View Full Version : Age of Wray Lens?

30-May-2018, 02:16
I picked up a small Wray Lens. Its marked "Wray London 5 x 4 No 682". It has a slot for Waterhouse Stops and no sign of modification although it might just have been very carefully modified I suppose. First try on camera (I use high density foam board as a trial lens board) suggests that its reasonably wide although I haven't attempted to work out the FoV. But the serial number is quite low so I'm wondering about its date of manufacture. Any suggestions or are there any Wray serial number resources I haven't managed to find?


Steven Tribe
30-May-2018, 14:25
Just looked at 2 sources and both stated "started around 1850". I don't think this is correct as I have never an early lens from Wray - only RR types and Landscape lenses - which look like typical 1880's /90's production.

Lens VM doubts the 1850 date, even though they did make some Petzvals, and says they may have been in business since 1850 - but only made photographic lenses from about 1880. Looking at the few numbers he gives, and the fact he used irises from 1890, it looks that yours is probably from 1884/5.

30-May-2018, 16:55
You have a very low serial number, and this shows at least two, and the serial numbers in-between, that used waterhouse slots. The VM seems to lead me into thinking they did not use waterhouse stops in barrel lenses, but went straight into built in irises as Steven has pointed out. Mine is a narrow angle landscape ? RR?

30-May-2018, 23:54
Thanks for the replies. Wray seem to be one of those British optical manufacturing businesses which went into photography late having been started by a 'gentleman astronomer' in ~1850. I've had a good search on the web and I very much doubt that they started making photographic lenses before the very late 1870s to early 1880s which is just before when I suspect mine might originate from as Steven says. It might be a RR and having looked at its construction very carefully I doubt that it ever had anything other than Waterhouse stops - they did build lenses with rotating aperture wheels as well as iris (http://www.earlyphotography.co.uk/site/entry_L26.html - see Wray Detective ~1990) so possibly earlier lenses like mine did have Waterhouse tops. Some of their history is here: http://rochesteravionicarchives.co.uk/manufacturer/wray-optical-works and they are still existent in that they were absorbed into other businesses which still survive.

Oddly enough I worked for R G Lewis of High Holborn in the early 1980s (I carried out MTF testing for them using a Beck built instrument - I remember visiting Beck's premises for repaired parts once) and they were owned by Dollonds (Dollond and Aitchison) who seem to have had interest in Wray (Wray and Aitchison I think?). Its a classic tale of convoluted British merger and chaos. Dollands are now owned by Boots apparently.

So the lens has some degree of 'personal' interest to me and any more dating information would be useful. I'm not expecting great things from it but it was pretty cheap and it seems appropriate to at least try it out on a London built body!

31-May-2018, 05:13
I also have a Wray, serial number is 490. It seems to be a RR. I found some entries about Wray in the British Journal of Photography, for instance, in April 14th, 1893, there is a nice report about a visit to his facilities at Highgate in which a iris machine was very much admired. I read that he was an important player in the dissemination of iris diaphragm. I concluded, from what I researched, that he started in the 80's the production of photographic lentes, before he was in the astronomic instruments business as pgk said. I wrote what I found here: https://apenasimagens.com/en/rapid-rectilinear-william-wray/

31-May-2018, 05:42
Thank you for the information and link. That all makes great sense and it does look as if early lenses are from the 'photographic start' in the 1880s somewhere. My lens looks similar to yours other than the aperture housing and there is nothing to indicate that it ever used anything but Waterhouse stops. It is for 5" x 4" and I'll try to measure its focal length at some point.

31-May-2018, 06:35
I must say that the Wray is one of my favourites, mine came on a 10x12 Marion Studio camera. Hopefully you will be as delighted with its performance, I was.

1-Jun-2018, 00:46

I'm sure that I will enjoy using it. Trying to get myself organised for getting back into doing some large format photography, which I've done on and off for 40 years, but not recently as I sold my last camera (an Ebony Wide) some years back - I tended to use it with a 6x12 back. I now have a couple of Gandolfi cameras. A very cheaply bought 10" x 8" 'Reisenkamera' for want of a better description, and an equally reasonable 5" x 4" Precision - Gandalfis are still available at good prices which surprises me. Both need new bellows although they are usable. I have a Schneider 150. the Wray, a Grubb and a Suter lenses to use so its going to be fun. I've been using some older lenses on other cameras and am constantly surprised as to how good they can be if used carefully or to effect.

1-Jun-2018, 01:16
The older brass barrels are my favourites in a studio setup, as I don't normally need a shutter, and the later rodenstocks and nikkons for landscape. Although I did take out a 590mm zeiss protar (anastigmatlinse) and the acutance and contrast was comparable to the newer lenses.
The main thing I like about large format is you are able to slow down, and smell the roses!