Large Format Lenses

Evaluations By Bjørn Rørslett

For general rating criteria, please see the Lens Survey Page.

I use a number of Large Format (LF) lenses on my Linhof Technika (6x9) and Arca-Swiss (6x9, 6x12, 4x5") cameras. I tend to favour long lenses for my line of LF photography. All lenses reviewed here covers up to 4x5" format, but movements often are restricted when some lenses are mounted on a 4x5" camera.


Lens Rating Comments
Fujinon 400 mm f/8 3 This longish telephoto has no special glasses in its design and accordingly, the ill effects from a secondary spectrum are clearly shown. The colour aberrations give lower image contrast besides reducing sharpness. I found its colour rendition a little on the cold side for my taste, and there is a greyish colour cast to the image as well.
65 mm f/4
5 A wide-angle lens with a 7-element, near-symmetrical design, the 65/4 delivers very sharp images with pleasingly smooth and rounded image detail. Colour rendition is excellent and image contrast is fairly high, too. It copes well with shooting into the sun and flare and ghosts are well controlled. Peak performance occurs at f/11-f/16, but f/22 is entirely useful as well. The projected image is entirely adequate for using the 65 mm Nikkor on a 4x5" camera, but then headroom for movements is restricted.
Nikkor-AM 120 mm f/5.6 ED 5 This perfectly symmetrical process-type, 8-element design incorporates ED glass and hence gives outstanding image rendition and colour saturation. The 120/5.6 ED is a petite lens with a 52 mm filter thread. The AM Nikkors (there also is a big brother, the 210 AM) are designed for close-ups with peak performance in the range 1:5 to 5:1 magnification. However, I regularly use this lens on my 6x9 cameras for general-purpose photography and optical results still are excellent. Used this way, the image circle is entirely adequate for the 6x9 format, but movements must be done with some care. For true close-ups, the 120 AM covers the 4x5" format with outstanding detail and extreme colour rendition. At f/8-f/11, the image across the frame is very good and at f/16-f/22, image quality is outstanding. Flare and ghosting are seldom a problem with the 120 AM as long as a lens hood is attached, the HN-3 for 35mm Nikkors being entirely suitable.

An inside tip is adding the 4T close-up lens to the 120/5.6 ED. Excellent macro shots then are possible without excessive bellows draw. The close-up lens attaches the normal way, it is not necessary to reverse-mount it.

150 mm


A rare combination indeed of small size (52 mm filter thread), quite low price as LF lenses go, and a terrific performance characterises this tiny optical gem. It covers easily up to 4x5" format with adequate room for movements.

The 150 is quite resistant to ghosts and flare and its colour rendition is snappy to match its high optical quality. For best performance, apertures in the range f/11-f/22 should be selected.

210 mm f/9


A representative from a broad lens range for repro cameras, the 210 mm APO is a superb performer. There is virtually no distortion of geometry or colour focus either, in short just about perfect. The lens turns in a very commendable performance in UV as well, even having no focus shift.

Coating is quite simple compared to modern designs, but adequate if the front element is kept well shaded during picture taking.

You need to mount the lens in a #3 type shutter if it is to be used for view cameras doing non-UV, or outdoor photography. Alternatively, the lens can be put on a bellows and used in conjunction with SLR cameras.

These days Apo-Nikkors are getting into the second-hand market and still can be picked up at reasonable prices. Likely the shorter focal lengths are most useful for general photography.

270 mm
f/6.3 ED


This short telephoto lens can be used for 6x9 and 4x5" formats. Movements are somewhat restricted on the larger format, though. ED glass gives it tremendous colour saturation and excellent sharpness. Peak results are obtained in the f/11-f/22 range. It needs just 18 cm of extension to get into infinity focus. Flare can impact the image contrast so using a lens hood is imperative. Ghosting might occur under extremely adverse light conditions, too.

With the appropriate step-down ring, a Nikon 6T close-up lens can be added to the 270 ED to give it a tremendous close-up capacity while still keeping a long working distance.

360 mm
f/8 ED


Very high quality both in optics and in workmanship characterises this LF telephoto. Even wide open, excellent images result. At f/11-f/16, the results are outstanding. Being a telephoto design, only 26 cm of bellows draw is needed when the 360 mm is focused on infinity. It covers adequately 4x5" with some room for additional movements. It is quite susceptible to flare as are all longish LF lenses so needs a long sunshade all the time.

The 360/8 ED can be converted into a 500/11 ED or a 720/16 ED lens by changing the rear unit. These rear units are optically matched to give virtually no loss of quality when the lens' focal length is changed, and the cost is very low compared to buying a new lens. The rear unit for the 360 mm lens is more bulky than the others.

500 mm
f/11 ED


I have the rear units for both 360/8 and 500/11 Nikkors, so can switch between these focal lengths directly in the field. Image quality of the 500/11 is very good thanks to its ED glass, but contrast is slightly lower than the shorter ED designs and so is colour saturation.

Due to its slow speed, focusing the 500/11 can sometimes be difficult when light is low. The lens needs 35 cm of bellows draw to reach infinity focus, so the whole package becomes quite impressive.

Working with this long lens demands good technical skills and a sturdy tripod, preferably of the Pentapod type. It is easily buffeted by wind because of the long bellows draw. Flare is an issue unless a long lens hood is attached, but ghosting seldom ruin my images taken with the 500/11.


90 mm f/8


This super-wide lens has an asymmetrical optical design and needs stopping down a little to achieve peak quality. However, from f/11 to f/16 it produces tremendously sharp images and light fall-off is well controlled. One should not stop it down much more before image quality seriously declines and this incidentally is the main reason why I give the 90/8 'only' a 4.5 rating.
210 mm f/5.6


This is a very heavy long-focus lens of top optical quality. It is very suitable for landscape work on a 4x5" camera and renders images with crisp detail and vivid colours. Put the lens to f/16 and superb images will result.



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Last Update 25 February, 2005