Good Lenses for a 4x5 View Camera

March 03, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Good large format lenses for 4x5 photographyGood 4x5 LensesA few of my favorites: SSXL 80/5.6, SSXL 110/5.6, Fujinon CM-W 125/5.6, Sironar-S 150/5.6, Nikkor M 200/8, Nikkor M 300/9 Picking a good set of lenses for a 4x5 view camera can be a fun exercise if you are into gear and the technical aspects of large format photography. But for people who don't enjoy that side of things, I think it's worth sharing a couple of shortcuts to developing the best kit to suit your shooting style. The first decision to make is whether to buy modern multi-coated lenses in Copal shutters or go for something older, single coated, and in a non-Copal shutter. My advice, is simply to say that lenses are relative cheap on the second hand market and there is no reason to deny yourself a good set of modern lenses. Older shutters may not fire accurately, non-coated and single coated lenses may leave you with low contrast images with noticeable flare, and if you shoot color film you may find nasty color separation at the edge of objects if the lens is not color corrected i.e. apochromatic. I suppose if you want a certain "classic-look" and shoot b&w exclusively then you may want to go down that route but for most people that's not a wise choice.

Then the second choice is to consider your weight limitations. Are you going to backpack in the wilderness with your 4x5 in which case every gram or ounce will count. Or are you a driving to your subject or just staying put in a studio. In which case weight is less an issue. You will probably have already made a decision with the camera you are planning to use: a lightweight field camera is best with light weight lenses, while a studio monorail can take some very heavy lenses.

The third choice is the subject matter you intend to photograph. Do you take portraits? Do you take landscapes? Do you take shots of architecture? For portraits you need probably two focal lengths (135mm-150mm and 200mm-240mm) that will give you either a head shot or a torso /body shot. Smoothness rather sharpness will be your consideration. See more for this type of shooting here. For landscapes you probably want a wide angle (90mm-125mm)and a normal lens (150mm-180mm). For architecture you will want a wide angle lens with plenty of coverage for extreme movements to correct for parallax and get up close(80mm-110mm).

The fourth choice is you likely lighting situation. If you photograph in dim forests or at sunrise or sunset you will want faster lenses like f5.6 to help you compose and focus your image on the ground glass. If you are always in a studio setting with plenty of artificial light slower f9 lenses will suffice.

Finally you want to consider how many lenses you want to cover what range of focal lengths. Typically people new to 4x5 will extrapolate from their current format. So if you currently use 35mm film cameras or full-frame digital cameras you can multiply your current lens focal lengths by three to get the 4x5 equivalent. So a 28mm becomes approximately a 90mm, a 50mm becomes 150mm, and a 85mm becomes approximately 250mm. Remember your view camera will have a maximum and a minimum bellows length - so certain lenses most likely will be out of your reach at one extreme or the other. Then you may want to consider whether you want a 2, 3, or even 4 lens set. A simple rule of thumb is to start with you widest preferred lens focal length and multiple by 1.5x to get to the next lens in the set and so on. So a four lens set might be 90mm, 135mm, 200mm and 300mm. Or perhaps you just want a three lens set in which case multiplying by a factor of 1.66x would give you 90mm, 150mm, and 250mm. Or if you start a little longer something like 125mm, 180/200mm, and 300mm.

If you want to build your set slowly, start with a normal (150-180mm) or normal wide (125-135mm) lens and then work out from there. However, its a good idea to try and standardize on one, or at most two, filter ring sizes so you don't have to bother with step-up rings and many different sets of filter. When you get into step-up rings you have to buy new lens caps and unscrewing filters can often leave you with the step-up ring attached to the filter and not the lens. It's just a hassle best avoided if you can. Also if you are shooting E6 film like Velvia, you may want to buy a center filter which also makes a step-up ring impossible to use.

The most popular filter sizes in 4x5 are 52mm and 67mm. Sticking to one or the other or both is a good strategy. If you like super long lenses, i.e. anything over 300mm in 4x5, for a field camera it is probably best to use a telephoto design that will shorten your required bellows and reduce the 'windsock effect' thus leading to sharper images.

My list of suggested lenses is heavily populated by Nikkor and Fujinon lenses. It's not that the other two major modern brands, Rodenstock and Schneider, don't make excellent lenses, it's just that the other two brands tend to have offerings that are lighter, more compelling, and cheaper on the second hand market. Where either Rodenstock or Schneider have hit a sweet spot with a specific lens (low weight / large coverage / especially sharp) then I have added them. Also most lenses below have a 52mm or 67mm filter size. Where I have added a lens with a size different from those it's because the lens is particularly low weight or large coverage. As for mixing and matching to form your lens set from different brands I'd say go ahead. The truth is that there is as much variation in the look of different lines in one brand's lens lineup as there is between brands. 

