View Full Version : Hunter-Penrose 18in "Hilite" lens

Tom Keenan
17-Aug-2008, 14:00
I have a Hunter-Penrose Penray "HILITE" lens (London). Focal length is 18 in. It is one of those heavy uncoated lenses that looks like it came from a copy camera of some sort. The interesting thing is that is has two sets of aperture blades. One set of aperture blades forms what looks like a normal perfectly round hole. It is the second aperture that I am puzzled by. It forms a star-like pattern. Can anyone help me to understand what this was used for. Is it a kind of vignetter/edge darkener? I have attached a photo of the aperture fully closed.
Many thanks!

Tom Keenan

Mark Sawyer
17-Aug-2008, 14:14
Hunter-Penrose made copy cameras and lenses (actually, I think their lenses were made by Wray), but I think what you have here, Tom, is a soft focus lens. The weird aperture lets you stop down the lens while still getting light from the outer area of the lens, so you don't lose the soft focus effect when you stop down.

It should be a fairly desireable lens. Take it out and see what it can do!

Joe Smigiel
17-Aug-2008, 16:32
Ditto to what Mark said. The second aperture could be similar to the Verito diffusion stops (http://www.cameraeccentric.com/html/info/wollensakcata/veritoa.html).

Gene McCluney
18-Aug-2008, 00:37
Normally, the soft-focus effect portrait lenses were quite large in comparison to protars, anastigmats and such. This lens does not look very large, and thus for an 18" lens, would be very slow, making it less suitable for portraits during the time this lens was made, what with very very slow ortho film stocks being the norm then. It might be for "some" other use, than portraits, but might just be interesting for modern portraits.

My 18" or 19" Verito (don't remember exact focal length) is a monster of a lens in size.

Struan Gray
18-Aug-2008, 03:17
Oddball apertures can be useful when setting focus: an old newshound's trick was to put a finger over the centre of the lens, thus producing a rangefinder-like double image on the ground glass or screen which merged when focussed correctly.

My guess (unsupported by any facts or knowledge) was that this aperture was an aid to focus and/or alignment in a copy setup.

Tom Keenan
18-Aug-2008, 18:14
I do appreciate the thoughtful replies and suggestions. Especially the suggestion to take it out and see what it can do. I will do that. Perhaps I should have mentioned the speed in my original post. The regular (round) aperture goes from f10 to f90. Makes me think Artar...it is about the same general size as an equivalent Artar. The star shaped aperture has three settings; f32, f45 and f64. The picture I posted is f64. f64 made me think that the intention was something other than a soft focus lever for portraits. I have done several google searches in recent memory and have never come up with anything on this lens. However, last night I googled hunter penrose hilite and I saw one site where someone was selling two of these and referred to the unusual aperture as a soft focus lever. No idea whether that is correct. I also learned that Hunter-Penrose is still there in London. I will email them and see if they have any old timers in the place that remember this lens. Oh, and yes, Mark, I am jealous of all thoses lenses and that beautiful cabinet.
Best to all,
Tom Keenan

Ole Tjugen
18-Aug-2008, 19:30
Could it be a built-in version of the odd-shaped masks sometimes used in repro lenses? Many repro lenses come with a "waterhose slot" for insertion of square "stops", and other shapes too. Maybe this is some kind of built in adjustable sqare stop? The end result on lith film should be about the same...

Emil Schildt
15-Apr-2010, 04:15
Now I got the same lens...

It surely looks strange. I can't figure out the scales - how they work, but I must just go and try it out.

I had to have a torture instrument in my house....

The lens in question:


15-Apr-2010, 05:19
Someone recently explained the 'mm' scale on a Ronar process lens in another thread (http://www.largeformatphotography.info/forum/showthread.php?t=61030). The numbers on that scale indicate the diameter of the aperture (which presumably is useful to know in process camera work.)

As for the star shaped aperture. Like others have said, all my process lenses have slots in them for waterhouse style stops, meant to accept apertures of different shapes. And though I can't seem to find it now, I'm sure I saw one of the old catalogs on the camera eccentric site with some information about this. (I'm speculating, but the reason for the non-circular apertures may have something to do with the shape of the dots desired in half-tone screens. I'll have to ask one of the old printmakers I know.)

