You’ve probably heard by now, even if you’re not into photography, that Lomography, the Russian photography shop that focuses on quirky and unique cameras has had a massive Kickstarter success with the Petzval, a lens from more than a century ago. In fact, they’ve made eight times their $100,000 goal already with 25 days to go. So what’s the big deal with this lens? Why are people so excited?
The short answer is that the Petzval is a unique lens that was designed to solve a unique problem. The Petzval lens was developed by Joseph Petzval in 1840 because it was difficult to get a good portrait shot with the cameras of the time. Petzval solved this problem with two “doublet” lenses; you could adjust one lens to focus while the other was fixed, and there was a stop in between the two.
This caused field curvature and other effects in the background of the shot, but that was actually the point; Petzval designed the lens to make the subject stand out in the photo, while minimizing the background as much as possible. As a result, his lens was used in portrait photography for years. It was eventually phased out because it took a while to focus on the subject, the field of view was narrow, and it’s a fairly slow lens compared to today’s snappy, light-absorbing modern marvels.
The Lomography team has actually engineered these problems out in some respects: The current lens has f/2.2 as its maximum aperture, for example. But it still has the effects that make the lens famous among photographers, and now it just clicks into most DSLR cameras.
In other words, you can create a neat effect without screwing around in Photoshop, and you can even use this lens to film video. No wonder it’s selling like hotcakes; if that sounds appealing, hit the Kickstarter for your very own.
Dan Seitz is an obsessive nerd living in New England. He lives in the Boston area with a fiancee, a dog, a cat, and far too many objects with processors.