The bigger your film size, the harder it is to find lenses that work well. For 8×10, the largest common film format, that rings especially true. So, what should you look for in an 8×10 lens? There are a lot of factors, from coverage to lens sharpness. Today, I’ll go through those factors and introduce the best 8×10 lenses.
Note that below, when I talk about lenses that cover 8×10, I’m only referring to lenses that do so at infinity focus. As you focus closer (even just to portrait distances), coverage of a lens increases. But to me, a lens is only really an 8×10 lens if it doesn’t clip the corners at infinity. Only at that point do I start to look at other aspects of the lens like weight, price, coatings, shutter type, maximum aperture, image quality, and so on.
No lens is perfect, but in this article, I’ve tried to compile the lenses at each focal length that hit the best balance of these factors for 8×10 photography. It’s difficult to define the “best” lens, so wherever it applies, I’ve listed multiple lenses that each have their own strengths and weaknesses.
Finally, note that I’m a landscape photographer and not very suited to discussing bokeh, rendering, and other characteristics that portrait photographers or soft-focus shooters may be after. I do mention some portrait lenses later in this article, but for more and better information, you should search the wealth of knowledge on largeformatphotography.info to see if your question has been answered before.
I’ll start with a discussion on equivalence, which is an important starting point when choosing a lens for 8×10 cameras.
Table of Contents
Equivalent Focal Lengths for 8×10 Photographers
If you’re used to shooting with typical 35mm film or digital sensor sizes, the focal lengths for 8×10 may sound out of place. For instance, 150mm is a wide lens rather than a long lens, and something like 600mm is only moderately long.
Calculating equivalence between 8×10 and digital camera sensors (or 35mm film) is a bit tricky. One reason is that 35mm film / full frame digital has an elongated aspect ratio of 2×3. On the other hand, 8×10 film has a more squarish aspect ratio of 4×5, which means you’ll get more foreground and sky, but less of the sides of the scene, in your photo at a time (or vice versa when shooting vertically).
In terms of the direct film size, 8×10 film has a diagonal of roughly 312mm. This can be slightly larger or smaller depending on your film holder, but not enough to change the math by much. By comparison, a standard 35mm / full frame digital camera sensor has a diagonal of approximately 43mm. This means that the equivalence factor between the two systems is technically 7.256x.
As one example of a simple calculation, this means a 726mm lens on an 8×10 camera is equivalent to a 100mm lens on a full-frame digital camera. Likewise, an aperture of f/72.6 on an 8×10 camera gives the same depth of field and diffraction as an aperture of f/10 on full-frame (given a similar print size).
I took the photo below with a 450mm lens at f/64. According to this calculation, that’s about like using a 62mm lens on full-frame digital at an aperture of f/9.
However, because 8×10 is more of a “square” aspect ratio, I find that everything feels a bit wider, at least when you shoot horizontally. You don’t capture as much of the world from left to right, but from top to bottom, you capture more. This means more foreground and more sky will show up in your landscape photos with 8×10 than the equivalence factor may suggest, making lenses feel wider, at least to me. You can also make a lens feel wider in the foreground by using rear base tilt as one of your movements.
There’s another factor at play. As you focus more closely on 8×10, the effective focal length increases. If you’ve focused on a nearby foreground, your focal length may be a good 5% longer (maybe even more) than what’s written on the lens. For portraiture, it can be much more than that.
These two effects may cancel out depending on how close you’ve focused, but at least at infinity focus, I’d say that 8×10 lenses feel a bit wider than they “should.” I consider anywhere from 7.25x to 7.5x to be a fair equivalence calculation between 8×10 and full-frame digital camera sensors, leaning toward 7.5x when you’re choosing a focal length. Here’s a chart with the values assuming 7.5x equivalence:
|8×10 Focal Length||Full Frame Equivalent|
These are the most common focal lengths you’ll find for 8×10 lenses. In the extreme wide and telephoto cases, “most common” may mean that only one or two lenses exist in the first place. But that’s still a lot better than nothing.
Best 110-120mm Lenses
There are three mainstream lenses available at the ultra-wide focal lengths of 110mm and 120mm: the Schneider 110mm f/5.6 XL, the Schneider Super Angulon 120mm f/8, and the Nikkor 120mm SW f/8.
