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Sunday, 26 August 2012


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Wise words, and good examples. I blame computers of course, which allow all of us to assess optical performance in a way that wasn't possible for mere punters when our perception of "sharpness" - desirable or not - was arrived at by eye-balling the resultant product. This is still possible of course. I think a physical print is the best way of looking at a photo, but as an approximation I find if I look at an image fullscreen on a largish monitor (27" iMac is what I use), and it looks good, then hopefully I can resist clicking the zoom button

"...a picture by Frank Petronio taken with a 14" Commercial Ektar...the original photograph being made from an 8x10" negative..."

Hopefully Frank will jump in here himself but, based on that image's appearance (it would look much closer to normal perspective using a 355mm lens on 8x10) as well as Frank's usual shooting equipment, I'd guess it's 4x5.

Looking at the three small examples, I came down for contrast over resolution myself. Interestingly, in the cropped versions I'm not nearly as sure of that choice.

It's curious...although I know exactly how each example ought to look, my Photoshop skills aren't good enough to enable me to make them look that way...they're really pretty approximate. I just hope the ideas come through clearly.

The best way to do this test would be to use actual lenses, but that would be 10 to 100 times more work.


There is distinct difference between sharpness and resolution. Resolution is easy....use a digital camera, shoot multiple frames using a no nodal point adapter....stitch in PTGui or Autopano Pro and presto a 60.000 x 40.000 picture.

Sharpness however is another matter...personally I call it "inverting in the pixel". Using the proper algorithm's to conquer the effects of diffraction, bayer array fuziness and lens aberations, can be challenging at times (and starts with a well focussed frame, shot on a tripod, with a quality head with a high dampening factor).

If you invest in the pixel you can reach extreemly sharp looking pictures without the effects of oversharpening (I use several algorithms from programs like SilkyPics, RAWTherapee, GIMP and G´MIC all in limited dosage).

Now if you combine the two the results can be dramatic and a humble GF1 can give an 8 x10 a run for the money, especially if you go HDRi and use exposure blending as part of the process....(don't confuse with standard lollypop color HDR).

The combination digital camera and computer can catapult you to technical domains you would never have beleived possible....and some may remember I was a sceptic but hey, as Saulus went into Paulus after having seen the light, I have changed my opinion....I still like analogue for it's groundedness....but if you wanna soar go digital, HDRi and stitching.....this technology has come of age.....and can produce great results.

Greets, Ed

Well illustrated and explained. Your examples explaining the optical characteristics of contrast & resolution look and read clear as day--even on my pedestrian laptop screen.

I'm bookmarking this for my students.

The baby photos up top remind me of a 55mm f1.2 Canon lens I used to own. Maybe not sharp enough, but close. But it had very low contrast (at least wide open, and in manual focus film days, I can't think why one would use a f1.2 lens much past 1.8.) The lens was the size of a soft ball (but oh so much heavier).


As an aside, that baby looks very Loretta Lux-ish...

Looking at these pictures in your illustration, they all seem to be identical. Is this just the same picture with adjustments to illustrate the point being made? That's what I'm assuming.

The best lenses I have ever owned are perfect exemplars of what Kodak found and all four are of the Tessar design. A 5x7 f/6.3 by Bausch & Lomb from 1912, a Zeiss 135/4.5 from the mid 20's, a Zeiss 50/2.8 (for Contax range finder) from the mid 30's (one I should not have sold, alas) & a Russian Industar-61 L/D 50/2.8 of recent vintage. Only the Russian is coated.

It can be drastic fun to take my oh so modern E-PL1 out and about with that Industar mounted on it. I need to try and find a nice old uncoated, preferably Zeiss, Tessar for it as well.


or perhaps this instead


I think the "sharpness" thing may have gotten a little out of control due to attempting to make square pixels into round dots.

Nice and informative reading. Thank you Mike.

One advantage of digital photography is that it is now so easy to test lenses without changing more than one parameter: the lens. Subsequent side-by-side comparison using LR is easy as pie.

