First Look: Rodenstock 138mm HR-W in Aperture Mount
It isn’t often we get a new lens from Rodenstock. They’re awfully methodical in their product roadmaps. And roadmaps implies a fast moving vehicle, so when it comes to Rodenstock, I prefer to call them product walkmaps because when it comes to new lenses of a certain quality, these things take time. But sometimes there are benefits to not rushing things. Imagine that in today’s world where things seemingly move at the speed of light.
And so we have the imminent arrival of a brand new Rodenstock lens – in light of the above preamble, this should be a celebrated event, and so it shall be. We had a play with a prototype lens delivered in Cambo WRS Lenspanel with Helical Focusing Ring and the new Rodenstock Aperture Only Mount.
Now the current Rodenstock lineup of HR (High Resolution) lenses looks like this:
- 23/5.6 HR-S
- 32/4 HR-W
- 35/4 HR-S (limited supply remaining)
- 40/4 HR-W
- 50/4 HR-W
- 70/5.6 HR-W
- 138/6.5 HR-SW
- 180/5.6 HR-S
Prior to the 138mm, there was a gap between the 90HR-SW, which equates to a “normal’ focal length (58mm in 135mm format) and the 180mm HR-S, which equates to a modest telephoto (116mm in 135mm format) So clearly, there was a hole to fill, and the 138mm is a great fit (89mm in 135mm format). So let’s get to it – this is a first look, not a comprehensive review, so we’ll keep it (somewhat) short and sweet for now.
First off, the 138mm is yes, a large lens. Similar in size to the 180mm HR-S. Not enormous, but certainly hefty and lengthy when mounted into a helical mount for technical shift cameras. It is a rather complex design containing a floating element with a helical focusing module tied to it. Because the helical is tied to the focusing ring, even the bare mount version of the lens (for a view camera, etc.) will feature the helical focus ring and require customized mounting.
Standard Specs (bare lens):
Length is 124.6mm (4.9 inches)
Weight is 1400 grams (49 ounces)
Filter thread is 67mm
Mount Option: Rodenstock Aperture Only Mount
Mount Option: Sinar eShutter 250
My first impression of this lens is that it is the sharpest Rodenstock field lens ever produced. Indeed, f/6.5, which is the widest aperture, is the sharpest aperture. F/8 is very very close to that performance, and F/11 is very usable, but is the point at which some noticeable performance lag begins. This is an extremely impressive optic and especially for a long lens of this length. Wide lenses have their challenges, but long lenses do as well. Shooting over distance and often having to cut through airborne environmental residue to render distant small details with clarity requires optics with unique resolving power. This lens delivers performance I don’t think I’ve ever seen at this focal length.
With the Phase One IQ4 150 in landscape orientation, horizontal shift of 14mm was achieved before seeing the edge of the image circle, with the lens mounted in Cambo WRS Lenspanel. While I hoped for more shift latitude with the 110mm image circle, in this particular configuration, the design of the floating element design restricts this. Now before we get too upset and ask – Well why the heck did they choose to use a floating element design??? – we have to remember that the floating element design is responsible for the unprecedented optical performance of this lens, and it enables this at any working distance, near or far. Still, for technical camera use, a 14mm lateral shift (closer to 17mm with the sensor in vertical orientation) is not shabby. And have confirmation from our partners that this lens will also be available in a custom lensboard for Cambo Actus view camera, and Alpa 12 Technical Cameras (and we presume Arca Swiss as well, for their R cameras and view cameras). These configurations may yield additional shift latitude. Cambo also may feature this lens in a variant of the current WRS configuration that will enable additional shift movement.
There is the size and weight of the lens, but it is what it is. Everyone would like excellent smaller optics, but this is not always possible (and the number of examples where this is the case cover many different lenses across many different cameras and formats). But in practical use, I noted that vibration was a factor. It is a long elephant nose of a lens hanging off the front of the camera, after all. To resolve this, there will be a variety of supprotive solutions, one of which (from Cambo) will be a 1/4″ threaded socket that allows the lens to provide the fulcrum for support.
This protoype lens was mounted in the Rodenstock Aperture Mount. This mount provides no shutter, which means it will rely on the built-in Electronic Shutter of your given digital back (such as a Phase One IQ3 100, IQ4 150) or any number of mirrorless digital cameras (Fuji, Hasselblad, Sony, Canon, Nikon, etc.). There is also a version that comes in the Rodenstock e250 Electronic Shutter, which adds some additional cost. While the Aperture Only Mount is nicely constructed, smooth, and simple to operate, I had hoped for larger, easier to read stop numerals and markings, and it would have been nice to have an open/shut control over the aperture blades (there could have been some restrictions that precluded this). The traditionalist in me also would have loved to have detents (or click stops) at the full stop marks, but again, there could be reasons for this omission, such as lack of precision due to the somewhat vague space the detent would take up. As it stands, it works easily and well.
So … back to that performance. The below scene is one we often shoot when comparig lenses. With the different focal lengths, we pulled back for the 138mm shot. The 2 scenes are not at the exact same scale, but close.
All of the Rodenstock HR lenses are exceptional, but the 32HR-W and the 90HR-SW, which are the 2 most recent releases before the 138mm, set new standards. However, the 138mm is a newer standard. In shooting tests against our in house 90 HR-SW, the 138mm HR-S clearly surpasses the 90mm HR-SW in resolving power, and at every aperture. All of this comes at a price, an extraordinary price in every respect. We are awaiting final pricing from all partners, but the early look seems to indicate adding 40% or so additional above what the most expensive Rodenstock (32 HR-SW) currently costs.
Rodenstock 138mm/6.5 HR-SW Summary:
- Unprecedented optical performance
- Equivalent performance at near and far distances
- Large image circle of 110mm
- Reasonable filter thread of 67mm
- Available for technical shift cameras and view cameras
- CI is taking pre-orders NOW
- Extreme price (think Leica Noctilux territory)
- Not a small lens
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