The Schneider 110mm is slightly wider and a full stop brighter than the others. It’s also a surprisingly lightweight lens at just 425 grams. However, it’s so close to not covering 8×10 that it barely deserves to make this list. It may even depend on your copy of the lens; I’ve heard some photographers say it covers at f/32 and narrower when focused at infinity, whereas others say they get mechanical vignetting unless they focus a bit closer.
In any case, you’d ideally want to use a 67mm center filter to avoid excessive light falloff with this lens (especially if shooting slide film), which means you’ll probably catch the edge of the filter in your photo and add even more mechanical vignetting. There are no movements possible with this lens, other than obviously rear base tilt and swing. But sharpness, at least, is good. The cheapest price I’ve seen recently was $1600 on eBay.
The Schneider Super Angulon 120mm f/8 is basically the same story except it’s a much less expensive lens, roughly $600 (although it has a larger 82mm filter thread, so it needs a pricier center filter). If you focus a bit closer than infinity, shoot head-on, and maybe crop a hair after the fact, it’ll work on 8×10. It’s designed for 5×7, though. It weighs 700 grams, not awful.
The Nikkor 120mm SW f/8 has slightly more coverage than the other two, and you might be able to use a center filter without mechanical vignetting at infinity. You still won’t get any front movements. It’s a reasonably priced lens at about $650 (check prices and availability of the 120mm f/8 on eBay). It has a 77mm filter thread and is fairly lightweight at 610 grams.
All three lenses are specialized optics and not ones I’d recommend buying lightly. Even in the best case, focusing – and, frankly, just seeing the image corners on your ground glass – is likely to be very difficult because the angle is so wide. But if you need the ultra-wide perspective on an 8×10, it’s good that you have at least a few options.
As is the case throughout this article, there are also old lenses that can cover 8×10 in the sub-120mm range. Some may be worth getting, but many will have issues of their own. They may be overly expensive, unsharp, or very dim (with a maximum aperture of perhaps f/22). If they come in a shutter, it probably won’t be a modern one. My advice is to do ample research before buying an older, lesser-known lens whose seller claims 8×10 coverage.
I don’t have any lenses for 8×10 that are quite this wide, so no sample photos in this section, sorry. It’s just far too wide for what I shoot. But if I did get one, I would get the bargain-priced Nikkor SW 120mm f/8 without question.
Best 150-190mm lenses
There are more options in the 150-190mm focal length range, but many of them are highly impractical lenses: heavy, too large to take standard filters, and expensive. I find this a bit frustrating as a landscape photographer. On full-frame digital, I like the range from 20-24mm, which corresponds to about 150-180mm on 8×10 film.
Here are the only modern 8×10 lenses in this range that I know about:
- Schneider Super Symmar 150mm f/5.6 XL
- Nikkor SW 150mm f/8
- Rodenstock Grandagon N 155mm f/6.8
- Schneider Super-Angulon 165mm f/8
- Computar 165mm f/9* (rear element of 150mm Computar and front element of 210mm Computar combined)
- Fujinon W 180mm f/5.6 (inside lettering only)
Ignoring price, the best lens in the range is probably the Schneider 150mm f/5.6 XL. It’s extremely sharp, has the largest maximum aperture, is fairly lightweight for this type of lens (740 g / 1.6 lbs), and takes standard 100x100mm square filters (though barely; you need a weird push-on filter adapter or a 95mm adapter ring). It also has massive coverage. Even on 11×14 – which has a diagonal of about 445mm – it still illuminates the corners at infinity and has surprisingly good sharpness when stopped down. By comparison, the diagonal of 8×10 film is about 312mm.
The killer is the price, though. The Schneider 150mm XL is around $3500, although you may find a cheaper price if you wait, since it pops up with some frequency on resale sites like eBay, the Large Format Photography Forum, and Facebook Marketplace. That price may be higher if it includes the center filter. (Check availability of the 150mm XL on eBay.)
