Calling all history buffs...

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous Equipment' started by David White, Jul 21, 2005.

  1. David White

    David White Member

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    Hello there everyone,

    Does anyone know what camera and lens combo Robert Howlett used in 1857 to take his famous photograph of Brunel?

    http://members.lycos.co.uk/brisray/bristol/brunel1.htm

    I know he used a wet plate collodion process on albumen paper, but I am trying to find out the actual, or at least likely, equipment used.

    Many thanks for all and any help :smile:

    Best,
    David White
    www.nospin.co.uk
     
  2. Christopher Colley

    Christopher Colley Member

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    Only info I have is mentioned in 'A World History of Photography' third edition by Naomi Rosenblum page 157... a GREAT book which I suggest anyone get.

    "From the 1850s on, the mechanical-image maker frequently was called upon to record other feats served up by the age of mechanization. The usefulness of such records was demonstrated by the documentation of Isambard Kingdom Brunels British steamship Great Eastern, an enormous coal-driven liner capable of carrying 4000 passengers. The vivid handling of light, form, and volume seen in views by Robert Howlett and Joseph Cundall of this "leviathan"-made for The Illustrated Times of London and The London Stereoscope Company-was praised because it embraced real rather than synthetic situations."


    My best guess, or future place to research would be to look up Joseph Cundall... though, maybe not for that specific photo but its possible it may have been photographed using a stereoscopic camera, though I doubt that for a portrait. It likely was being used in other photos of the visit...
     
  3. David White

    David White Member

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    thanks Christopher,

    That is indeed a great book, unfortunately not so useful for this query.
    I guess I will have to go with 'most likely camera and lens'
    best,
    David White
    www.nospin.co.uk
     
  4. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    hi david

    i have that portrait in a collection of images from the national portrait gallery in london. you might contact them, they have the image, and maybe the curator would know specifics ( lens-camera &C) and what process was used to make it ...

    good luck

    john
     
  5. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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  6. JG Motamedi

    JG Motamedi Member

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    In 1857 there wouldn't be all that many choices. Chances are the picture was taken with a Petzval type lens (although a Ross Doublet might also be possible), since these were the only lenses available in the middle of the 19th century which were fast enough for portraiture. Camera? Well, it there weren't too many design choices, it was probably either a sliding box camera or a Tailboard Bellows camera.
     
  7. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    They are outdoor portraits, so a slower lens might have been a possibility. Edge softness, though, might suggest a Petzval, but maybe not.
     
  8. David White

    David White Member

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    I am thinking Petzval definitely, which in turn will dictate the size/type of camera I imagine. what is the imaging circle of one of those lenses? How much are they? I am trying to recreate the aesthetic for my city's Brunel celebrations.

    I am having no luck finding one for sale anywhere.

    Thanks again,
    best,
    David White
    www.nospin.co.uk
     
  9. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Could be a "landscape lens" as well, I guess. The edge softness isn't very obvious, nor would it be in an outdoors setting (smaller aperture = greater all-over sharpness).
     
  10. df cardwell

    df cardwell Subscriber

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    Neat question, great image.

    Looking into my Kingslake, it seems Ross and Dallmeyer are out of the running: prior to 1859 there were no adequate lenses from Ross. After the elder Ross died, young Ross and Dallmeyer parted ways, and each manufactured their first great objectives. But all came after Howlett had died.

    A meniscus lens with a stop, or a Grubb aplanat, might be possible lenses. They were both slow, according to Kingslake. But the Petzval or Voigtlander portrait lenses were fast and good, and common. Voigtlander made a variety of focal lengths, and Petzval was nearly out of business at this time.

    My own playful shots with a short Voigtlander show that stopping down improves the corners, but speed was a real issue at the time, and the use of a longish lens reduces the amount of fuzzy corners in the final image. If Howlett was shooting outside, and had to haul around all the wetplate stuff anyhow, carrying a big lens wouldn't have broken his back if it wasn't already broken.

    If we can assume the image wasn't an enlargement, which was DONE, but not common ( according to Towler, in The Silver Sunbeam ) the plate of Brunel was about 300cm x 250cm; a little larger than the image as presented. The image looks like it was made with a longish lens, a lot like an 8x10 image from a 360mm - 400mm.

    I'd guess, then, a 300 x 250 plate, with a 450 mm Voigtlander made Portrait lens.

    As for the type of camera, I'd guess something like Frith's or Fenton's. Maybe the BJP archives would have a clue. Something this large, I'd bet it was made to Howlett's design by a cabinetmaker.

    It has to be speculation, unless there are some primary sources. He left some 14" prints, a lot of smaller ones ... did he use a couple cameras, or several ? There are many cropped versions of the Brunel that date from the time... too many questions.

    Are you planning an elaborate dress-up party ?

    Don
    "This suspense is terrible. I hope it will last."
     
  11. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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  12. David H. Bebbington

    David H. Bebbington Inactive

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    There's plenty about, David! What about this one?

    http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&category=30076&item=7531879718&rd=1

    This lens would work with 4x5", the ideal would of course be a lens for a big negative, but a lot of the big Petzval lenses seem to have disappeared.

    Regards,

    David
     
  13. Andy K

    Andy K Member

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    I have been searching the web on and off since you first posted this thread and have come up with very little, albumen prints from collodion wet plates is about the size of it.

