View Full Version : Antique/vintage portrait lenses

Paul Coppin
4-Aug-2006, 14:19
I'm trying to get my head around the use of turn of the century (ok, for you youngsters, that means 1900...:)) portrait lenses. Looking through my facsimile 1908 sears catalogue I see several lens-shutter units available, Conley astigmat etc., but no shutters sold separately. The catalogue does list, however a Seroco portrait lens, in a variety of plate sizes. This lens isn't shipped with a shutter.
How were these used in the studio? Did the relatively slow speed of a studio mean portraits were always in seconds, and thus perhaps done manually (cap over lens, etc), or was a packard shutter used behind the lens board? The apparent absence of standalone shutters at retail suggest that they may not have been sold separately from lenses at that time...
Anyone fill me in?

4-Aug-2006, 22:27
I am no expert, but you can use the lenses manually, with a cap, or use a packard shutter. You can even purchase packard shutters new on their website, but used ones are available. Some lenses (not sure when studio shutters came in to be) have studio shutters that work pneumatically with a bulb - that's what I use, an old verito in a studio shutter - I really like the effect of this lens for a variety of subjects including portrait.

Glenn Thoreson
5-Aug-2006, 17:46
In a 1900 studio setting, the exposure could well run into seconds.

5-Aug-2006, 18:45
I actually used the lenscap method with an old brass Taylor Hobson Rapid Rectillinear with some polaroid. It works well. It also helps amuse those who are having their portrait taken. Be prepped for a darkroom disaster though.


David A. Goldfarb
5-Aug-2006, 19:03
I've seen photographs of nineteenth-century photographers using the darkslide in the plateholder as a shutter.

Indoors with good window light, I often have speeds at ISO 100 around 1/15 sec. at f:4, which was about as fast as these old portrait lenses get (f:3.5-4.5 is typical), and the materials they were using might have been slower than modern day ISO 10. Add reciprocity and the need for a dense, fully exposed negative for the print processes then in use, and the possibility of stopping down one or two stops, and one is quickly into long exposure territory.

Of course they also could sharpen the final image by retouching the negative.

Julia Margaret Cameron wrote in one of her diaries that a good child was one who could hold still for a count of three hundred.

Ole Tjugen
6-Aug-2006, 03:36
The lenses were made that fast to avoid the necessity of tea-breaks during exposure. Studio exposure times often ran into minutes, even at f:3.5.

Lee Hamiel
6-Aug-2006, 05:03

Look in the catalogue for posing clamps for holding the subject stationary during the exposure. They look like an adjustable floor lamp with a "U" shaped yoke for the sitter's neck.

Also there were photographer's posing chairs which had a post at the rear with a small pad for the sitter to rest their head against.

I always thought that most early photographic portraits looked pretty grim & now I understand why ...

Ralph Barker
6-Aug-2006, 06:16


Jim Galli
6-Aug-2006, 12:30
Packard. They are wonderfully user friendly. Dedicate a Kodak 8X10 2D for this purpose. A 6 3/4" Packard will just fit in the very front tucked behind the first bellows fold. Then any old barrel lens you buy just needs a 6X6 board. I use mine more than any other LF camera.

william linne
6-Aug-2006, 15:17
Or look for a front mounted shutter. I have several different sizes of Luc shutters,both very small and very large.


Ernest Purdum
7-Aug-2006, 08:50
Although your Sears catalog didn't list them, by 1908 there was a good selection of shutters available from Wollensak, Bausch & Lomb and others. The cost of having your lens mounted in one of these was amazingly low as compared to the current situation.

Even so, big portrait lenses were usually found in barrel, and either a behind lens shutter used, or the (Wollensak) "Studio" shutter mentioned by Scott. By 1900, emulsions were fast enough that a shutter of some sort would have been very much more convenient than the lenscap method. It was in the 1880's that emulsions got fast enough to make the use of hand-held cameras feasible.