The Man Behind the Lens: Joseph Petzval

As we unveil our plans in reviving the legendary Petzval lenses, let us take the time to look back and reacquaint ourselves with

Joseph Petzval (Jozef Maximillian Petzval) was a 19th century mathematician, inventor and physicist best known for his work in the field of optics. Among his notable inventions are the Petzval portrait lens and the opera glasses.

Image via

Born in 1807 in Zipser Bela, Kingdom of Hungary, (modern day Spišská Belá, Slovakia), Petzval was the second of six children. He spent his elementary education in Kežmarok (Kesmark), secondary in Podolínec (Pudlein) and high school in Levoča (Leutschau). According to his records, his best classes were Latin and religion, while on the other hand (and quite interestingly), mathematics was one of his weak points before he stepped in high school.

In 1826, Petzval entered the Institutum Geometricum in Buda where he earned an engineering degree after two years, and pursued his doctorate shortly after.

After completing his graduate studies and receiving his Ph.D., Petzval moved on to teach as an associate professor of mathematics, mechanics and practical geometry. In 1935, he became a professor of higher mathematics.

In 1837, Petzval was invited to the University of Vienna in Austria. He accepted an appointment as the chair of mathematics, and up to 1877, he held lectures on the theory of linear and differential equations, algebraic equations, intense cable vibrations, a circular movement as well as ballistics and analytical mechanics.

The Petzval lens. Image via

During this time, Petzval moved into a rented an abandoned Piarist monastery at Kahlenberg mountain, and founded his own glass-sharpening workshop there. As he was skilled as a lens sharpener and precision mechanic, he managed to design his famous portrait lens in 1840. However, the lens’ invention did not mean that there was no difficulty — later that year, he entered disputes with the entrepreneur Peter Wilhelm Friedrich von Voigtländer over who had the right to produce Petzval’s lenses.

The very first Voigtlander Petzval lens. Image via

In later life, he continued to study optics — particularly refraction —until around 1859, when some of his optics manuscripts were unfortunately destroyed in a burglary. His most refined technical book on optics, lost with his manuscripts, would never appear in print. He turned to the science of acoustics, and finished his long-running series of lectures on dioptrics in 1862. His enterprise with Carl Dietzler failed in 1862.

In January 1869, at the age of 62, Petzval married his housekeeper Katarina Schlegl, but she died three years later. Petval retired his professorship on his seventieth birthday, in 1877, and he passed on in 1891.

The new Lomography Petzval (D)SLR Art Lens is a reinvention of the legendary portrait glass lens that first appeared in the 19th century. Our version is a high-quality glass optic that makes it possible for Canon and Nikon analogue and digital SLR mount cameras to yield the famous Petzval look – sharp focus areas with unique bokeh effects, strong color saturation, and artful vignettes. It’s a distinct look that goes far beyond using photo editing software and filters.

Fund this project on Kickstarter and help us bring back this extraordinary lens for 21st century photographers and filmmakers!

written by geegraphy on 2013-07-25 #petzval-lenses #lomography #joseph-petzval #lifestyle #analogue-lifestyle

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