For my tests, I usually photograph some USAF charts (one in each corner and one in the middle of the picture) but this part of the test is just to make sure that there is nothing wrong with the lens, often a super budget buy from eBay.

More important is testing contrast. My standard set up is a dozen of old paint cans, some placed behind and some in front of the plane of focus.

I agree with you Mike; it is _lens_ _micro_ contrast that counts, not resolution.

"Looking at these pictures in your illustration, they all seem to be identical. Is this just the same picture with adjustments to illustrate the point being made? That's what I'm assuming."

Yes, that's right.


When Eastman Kodak was developing its famous series of Commercial Ektar large format lenses (in the 1950s, I think), its scientists conducted a series of empirical tests—they showed a large number of prints to a large number of people to find out what technical properties people actually preferred the look of. They found that people liked high contrast but not-so-high resolution, so that's how they formulated the lenses. Commercial Ektars have a particular rich-but-smooth look that many large format photographers still prize today.

They had the plot, then they lost it. If Kodak had continued to listen to and meet the needs and wants of consumers it probably wouldn't be bankrupt as it is today.

A very interesting read - and it made my think again. In the last few months, I got lost in the "sharpness" whole again (do I really need a wide angle lens for my m4/3 cameras other than the Olympus Kit lens?). Rethinking what pictures I like, one buy-sell story came back to my mind:

For 35mm, I use Minolta XD cameras. I had near to all 50mm lenses for that systems in use. My favorite is the 50mm 1.4 MC Rokkor PG. I like this lens for its "look". And I really can't define, what "look" means to me. Once (about 3 years ago), I bought the newer version (50mm 1.4 MD). 2 rolls of film in real life situations made me sell that lens again. It was sharper than the MC one - but the sharpness looked unpleasant.

Its very hard to concentrate on "what really matters" for photography. Just relying on technical details is a much simpler attitude. I'm struggling with that matter all the time.

Best regards,

Just the other day Kirk Tuck reminded my how much I miss using my Deardorff. Now you remind me how much I like the look of a Commercial Ektar. You guys are going to drive me back to film. (That's an LOL. No way I'd go back, but there are parts I miss.)

I don't care one way or the other...I just want the lenses that take good pictures.

One thing though, you can always dump some sharpness if your picture is too sharp. Not the other way around.

I tend to like my sharps sharp, and my softs soft.

One thing I've been thinking about a lot lately, and it's something I've sort of known for a while but I'm really feeling, is that you need to get really cozy with a lens before you have any idea what it can do. I remember reading about some National Geographic photographer who talked about switching from Canon to Olympus (or something like that) and how "you lose a year". After having bought quite a bit of stuff in the last year, I feel like I'm just catching up with my acquisitions. I was really used to the 80mm lens on my Mamiya C330, but now I have a 55mm and 135mm to figure out. I think I'll have 6 rolls of film for each one before I even have an idea of how they work, whether I like them or not. I'm starting to feel as though my 90mm Super Angulon is just not for me, but only after using it for a couple of months.

Speaking of the Mamiya 80mm, to me it's a perfect lens, just as sharp as you need but with a marvelously "dreamy" quality. Kind of just does what you need it to. As far as showing off the lens, this picture to me just touches on being "sharp" but is soft and round and loving to me too.


A lot of people might find that instead of just applying a small radius unsharp mask (USM) (or other similar technique ... there are many) to improve edge sharpness they may be better off trying to improve the image with local contrast enhancement with a large radius unsharp mask instead. This technique has been described on TOP before by Ctein.

But I think there are some interesting insights particularly after you've read Mike's Luminous Landscape article on Lens contrast and it's relation to MTF that you think about what a LCE USM does to the MTF of the image.

A wide radius USM uses a very blurred version of the original image as a mask which has a much lower maximum spatial frequency than the original image so applying a wide radius USM bumps the middle frequency (and to a lesser extent the upper frequency) parts of the image's MTF as shown schematically in this image.

For a more detailed explanation of USM and LCE see this article where that image comes from. There not enough room in a comment for a full explanation.

