Written and photographed by Caroline Bailey
The new Petzval lens is as magical as it looks.
The two companies — Lomography, a company, which fosters the revival of analogue photography, and Zenit, a Russian camera company — teamed up to design and create the new lens. With the creativity of Lomography and the trusted reputation of Zenit for quality optics, how can you go wrong?
The New Petzval is modeled after a lens invented by Joseph Petzval in 1840. You may be wondering why one would want a lens which was created to mimic a 19th century design. Lomography is well known for embracing technology of the past and promoting products considered to be primitive, such as their so-called toy cameras. Once again, Lomography has seen the worth of what has been forgotten.
While modern opticians strive to minimize field curvature, Lomography and Zenit go against the grain and embrace it instead. This yields the unique trademark effect of the so-called swirly bokeh. This means that one area of the photograph will be in sharp focus, while the other areas of the photo get progressively blurry as they reach the borders of the frame. Unlike a normal bokeh, the unfocused parts of the photo have a swirly texture that seems to create movement. This is what makes this lens so special. Additionally, it is compatible with both analogue and digital SLRs, and both Canon mount and Nikon mount versions are available. This makes it very versatile.
However, the lens is not ideal for beginners as it is completely manual. It employs the Waterhouse system, meaning that the aperture is changed using aperture plates, which must be manually inserted into the lens.
There is also no autofocus, and as opposed to the usual manual focus control, there is a focus knob located at the bottom of the lens. Due to the shallow depth of field, getting the focus just right can be a bit tricky, so some experience with using manual focus doesn’t hurt. Because of this, the lens is not ideal for photographing fast moving targets. However, because each shot takes more time and effort, it causes the photographer to take the time to think more carefully about the composition, allowing them to produce better photos.
The Petzval is the perfect choice for portrait photography. The focal length (85mm), the shallow depth of field and the swirly bokeh all help produce a great portrait, as they create a strong focal point and allow for greater emphasis on the subject. The bokeh effect is not an effortless result, though. It does require experimentation with combinations of textures of the background, and distances between the background, subject and camera. When the correct combination is achieved, the resulting portrait can be quite stunning. However, due to the mesmerizing shinny, brass finish of the lens, it is likely to catch people’s eye and turn a few heads, so if you like to take sneaky snaps, the Petzval might not help with stealth, thus making candid photographs a challenge.
Overall, the lens is unique and very special. The effects it allows are magnificent and can scarcely be achieved through other means, including Photoshop and other post-processing programs. But since it is so idiosyncratic and old-fashioned, it is not right for everyone. If you’re a beginner or are looking for something to take action — or snap-shots with — look the other way. If you enjoy portrait photography or want to take a chance on something different, you’ll fall in love with this lens.