Handling and Features
Lomography, usually known for inexpensive, toy cameras like the Holga, or imported Russian classics like the Lomo LC-A have branched out into something new, thanks to a Kickstarter campaign to fund manufacturing lenses in Nikon F and Canon EF compatible mounts based on the original Petzval lens optical design.
The new lens takes the optical formula conceived by Joseph Petzval in 1840 and adapts it for modern 35mm format cameras. In doing so, Lomography has also kept the retro-looking brass exterior. The lens is manufactured at the Zenit lens factory in Russia, which is proudly engraved on the brass lens barrel alongside the 'New Petzval since 1840' logo in an attempt to give this new lens some provenance. However, this lens is not the same as the one your great grandfather may have used and is a completely new lens that can be considered a homage to the original.
The Kickstarter page raised over a million dollars for the project from over 3000 backers paying around $400 each, or up to an eye-watering $1000 for those that wanted to reserve one with an early serial number. There is demand for this lens, which is now available for pre-order for £459 from the UK Lomography shop. In this review we'll assess whether the claims that this lens creates a 'mind-blowing effect' are true.
Lomography Petzval 85mm f/2.2 Art Lens Handling and Features
The build quality of this lens is a mixed bag. First impressions are good when greeted with the varnished brass exterior, which feels solid. Thanks to the brass exterior, the lens has a fair bit of weight to it. Even so, it balances well with the Nikon D600 body used for testing. The brass exterior is an acquired taste. Some people will love the look of the lens, others won't be so enamoured with it.
Focusing is performed by a geared system, operated by a wheel that sticks out of the bottom of the lens barrel. The focus mechanism has a very short throw, moving from infinity, down to one metre is under a complete turn of the brass focusing wheel. This alone can make manual focusing tricky. The focusing wheel operates smoothly on the second lens sample tested. There is damping applied to the focus mechanism, so the lens elements don't move about freely in the lens if tilted forwards or back.
There is a distance scale machined into the top of the lens and a slot for the supplied aperture plates. As this lens uses the Waterhouse Aperture system, the aperture is changed by swapping one of the supplied 'stops' that fit in this machined slot. On our test sample, the aperture plates are a loose fit, and can easily drop out of the lens if care isn't taken. As the aperture plates are separate, if you were to misplace one, then you have effectively lost that aperture setting. As the plates are black-painted pieces of stamped metal, I can see this happening quite often. There is no information on the Lomography site on how to source replacements, and no spares are supplied with the lens. It is a completely manual lens, with no electronic contacts, so stop down metering has to be performed.
The design of the lens barrel incorporates a hood, which helps to shield the lens from extraneous light that may cause issues with flare. Within this deep hood section there is a 58mm filter thread, hidden away on the front of the moving lens section. The filter thread is difficult to reach unless you unscrew the hood. A brass push-fit lens cap is supplied with the lens.
Lomography Petzval 85mm f/2.2 Art Lens Performance
Updated 25/03/14: The lens tested initially, was a very early sample of the lens, with a two-digit serial number. Lomography invited us to test a later sample, as they are convinced it will perform better. The original Kickstater page does state that, 'The lens as well as its accompanying lens hood will also undergo small design changes,' so we will take a look at what has changed on this second sample provided.
The second sample supplied has a serial number of 4262 and the exterior is much the same as the original sample tested, except that the brass finish appears to have been polished to a shine. Focusing is much smoother, with enough resistance in the mechanism to prevent the lens elements from moving inside the barrel when the lens is tilted. The focus mechanism still has a very short throw though, so accurate focusing can still be quite tricky, although it is much easier than with the first sample tested.
The Waterhouse aperture plates are stamped with the values for the aperture they represent, rather than painted in white. Although this means there's no chance of the lettering wearing off, it can be difficult to see which aperture you've selected, unless you're in very good light. The apertures seem to correspond better with the exposure values you might expect than the ones supplied with the previous lens did. The design still means that they can fall out of the lens if you're not careful and that it may be easy to misplace the aperture plates over time.