    However, I would like to thank you for sending me on the search and my finding and viewing so many wonderful photographs from the period. I have seen many of them before (my father is a retired engineer, steam buff and Brunel afficionado as well as being an investor in the restoration of the SS Great Britain) but it was great to see them again. One of my favourite Howlett photographs is of Brunel and some of his creditors on the dock as they watched an ill-fated attempt to launch the ship.

    Thankyou. :smile:
     
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  15. David H. Bebbington

    David H. Bebbington Inactive

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  16. David White

    David White Member

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    "However, I would like to thank you for sending me on the search and my finding and viewing so many wonderful photographs from the period."

    It is a fascinating journey..don't thank me..thank people like Robert Howlett, who died aged 27 due to exposure to such primitive chemical processes, and Brunel, who was truly, truly amazing.

    I have only been looking into this for a few days, so please excuse my ignorance, but can a 'ross' lens be a 'pretzval' lens, as in a 'nikkor' can be a 'tessar'?
    I am thinking that the shot was taken with an 'outdoor' lens rather than a portrait lens owing to the better edge definition as described earlier.

    I was going to build my own camera to go with the lens anyway, but do we think it would have been a twin box sliding design or a flatter bellows construction?
    For some reason ( well, Brunel's reason really) I would like the camera to be as big as possible, which is why I asked about the imaging circle earlier.


    Thanks all for the links; great.
    I am really enjoying this thread also, thanks everyone. :smile:

    best,
    David White
    www.nospin.co.uk
     
  17. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    The edge softness I'm thinking of is visible in the first image on the NPG site at the top of the frame, although it's unclear as to the cause. If you look at the second image, the chains appear to be on a reel or a curved surface of some sort, so if the lens has a little convex (from the camera's perspective) curvature of field, and if the chains are curved the other way, that could produce that softness.

    One thing that was unclear from the NPG descriptions--there are two similar images, one like the image in the original post and another one showing a slightly different pose (I don't think one is a crop of the other). The second one has a much wider border, but both are listed as about the same size. If that's the case, it might be that the smaller one is a contact print from a smaller negative (maybe half-plate sized), and the larger one is an enlargement (either a direct enlargement or a dupe on a larger plate).
     
  18. David White

    David White Member

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  19. smieglitz

    smieglitz Subscriber

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    It is my belief they are being held in a bunker near Area 51 in Nevada.

    Joe
     
  20. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Yes, I think that would be Jim Galli's house.
     
  21. Andy K

    Andy K Member

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    A theory which may not be so far from truth if the highlighted area in this image I just grabbed from Google Earth is anything to go by...
     
  22. David White

    David White Member

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    I think you're onto something there..how do we get in?..
     
  23. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Just about everybody who made lenses in the wet-plate era made Petzval type lenses. The most famous (or infamous) case is Voigtländer, who was sent a sample by Petzval for assessment. Realising that the patent was only for Austria, Voigtländer quickly set up production in Germany, and rapidly forced Petzval out of the market and into poverty. And that's also the reason for the many lenses marked "Voigtländer & Sohn - Wien & Braunschweig".

    There were other portrait lenses too, but none as successful as the petzval design.

    Incidentally I jumped to a conclusion without checking the available evidence a few posts ago: I associated the 25x30 format with the German 24x30, while it is most likely the Imperial 12x10". This is extra embarrassing since I have a Lancaster & son "Patent Rectilinear" 12x10" sitting in my collection...
     
  24. David H. Bebbington

    David H. Bebbington Inactive

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    When surfing to see what was available, I was quite taken with this:

    http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=7532730956&rd=1&sspagename=STRK:MEWA:IT&rd=1

    A good alternative to a Petzval lens for an "old" look would be a rapid rectilinear lens, otherwise known as a doublet or symmetrical lens and easily recognized by its maximum working aperture of f8. It would be a little easier to find one of these to cover a big film (say 8x10") and if an example is in good condition it will give good sharpness and contrast in the center at full aperture, falling away markedly towards the edges, which improve considerably on stopping down if desired.
     
  25. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Also known as Aplanat, available in various versions: Portrait-Aplanat of about f:4 to f:5, Universal-Aplanat f:7 to f:8, and Weitwinkel-Aplanat usually f:16 to f:18. Good Aplanats are cheap, I paid £10 for an 1870's Steinheil #6 which has about 450mm focal length. Shorter ones are often even cheaper.

    "Reisekameras" like http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=7524543105&rd=1&sspagename=STRK:MEWN:IT&rd=1 are a great way to use these lenses. I would prefer a German 13x18 one to a half-plate purely for the availability of film. Note that the camera cost me less than the usual selling price of the iris lensmount :D
     
  26. David H. Bebbington

    David H. Bebbington Inactive

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    This thread has induced me to take a brief tour of Victorian lens design! There was considerable confusion of terminology, mainly because makers felt able to use any name that made their lenses sound good!

    In the beginning was the Petzval lens, designed specially to work at a large aperture over a narrow angle for portraits. A revised version of this by Steinheil had the name "Antiplanat", while the name "Aplanat" was also applied to the type of lens known in Britain as a rapid rectilinear (and in this form almost always had a maximum aperture of f8). This was of symmetrical doublet design, a design which was stretched out to an "extra rapid" f5.6 (but was probably rather poor at this aperture) and was also produced in a wide-angle form (maximum aperture a mighty f16). The reason I recommended a rapid rectilinear is that they are relatively common and cheap and have image characteristics which might well suit a portrait in the style of Howlett (reasonably sharp and crisp in the center even at full aperture, noticeable fall-off out to the edges).
     
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