Schneider Lenses for Large Format Photography.

What digital lenses are best with the new large format scanning back cameras? Schneider or Rodenstock?

When you switch from traditional photography to large-format digital photography (this means using a Better Light, Dicomed, or PhaseOne class of high-end 4x5 scanning back) what new equipment will you need? Yes, your old studio lights and your traditional lenses will still work, but digital lighting and digital lenses will be noticeably better.

Today's CCD scanning backs are so sophisticated that the lenses can see the non-overlapping red, blue, and green planes of focus in normal lenses. With traditional film, no normal 120, 220 (medium format) or even 4x5 picture would be capable of noticing these imperfections in older lenses. The better APO lenses would have already solved some of these problems.

You can see the lack of concurrent focus very easily. Just take a digital picture of any linear grid (such as graph paper) or even simple lined note paper. Enlarge the image on your computer monitor. You will see that instead of one black line you have three lines, one is red, another blue, another green...

This means that if you enlarge your photograph (such as on wide format printers) you are reaching the realm of color fringes. Same thing with lighting, some lights (such as one model of Dedolights) may cause banding due to electrical interference. All this came as an unpleasant surprise to lighting and lens manufacturers. Many reacted in a defensive manner saying their products were perfectly okay. But quietly, one after the other, they are producing new models that come closer to being in synch with the needs of the new digital era.

Actually, lighting and lens manufacturers should be happy about all of this, since it means they have thousands of new customers. The Better Light digital camera, for example, is considered so good that it is selling almost faster than Michael Collette's crew can assemble them. Every happy new owner of a new Better Light scanning back will need digital lenses and possibly digital lighting (I review digital lighting on and

At the international Photokina trade show in Cologne I spoke with several representatives of Schneider and I met with a pleasant and knowledgeable manager of Rodenstock in Munich. Both Schneider and Rodenstock make the medium format and large format lenses with German optical know-how which have never been equalled by anything from any other country.

If you do not have a budget for a new lens or if you don't enlarge to the point where you see the RGB banding, then at least try to utilize apochromatic lenses. For normal digital photography I use my older Schneider and Rodenstock lenses and my eyes do not notice any difference. But if you intend to drape an entire building with your large format creation, you might wish to investigate the new digital lenses.

If you use a macro lens for product photography, we get best results from the 180 mm Macro lenses. If I remember correctly the 180mm Macro from Rodenstock is an APO lens whereas that from Schneider is not. Do not use a wider lens for macro; it will elongate (distort) your image. I found this out when I evaluated a 120 mm digital lens from Schneider. This lens elongated the subject even when directly in front of the object with no lens tilting or other movement.

The Schneider digital lenses are marketed under the series designation Digital. (in USA), the German web site is

For more information on what lighting you need with large format digital cameras check out and


Most recently updated August 02, 2001.