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Archive for May, 2018

Pictue of Petzval Lens

My Petzval 2.2/85 in Brass

Oh the classic Petzval lens. These are coming back in vogue. The Petzval lens dates back to 1840 and was very popular at that time. The 19th century design had an amazing swirly bokeh that some might find distracting, but I find rather interesting. These lenses generally fare better when shot wide open. The swirly curly bokeh yields a very magical feeling, bordering on fantasia.

The artful lenses have become so popular that early examples of “authentic” 19th Century Petzvals tend to fetch King Midas prices even when they are in poor condition. Most of them were finished in polished brass so they even look like Midas touched them.

Lomography, managed to help bring the popularity of the Petzval lens design to the “masses” by recreating the classic style and image effects with a new lens product. They created the 85mm F/2.2 Petzval in 2013. They recently introduced a followup lens the Petzval 58mm F/1.9 with adjustable swirly bokeh! I have the original Lomography Petzval 85mm and I like it. You can get more information on these products at the Lomography Website here.

Lomography is well-known for re-introducing us all to the world of cheap plastic cameras like the Holga. But this Petzval project is anything but cheap. You will shell out $600 for the brass version of the lens and an extra ‘hundsky’ for a black version. I like the brass, it’s so 1840 classic! 6 bills for this thing, it better be good, right? Well good is a very subjective term. Some will love it, some will not. I on on the love side of the aisle.

picture of dog

Maggie through the Petzval 2.2/85 @F/2.2

The lens is not super sharp, but it is more than acceptable for portraits. It is made in Russia in the old Zenit Factory. Ah, those cold war Soviet cameras, weren’t they great? Well, no, actually they really sucked. But this lens doesn’t suck, so the Zenit Factory is redeemed in the 21st Century. The lens is designed to cover the full frame of 35mm and it does so with no issues. 85mm is an ideal portrait focal length on FF or 35mm. On APS/c it is a tad long (128mm-136mm Nik/Can) but still in the portrait range.

It uses the classic 19th Century style Waterhouse stops to change the lens opening. If you are unfamiliar, these are small metal plates with various hole sizes cut. You have to slip them into a slot to stop down the lens. I tend to use the lens wide open so it isn’t a big deal. This is how the originals worked as well. This can lead to dust getting into the lens, so be careful.

Lomography has created a series of special aperture plates with shapes to create artistic shapes and textures in the high lights of the background. They have these available on the website.

Petzval Lens Focus Knob

Petzval Rack and Pinion Focus

I was a bit surprised at how big this thing is. And it is a bit heavy. Hey, it’s actually brass! It feels well made. The Petzval style focus is a rack and pinion controlled by a fairly small knob. It works smoothly and very well, but it is quite coarse. The distance from minimum focus (0.9m) to Infinity is about a 1/4 turn on a 3/4 inch knob. It’s not exactly precision in that regard. But neither were the 19th Century originals. This lens was not just about recreating the Petzval look in the images, but in the design as well. It is a fairly faithful reproduction with a few modern upgrades, like Multi-Coating, and modern camera mounts for Sony FE, Nikon, and Canon. Mine is a Nikon mount and I have a Canon EOS adapter on it.

As far as the images are concerned, I really like them. The Petzval bokeh looks a little like the bokeh on my old Canon 50/1.2 RF lens but less distracting. And the Canon bokeh doesn’t have that illusion of swirling around the subject quite like the Petzval. Also the Canon RF 1.2/50mm has a bokeh that is a bit more coarse with the highlights and some may find it harsh where as this Petzval is softer. I like them both, but the Petzval has a more pleasing background in most scenarios versus that old 1.2 50mm.

Now I mentioned that Lomography has brought in a new version with an adjustable bokeh ring. This Petzval lens is similar to the 85mm here, but it is 58mm and a tad faster at f/1.9. It still uses the Waterhouse stops. They have managed to create a system that allows the user to dial-up or down the intensity of the swirly curly bokeh. I have no idea how they pulled that off but it looks pretty cool. That lens is a bit more expensive than this 85mm ($750) and I have read mixed reviews on sharpness some saying it’s better than this lens others suggesting it is not. For shooters of APS/c cameras the 58mm focal length is a better choice offering a 87mm-93mm (Nik/Can) equivalent while still being close to portrait length for FF/35mm.

For me I am happy with this lens. I bought mine used for a few bux over $300. You can see that it shows a bit of wear, but it still looks awesome. If you want to street shoot, the black one might be best; I really like the classic brass and wouldn’t have it in the black if black was the lesser price. I’m certainly not giving an extra Benjamin for it in black.

Lomography also has a Daguerreotype reproduction of the original Chevalier lens used on early Daguerreotype photography. That one has a 2 element lens mounted in either brass or chrome plate. Below are a few more examples of the Petzval 85mm 2.2 all shot wide open.

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