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View Full Version : Great "W" American Portrait lenses - Wollensak Varium and Willard



goamules
2-Apr-2014, 12:28
As I am sometimes wont to do, I compared two classic lenses last weekend. My wonderful daughter was the usual model. The first is about an 1860 Willard Petzval portrait. Willard was one of the few NYC radial drive lens sellers who in the 1850s though late 1860s seemed to be creating a good industry in America making quality portrait lenses for the booming photography studio trade. Then, they all went out of business putting the industry in America in the "Dark Ages" until a second wave of optical companies started around the late 1890s. We'll talk about one of those companies next. This Willard is about a 14" and about F4.

https://farm4.staticflickr.com/3755/13587008785_7fd5852914_b.jpg

goamules
2-Apr-2014, 12:29
Next, the 16" Wollensak Varium from about 1925. Wollensak was one of the 3rd waves of American optical companies, and a very successful one for decades. The Varium wasn't made for many years though, probably seen as redundant with the Verito and others. But it's a great looking, huge piece of glass. This is a triplet, like a Cooke, and at F3.5, fairly soft. There is no "knuckler" or adjustment for soft focus, it's just controlled by the iris. I'm always surprised when I look at the ground glass at how soft it is a F3.5 about where this was shot. By F5.6 it's fairly sharp.

https://farm4.staticflickr.com/3803/13572155003_7353560e3c_b.jpg

Alan Gales
2-Apr-2014, 12:39
I prefer the Willard.

That's just a beautiful portrait, Garrett!

Amedeus
2-Apr-2014, 20:32
Great portraits indeed and both lenses have their charm and appeal ... that's why I can never make up my mind and photograph with as many as possible ... lol

Thanks for sharing Garrett !

goamules
3-Apr-2014, 05:42
Thanks both. They both do have different looks. I like them both.

goamules
3-Apr-2014, 07:21
This thread has a picture of the actual Willard I used. The 8x10 film shot may have been the first time this lens was used since the 1800s. That's the thing that amazes me about antique optics. Generations may have used the same lens. It may go into storage in a cabinet for a generation, then come out and be used again. It may sit in a museum display for 40 years, but if you dust it off, you can still see the quality of who made it, around the Civil War. Shooting an ancient lens to me is like playing a 300 year old Stradivarius.

http://www.largeformatphotography.info/forum/showthread.php?12154-Willard-Co-Lens-circa-1860&p=984882&viewfull=1#post984882

I keep notes of all my research on every lens I own. Where I got it, the known history, the research on the maker. Perhaps when I'm gone, someone 50 years from now will enjoy shooting a 200 year old American optic.

As a side note for this very rare lens, the most famous Willard was a 31" focal length Mammoth, bought (used and old then) in the 1890s in California to use in photographing (with collodion) astronomical galaxies. The Lick Observatory used this converted Willard as their main telescope for years, making many discoveries in the universe. There are pictures of the telescope in the other thread and online. Petzvals make great telescopes!

https://farm3.staticflickr.com/2886/13603835704_60a0f41f69_z.jpg
https://farm4.staticflickr.com/3827/13603476885_4d43938129_z.jpg
Publication of the Lick Observatory, Vol XI, 1913

ndg
3-Apr-2014, 07:56
Garrett, that is so true. I still remember vividly how I felt when I developed the first negative that I shot with an antique lens - a Wollensak Vesta. I couldn't believe how great the image looked. The fact that these old lenses make the images they do is really amazing. The Vesta is gone but I have others and they also make just great pictures. I always try to use them instead of a modern lens. There are a number of lenses on my bucket list of lenses to get and the Varium is one. Hopefully, I'll land one soon. Thanks for sharing.

evan clarke
3-Apr-2014, 10:18
Geez, another lensmaker I need to search for. :)

Mark Sawyer
3-Apr-2014, 11:45
Wonderful images from the Wollensak and the Willard. Funny to see two lenses tied together by the first letter of their manufacturer, but it works. It's good that the old lenses are still being used, and yup, you're playing a 300-year-old Stradivarius in a world dominated by pre-programmed electric keyboards, digital kazoos and drum machines... but you're playing it so well! Beautiful portraits.

Randy Moe
3-Apr-2014, 11:50
Great info, thanks for posting.

goamules
4-Apr-2014, 09:02
Geez, another lensmaker I need to search for. :)

Yep, if you search hard, you will find one every 3-4 years! Searching....a lot! There are a couple lenses I search for that only come up every 5-7 years. And they 'aint Dallmeyer 3Bs (made by the 10s of thousands)! They are truly rare lenses, an overused term.


Wonderful images from the Wollensak and the Willard. Funny to see two lenses tied together by the first letter of their manufacturer, but it works. It's good that the old lenses are still being used, and yup, you're playing a 300-year-old Stradivarius in a world dominated by pre-programmed electric keyboards, digital kazoos and drum machines... but you're playing it so well! Beautiful portraits.

They have more in common than that, of course! Both American, both from New York. Both made to be the fastest of their eras. Um....both big glass. The only difference is they were made 70 years apart! I like that analogy extension.....digital kazoos....priceless. Thanks.