This bump in middle MTF can add in rather more pleasing effect (if not overdone!) than edge sharpening giving a quality that Mike might appreciate when it's missing from the lens.

The low frequency cutoff of the unsharp mask depends on the radius parameter of the USM so you can bump the "pleasing" 5 to 10 lp/mm if you indulge in a couple of assumptions and a little math. For example a typical m43 12Mpx sensor with 4000 x 3000 pixels on an 18mm x 12mm sensor has about 222 px/mm. If you assume that you need 3 pixels per cycle (not a bad assumption) then you have about 75 cycle/mm as the maximum spatial frequency of the sensor. If you want the bump in MTF with a wide radius USM to start at 10 lp/mm then you need 3*65 (i.e. 3 * (75 cutoff lp/mm - 10 desired lp/mm)) = 195 pixel radius.

The interesting point is that one's "favorite" set of LCE USM parameters needs to vary depending on the size of the image so your new cameras bigger image needs correspondingly bigger radii in the USM.

I think this gives an insight into the old 60 pixel radius USM that Ctein describes. It would be a good idea for larger pixel (DSLR) older cameras and I think that's perhaps how the numbers started. Clearly if I'm adding LCE to my S95 or my APS-C you need to scale the radius by inverse of the pixel spacing (i.e. more and/or smaller pixels means a bigger radius).

At least it gives some footing to a "suck it and see" approach to picking LCE USM parameters.

You answered one question for me. After shooting film since 1965, and looking at many, many of the classic photographers and their work, I had been a bit disappointed in my own digital B&W prints. The older analog prints had good apparent detail, but not obvious sharpness. I finally decided to basically stop sharpening, but keep the tonal contrast (judicially used). It just looked better to me. Now, I know why :)


I don't suppose we could coerce you to come up with imagined mtf charts to correlate to those imagined lenses ? Might be nice to help tie the pieces together and understand mtf charts better.

Another factor is finding a contrast and resolution that suits the subject. Having both on the low side might look good with a baby or a lady, while having both on the high side might look good with a male steel worker.

Aren't we really talking about accutance here?

What's really interesting is the relationship between print size and what looks sharp. I've often had images that look very sharp and contrasty printed very large but rather mushy printed small or displayed on a computer screen.

I wonder if Kodak ever did research what people liked before introducing the Commercial Ektars... which were in pre-production by 1940 and available to consumers by 1946. I rather think that Dr. Kingslake and his crew did the best job they could. (I'm pretty sure that they did that sort of testing with color films.) Nonetheless, those Ektars are marvelous lenses and I still use them.

Most of the research was done by C.E.K. Mees and Loyd A. Jones in the 1930s. Mostly if not all B&W.


Uh, your subject is a baby... isn't this where "sharpness" (from whatever mix of less-objective terms) is not desired?

So, of course, I prefer the first rendering... could you try it again with a B/W street shot of an old man's leathered face, maybe with a hint of desperation and pride in the eyes, shot in the harsh light of a side street in Havana? ;)

I used 8x10 with that 14" Commercial Ektar, a lovely old Sinar Norma. Cheers

@ Jeffrey Goggin: "As an aside, that baby looks very Loretta Lux-ish..."

Very much so.

Aethestics and physics eh? Funny how the same stuff is rediscovered on an annual basis by every new generation, but I guess that's to be expected.

The past 7 years has seen the explosion in digitally printed exhibits with ham fisted sharpening. Now ad the scourge of the "clarity" slider in Lightroom and you have the perfect recipe for photographic assault and battery. Mama, make the bad man stop.

Why I love this blog. Great stuff. A couple of comments. I find that judicious use of wide radius USM is particularly useful in nudging up local contrast in scanned film. Also, the "clarify" slider in Lightroom (a relatively new program for me) seems to create creates a similar effect, and I wonder if "clarify" has WR USM under the hood.


