The Petzval is an old 19th-century, fast aperture lens that’s suddenly new again

petzval old 19th century fast aperture lens thats suddenly new 707dc123f97a50696f38fb3664008683 large
The Petzvar lens (right) next to its ancestor, the Petzval.

A professor of mathematics at Vienna University, named Joseph Petzval, designed a lens that had a fast aperture of f/3.6. While this may not sound so exciting by today’s standards, Petzval created this lens design all the way back in 1840, which is pretty much dinosaur years. It was the first mathematically calculated lens design that was faster than anything that was available at the time. Channeling the Petzval design, a photography buff, Denys Ivanichek, invented a modern-day version of the lens called the Petzvar f/3.8 120mm Medium Format Petzval Portrait Lens.

As the name says, the Petzvar is designed for use with medium format cameras like those from Hasselblad or, with an adapter, 35mm full-frame cameras. Whereas the old Petzval lens was made of brass, the Petzvar uses modern lens construction to match today’s cameras. Designed for portraitures, the lens has a long, fixed focal length and an aperture range of f/3.8-f/16, and uses the Pentacon Six and Hasselblad V mounts, but can fit full-frame cameras from Pentax, Nikon, and Canon through aforementioned adapters (there’ll be some cropping); there are also adapters for use with Micro Four Thirds cameras from Olympus and Panasonic, as well as ones that tilt-shift images.

The Petzvar lens on a Nikon full-frame DSLR with adapter.
The Petzvar lens on a Nikon full-frame DSLR with adapter.

How is the Petzvar different from modern-day lenses, or, rather, why would you want to use it? It’s the desired imperfections, “those swirly bokeh and the focus fall off in the off-center areas, caused by uncorrected astigmatism as well as it’s chromatic aberrations, [which] were a big problem of the design,” Ivanichek says. “By today’s standards, this primitive design can’t compete or be compared with the modern lenses in any respect. It has lots of known optical flaws, which are corrected in the contemporary lens schemes. But those imperfections are the exact reason this lens became so popular among analogue photographers.” For the smartphone generation of casual photographers, think of the analog Instagram filters you apply.

The Petzvar on Hasselblad medium format camera (left) and Nikon full-frame DSLR (right)
The Petzvar on a Hasselblad medium format camera (left) and Nikon full-frame DSLR (right)

Indeed, looking at the sample photos, you’ll see a certain high-res analog quality that the latest digital lenses can’t match, resembling more like old film cameras – something Ivanichek loves.

An example of an image taken with the Petzvar and medium format camera.
An example of an image taken with the Petzvar and medium format camera.
An example of an image taken with the Petzvar and full-frame camera.
An example of an image taken with the Petzvar and full-frame camera.

Ivanichek has been working on the design for more than three years. He didn’t plan on producing more than the prototype he made, but interests from others has led him to take the project to Kickstarter, with the hopes of raising $25,000 to help fund the manufacturing – so far, he has raised less than half of the goal, but there’s still 14 days to go as of this writing. If you are interested in becoming an early backer, a $450 pledge will get you one with a Pentacon Six mount, or $480 for a Hasselblad mount; adapters for Nikon or Canon are $35. Estimated delivery is set for May 2014.

Lomography Petzval
Lomography Petzval

If the name Petzval sounds familiar, it may be because of a similar lens Lomography launched this year. Lomo’s Petzval Lens, created in partnership with Zenit (a Russian/Soviet camera brand), uses Russian glass and has an aperture of f/2.2 and focal length of 85mm. Unlike Ivanicheck’s version, Lomo’s is made for 35mm cameras from Nikon and Canon right out of the box. Both Ivanicheck and Lomo’s lenses are different, but they share the same spirit of the original Petzval lens – Lomo’s even looks like one. It’s also the first product from Lomo to bridge both the digital and analog worlds. Lomography also took to Kickstarter to help with funding, but it reached its $100,000 goal in just four hours, shattering it in one week after hitting a million dollars – proving that an “old” lens like this still resonates with today’s photographers. The Lomo Petzval, which costs $699, is so hot that it’s still in preorder.

