Sharpest 120 Folder?

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cptrios

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Alright, I know this is an annoying question, and I know sharpness isn't everything...but let's say it was. I've been getting started with MF using a Minolta Autocord, which I love in many ways, but a) waist-level shooting is still weird, especially having to adjust my level in reverse, and b) it's too bulky for my camera bag.

I've been scouring certo6.com and 120folder.com, but any mention of lens quality on them is pretty subjective. I've also spent a bunch of time on Flickr, but I find that the sheer number of models and lenses, coupled with bad scanning, makes it a pretty daunting task.

So hopefully you can all offer me some opinions! My criteria would be: 6x6 or preferably 6x9, under $500 (not set in stone), and with the sharpest possible lens, with corners that don't look obviously soft at small sizes. Coupled rangefinder is a plus, but not necessary.

Thanks in advance!
 

ic-racer

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Depending on your definition of 'folder' but the Linhof and Horseman medium format technical cameras do fold up. I actually got my Horseman because I wanted better lenses and a way to focus, compared to my Kodak Tourist.

b00b20cf1a0837df1ac336032f554a7ce42ad1cd.jpg

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Helge

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Thing is with folders, they are not as rigid as other types of MF cameras.
Once you have a folding mechanism, there are physical limits to how precisely you can erect the lens.
If you don’t have a ground glass, there is no way you can compensate, as with LF cameras.
Therefore unless you are forced to shoot full open, or you want the effect, you would always stop way down.
That means that the exact lens configuration means a lot less than with SLR or TLRs.

A triplet might be cleaner and be easier to clean, not have deteriorated balsam/separation and have more contrast than a random Tessar.
The smaller the film area the more DoF you’d have. So I wouldn’t write off 4.5x6 folders.
Fuji made some fine ones from the fifties up till recently.
 
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takilmaboxer

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I've been using Zeiss folders for several decades, and IMHO their lenses are quite sharp. The Novar lenses are soft in the corners of a 6X6 frame at anything wider than f/16, but work well for 6X4.5 at f/8. At f/16 it is hard to tell the difference between Novar and Tessar in the center of an 8X10 print. A side by side comparison between negatives shot with a 75mm Zeiss 521 and a 60mm Fuji GS645 shows the Tessar to be just as sharp at the center, but that's at f/8 on the Tessar and f/4 on the Fuji, and the Fuji is sharp at the far corner of the frame even at f/4.
The biggest limitation on the sharpness of the Zeiss folders arises from the front cell focusing mechanism. These lenses are very sharp at infinity focus but get progressively softer as the focal distance decreases. Some high end folders use unit focusing which is usually coupled to the rangefinder.
These days I use the folders for objects more than 15 feet away. Anything closer and I use a 35 SLR to achieve precise focus. If a tripod is needed I use a Graphic at 6X9 cm or 4X5".
Be careful; folders are addicting!
 

Nicholas Lindan

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My experience is that when shooting handheld the lens quality doesn't matter that much.

I made an experiment shooting resolution targets with a Leica Summicron and an Agfa Color-Apotar. The former lens and camera going for several thousand and the later going for $15 new (in 1963 from Montegomery Wards, it was my first 35mm). I guess both cameras have held their original value, though the dollar has dropped some.

When both cameras were on a tripod the difference was readily apparent. But when evaluating the hand held shots I often found I had to look at the back of the prints to tell the difference but on the whole a slight edge went to the Leica. When the cameras were used for simulated street shots - zone focused and counting on depth of field, using a fast film and walking up to the target and taking the shot - the results were indistinguishable.

A nice thing about using a $15 Silette/Solina for street shooting is that if some thugs get PO'ed and stomp on it you aren't out much.

If you still want the sharpest lens in a folder it's probably the Fuji GF670; though I'm sure a Zeiss Ikonta would give it a run for the money.

But try a Zeiss Nettar 6x6 first and see what you think; the plebian f6.3 lens and Vario shutter are adequate for most needs. If you are feeling up-market look for one with a Prontor shutter and f4.5 lens. Zeiss also made Nettars in 6x9, ditto on shutter and lens.
 
