We put the Petzval in the hands of photographer and avid Lomographer scootiepye— see what she makes of it after the jump!
Hi! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Hi yourself! Photography is my lifelong passion – creating images is what I think and dream about – it defines me as a person, without photography I feel completely heartbroken.
How long have you been a Lomographer?
I picked up my first Lomography camera in 2000, a yellow Supersampler – I have been taking analogue images since the age of 4, more regularly from the age of 7. My first camera was a hand-me-down Brownie box on which I shot my first Lomography-styled image – I still have that image and that camera!
What camera did you use to shoot with the Petzval lens?
A Nikon D90.
How did you find shooting with the lens?
It was like stepping back in time in many respects – then being transported to the present moment – all through the single press of a small black button while watching the sun gleam from a beautiful brass lens. I really enjoyed the manual focus process.
Can you tell us about what you photographed and why you chose that subject?
What you see included with this interview is a relatively small selection – I shot a diverse collection of images – you’ll be able to find more Petzval images in my lomohome and on my flickr. I decided to shoot a series with the help of two of my friends, Mr. Latimer and Josefin Bengtsson – they are both photographers and used to ‘helping’ me.
What are some of your ideas/tips/thoughts for using the new Petzval lens?
The Lomography Petzval lens is a bridge between the digital and analogue world … it’s so much more than a portrait lens
Testing the Lomography Petzval was fresh!
The Petzval lens is loaded with retro charm – it’s a modern-day reinvention of an iconic 19th-century portrait lens which was first introduced in Vienna, Austria, in 1840 by a professor of mathematics named Joseph Petzval – The Lomography Petzval lens comes in either Canon EF or Nikon F mounts, and therefore can be used on many analogue or digital cameras.
I like the thought of stepping into the shoes of an early lens pioneer and adapting this older technology to modern times. Picking up the beautifully made heavy brass lens feels like holding a piece of photographic history – I’m sure the brass will tarnish well with age, which for me will just add to the beauty. The Petzval Art Lens is not your typical modern camera lens, it’s brass-barrelled with manual focus; it has no electronic contacts, and the aperture is controlled by sliding a selection of small metal plates (diaphragms) into a slot on the top of the lens body. The labeled aperture plates go from f/2.2 to f/16. The focal length of the lens is 85mm, so it is what is classically known as a portrait lens. I’ll say again, just in case you missed it the first time; this lens has no electronic contacts, so you won’t be able to use a modern autofocus system.
The Petzval deals with aperture in a way you will most likely not be familiar with – the lens has an aperture range of f/2.2, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, and f/16. The lens works using a traditional Waterhouse aperture system. With this Waterhouse design, the lens includes a set of stops (also known as diaphragms). Each diaphragm is perfectly drilled with a round hole of a different size; these sizes correspond to the f-stop or aperture. So if you’d like to shoot with f/4 aperture, you select the f/4 diaphragm and insert it into the aperture slot of your lens; if you’d like to shoot with an f/11 aperture, you select the f/11 diaphragm and so on.
Focus is achieved by a gear-rack focusing system. To focus the lens, you simply turn a large-headed screw which sits at the side and bottom of the brass lens barrel – Focusing the lens will take some care, as this is a fully manual operation. I rather enjoyed the process myself – however please bear in mind that the lens has an extremely shallow depth of field, so the point of focus needs to be exact – if you want it to be sharp – that’s totally up to you. If you’re a steampunk fan you will love this lens just for its looks alone!
The lens is made from premium glass. The optics are engineered at the Zenit factory in Russia. When an image is shot with a wide-open aperture, it has a very thin depth of field and a unique swirling Bokeh character, giving a dream-like, ethereal, old-world image quality. This lens produces distinctive and interesting images. You need space around your focal area to create a bigger canvas for a Bokeh effect. Shooting using lavish patterns behind your subject will enhance the swirling – trees and foliage also work! You can of course shoot with a closer crop, which virtually eliminates the swirl effect.
The word Bokeh comes from the Japanese word boke (ボケ), which means “blur” or “haze”, or boke-aji, the “blur quality.” Bokeh is pronounced BOH-Kə or BOH-kay.
While the Petzval is pinpoint-sharp in the centre of the image, it becomes soft at the edges due to curvature of field with some vignetting towards the edges of the frame. This gives a swirling effect to the bokeh background. This works well for portraits by focusing the attention on the central focal area — or whatever you wish to be your central subject — and from that area the image smoothly and gently goes out of focus, ending in an edge-of-frame vignette. To extenuate the ‘swirling bokeh’ you need to allow some distance between yourself and your subject. It also helps to have some space between your subject and the background. With a little experimentation you will soon discover what works personally for you.
The Petzval lens mounts with seamless ease with one quick flick of the wrist and feels equally balanced in both weight and integration with the camera body – just like any other modern digital lens. I thought the lens might be a little heavy, but it turned out to be just fine.
I found that the Petzval diaphragms can move around a little bit within the brass lens slot – and yes they can fall out, if you shoot side-on in classic portrait mode. My tip and my fix for this was to loop all the diaphragms onto a light-weight carabineer clip (a simple metal loop with a spring loaded gate – often used in climbing). This pretty much sorted this issue out for me, I used the unused diaphragms to good counter-balancing effect! (You could also use a key ring to hold the diaphragms.) I shot some images using a standard tripod and also a gorilla pod plus a remote – this worked out well for me. I used this method mainly because I have tremor in my hands and body. Also it was super windy on one of the test shooting days, which made shooting a polka-dotted helium-filled balloon tied to some tall grass an epic experience – this certainly gave the focusing screw an awesome workout!
This lens won’t appeal to everyone – if you happen to be a pixel-perfect clean clear shooter, this may not be the lens for you. I’ve heard it called a ‘one trick pony,’ but I personally think it has a few ‘tricks’ to offer – plus it’s one heck of a set of tricks! To master those tricks creatively offers an innovative challenge to a photographer. There’s a learning curve to using this lens, for sure, and there is a craft to the learning.
So if you happen to have a passionate desire for shallow DOF and you find yourself with a hankering for quirky swirls and experimental environmental ambience made with a manual lens, I think the Petzval will make your soul smile. So, come and join in the Petzval fun!