A similarly good lens is the Nikon 150mm SW f/8. It’s heavier and not as bright as the 150mm XL, but it does sell for a bit less (still quite expensive; about $3000 on eBay). It also has slightly less corner falloff than the 150mm XL due to its design, so you might be able to get away without a center filter when you use it, especially with negative film. The 95mm filter size is the same as the Schneider’s – that is to say, not ideal, but it technically works with 100x100mm filters.
Meanwhile, the Rodenstock 155mm f/6.8 and Schneider Super Angulon 165mm f/8 are massive, expensive lenses with unwieldy filter sizes that are too large for 100×100 filters. On the off-chance you find one at a good price, it could be a reasonable pick, but they’re not what I’d recommend otherwise.
The silliest lens of the bunch is the Computar 165mm f/9. This frankenlens is made from the rear element of the Computar 150mm f/9 and the front element of the Computar 210mm f/9. It’s tiny, fairly sharp, and has solid coverage with room for movements, although not as much as the other lenses I’ve mentioned so far. However, it’s very hard to find the 150mm and 210mm Computars, let alone both of them, because not very many were made. It may take at least a year of searching and waiting. If you don’t overpay, the combined price for both lenses should be about $2000.
Lastly, the Fuji 180mm’s coverage is hardly 8×10 at all. To maximize your chances of covering the format, do NOT get one of the newer versions of this lens for use on 8×10. Instead, make sure you get one of the older, single-coated versions. You can tell which is which by looking at the lettering on the lens. On the older version, the name of the lens is written inside the filter ring area, rather than on the outside of the barrel. You’ll also want to focus a bit closer than infinity with the Fuji, and you’ll need to shoot everything head-on without movements, and with a very thin filter or none at all. But if you do all that, it does cover, and it’s a great price at roughly $200 (see current prices for the Fujinon 180mm on eBay). It really isn’t designed for 8×10, though, so you’ll need to stop down substantially to get sharp corners.
I didn’t list them above, but I feel like I should also mention a few noteworthy older lenses that cover 8×10. The Kodak Wide-Field Ektar 190mm f/6.3 doesn’t have room for movements and must be stopped down a lot to get a sharp image, but it works well, and it’s not too expensive (though uncommon to find). Plenty of older Dagors cover with small room for movements, like the 6 1/2” f/8 Dagor, usually at $1000+ prices. There’s also a Wollensak Series III 8×10 159mm f/9.5, which is a reasonably popular budget option at about $400. You’re unlikely to find it in a modern shutter, but it’s cheap and sharp enough when stopped down, so it’s probably my top choice of the older glass. There are others that pop up from time to time on eBay, but those are the most common ones you’ll see.
Best 210mm lenses
The options open up a lot once you reach 210mm. Even if you’re normally a fan of ultra-wides, I’d encourage you to consider using a 210mm as your widest lens on 8×10 instead.
To me, there are three that stand out in particular:
- Computar 210mm f/9 (same lens as the Kyvytar 210mm and some Kowa Graphic 210mm lenses; may occasionally be f/6.8 instead of f/9)
- Schneider G-Claron 210mm f/9
- Fuji 210mm f/5.6 (lettering on the inside only)
There are other lenses which some photographers may prefer, and are probably sharper lenses at wide apertures – such as the 210mm f/5.6 HM from Schneider – but they have problems of their own. Most of the other 210mm lenses for 8×10 (especially the f/5.6 options) are huge, heavy, and expensive, and they almost all have filter thread sizes over 100mm, which makes them impossible to use with standard filter kits.
The three lenses I listed above are more reasonable choices, and in many ways, “optical marvels” of their own. They’re lighter and sharper than they have any right to be considering how well they cover 8×10, even if there are some other lenses on the market that beat them in corner sharpness wide open.
Starting with the Computar 210mm f/9, this is a great option if you have the budget (roughly $1000) and some time on your hands to find a copy in the first place. It’s the same lens I mentioned in the previous section. This lens went by a few different brand names and occasionally appears as an f/6.8 lens instead of f/9. (The optics are the same; the f/6.8 version is just factory mounted in a shutter in a way that lets it open to a wider aperture.) Make sure that you’re not getting the f/6.3 Symmetrigon version of the lens, which has much smaller coverage. And avoid the 210mm f/9 Kowa Graphic lenses; regardless of what you might hear, very few of them have the same design as the Computar.
