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Thread: Small Format SOFT focus lenses

  1. #1

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    Small Format SOFT focus lenses

    The title is a little bit of a challenge, because I've been looking for small classic era soft focus lenses for years, and they are very, very hard to find. Something like a Verito, or one of the many meniscus soft focus lenses like a Struss, Portrait Plastigmat, Cooke Semi-achromat in 1 to 3 inch focal length, for around a 35mm film size, is almost non-existent. I say almost, because I know Hollywood used a few soft focus lenses, during the silent through the classic eras. You see them often when you watch old movies, when the scene flashes to a closeup of the beautiful girl. How do they do that, it looks great! It's been discussed a little on other threads.

    Isn't the paradox interesting, that small format people (35mm Leica, Digital mirrorless, and now Black Magic Pocket Cine Camera users) all want extreme sharpness, edge to edge, with no vignetting, field curve, or aberrations at all? I mean, they're shooting lenses the size of your thumb to the size of a juice can. Tiny glass, has to be worked VERY intensively to get those results on a postage stamp sized format. Meanwhile, a lot of Large Format people WANT aberrations, swirl, soft focus. Yet their format is 5, 10, or more inches across! Trying to get sharp on a thumbnail sized frame, and soft on a frame the size of a window. Just seems funny.

    Anyway, through a lucky purchase, I finally got one of the lenses reputed to be soft. I've been looking for one for years, but didn't want to pay the high prices from some of the Buy It Now venders that seem to have everything. So I waited. Months became years. The children grew up, and went to college....that type of time frame. Is this a Holy Grail lens? Not really, they are pretty much unknown or forgotten by 99.9% of the small format photographers. But that's the things I like! If anything, the C-mount lens craze is tapering off. But I think it will continue in spurts, as people continue shooting micro 4/3 cameras and movie cameras.

    This is a rebranded Kino Plasmat 1" F1.5 by Hugo Meyer. Dr. Paul Rudolph invented the first Anastigmats, the Protars in the 1890s. He came out of retirement after WWI to build a fast cinema camera lens at Hugo Meyer. The F1.5 version came out in 1922, and many are engraved with his name around the front glass. Studying the design, basically a Dagor derivative, you wouldn't think they would be soft. And looking at a lot of people's shots who owned them, I couldn't be sure if they were soft either. But it was on my list of "small format, possibly soft" lenses to try. I got the lens last night, very worn, very stiff focus, but it has potential. Shot was taken of another rare lens I got at the same time (early Christmas!), a Cooke Ivotal, and another innocuous lens.



  2. #2

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    Re: Small Format SOFT focus lenses

    I think that for the early years of 35mm photography they were still struggling to make lenses sharp enough for decent enlargements, so intentionally soft focus wasn't much of an issue. In any case, soft focus was (and is?) a portrait thing and studios stuck with LF for a very long time. Here's a list of 35mm and MF soft focus lenses from the post war era (mostly from the seventies onward).

    35mm
    Canon (new) FD: 85mm f/2.8 Soft Focus
    Canon EOS: EF 135 f2.8 Soft Focus
    Fuji M42: EBC Fujinon SF 85/4
    Leica: 9cm F2.2 Thambar
    Minolta MD: Minolta 85mm f/2.8 Varisoft
    Minolta AF: Minolta AF 100 F2.8 Soft
    Nikon F: nothing that I could find
    Nikon AF: AF DC-Nikkor 105mm f/2, AF DC-Nikkor135 f/2
    Olympus: nothing that I could find
    Pentax K: SMC Pentax Soft 85/2.2,
    Pentax K (AF): SMC Pentax-F 85/2.8 Soft, SMC Pentax-FA 28/2.8 Soft, SMC Pentax-FA 85/2.8 Soft
    Sony AF: Sony AF 100 F2.8 Soft
    Tamron Adpatall: Tamron SP 70-150mm f2.8 Soft

    Medium Format
    Fuji GX: EBC Fujinon GX SF190/8, EBC Fujinon GXM SF190/8
    Mamiya 645: Mamiya-Sekor SF C 145/4
    Mamiya RB67: Mamiya 150 mm f/4.0 C Variable Soft Focus
    Mamiya RZ67: Mamiya 180 mm f/4.0 D/L Variable Soft Focus
    Pentax 6x7: SMC Pentax 67 120/3.5

  3. #3
    jp's Avatar
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    Re: Small Format SOFT focus lenses

    In "New York to Hollywood" book, the author describes Struss as having made some small Struss Pictorials for films he worked in.