Hi Mike,

You say the photo is not "critically in focus". I can't see how it isn't, if you focused on the baby's eyes given that the depth of field is not that thin. Were you shooting with a hand-held camera? Could this ("snafu") be the result of hand-shake?

I'm asking because I get inconsistent results with the same camera-lens combo in my test shots of the same subject at the same subject-distance in low light (indoors, at or near full aperture: f/1.8). I thought my manual focusing was off. Turns out it was camera shake (my camera & manual focus 75mm lens don't have IS). Focus was spot-on (to my eyes) most of the time when using the fill-in flash. (Outdoors I have other problems.)

I can't complain about my camera and lenses' combined contrast and/or resolution except to say they're "talent-limited" (JMF) for now. Am still "coming to grips" with it, but I'm loving it already. Post-processing will have to wait until I have the hardware well within my grasp.

As for microcontrast—which I get to mean the contrast/transitions within and between fine details in a picture, e.g., the edge of a blade of grass against the blade of grass behind it—I don't really have to worry about it much, do I? Unless I be using an even more severely talent-limited high-end gear (say, the S2). Right?

Apologies for being a bit geeky for TOP but it beats trying random numbers in the USM radius. If anyone spots a mistake let me know.

Ignore my previous local contrast enhancement calculations: they are wrong but I redid them (properly this time, I hope).

f_max the maximum spatial frequency in lp/mm or cycles/mm) where line_pixel_count is the number of pixels in a line and line_length is the length of the line (in mm) is

f_max (in lp/mm or cycles/mm) = 0.5 * line_pixel_count/ line_length

The 0.5 is for the Nyquist criterion.

The LCE USM radius for a given minimum spatial frequency f bump (or the maximum spatial frequency of the blurred image) is

radius = 0.5 * line_pixel_count * ( f / f_max )

The 0.5 in this case is because we need a radius (not a diameter)

Combining the two expressions

radius = 0.5 * line_pixel_count * ( f / 0.5 * line_pixel_count / line_length )


radius = f * line_length

This interesting result is the radius for any given minimum spatial frequency scales with sensor size. For example, for 10 lp/mm the USM radius is 240 pixels. Divide this by crop factor to get an appropriate value for other sensors at 10 lp/mm. Or scale it to other f (halving the spatial frequency doubles the radius).

Full frame 240px
Canon APS-C 149px
Nikon APS-C 156px
micro FourThirds 12Mpx 130px
Nikon 1 type 1.0 88px
Canon S95 10Mpx type 1/1.7 57px
Pentax Q 12Mpx type 1/2.3 46px

So the usual LCE heuristic of radius 50 to 250 (and amount of 10% to 20% to taste) seems to have some basis is reality.

I put a spreadsheet up on Google Drive for anyone who want to play with the results


So Mike if you try this on your "bad" images what effect do you see? I suspect it would be significantly better than mere sharpening. That's the ultimate test. Easy to do in Photoshop too.

Very interesting. Your use of old film prints (the Clarence White photo) made me think about scans I've been doing in the past couple of years.

My uncle used to be a newspaper photographer (a farming, country news paper in Queensland) and when he died in 2010, his sons asked me to scan some of the thousands of negs he left, including large (quarter, half plate?) glass negs from the 1920s and 30s. I love doing this so I readily agreed.

What I found is (a) the lenses he used were no great shakes. There are no stunningly sharp, smooth gems. (b) He had awful trouble finding the plane of focus. Nearly every shot is focused on the background or off the main subject plane. (c) Getting the film negs flat enough to get sharp scans is near impossible. Film warping is very hard to handle. I wish I had some thickish plate glass of the right size. (I'm using an Epson 4990) (d) The field curvature of his lenses was also pretty bad - lots of sharp centres but very blurry sides.

So for these old lenses, resolution and contrast were not a major factor. I have no idea what the lenses or cameras were.

Besides, when you're manually scanning hundreds of negs, you can't spend too much time on each one. I'm afraid pictorial value overrode quality.

However, from the 1960s on, he was using a Rolleiflex TLR for his work, so there are good examples, but he still depended on manual focus, not always successfully.

