$25,000 Megavision T2 on the left, a $7 Lisco film holder
on the right. Notice how small the sensor (the green square)
is on the T2 vs. the sheet film.
When Bob Shell asked me to
take a look at Schneider's new line of digital lenses, I said
"sure." After all, I'm a fully modern digital photographer,
and anything aimed at the digital professional is of great interest
to me. When I started to think about it a little bit I got curious--digital
lenses? What's digital about them? Are they made of glass, or
are we talking about some weird new digital technology...hey, maybe
they're sonar lenses, or some other new tech lens design. Well,
let me fill you in. These are good old-fashioned Schneider lenses.
Designed and manufactured in Germany to Schneider's typically
high standards, the Digitar series of view camera lenses is a 10 lens
family that ranges from an outrageous 28mm to a normal 150mm. Two of
the 10 lenses are optimized for Macro photography, in 80mm and 120mm
focal lengths. How about 28mm lenses for a 4x5 view camera? Wow--how
did Schneider pull this off?
the 47mm lens mounted in a Cambo recessed lensboard. OK,
how do you get a cable release in there?
The answer is both simple and
complicated. First of all, the 28mm lens is not some super-duper fisheye
optic for 4x5 sheet film. When Schneider says these are "digital"
lenses, they're talking about digital camera backs like the Leaf
DCBII, Volare and Kantare, the Megavision T2, S2, and S3, and the Dicomed
Big Shot cameras. These digital cameras use a very small 2048x2048 or
2048x3096 pixel area array sensor. While these backs are often purchased
in mounts for medium format cameras like Hasselblads, many studio photographers
need the wings and tilts of a view camera and purchase the backs for view
usage. The dilemma is easy to figure out. Mount a 11/4" square sensor
on the back of a 4x5 view camera and your super-wide 90mm lens becomes
a mild telephoto, your ultra-wide 47mm Super Angulon becomes a normal
lens, and your 210mm normal lens becomes a telephoto better suited for
shooting NFL games than tabletop product shots.
Besides the focal length problems, sharpness suffers. Even the best lens
designed to paint a circle of light wide enough to cover the full diagonal
of a 4x5 piece of sheet film can match the resolution of a lens designed
to cover a 3x3cm area. For example, where a conventional lens might be
adequately sharp all across the film area at f/8, a smaller lens designed
to fill a smaller area will often resolve many more lines per mm wide
open, and improve even more at f/8 to f/11. The bottom line is, if you
don't need to fill more than a 60mm circle, why do it?
Schneider sent Shutterbug three Digitar lenses to test, the wide 47mm
f/5.6, the normal long 60mm f/4.0, and the longer 80mm f/5.6. Since I
shoot with a scanning camera, there was no way to review these lenses
with my existing equipment. A quick call to Calumet's excellent
CDS (Calumet Digital Solutions) got us a fresh Megavision T2 three-shot
camera. While the T2 offers a stand-alone camera solution for the T2,
it also can be bolted to a view camera, and offers live on-screen focusing.
When bolted to a Cambo Ultima view camera, the T2 was first put through
its paces with my standard 210mm Fujinon lens. While this is a very long
lens for this sized chip, the Fuji is a very sharp lens with excellent
color reproduction. To test the camera back I put a can of Coke in the
scene and took a few shots. Everything looked pretty good to me, and it
seemed hard to believe that Schneider could improve upon this performance
from a modest $600 lens.
80mm Apo-Digitar is a brutally sharp lens, with the near-perfect
Apochromatic performance that pro digital cameras demand.
Once the Schneiders were bolted
to No. 0 recessed lensboards it became obvious to me that there was a
serious lack of planning here. The lenses shipped in No. 0 Copal press
shutters. A press shutter automatically opens the lens up when in the
"T" mode. This allows for wide open focusing. The problem
was this: Since we're shooting digital with a three-shot back, we're
using the software as the shutter. We want the lens open but stopped down.
The only way to do this was to insert a cable release, switch to "B,"
and fire the shutter to open it up, but leaving the lens stopped down.
Here's the problem--when mounted in a recessed lensboard, a cable
release won't fit. To get the shots down I stuck a small paper clip
into the shutter release to open the lens. Anyway, if you're in
the market for these lenses, buy the standard Copal shutter.
I shot the same Coke can with all three lenses. My first reaction was
"big deal." The images looked about the same. While the Schneider
lenses might have had a different color balance than my Fujinon, in digital
photography you traditionally get a neutral balance from the gray square
of a Macbeth color checker--so the lens and lighting become somewhat immaterial.
When zoomed in to 100 percent the Schneider shots did look sharper, but
when I applied some interpolation and unsharp masking to the images the
differences became really dramatic.
I took the standard 2048x2048 18MB files produced by the T2 and interpolated
them up to 4096x4097 48MB files. Since the T2 images have absolutely no
color or pixel interpolation applied by the software, they interpolate
up beautifully, still besting all but the most detailed film images. Now
that I had some really big files, I needed to sharpen them. I hit the
files with 160 percent unsharp masking, a very severe sharpening. The
Fujinon file looked OK, but I did notice that the type on the can was
not razor sharp, and there appeared to be a reddish-purple fringe surrounding
the letters. The Schneider images were quite a bit sharper and showed
no signs of fringing. The results when compared side by side were stunning.
The sharpnes was easy to figure out. The smaller image circles of the
lenses allowed Schneider to design a lens that was sharper in a smaller
image circle. The color fringing was interesting. Since the T2 shot three
separate images using red, green, and blue filters, the chromatic performance
of my Fujinon lens was tested. It turned out that the Fujinon focused
the three different colors at different planes, resulting in a color shift.
The Schneider lenses, all being of Apochromatic design, didn't have
If you've made the investment in high-end digital camera equipment,
the whole question of value becomes something of a moot point. If you
can find the clients for this kind of work, the purchase price becomes
secondary, since even the most expensive piece of equipment can be amortized
pretty quickly. That said, the Schneider lenses are somewhat expensive.
While the $1577 list price for the 60mm and 80mm lenses is quite reasonable
for a lens with this level of performance, $2165 for the 47mm and a whopping
$3049 for the 28mm lens seem a little steep. Since the only real competitors
for these lenses, the Sinaron Digital lenses are even more expensive and
may only be used with expensive electronic shutter assemblies, the Schneiders
are really the only game in town for this kind of work.
While the number of photographers in the world shooting with a Loral or
Philips chip camera back mounted on a 4x5 view camera is probably fairly
small, kudos to Schneider for devoting this level of research and design
to this tiny population of top pros. These little jewels are the perfect
solution for the studio catalog photographer using state of the art digital
camera technology. I suggest that you investigate the technical specs
For more information, contact Schneider Optics, Inc., 285 Oser Ave., Hauppauge,
NY 11788; (516) 761-5000; fax: (516) 761-5090; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
or web site at: www.schneideroptics.com.