At a more modest price of around $400, you can get the similarly lightweight Schneider G-Claron 210mm f/9. It doesn’t have as much coverage as the Computar, but the image circle is still big (and yes, it does cover 8×10 at infinity, despite what the specs say). If you stop down to about f/64, you’ll have solid movements of an inch of rise/fall on 8×10 without adding any mechanical vignetting.
And last is the lens I recommend the most of the bunch, the Fujinon 210mm f/5.6. As with the Fujinon 180mm f/5.6, it is critically important that you get one of the older versions of this lens with the lettering on the inside! It should look like this:
If the name of the Fujinon 210mm f/5.6 is written along the outside of the barrel instead, don’t buy it for 8×10. It doesn’t have the same coverage and will likely have mechanical vignetting on 8×10 at infinity.
The Fujinon lens is a hidden gem because it’s very bright at f/5.6, has good 8×10 coverage (an inch of rise/fall is no problem), and is inexpensive. I bought one on eBay for $200 in a Seiko shutter, although you may pay a bit more if you get a copy with a more modern Copal 1 shutter. It’s just as sharp as the other two lenses here – that is to say, very good but not at the level of the Schneider 210mm f/5.6 HM and similar. Stopped down to landscape apertures, you’ll never notice a difference. The Fujinon 210mm f/5.6 is heavier than the Computar and G-Claron; my copy weighs 554 grams in the Seiko shutter. Still, that’s not bad, and the f/5.6 aperture is helpful enough at this focal length that I find it worthwhile.
Especially taking price into account, the Fujinon is not simply a wide-angle lens I’d recommend, but actually one of my top lens recommendations for 8×10, period. There’s no other 210mm f/5.6 lens with this amount of coverage at such a reasonable weight. But just because it’s a great lens doesn’t mean you should spend more than the usual asking price. Look for a price that’s at least under $300 on eBay for the 210mm, and again make sure that you get a copy with inside lettering if you want good 8×10 coverage.
Best 240-270mm lenses
There are lots of great choices at 240mm through 270mm. Here are the most popular options:
- Schneider G-Claron 240mm f/9
- Fujinon A 240mm f/9
- Docter Germinar-W 240mm f/9
- Fujinon W 250mm f/6.7
- Schneider APO-Symmar 240mm f/5.6
- Schneider G-Claron 270mm f/9
All of these lenses have great coverage for 8×10 (the 270mm Schneider even hits the corners of 11×14) and don’t weigh too much. However, the real bargain of the group is the Fujinon W 250mm f/6.7. I’ve seen it below $300 in a shutter. It has great coverage for 8×10 and a bright maximum aperture. It’s heavier than the f/9 lenses above but still reasonable at around 500 grams. For 90% of 8×10 photographers, this is the one I’d recommend.
When weight is critical, though, the winners are the Fujinon A 240mm f/9 and Docter Germinar-W 240mm f/9 (not to be confused with some other Docter lenses with similar names). You do lose about a stop of light compared to f/6.7, and they’re more expensive lenses. But these are highly coveted lenses and some of the sharpest 8×10 lenses on the market today. The Fujinon is more common of the two, but the Docter lens has a bit more coverage and is the slightly lighter lens. Expect to pay about $800 for the Fujinon and $1000, plus a long search, for the Docter lens.
If you’re willing to put up with heavier glass, you can find plenty of 240mm f/5.6 lenses that also work well and cost about the same as the other lenses I’ve listed here. For example, the Schneider APO-Symmar 240mm f/5.6 has great coverage for 8×10 and costs about $650. However, it weighs more at 820 grams and has a larger 77mm filter thread, while only capturing 1/3 stop more light than the Fujinon 250mm f/6.7 (which is 500 grams and takes 67mm filters). I would tend to suggest the Fuji instead of any 240mm f/5.6, although if you find a good deal, there’s not a dud I know of among the 240mm f/5.6 8×10 lenses.
Best 300-305mm lenses
Around 300mm, you can find a ton of lenses for 8×10 that should meet almost any needs you have. I don’t have room to go through all of them, so here are my main recommendations.