All these drawbacks are negated by digital these days, along with the massive improvements in lens technology. We really are in a golden age.

Finally, what I noticed was that there were too few shots of "life" in the 1920s and 30s and so on. All the personal shots were of family members and groups, which is nice, but I wish there had been more of the streets and the city and how life was lived at the time.

There are some, and zooming in to read the labels on bottles and tins of food and newspapers is fun, but there aren't enough.

Something to think about when you're out photographing the streets. Document our times for your kids and grandkids.

Please Mike!

I am bidding on a pair of Ektars at the moment and you are driving the price through the roof!


I suppose it's that rich, but smooth look of the Commercial Ektar lenses that has always attracted me to Joel Meyerowitz's photography. He mostly used a 250mm Wide-Field Ektar to good effect. In my own experience, I really enjoyed using an old Kodak Retina IIa folding 35mm camera with a Schneider Xenon 50mm f/2 lens. It was plenty sharp, but it had a smoothness to the images that none of my modern Canon glass could match. Definitely a look of its own that I loved.

This article also reminds me of your post a while back on vintage Summicron 50s (for M-mount). I picked up a non-coated vintage 'cron in relatively bad condition (front element scratched, to be expected) - and polished out the scratches.

What was surprising was that it had great resolution for something about 50 years old -- but the contrast was low as it wasn't coated. That got me thinking: how the heck did those guys get the photos they did out of this lens? I'm surmising it was all post-processing (i.e. in the printing).

Which was a pretty enlightening exercise because it pointed me directly at my weakness. I still remember that to this day now I'm all digital, that using that 50 was a real challenge, but it represented a real tipping point in my thinking (and where I now invest my time technique wise).


People care too much about resolution and sharpness nowadays. Manufacturers are aware of that and each year they release sharper lenses. On the other hand we have informatic tools to increase sharpness further still, not to mention sensors like the one inside the Nikon D800/800E or Sigma's Foveon. This is leading to photographs deprived of warmth and humanity, pictures taken for the sake of über sharpness and resolution rather than expressing the photographer's view. We simply don't see things as sharply as that; there's no naturalness in those hi-res pictures. I'm no analogue partisan, nor someone who lives in the past - I have a digital camera because digital is so much more convenient -, but when I look at photos made many years ago by reputed photographers and compare them to today's photographs, I can't help thinking the latter are becoming increasingly soulless and clinical. The technical aspect is steadily superimposing on expression and depriving photography of its artistic status.
This must be why I see an ever-increasing number of photographers with Olympus OMs, Pentax K1000s or even analogue Leicas hanging from their necks, but this is a reactive behaviour rather than a nod at things to come. Digital photography is still in its adolescence, and like all adolescents it needs to learn through testing its limits. And, like most people do, one day it will eventually settle, become sensible and give up all excess. You will care to notice I wrote "eventually": the photo industry may remain engaged in pixel wars forever - or at least until people realize this resolution craze has gone too far.

Mike, in the old (new?) film days I'd be very interested in how this all related to format size. If a photographer selected 35mm instead of medium format or 4X5 how might this affect his choice of lens qualities. Or, perhaps how much was lens design affected by format size?
Did miniature formats, 24X36 and 18X24 on 35mm film cause the lens designer to start with different goals in mind?

Interesting to note the prevalence of older lenses predominating in the discussion. Sort of all old is new again.

And who is the lucky child?

Oh, the ever-swinging pendulum. The pictorialists were reacting to what they saw as photography's over-reliance on the literal image, so they went the other way, making low contrast, dreamlike images. This pattern repeats itself continually, and across artistic mediums.

Witness the grunge rock movement, a reaction to the electronic glam pop of the 1980s. Look at the renewed interest in vinyl recordings as a reaction to the crystaline clarity of digital recordings. And closing the loop, look at the popularity of Holgas, Lens Baby attachments, and Instagram as a reaction to the proliferation of increasingly higher resolution sensors and optics on decreasingly expensive cameras.

