Petzval Lens

DSC_8615.e copyOld and new Petzval lens / 2014 / Terry Long

It is not very often that you find a one hundred and seventy year old piece of photographic technology get reintroduced back into the camera market, but the Petzval lens on the right is brand new and was designed to fit and work on Canon EF and Nikon F mount analogue and digital cameras. It is very well constructed just like the original, with a  deep lens hood, and a lens cap.    The only major thing different about it compared to the old Petzval lens on the left, apart from being smaller, is the arrangement and size of the optics which had to be reconfigured. The Petzval lens was designed in 1840 by Joseph Petzval from Austria and was ideal for portrait photography and also as a projection lens on magic lanterns. There is a lot more information on the Petzval lens here…  The older Petzval lens on the left would not work on your DSLR, because it was designed to work on the whole plate camera, where the image size was 165 x 216 mm, or 6  1/2 x 8  1/2 inches, so it would not able be to focus fitted directly to a DSLR. To get the lens to focus, you would need an extension tube over 30 centimeters, or about 12 inches long. The new 85mm Petzval lens which is made of brass is manual only and has drop-in metal Waterhouse aperture system plates just like the original. There is also a focusing wheel which has been placed on the left side, instead of on the right like the original, which makes perfect sense. You focus with your left hand, and fire the shutter with your right.  

DSC_8610Nikon 85 mm 1.4 lens and the Petzval 85mm 1.2 lens

The new reproduction of the Petzval lens was on loan to me for just a couple of days to try out, so I decided to compare it with my Nikon 85mm 1.4 lens, and also to see if I could somehow  compare it to my original 1850s  Petzval lens which was given to me as a graduation present by my wonderful photography professor David Searle. David was the technical assistant to both Cecil Beaton and Norman Parkinson, two of the most famous British fashion photographers. There is a David Searle photograph of the Beatles in the National Portrait Gallery, London.

DSC_8617.eNikon 85 mm 1.4 lens / 2014 / Terry Long

The portrait above was taken as close as I could focus with the Nikon 1.4 lens and was shot wide open at f1.4. There is far less contrast than the Petzval lens, with slightly warmer colours, and soft, larger bokeh, due in part to the wider aperture. Bokeh is a Japanese word for the out-of- focus points of light which appear in the camera viewfinder as discs of light. The wider the aperture, and longer the lens, the larger the discs will appear. 

DSC_8619.eNew Petzval 85 mm 2.2 lens / 2014 / Terry Long

The  bokeh in the above photo taken with the Petzval lens is more defined and has more contrast, and also more fall off on the perimeter, so the discs of light appear elongated.

DSC_8667.e New Petzval 85 mm 2.2 lens / 2014 / Terry Long 

The double portrait really illustrates the shallow depth of field when shooting wide open on any fast 85mm lens of this format. If you were seeking to capture the flavour of Julia Margaret Cameron’s wonderful portrait work… I think this Petzval lens would bring you close to the effect that you often see in her work, and it is a delight to use this lens. 

DSC_8626.e1850s Petzval Lens , 300mm / 2014 / Terry Long

It was tricky to take the photo above on the original Petzval lens due to the large distance and gap needed between the lens and the camera. I used a large dark-cloth to try and stop some of the light from flaring the lens and hitting the sensor, and working from under the dark-cloth made it even more of a challenge to take the photo. A large amount flare can be seen on the lower section of the portrait.


New Petzval 85 mm 2.2 lens / 2014 / Terry Long

The new Petzval 85 mm 2.2 lens  seems to be very good for black and white portrait work due to the strong contrast and soft edges. It is also a lens that forces you to be more thoughtful in your choices and photographic decision making, and is not really for people who are happy and content just to snap away. This black and white portrait was taken wide open at f2.2.

DSC_8824.ePetzval 85 mm 2.2 lens / 2014 / Terry Long

The fall off and tunneling effect is very noticeable in these two photographs of flowers, an effect which is not normally found in modern designed photographic lenses, which makes this lens a very useful lens to have in your kit,

   Petzval_8685.eNew Petzval 2.2 lens / 2014 / Terry Long


Django / New Petzval 85 mm lense / 2014 / Terry Long

The new Petzval lens is built in Russia by Zenit, a very old manufacturer of cameras and optics, and is currently available from the Lomography website, plus they have more information here…  All the photographs in this article, including Red Blind below, were taken with a DSLR Nikon D700 camera and are the copyright of Terry Long Imagery. 

Red Blind.eRed Blind / Petzval 2.2 lens / 2014 / Terry Long

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