Before the rush

Before the rush
by evan-pak

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I am interested to know when would one use these lenses and what are they best suited for?

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I'm assuming this is a question off the back of the Kickstarter project by lomography. There is a lot of information on the actual kickstarter site. Thats where all the answers will quote from and send you to. – James Jul 27 '13 at 15:37
Kickstarter link: The Lomography Petzval Portrait Lens. That's obviously currently relevant and interesting, but isn't necessarily part of the question and longer-term answers. (Lomography wouldn't be doing this, nor would it have generated so much interest, if there weren't something bigger behind it. And there is... see my answer.) – mattdm Jul 27 '13 at 17:33
up vote 10 down vote accepted

The Petzval lens design was revolutionary, because it was the first commercial lens with a fast aperture. Previously, the Chevalier lenses had a fixed aperture of f/15, and when combined with recording media with a sensitivity equivalent to a small fraction of today's ISO 1, that meant very long exposures.

Chevalier improved on this with an f/5.6 design, but that suffered from poor sharpness. Petzval's design allowed apertures up to f/3.6, and had great sharpness in the center, making it a much better tool for portraits.

So, that's interesting historically. If this aspect interests you, there's a fantastic and detailed article at, with vintage advertisements and pictures of several vintages lenses, although unfortunately not many samples. You can find samples in this Large Format Photography forum thread.

Additionally, the design has very dramatic field curvature, which tends to render the background as a dramatic and distinctive swirl — the "Petzval swirl". Like all such optical effects, this is hard to replicate exactly with a filter without a 3D model of the scene, and if you like the look and are fascinated with the low-tech, lo-fi aesthetic that the Lomography company (and others like Lensbaby) have made their bread and butter, this may be something you'd like to add to your creative options.

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Fantastic article indeed @mattdm. There's a trove of information there. Highly recommended for anyone who is curious about Petzval Lens. – Regmi Jul 27 '13 at 18:39

Petzval lens, developed by Joseph Petzval in 1840, in Vienna, is a lens consisted of two doublet lens.

enter image description here

It was popular in the 19th century since most of the photos were shot using theses lenses. Photos are immediately recognizable for their sharpness and crispness, strong saturation, swirly bokeh effect, artful vignettes and narrow depth of field. They are extremely ideal for portrait photography which make it really really famous during those times.

enter image description here

Modern lenses are designed to minimized field curvature which will have the whole image in focus. In Petzval lens, it's different. It has an optical effect that gives you an area where it is sharply focused over a narrow field. The there is a vignetting effect towards the non-focused area.


Click here to tell know more about the Petzvel Lenses or View sample photos using Petzvel.

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It might be nice to ask Lomography for permission to repost their sample images. – mattdm Jul 27 '13 at 16:16
In general, I think this leans a little too much on the Lomography promotional materials. For example, I think "extremely ideal for portrait photography" is overly-strong — they are pretty cool for a certain type of portrait photography, but a lot has changed in 175 years, and what was most ideal then isn't necessarily what's most ideal in general now. – mattdm Jul 27 '13 at 19:57

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