Thursday, July 25, 2013

Lomography Brings Back the Petzval!

It's kind of funny that as digital photography achieves ever higher resolution and lower noise (grain), photographers feel compelled to resist the inherent sharpness that digital offers. Lensbaby has done well for themselves by making lenses that offers generally poor optical quality. Now don't get me wrong, I own and use Lensbaby products myself and dearly love them, but they are not the pinnacle of lens sharpness and aberration-free designs. But maybe that's why we love them. It's their optical quirkiness that attracts us.

Anyway, in a similar vein, Lomography is introducing a "new" lens that is actually the resurrection of a quite ancient lens, the Petzval portrait lens, which was designed by Joseph Petzval in 1840 while he lived in Vienna, Austria. His lens was quite revolutionary for its time with a fast f/3.6 aperture (the only other rival lens had an aperture of f/15!) and more than adequate sharpness, especially in the center. One of the optical qualities that set it apart from modern lenses is that while modern lenses try to maximize sharpness from corner to corner and make the center of the image as sharp as the edges, Petzval's lens only achieved critical sharpness in the center. This is referred to as flatness of field, which the Petzval didn't have, but it did have a way of separating the center subject from the background that was not matched by any other lens.

So Lomography is working with the Russian optical company Zenit to make a new version of the Petzval  lens, while keeping the brass aesthetics of the original and offering them in current Nikon and Canon mounts. It will be an 85mm f/2.2 manual focus, of course, lens that uses fixed, slide-in Waterhouse stops for its apertures from f/2.2 to f/16, and they are saying that the results it will give are nearly impossible to duplicate by digital means. They are running a Kickstarter campaign to fund the manufacture of these lenses and you can read about their project here. Sounds kind of cool and the image examples they have are really beautiful. I'll follow this project with a great deal of interest.