Review of 180mm F4.5 pre-war Xenar lens for large format photography.

Updated: Dec 3, 2020

As mentioned in the title this review is about a pre-war lens for large format photography which means there is no coating on the lens. It was made at a time when everyone would shoot black and white film due to the fact that there was no colour film available which is why lenses had no coating. Coating of lenses did not begin until we started using colour film.

The cost of this particular lens was well under £80 and is in beautiful condition, clean and clear from haze and fungus. The shutter speeds also work as they should. It has just a few dust spots but they will not affect the final image at all. There is also quite a lot of cleaning marks on the front element and under normal circumstances, you would think twice about buying such a lens but if you come across a vintage lens such as this in this condition my advice would be to buy it.

So let's get down to testing it.

I’m testing the lens using my MPP 5x4 large format camera and seeing as it's a portrait lens I thought it would be a good idea to shoot a portrait.

I went to Seaton Sluice in Northumberland and whilst walking around I met an amazing artist called Tommy. Amongst the things he made he was also a great carver of wood, something I used to love doing as a child, so this was a great opener for a conversation I thought. He was a great character, so after a brief chat, I asked if I could take his portrait I thought this would be a great opportunity to test the lens.

I wanted to test it with a reasonably shallow depth of field so I chose F8 as my aperture setting. My film of choice is Ilford HP5 Plus. I shot two exposures one inside his workshop where I used a Fuji lens with a shutter speed of 1/8 of a second. The second shot was outside the shop with the Xenar 180mm F4.5 lens with a shutter speed of a 50th of a second. Here are the results...

The lens has really surprised me. The quality is beautiful, there is great detail in the image scan with the softness that you wouldn't get from modern lenses. The tones are absolutely beautiful, vibrant, there is something just so wonderful about this lens despite the harsh cleaning marks on the front element, which there is no sign of on the finished scan as you can see. The results from the lens make it incredible value for money. I would definitely look at more lenses from a similar period with or without cleaning marks. I absolutely love this lens and will be hanging on to it and with no shadow of a doubt from now on this will definitely be my go-to lens for portraiture.

As a friend said to me lenses of that era were made for a purpose and made with quality.

I will be testing more pre-war lenses so if this is of interest to you don't forget to call back.

Also new for 2021 I will be running large format vintage photography workshops.

I also run large format photography workshops from my studio and on location. These will be Covid safe on a one-to-one basis if you would like to book a place for yourself or as a wonderful gift please get in touch.

Email: or give me a ring on 07454286443 discuss your requirements.

I bought this lens from Paul Cordes at Classic Photographics who specialise in Vintage Cameras, Photographs, Books and Ephemera.

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© 2021 Keith Moss Photography