In keeping with our old-timey and big-camera theme of recent days I can't resist pointing out that this must be causing heart attacks amongst large-format aficionados all over—a pristine Gold-Dot Goerz Dagor in a modern Copal #3, offered by Lens & Repro of NYC for $2,350. ("Best one we have ever had. Best one we have ever seen.")
Another one for the "good thing I'm not rich or I'd lose a lot more money" category.
And lest you think this is just knee-jerk nostalgia, this is allegedly the lens that Paolo Roversi uses. (Or maybe his is a 14-inch. Does anyone have the March 2005 Photo District News?)
Paolo Roversi, Natalia Vodianova, Paris, 2003
I'm just sayin'.
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Featured Comment by Mike Plews: "A few years back I saw an Art Sinsebaugh show in KC. They had his Deardorff Banquet camera on display complete with a ton of electrical tape on the bellows and a Dagor out front."
Ken Tanaka replies to Mike: I remember that show here in Chicago very well. Here's that camera:
Featured Comment by Matt Miller: "The 12" Dagor was my first and most loved 8x10 lens. It had bubbles in the glass and was mounted in an old, slow Ilex shutter. Boy could that sucker draw a pretty picture though. I sure miss those days."
Featured Comment by Tobias Key: "In Paolo Roversi's Book Studio there is a close up of the lens he uses. It's a 12" Golden (rather than Gold Dot) Dagor in an Ilex No. 4 shutter. I presume it's considerably older than this example. The camera is a Deardorff 8x10 if anyone is interested."
Mike replies: Thanks Tobias. I hope someone will correct me if I'm wrong, but I think all the "Golden" Dagors are equivalent, whether it's a gold ring or the word "Golden" or a gold dot—as far as I know it's just the designation for the top selects from the manufacturing process for that particular lens of that particular vintage.
In the old days, when lenses were entirely handmade, there was a range of acceptable tolerances for any lens, which could only be determined by testing after the lens was completed. Arthur Kramer used to say that the measure of how good a lensmaker was was how many lenses it was willing to throw out—in the case of an early high-quality zoom I once read about, four out of five finished lenses had to be discarded because when they were assembled and tested they didn't perform up to spec. That naturally made the one remaining lens a lot more expensive. Goerz was one manufacturer that indicated which lenses turned out to be at the very top of the acceptable performance range: the "Golden" lenses.
And by the way, this is now more or less a solved problem: these days, sample variation has been minimized where high-quality lenses are concerned to the point that all the samples released for sale will be bunched quite tightly near the very top of the spec. Tom Kwas in the comments to the "Making Sharp Images" post mentioned that pros used to buy three new lenses, test them, and keep only the best one. Well, there's not much need to do that any more (although that's how I bought my last enlarging lens). At least, not if you buy a good-quality model from a reputable manufacturer to start with.
Question from Paul: "For those of us who have only ever shot 8x10 with 'cheap' Schnieder, Fuji or Rodenstock lenses, may I ask someone to elaborate and probably ruin my Saturday afternoon with the differences between modern day lenses and the Dagors? Are there any current lenses which can be considered in the same league?"
Mike replies: Paul, according to Kingslake, the classic Dagor (or Double Anastigmat Goerz) consists of two triplets arranged symmetrically around the stop. It derives from an 1882 design by Emil van Hoegh and was extremely successful and widespread in the era before cameras by and large came off tripods. Its chief advantage now, apart from a subtly old-fashioned look to the way it renders the image, is that it offers good coverage (i.e., a large image circle) for its physical size. (Long plasmats can be very large indeed, as you might know.) There must be modern large-format lens types that mimic the Dagor design, but I'm not up on my large-format lens lore.
There are several modern lenses which are better in every way. I don't have as much experience (or as much knowledge) as some, but my preference is for the Rodenstock Apo-Sironar-S line, which are superlative lenses. The 150mm Apo-S for 4x5 (Translation into English: 5x4) is about as good as a camera lens gets, the closest thing to practical optical perfection mere money can buy. If you are looking to save a buck, the Apo-Sironar-N line or the Sironar-N line (the latter two are the same, just labeled differently) are also excellent. The only advantage of the Apo-S over the Apo-N/N is that the former will maintain sharpness a little further out on the image circle and reach the same performance level roughly a stop (or a little less than a stop) wider open. If you're looking for an excellent, all-purpose, affordable first view camera lens, you really can't do much better than a used Sironar-N. As a bonus, they're not expensive.
Featured Comment by Rod S: "Mike, you wrote, '...in that case I don't remember where I heard that he uses a Dagor.' Does the photo below help? It's a reflection of the model while she is triggering the shutter of Roversi's camera."