Notes: Unless specifically stated otherwise, all weights listed are actual measured weights of lenses in factory supplied shutters with retaining ring, but no lens caps. All prices were believed to be accurate at the time this article was written (November 15, 1999). However, prices do change over time. So, it is best to shop around for current pricing and availability before making a purchase.
300mm: In the 300mm focal length, there is really no point in considering one of the f5.6 plasmats for field photography with a 4x5. They are all designed as normal lenses for the 8x10 format making them huge and heavy. They are all in Copal #3 shutters, take very large filters and have coverage in gross excess to anything you'd ever need with a 4x5 field camera. Fortunately, there are a number of excellent alternatives. In the f9 process lenses, the APO Ronar is in a Copal #1 shutter with a listed weight of 270g and an image circle of 264mm. The APO Ronars are similar in design to the classic Goerz Artars (four elements in four groups), but with the added benefit of modern multi-coating technology. Unfortunately, they are also rather expensive. The 300mm f9 APO Ronar is listed at $1231.95 in the current B&H catalog. That's nearly twice as much as the other two lightweight 300mm lenses that I recommend, the 300mm f9 Nikkor M and the 300mm f8.5 Fujinon C. Both of these also have much larger image circles than the APO Ronar. So, unless you find a really good deal on a used APO Ronar (make sure it's multi-coated - the APO Ronar has been around a long time, and early samples are only single coated), I'd recommend sticking with either the Nikkor or Fujinon.
Figure 1. Lightweight 300 - 450mm Lenses
300mm f9 Nikkor M: Like it's little brother, the 200mm Nikkor M, the 300mm Nikkor M is a modern, multi-coated version of the classic tessar design (four elements in three groups). It is in a Copal #1 shutter, takes 52mm filters and weighs 270g. It is an excellent performer that is highly regarded by many top professionals. In fact, every 4x5 nature photographer I know uses the Nikkor M as the lens of choice in the 300mm focal length. Nikon states the coverage conservatively as 325mm - way more than you'll ever need for landscape photography. The combination of small size, lightweight, generous coverage, affordable price and great performance has made the 300mm Nikkor M a charter member of my list of Future Classics. And even though the small size and lightweight make it great for backpacking, the coverage and performance also make it a good choice for a general purpose 4x5 lens in this focal length.
Table 1. 300mm Nikkor M Test Results
300mm f8.5 Fujinon C: The 300mm Fujinon C is very similar to the 300mm Nikkor M in terms of size and weight. It also takes 52mm filters, with a listed weight of 250g (however, every Fuji lens I've actually weighed was 15 - 20g over spec). The lens design is different (four elements in four groups) and Fuji lists the coverage as 380mm. For nearly a decade, Fuji large format lenses were hard to come by in the United States. They had no North American distributor, so the only way to get them was to buy at retail in Japan and hand carry them into the States. Of course, this was time consuming and expensive, making the Fuji lenses non-competitive with the other major manufactures. All of this changed a couple years ago, when Badger Graphic Sales began importing the entire Fuji line directly from the factory in Japan. With no additional middle men (and associated mark-ups), not only was availability greatly increased, but the prices dropped to the point of being true bargains. The prices are directly linked to the yen:dollar currency exchange rate. At the time of this article (November 15, 1999), Badger Graphic is selling the 300mm Fujinon C for $635.00. Since the exchange rates change constantly, it is best to call (800-558-5350) for current pricing. I have not shot with the 300mm Fujinon C, but have used its big brother, the 450mm Fujinon C, and am very pleased with the performance (see below).
What I carry: For years, when backpacking, I have carried a four lens set consisting of 90mm, 135mm, 200mm and 300mm. The 300mm Nikkor M being the long lens in this set. With my former backpacking camera, the Anba Ikeda Wood View, 300mm was the longest non-telephoto design usable due to bellows length limitations. Now that I have the Toho with a longer bellows, my standard backpacking lens set may change to 90mm, 150mm, 240mm and 14" (355mm). Although slightly heavier than my former four lens set, it does give me a slightly longer focal length for my longest lens. Still, the 14" lens I plan to use is not readily available (see 14" L.D. Artar below), and even if it were, most lightweight field cameras don't have enough bellows to use it. In those instances, I whole-heartedly recommend the 300mm Nikkor M (or the 300mm Fujinon C).
355 - 360mm: Most non-telephoto designs in the 360mm range come in the huge #3 shutters. For example, the 360mm APO Ronar is the smallest, lightest 360mm currently made, but it comes in a Copal #3 shutter and weighs 550g. The 355mm G Claron is even bigger and heavier at 855g. Forget the 360mm plasmats (APO Symmar, APO Sironar, Nikkor W, Fujinon CM-W, etc.). They can weigh more than the typical lightweight field camera and have rear elements too large to fit through the front standard openings on many such cameras. There are really only two, to my knowledge, non-telephoto 360mm lenses that could qualify as lightweight, and neither is readily available. They are:
360mm f10 Fujinon A: Fuji used to make a 360mm lens in their A series. I have never used this lens (or even seen one), but as far as I know, it was the only non-telephoto lens in this range to ever be sold in a factory Copal #1 shutter. Based on my experience with its little brother, the 240mm Fujinon A, this should be a smallish lens that is very sharp with huge coverage (if you ever see one for sale, please let me know; I'd love to have one).
