View Full Version : My Petzval Lens Story

11-Jun-2012, 00:08

A few months ago I bought a Petzval lens from a retired viennese pharmacist whose mother ran a photo studio in the 1930s.
The first pictures I shot with it left me pretty unimpressed since the lens was only swirling and nothing else, bad coma, astigmatism, no sharpness ect... no one in the 19th century would have thought of this as more than a paper weight.;)
So I thought that the previous owner might have disassembled it for cleaning and put it back together wrong so I took the elements out and reversed the rearmost Crown glass. Now the lens was much better regarding all the defects but sharpness and contrast were very low and the pictures on 4x5 film looked pretty boring. Lens data was approx 250mm FL and f4 so on the shelf it went (I thought I simply need a bigger film than 4x5 to make it shine)

After sitting on my shelf for the last months I stumbled acros "a history of a photographic lens" three days ago. The part about Dallmeyer Patent lenses and the reversed rear group intrigued me so I tried reversing the order of the rear elements as in the dallmeyer diagrams. Well it worked and the lens looked so much better on ground glass it was amazing! I shot a few pictures on Fomapan 200 and now I´m finaly in love with my Petzval. it has every character (3d pop, sharpness, killer bokeh) that made me want such a lens in the first place :) the Focal lenght shrunk from 250 to 210mm and the f-stop is about 3,6 now. much more usable on 4x5 Film.

Apart from sharing my story for people having the same problems sometime in the future I wanted to know if anybody has a clue who made my lens? (I cannot read any engravings..thou it looks like they were there sometime)
The fact that the lens is best in Dallmeyer Patent configuration keeps intriguing me, maybe someone can shed light on that!

I attached a few pictures of the Petzval and of my Speed graphic with the lens mounted.
best greetings from Vienna!

11-Jun-2012, 00:16
here are some sample pictures.

the one with the mother and child is the first (wrong) configuration of the rearmost crown glass.
after turning around the crown glass the defects were much better but sharpness and contrast was only acceptable after photoshop (Picture of Josef´s grave)

the two portraits are shot in the dallmeyer configuration and speak for themself :-)

thanks for all your help!

Joe Smigiel
11-Jun-2012, 00:30
Look on the edge of the lens elements. The big guys usually added their signature and date or city there. Here's a "Darlot Paris":


Sometimes there is also microengraving on the rear element next to the barrel.

Steven Tribe
11-Jun-2012, 02:02
Fred, as you probably know ( and proud of too!), Vienna was more than just Voigtländer. There were many quality small makers during the first decades of the Petzvals.
Obviously their style was influenced by the "big brother", but the transition turning from barrel to lens hood looks more like the French/English system. Early engravings are often very shallow but even just a few swiggles may be recognised here if you post a photo.

11-Jun-2012, 03:48
Thank you for your replies!

Joe:I examined the lens carefully but there is nothing to be found on any of the elements, mounts or inside the barrel. I´ve attached some detailed shots and a picture of all the pieces.

Steven: The Petzval lens is the most exciting and succesfull design, photographicaly speaking, that was invented in vienna AFAIK :-) I know that there were many manufacturers of Petzval lenses and that I possibly got a lens made by a small work shop instead of the big names. Still its puzzling me why ths thing seems to work best in dallmeyer configuration. Did they do it to have no problems with the Austrian Petzval Patent? or did the previous Owner get the lens by any other means from France or England (WWII possibly?) so many questions that probably never get answered..
I found a small engraving of the number 4 (lower left in the photo of the barrel), this first let me to believe that there was some markings on the lens originaly.

Sorry for the bad quality of the digital pictures, I´m a Film addict and have no other means of digital capture than my camera phone ;)

Steven Tribe
11-Jun-2012, 13:59
The Dallmeyer patent was not just a switching of the position of the plate and crown lenses in the rear cell!
CCHarrison has a good section of the evolution of the Petzvals which shows typical profiles of the lenses. You might find the type which is nearest yours - thus find the original configuration.r
Patent laws were not transferable/controled across national boundaries and the protection given was for a short period only in the 19th century.
No name Petzvals are not as common as no name Rapid Rectilinear/Aplanat lenses. But the lacquer here looks like the original finish - which suggests there never was an engraving.