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Lomography Petzval 85mm

Unique portraits, 1840 design

Yes, we are proud owners of the Lomography Petzval and we love it! Lomography worked in conjunction with Zenit in Russia to create this very special rendition of the Petzval design.  We ourselves were not familiar with this lens’s history or the mark it left on photography until reading the awesome included book outlining the history.  However, we – as many others have been – were immediately taken by the ascetic of this brass beauty and got in line early to purchase one of our own.
The history of this lens is deep rooted in photography, it was first conceived in 1840 at what was almost the birth of photography. Joseph Petzval an Austrian mathematician, inventor, and physicist best known for his discoveries in optics created this remarkable design. Petzval is considered to be one of the founders of modern photography and this design was his legacy.

Designed to be a portrait lens, the original was almost distortionless utilizing four lenses into three groups and could shoot @ f3.6 in 1840! Previous technology of the time would only allow for apertures of f16 or more. This translated into exposures that could take ten minutes or longer… The Austrian design changed everything, Petzval’s lens could render an image in 15 to 30 seconds! Of course, making photography as we know it today possible.  Petzval went on to sell his design to entrepreneur Peter Wilhelm Friedrich von Voigtländer. Voigtländer would pair the lens design with the daguerrotype cameras in 1841. Voigtländer soon after would win the world exhibition in Paris for his achievement. Germany lens manufacturer Zeiss continued to produce the lens design until the 1940s. Since which, finding a good working copy of this lens would become increasingly more difficult.

Photographers that knew of it and its incredible portrait abilities sought after working copies and would retrofit them to fit any new camera that existed at the time for a unique look. This continued for the next 70+ years. As you can imagine, finding a copy today that works and hasn’t been tinkered to death or died of natural causes is almost impossible.

Petzval purists will have you believe that it’s these years of use and hand manufacturing imperfections that imprints something distinct on every image you shoot through this antiquated device. Which is undoubtedly true – you will see lots of character and uniqueness in every image created on an existing working copy.   If time-worn imperfections are the only benefit to this lens, why go though all the trouble to remanufacture new Petzvals?

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Why is this lens so sought after?

The answer is simple. It’s in the bokeh.  Yup, the bokeh that comes out of this lens looks nothing like any of your other lenses.  The look can’t be recreated using photoshop or filters.  It’s in the design of the lens. The curved image plane creates swirly bokeh that can be roughly compared to freelensing.   However, unlike using a technique like freelensing you can achieve repeatable constant results. Also due to the curvature of the lens you can create rain bowing effects unlike any I’ve seen from other lenses.  It allows for you to let your creativity run a muck and it’s so much fun to shoot with that you will have a hard time putting it down!

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Why We Love This Lens

At our photography studio we are always striving to create a cohesive set of photos for our clients.  This lens helps us achieve those goals by offering something unique.  While we may only deliver a handful of photographs from every shoot it adds diversity as a specialty lens should.  It also has a magical way of turning heads and starting conversations.  As of this writing Lomography has a brass version, however a new black version is also coming available and looks pretty sweet.  If you are in the market for something different and willing to work a little with the manual focus this is an excellent choice for a speciality lens!

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More Resources

Are you interested in learning more about this lens? There are lots of great useful resources all of the web to help us photographers achieve our photographic dreams! We have included some of the articles and resources that were helpful for us when researching our own gear purchase.

Lomography – Petzval Tech Specs

Kick Starter – Project that started it all