15-Apr-2010, 09:36
i have the 18" too. i tried it once - it's dark and boring imho. someday i'll give it another try.
here is a sample with it :


Mark Sawyer
15-Apr-2010, 09:45
On process lenses, there are different shaped apertures available because the little dots in a half-tone take on the shape of the aperture. This wouldn't be for that.

The star-shaped aperture functions more like the soup-strainer holes in an Imagon disc, or the special stops made for enlarging with a Verito:

(From the 1919 Wollensak catalog at Seth's CameraEccentric site)

Emil Schildt
15-Apr-2010, 10:50
I had a talk with Geoff Berliner (the seller), and he is sure this is not a process lens, but a soft focus lens. (dual purpose lens maybe? for taking and as enlarging?)

How to work with it is another matter... :rolleyes:

I'm sure (read: I hope) it is not boring, and I'll give it a go as soon as possible..

I havn't the money to buy the P&S lenses.. or some of the other very, very expensive soft focus lenses I would like to own..

but now, at least, I have a few, that not so many others have..
(A little comfort :p )

15-Apr-2010, 21:55
I had a talk with Geoff Berliner (the seller), and he is sure this is not a process lens, but a soft focus lens. (dual purpose lens maybe? for taking and as enlarging?)

The Google Books site pops up 4 references for the lens, although unfortuntately none of the books have anything more than snippet views available. The most informative is from Vol 3, of The Art and Practice of Printing, 1933, pg 109--

The Penray "Hilite" (Patented) Lens is designed specially for the production of high-light negatives. ...

A second reference is in Photolitho-Offset (1967), a third in McBroom's Camera Bluebook (2000), and the fourth in an Eastman Kodak monthly bulletin from 1940. The first two books seem to indicate is was intended to be used in process and enlarging work. That's not to say it can't be used as a soft-focus taking lens, but probably that wasn't the original use.

Since the lens is patented a thorough patent search should turn up more information about the intended purpose. All I could find in a US patent database were some references to equipment made by Hunter-Penrose relating to color separation for commercial printing. A quick European patent search turned up some more references to Hunter-Penrose, Ltd. of London. I didn't see any patents specifically related to the Penray "Hilite" lens, but their other patents dealt with process cameras and commercial printing equipment.

I also tried to figure out what a "high-light negative" is as mentioned in the first text. I found a couple references in printing industry texts on Google Books, but they too were limited to snippet views. The most complete one I could find was in The Inland Printer, Vol. 75, 1925--

The lithographic negative maker must accordingly make a more contrasty negative, and the best kind is that known as the "high-light." In this case the dots in the high-lights of the negative are closed up until no dots are printed through onto the zinc, and the shadows must print strongly. Between these two extremes there must be perfect graduation of tones. Such an effect is not easy to obtain.

15-Apr-2010, 23:53
imho benrains post confirms that it is in fact a process lens.

Emil Schildt
23-Jan-2011, 09:38
I still havn't gotten around to actually try it out yet (have to pull my self together soon...), BUT I now think I jnow what it is...

It's a "Christmas image lens"!!! :D :D

I say this, as when I focus on a person placed outside, and use the torture looking aperture, the further it goes in, the more the unsharp areas (the little white spots) takes the shape of a star!!....:rolleyes:

I promise I will try it out so you can see, but I am now almost convinced, I don't have a soft focus lens, but rather a copying lens....

(And I thought G. Berliner knew what he was talking about.....:o )

Steven Tribe
23-Jan-2011, 11:30
I didn't know there was any doubt about this. Anything with Hunter Penrose on it is to do with copying camera - they didn't make anything else! Mr. Berliner has shown similarly reduced sales ethics recently in the "pictorial" triplet sales.

Emil Schildt
23-Jan-2011, 11:37
I didn't know there was any doubt about this. Anything with Hunter Penrose on it is to do with copying camera - they didn't make anything else! Mr. Berliner has shown similarly reduced sales ethics recently in the "pictorial" triplet sales.

yeah - I know.

I was stupid...