A Useful Long Telephoto

Mar 14, 2016  By Dick Gilcreast


On the subject of extra focal lengths to carry when out looking for pictures, one very useful lens can be a serious telephoto of 400mm or more. The lens in this instance is the 400mm f/6.8 Telyt in Visoflex mount, last mentioned by this writer in a 2007 Viewfinder issue #1 article describing its advantages while covering the re-enactment of an historic siege at a British fort on the Connecticut River during the French and Indian War in 1747.

Another use of this lens was on a trip to New Hampshire’s White Mountains for the specific purpose of photographing the famous profile of The Old Man of the Mountain for use on postcards and the like. I had tried this shot a few years before with my then-longest 135mm Hektor only to find that I needed something a whole lot longer to get the distant profile large enough. Once I had acquired the 400 I went up to try it out. On arrival the 400 proved to be adequate, although a 560 might have been a bit better, capable of producing a vertical just about the same as what you see here if I could have held it steady enough. This image was cropped from a horizontal 400 shot made on a grayish day with Plus-X film at ISO 125. Exposure was made with a Leica M2 with Visoflex II, recorded as 1/250th at f/6.8.

Used with its shoulder brace, the 400 is very steady handheld, making it possible to move around without having to tote a tripod and get in anybody’s way. Indeed, with the (slightly modified) shoulder brace resting on the right shoulder, the front of the lens held by the left hand in focussing position, and the camera tripped and wound with the right hand, the lens is if anything steadier than when supported by a single tripod mount in the middle. I never had a problem with shutter speeds down to 1/60th, and sometimes below that. A much heavier 560 would have been only marginally usable handheld, and even shakier on a single tripod, as I found when I got a 560 lens head a couple of years later to use together with the rear section of the 400. The 560 was used mainly for wildlife with both M and SL cameras, occasionally with the front of the lens resting on a tripod. But it was a handful even during a short afternoon, so I stayed with the lightweight 400 as much as possible and eventually sold the 560 lens head to a fellow LHSA member for bird photography.

Working from a glossy 8 x 10 b&w print of the Old Man, a color negative copy was made from it and scanned onto a CD for making sepia-toned 4 x 6 prints at my friendly camera store, which are still used on New Hampshire folder cards sold locally.

The Old Man

The rocks which made up the face on the cliffside had been cracking and in danger of falling for more than fifty years, held together with metal tie-rods, and inspected and repaired every year as new and old cracks developed from ice buildup. At length, as most people know, the profile finally fell in 2003, but the iconic image is still preserved as the symbol of the state of New Hampshire. And other photographers’ postcards as well as my cards with the image seen here still remain popular with locals and tourists alike.

The Old Man fell on May 3rd, 2003, but luckily the good old 400mm f/6.8 Telyt was there to record it well before then.

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