Lens for portraits. Correct choice, help please.

Discussion in 'Large Format' started by attilio_dp, May 12, 2016.

  1. I have not seen a resent topic on this subject so I thought I would ask. The wealth of information in the forum is amazing so I'd like to
    pick some brains.
    I already have a wide angle lens but I'm looking for a lens for portraits.
    Here are my particular feature wish list.

    1) Must have 8x10 full coverage.
    2) Using natural light so
    Can't be extremely too slow.
    3) Do not care for soft focus.
    4) Price range under 6 or 700.

    Thanks for any advice.
  2. There are a lot of possible answers, and you will get a lot of disagreement. A standard commercial-work (not portraits) lens would be around 12" (300mm), but most people doing formal portraits would choose something longer, because of the perspective issues. Karsh used a 14-3/4" Commercial Ektar, for instance. Many other old-style portraitists would have used something 16" or even longer, 420mm, something like that, or even longer. It really depends on what you want to do, and what style of photo you have in mind--traditional, environmental, what do you really expect to do?
    The traditional rule for studio portraits was that a portrait lens should be film length plus width, which is 18" for 8x10, but the nature of close up work with long lenses negates that somewhat (working at close to 1:2 means a lot of bellows extension compared with 35mm working at 1:20 for the same cropping, for instance, and yields a longer equivalent focal length), and you won't find many people using lenses that long.
    That said, older Tessar formula lenses offer better rendering for portraits than modern style lenses, in the opinion of many people who do portraits. I particularly dislike modern lenses for this. A lot of people can't tell the difference, and thus claim there isn't one. They are wrong.
    If you want a shutter in a faster lens, 300mm/4.5 is the upper limits for that. If you drop to f/5.6, then there are some longer modern lenses, but the longer you go, the harder to find something fast in a shutter, and the slower the lenses, because of the limit on shutter size, which is why old portrait studios used Packard shutters with long, fast lenses. I use Packards, and don't find them an inconvenience at all indoors or with strobes. Outdoors. . . . probably not.
    You can take a look at my portraits at http://flickr.com/michaeldarnton . The photos mostly tell what lens was used and what film size.
  3. A 10" to 14" focal length lens will be just fine. I believe Joel Meyerwitz used a 10.5" or 12" Commercial Ektar or Dagor for
    his portrait work with an 8x10 Deardorff throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
  4. You can see why you shouldn't take Ellis' casual "anything will do" answer very seriously here:
    or here
    You really do need to consider what you're going to be do to pick an appropriate lens.
  5. 10" would be the functional equivalent of 35mm on 35mm. If you like that look, go for it. Personally, I think if you're working close it would be a disaster.
  6. Shooting portraits on 8x10 opens up a couple issues that are VERY different than normal photographic rules. The main reason is that shooting a tight portrait on 8x10 approaches "macro" territory. If you frame a photo that is 8x10 inches at the plane of focus (ie. a tight headshot) that is actually going to be a 1:1 macro photo.
    First, you get a strong effect of changing field of view of the lens as you focus closer. This is referred to as focus breathing in the movie world. Essentially, the closer you focus the narrower your field of view of the lens becomes. This forces you to push the camera backwards from where you would expect it to be, and makes the lens behave as if it were a longer focal length. By the time you reach 1:1 magnification, the lens field of view is cut in half, so a 300mm lens gives a FOV that is like a 600mm lens. This is why you can shoot portraits with a normal lens on 8x10, where as you can't do so with smaller formats without perspective distortion becoming a problem. A quick and dirty rule is that your effective focal length is the same as the amount of total bellows extension.
    Secondly, don't overlook bellows compensation. If you think you are going to shoot natural light you're also going to lose light to bellows draw. If you stretch the bellows out to a 1:2 magnification you've lost a full stop, and at a tight 1:1 portrait you've lost 2 stops. It makes ambient light shooting tough, and for that reason I mainly used strobes.
    Third, don't worry about lens coverage. As soon as you start to focus closer than infinity, all the lenses have more than enough coverage.