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My wife gave me her dad's Zeiss Super Ikonta IV. The lens is razor sharp. I'm not sure if it's the sharpest lens with folders. Here's a pic.
49305545903_a584b79d85_c.jpg
 

Ariston

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I only have a Super Ikonta 532 and a Mamiya 6 folder. The Mamiya 6 is better to my eyes, but that may be because of superior contrast, not sharpness. It really produces outstanding images.

I do not agree about the rigidness of folders. The designers knew this, and mine focus perfectly even though they are many decades old. Abuse can mess up anything, of course.
 
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I only have a Super Ikonta 532 and a Mamiya 6 folder. The Mamiya 6 is better to my eyes, but that may be because of superior contrast, not sharpness. It really produces outstanding images.

I do not agree about the rigidness of folders. The designers knew this, and mine focus perfectly even though they are many decades old. Abuse can mess up anything, of course.
I'm not surprised. Mamiya have very good lenses. I think the Mamiya 6 has the advantage of interchangeable lenses too. But it's technically not a folder :wink: Compact like one though.
 

Helge

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I only have a Super Ikonta 532 and a Mamiya 6 folder. The Mamiya 6 is better to my eyes, but that may be because of superior contrast, not sharpness. It really produces outstanding images.

I do not agree about the rigidness of folders. The designers knew this, and mine focus perfectly even though they are many decades old. Abuse can mess up anything, of course.
No, it’s simply the hinges and the struts, that are subject to small but accumulative manufacturing variances, thermal expansion and general flex over time (like the original problem with moveable type before Gutenberg).
Same with the less than ideal film transport.
You might not see these problems most of the time, because they are out of focus, you have stopped down, or focus sufficiently far away. But for certain shots it will show.
 
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cramej

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I'm not surprised. Mamiya have very good lenses. I think the Mamiya 6 has the advantage of interchangeable lenses too. But it's technically not a folder :wink: Compact like one though.
Don't forget the Mamiya 6 folder :whistling:
 

Helge

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I've been using Zeiss folders for several decades, and IMHO their lenses are quite sharp. The Novar lenses are soft in the corners of a 6X6 frame at anything wider than f/16, but work well for 6X4.5 at f/8. At f/16 it is hard to tell the difference between Novar and Tessar in the center of an 8X10 print. A side by side comparison between negatives shot with a 75mm Zeiss 521 and a 60mm Fuji GS645 shows the Tessar to be just as sharp at the center, but that's at f/8 on the Tessar and f/4 on the Fuji, and the Fuji is sharp at the far corner of the frame even at f/4.
The biggest limitation on the sharpness of the Zeiss folders arises from the front cell focusing mechanism. These lenses are very sharp at infinity focus but get progressively softer as the focal distance decreases. Some high end folders use unit focusing which is usually coupled to the rangefinder.
These days I use the folders for objects more than 15 feet away. Anything closer and I use a 35 SLR to achieve precise focus. If a tripod is needed I use a Graphic at 6X9 cm or 4X5".
Be careful; folders are addicting!

This is AFAIK a misunderstanding. The optimal focal distance for front cell focusing is set to 40x focal length.
So for a 75mm that’s about three meters.
The problems with front cell focusing only really becomes visible at close range though. About one meter for medium format. Which corresponds with the MFD of most folders.
Closer and you use diopters.
Zeiss and others used front cell because it’s easier to make precise, small and light in a folding mechanism.

Many unit focusing folders use weird workarounds to have the coveted feature. The Certo with its sliding bed, and the Mamiya 6 with its moving pressure plate. Or as with the Konica Pearl a big optical block that has to be retracted when you fold or else the camera is borked.

The 135 Retinas has a locking mechanism to prevent folding with the optical block extended. But that would probably become too fragile with the distances spanned in a MF folder.

Rarely was unit focusing really worth it though on MF folders.
You’d have a simpler, more robust camera and most likely also actually better image quality with front cell focus.
 
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Ariston

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I'm not surprised. Mamiya have very good lenses. I think the Mamiya 6 has the advantage of interchangeable lenses too. But it's technically not a folder :wink: Compact like one though.

My Mamiya 6 folds, and I can't change its lens. Maybe I'm using it wrong. :smile:
 
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rgeorge911

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I second the Mamiya 6 folder. The film-plane focusing (rather than moving the lens or worse, an element of the lens) works wonders. I own (too) many folders, German, Japanese, and love them, but the Mamiya wins.
 