If you need an f/5.6 lens: You’re going to pay a big weight penalty, but not a big price penalty compared to the other options here. I’d go with the Fujinon-W 300mm f/5.6 (maybe you’re sensing a theme that I like Fuji glass!) which will probably set you back about $500-600. Some good news is that it has a 77mm filter thread, which is better than the 100mm+ filter threads of many other 300mm f/5.6 lenses. It weighs 965 grams. Still, I don’t consider f/5.6 to be necessary on lenses of 300mm and beyond, at least for most photographers. It’s easy to focus and see your image with a 300mm f/8 or f/9 lens on an 8×10 camera with decent ground glass.
If weight is your top priority: There are two lenses you should be considering. The Fujinon C 300mm f/8.5 is an absolute gem of a lens and exceptionally light at 250 grams, though pricier than some other options at $900. The other lens to consider is the Nikkor M 300mm f/9, which weighs only a hair more than the Fujinon C (290 vs 250 g) and costs less than half as much. The Fujinon lens has more room for movements of the two.
If coverage is your top priority: The Schneider G-Claron 305mm f/9 is the way to go. This lens covers 11×14 with room for movements and stays sharp all the way out to the edges even on that enormous format. On 8×10, it works like a charm. It weighs a bit more than the two lenses I just mentioned, but hardly bad at 460 grams. As such, it’s the lens I’d recommend first at this focal length for many photographers. I find that the 300mm focal length on 8×10 benefits a lot from having a big image circle for plentiful movements. Check the 305mm G-Claron’s prices on eBay and look for prices under $500 in a Copal #1 shutter.
If price is your top priority: There are a lot of older lenses not in a shutter that cover 8×10 around the 300mm mark (sometimes labeled as 30cm or 12” lenses). In terms of lenses in a modern shutter, the cheapest that I see pop up frequently, but have never used, is the Fujinon S 300mm f/5.6. It’s about $300 in an older Copal #3 shutter and has surprisingly little information about it online. There are multiple reports that it covers 8×10 but none I’ve seen with specifics on its weight, image circle, and filter size.
Best 355-360mm lenses
You have several lenses to choose from in the 355-360mm focal length range for 8×10, but none that is obviously the best choice. They’re almost all heavy lenses, too. The one exception in weight – the Fujinon A 360mm f/10 – is nearly impossible to find and fiendishly expensive when you do. Expect to budget at least $3000 for it (which I consider disproportionately expensive for what you get, even though it’s an incredible lens with huge coverage).
Another option is the Graphic Kowa 360mm f/9. It’s reasonable in terms of weight at around 650-700 grams. It’s also currently selling at prices that I think are too high, roughly $1500 last I checked. Still, it’s a good lens, and you won’t run into any issues of coverage on 8×10 when you use it, no matter which of the variations you get (and apparently there are a few different slight variants of it). All its variations have coverage enough for 11×14.
That said, the Schneider G-Claron 355mm f/9 is probably a better choice and has truly massive coverage, even more than the Fujinon A and Graphic Kowa. The whole reason I got one is to use it for ultra-large format photography up to 12×20, although I’ve also used it on 8×10 a couple of times with good results. The G-Claron 355mm f/9 weighs 855 grams and has a 77mm filter thread. It’s a bit hard to find, but far from impossible, and it should cost about $1000 when you do.
Otherwise, your best options in this range are f/6.3-6.8 lenses that weigh a lot, but cost a bit less. Of the bunch, I’d recommend the Fujinon CM-W 360mm f/6.3, since it’s one of the few that has filter threads under 100mm (in this case, 82mm) and has generous coverage up to 11×14. But it’s very heavy at 1200 grams.
Lastly, I should mention that there are many older 355mm lenses (often termed 14” lenses) that you may be able to find in a shutter. These tend to be surprisingly sharp, but they suffer from the same issues of high weight and price. Two options of note are the 14” Goerz Red Dot Artar and 14” Kodak Commercial Ektar, both of which are popular choices for portrait photography, although the Goerz doesn’t cover 8×10 as well at infinity focus.
As a side note, I’m not sure why the 355-360mm range has such awkward options for 8×10 lenses considering that it’s so close to the “normal” focal length. But sometimes that’s how large format photography goes. It’s probably best to stick with a 300mm and a 450mm lens instead.
