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.
Figure 1. Lightweight 90 - 100mm Lenses
90-100mm: Of all the focal lengths, the wide angles are the most under represented in terms of lightweight options for 4x5 field use. The lightest modern example is the 90mm f8 Nikkor SW. It's a great lens (see Future Classics and Lenses - General Purpose - 90 - 125mm for more information on this fine lens), very sharp and contrasty with huge coverage. However, at 355g with 67mm filters, it's doesn't really qualify (IMHO) as a compact, lightweight lens. So, until/unless Schneider decides to come out with a Super Symmar XL in the 85 - 90mm range (please, call/write/email Schneider and beg them to bestow upon us lowly field photographers an 85mm f5.6 Super Symmar XL that has an image circle of ~210 - 220mm, takes 52mm filters and weighs less than 250g), choices for a compact, lightweight lens in the 90 - 100mm range are pretty limited (See Figure 1.). If you want something in this range that is truly light and compact, your current choices come down to something old (i.e. 90mm Angulon or 100mm WF Ektar) or something new of old design and suspect quality (90mm Wide Angle Congo). All of these models are severely limited in coverage compared to their larger, more modern brethren. Here's my thoughts on these particular lightweight wide angles:
90mm f6.8 Schneider Angulon: When considering compact wide angles for 4x5 field use, the venerable 90mm Angulon is probably the first that comes to mind. At about 130g with a 40.5mm filter size, it definitely qualifies as compact and lightweight. It was in production for nearly 40 years (early 1930s - about 1970). The design is derived from the classic Goerz Dagor, consisting of six elements in two groups.
Over the years, both the quality of construction and the optimism of the specifications changed dramatically. Early, pre-WWII samples tended to suffer from poor quality control. Pre-war samples were also uncoated. Due to these two points, I recommend avoiding pre-war samples and holding out for a post-war coated version (the serial number can be used to determine the approximate date of manufacture of any Schneider lens by visiting their Age of Lenses Table). The original Schneider literature boldly claimed coverage of 102 degrees for the Angulon. This is optimistic to the point of being downright untrue. For most modern lenses, mechanical vignetting is used to ensure a minimum level of performance over the specified image circle. Many older lenses, like the Angulon, had no such mechanical limits. So, the Angulon throws a huge circle of light, but it gets REAL soft beyond a certain point. The 102 degree number is based on the size of the circle of light, but is pure fiction when referring to the actual usable coverage of this design. So, what is the REAL coverage for the 90mm Angulon? The final Schneider literature on the 90mm Angulon lists the coverage as 81 degrees at f22 for an image circle of 154mm, barely enough to cover 4x5 straight on. In a complete reversal from their early optimistic specmanship, Schneider seems to have become quite conservative. Based on personal experience, you do get a little room for movement with a 90mm Angulon on 4x5. The useable coverage increases slightly as you stop down (but like all lenses, diffraction starts to become an issue). I'd estimate the useable coverage to be about 85 degrees at f22, approaching 90 degrees at f32. If you don't need the extra coverage, I'd recommend shooting at f22 for the best overall sharpness. If you're using more than a very modest amount of rise or shift, stopping down to f32 will give a little more coverage and likely yield the best results.
Tips on Buying a 90mm Angulon: Since this lens was discontinued approximately 30 years ago, we're obviously talking used lenses here. General used lens caveats apply (check for obvious flaws in the glass and make sure the shutter is functioning properly, etc.). One specific thing to watch for when buying an Angulon is element separation. I've seen a number of samples with small amounts of edge separation, and even a couple with severe separation. Hundreds of thousands of Angulons were sold, and the 90mm focal length was, by far, the most common. These lenses are VERY plentiful on the used market, so it's worth holding out for a good, clean sample. As I mentioned above, pre-WWII samples are of suspect quality (you may get a good one; you may get a real dog) and are uncoated. Chris Perez and I have tested several 90mm Angulons (Table 1. below lists some of these results), and I have found, in general, the Linhof selected samples and later (1960s) Angulons seem to be of consistently high quality. As with all old lenses, there are no guarantees, so I recommend testing the lens if at all possible before finalizing the purchase. Prices I've observed over the past few years range from about $175 - $350 depending on age and condition (Linhof select samples tend to fetch a little more than "generic" Angulons). These prices may be on the rise, I just saw a very late (ca. 1969) 90mm Angulon in a factory Copal Shutter go for $514 on Ebay. Absolutely amazing (especially given I paid less than that for my 90mm Nikkor SW). Anyway, I think it's worth paying a little more (but not $514) to get a very clean sample in a good shutter, either Linhof select or late vintage standard Angulon.
