Thursday, August 8, 2013


Every once in a while we come across lenses from manufacturers other than Leica which are of definite interest and well worth their use on Leica cameras.  One such lens is the new Petzval lens from Lomography.

The Petzval name is one of the most famous in the history of optics and the development photographic lenses.  It was first introduced in 1840 by Joseph Petzval, a Hungarian mathematician, inventor, and physicist best known for his work in optics.  Photography was just in its infancy, with photographic materials and lenses being very slow.  Especially portraiture was difficult because lenses were very slow in those days. 

Petzval set out to overcome that problem by designing a much faster lens.  When he designed his famous portrait lens in 1840, it constituted a quantum leap in optical design.  The lens had the unheard of aperture of f/3.6.  Petzval's portrait objective lens (Petzval Porträtobjektiv) was an almost distortionless anachromatischer Vierlinser (double achromatic objective lens, with four lenses in three groups). The maximum aperture was substantially higher than the Daguerre standard of 1839, the Wollaston Chevalier lens (f/16). The speed of f/3.6 with a focal length of 160 mm made crucially shorter exposure times possible — using exposures of only about 15 to 30 seconds compared to the 10 minutes previously. Thus, snapshots became possible for the first time.


Petzval allowed the Viennese entrepreneur Peter Wilhelm Friedrich von Voigtländer to produce the lens for a one-time payment of 2,000 guldens, without a patent or a contract, which led later to a lasting controversy between Petzval and Voigtländer. Voigtländer, who had confirmed the process through his own calculations, produced a prototype, and in May 1840 he began production of the lens for the daguerrotype cameras in 1841, making a fortune in the process.

Now Lomography is resurrecting this lens in partnership with Zenit of Kranogorsk, Russia.  The New Petzval Lenses will be manufactured by a team of optics specialists at the Zenit factory. They are built from brass and feature premium glass optics. 

Photos shot with a Petzval lens are immediately recognizable for their super-sharp focus and wonderful swirly bokeh effect at the non-focused areas, including strong color saturation, artful vignettes and narrow depth of field.

The new lens will have a focal length of 85mm with a maximum aperture of f.2.3.  Apertures will be set via Waterhouse stops down to f/16.  The image circle has a diameter of 44mm with a field of view of 30degrees.  The closest focusing distance is 1 meter.

The lens will initially be available for Canon EF and Nikon F DSLR mount cameras.  Either one of these will allow use on the Leica M and Leica Digilux 3 with an adapter.

No word on the availability of the lens yet, but it is definitely an item tyo look out for.




The original Petzval lens (left) and the new version

For more information go to:


  1. Why would anyone consider using a lens that is almost 175 years old?

  2. These are new lenses that have only the basic design in common with the original. This design has proven to be ideal for portraits and, in spite of its age, it still is unique. This lens has a lot to offer, and it renders high quality results that can not be had with any other lens currently on the market.

  3. I am surprised at how good the pictures taken with the original lens are. You wouldn't expect that from a lens that old.

  4. It isn't all that surprising, after all, the design of the Petzval lens is a four-element design, applying the same principle of crown and flint glasses in two groups, a principle that later led to the development of the Leitz Elmar and the Zeiss Tessar. Both of those lenses are of a relatively old design, yet they are still very good performing lenses, even by today's standards.