A Classic Portrait Lens Reinvented For Modern Cameras

The Petzval lens, designed by a mathematician in 1840, was one of the first portrait lenses to change the art of photography because its design allowed enough light into the camera for photographs to be taken relatively quickly. The Petzval’s optics also introduce a distinctive, swirly “halo” effect to out-of-focus backgrounds–not a bad side effect for making dreamy portraits. Lomography mounted a wildly successful Kickstarter project earlier this year to redesign the Petzval for use with modern DSLRs. But Denys Ivanichek wanted to go one step further, and design his own set (called Petzvar) that would be compatible with medium-format fine art cameras such as Hasselblad.

Why all the fuss about recreating a super-old, flawed lens? Can’t Photoshop simulate the Petzval effect without having to resort to delicate physical engineering? The appeal, says Ivanicheck, is in the lens’s organic quality. “Imitation [effects] produced by software look identical to each other, while the effect created by optics is unpredictable under different conditions,” he tells Co.Design.

The appeal of that unpredictability was enough to send Lomography’s Kickstarter surging past $1 million, and Ivanichek’s medium-format campaign is already halfway to its $25,000 goal. “The Petzvar is made by genuine Petzval scheme: two achromatic groups of elements, calculated for covering of the medium format size frame,” Ivanichek explains. “It provides the distinctive vintage Petzval signature image, not just swirls on a background.”

If you’re a photography nut who wants to give yourself a Christmas present, head over to Ivanichek’s Kickstarter and donate. The rest of us will just have to wait for Instagram to rip off this effect.

[Petzvar medium-format portrait lens on Kickstarter]