View Full Version : Karl Struss Pictorial Lens

Dr Klaus Schmitt
30-Sep-2008, 02:28
I'm looking for this type of lens, info on it etc.
It is said to be a simple meniscus lens?

Thanks, Klaus

Jim Galli
30-Sep-2008, 07:14
One sold recently on Ebay. It appeared to be a single meniscus group at the back with an aperture up front. It also interested me that the general physical look of the lens was remarkably similar to the Pinkham Smith Semi Achromat lens in an unpainted aluminum barrel. Both had identical engraving.

Did Struss buy some commercially available lens like perhaps an older landscape meniscus and then re-polish / re-shape to suit his particular formula? I doubt we'll ever know. Did anybody ask him 20 years ago while he was still with us?

I would add that at todays prices I can't afford either the Struss or the Pinkham but I have had excellent success with soft focus images using an un-modified 1860's Darlot landscape meniscus wide open at f6. It has the identical look of Struss' soft images.

Dr Klaus Schmitt
30-Sep-2008, 07:27
Thanks for that Jim, I found that ebay auction and wondered that someone woudl pay about $2.750 for a lens in that shabby condition. But the "name" makes it I guess...

Here is a japanese site on that lens showing one in much better condition actually:

1-Oct-2008, 07:52
I believe the Scovill Waterbury is also a meniscus. I have one of about 10 inch FL. At least one person has had the same thought: what would it do wide open? http://brianbullen.blogspot.com/2008_07_01_archive.html
(http://brianbullen.blogspot.com/2008_07_01_archive.html) I believe Jim shot some with one too, but I can't remember at what f-stop.

They are built with very small aperatures as part of the barrel. I calculate mine would be f5.7 if I could get the small, built-in aperature out of the way. As is, it's about f22.

Sven Schroder
1-Oct-2008, 10:35

Its really all in the name, if you dig about you can find lens giving similar results. Is the winner of that auction going to use the thing? I picked up the attached lens for 40 its a 410mm F6 meniscus (single glass element) I've not finished my new darkroom but the ground glass looks wonderful. If a lens was made for pictorial results and named as such then you know what you're going to get and hence $$$ or you can open up a lens intend to be used at smaller stops. Landscape lens (achromats) work if you can remove the stops, some work as they where made like cooke RVP or the less known Wray Narrow Angle Landscape has similar specs.


2-Oct-2008, 07:11

I never met Karl but we carried on a vigorous correspondence in the late '70s and early '80s. The Amon Carter Museum, in Fort Worth, Texas, has much of Karl's photographic estate and it includes his original mock-up made with a toilet paper tube.

Karl told me that he sought to patent the lens based on three improvements, alas I can only recall two right now: (1) the flocking of the barrel interior and (2) interchangeable lens elements. Regarding the latter, the customer could buy a 12" Pictorial and also a lens for 11" and 13" which being the same diameter simply interchanged with the 'stock' lens. Yes, it has a single meniscus. I have owned three of them and have examined two more.

When he joined the army for World War I, he had to leave the production and marketing in the hands of the man who did the manufacturing. Karl told me that the reason he discontinued the lens was because he felt the man was cheating him. Indeed, Keasbey continued to make the lens after Struss demanded than he cease.

As Jim notes, they are very similar to the P&S 'Semi-Achromatic' which in turn was copied from a TTH lens. You can read more about this in my dissertation at St. Andrews University (Scotland) on their web site: http://hdl.handle.net/10023/505
They are also as difficult to use as a Semi-Achromatic!

I hope this has been helpful.

Russ Young

3-Oct-2008, 07:33
I thank you for passing your knowledge and experience on. This information is very valuable to the soft focus and pictorialist enthusiast. Your dissertation is a fascinating history that should be referred to by anyone with questions about these topics. Excellent details of the primary soft focus lenses.

Dr Klaus Schmitt
3-Oct-2008, 15:03
Thanks a lot, esp. Russ, that was verY helpful!

Cheers, Klaus

Allen in Montreal
3-Oct-2008, 20:36
Dear Russ,

At 359 pages, I will not pretend to say I have read it. I have downloaded it for "near future" reading, thank you very much for sharing it with us!

best regards,


Lawrence Nagel
8-Feb-2011, 12:07
I have an "18 in. Struss Pictorial Lens" f5.5-22 given to me years ago by my godfather, Walter Boychuk, a well known Oregon photographer in the '40s-'60s.
I would like to learn its collectors' value and talk with interested parties.


Dr Klaus Schmitt
8-Feb-2011, 12:10
Surely a treasure you have there Lawrence, which certainly would fetch $$$$ if sold!
If you have a picture showing the lettering and serial number, more could be said about it.

Also consider posting about it here:

Steven Tribe
8-Feb-2011, 12:54
"talk with interested parties".

You could list this in the For Sale/Wanted section when you have been around here for a month. You could start at high price and work down until there is a buyer as there is no option for bidding here (includes Lenses & Lens Accessories section!).

8-Feb-2011, 14:00
You can read more about the Struss here (http://antiquecameras.net/softfocuslenses2.html) (towards bottom of page).


Jim Galli
8-Feb-2011, 15:34
There are images done with my 2 Struss lenses on some of my pages.

Yes, I would thrill to have this one but simply cannot unless we could trade things of value. 18" Struss, perhaps $3500 - $4500 if complete, early, correct.

Dr Klaus Schmitt
11-Feb-2011, 15:41
Lawrence, did you decide what to do with it?

Lawrence Nagel
24-Apr-2011, 13:30
I'm looking for this type of lens, info on it etc.
It is said to be a simple meniscus lens?

Thanks, Klaus

Lawrence Nagel
24-Apr-2011, 13:33
I've been otherwise involved for the past couple of months and have not pursued my interest in selling the Struss lens. I will resume considering offers.

Lawrence Nagel

Dr Klaus Schmitt
24-Apr-2011, 14:25
18" would not be useful for me, maybe others...

Steven Tribe
25-Apr-2011, 02:19
Please use the For Sale/Wanted section!
Choose an asking price something above what Jim's estimate and then work downwards after a few days and so on, until someone can't resist.

Mark Sawyer
25-Apr-2011, 18:32
Just out of curiosity, did Struss ever explain his thinking behind the single meniscus as opposed the the traditional meniscus doublet? Was he after the chromatic aberrations from a non-achromatic lens? (I've come to much prefer spherical over achromatic aberrations, and I think most photographers would.)

And did he ever comment on the pronounced coma that seems to be such a big part of the lens' signature?