14" f9 Goerz L.D. Artar: The second option is to get a 14" Artar and have it mounted in a a #2 shutter. Of course, this is not an off-the-shelf solution and requires some custom machine work. This is precisely what I have done with the intention of using it as a long lens on the little Toho FC-45X. The combination I selected was a barrel mounted 14" f9 L.D. Artar and a #2 rim set Compur shutter (both of which I purchased through Ebay). The L.D. Artar is a special Low Distortion version of the famous Red Dot Artar. A regular 14" Red Dot Artar will do, but if weight is an issue, hold out for one of the later ones in an aluminum barrel (as opposed to a much heavier brass barrel). Of course, #2 shutters were discontinued decades ago, so you may have to really dig to find one (too bad, they are so much smaller and lighter than the #3 shutters). I sent my aluminum barrel 14" L.D. Artar and #2 Compur shutter off to Steve Grimes and had him mount the cells in the shutter. I also had Steve fabricate a custom rear lens cap and a slip on 52mm filter adapter (See Figure 2.). BTW, Steve's slip on filter adapter is a great solution for any older lens that does not accept standard screw in filters. The final result is a reasonably compact, light weight (315g) 14" lens that takes the same 52mm filters as all my other lightweight lenses. Although all this custom machine work was not cheap, the total cost of everything (lens, shutter, mounting, lens cap and filter adapter) was still much less than the cost of any currently available alternative. It should work great with the Toho (I'm anxious to try it, as soon as I get a #2 lensboard drilled for the Toho). I have not completed formal testing of this lens yet, but from the few shots I have taken with it, and examining the aerial image indicates this is one VERY sharp lens.
Figure 2. 14" L.D. Artar Project
What I carry: As mentioned above, I am contemplating using the 14" L.D. Artar as my long lens for backpacking in a set consisting of 90mm, 150mm, 240mm and 14" (355mm). That gives me a slightly wider range than my previous backpacking assortment of 90mm, 135mm, 200mm, 300mm and only adds a couple ounces to the total weight. Using a lens this long was not possible with the limited bellows extension of my previous backpacking camera (the Anba Ikeda Wood View). But, now that I'm using the Toho FC-45X, with its longer bellows (390mm), it opens up the opportunity to use a lens in this focal length.
450mm: In this focal length, there is only one sensible choice for a compact, lightweight lens.
450mm f12.5 Fujinon C: The 450mm Fujinon C is the longest focal length non-telephoto design ever offered in a Copal #1 shutter. For a lens of such long length and huge coverage (486mm), it is amazingly tiny (52mm filters) and light (285g). If your camera has a enough bellows extension (425.3mm ftf), I highly recommend this lens (soon to be added to my list of Future Classics). It is very sharp (See Table 2.) and contrasty. Although the f12.5 maximum aperture sounds very slow, I have not found focusing with this lens to be especially difficult. Of course, the slow maximum aperture was a trade-off necessary to fit such a long lens in a Copal #1 shutter and, therefore, keep the weight and size down. I think it was a reasonable trade-off, and I'm glad Fuji made this choice. The next smallest, lightest lens in this focal length range is the 450mm f9 Nikkor M. Although it's an excellent lens, the 450mm Nikkor is in a Copal #3 shutter, takes 67mm filters and weighs 640g - well over twice as much as the Fuji. And, it's only 1 1/3 stop faster. The 450mm Fujinon C is available new and also occasionally turns up on the used market. Current production samples come in the modern all-black Copal shutters and benefit from Fuji's excellent EBC multi-coating process. Caution is advised when shopping for used samples. This design has been around since the 1970s, and early samples may be only single coated (although I have seen older samples in chrome ringed Copal shutters that were multi-coated). The current (November 15, 1999) new price from Badger Graphic (800-558-5350) is $875.00, and incredible bargain in a lens of this length and quality. The price is subject to fluctuations in currency exchange rates, so it is best to call for current pricing.
Table 2. 450mm Fujinon C Test Results
What I carry: This is a bit of a dilemma. Most cameras with sufficient bellows to handle a 450mm non-telephoto are on the heavy side for backpacking. For instance, the Toho FC-45X I recently started using for this purpose has a maximum bellows extension of 390mm. That makes it 35mm short of the ftf for the 450mm Fujinon C. The Canham DLC has plenty of bellows extension, but it weighs over two pounds more than the Toho. One possible solution would be to get an extender board fabricated to use this lens with the Toho. I have seen these types of extended lensboards specifically for Horseman and Wista cameras. This may be the most practical solution for using a lens this long with a camera that is truly lightweight. I have always liked to space my lenses in 1.5x increments. For example, 90mm, 135mm, 200mm, 300mm, 450mm makes a nice progression for general purpose landscape photography, and this is what I carry when doing long dayhikes, or cross-country skiing with the Canham. In fact, it was the combination of the Canham and the 450mm Fujinon C that I used to photograph Mount Hood after skiing to Lost Lake in January, 1999. I subsequently published that image as a fine art poster. Given the fact that I am not a strong skier, I am not willing to carry any more weight than absolutely necessary. If not for the compact size and lightweight of the 450mm Fujinon C, I would not have had anything longer than 300mm with me on that trip, so I would not have been able to capture the image I desired. The 450mm Fujinon C is also the lens I recommend in this focal length for general purpose use, and due to the huge coverage, it also makes a great lens for 8x10 (or even 11x14) for those who shoot more than one format.
© Kerry L. Thalmann, 1999