Table 1. 90mm Angulon Test Results
90mm f6.3 Wide Angle Congo: In principle, the Congo lenses sound like a great idea. They are current production versions of classic designs that are multi-coated and come in modern Copal shutters. They are lightweight, compact and inexpensive. The Commercial Congos are tessars (four elements in three groups) of similar design to the highly regarded Kodak Commercial Ektars of days gone by. Likewise, the Wide Angle Congos are wide field gauss designs (four elements in four groups) comparable to the WF Ektars. The Congo lenses are also reasonably priced. I purchased my 90mm WA Congo new in May, 1998 from Badger Graphic (800-558-5350) for $275 - not much more than the price of a new Copal #0 shutter alone. Due to recent increase in the yen:dollar exchange rate, the prices of the Congo lenses have gone up. As of the date of this article (November 15, 1999), Badger Graphic Sales was selling the 90mm Wide Angle Congo for $395. So they are not the outrageous bargains they were 18 months ago, but still a bargain compared to a 30 year old Angulon for $514.
So, what's the catch? Over the years, the subject of these Congo lenses has come up periodically in various online forums. After all, the idea of an affordably priced, lightweight, multi-coated Ektar equivalent is quite appealing. In these discussions, the issue of quality control always comes up. Back in the days when Kodak was producing the WF and Commercial Ektars (mid-1940s - mid-1960s), they had a reputation for outstanding quality control. Based on my experience over the years, I'd have to say that Kodak's reputation was well deserved. Unfortunately based on what I've read online, Congo doesn't seem to have such a stellar reputation. Still, I don't think it's fair to perpetuate such rumors without first hand evidence, so I decided to test of few of the Congos myself. All together, Chris Perez and I tested five of the Wide Angle Congos - three 90s and two 120s. The test results for the three 90mm samples can be seen in Table 2. below. You'll notice, in general, like the other lenses discussed here, the Congos are quite sharp at the center of the field at normal working apertures. Also, like the others, the sharpness tends to decrease measurably as you move off axis. Still, the last one listed in the table is an excellent performer at f16 and quite respectable at f22.
I've been using this particular lens a lot lately for backpacking and hiking, and have been very pleased with the results. The coverage is listed at 175mm at f22, which seems about right. It covers 4x5 with a small amount left over for movements. The lens seems to be designed to mechanically vignette when the coverage limit has been reached. So, that makes it easy enough to determine, in the field, if you have sufficient coverage for any given shot. What pleases me the most about this lens is the color balance. I shoot exclusively color transparency film these days, and all my other lenses are fairly modern. Over the years, I've occasionally used a 90mm Angulon as my backpacking wide angle, but I found the color balance to be a little bit cooler than my other lenses. The Angulon I was using was from the early 1950s, so maybe later ones are a little warmer. In any case, the newer, multi-coated 90mm WA Congo has good contrast and a very pleasing warm color balance that is a good match for my other modern lenses. Obviously, coverage is nowhere near that of my 90mm f8 Nikkor SW, but for extended backpacking trips, I am willing to sacrifice coverage to save some weight and bulk. The front of this lens accepts 43mm screw-in filters (I use a 43mm - 52mm step-up ring with mine), and it is quite compact and light (145g).
I haven't tested enough of the Congo lenses to reach any conclusions one way or another with regards to their quality control. But, I am quite happy with the one I own and use. Given the fact that it's multi-coated and in a modern shutter, I think it was a great bargain. Especially when it sells new for only slightly more than a used, forty year old Angulon or WF Ektar. If you're concerned about the quality control, the only advice I can offer is to test one for yourself. Of course, this requires a cooperative and understanding dealer, and some work on your part, but in the end, you could end up with a great deal on a lightweight 90mm wide angle. I know I did.
The Congo Web Site is very nicely done with complete specs and information on their entire product line. If you're interested in the Congo lenses, it's definitely worth a visit (I wish Nikon and Fuji would follow their example). The best place I know of to buy Congo lenses is Badger Graphic Sales (800-558-5350). They import the Congo lenses directly from the factory and have great prices (call for current prices which fluctuate based on currency exchange rates).
Table 2. 90mm Wide Angle Congo Test Results
100mm f6.3 Kodak Wide Field Ektar: After the 90mm Angulon, the 100mm Wide Field Ektar is probably the most frequently recommended of the classic 4x5 wide angles. Although not quite as common on the used market, it is still fairly easy to find. Like the WA Congo, the WF Ektar is a gauss wide field design (four elements in four groups). Like the others in this group, usable coverage is in the 80 - 85 degree range. However, since this one is a little longer in focal length than the others, the image circle is a little larger. The last specs I've seen on the 100mm WF Ektar list the image circle as 183mm. Performance of the single sample we have tested, is on par with the others in this group (i.e. good sharpness center, tailing off near the corners).