Best 420-480mm lenses
Although the options are slimming at this point, the 420-480mm range still has some good choices for 8×10. It’s a really nice focal length on these cameras, corresponding to about 60mm on a full-frame digital camera.
Of all the options, there are two that I’d recommend the most. The first is the Fujinon 450mm f/12.5, easily one of the best 8×10 lenses of all time, weighing just 270 grams and covering far more than 8×10 – even up to 12×20! Because the focal length is so long, the narrow maximum aperture of f/12.5 still casts a fairly bright and easy-to-focus image on your ground glass in typical lighting conditions, so it shouldn’t be cause for concern. The bigger issue is price. If you see one under $2000, it’ll probably sell fast.
The more practical (i.e. less expensive) of the two lenses I’d recommend is the Nikkor M 450mm f/9. This lens is heavier than the Fujinon but still weighs a very reasonable 640 grams. The f/9 aperture is a stop brighter than f/12.5, which I won’t complain about for focusing in low light. And despite what the specifications say, this lens actually has more coverage than the Fujinon 450mm. Some photographers report it even covers 20×24 when stopped down.
Note that there’s also an older version of the Nikkor M 450mm f/9 called the Nikkor Q 450mm f/9. Both versions appear have the same optical design and massive coverage, and I can report from experience that the Nikkor Q 450mm f/9 covers 12×20 with a lot of room for movements. However, the Nikkor Q version doesn’t have multi-coating, so it’s a bit more prone to flare, which can be an issue on lenses with such large coverage like this. The price difference is several hundred dollars in favor of the Nikkor Q ($900 vs $1400). Go with your gut on that, but I picked the Nikkor Q for my photography. You can see price differences between the M and Q on eBay by searching, simply, “Nikkor 450 9” on eBay.
As for other options, most are a lot heavier, more expensive, and/or older lenses in the 420-480mm range. If you’re a portrait photographer, an older 19” lens (roughly 420mm) is a somewhat popular choice. The Goerz Red Dot 19” comes to mind, but it’s not the only option. In general, though, the Fujinon 450mm f/12.5 and Nikkor 450mm f/9 are such good lenses that I don’t tend to recommend anything else, no matter what genre of photography you shoot.
Best 600mm lenses
You have three good options at 600mm, and each one still has some major compromises. That’s what happens when you go for a long lens on an 8×10 camera – in this case, equivalent to about 80mm on full frame digital.
The first option is the Nikkor T 600mm f/9. This is actually a convertible 600/800/1200mm lens, if you buy all three rear elements. The 600mm focal length is the most common one you’ll find. It’s bright and reasonably priced (about $1000), and a nice benefit is that it’s a telephoto design. This means you don’t need as much bellows extension with the lens compared to a non-telephoto 600mm, making for a more stable platform that only needs about 400mm of extension. (Plus, some 8×10 cameras, like the popular Intrepid 8×10, don’t have enough bellows extension for non-telephoto 600mm lenses in the first place.) Unfortunately, it’s a heavy lens at 1650 grams and only barely covers 8×10, and it has a 95mm filter thread that may be tricky to use with 100×100 filters.
The second option is the expensive Fujinon C 600mm f/11.5. Like its younger 450mm brother, this is one of the best large format lenses of all time. It’s lightweight at 575 grams, has excellent image quality, and supposedly covers up to 20×24. Unfortunately, it’s increased in price a lot as a result. Anything under $3500 is a good find, and $4000 is more likely, although the identical King Rinpoche 600mm f/11.5 may be closer to $3000-3500 if you can find it. (Hey, at least we’re not talking about $15,000+ like the Schneider 550mm f/11 XXL. Some large format photographers are insane.)
Finally, you could go with a Goerz Red Dot Artar 24” f/11. This option splits the difference between the Nikkor T 600mm f/9 and Fujinon C 600mm f/11.5 in both weight and price. The weight is about 1150 grams, depending on whether it’s in a shutter and whether it has a brass or aluminum barrel. The price varies, especially if you need to send it to SK Grimes to put in a Copal #3 or Ilex #5. Total cost is anywhere from $1500 to $2000 all told, although you’ll pay less than that if you don’t mind shooting it as a barrel lens without a shutter. Like the Fujinon 600mm f/11.5, the Goerz lens covers ultra-large formats as well. (There are many other 600mm-ish barrel lenses like this one, but I’m talking about the Goerz 24” RD Artar because it’s the one you’ll find most often, especially in a shutter.)