"Hopefully Frank will jump in here himself but, based on that image's appearance (it would look much closer to normal perspective using a 355mm lens on 8x10) as well as Frank's usual shooting equipment, I'd guess it's 4x5."

Bad guess. Frank confirmed it's an image from the six month period he spent a couple of years ago using an 8x10.

Lesson learned -- ask first, post later. :-)

Like someone else mentioned, I too like (prefer?) the 3rd image---contrast over sharpness. And many's the time all I ever wanted to do in software was bump the contrast a little, whereas unsharp mask or whatever other "sharpness" er, treble control (ahem) often makes things worse.

By the way I viewed this post on an iPhone 4 and only looked at the thumbnails but found the differences plainly visible.

Regarding extra sharpness that's become normal over the years---yes. Many cameras do this by default. Most any online print service (for snapshots) add post processing that glops on sharpness.

This phenomenon strikes me as a reaction to decades-worth of horribly fuzzy film snapshots and the public's perception of fixing the past by "fixing" the present.

I may be wrong....but isn't lens contrast directly related to lens sharpness?

This was illustrated to me many years ago by a Panavision lens tech using their MTF measuring apparatus.

A high resolution lens is, by necessity, a high contrast lens. All blurring decreases contrast.

By using photoshop to make your illustrations, you've cheated because you've illustrated digital technique and not optical characteristics I think :)

Resolving power and contrast - the same observations as the ones above, only the material is much older.

@Kevin Purcell> Thanks for Ctein's sharpening post. I've always tried USM and gave it up in the end because the whole thing looked like crap due to excessive edge sharpness.

I remember when people started to use/publish MTF curves to judge optics, and I remember I wasn't all that happy with it. Any one who owns a first series Hasselblad Carl Zeiss 50mm CF will attest to the fact that this lens is pretty much a dog, mine is actually not sharp at all, I had 50mm C T*'s that were sharper (there are actually people that claim that the difference between this and the floating element lenses is edge sharpness, but they are wrong, mines soft all over at multiple f/stops). But I sent it into Hasselblad a few times and they kept telling me that it was within 'specs'. Well, it was within specs because the contrast was off the charts with the T* coating, and it was making up for the fact the damn thing wasn't sharp.

I was led to believe that MTF was a function of both sharpness and contrast against a subjective speculation of how people perceived a photo that looked good. On an 11X14, my 50mm CF wasn't sharp anywhere and isn't to this day. It was interesting to me that six months after the last time I had sent it in and had it returned, Hasselblad replaced it in their line, with a 50mm with a floating element, and then a while after that, they replaced that with a 50mm with wider glass and the floating element. Took them three times to get it right, and I'd gladly swap mine for a 60mm CF in similar condition.

This is instructive as to the tyranny of MTF curves. I'd gladly take a lens that dead-nutz sharp, against a 'soft' lens with contrast off the wall. I can soften high-contrast, but I can't make a soft focus lens sharper.

I just shoot film now (except for stock photography) and have to agree with Crabby Umbo that Zeiss glass is hard to beat for its all-round excellence. I've started using a Contax 35mm SLR outfit and I'm sure I can see a difference in the negs over those taken with prime Nikkor lenses. So much so, in fact, that I'm thinking of selling off my Nikon gear and "investing" in another couple of Zeiss lenses.

My other favourite outfit is a Rolleiflex SL66E with Zeiss lenses and that's just like the Contax glass but on steroids. Lovely stuff.

Yes, theoretically, ultimately, at the limits, resolution and contrast become the same thing. In real-world MTF tests the top pair of lines (5 or ten cycles) will equate more to contrast and the bottom set (30 or 40 cycles) will equate more to resolution.

As for "cheating," they're only illustrations to make the point clear. I think I've said that several times now.


Thanks Mike,

Not to beat a dead horse, of course they're only illustrations. I understand that, I just didn't think that they could really capture the effects of optics, is all.

But, when all is said and done, from my experience (mostly with movie lenses) all the really sharp ones also have very high contrast with minimal flare. The lenses with more "character" always seem to be lower contrast as well.

