Following our article on recommended lenses for 8×10 cameras , today Ill cover my favorite lenses upon two even bigger formats: 14×17 and 12×20. These two ultra-large formats have similar diagonals as each other – in practice, about 550mm and 580mm respectively. Most lenses basically for one will work for the other.
Unfortunately, there are not very many lenses at all which cover such massive forms, especially if you want a modern shutter and newer, multicoated glass. The good news (in a way) is that your sharpness standards could be a bit lower with these platforms since you’re most likely contact printing your work.
I shoot with a 12×20 camera and use five lenses that cover the particular format, ranging from very wide to a slight telephoto. Our setup is even backpackable (that’s why I proceeded to go for the skinnier 12×20 instead of 14×17) and slides in to my Gregory Baltoro 95 hiking pack alongside 1 film holder. I usually hike with just one or two lenses, holding about 40-50 pounds upon my back in total, or 18-23 kilos.
14×17 is a very squarish element ratio, whereas 12×20 is a moderate panorama similar to the 16×9 aspect ratio of many computer monitors. To me, lenses “feel” wider when the aspect proportion is close to a sq ., since they include more of the atmosphere and foreground in a surroundings photo. So , I generally think of focal lengths because equivalent on 14×17 plus 12×20 even though they officially are about 6% wider on 12×20.
If you’re familiar with focal lengths for full-frame digital (or 35mm film) cameras, you can divide all the numbers in this article by 13. 5 to obtain a rough equivalence. This applies both to focal duration and aperture values. For example , a 450mm lens in f/128 on these huge formats is approximately equal to a 33mm lens from f/9. 5 on a full-frame digital camera. If you took a photograph with each camera plus printed them at the same dimension, the prints would have comparable compositions, level of field , and diffraction .
Table of Contents
Best Ultra-Wide Lenses (305mm and Wider)
Among the widest lenses that covers 12×20 is the Schneider 210mm f/5. 6 Super-Symmar XL. The “XL” designation refers to the lens’s huge coverage, but it’s also simply an extra-large lens. This weighs 2 kg (4. 4 lbs) and takes 135mm filters. It markets for at least $6500 usually and closer to $8000 with all the center filter. In 35mm terms (AKA full-frame digital), it’s equivalent to about a 16mm lens on 14×17 plus 12×20. It’s overkill for nearly anyone – but then again, so are these cameras in the first place.
I’ve heard the fact that slightly wider Rodenstock Grandagon 200mm f/6. 8 furthermore covers, but only with the barest of margins. 14×17 users may be fine with all the Rodenstock whereas 12×20 might be iffy. In any case, it’s educational, because this lens is nearly unattainable to find. It’s just as large and expensive as the Schneider SSXL, but the SSXL has more coverage and is more common, therefore that’s the one I’d obtain if you need it.
The other huge, modern, plus outrageously expensive lens to cover 12×20 is the Rodenstock Sironar-W 300mm f/5. 6. It takes 127mm filters and weighs in at a hefty 1 . six kilos / 3. five pounds. I don’t know how much it offers in the way of movements, yet seemingly not much. Budget $8000 or so, if you can find one.
Moving into the realm of reality, there are a few choices from 240mm to 305mm that sell for less and aren’t nearly as large. Three noteworthy lenses are the Zeiss Goerz Dagor 24cm f/9, Computar 270mm f/9, and Computar 305mm f/9. All three lenses are very rare, but when they do appear, they’re at least slightly realistic in price (about $2000 apiece) and surprisingly compact.
Starting with the Zeiss Goerz Dagor 24cm f/9, this small lens anchoring screws directly onto a modern Copal #3 shutter. As far as I know, two copies have shown on eBay in the last several years. One particular sold for $1000 (incredibly lucky for whoever got that will, and no, it wasn’t me). The other copy sold for $2425. This lens covers 14×17 without room to extra, which means 12×20 is really pressing things if you need to focus on infinity. It’s equivalent to approximately 18mm on a full-frame digital or 35mm film digital camera.
