The Online Darkroom Store

Wednesday, February 12

The £12 Large Format lens arrives

My "new" lens for the half plate Kodak Specialist 2 camera eventually arrived and it looks well capable of producing the goods. I got it from Rocky Cameras, a photographic dealer with whom I've had some success although I know there are others who feel differently.

The 150mm f8 Ultragon was originally listed on the Rocky website at £20 but I took advantage of a festive season sale and got 40% off so it was just £12 plus postage. A bit of research revealed that it's an old process lens and so should be a decent performer. And how much resolution do you need on a half plate negative anyway? It's a tiny wee thing that's about the same size and weight as the Rodenstock 135mm f5.6 enlarging lens I have sitting on the desk in front of me - see below.

If you know how dinky the 135mm Rodenstock Rodagon enlarging lens is then
you'll know what a dainty figure the Ultragon cuts.

It took Rocky Cameras a fortnight after I'd paid to dispatch the lens but I was prepared for the wait as I imagined the dealer must have had hundreds of parcels to post and I know how time consuming that can be. It's a small operation and not Amazon so you have to make allowances. When it arrived, it was very dirty looking. This wasn't surprising as most of the items I've bought from the company tend to be fairly crud-encrusted.

A gentle cleaning, however, revealed a lens that looks to be in new condition with hardly a mark on the glass or body. The Ultragon seems to be a rebadged Agfa Repromaster which should mean it has a flat field and little fall-off towards the corners.

One of the good things about the Ultragon is that it almost covers the 10x8 format so it's perfect for half plate and should allow a decent range of movements. The 150mm focal length on half plate or 5x7 is roughly equivalent to a 35mm wide angle lens on the 35mm format which, if you've only got one lens, is a good one to have.

OK, then. It's a 150.7mm lens and not a 150.

One of the bad things is that it has no shutter. This might be a deal breaker for some people but I'm not too bothered. I'll be using darkroom paper with an ISO of around 5 to get started and the lens stops down to f64 so I'll be able to use a hat or similar as a shutter in all but the brightest light.

If I move onto medium speed film, then I've got a 10-stop ND filter I can bring into play. The process would be: hat over the lens, withdraw the dark slide, remove hat, count to whatever, cover lens with hat and replace the dark slide. That seems straightforward enough.

The only potentially major problem I can see ahead is the f8 maximum aperture. I set the camera up in the upstairs bathroom with the Ultragon in place to see what it was like. Well, it was dark. It will be usable in daylight but I wouldn't fancy my chances of seeing very much indoors. I'd be back to shooting in the dark like I was forced to do with the Speed Graphic when photographing inside the tenement stairwells around the turn of the year.

I quite fancy using the Kodak in the stairwells, too, and contact printing the negatives onto the Agfa Record Rapid paper I'm keeping for something special but a powerful torch would be needed to shine some light onto the subject for focusing and framing.

Right way up: first "photograph" using the Kodak Specialist - a D700 digital shot
of the focusing screen.

Oh, I forgot to add that I can also use the Ultragon as a standard lens on my Speed Graphic 5x4. The camera has a built-in focal plane shutter and I'd be able to use the camera's movements to their fullest such is the coverage of the Ultragon.

All-in-all, then, not much to complain about for a £12 lens that promises to be so versatile and which adds hardly any weight to a half plate camera that's already heavy enough on its own! If the results from the Ultragon are good then this must rank as one of the best bargains I've had bearing in mind the price/performance ratio. Anyone else got a good or better deal they'd like to share?

You might also like:

Kodak Specialist 2 "Unboxing"
Kodak Specialist 2 Update and Instructions
Getting To Grips With Paper Negs


Herman Sheephouse said...

That looks like a wee beauty Bruce - hope it works out for you.
As for bargains . . yes . . my 203mm Ektar - £45 in a Mr Cad sale - I thought that was quite a bargain as far as photographic things go . . oh and the £150 Sinar F from MXV when they were going. The rail clamp on the Sinar was a bit dodgy so they sent me an entire replacement front standard and clamp!
Wish they were still going actually - gents of the utmost order.
Good luck with the Ultragon.

Eric said...

When digital came along there were some great deals to be had and I picked up a few things that I could not have afforded before. I got a Nikon F2 with standard lens for £60 and a Mamiya 645 body and a couple of lenses for £130 or thereabouts. What I wanted was a good Rolleiflex TLR but they always seemed to hold their price.

Jim Abercrombie said...

Looks like a great bargain Bruce! I like Canons and have got some amazing deals on old FD fitting stuff. Ive built up a big outfit around Canon A1s. They sold for more than £300 when they were new but nobody wants them now. I've won Ebay auctions for A1 bodies for as little as about £10 IIRC. A few years ago you could get three or four Canon FD primes for about £100 but they are dearer now. Look forward to seeing some results from your Kodak outfit!

Bruce Robbins said...

Your Ektar was a cracking buy, Phil. I'll get one of those eventually.

Bruce Robbins said...

Rollei TLRs seem to hold their value a bit like Leicas although I think prices for the 2.8F model have dropped slightly over the last year or two.

Bruce Robbins said...

Hi Jim,

You're right about Canon gear. I've been tempted in the past by Canon just because the prices were so good but I've just never taken to Canon cameras. The cameras and lenses are excellent but I've always been more of a Nikon guy. Almost bought an original F1 with a breechblock SSC 50mm once but went for a Nikon F instead. I've noticed that even a great pro tool like an F1 can still be bought quite cheaply in today's market.

morris1800 said...

Great buy ...lucky it arrived from Rocky's!Yes I have experienced his customer service.But a question Bruce. I use a monorail camera and could mount any lens to a plate , with superglue if needs be and have seen many old lenses for sale and like yourself have not considered the lack of a shutter a major obstacle to creating images. But if the seller does not state the coverage the lens is capable of... is purchasing just a lottery?

Bruce Robbins said...

As you know, Andy, coverage can't be worked out from focal length alone. I always do a google search to see if anyone has mentioned the coverage of a particular lens. Failing that, I think it is just a lottery. Some of these lenses are cheap enough, though, that it's worth a punt. The Ultragon isn't a particularly rare lens and you'd probably get one on Ebay for not much more than I paid for mine.

Herman Sheephouse said...

I suppose coverage really means how acceptable you want the image at the edges to be. My old 90mm Angulon is deemed a bit of a duffer at the edges, however when stopped down, although it isn't the sharpest knife in the drawer, the results are pretty alright.
And yes Bruce - the Ektar was a bargain - with a bit of TLC it cleaned up beautifully. You can find them for around £100 if you are careful, and I would still consider that a bargain for such a sharp lens.

Kevin Allan said...

I think my "most bargain" purchase would be an Olympus Trip in excellent condition for £2 at a car boot sale. But, higher up the scale, my Mamiya RZ67 and two lenses for £490 on eBay was a bargain compared to the latest digital marvel that will last all of three years.