As far as I know, all WF Ektars are single coated. You can determine the age of Kodak lenses using their CAMEROSITY key word (where C=1...Y=0). For example, a lens with serial number staring in RY was made in 1950 (obviously not Y2K compliant). As mentioned above, Kodak LF lenses have a great reputation for quality control. The designs they used were not terribly innovative (tessars, WF gauss, etc.), but in the period following WWII, Kodak made some of the best glass in the world. Based on personal experience, I have never used any Kodak LF lens that was a dud (that includes plain Ektars, Commercial Ektars and WF Ektars). So, when shopping for a WF Ektar, the main thing to look for is signs of physical damage. Evidently, early Kodak lens coatings tended to be a bit soft, which lead to problems with cleaning marks. Be sure to check, using a strong light, for such cleaning marks on the front and rear surfaces. A couple faint marks won't effect anything other than re-sale value, but I've seen some that looked like they were cleaned with sandpaper. Such severe cleaning marks will have a big negative impact on contrast, and if bad enough, on sharpness. I recommend avoiding such heavily scratched samples and holding out for something in better condition. Typical used selling prices for the 100mm WF Ektar seem to be in the $250 - $325 range.
One slight inconvenience with using the WF Ektar (and many other older lenses) is the lack of support for standard size screw in filters. Many of these older lenses used push on adapters that accepted series filters. If you want to use modern, threaded glass filters, you will most likely need to get a custom filter adapter made to fit. Steve Grimes is a very good source for such custom made adapters. The 100mm Wide Field Ektar does have a threaded front barrel, but the thread is an odd size (looks to be 39.5mm). So, if you can't find an off-the-shelf adapter, Steve could either make you a standard style set-up ring (say 39.5mm - 52mm), or one of his specially designed slip on filter adapters.
Table 3. 100mm Wide Field Ektar Test Results
What I carry: Currently, in this focal length, when weight is an issue, I carry a 90mm f6.3 Congo Wide Angle. As mentioned above, the coverage is tight on 4x5, but other than that, I am very happy with the little Congo. I used to carry a 90mm Angulon, but after testing three of the Congos, and picking the best one, I prefer it to the Angulon for shooting color transparencies.
105 -115mm: Again, there are not a lot of compact, lightweight modern lenses in this focal length range that fully cover 4x5. In their product brochure, Nikon lists 4x5 as the "usable format" for the 105mm f5.6 W. However, with an image circle of 155mm, I'd have to call it "barely usable". The 110mm f5.6 Schneider Super Symmar XL is one of the most outstanding lenses I have ever used, but at 435g with 67mm filters, it doesn't meet my definition of lightweight and compact. Given the large coverage (105 degrees) and amazing sharpness, I highly recommend it as a general purpose lens and will be adding it my my list of Future Classics. There are some older lenses in this category that easily meet the definition of small and lightweight (the 113mm Seris V Protar, for example), but given the choice, for the type of work I do (color landscapes on transparency film), I prefer modern, multi-coated lenses where possible. Many of the older designs are wonderfully sharp, compact, light and inexpensive. However, the contrast and color balance, in many cases, is not on par with the modern multi-coated designs (see Budget Lenses). They are perfectly usable for black & white work, and even, in many cases, color work - unless the results are to be viewed side-by-side on a light table with images shot on the newer lenses. That said, there is really only one modern, lightweight lens I can think of in this focal length range suitable for 4x5 field work. It is the:
105mm f5.6 Fujinon CM-W: Fuji lists the coverage of this lens at 174mm, which means it covers 4x5, but leaves enough for only very modest movements (similar to the lenses discussed above in the 90mm - 100mm category). I have not shot with this particular lens, but Chris Perez and I did test a 125mm CM-W that performed very well. And, I have also been VERY impressed with other Fuji LF lenses I have used. So, no personal experience with this model, but I would expect performance to be at least as good as, and most likely better than, anything listed in the 90 - 100mm category. There is only one drawback to this lens. With a published weight of 220g, is passes for lightweight (in my book), but for some reason, Fuji decided to make all their smaller CM-W lenses take 67mm filters. That's the main reason I don't own one of these. I have standarized all my lightweight lenses around 52mm filters. Why they did this baffles me. I haven't seen this lens in person (I have seen the 125mm CM-W), but from the pictures I've seen, it looks ridiculous. It has a tiny little front element surrounded by a huge, flared out front barrel (like a bad pair of bell bottoms from 1972). It could have EASILY been equipped to take 52mm filters without any limitations on coverage. This obviously makes the lens bigger and heavier than it needs to be, but more importantly, it forces the user to carry bigger, heavier, more expensive filters as well. I wish Fuji would have just made the lens with a 52mm filter mount and then left it up to the user to determine if they wanted to use 52mm filters, or 67mm filters with a step-up ring. What is most baffling about this is that several of Fuji's longer lenses (240 A, 300 C and 450 C) ARE standarized around the 52mm filter size. So, it is possible to assemble a set of compact, lightweight lenses all the way up to 450mm taking nothing larger than 52mm filters. But if you want to include the otherwise compact 105mm Fujinon CM-W (or the 125mm, 135mm or 150mm CM-W), you are forced to carry 67mm filters and 52mm - 67mm step-up rings for all of your other compact lenses. Bummer.
