Golden Oldie: The Legendary Brass Petzval Lens Returns, Re-Imagined

Coco Alexander for  Lomography USA
Coco Alexander for Lomography USA

In a modern photographic landscape where retro Instagram filters create “instant art,” one company has decided to up the ante and go way back — to 1840.

Meet the Petzval, a lens originally invented in 1840 by Joseph Petzval, a professor of mathematics at the University of Vienna, but given new life in the digital age by Lomography, an Austrian photography company best known for reviving unique film cameras of yesteryear. The Petzval Lens creates a distinctive swirling bokeh, or intentionally blurred, effect that instantly directs a viewer to a photo’s center of focus—an effect can not be readily imitated digitally by Instagram because it is created, in analog, by real-world optics.

“We wanted to try to do something for the mass market while staying true to our roots in analog photography, so the perfect solution for us was the Petzval Lens,” said Christian Polt, General Manager of Lomography USA.

Petzval Lens

Courtesy of Lomography USA

Re-creating and marketing a 19th-century lens for the modern age is a daunting task, so Lomography took to Kickstarter with their idea. They handily surpassed their original $100,000 goal and wound up with nearly $1.4 million raised at the end of the pledge cycle. Thus, the modern Petzval was born.

The original Petzval was designed for large format cameras, but Lomography has adapted the lens for standard Canon and Nikon bodies. Handcrafted in Krasnogorsk, Russia, by Zenit, about 250 lenses are churned out every week. The modern lens eschews 21st-century camera materials for hearty brass — just like the original Petzval — while one achieves different apertures by physically replacing a metal slide with the appropriate f-stop.

“It’s a timeless design,” Polt noted. “Why should you change it?”

Lomography is currently still fulfilling orders from their massively successful Kickstarter, but deliveries to their first-adopters should be done by early May or June 2014, thus allowing sales of the lens to the general public.


Find more info on Lomography’s Petzval lens here

 

Joseph Lin is an Associate Photo Editor at TIME.com

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