Next could be the Computar 270mm f/9. This particular lens is just as rare because the Zeiss, showing up once each few years on eBay or maybe the largeformatphotography. details buy/sell discussion board. It’s a small lens within a big Copal #3 shutter and usually sells to get $1500-2000. I found a duplicate somehow, and it’s the lens I use as my ultra-wide (roughly 20mm equivalent) on 12×20. I love exactly how small and light it is at 600 g, let alone the fact that it has a tiny 58mm filter thread. It addresses 12×20 but has no area for movements, aside, of course , from rear base tilt or swing. It also includes a huge amount of field curvature, but I find that focusing at a careful spot and stopping all the way down to f/90 is enough to get sharp outcomes. 270mm at f/90 is the same as using a 20mm f/6. 7 lens on a full-frame camera in terms of depth of field and diffraction. (A really small number of 270mm f/9 Kowa Graphic lenses have the same optical design, but you’re really only safe with all the original Computar or Kyvytar version of the lens. )
Another zoom lens of note in the ultra-wide range is the Computar 305mm f/9, which also anchoring screws into a Copal #3. It is equivalent to about 22mm in full-frame digital terms. This is the best lens of the number if you need movements, since it addresses 14×17 and 12×20 nicely (and from what I have heard, even barely addresses 16×20). Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to find, even more so than the 270mm Computar. If you find a copy – or, since before, have sensational fortune with a Kowa Graphic 305mm f/9 – snap up.
I know of the few other lenses in the sub-305mm range that supposedly cover 14×17 or 12×20, but they’re generally a lot older lenses and very difficult to get:
- 27cm f/18 Protar: Maybe actually covers 16×20 and appears occasionally for big bucks
- Goerz Rectagon 270mm f/10: You will not find one.
- Goerz Dagor 12” f/6. 8: Most duplicates don’t cover, but some perform; older copies more likely to cover
- Three of the R. D. Gray Extreme Wide Angle Periscope lenses: #6, #7, and #8 (180mm, 215mm, and 255mm respectively), all f/10 lens from the 1800s
- R. D. Gray #6 Wide Angle Periscope lens (305mm f/15): Also from the 1800s, least expensive lens on this list, still hard to find
- Some of the long-lost Hypergons
And lastly, if you have one of the world’s three known copies of the Fujinon SW 300mm f/9 – plus a pack mule to transport it around – that’ll work, too.
Best Wide Lenses (355-360mm)
Unlike the ultra-wides, there are some easy-to-find choices for 14×17 plus 12×20 lenses around 355mm, which is equivalent to about 26mm on a full-frame digital or 35mm film camera. It’s a nice, natural focal size for a lot of subjects, which is why I’m glad to have some choices here. There are two main ones I’d consider: the particular Schneider G-Claron 355mm f/9 and the Schneider Symmar Transformable 360mm f/5. 6.
The more popular from the two is the Schneider G-Claron 355mm f/9. It’s a very sharp optic, and the copy covers 12×20 with no added mechanical vignetting starting at f/32, giving a bit of room for movements at the smaller apertures. It’s not too heavy (855 grams / 1 . 9 pounds in a Copal #3 shutter) and is fairly easy to find. A typical copy markets for at least $1000 on eBay, but you should be able to look for a lower price than that if a person wait or buy from the top Format Photography Forum.
Alternatively, if weight and filter thread dimension aren’t concerns, the Schneider Symmar Convertible 360mm f/5. 6 is the way to go. It provides about the same image circle because the G-Claron and is similar within image quality. But you can find two other benefits of this lens: First, the f/5. 6 aperture is great for focusing and creating, especially since a lot of 12×20 cameras have a pretty dim ground glass. Second, since the name implies, this zoom lens can be converted to a 620mm f/12 in a pinch by removing the front element.
As with the G-Claron, the 360mm Symmar Transformable is pretty easy to find. A duplicate or two are usually offered at any given time in a shutter for under $750 if you look at different companies. Unfortunately, it has a huge 105mm filter thread and weighs about 1 . 8 kilogram / 4. 0 lbs, depending on which shutter it is in. That’s as much as 2 G-Clarons put together! Not all digital cameras can handle a lens that heavy without issues, especially if you have an older, rickety 12×20 banquet camera.
Of the two, I’d recommend the G-Claron more often, due to the fact it’s light enough for most front standards and requires smaller 77mm filters. Yet both are great lenses, and the allure of a brighter, 620mm-convertible lens is also hard to refuse.
Two alternatives are the Goerz Dagor 14” f/7. 7 (roughly 356mm) and the Docter Germinar-W 360mm f/9. The Goerz Dagor is noteworthy mainly because it’s almost always in stock somewhere and is a classic favorite for ultra-large format capturing. Many, but not all copies will cover 12×20, so buy through someone with a good return plan. The Goerz Dagor is generally about $1500, so the G-Claron has my vote involving the two (and the Schneider’s Plasmat design is supposedly a bit sharper than the Dagor design). However , some duplicates of the Goerz Dagor possess coverage up to 16×20, which usually beats the other options here. If you need significant movements at 355mm, it could be worth searching for the right copy of the Dagor.
