The Petzval is an interesting lens. It's a modern reproduction of an optic from the 1840s and a pretty faithful reproduction at that. The lens is one of the most beautiful in my collection. On the other hand because it's a faithful reproduction it has some optical flaws that are very interesting. I don't think the lens is frankly worth what they're trying to charge for it now but at the price I got it for from Kickstarter I think it's a good deal.
Mount: F Mount
Focal Length: 85mm
Aperture Range: f/2.2 - f/16
Minimum Focus: 1m
Filter Thread: 58mm
Data Source: All Photo Lenses
Date Acquired: 07/25/2013
Serial Number: 00002298
Purchase Price: $350
Going Price: $600
The build of the Petzval is simply amazing. I don't think there are any other words to describe it. It's a solid brass tube that looks like a jewel and not a lens. The focus dial on the side is interesting but not too difficult to use. The aperture plates are very awkward in practice - I'm frankly amazed I haven't lost them yet. Overall the build is great just don't expect the creature comforts of the 1960s... much less what you'd expect a lens to feature today. I mean solid brass slip on caps? That's great and all but really impractical.
For a design dating back to 1840 the lens performance is pretty damn remarkable. Let's just get the bad out of the way - the corners are never going to be sharp - period. This isn't because it can't be sharp but the field curvature is insane. This also is what causes the dramatic swirl in the background bokeh. Wide open there's a general softness as well across the frame but this clears up by f/2.8. Amazingly though the center isn't that bad wide open and is tack sharp at f/4. Flare is remarkably well controlled (there aren't very many elements in this old design to reflect off of) and the bokeh is very smooth. The swirl in the bokeh is most prominent wide open and becomes flatter as you stop down due to the depth of field increasing.
I'll be honest - 1840 ergonomics suck. The lens is a pain to use. The small focusing dial isn't bad but the focus throw is stupidly short making nailing critical focus very difficult. The metal slip on lens cap is neat but falls off constantly. The aperture plates are cute but also fall out easily and both these and the lens cap are just itching to get lost. The fact I haven't lost them yet is amazing. One neat byproduct of the plate system is that you can cut custom shapes into the plates creating unique patterns and textures in your bokeh.
Should I get one for photography?
If it were still sold new at the $350 or so price point I'd say it's unique enough to be worth it. If anything you can still use it as a similar lens to a more traditional 85mm f/1.8 which sell for roughly the same. However the current $650 price is insane. It is not worth that much just to have a pretty brass tube of a lens that's awkward to use. Occasionally they pop up on eBay for a decent price which is how I think you should get one if you really want it.
Should I get one for a collection?
I don't think so. It is a reproduction after all so why not just get a real Petzval? It'll cost more or less the same and you'll have a real piece of history instead of this facsimile of a historical lens.
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