Product Review

Equal parts tool and toy, the Lensbaby Edge 35 bucks photographic tradition

The Lensbaby Edge 35, part of the Composer Pro optic swap system, creates tilt-shift-like blur without the tilt-shift price. Made for photographers who want find tradition boring, it opens up new ways to work with blur.
Photography

Panasonic Lumix S1R vs. Nikon Z 7: When megapixels matter, which do you choose?

The 47-megapixels Lumix S1R and 46-megapixel Nikon Z 7 are the two highest-resolution, full-frame mirrorless cameras on the market. The S1R features a high-resolution mode that can take 187MP images, but the Nikon is lighter and cheaper.
Mobile

Breaking news: Samsung responds to reported Galaxy Fold display issues

The Samsung Galaxy Fold has arrived, and it goes on sale soon. Folding out from a 4.6-inch display to a tablet-sized 7.3-inch display, this unique device has six cameras, two batteries, and special software to help you use multiple apps.
Photography

Nikon Z 7 vs. Sony A7R III: High-res mirrorless cameras compared

The Nikon Z 7 and Sony A7R III both have over 40 megapixels, but which one comes out on top? With similar image quality, the answer comes down to speed, autofocus, battery life, and design.
Photography

Go for bokeh, not for broke with the best cameras under $1,000

Looking for a great camera without spending more than $1,000? From the stellar Fujifilm X-T30 to the beginner-friendly Canon EOS Rebel T7i, here are the best sub-$1,000 cameras on the market right now.
Photography

These are the best camera straps you can get your hands on

Choosing the right camera strap for your needs can be a tough decision. To help sort through the junk, we've rounded up the best camera straps on the market for you to choose from.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Halfbikes, VR for all your senses, and more

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it's fun to gawk!
Photography

Fujifilm X-T30 vs. Sony A6400: Midrange mirrorless cameras compared

The Fujifilm X-T30 and Sony A6400 are two of the best cameras you can buy for under $1,000, but which should you choose? Each has an edge in certain situations which makes picking a winner difficult, but here's how they compare.
Photography

Photography news: Sony brings Eye Autofocus to critters via A.I.

In this week's photography news, the Sony a7 III and a7R III have some new capabilities, thanks to updated firmware. Lexar teases a crazy fast 1,000MB/s memory card, while Vimeo launches bulk upload possibilities.
Deals

The best budget-friendly GoPro alternatives that won’t leave you broke

Cold weather is here, and a good action camera is the perfect way to record all your adventures. You don't need to shell out the big bucks for a GoPro: Check out these great GoPro alternatives, including some 4K cameras, that won’t leave…
Photography

Etch-A-Snap camera puts a modern spin on one of your favorite childhood toys

Can't draw on an Etch A Sketch? Snap a photo with the Etch-A-Snap and the camera will draw out the scene for you. The weirdly cool camera designed by Martin Fitzpatrick replaces the usual LCD screen with an old-school Etch A Sketch.
Photography

The Black Eye Pro Cinema Wide G4 is a knockout lens for any smartphone

Where cheaper wide-angle accessory lenses add distortion, and costlier models don't always justify their higher prices, the Black Eye Pro Cinema Wide G4 offers a valuable balance of modest price and high quality optics.
Photography

Family feud: Huawei P30 Pro vs. P20 Pro vs. Mate 20 Pro camera shootout

The Huawei P30 Pro's camera has an amazing zoom mode and low light capabilities. But take these away, and how does it compare when facing its sibling phones, the P20 Pro and Mate 20 Pro, taking regular photos?
Deals

The Canon EOS Rebel T6 DSLR camera gets a steep price cut at Walmart

Modern smartphones can snap pretty impressive pics, but if you want pro-quality photos, you need a dedicated digital camera. The Canon EOS Rebel T6 is one of the best entry-level DSLR cameras on the market, and it’s on sale right now for…