Meanwhile, the Docter Germinar-W 360mm f/9 (not to be confused along with APO-Germinar versions) is nearly impossible to find and fiendishly costly if you do. However , it is the least heavy of these lenses at about 550 grams in a Copal three or more shutter, and maybe the sharpest. It has similar coverage because the G-Claron and Symmar Transformable – easily covering the whole frame but offering minimum room for movements.
Best Broad Midrange Lenses (420-480mm)
On 14×17 and 12×20, a 450mm lens is equivalent to about 33mm on full-frame digital and 35mm film. It’s an excellent, standard focal length meant for slightly wide lenses on 14×17 and 12×20, plus thankfully has some good zoom lens options available on the market.
The best of the options may be the Nikkor M 450mm f/9. This lens is little and light (640 grms / 1 . 41 lbs and a 67mm filter thread), and it has huge coverage. Supposedly it reaches up to 20×24 coverage, albeit with some loss of corner sharpness. 12×20 plus smaller formats are not a problem at all and offer massive movements.
The Nikkor M 450mm f/9 tends to cost about $1200-1500, yet there’s an older version – the Nikkor Q 450mm f/9 – that costs less, about $800-1000. As far as I can tell, the only difference would be that the Nikkor Q has solitary coating instead of multi-coating but is otherwise the same design.
Personally, I personally use the Nikkor Q 450mm f/9 and find it works perfectly on my 12×20 camera. Vignetting is gone by f/20, leaving me with many inches of movement at my usual 12×20 apertures of f/90-180. If I could only shoot with one lens on this format, the Nikkor Q would be the one.
Other options in the 420-480mm range include the Goerz Dagor 16. 5” f/7. 7, Goerz Dagor 19” f/7. 7, and the Fujinon 450mm f/12. 5. The two Goerz Dagors have coverage just as big as the Nikkor Mirielle and Q, but they are not quite as sharp plus tend to cost more (about $2000-3000). Their focal lengths match about 420mm (the 16. 5”) and 480mm (the 19”).
The particular Fujinon 450mm f/12. 5 is a fascinating lens. It only barely covers 12×20, giving you no room pertaining to movements, and it’s a full stop darker than the Nikkor M. But the Fuji lens is in a Copal #1 shutter and weighs a wonderful 270 grams. This makes it one of the lightest 12×20 lens on the market in a shutter. This tends to cost $1500-2000, and because of the light weight, it does a great job on smaller platforms, too.
Additional lenses on the market in the 450mm range that cover 12×20, but they wouldn’t be my first recommendation considering how good and inexpensive the Nikkor Q and Nikkor Meters are. Still, if you curently have something else that works, my usual recommendation is to stick with exactly what you’ve got. There are a lot of viable lenses around this focal length for 14×17 and 12×20, especially if you’re shooting something like portraiture and don’t mind (or even prefer) a somewhat older, softer lens.
Best Normal Lenses (540-600mm)
At 600mm (about 45mm equivalent), there are a lot of barrel lenses going swimming that cover 12×20. You will get almost any barrel lens installed in a shutter if you send out the lens plus the suitable shutter to a mechanic such as SK Grimes . Usually, you’ll need to get a large Ilex #5 shutter (not necessarily cheap or even easy to find) to send alongside the lens, although a more affordable, more modern Copal #3 will work on some.
Of the 600mm barrel lens, the one I see most commonly – and sometimes in a shutter already – is the 24” Goerz Red Dot Artar. Occasionally it even is available in a modern Copal #3 shutter, at which point the maximum aperture is closer to f/13 instead of f/11. It’s about $1,5k in a shutter, and because it is comparatively easy to find, it’s one of my top recommendations on this focal length to most 14×17 and 12×20 photographers. Several of the 600mm barrel lenses are pretty comparable in image quality and insurance coverage, so feel free to get something various if you find one.
One under-the-radar choice is the 21 1/4″ Kodak Copying Ektanon (equal to regarding 540mm). This sharp lens shows up a few times a year on great prices, usually $200-300. It’s a barrel zoom lens but can be machined to fit in a Copal #3 shutter, and you may be able to find one that is already been fitted. The downside would be that the lens only stops down to f/45 when in a barrel or clip, so landscape photographers will need to find a copy in a shutter.
Another choice is the Schneider Symmar Transformable 360/620 I mentioned earlier, this time with the front element removed to give you a 620mm f/12. It’s still great lens, but the price is great, and of course it doubles as being a wide lens. Supposedly it’s not as sharp at 620mm as it is at 360mm; We haven’t tried it, but I suspect that stopping lower sufficiently would give you razor-sharp results.