My recommendation? If you need this focal length, go with the Nikkor T 600mm f/9. The lack of movements isn’t the end of the world at these longer focal lengths, unless you’re planning to do architectural photography. The telephoto design is also a big help. It’s not a perfect option and is quite heavy, but sometimes that’s the way things go. No one gets into 8×10 photography because they want a light backpack.
For my own photography, I found an unusually good deal on the Fujinon 600mm f/11.5 and bit the bullet. It’s now serving dual purpose for my 8×10 camera and for my ultra-large format work. But I generally wouldn’t recommend it because of the typical asking prices, especially when the 24″ Red Dot Artar also has huge coverage and costs about half as much.
Best 700-800mm lenses
You have two reasonable options here. The first is the Nikkor T 720mm f/16. It’s a bit of a hidden gem, since Nikon’s literature says it won’t cover 8×10 – but it does, although without much room to spare. At just 780 grams and a telephoto design, this is an excellent choice for a longer lens (about 96mm equivalent) on the 8×10 format.
In fact, I’d consider getting this lens instead of the Nikkor T 600mm that I mentioned a moment ago, and just ignoring the 600mm focal length. (You may only be able to find the 720mm f/16 as a combo with the 360mm and 500mm rear elements. Those do not cover 8×10, so feel free to sell them to a 4×5 or 5×7 photographer. All told, you’ll be out roughly $800 for just the 720mm focal length.)
Your other good option is the Nikkor T 800mm f/12, equivalent in focal length to about 107mm on full-frame digital. Spoiler alert, this is the same lens as the Nikkor T 600mm f/9 from the previous section, just with a different rear element. The 800mm rear element is a bit rarer than the 600mm rear element, but you should be able to find it for about $750-1000. You’ll still need the rest of the lens, though (AKA the front element and shutter of the 600/800/1200mm).
Nikon’s literature tells you that the T 800mm f/12 has the same coverage as the T 600mm f/9. Nikon’s literature is wrong. In fact, my copy of the 800mm squeaks by on 11×14 head-on and even gives great image quality out to the corners. So, it’s a killer lens for 8×10 photographers who want to shoot at such a long focal length with room for movements.
The 800mm f/12 weighs 1600 grams in total. I’m not a fan of carrying such heavy lenses, but at 800mm, pretty much everything is heavy. That said, the rear element on its own weighs just 374 grams. So if you already have the 600mm f/9 set in your bag, it’s easy to throw the 800mm’s rear element along and carry both at the same time.
As before, the fact that these two lenses are of a telephoto design is a great help. You only need about 470mm of bellows extension to use the Nikkor T 720mm f/16 at infinity focus, and about 530mm of extension for the Nikkor T 800mm f/12. Many 8×10 cameras max out at 600mm of bellows extension, which is enough for both of these lenses to squeak by while still allowing you to focus at non-infinity distances.
Technically, there are a few other options on the market at this focal length. There’s a 30” (762mm) Goerz Red Dot Artar, for example, that’s a non-telephoto design and rarely sold in a shutter. (It’s the lens that I use for ultra-large format, so it’s what I used to take the sample photo below.) There’s also a Schneider T 800mm f/12 that is the heaviest lens I’m mentioning in this entire article and costs upwards of $10,000! But that’s all academic. Unless you have a very specific need for something else, the Nikkor T 720mm f/16 and 800mm f/12 are so good that you should get one of them instead.
Best 1200mm lenses
At 1200mm, there’s just one reasonable option, and once again, it’s that 600/800/1200 Nikkor telephoto lens. This time, you’re adding a 1200mm rear element instead of 600mm or 800mm. The result is the Nikkor T 1200mm f/18.
I’ll grant you that f/18 is a dark maximum aperture, but you’re at such a long focal length (160mm full-frame equivalent) that it’s rarely a problem. The 1200mm rear element is also a bit lighter than either the 600mm or 800mm rear elements at 239 grams on its own. The completed lens weighs 1480 grams, which of course is a heavy lens, but I think it’s reasonable for such a long focal length.