Sharpness in the centre of the frame is much improved at every aperture compared to the first sample. In fact, sharpness in the centre is quite respectable, being good in the centre at f/2.2, very good at f/2.8 and excellent at f/4. Sharpness towards the edges of the frame is poor at fast apertures, but this is to be expected due to the effect this lens produces. To really see the effect, backgrounds with lots of regular detail are required, such as patterned wallpaper, or light shining through tree branches. Without this, images lack the swirly look the Petzval lens design is known for, which limits its overall usefulness.
MTF @ 85mm
How to read our charts
The blue column represents readings from the centre of the picture frame at the various apertures and the green is from the edges. Averaging them out gives the red weighted column.
The scale on the left side is an indication of actual image resolution. The taller the column, the better the lens performance. Simple.
For this review, the lens was tested on a Nikon D600 using Imatest.
Chromatic aberrations are much higher on the second sample of this lens, even exceeding one pixel width in the centre of the frame at f/2.2. This rapidly drops as smaller apertures are selected.
CA @ 85mm
How to read our charts
Chromatic aberration is the lens' inability to focus on the sensor or film all colours of visible light at the same point. Severe chromatic aberration gives a noticeable fringing or a halo effect around sharp edges within the picture. It can be cured in software.
Apochromatic lenses have special lens elements (aspheric, extra-low dispersion etc) to minimize the problem, hence they usually cost more.
For this review, the lens was tested on a Nikon D600 using Imatest.
Falloff of illumination is quite pronounced, which may actually enhance the vignette effect produced by this lens. At f/2.2 the corners of the frame are 2.69 stops darker than the image centre and visually uniform illumination is achieved with the aperture stopped down to f/5.6 or beyond.
Distortion is well controlled. Imatest was only able to detect 0.815% pincushion distortion, which is quite a low level and should not require correction in most cases.
Falloff and distortion are identical to the first tested sample. However, the second sample is much more resistant to flare, although contrast can be visibly reduced when shooting into the light in some cases.
Lomography Petzval 85mm f/2.2 Art Lens Sample Photos
Value For Money
Being priced at around £465, this lens seems quite expensive for what it offers, especially considering issues with the build, design and operation of the lens.
Those looking for a manual 85mm lens with a fast maximum aperture may also consider Samyang's 85mm f/1.4 as an alternative as it costs half what the New Petzval does at just over £200. The Samyang lens sports a faster maximum aperture than the Petzval, and aperture control is kept within the lens, so there's no chance of losing anything either.
Canon camera owners may also consider the EF 85mm f/1.8 USM as an alternative. This lens sports, fast, silent autofocus, a faster maximum aperture and costs around £300. Nikon's 85mm f/1.8G is similar, and costs around £370.
Lomography Petzval 85mm f/2.2 Art Lens Verdict
The second sample of the lens performs much more how you might expect it to, with good sharpness in the centre, and crazy blurriness towards the edges at wide apertures. Focusing is much improved over the first sample also.
Even though the performance is quite respectable, this lens will still divide people as to whether it's a genuinely exceptional product, or a bit of a gimmick, especially given the high price tag. It's certainly not for everyone, but those who love the effect will probably cherish this lens, providing they picked up a good copy. Hopefully those who pledged large sums on the Kickstarter page for a copy with an early serial number got a better lens than we did the first time round. If you did, it will be interesting to hear how you've got on with your lens in the comments section below.
Lomography Petzval 85mm f/2.2 Art Pros
Swirly out of focus effect (under right conditions)
Sharp in the centre
Lomography Petzval 85mm f/2.2 Art Cons
Stopping down diminishes the effect
Waterhouse Aperture plates are easy to misplace and fit loosely
Effect limits compositional choices as the lens is only approaching sharp in the centre of the frame at fast apertures
|VALUE FOR MONEY
Lomography Petzval 85mm f/2.2 Art Lens Specifications
|Angle of View||30į|
|35mm equivalent||No Data|
|Maximum magnification||No Data|
|Box Contents||No Data|
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