    The Nikon AF-DC nikkor isn't soft. It can unbalance the spherical aberration sweet spot as soft focus lenses often were, but I still wouldn't call the lens soft. The feature helps with smoothness of OOF areas. It is a very nice lens.

    Popular current options are Brownies with reversed meniscus and Holgas. I think the Holgas suffer in contrast, but can do nice results often enough to be viable and worth messing with.

    There have also been imagon adaptors/bellows for MF system cameras. I haven't used them, but have seen some really nice work other photographers have done.

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    Re: Small Format SOFT focus lenses

    I know Karl Struss used soft focus lenses, but I'm trying to figure out any others in the classic period of Hollywood. I think William Russell Young's thesis talks a little about this, I need to go back and read it. I also know the studios often just veiled a conventional lens with gauze, etc. But some cinema soft shots are so beautiful, and I can see the affect I see with a Verito.

  5. #5

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    Re: Small Format SOFT focus lenses

    Quote Originally Posted by goamules View Post
    I know Karl Struss used soft focus lenses, but I'm trying to figure out any others in the classic period of Hollywood. I think William Russell Young's thesis talks a little about this, I need to go back and read it. I also know the studios often just veiled a conventional lens with gauze, etc. But some cinema soft shots are so beautiful, and I can see the affect I see with a Verito.
    pre code hollywood cinematic books seem to have quite a number of references. Albeit i am not patient enough

  6. #6
    Mark Sawyer's Avatar
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    Re: Small Format SOFT focus lenses

    That Kino Plasmat has a wonderful soft look to it, Garret! I wouldn't have even suspected it was a soft lens, never having heardf of a soft plasmat for any format. (Can anyone think of another?)

    A quick reminder of this old article on soft cine lenses:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=S08...0brown&f=false
    "I love my Verito lens, but I always have to sharpen everything in Photoshop..."

  7. #7

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    Re: Small Format SOFT focus lenses

    Schmactenburg and Rodenstock teamed up to bring back the 120mm and 150mm 4.5 Imagon lenses in T-2 mounts for any 35mm interchangeable lens camera as well as in mounts for Rollei SL66, 6XXX, Hasselblad 500 and 2000, Pentax 645 and 67 and Mamiya 645 and RB and RZ cameras.

    Zörkendorfer and Rodenstock teamed up to bring the 200mm 5.8 Imagon in mounts for the same cameras above.

    These were available into the 90's new.

    And, today, the new Petzval is now availble in both Nikon and Canon mount. It is an 85mm.

  8. #8

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    Re: Small Format SOFT focus lenses

    This book has a lot about the early Soft Focus techniques: The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style and Mode of Production to 1960 - By David Bordwell, Janet Staiger, Kristin Thompson. There are about 8-10 pages discussing the techniques from 1919 onward, with a lot of discussion of the 1920s. Lenses are mentioned, but not many names (Struss, Verito, Kalostat I believe only) as well as gauze, and Kodak diffusion filters and other techniques. Struss and others are quoted. Mark, I think the authors quote your journal article.

    I need to buy this book.

  9. #9

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    Re: Small Format SOFT focus lenses

    Here is the Kino Plasmat. Note the inner "free" elements are facing the opposite way of a conventional Plasmat. Kingslake says this better corrected the spherical aberration (implying softness is inherent in the design). It seems both Plasmats and Dagors had some difficulty with SA, wide open. People have talked about Dagor "glow" when shot wide.

    I need to find where or why I originally thought Dr. Paul Rudolph F1.5 Kino Plasmats were soft. Somewhere....I read that, so started searching. But I see some of them are not soft, on photo sharing sites. This one is.


  10. #10
    Mark Sawyer's Avatar
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    Re: Small Format SOFT focus lenses

    I'm getting an "Invalid Attachment" on that one, Garrett.
    "I love my Verito lens, but I always have to sharpen everything in Photoshop..."

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