Based on a 19th-century design, the Petzval Lomography is a great creative choice for shooting portraits.
After a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign, the classic Petzval Lomography lens has been redesigned for a new generation of photographers. Originally designed in 1840 by Joseph Petzval, it was widely seen as the first lens to be constructed on the basis of scientific calculation, and became one of the 19th century’s most popular optical designs. Now manufactured by Zenit, this iconic brass lens is once again available, but this time with Nikon F and Canon EF mounts.
Where most modern lenses feature an adjusting blade aperture, the Petzval features a Waterhouse aperture with plates that are placed into a thin slot on the top of the lens. These plates have different-sized holes that correspond with aperture settings. Seven standard plates are included with the lens, allowing you to slot in apertures from f/2.2 to f/16. A selection of ‘Special’ aperture plates can be bought separately for £19.90. This includes shapes such as stars and tears for creative bokeh shapes.
The lens can only be manually focused using a dial on the left side, which twists backwards or forwards to find focus. Sadly, when this quirky mechanism is coupled with a wide aperture, focusing can be difficult. When testing the lens, we found the most reliable method for accurate focusing was to use the camera’s Live View, zooming into the scene while making adjustments. The lens has a focal length of 85mm and a closest focusing distance of 1m.
Images shot with the Petzval are immediately recognisable – they have a pin-sharp in-focus area and a unique, swirly bokeh effect in the background. These characteristics make the lens a great creative choice for shooting portraits.
When taking images against areas of high contrast, subjects are rendered against the lens’s distinctive bokeh with stylish results. Against areas of low contrast, however, images lack the same impact, simply looking a little soft. The lens comes with a cleaning cloth, leather pouch and brass cap to protect the front element when not in use.
Priced at £459, it’s not particularly cheap, but its brass body is undeniably beautiful and guaranteed to turn the heads of fellow photographers. A black version is also available for around £549. If you’re looking to give your shots a unique creative edge, this lens is a great option to have in your kit bag. But with its tricky manual focusing and general softness, it’s unlikely to replace anyone’s go-to portrait lens.
- Street price: £459 (As of July 2016)
- Visit: www.lomography.com
This review was first published in the March 2015 issue of Practical Photography - download back issues here.