But with the ability to digitally further manipulate the images, I think that the "character" lenses still have a place and can be adjusted to taste.

My favorite still lens, that I own, is the 50mm on my Kodak Retina IIIc :) It's sharp enough, and I like the look!

Still It's an interesting topic. Please keep it up Mike!

Can you go into more detail with what you describe as "smearing"? What you're describing looks familiar to me but it's the first I've ever heard anyone apply a term to it.


"What was surprising was that it had great resolution for something about 50 years old -- but the contrast was low as it wasn't coated. That got me thinking: how the heck did those guys get the photos they did out of this lens? I'm surmising it was all post-processing (i.e. in the printing)."

We just called it "processing" back then, but the key was that in film development by playing with dilution and agitation you can achieve effects much like the unsharp mask , "clarifying" and tone mapping features of the current software.

Oh, and I must join in the praise of the Schneider Xenon lenses on the Kodak Retina cameras. Zeiss and Leitz made some nice lenses back then, but Schneider ( and Rodenstock ) mopped the floor with them in
my opinion.

A question with a hope to clear this a little bit more in my mind - is Frank's photograph lit?

Or is the stand-out quality of the model against the background caused by reflectance (sorry if that's not the best term) differences between skin versus background grass?

with thanks,

To Hugh's point, there seems to be a lot of really great Retinas out there with superior lenses. Kodak seemed to nail that one. Almost everything I used to see in the "olden days" from those cameras was pretty stunning. Have to say tho, I'm not buying into the Schneider and Rodenstock mopping the floor with Zeiss thing; certainly depends on the era.

Back when we actually used to get to test lenses from our professional supplier before we bought them, we got a few wonderful Schneiders. I have more than a few things on file shot with Schneider "Pandas" (front silver, rear black), mostly bought in the 60's, that to this day I would have trouble matching for sharpness; but, we might have to go through a few to get that golden one. By the time Nikon view camera lenses came around, they flooded the market, not because they were slightly cheaper, but because you could test four of them and three would be killer, and one OK, and you could test four Schneiders (by that time) and three of them would be almost unusable, and one OK. As for Rodenstock, I never knew anyone in the 70's and 80's that got a good one, many people just tested them and sent them back and bought something else. I even knew a guy who shot 4X5 for a famous magazine on an African trip, that hadn't much view camera experience at all; buying a set of Rodenstocks and coming back and everything was awful; chromatic abberation visible to the naked eye! A big loss....

Zeiss view camera lenses, on the other hand were sort of a Linhoff thing, never saw many actual big view camera Zeiss lenses, but as I said before, used some old, uncoated ones that were superior, but never really saw them around a lot in the 70's and 80's. You certainly couldn't just go into Standard Photo or Helix and buy one, maybe you could in NYC.

So anyway, it's a very "era specific" thing. A year of so ago, I wanted a mild wide angle, in a modern shutter, for my 8X10 'dorff, and picked up a very used 240mm Schneider "Panda" from the 60's in a Compur, and damn if it wasn't just really sharp still, like the ones I used to own way back when...wouldn't have bought a 70's or 80's one tho, would have bought a Nikkor.

" is Frank's photograph lit?"
I'd say yes, by a small strobe or maybe a bare bulb head positioned a little to the left of the camera and about level with the top of the model's head. The light source is probably flagged or snooted to confine most of it to the model's head.

On the other hand you could get the same lighting by building a fence or using an existing building to shade the model from the neck down but expose her head to the direct sunlight.

Note the shadow under her chin, and the merest suggestion of a shadow of her legs.

Given the way there is a long horizontal ( in the real world , not the picture space ) shadow on the grass in the background, I'd say the using a fence or existing building to shade the model or maybe a combination of both lightings would be the case

It's just sunset on her face, she is standing on the edge of a field.

Nice imagination though!

Hugh and Frank - thanks for the answers! I thought it was natural light, but the face is so bright I wanted to ask.

A very beautiful photograph!

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