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The Kodak Aero-Ektar
aerial reconnaissance lens


Foxgloves last Summer, outside the house

In 1942 Kodak were asked to build a very fast lens for taking aerial photographs, sometimes in very low light conditions. There were several designs built for various applications, but the 7" (178mm) used here is the one most favoured by experimental large format photographers. It is usually used with 5" X 4" film, and has about the same field of view as a standard lens on a normal camera - 50mm if you're using a full frame DSLR.

Model T Ford bits

Ford Model T bits, seen in Tuckett Brother's yard

What the Aero-Ektar has that sets it apart is a very wide aperture - f2.5 - which makes for a very narrow depth of field - everything gets very out of focus very quickly, which can have a very interesting effect. Of course, all that extra light-gathering capacity does make for a very large and at the time, expensive lens, and it can still command high prices even today.

Using the lens is not without challenges. It is big and heavy (2lbs) so needs to be robustly fitted to the camera. It also has uncoated glass which means that any backlight or extraneous light needs to be kept off the front element. I used a plastic flowerpot for a while until I found someone making 3D printed lens hoods online.

Oak Tree

Just one of the oaks in a wood near where I live

The final challenge is that the lens has no shutter, so really has to be used with an early Graflex camera which has a roller blind shutter behind the lens. This means the whole camera is big and bulky, and needs to be put on an equally robust tripod - necessitating some humping of gear if you take it out in the field. What did Annie Leibovitz say? That photography is 75% furniture removals?

In any event, the results speak for themselves, and it's kind of a pleasant lens to work with, with easy viewing in the camera due to the fast speed - usually, working with a large format image on a ground glass can often be very dark and tricky to frame.

All the images on this page are 1400 pixels width, so can be downloaded with a reasonable amount of quality and used how you (non commercially) wish.

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