Video Field Test : Legacy Lens | Lomography x Zenit Petzval 85mm f/2.2
"Whoa, what is that?"
This is a phrase I heard more than once when I took this brass beauty out for a walk. Both unique and classic in almost every way, the Petzval recreation from Lomography & Zenit demands your attention from the very moment you set eyes on it.
The design of the Petzval dates all the way back to 1840, a time when the majority of camera lens knowledge had been simply passed down from crafter to crafter. The original Petzval lens changed that, applying mathematical equations and the laws of physics to create a brand new design that would change the face of photography.
Yes, the original would be a game-changer with its shallow depth of field and ability to create photos with much less light than before. The Petzval offered a maximum aperture of f/3.5 whereas most lenses of the same time period had something of a maximum aperture of f/16. Shallow depth of field wasn't all the rage back then like it is now, but a large aperture assured that you wouldn't have to sit perfectly still for several minutes in order to get a clear portrait.
And thus, the concept of the modern portrait lens was born.
Fast forward to 2013, when analog-loving photo company Lomography began a Kickstarter campaign to revive the classic Petzval design. The campaign easily hit its target thanks to supporters who love unique looks, character, and photo history and today we have multiple versions of this lens.
Consisting of only two groups of four total glass elements, this design is simplicity at its finest. Surprisingly sharp in the center at smaller apertures, with a soft & dreamlike haze at larger ones. Background bokeh takes on a circular characteristic, similar to other Russian Helios lenses. This swirly background effect may not be to everyone's liking, but it frames the subject well in the sharpest area–which is the very center of the image.
Perhaps it's not a coincidence that this lens was funded by Lomography and produced by Russian photography manufacturer Zenit, who also make modern-day Helios lenses.
The brass build quality, heavy metal-and-glass construction truly make the Petzval feel less like a lens and more like a relic. A knob on the underside of the body moves the front elements in and out, allowing you to focus without turning a ring. The aperture uses interchangeable stamped plates instead of a rotating blade system, and the built-in lens hood unscrews to reveal a reasonable 58mm screw-on filter ring.
Yes, the Petzval is certainly unique. The old-school feel of the construction pair well with the stylized distortions to give the photographer or videographer an experience like none other. Whether that unique experience is one you're interested in having–that's up to you.
See the lens in action below.