Ok, it’s been sometime since this truly unique Petzval lens was revived by Lomography and I was one of the very first adopters and backers on their Kickstarter campaign. I got this lens late 2013 and it’s been sitting in my shelve for sometime. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t intend to set this aside as one of my collections but I do have every intention to use it. However, I was very much limited to what I could do with my Canon 5D Mark II and III for that matter, which I will explain later.
It wasn’t until recently when I finally got sometime to explore this lens again with and adaptor on my Leica M that I realised how much I was missed for the past year! Here I am, showcasing the uniqueness of this 1890 design Russian optic.
So why this lens?
True, as said, this lens is based on the original 1890 lens that was used on large format cameras. The engineers at Zenit had worked hard to adapt it to modern 35mm format. Optically, it’s pretty much the same, soft and heavy halo and coma on unfocused areas. Yet, the true character of this lens lies upon its swirly bokeh. 85mm is also a good focal length for portraits and even with its relatively modest speed at f/2.2, you can still get a decent defocus and shallow depth of field. So, this lens is about effect.
That’s about it. If you are looking for super clinical sharpness and gorgeous creamy bokeh, saturated colours and pop, then you should look elsewhere. This is, to me, a true art lens for someone to explore composition and lights.
Well, this lens is pretty solid. It has a solid brass body with some sturdy plastic inner components. Original Petzval was the only true 100% brass lens but this modern version isn’t too far away. It’s still super solid with a hefty weight on it. Focus is pretty smooth if not “Leica” smooth. The throw is very short however, whether you like it or not. There’s no aperture ring and you have to change it the ancient way by inserting waterhouse aperture plates. I pretty much ignore it and just leave them at home as I tend to shoot it wide open to get maximum effect from this lens’ unique character.
Then it’s pretty much it, brass body, brass lens cap, zinc metal mount, and proper glass lenses. This is as good as a Russian lens can be.
Using it in practice, good and bad
In the right hands, this lens can be a god send. The photos are stunningly special and rare characters. With a little post processing, if you shoot digital, you can get some very vintage looking image with modern colours and tones. I do love it.
However, there was some problems. I have Petzval in Canon EOS mount and it means that originally I could only use it on my Canon EOS bodies. I do have some EOS film cameras but I was only experimenting it on digital (due to lack of time). So that restricted me on my 5D cameras. While the Mark III doesn’t have a changeable focusing screen, I do have Mark II that can changed to a dense matt screen that was supposed to help in manual focus. Even shooting at 2.2 with this Petzval, focus can be problematic. So after a couple of photoshoot later, I decided to put this lens away until a time when I have an appropriate means to focus it properly again.
The time has come. After a super busy year, I have some spare time over the past few weeks when I can finally dig out this lens and bought an adaptor to use it on my Leica M-P. Why did I do that? First, it’s full frame and second, I could use its EVF and peaking to get good focus. Many Petzval users tend to advise people to use tripods and live view from the back of their camera though I much prefer to use viewfinders (optical or electronic). Also tripods limit my movement when I often looking for that ‘perfect’ angle from my subject. I don’t want to keep asking my subject to move this and turn that after my tripod and camera is fixed. It’s never natural.
Having said that, it’s a pretty awesome experience shooting with a vintage lens like this. Next, I will use it on my EOS 1v film with a split prism focusing screen and some Kodak Portra to see what I could do with this lens in film. I just can’t wait!
Technically, this lens is flaw by today’s standards but it’s bags full of characters. It’s cumbersome to use, heave to handle and focusing is hit or miss if not using the appropriate tool or method. Yet, this lens is magic! It’s not cheap for what it is but it’s a rare item that I think any portrait enthusiasts and photography explorers should have one in their bag. Lastly, this is also a fun lens when you use those weirdly shaped waterhouses (like star and rain drop aperture blades, apparently Lomo are making more!!). So stay tune!!
A gallery of portraits I’ve done with this special lens is here! Enjoy 🙂