[Opinion] Similarity and difference in between 4X5 and 50/0.95

Photo credit:  https://petapixel.com/2017/10/16/shooting-portraits-large-format-camera-first-time/

I use 2 photos found on the link to explain 4X5 photo characteristics. The reason is my 4X5 works are either negatives or fibre-based paper print at this moment. No plan to scan them soon…

4X5 portrait

Example of 4X5 portrait, even though the blown-out background is not always good, 4X5 is capable to do so when the photographer wants.  Be noted model’s hand exaggerated bigger that tells the lens perspective is wide-angle. Also noted blurring is much more than a typical wide-angle shot in full frame. I think slight ‘reverse tilt’ applied to emphasize the model’s eye for selective focus.

‘Wide-angle + massive blur’ is the speciality of the 4X5 portrait which is not producible in the full-frame camera yet.

Apparent blur at the background is not much, and the distance is about the full body shot. This kind of photo can be taken in full-frame using 135mm f1.8 or 200mm f2.0. But their perspective is telephoto instead of a standard field of view as seen here.

Selective focus using a tilt of front standard in 4X5 photography

Typical 45 effect portrait. Again, noted on model’s hands. Looking at the size of hands, about 20mm or wider lens (equivalent) used, but the background blur hides distractive details behind. Also, the left side of the photo has more blur than the right side which indicates the front standard of the camera rotated to take a selectively focused photo.

Similarity and difference

Indeed, the background blur of the 50/0.95 lens is comparable with 4X5 photo. For the capability wise, 4 x5 can make a lot more blur but in practice, it is not always used to produce maximum blur. Many cases the lens aperture closed down to the appropriate level to make the background readably blurred.

Key difference 50/0.95 vs 4X5 is the main subject rendition, not the background I think. The image quality of 50/0.95 is weak because of poor resolution and compromised sharpness due to the nature of 50/0.95 lens design. The beauty of 4X5 photography, especially in BW printing is eye-catching sharpness and ample tonal separation of the main subject which can’t be duplicated in 35mm film.

Making a 50mm f0.95 lens is challenging in design and manufacturing even in these days. It is very hard to make sharp & affordable lens for such a wide aperture lens, so it goes either one of the way, extremely expensive like Leica Noctilux 50/0.95 (12,000 USD) or compromise everything except Bokeh as seen at Canon 50/0.95 & Mitakon 50/0.95.

  Canon 50mm f0.95 at f1.2

Canon 50/0.95 has so significant amount of barrel distortion and field of curvature that only result in the centre 2/3 area sharp. It is not a good choice for architecture or landscape photo. It is the bokeh-purpose built lens, so background blur is all about the lens. Mitakon 50/0.95 is more modern optics in terms of performance but it still lacks the punch of sharpness. For 50/0.95 users who paid 700 USD for Mitakon, the lack of sharpness is (supposed to be) accepted flaw and it works pretty well in that point because no one compares & complaints Mitakon sharpness with Summicron.

   Mitakon 50mm f0.95 at f0.95

Using 50/0.95 more effectively

Separation is not only depended on background blur but also main subject crispness. When the main subject is not sharp enough, blurred background only makes it worse, something like misfocused or shaken look, therefore background blur is only meaningful when the main subject is sharp and in full details.

I use 2 methods frequently to make the main subject sharper than original 50/0.95 lens capability.

  • Increase imager area using panorama stitching. Stitching 2 or 3 photos will make the sensor area larger accordingly and enable selective focus technique to make the main subject sharper. The drawback is the technique not to be applicable for moving subjects.
  • Close aperture to about f1.2 to increase the sharpness of the main subject while sacrificing a little blur. This makes a better balance between main subject sharpness and background blur, and results the photo pop out better. As said before, it is not ‘the more blur is the better’.

Then, why not use f1.2 lenses instead of f0.95?

The hard fact of any vintage f1.2 lens in 50mm to 58mm range is not sharp enough to make the story simple & easy. All the f1.2 lenses I tested so far required the aperture down at least 1 stop or 1.5 stop for tack sharp image. Therefore the story goes on, as f0.95 lens should be closed down 1 stop to get a better result, f1.2 lens need to be closed 1 stop down to get the satisfactory result.

Here’s the list of f1.2 lenses I used to use and personally rate their optimum wide open aperture in the bracket ( ). Yes, a different person might have a very different experience, so this list is not a scientific conclusion. It is the summary of my own experience based on my own expectation, Opinion.

  • Canon nFD 50/1.2   (1.8)
  • Canon FD 55/1.2   (1.8)
  • Nikon 55/1.2 pre-AI  (2.0)
  • Nikon 55/1.2 AI-S   (1.8)
  • Pentax 50/1.2     (2.0)
  • Cosinon 55/1.2   (2.8 below)

Canon FD 55mm f1.2 lens at f1.8     It renders BW tone beautifully but not sharp enough at f1.2

I know one example in modern design, Canon RF 50/1.2 L which is praised among users as razor-sharp at wide open. It is the latest lens from Canon mirrorless R series. In contrast, Canon EF 50/1.2 for DSLR is known for soft (= poor imaging performance) in the wide open. Many users call it, ‘the character’ of the lens. Maybe that’s right but I wouldn’t pay such a premium for the character lens because vintage lenses have it naturally and can do the same job with a fraction of the money. In the world of optics, character means a weird aberration…

Among vintage f1.2 lenses, I still have 3 lenses in shortlist to test for myself. Hexanon 57/1.2 is on the way to me and Rikenon and Canon Aspherical is under searching. They are highly praised by users for wide-open sharpness but I am going to reserve a comment yet. I hardly find any good review for them even though they are famous on the web.

  • Hexanon AR 57mm f1.2
  • Rikonon XR 55mm f1.2
  • Canon FD 55mm f1.2 Aspherical

Some lenses are famous simply because they are rare. When users acquired such a rare lens, they hardly confess the lens is a dog even they realized it is. They paid a premium for the rarity so why confess performance? And it is possible the lens is rare because it was a poor performer when released, so not many sold and now become rare.. right? I will find the true story about remaining 3.

Remarkable Minolta 58mm f1.2 BUT…

Minolta 58/1.2 is frequently found and praised as ‘a bokeh monster’ or ‘king of bokeh’ on the web but it is not the lens I am looking for, at least not now. Minolta 58/1.2 is famous for soft and melting blur which turns everything into moody and muddy at wide open. It means the lens suffering poor resolution and a lot of aberration. In short, this is the lens at least 2 stops down to get a decently sharp image, so not in my shortlist of 45 simulation.

f1.2 & TTartisan f0.95 test result will be posted separately when available


The End


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