Shooting with a 1200mm lens on 8×10 is very difficult. The telephoto design requires about 760mm of bellows extension to hit infinity, which is better than a non-telephoto 1200mm lens but still a lot. You’ll likely want two tripods (one for the rear standard and one for the front) as well as an umbrella to block even the slightest amount of wind. Draping a beanbag over the front of the lens will help dampen shutter shock. You should also lower your tripods as much as possible and find some very stable ground.
All in all, it’s a difficult setup, but it’s technically doable. The 1200mm rear element alone usually costs at least $1000, but sometimes you can find the whole 600/800/1200mm trio for $2000-2250. I consider that a bargain for what you get, although most photographers wouldn’t need such a long perspective on 8×10.
I should mention, like the 800mm f/12, the coverage of the 1200mm f/18 is far larger than what the specifications say. It covers 11×14 with a bit of room for movements in my experience, although anything 8×20 and larger will give you a sliver of dark corners.
The Budget Kit I’d Recommend
There’s no limit to the amount of money you can spend assembling a kit of 8×10 lenses, especially if you go for primo glass like the Schneider Super Symmar 150mm f/5.6 XL or Fujinon 450mm f/12.5. But for most photographers, the better idea is to stay on a budget and save your money for film and other costs along your 8×10 journey. So, here’s the kit I’d recommend for a typical 8×10 photographer.
- Wide Lens: Fujinon 210mm f/5.6, inside writing, $200
- Normal Lens: Schneider G-Claron 305mm f/9, $500
- Moderate Long Lens: Nikkor Q 450mm f/9, $900
- Long Lens: Nikkor T 720mm f/16, $750
- Total Price: About $2350
All of these lenses are light, sharp, and well-priced. They cover useful focal lengths, and (aside from the 720mm telephoto) they have room for significant movements on 8×10. If you feel like you’re missing the ultra-wide focal lengths, you could add the Nikkor SW 120mm f/8 or the Wollensak 159mm f/9.5 without pushing your cost over $3000. But I’d consider skipping those for now and starting with just the Fujinon 210mm f/5.6. It’s wide enough for everyday use, including for most architecture and landscapes.
There are a lot of lenses on the market that cover 8×10, especially once you include old and esoteric glass. After all, 8×10 cameras have been around since the 1800s, so of course 8×10 lenses have as well. (And many of these old lenses can be fitted into modern shutters if you send the lens + shutter to a mechanic like SK Grimes.)
If you shoot with an 8×10 system and use a lot of older glass in non-Copal shutters, my apologies for most likely not mentioning any of your favorites in this article. There are too many lenses to cover the older ones in this already gigantic article, but it doesn’t mean they’re bad lenses. Likewise for portrait lenses, which is an area where I am quite ignorant, especially regarding older brass lenses. If you have a set that works for you at the focal lengths you need, that’s what matters.
In short, the lenses I’ve covered in this article are what I consider to be the best balance of modernity, weight, price, coverage, image quality, and maximum aperture values for 8×10 photographers. A lot of this is subjective, but I hope that it at least helped you narrow down your search for 8×10 lenses.
One resource that I found very helpful when assembling my 8×10 kit and researching this article is largeformatphotography.info’s list of 8×10 lenses in modern shutters. It’s not a totally complete list. It misses the Computar and Docter lenses, for example. Likewise, many of its image circle figures are too conservative, since they’re based on the manufacturer’s original specs rather than field tests (which in some cases reveal far more coverage). But as a broad overview, it’s useful.
Here’s my final tip: Don’t buy large format lenses on impulse. Instead, try to learn about the lens before you buy it, especially if you’re treading off the beaten path or buying a lens with many different variations. There’s definitely an “ignorance tax” in 8×10 photography, where the less you know, the more you end up paying. I hope this article helps you pay less for the lenses you need by removing some of that ignorance tax.
Do you have any questions about the recommendations above? I’ve tried to include all the important information I know about these lenses, but I’m happy to help in the comments section in any way I can. Even if I don’t know the answer to your question, maybe someone else will find this article and be able to help. Happy searching!