Suggested Lenses
Brand / Name Focal Length Max Aperture Image Circle Coating Filter Size Weight
Schneider Super-Symmar XL 80mm 5.6 212mm MC 67mm 271g
Nikkor SW 90mm 8 235mm MC 67mm 360g
Schneider Super-Symmar XL 110mm 5.6 288mm MC 67mm 425g
Fujinon NW 125mm 5.6 198mm MC 52mm 265g*
Fujinon CM-W 125mm 5.6 204mm MC 67mm 265g
Fujinon NW 135mm 5.6 206mm MC 52mm 270g*
Fujinon CM-W 135mm 5.6 214mm MC 67mm 270g
Nikkor W 135mm 5.6 200mm MC 52mm 200g
Fujinon NW 150mm 5.6 224mm MC 52mm 280g*
Fujinon CM-W 150mm 5.6  223mm MC 67mm 280g
Nikkor W 150mm 5.6 210mm MC 52mm 230g
Rodenstock Apo-Sironar S 150mm 5.6 231mm MC 49mm 250g
Fujinon CM-W 180mm 5.6 260mm MC 67mm 405g
Nikkor W 180mm 5.6 253mm MC 67mm 380g
Fujinon A 180mm 9 252mm MC 46mm 170g
Nikkor M 200mm 8 210mm MC 52mm 180g
Fujinon A 240mm 9 336mm MC 52mm 225g
Fujinon CM-W 250mm 6.3 320mm MC 67mm 510g
Fujinon C  300mm 8 380mm MC 52mm 250g
Nikkor M 300mm 9 325mm MC 52mm 290g
Nikkor T ED 360mm 8 210mm MC 67mm 800g
Fujinon T 400mm 8 220mm MC 67mm 600g

* These lenses are from an older line and may be harder to find. I'm also estimating the weight from the newer line that followed. Confusingly, these lenses usually just have "W" on the outside of the front lens element. For more on the wonderful world of Fujinon look here.

For the minimalists out there who want only two lenses and are going to zoom with their feet, here are two alternative sets for you:

  1. Fujinon NW 125mm/5.6 (52mm filter/265g)
  2. Fujinon A 240mm/9 (52mm filter/225g)
  1. Nikkor SW 90mm/8 (67mm filter/360g)
  2. Nikkor W 180mm/5.6 (67mm filter/380g)

For a moderately wide and light set of three lenses with a single filter size I would suggest the following:

  1. Fujinon NW 125mm/5.6 (52mm filter/265g)
  2. Nikkor M 200mm/8 (52mm filter/180g)
  3. Fujinon C 300mm/8 (52mm/250g) or Nikkor M 300mm/9 (52mm filter/290g)

For a wider and still relatively light four lens set with only two filter sizes, I would suggest the following all Nikkor set:

  1. Nikkor SW 90mm/8 (67mm filter/360g) or Schneider Super-Symmar XL 110mm/5.6 (67mm filter/425g)
  2. Nikkor W 135mm/5.6 (52mm filter/200g)
  3. Nikkor M 200mm/f8 (52mm filter/180g)
  4. Nikkor M 300mm/f8 (52mm filter/290g)

For an even wider and faster set of five lenses with only one filter sizes, I would suggest the following:

  1. Schneider Super-Symmar XL 80mm/5.6 (67mm filter/271g)
  2. Schneider Super-Symmar XL 110mm/5.6 (67mm filter/425g)
  3. Fujinon CM-W 150mm/5.6 (67mm filter/280g)
  4. Fujinon CM-W 250mm/6.3 (67mm filter/510g)
  5. Nikkor T ED 360mm/8 (67mm filter/800g)

For more info on the fantastic large format lenses that are our there poke around Kerry Thalmann's excellent lens pages here. Also you can get deep into the numbers on Christopher Perez and Kerry Thalmann's lens test pages here.


No comments posted.

Subscribe via Email

Enter your address here:

January (2) February March (2) April May June (1) July August September October November December
January February (3) March April May June (1) July (1) August September October November December
January (2) February (1) March (1) April May June July August September October November (1) December
January (3) February (1) March April May June July August September October November December