New large format lenses

Recently I’ve had an inkling to dabble in large format portraiture rather than medium format. In particular I’ve wanted to try using older lenses with their various flaws. So far my only large format lenses have been high-quality Schneider lenses of (relatively) modern design and wide-to-normal focal lengths, so I decided to pick up some old lenses.

Large format lenses
Large format lenses

Trouble is, old large format lenses seem to attract high prices these days so I’ve been watching eBay for weeks to find some bargains. This week, I finally struck gold and these three beauties were added to my collection for tiny prices. Thanks again to Arthur for turning his metalworking skills to making some aluminium lens boards for me.

Zeiss Ikon Tessar 120mm f/4.5

Zeiss Ikon Tessar 12cm 1:4.5
Zeiss Ikon Tessar 12cm 1:4.5

This Tessar wasn’t purchased on its own but rather mounted on a Zeiss Ikon Icarette 500/15. It is easily (and reversibly!) removed and can be mounted in a lens board for use on a large format camera. After a not-very-successful attempt to convert the Icarette to a 6x11cm camera with 120 film I decided this lens would be better put to use on my Horseman 45HD.

The Tessar design was patented in 1902 and this particular lens was made in about 1930. This Tessar was designed for use with a camera that takes 116 film, with a negative size of 4¼×2½”. It will probably vignette on 5×4″ but should be great with my 6×9 roll film back as it is quite fast.

Kodak Ektar 203mm f/7.7

Kodak Ektar 203mm f/7.7
Kodak Ektar 203mm f/7.7

The Ektar 203mm (originally marketed as 8″ Anastigmat) was designed to cover a 7×5″ negative so no problems with 5×4″. The original Kodak 8″ Anastigmat was introduced in 1915 and the lens was marketed with only minor modifications until the 1950s. Not many other photographic products can boast such a long lifetime! The Ektar series were traditionally Kodak’s professional line and this lens in particular has a reputation for sharpness, and still holds its own today. This is the longest large format lens I have.

Bausch & Lomb Rapid Rectilinear

Bausch & Lomb Rapid Rectilinear
Bausch & Lomb Rapid Rectilinear

The Rapid Rectilinear design was first patented in 1866 but this particular Rapid Rectilinear lens was apparently introduced in 1897 and is most well-known for its use on the Kodak postcard cameras including the No. 3A Folding Pocket Kodak (1903-1915). These cameras took negatives of size 5½×3¼” so this lens should just about cover 5×4″ – however it turns out the lens can actually cover 7×5″.

This lens is probably the most interesting out of the three because it is not anastigmatic and should show some interesting distortions which lend an antique feel to the pictures.

It’s important to note that although the largest aperture marked on the scale is 4, this is not an f/4 lens. The lens is marked with the Uniform System and US4 is actually equivalent to f/8.

Facts & figures

Lens Year Focal length Aperture Coverage Elements/Groups Mounting Key points
Tessar 1930 120mm f/4.5 4¼×2½” 4/3 30mm hole in aluminium lens board Sharp & fast
Ektar 1915 203mm (8″) f/7.7 7×5″ 4/4 Copal #0 hole in aluminium lens board Sharp & long
Rapid Rectilinear 1903 190mm (7½”) f/8 7×5″ 4/2 Copal #0 hole in wooden lens board Unsharp & fun


I shot four test shots of Hannah with my Horseman 45HD using the three lenses listed above, and a “modern” Schneider-Kreuznach Symmar-S 150mm f/5.6 for comparison. All lenses were shot wide open to maximise any aberrations, vignetting, etc. I used a couple of speedlites and metered approximately using my DSLR. Only the Symmar-S comes in a shutter with flash sync so for the other lenses I shot in Bulb mode and manually fired the strobes as quickly as possible.

I knew the Ektar and Rapid Rectilinear would easily cover 5×4″, having been designed for 7×5″. However it was a very pleasant surprise that the Tessar all-but covered a 5×4″ negative, leaving only a small vignette in the corners. That’s wide open too – the vignette would lessen if I stopped down.


This lens has a longer focal length and my Horseman 45HD has quite a short bed. Even with the front standard all the way forward and the focusing bed fully extended, I was not able to focus on Hannah where she was standing so I had to ask her to step back, closer to the blind.

The lens is good though – hardly any visible vignetting and plenty of sharpness. I will use this again for further-away subjects where I can focus properly.

Rapid Rectilinear

Being an older lens design, this lens shows a little more vignetting in the corners. It would probably clear up if I stopped down a bit. The lens has a little bit of pleasant softness but is still surprisingly good for something designed 120 years ago. It’s also possible I didn’t focus perfectly.

This lens needs more testing with a more interesting background but I think it could become a useful portrait lens in my arsenal.


As expected, this lens is capable of making very sharp images and serves as a good control. At only 150mm it’s not quite long enough for large format portraits.


I don’t know what happened to this negative. It looks like the shutter stuck open and experienced some motion blur. The negative is also a bit over-exposed because I forgot to turn the flash power down to account for the faster f/4.5 lens.

There is noticeable vignetting in the corners, as expected, but this lens is doing remarkably well for one that was never designed to cover 5×4″.

This lens is too short to be a useful portrait lens on large format but it could be ideal on medium format with my 6×9 roll film back.

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