Charles Chevalier and the Story of a Lens Legacy

The Chevalier family reigned supreme in creating optics. After all, they made the first useful achromatic objectives used in microscopes. Charles Louis Chevalier, son of renowned optician Jacques-Louis-Vincent, followed his father's footsteps but eventually stepped out of his shadow.

Portrait of Charles Chevalier from the Wikimedia Commons

The George Eastman House writes:

In 1832 he quarreled with his father because he felt that he was being inadequately recompensated for his services and his valuable inventions. Thereupon with many regrets, a wife and little else, he left the family home on the Quai d'Horloge, Paris, and set up his own establishment in a shop at the Palais-Royal, Galerie de Valois, No. 163.

Chevalier was always fascinated with the daguerreotype invention. He and his family knew Niepce and Daguerre for quite a long time, and naturally, Niepce and Daguerre turned to Charles to invent a specific lens for the Daguerre-Giroux cameras.

Daguerre wanted a lens that could cover a sizable angular field. Chevalier immediately thought of W.H. Wollaston's lens (1812). But there was a bit of the "Chevalier touch" to the lens he patterned after Wollaston's.

A Susse Frères daguerreotype camera with a Chevalier lens and the Chevalier lens itself. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

George Eastman House describes Chevalier's lens of 1839:

However, as he was accustomed to achromatizing all of his lenses, Chevalier naturally thought of achromatizing the Wollaston lens too. In the end, for the 'official' daguerreotype cameras made by Giroux, he supplied a well-corrected f/4 telescope objective of 380mm (15 inches) focal length and 81mm. (3/4 inches) aperture, turned end-for-end so that the flat side faced the distant object.

The Focal Encyclopedia of Photography recorded that in 1840, Chevalier produced a portable, folding daguerreotype camera, the Photographe, which was collapsible to the size of a parcel. The same year, he was able to create photomicrographs. Later on, Chevalier became one of the earliest French photographers and dealers of the daguerreotype, his achromatic lens and other photographic equipment.

Chevalier is renowned for his contribution to the invention of the daguerreotype. The lens being achromatic made images very blurry, and spherical aberrations were huge, giving the camera a wide array of photographic styles. With such lens, portraiture became huge and trendy. Most photographs taken with the daguerreotype were portraits of famous and notable people.

Daguerreotype portraits of Abraham Lincoln,Samuel Morse and Adolph Friedrich Vollmer from Wikimedia Commons

While Chevalier's lens would later on be commercially outdone by other inventions, his lens remained critically acclaimed. According to Historic Camera, the Chevalier lens won the top prize at the Paris' Societe d'Encouragement, winning over Voigtlander's Petzval portrait lenses.

In 1851, Chevalier then co-founded the Société Héliographique, the first photographic society, and spent the rest of his remaining years producing lenses and publishing manuals for photography. The Chevalier name continued to make fame and accomplishments, even at the hands of his son, Louis-Marie Arthur.

In Spring, 1840, the Société d'Encouragements pour l'Industrie Nationale (Society for the Encouragement of National Industry) did a call-out for a competition for the best invention in the art of photography. Charles Chevalier submitted two entries: the first one featured two achromatic and cemented doublets with a fixed aperture at the front, with a shutter speed of f/10; the second submission was an improved version, with an increased distance between the cemented doublets and removing the stop. The focal length was also shortened to suit portraiture.

Image sourced from Lomography France

The interchangeable nature of the lens (from landscape to portrait), which resulted by replacing the barrel, led to the development of the "Photographe à Verres Combinés" -- the very first convertible lens. For this, Chevalier bagged the first prize, beating Voigtländer and the Petzval lens.


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