After that there’s the Fujinon D 600mm f/11. 5. This lens has massive insurance, even projecting an image also on the 20×24 format. Regarding 12×20, it’s excellent in most way other than price. An average copy sells for about $4000 these days, although you can find it for less if you wait – or buy the identical 600mm f/11. 5 from Kang Rinpoche that occasionally appears on the market for about $3000.
At 600mm, something you really need to think about can be depth of field, since you won’t have much of this. My recommendation is to get a lens that can stop down quite a bit. Barrel lenses compelled into an Ilex #5 shutter may not be able to quit down to more than f/90 or even f/128. Those sound like really narrow apertures, and they are often – but on this kind of large format camera, they’re moderate apertures at best.
To be specific, with a 600mm lens, f/90 will give you just as much depth of field (and diffraction) as a 45mm lens on full-frame digital from f/6. 7, given the same print size. That’s not really awful, but it’s not just as much as I’d like. Ideally, you would be able to stop down to at least f/180 with lenses this long, which is closer to f/13. 3 equivalent. Copal shutters are usually preferable in this regard. My Fujinon C 600mm halts all the way down to f/256 inside a Copal #3 (even though the shutter is only marked to f/64). That’s more than enough.
I’ll also point out two excellent but very expensive options that I think are overkill for 14×17 and 12×20: the Fujinon A 600mm f/11 and Schneider 550mm f/11 XXL. Beginning with the Fujinon, it’s a rare lens but appears for sale online every once in a while. Although its younger brother, the “C f/11. 5” edition I just mentioned already has a ton of coverage, the “A f/11” version offers even more. The stated picture circle is 840mm, that is even larger than the diagonal of 20×24 film (about 793mm). The best price I’ve observed recently was $6000, however it almost never appears for sale. I wouldn’t recommend getting it unless you shoot larger than 12×20, anyway; the C version is already great for 12×20, and it’s smaller and less expensive.
The other lens is usually even rarer – the Schneider 550mm f/11 XXL. It has an image circle associated with 900mm, and Schneider specifically notes that it’s made for sharp images across the 20×24 format. On the slim opportunity you find one for sale, budget at least $12, 000. As with the Fujinon A 600mm f/11, it’s overkill just for 14×17 and 12×20… but a photographer can fantasy!
Greatest Moderately Long Lenses (700mm and up)
Normally, a zoom lens beyond 700mm would be a long telephoto on almost any structure. But on 14×17 plus 12×20, even something like 800mm is only about 60mm equivalent! It really puts into viewpoint why these are called ultra-large format cameras.
As you start using lenses outside of about 600mm, the length of your bellows will be substantial, making it very hard to avoid losing clarity due to camera shake. Contact printing is pretty forgiving, yet you’ll still need to place in a lot of effort to get razor-sharp shots beyond this point.
This is also the particular focal length range exactly where it becomes difficult to find any lens in shutters. As before, you’ll need to send a good Ilex #5 or Copal #3 to S. K. Grimes, or potentially simply shoot it as a barrel lens with your lens cover as a makeshift shutter (not necessarily a bad idea if you’re in narrow apertures like f/180). Occasionally, you’ll find a 700mm+ lens already in a shutter, but it will probably be selling at a premium.
Any lens you find in these central lengths is a good choice. Virtually all 700mm+ lenses cover 12×20 and 14×17, plus usually more than that. They all tend to perform similarly and also have plenty of sharpness at slim apertures. I wouldn’t worry about minor differences between them and recommend focusing more on bodyweight and price.
Personally, I was lucky to discover a Goerz 30” Red Department of transportation Artar available for sale already mounted in a Copal #3 shutter. The maximum aperture of this lens is usually f/12. 5 but shrinks to f/16 in the Copal #3. Since it is a long lens, f/16 remains bright enough to focus and compose easily on my 12×20 camera. This is also the longest lens I personally use on 12×20.
Alongside the 30” Red Us dot Artar is a 35” edition. Even though these lenses are still pretty difficult to find, they’re one of the more common ones you’ll notice on the market, especially if you’re searching for a lens already in a shutter. They’re sharp lenses along with massive coverage. The 30” has a focal length in millimeters of about 762mm (equivalent to 56mm on full frame digital), while the 35” is about 890mm (equivalent to 66mm). It’s an useful range of focal lengths, albeit nevertheless not a very long perspective.
