Large format lenses are fully manual and don’t have any of the electronic features or brand specific mounts that 35mm or 120 lenses may have, making them a lot more straightforward and versatile. This guide details the most common types of lenses available, the different parts you need, where to buy them, what to consider, and how to set them up for use with your Intrepid Camera.
Lens boards and shutters
Large format lenses need 3 components to be used on a large format camera - the lens which is the glass parts (front element and rear element), the shutter and the lens board. The shutter contains all the mechanical features which allow how much light is let in and the ring on the outside of the shutter is where you control this by setting your shutter speed and aperture. The lens board is simply the flat board which lenses must be screwed into to mount onto your camera.
Generally lenses will come with shutters already attached but occasionally you may need to buy them separately. Shutters come in three sizes #0, #1 and #3, this is referred to as the Copal size and is important to know for mounting to a lens board as they come with holes in these three sizes as well. Some shutters may be Compur or Seiko but the same lens board sizes still apply (#0, #1 and #3). Often shutters will say on them what Copal size they are but if not it’s easy to find out with a quick online search or just email us and we can help you out!
You may also find lenses for sale already mounted to boards, which is great but you’ll need to find out what type of board it is as there are different kinds. The Intrepid 4x5 is designed to take Linhof/Tecknika style lens boards and the 8x10 takes Sinar style lens boards. However with the Intrepid lens board adapter you can increase compatibility and use Linhof/Tecknika boards on the 8x10 as well. Alternatively you can save any confusion and get yourself an Intrepid 4x5 lens board or Intrepid 8x10 lens board.
The Intrepid 4x5 will take lenses with focal lengths between 75mm-300mm and the Intrepid 8x10 will work with 180mm-550mm. A fairly standard and versatile focal length for 4x5 is around 150mm and for 8x10 around 300mm, which is roughly equivalent to a standard 50mm lens. With this you will be able to get good shots in most situations with ease and with little prior LF knowledge. The table below shows the equivalent focal lengths of 35mm, 4x5 and 8x10 formats.
As with all camera formats different lenses are good for different types of photography, for example if you mainly shoot portraits you might prefer something which has a wider aperture, whereas for landscape this may not be so desirable. Although everything is down to personal preference so that’s why it is great to experiment. All lenses will say the widest aperture (or f number) on the front and on the side you will find the aperture dial showing the full range covered by the lens. The picture below shows a typical shutter ring with the aperture and shutter speed dial.
Where to buy online and things to consider
There are lots of great online photography stores that stock large format lenses. If you are buying from a business you will generally have the guarantee that the lens will be clean and in full working order. They may also offer some sort of warranty and will be able to provide expert knowledge and advice if you have any questions.
eBay can be a valuable source as well and you can get some amazing deals so it is definitely worth considering. The Japanese market in particular is always fantastic and there are many well established dealers. However, obviously as with buying anything secondhand on eBay it is important to be certain of the condition and details of the lens first.
Large format lens components can be pretty old, but as they do not have any electronic features there is a lot less to go wrong. The main part that can show signs of age is the shutter itself, with time the accuracy of shutter speeds can reduce but as long as you get used to how your lens operates this should not be an issue. Generally older lenses will have a silver shutter ring and more modern ones will have a black ring, this is a quick way of determining which lenses are likely to be older.
The other most common problem can be dust under the glass so be sure to always ask for detailed pictures from all angles. If a listing doesn’t mention the condition directly in the description, then ask the seller about whether the lens has been tested and is is full working order or has any damage or dust present.
Once you have a lens mounted in a shutter and a lens board you just need a mechanical cable release for triggering the shutter. These are universal and simply screw onto the side of the shutter. Older ones can be a little temperamental so try and go for a new one or a good condition secondhand one. Then just add some film and you can get shooting!