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Thread: Late 1800's lens.

  1. #1

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    Late 1800's lens.

    Just out of pure curiosity (and on the off chance I ever come across one) does anyone know what type of lens the late 19th century photographer P.H. Emerson might have used? He's my favorite artist of that period.

    Here's a link. http://www.geh.org/ne/mismi2/emerson_sum00001.html

    -Alex

  2. #2

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    Re: Late 1800's lens.

    It's pretty difficult to guess at a lens by looking at a small reproduction. However, the most common landscape lens of the period were rapid rectilinear or aplanat lenses. They consist of two cemented symmetrical doublets. Another possibility, though less likely is a Petzval design lens. These lenses have a concave field, which could explain the fuzziness in the corners of some of the pictures, but they were designed for portraiture and seldom used for landscapes. Also common at the time were simple meniscus lenses, which could also explain the blurriness of the edges. However, these were inexpensive lenses and might have been eschewed by a more established photographer. I think it is fair to say, those are the most likely possibilities.

  3. #3

    Re: Late 1800's lens.

    You need to read the Aperture Monograph on Emerson by Nancy Newhall. If I remember correctly he believed in "selective focus" much as the eye does (he was a physician.) He was good friends with Dallmeyer and probably used his lenses which in the mid 1880's were Rapid Rectilinears. He leaned towards longer focal lengths at wide to moderate apertures with good Bokeh. He definitely did not like soft lenses with spherical aberration.
    A quote about artistic needs: "these needs can only be met by throwing different planes, as required, out of focus by focussing and the judicious use of the diaphragm...".

  4. #4

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    Re: Late 1800's lens.

    Thanks for the suggestions. I'm very familiar with the life and works of Emerson, and have read on the subject quite a bit. He's historically significant, no doubt, but publicly is still somewhat obscure, so there are only a few popular books published on him. If anyone knows (aside from his own books) of any others I would be glad to hear of them. I'm much more interested in essays/critisisms than coffee table books.

    I've never come upon any details on how he worked technically, aside from using a plate camera. I was just wondering if anyone knew specifically what type or, even better, what models he used. It's a long shot, but I thought I'de give it a try. This information obviously wouldn't come from looking at reproductions but from some slice of information I haven't come across yet.

    Oh and Chauncey, Emerson's style was slightly more complicated than that. I'm not qualified to make any statements but I do know his theories on photographic aesthetics and the case for photography as art are a large part of his fame. He wrote "Naturalistic photography for students of art" and then renounced it a year later, yet the book started a revolution of its own.

  5. #5

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    Re: Late 1800's lens.

    I would plump for Dallmeyer lenses. I've seen some of his work before and it's fantastic but F.M. Sutcliff is my ultimate favourite.
    Best wishes,
    Pete.

  6. #6
    All metric sizes to 24x30 Ole Tjugen's Avatar
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    Re: Late 1800's lens.

    Some of the pictures show a bit of astigmatism in the corners, but overall there is little evidence of field curvature.

    Since Anastigmats were only just being invented around 1890, I would think he used the best lenses available to him: Aplanats, also known as Rectilinears. I wouldn't go so far as to specify "Rapid" Rectilinear; for all I know some of those photos could have been taken with a widefield rectilinear.

    At the very least he was not using Periskops or Petzvals, both of which would show effects visible on even these small pictures.

  7. #7

    Re: Late 1800's lens.

    I did find one good reference to his equipment. Although he used cameras ranging from quarter plate up to 24 x 22, he recommended half plate up to 8 x 10 with perhaps whole plate (8 1/2 x 6 1/2) being the most useful. A quote on his lenses: "Emerson always used long focal length lenses, owning at least 4 at any one time. 'I think no one should use a lens including more than 40 degrees and the focal length we think should be at least as long as the diagonal of the plate used, preferably twice the length of the base of the plate.' He preferred to have at his disposal a battery of lenses varying in focal length from 12 to 35 inches and including angles from 23 1/2 to 45 degrees, the base line of his plate being 10 inches. His lenses were all made by his great friend Dallmeyer, whom he seems to have commissioned to supply him with many varieties. The one whose virtues he extolled most was a Dallmeyer long focus rapid rectilinear landscape lens which he tried out first in 1888."
    And on focussing: "He recommends that a photographer should thus focus for the principal object in a scene, then throw it slightly out of focus keeping the lens aperture wide open so that the margins of the image are rendered softly. Heavily contrasting images are not true to nature's effects, neither are pictures which are sharply defined throughout."

  8. #8

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    Re: Late 1800's lens.

    Thanks for the suggestions. I'm very familiar with the life and works of Emerson, and have read on the subject quite a bit. He's historically significant, no doubt, but publicly is still somewhat obscure, so there are only a few popular books published on him. If anyone knows (aside from his own books) of any others I would be glad to hear of them. I'm much more interested in essays/critisisms than coffee table books.
    Hi there,

    Emerson still features strongly in the Advanced Level Photography course (History & Appreciation of Photography) although there is no geeky interest in his gear in the course . He is hardly obscure, having formed one of the most significant secessionist movements against the pre-raphaelite (highly stylised and posed) driven style of Henry Peach Robinson & Co. Although most of the history of English photography, concentrates on Emerson's secessionist movements with its parallel explanations of 'impressionism' based on the eye's selective focussing, Emerson eventually did a volte-face and renounced his theory as misguided by the end of his career, thus ending the secessionist movement.

    Which seems a bit harsh: Emerson seems to have underrated his own contribution in documenting the lifestyle and period of the Norfolk Broads & the local people there. Shooting wide-open with telephoto, his style owes more to documentary practices rather than the fake studio portraiture which preceded him - guess that's why I like his work too

  9. #9

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    Re: Late 1800's lens.

    By public I meant general public, not the photographic community.

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