Speed Graphic/Press/View Lenses

Lenses for a 4x5" are specialized. Each lens has a certain amount of ``coverage,'' or diameter of acceptable image circle. Some lenses are designed for use only on the smaller 3.25x4.25" formats or 2.25x2.75" formats.

The major American view camera lens manufacturers were Kodak, Wollensak (OEM supplier for Graflex), and Ilex. Bausch and Lomb was a manufacturer in the pre-war period. Other common manufacturers are Carl Zeiss Jena, Schneider-Kreuznach and Meyer-Goerz-Optik. Due to manufacturing, supply, and legal problems, there were relatively few post-war German Zeiss Tessars made.

A used Graphic will typically be found fitted with a General Purpose lens. Tessar-type lenses, such as a Kodak Ektar 127mm or Graflex Optar 135mm, are common. These vintage lenses do not have sufficient coverage to allow the use of movements when focused at infinity. The longer Tessars (Ektar 152mm and Xenar 162mm) support a tiny bit more rise or shift.

Beware: Tessar lenses lose sharpness long before reaching the edge of the illumination circle. Other lens formulations seem to have a zone of sharpness very similar in size to the zone of illumination, but the Tessars (and the high-speed Xenotar/Planar/Heliar type formulas) do not behave this way: since the definition becomes suspect in the corners first, and the corners are difficult to view with a magnifying loupe, you have a situation where the amount of usable rise/shift/tilt can only be judged by the actual exposure (or a Polaroid proof).

Although the Ektar 127mm lens was originally designed to cover 3-1/4"x4-1/4" with movements, it covers 4x5 with little or no movements admirably, and in fact was the lens of choice on Speed and Crown Graphics for many years. Quite a number of famous photos were taken with this lens.

When checking out an older shutter note that there are separate springs for slow(<1/30), medium and high speeds (over 1/250). Check all speeds and exercise the shutter. If you desire to use a flash, be sure to check for flash synchronization. 'X' mode is for electronic flashes, while 'M' mode is for flash bulbs, there may be other synchronization positions on the switch. Many camera repair shops can clean and check shutters for accuracy.

See also the Large-Format Lens Specs page.

View Camera Lenses can be grouped into 5 broad categories:

General Purpose lenses

    For work 4'-infinity - mostly older lenses, these are usually of the ``tessar'' type and can be fairly fast (f/4.5).

Non-Tessar Type General Purpose Lenses

    Non Tessar type - usually 3/5 type - post war lenses of superb quality include the Voigtlander Heliars and Apo-Lanthars, the Schneider Xenotar and the Zeiss Planar. However, they are extremely expensive for a lens with a 50-degree image circle.

Symmetrical (wide field) lenses

    Useful for closeup and landscape work.

Extreme Wide Angle lenses

    Name Focal Length Aperture
    Schneider Super Angulon 90mm f/8
    Schneider Super Angulon 90mm f/5.6
    Schneider Super Angulon 65mm f/8
    Rodenstock Grandagon
    Zeiss Biogon

Special effects lenses

Notes about the Ektar Lenses

Kodak's professional lens line was labelled ``Ektar'' beginning around 1940. Ektars are generally considered to have better quality control than the Optar lenses of similar design.

All Ektars were made by Kodak. Kodak had a very advanced lens manufacturing plant and probably the most advanced glass making plant in the US. They commercialized the rare-earth glasses developed at the US Bureau of Standards and were among the first to use these glasses in lenses (Aero Ektars). They were also one of the first to coat lenses (as early as 1939, in soft coatings for the Ektra camera) and were supplying hard-coated lenses to the military as early as 1942. They were also pioneers in using synthetic adhesive instead of Canada Balsam to cement lenses (also aerial lenses) c. 1942.

Kodak bought lenses, mostly from Bausch and Lomb, until they started making their own somehwere in the early thirties. Kodak lenses supplied by outside companies are always labeled as such.

According to Kodak's catalogue, all lenses bearing the name ``Ektar'' were corrected for lateral color to make them suitable for color photography. This was Kodak's name for their premium quality lenses and there are Ektars of many basic lens designs..