Note: prior to the current CM-W line, Fuji's standard line of lenses was the W Series. The 105mm f5.6 Fujinon W is listed with an image circle of 162mm and it takes 46mm filters. So, it takes smaller filters, but the coverage is REALLY tight on 4x5. I have no experience with this particular lens, but I have used other W Series Fujis and have found them to be excellent performers. If you do find one of these on the used market, in addition to the limited coverage, consider also that the lens may only be single coated. The W line was produced for about 20 years, and sometime during that time period, Fuji switched from single coating to multi-coating their lenses.
What I Carry: I don't currently carry any lightweight lens in this focal length range.
120 - 125mm: Now, we're finally starting to get to the point where there are a few options in modern, multi-coated designs to choose from for 4x5 field lenses in this range. Still, if you can just hold out for a 135 or 150, the of number choices and size of the image circles both go up considerably. Skipping over the larger lenses (like the 120mm Super Symmar HM at 390g and 67mm filter size - see General Purpose Lenses and Future Classics) leaves the following choices:
120mm f6.8 Schneider Angulon: Most of the comments above about the 90mm Angulon also apply to the 120mm version of this classic lens. The big difference is the coverage. Schneider advertised the 120mm Angulon as a 5x7 lens. Even with a conservatively rated image circle of 211mm, it has very good coverage for 4x5 field photography. I don't have one of these to weigh, but given the fact that they came in Compur #1 shutters, I'd estimate the weight to be right around 190 - 200g, and I seem to recall the filter size as 49mm. So, reasonably light and compact, but only single coated.
120mm f6.3 Congo Wide Angle: See my comments above concering the shorter 90mm WA Congo. Again, the longer version of this lens has a correspondingly larger image circle (220mm). So, it will allow generous movements for a 4x5 field lens. Chris Perez and I tested two of the 120mm WA Congos. See Table 4. for the results of those tests (unfortunately, neither fared very well in our testing and both were returned). The manufacturer lists the weight at 188g, but the two we received weighed in at only 145g (same as the 90mm WA Congo). Also, like the 90mm WA Congo, this lens takes 43mm filters. So, for a lens in this focal length with this much coverage, it is very compact and lightweight.
Table 4. 120mm Wide Angle Congo Test Results
120mm f5.6 APO Symmar: This is the shortest focal length that covers 4x5 in Schneider's excellent APO Symmar line. At 190g, in a Copal #0 shutter, with 49mm filters, it qualifies as both lightweight and compact. With a published image circle of 179mm, coverage is much more limited than the larger 120mm Super Symmar HM (211mm). Still, within it's more modest image circle, the performance of the little APO Symmar is excellent, (only slightly behind its larger, more expensive big brother). See Table 5. for our test results.
Table 5. 120mm APO Symmar Test Results
125mm f5.6 Fujinon CM-W: With a 204mm image circle, and a published weight of 265g, the 125mm CM-W seems to be a decent compromise between coverage and weight in a modern, multi-coated design. Unfortunately, like the 105mm CM-W mentioned above, Fuji made this lens bigger and heavier than necessary by forcing owners of this lens to use larger, more expensive 67mm filters. As expected, performance of the single sample we tested was quite good - in the same ballpark as the 120mm APO Symmar at normal working apertures (f16 and f22) with the added benefit of much more generous coverage. Table 6. summarizes the test results for this lens.
Table 6. 125mm Fujinon CM-W Test Results
Note: 1 Manufacturer's Published Weight
What I Carry: For several reasons, I don't carry any lightweight lens in this focal length range. I prefer something in the 135mm or 150mm focal length. If I did wish to carry something in this focal length, it would be a tough choice. If not for the ridiculous 67mm filter size, my first choice would be the 125mm Fujinon CM-W (which, even with the larger than necessary filter size, makes a great General Purpose lens in this focal length range). However, for backpacking, I prefer something that can be used with the same 52mm filters as all my other compact, lightweight lenses. In that case, I'd probably either test enough of the 120mm WA Congos until I got one with acceptable performance, or just live with the limted coverage and go with the proven performance of the 120mm APO Symmar. There is no obvious "best choice" for my needs, which is one of the reasons I prefer something in a slightly longer focal length, where the options are plentiful and the advantages more clearcut.
© Kerry L. Thalmann, 1999