did what. Maybe take shots of a lens resolution chart with each as you get them and store that away. I wouldn't suggest getting one lens and sticking with it exclusively. Nothing beats gathering your own experience and this is one good way to get it. If you listen to everyone else, you'll get so many different opinions....

Good luck.

-Mike
 

fingel

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This is a very subjective topic. I had a Schnieder 135mm enlarging lens which I sold because I liked the results from my EL Nikkor 135mm better. I had a 210mm Symmar-S MC which was the sharpest lens I ever had (but also a large piece of glass). Lens quality varies between individual lenses so you might have to get a couple different ones until you find what you are looking for. Luckily unless you pay too much, you can usually get your money back by selling them on ebay.
 

glbeas

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One thing I changed to get sharper looking pictures was my agitation technique when developing. I found the more I agitated the mushier things looked. Now I've backed off to one gentle agitation a minute with compensation in the developing time so the adjacency effect can come to bear. Some developers are better at this than others so your mileage may vary. Worst for mushy on film I've tried is Dektol, blech!
 
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