The famous 203mm f/7.7 lens, was known as the ``Kodak Anastigmat'' until the late 1940's, when a coated version of it was released under the Ektar name. It is an excellent lens of the Dogmar type, and was sold as a low-cost alternative to the 8-1/2" Commercial Ektar. At one time Kodak made a lot of lenses of this type (four-element air spaced, or ``Celor'') which were called ``Anastigmat'' and identified by number, as in ``Kodak Anastigmat #77.'' However, there were also some Tessar type lenses called ``Kodak Anastigmat.''

The name ``Commercial Ektar'' seems to have been used only for a series of f/6.3 tessar type lenses made from about the late 1940's. The uncoated versions of these lenses made previously have some other name. The W.F. (Wide Field) Ektars did not use the term "commercial" in the name and are of a different type (double gauss 4-element air-spaced).

Kodak lenses of this period were dated by a two letter, four digit serial number.
    C A M E R O S I T Y
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0

For example, an ER1234 would be from 1945, and an RO from 1956.

If the lens appears to be original, you can date the camera by the lens serial number.

There are a few Ektars to be found on roll film camera, the art-deco Bantam Special had a six element f/2.0 50mm Ektar, and used 828 roll film. The better-than-Leica Kodak Ektra used an array of Ektar lenses, and the solid-as-a-tank Kodak Medalist used a 5-element f/3.5 100mm Ektar.

Here are some notes about particular Ektar lens models:

Notes about Optar Lenses

The Optar lenses were the house brand of Graflex, and were made by a number of different manufacturers.

Notes about Raptar Lenses

Here are some bits and pieces about 2x3" lenses:

Notes about Ilex Lenses

Notes about Dagor Lenses

Dagors were originally made by the C.P. Goerz company in Germany.

In 1926, Goerz was absorbed into the Zeiss-Ikon, but the U.S. division continued as an independent company as the C.P.Goerz American Optical Co. Their advertising always made a great point of their being an American company.

Zeiss continued to make Dagors and they were in the Zeiss catalogue at least up to the middle thirties. These are known as "Berlin Dagors" and carry the Zeiss-Goerz name. A lens marked Goerz Berlin will be pre-merger. U.S. made lenses are marked "C.P. Goerz Am.Op.Co." Older ones will usually also be marked Series III. [Alternate view: About 1950 the Burke & James company assembled some Dagors from parts they obtained from somewhere and sold these as ``Berlin Dagors.'' These do not have a good reputation, and are rare.]

Goerz American began marketing ``Golden Dagors'' in the early 1950's. The only difference appears to be that these lenses were coated. This is probably the same as the ``Gold Band'' Dagor since the rim of the front element is gold colored. ``Gold Dot'' Dagors were made after the acquisition of Goerz by Schneider.

There seems not to have been any change in the glass types used in these lenses, so the performance should be the same except for the effect of coating on coated lenses.

Dagors, due to the 6-element in 2-group construction, were contrasty compared to other uncoated lenses. For more modern optics, the contrast difference is smaller. As for sharpness, they were noted more for their wide field of coverage than for their performance wide open. In that sense, a Tessar is a better design.

The quality depends somewhat on age, the design was changed over the years to take advantage of improved glass types, and where it was made. The Dagor and similar lenses suffer from rather large uncorrected zonal speherical aberration, which means that they must be used stopped down. Furthermore, since since the point of focus changes with the stop, they must be focused stopped down as well. Later lenses have less of this effect than earlier ones.

Only the latest versions, (Gold-Rim amd Gold-Dot Dagors) sell for high prices.

Lens Storage

It is generally recommended that lenses be stored set to their lowest speeds, or 'T' (when available), as this leaves the springs in an uncompressed state.

Focal Length Equivalence

Focal Length (mm) 90 100 127 135 150 180 203 210
Focal Length (inches) 3.5 4 5 5.25 6 7 8 8.25

See this larger table for a more detailed look at focal length equivalence for different film formats.

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