Lens Review: the new Lomography Petzval Lens

Englewood Camera is pleased to announce that we are currently offering the new Petzval 85mm f/2.2 lens from Lomography. Last year, Lomography launched a Kickstarter campaign to recreate a classic portrait lens, based off of 19th century design, for modern digital cameras. This campaign was largely successful, and Lomo started shipping these brass lenses in August 2014.  We received our first shipment, and staffer Erin Brinkley-Burgardt took the lens out for testing over Labor Day weekend. For portrait photographers, the results are absolutely stunning.

Annie © Erin Brinkley Photography
Annie © Erin Brinkley Photography

Petzval Lens
Petzval Lens

For photographers interested in tack-sharp images: this lens probably isn’t for you. It’s basic design offers a rack-and-pinion manual focus, with a knob on the left side of the barrel to move the optics in and out within the lens barrel. Without having a focusing screen installed specifically for manual focusing, achieving sharp focus is difficult. Because of the design of the lens, focus can change between shots, too, especially if the subject moves or you move to recompose. While many DSLR cameras offer live view focusing with magnification, this option is impossible to use handheld, so focus must be tweaked for individual shots. Even at it’s sharpest, the Petzval lens bears no comparison to other 85mm focal length lenses, such as the Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM, or the Nikkor AF-S 85mm f/1.4 G Nano. But, based on my testing, I would argue that the Petzval lens offers truly stunning portraits, where optimal sharpness isn’t the primary mission for the image.

Tyler
Tyler © 2014 Erin Brinkley Photography
Jake
Jake © 2014 Erin Brinkley Photography

I’ve shot with a Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L lens for a few years, and it’s been my go-to portrait lens. What the Petzval offers against my Canon lens, however, is the optical design for photographing single subjects. The Petzval offers oval highlights in the out-of-focus areas, giving a ‘swirl’ to the background, and offering strong focus on a single subject. Therefore, by all characteristics, this lens truly is a portrait photographer’s dream. I would even argue that it’s lack of strong sharpness on the subject lends to better portraits–it decreases the focus on facial blemishes, wrinkles, and blotchy skin tones, allowing reduced time in post-production. Sharpness is of course increased when stopping down the aperture, but the distinct bokeh is decreased in doing so. One thing to bear in mind with depth of field: to increase the look of the swirl in the background, the subject should be positioned 5-8 feet from the background, and the photographer should be about 5 feet from the subject. This gives the maximum swirl in the bokeh. I spent three days using this lens, and am absolutely in love with the results for portrait work!

Annie
Annie © 2014 Erin Brinkley Photography

There is a reason Lomography has branded this lens as an art lens, and portrait photographers should seriously consider adding one of these to their lens collection. The lens is currently available for Canon EF and Nikon F mounts, in a brass ($599) or black finish ($699). We have the brass finish in stock for both mounts!

Kate © Erin Brinkley Photography
Kate © Erin Brinkley Photography

Technical specifications:

  • Focal Length: 85mm
  • Maximum Aperture: f/2.2
  • Apertures: Waterhouse aperture set, up to F/16
  • Image Circle: 44mm
  • Field of View: 28 degrees
  • Lens Mounting Profile: Canon EF and Nikon F
  • Electronic Contacts: Nov
  • Closest Focusing Distance: 1m
  • Focusing Mechanism: Gear Rack Focusing
  • Filter Thread: 58mm
  • Image Circle: 44mm

All of the above images were shot by Erin Brinkley-Burgardt with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II; ISO 100; RAW format.

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