I’d hesitate to use any lens beyond about 900mm on any film format, including 14×17 and 12×20. But there are a few gigantic process lenses around 1000mm, 1200mm, and 1800mm to be found if you need them, all of which should cover far more than just 14×17 and 12×20. The best deal I ever saw for one of these lenses was to get a Red Dot Artar forty seven. 5” f/15 in the lighter aluminum barrel. The seller mentioned it weighed a very thin (for the focal length) 2 kilos / 4. 4 pounds. It was selling on eBay for $3200, which is a lot lower than it will have been. I’m just glad I don’t have a camera with 1200mm of bellows, or even I might have talked myself into the bad financial decision of buying it. (It’s about a 90mm lens in full-frame digital equivalent. )
Large format photographer Angus Parker wrote a great explained 14×17 lenses that has, many other things, a chart with lots of the particular 700mm+ barrel lenses. I suggest checking it out here .
But in short, if you want a lens that covers 12×20 or 14×17 beyond about 900mm, you’re generally remaining with lenses that are really heavy, expensive, and difficult to make use of. I don’t want to dissuade you if your heart is set upon such long focal measures, of course. Just keep in mind that you’re making things very tough on yourself, even by standards of ultra-large format photography.
Given everything I’ve covered above, I have two general kits to recommend. First is the budget package:
- Schneider G-Claron 355mm f/9 ($1000)
- Nikkor Queen 450mm f/9 ($900)
- Goerz Red Dot Artar 24” / 600mm ($750 in barrel, $1500 in shutter)
The focal measures of these lenses are similar to about 26mm, 33mm, plus 45mm on a full-frame camera. It sounds pretty slim when I put it that way, but these are very useful focal lengths and various enough from each other to be worth buying all 3. That said, you can easily get away along with just one of these lenses – especially the Nikkor Q 450mm f/9 – with excellent results on 12×20 or 14×17.
Of the three lenses over, the Red Dot Artar is the only one that’s difficult to get, and it’s still sensible if you’re patient. It appears more frequently in a barrel rather than in a shutter. For ULF photography at narrow apertures, making use of your lens cap as a shutter is a totally viable choice anyway. But you could send out the barrel lens and also a spare Copal #3 shutter to a mechanic like SK Grimes to machine the two together for a fee.
There’s also a higher end kit I’d recommend:
- Computar 270mm or 305mm f/9 ($1500-3000)
- Schneider G-Claron 355mm f/9 ($1000)
- Nikkor M 450mm f/9 ($1300)
- Fujinon C 600mm f/11. 5 ($4000)
- Goerz Red Dot Artar 35” / 890mm ($2500-3500 in shutter)
These lenses have a wider spread of focal lengths. The 270mm Computar is equivalent to about 20mm on a full-frame digital camera, as well as the 305mm Computar is about 22mm equivalent. I also substituted the Nikkor Q for the Nikkor M to get the newer coatings, and the Fujinon C 600mm to get a smaller, more modern zoom lens with bigger coverage.
On the long finish, the 35” Red Dot Artar is equivalent to about 66mm. Note that not all 12×20 digital cameras will have enough bellows extension to use such a long lens! Even if yours does, you might want to substitute it for the 30″ Red Dot Artar to obtain more stability (762mm, which is regarding 56mm full-frame equivalent). Alternatively, you could go further using the 42” or 47. 5” Red Dot Artar lenses, but the stability issues when this occurs would make sharp digital photography very difficult.
Remember that even the higher-end kit above is not comprised of the most expensive and coveted ULF lenses on the market. Feel free to exchange in the Docter Germinar-W 360mm f/9 and Schneider 550mm f/11 XXL if you have a spare $20, 000 and can for some reason find copies of these lens in the first place. Personally, though, I can stick to lenses that show up on the market occasionally and do not cost more than my car.
Very few lenses cover ultra-large forms. You probably knew that when a person signed up for such an unusual pastime. But there are at least a few sharp, modern, well-priced lenses that cover 14×17 and 12×20 – and a few is all we need.
Of course , a lot of older lenses cover these formats, as well. They’re not always as razor-sharp as the more recent optics – and often they won’t end up being cheaper, either – but most of them are still great for contact printing or for portraiture. The article above is aimed toward applications like landscape digital photography where high sharpness and contrast are desired, yet maximum sharpness often isn’t needed (or even wanted) by ultra-large format professional photographers.
Prices change on ultra-large format lenses. Availability can also change rapidly. You’re dealing with extremely specialized niche lenses and cameras, and much more than anything I’ve said above, the key is just to obtain something that covers 14×17 or 12×20 in the first place. If you find a good deal on a lens not mentioned in this article, go for it. Simply do your research ahead of time and buy through someone with a good return policy.
It’s not simple to find lenses for such large cameras, but it sure is worth it when you do.