Helge

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I second the Mamiya 6 folder. The film-plane focusing (rather than moving the lens or worse, an element of the lens) works wonders. I own (too) many folders, German, Japanese, and love them, but the Mamiya wins.
Makes you wonder why other cameras didn’t use pressure plate focusing. :errm::whistling:
 

outwest

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When getting to the larger formats like 6x9 film flatness rears its ugly head. I find that the Autocord's lens does a great job. Of course, it is really hard to beat a good Tessar or Xenar. With strut folders it really makes a difference to check and adjust them to align the lens board and the film plane although with one camera I had to accept the misalignment as a Scheimpflug adjustment;-) One of the sharpest 6x9's I've shot is the Kodak Monitor Six-20 with the 100mm Anastigmat Special lens. The construction is really solid but unfortunately the bellows are crap.
 
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jimjm

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The Zeiss folders are very rigid and the bellows are more durable than a lot of other vintage folders out there. I've got a 1938 Super Ikonta B with the 80/2.8 uncoated Tessar, and it rivals the results from a newer Rolleiflex I have.
I had the RF calibrated and the viewfinder cleaned-up by Jurgen at Certo6 a few years ago, but the bellows is perfect and the camera is in otherwise great shape.
This is just a scan of a 5x5 test print, but I would have no problem with big prints from this camera.

Gillespie_SupIkonta_1.jpg
 

JPD

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6x9 folders that are very sharp but lack rangefinders: Ercona I and II with Tessar. Voigtländer Bessa I with Color-Skopar. Or the british Ensign Selfix 820 with Ross Xpres. The Selfix has built-in hinged frames for 6x6, so there's no mask to lose. Most were sold in the UK and have the focusing scale in feet. All three are just as sharp and have real leather bellows. The Ercona cameras are the East German versions of the Ikonta by Zeiss Ikon and are very sturdy. I'm not sure how many of them were exported with a scale in feet.
 

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Don’t forget the Plaubel 67 (w/ 80mm Nikkor lens) and Plaubel 67 Wide (w/ 55mm Nikkor lens). These are folding camera, so very portable, with full rangefinder focusing and built-in light meter. But it would be unusual to find one in usable condition for $500-$600.
 

MattKing

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A $25 Kodak Tourist with one of the mid-level lenses:

upload_2021-2-10_17-0-16.png
It depends a lot on condition.
It is difficult to properly represent how much contrast, resolution and acutance the 6x9 negatives from this camera are capable of, but the 11x14 prints can be great.
 

Paul Howell

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I have a Mamiya 6 folder with 75mm lens, very sharp, needs to be overhauled, also have a 6X9 scale focus is Kodak Tourist, has the 4 element lens. 1/400th top shutter speed, as I use this for landscapes just keep the lens at infinity, rewinding film onto 620 spools is a pain, but workable for not much money. Other camera is Busch mini press, 6X9, mine is sheet film, has the Kodak 101mm, good as long I don't use much in the way of movements.
 

Wayne

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I'll echo the Mamiya 6, not because I have the prints to prove it but because my "new" one just arrived and I hope to have the prints to prove it.
 

warden

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Don’t forget the Plaubel 67 (w/ 80mm Nikkor lens) and Plaubel 67 Wide (w/ 55mm Nikkor lens).

That 55mm is incredible, but they're selling from $2-3K. But it's an excellent lens on a solid camera for sure.

I'll echo the Mamiya 6, not because I have the prints to prove it but because my "new" one just arrived and I hope to have the prints to prove it.

Congrats! I'd enjoy trying one of those.
 

Dan Fromm

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6x9 folders that are very sharp but lack rangefinders: Ercona I and II with Tessar. Voigtländer Bessa I with Color-Skopar. Or the british Ensign Selfix 820 with Ross Xpres.

Are you sure about the Selfix 820? I ask because I've never got a satisfactorily sharp shot with mine, even on tripod. The lens is in collimation and the focusing scale seems to be correct. See http://www.filmstillphotography.com/ensign-selfix-820.html for a review that agrees with me. It has one thing wrong, the lens is 105/3.8 Xpres in Epsilon shutter. The shutter is supposed to be flaky. Mine has behave well, so far but with very little use. Overall, a Century Graphic is a better tool, and many of them have, unlike the Selfix 820, a coupled rangefinder.
 
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