In the Lands of the Giants - Twelve



In the Lands of the Giants - Twelve
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In the Lands of the Giants
Marco Annaratone
The title is a bit on the marketing side, i.e., to shamelessly attract the attention of the
reader. It would have been more accurate to write “In the Land of Giants...that one can
carry.” If one wants to refer to truly gigantic photographic lenses then the 760mm,
890mm, 1200mm Apo-Ronar CL, or the very large Apo-Nikkors, or the Zeiss Germinars
are “the real McCoy”: these are lenses for reproduction in the graphics industry that
often end up serving as photographic lenses. It is also quite difficult if not all together
impossible to adapt them to a conventional Copal or even to the larger Ilex shutter (they
are all barrel lenses).
But even in standard photography there are lenses that are definitely more “substantial”
than the three we will see below and are the six-element ones. These too are indeed
quite difficult to carry around on long walks. We will look at three “giant” lenses
therefore that we can reasonably put in a backpack and carry around without putting
our vertebrae in (too much) danger. Their coverage however is really huge; for this
reason we feel less guilty in having used the term “giants” in the title...
Before looking at the three friends in detail, it is important to point out that Nikon has
stopped production of large format (LF) lenses around the end of 2005. The number of
Nikon LF lenses on the used market however is such that it is quite useful to get to
know them any way, although once the stock has been depleted it will no longer be
possible to buy them new.
As pointed out already, our three lenses are easier to carry than the classical six-element
ones and have a circle of coverage that can cover up to 12x20 (without many
movements). That is, once closed down to f/32 or more, they can project on the ground
glass an image (of excellent quality) with a diameter of about 600mm.
The classical six-element lenses are for instance the Schneider Apo-Symmar 6.5/360 or
8.4/480: optically sophisticated and truly superb performers, they are heavy and bulky,
two deadly drawbacks for those who do LF outside the studio (for instance up on the
mountains) and have to carry the equipment on their shoulders. To quantify this point,
it suffices to say that the Schneider Apo-Symmar 8.4/480 weighs 1850gr (a bit more than
4 pounds) vs 640gr (1.5 pounds) of a Nikkor-M 9/450. Schneider is not the only one to
offer six-element lenses: in fact, all other LF lens manufacturers have a similar line-up.
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Rodenstock has the Apo-Sironar-S series (up to 360mm), Fuji has the CMW series (up to
450mm) and Nikon has the W series (up to 360mm). The three lenses discussed here are
optimized for an enlargement factor of about 1:5 (a fifth of the actual dimensions), but
when closed down to f/22 or more (a typical occurrence in LF photography) the
manufacturer itself allows its use at infinity. So, nothing to be worried about even if one
is an image quality freak.
If one has to carry his or her equipment around and needs large coverage, the three
lenses here are somehow in a category by themselves: small (for a lens in a Copal 3, that
is!) and light. The G-CLaron 9/355 weighs about 850gr (30 oz), the Fujinon-C 11.5/600
weighs about 600gr (21 oz), the Nikkor-M 9/450 weighs 640gr (a bit less than 23 oz).
These are ideal for 7x17 and 8x20, where they allow ample movements. As we were
saying before they also cover the 12x20 format; in this case the G-Claron becomes a
wide-angle (equivalent to a 28mm in the Leica format), the Nikkor-M a 35mm lens in
Leica format and the Fujinon-C a normal lens. The three lenses require front filters with
the following diameters: 67mm (Nikkor-M and Fuji-C) and 77mm (G-Claron).
Using the three lenses in 8x10
These lenses are not interesting solely in ultra-large format (ULF) photography (defined
here as the photography with a negative larger than 80 square inches), but also to those
working in 8x10 as well. In particular, the Nikkor-M and the Fujinon-C can be used as
small and medium tele without having to utilize the very expensive “true” tele lenses
such as Schneider's Apo-Tele-Xenar. The only drawback is that they require a significant
bellows extension (at least 450mm for the Nikkor-M
and 600mm for the Fujinon-C). Almost all the classical 8x10 folding have a bellows
extension of 600mm or more, and therefore they can accommodate the Fujinon-C
focused to infinity.
The G-Claron 9/355 is of less interest to 8x10 shooters because there are better light
weight solutions around the 300mm focal length. Examples are the 300mm Nikkor-M
and Fujinon-C. They both sport a Copal 1 and are truly feather weight, i.e., 300gr (10.5
oz)! The G-Claron 9/305 (Copal 1) weighs 460gr (about 16 oz) and is an excellent option
as well.
Using the three lenses in 4x5
4x5 shooters can also be interested in the Nikkor-M and Fujinon-C. The Nikkor-M
450mm corresponds to a 150mm lens in the Leica format, and this starts being a rather
aggressive focal length. The Fujinon-C 12.5/450 represents an interesting alternative in
terms of weight, though: in fact, the Fujinon-C comes in a Copal 1, while the 450mm
Nikkor-M is in a Copal 3. The price to pay is that the Fujinon is a bit darker. My theory
is that this is indeed caused by the Copal 1 itself, as the frontal lens has the same
diameter and the optical structure is the same. The Fujinon-C 600mm has no
competition from Nikon instead and with its 600mm represents quite an impressive tele
lens in 4x5 (200mm equivalent in the Leica format). The problem with both lenses is of
course that of bellows extension. While there is some 4x5 folding that offers a 450mm
bellows extension (some Ebony, Canham, Gandolfi and Lotus, for instance), I believe
there is only one 4x5 folding that has a 600mm bellows extension, that is Lotus.
