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Thread: Your favorite Petzval Lens?

  1. #1
    Meat Robot Jay Decker's Avatar
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    Your favorite Petzval Lens?

    At the risk of adding more volatility to the price of Petzval lenses, what is your favorite Petzval lens, particularly for the 8x10 format?

    Here are my favorites: Dallmeyer 3B and 4D, B&L 3A, Voigtländer, and Hyatt.

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    Re: Your favorite Petzval Lens?

    I think the more interesting question is--are there any Petzval lenses you don't like? Have you compared two lenses with the same focal length and aperture and decided you didn't like one? My ranking for qualities when I'm looking for a Petzval are: focal length, maximum aperture, condition, completeness, and maker--in that order.

    It's always interesting to try out a new lens, but the variations in the collodion process are generally greater than the differences between lenses. I usually try a lens and think--hey that looks pretty good! Just like the lens before it.

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    Re: Your favorite Petzval Lens?

    voigtlander 7a. it is a 14 inch f3.
    My YouTube Channel has many interesting videos on Soft Focus Lenses and Wood Cameras. Check it out.

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    Re: Your favorite Petzval Lens?

    My 6" Darlot 'cone' lens by a long shot. While some might justifiably argue that I've never taken a good shot with it , in my mind, I've rarely taken a bad one with it. With the Darlot, the image on the ground glass matches the one in my head nearly every time. That is what I want in a lens and for me, nothing has ever worked like a petzval, and nothing better than my Darlot.

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    Re: Your favorite Petzval Lens?

    Interestingly since I like early American lenses, I've found several European ones that I trust. I have a Gasc & Charconnet 16" that has always done well, and a little 1855 Voigtlander that I call "Old Reliable." One of my lenses I've taken my best photos with is an 11" Darlot copy called "Dr. Darlot" (that's engraved on it). Who knows who really made it, some small shop somewhere. But it takes great pictures. Actually, a lot of my French lenses are really good, but so are the German and British. But then there's the others....

    Basically it's like Barry says above, they are all similar. Sometimes one will be a little sharper or faster than another (and those are often inversely proportional). Some companies had better lens-to-lens quality control.

    Even in the old days you can read about a photographer buying one lens, not liking it, and sending it back for another by the same maker. I'd like an optical engineer to tell us how difficult it was then, and is now, to grind the Petzval formula perfectly.

  6. #6
    Scott Davis
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    Re: Your favorite Petzval Lens?

    I like my Wollensak Vesta whole plate f5 (rebranded a Seneca Portrait). It's the one lens I've got that I KNOW is a Petzval (well, other than my monster Jamin Darlot that needs a serious re-conditioning). But it produces the most lovely, creamy transitions from sharp to soft. I've seen plenty of other images made with different Petzvals and the swirlies are a bit out-of-control. This is all about shallow DOF and smooth transitions.

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    Meat Robot Jay Decker's Avatar
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    Re: Your favorite Petzval Lens?

    Quote Originally Posted by BarryS View Post
    I think the more interesting question is--are there any Petzval lenses you don't like?
    Yes, I've gone through a number of Petzval lenses. First, made my fill of swirly photos and purged those lenses. Most of those lenses were no name lenses and projection lenses. And, I'm still not sure if I'm going to keep the Hyatt...


    Quote Originally Posted by BarryS View Post
    Have you compared two lenses with the same focal length and aperture and decided you didn't like one? My ranking for qualities when I'm looking for a Petzval are: focal length, maximum aperture, condition, completeness, and maker--in that order.
    Yes, I've compared similar lenses, e.g., two lenses close in focal length and maximum aperture. I tend to like the better behaved lenses, e.g., the Dallmeyer lenses that don't have so much comma that you feel nauseated looking at the photos. The aesthetic that I look for is a beautifully smooth transition from a sharp center to a gooey OOF.

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    Re: Your favorite Petzval Lens?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jay Decker View Post
    eg, the Dallmeyer lenses that don't have so much comma that you feel nauseated looking at the photos. .
    yeah but you do not get that at portrait distance with the "right" focal length lens for the format......?!?!


    okay. i made a mistake. my favorite lens is a voigtlander 7b that last post must have been pre coffee

    here is the same lens in all photos. 14 inch lens on 8x10 wide open. no swirls at portrait distance and only swirls nearer infinity.
    My YouTube Channel has many interesting videos on Soft Focus Lenses and Wood Cameras. Check it out.

    My YouTube videos
    oldstyleportraits.com
    photo.net gallery

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    Meat Robot Jay Decker's Avatar
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    Re: Your favorite Petzval Lens?

    Quote Originally Posted by eddie View Post
    yeah but you do not get that at portrait distance with the "right" focal length lens for the format......?!?!


    okay. i made a mistake. my favorite lens is a voigtlander 7b that last post must have been pre coffee

    here is the same lens in all photos. 14 inch lens on 8x10 wide open. no swirls at portrait distance and only swirls nearer infinity.
    eddie - great photos, including the third one with some swirl! Looking back at the stack of my swirly photographs, to me today most have a "gimmick" look to them that strikes me similar to seeing someone's digital photos where everyone image has heavy HDR processing in Photoshop - whether image called for HDR or not. The few that I like are the ones where the swirl adds to photo of which there are two photos. That said, there are some great swirly photos out there, including a number on this site, that I really do like.

    One of the things that I am finding that I do not like about some of my Petzval lenses is coverage at infinity. Everything is great at portrait distance; you can use rise and shift to move the sharp focused area into a corner away from the center of the GG image. But at infinity, there is just not enough coverage to put the subject that I want to remain in sharp focus in a corner with rise and shift and have the rest of the image just go to that Petzval OOF goo that I like so much. Oh well, some nine-year old will develop a $50 Petzval Photoshop filter that will work as well as any $2,500, 150-year old Petzval lens and this will all become academic!

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    Re: Your favorite Petzval Lens?

    I'd say the most common attribute that attracts newcomers to Petzvals is the swirl. You don't know how many people ask me about "how much does it swirl" whenever I sell one. It's the number one question. To me, just a hint of it, at the corners, can look interesting.

    But a lot of folks don't learn until later the other great attributes of a Petzval. The extreme sharpness in the center, which few lenses have ever topped. The curved field that helps make the sharpness fall off quickly. The very short depth of field that a lot of them have, because you have to use quite a large Petzval to get coverage, like you say. The speed helps with portraits and wetplate.

    Certainly the slower ones like your F5 Vestas and the Dallmeyer D series do a great job, when you aren't chasing the unique swirl look.

    With a lot of photographers and viewers, the swirl becomes the most important part of a picture. Photographers set up the shot at just the "right" distance from speckled, backlit foliage to have max swirl, then move a subject into the shot at the focal point as an afterthought. However, like Eddie's first two shots show, in the old days these were portrait lenses used in studios, not in front of bushes!

    Kind of like how Bokeh (the blurry background) is discussed more than the subject of a shot in a lot of rangefinder, 35mm, and digital forums.

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