    As far as specific lenses, if you prefer a modern copal shutter and want to keep a reasonable aperture speed that pretty much limits you to any of the 300mm or 360mm lenses from Fuji/Nikon/Rodenstock/Schneider. All of them will do very well. I used a Fuji 300mm f/5.6. Other good options would be a 12" or 14" Kodak Commercial Ektar or a Dagor.
    Here's a couple samples, both shot with a 300mm lens. The first one is with a Dagor, second one Fujinon-L 300mm f/5.6. Both lenses cost around $200.
  7. Sheldon those are excellent images.
    I'm retired but spent most of my life as a professional photographer. LF is an exciting new area for me. Learning curve is
    steep but enjoyable. There shall me lots of costly trial and error.
    As expected I've gained a lot of insight and food for thought on this topic.
    So far I think I'm going to go with a Goerz Dagor 12 6.8. But open to other choices. Fujimon seems like a good pic as
  8. I like the Kodak Commercial Ektars, the 14 inch is my most used lens. The shutters need servicing occasionally to keep them working smoothly. These lenses are very sharp, but have a little less contrast than modern multi-coated lenses. It depends on the look you want. There are Kodak Portrait lenses that are less sharp and better for smooth skin and soft details.
    If in doubt, a 300mm Fuji, Schneider, Rodenstock, Nikkor, or Caltar lens with an f5.6 max aperture will deliver sharp and contrasty results at a reasonable price.
  9. I've used lenses ranging from 250mm (10" Kodak Wide Field Ektar) to 450mm (Fujinon 450mm C) for 8x10 portraiture. For the type of portraits I like -- capturing the entire subject within his/her own environment, rather than the more traditional tight head and shoulders shot -- a lens from 12" to 14" would be ideal.
    You can always make tighter portraits of your subject with shorter focal lengths, but you'll have to focus closer than infinity, so make sure your camera's maximum bellows extension will allow that. And as already noted by others, you'll have to increase exposure accordingly with closer-than-infinity extensions. Longer lenses (like the 450 Fuji) will place you farther from your subject for anything wider than a head/shoulders portrait, so you'll need enough space in your studio. I usually find a 12" to 14" focal length provides a greater sense of intimacy with the subject without getting uncomfortably close, but not so far away you lose touch. I generally prefer the 14".
    Since you already have a wide angle for 8x10, a 14" would make more sense for general photography as well. If you want something relatively modern, and readily available within your price range, the Schneider 355mm G-Claron would be an excellent lens. It's not as big and heavy as most modern 360mm lenses (Schneider Symmars, Rodenstock Sironars and others), coverage for the 8x10 format is huge and it's a very sharp lens for general photography as well.
  10. Well holy cow the price of these old lines have gone up. I tried bidding on a Dagor 14 In. F7.7 but it went just too high for me at $776.00. I'll keep looking
  11. not sure what you mean by too slow
    look for a wollensak 1a triple convertible.
    13 -20-24" sharp when it needs to be
    not too slow, and they are sold in a bulletproof betax shutter.
    also look for a 14" ( or bigger ) velostigmat or tessar. beautiful lenses
    sharp when they need to be and pleasing oof areas.
    good luck!
  12. Michael Darnton: Your link shows images taken with 35mm "full frame", whatever that is. 8X10 is DIFFERENT.
    Sheldon Nalos: Well-written explanation of how 8x10 (and larger) portrait shooting "works". Should be available on this site as a permanent article.
  13. Well without going into all the numbers and magical formulas you want at least a "normal" focal length for portraits, not to sure what that is for 8x10 but I am assuming it is around 350mm give or take.
    At the end of the day it really depends on what you want to do and the look you are looking for as not all lenses are created equally ( focal length aside )
    I think Michael Darnton sums it up the best right at the start of this thread.
    How slow is to slow ? your idea of slow could be very different to mine.

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