For this very reason those using these focal lengths end up using a 5x7 folding with a
4x5 adaptor in the back. In fact, 5x7s come with a bellows extension that is longer than
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that of their 4x5 cousins. Both Ebony and Canham for instance allow the use of a 600mm
lens on their 5x7 (albeit only at infinity). The 5x7 Lotus has a maximum bellows
extension of 680mm; this means that a Fujinon-C 600mm can be focused to distances
well below infinity.
To conclude, an interesting alternative to the use of both Nikkor-M and Fujinon-C is that
of true tele lenses, such as the Nikkor-T 360mm/500mm/720mm. The main advantage is
well known, i.e., these lenses call for a shorter bellows extension. For instance, the
500mm Nikkor-T requires 350mm of bellows to focus to infinity. This means that any
folding can use the Nikkor-T 500mm. The shorter bellows extension makes the cameralens complex less sensitive to wind gusts, an advantage that people often tend to forget.
The disadvantages of true tele lenses are that some photographers dislike their optical
signature and that they make the management of movements more complicated.
Because the nodal point of the lens falls in front of the lens itself and not within, this
amplifies the effects of tilts and swings in a way that some photographers find
objectionable. Finally, but this is probably the most serious drawback, the coverage of
these true tele lenses is drastically smaller than that of our giants. The Nikkor-T 500mm
has a circle of coverage of 210mm at f/22, dwarfed by the immense circle of coverage of
the Nikkor-M 9/450 that we have introduced here.
Family portrait
To give an idea of how big our giants are we show them side-by-side with a Canon
1.4/50 (this is a sizeable 50mm lens in the Leica format) and a one euro coin. The three
lenses are mounted on a (non original) Linhof Technika lens board. As you can see it is
no big deal to mount a lens in Copal 3 on a Technika lens board.
Let's start though with a family portrait:
Figure 1 The three lenses that cover 14x17.
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We then continue with three pictures of the G-Claron. These and the next pictures are
shown with a one euro coin to give a qualitative idea of relative size. A one euro coin is
more or less the same size of a US quarter.
Figure 2 Schneider G-Claron 9/355.
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Figure 3 Nikkor-M 9/450 .
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Figure 4 Fujinon-C 11.5/600.
© 2014 Twelve-tone Photography. All rights reserved.
The Nikkor-M and Fujinon-C are more or less equivalent in size, the Nikkor-M being the
smallest of the three, truly a remarkably compact lens. The G-Claron is bigger and pays
the price of having a 77mm front lens (vs Nikkor's and Fujinon's 67mm). A Copal 3 set
up has two rings and not one as the Copal 0 and 1 have, i.e., the retaining ring and the
flange. The latter keeps the front lens and shutter apart from the lens board, as one can
see in the pictures, where the shutters are not against the lens board. This is quite
important not in terms of being able to mount the lens on the lens board (something that
could be done anyway) but to mount the lens and lens board on the front standard of a
LF camera.
One should also note the the differences in the Copal 3 shutters, i.e., as far as external
details are concerned, (e.g., see the levers). The one in the G-Claron is somewhat older
than those in the Nikkor-M and Fujinon-C. The latter ones are of the very last generation
(both bought brand-new in 2005). The Copal in the Nikkor-M is branded Nikon, while
there is a simple “Made in Japan” in the G-Claron and Fujinon-C.
A picture that shows the largest of the three, the G-Claron, and a truly giant six-element
lens: the Symmar-S 6.8/360 on a 171mm Arca-Swiss lensboard (it cannot be mounted on
a Technika lensboard for reasons that would take too much space to explain here). I rest
my case! The difference in size is remarkable and we return to what already said in
terms of carrying (or, better, of not carrying...) these lenses around in a backpack.
Finally, we talked about monster lenses at the beginning of the article but then, at the
end of it, our monster lens turned out to be 'only' a Symmar-S 6.8/360, admittedly large
and heavy, but not really something to brag about. So, what about those truly
supersized lenses like the big Germinars or Ronars? How really supersized are they?
© 2014 Twelve-tone Photography. All rights reserved.
Just peek at the picture below. Yup, the fellow on the left is a six-glass APO-Ronar
1000/16. The lens on the right is ... our Symmar-S. You wanted big? This Ronar is big.
Ok, ok, I am cheating: one is a 1000mm, the other a puny 360mm, yadayadayada ...
If you want to see the APO-Ronar in action, i.e., hooked to a 14x17 Lotus view camera,
have a look at a companion paper I wrote.
Happy shooting!
© 2014 Twelve-tone Photography. All rights reserved.

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