Soft Focus Portrait Lens
After reading Mr Whitaker's excellent demonstration of the Wollensak Verito soft focus lens at:
I poked around the web for more info on this fascinating class of lenses. There isn't much info out there. I'd really like to get a modern example of this lens but can't afford the Cooke PS945. I see Fuji also market a softfocus lens that uses discs. Does anybody here have experience with these -- or another modern sf lens? I'd love to see a presentation similar to that done for the verito by William. What's the down side to the discs? I've read of unnatural artifacts in the highlights -- any comments?
Last edited by GaussianNoise; 11-18-2004 at 05:37 PM. Click to view previous post history.
Reason: ok, got it right this time.
There are some great old lenses out there like Voightlander Heliars that can be picked up that have very interesting soft effects for portraits. Also probably are a lot cheaper.
David Goldfarb can probably give you information on that.
I couldn't think of anything witty to say so I left this blank.
I have a Verito (actually just bought a second one, but I haven't used it yet--it's at SK Grimes for mounting), and I really like it.
Each soft focus lens has its own character.
Lenses like the Imagon and the Fuji use "sink strainer" disks so that it is possible to limit the amount of light entering the lens without correcting for spherical aberration (the cause of "soft focus") as would normally happen when stopping down a lens. I personally don't like the effect of the Imagon--too mushy for my taste--but it may work for you. Out of focus highlights always take the shape of the aperture, so if the aperture looks like a sink strainer, so will the highlights.
As you might guess from my avatar, I'm also a fan of the Heliar, but generally the standard Heliars in a focal length a bit longer than "normal" for whatever format I happen to be shooting. The Heliar effect usually has the subject in sharp focus, with a very smooth background, and an almost three-dimensional quality. There is also a soft-focus Heliar--the Universal Heliar--which has a movable middle element that makes it possible to adjust the extent of spherical aberration.
The Graf Variable also has this kind of adjustable soft quality.
Ansel Adams used a Spencer Port-Land for a while, which was soft wide open and sharp stopped down.
The Nicola Perscheid is a famous soft-focus portrait lens, but I've never seen a photograph made with one--they are too valuable as collectibles, I think.
The Beach portrait lens is another possibly interesting one. I've seen a few portraits by Beach, and they are interesting.
The new Cooke lens is based on the Pinkham-Smith lens, which was popular in the age of Hollywood-style glamour portraiture. It came in different versions for different effects. For the price of the Cooke, you could buy an 8x10" camera and a classic lens, and arguably have a better tool for the job. The advantage of the Cooke would be, if you happen to like the particular effect that it gives, and the modern sync shutter. With older lenses, you may have to add strobe sync to a primitive shutter (around $125 when I've asked about it), use a Packard shutter behind the lens with sync, or use open flash technique (which I've done), or alternately use continuous lighting.
John Nanian has a few soft focus lenses--Verito, Veritar, and others, so I'm sure he'll register an opinion here.
Originally Posted by David A. Goldfarb
The more I look, the more I like the effect produced by the verito/veritar. Sounds like the Heliar lenses give substantially the same effect -- no? Is it also the result of spherical aberation -- as with the verito?
It's a different look. The Verito is more diffuse wide open and doesn't quite have that sharp/soft contrast that the Heliar has. The Veritar is also something else. I find it a little mushier than the Verito. The Heliar also gets sharper and sharper as it stops down, and the Verito does too, but it's not as "crisp" stopped down as a Heliar (which may or may not be a bad thing).
Spherical aberration is the main thing that produces the soft effect with most soft-focus lenses, but there are other aberrations that contribute to the "personality" of one lens or another. One of these days I'll shoot some comparison shots and post them to show the differences, since I have a 360mm Heliar, a 14.5" Verito, and a sharp lens or two in that focal length range.
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Originally Posted by David A. Goldfarb
I'm a big fan of the Imagon because it gives extrem variations with 3 discs and without discs and it has a wonderfull 3D look to.
I also have the Universal Heliar like it also much but need to use it a bit more to really know it especially his soft part is a bit tricky in the beginning, as it is with any other SF lens. You have to do a lot of testing so you really learn your tool!
I did a similar test with shorter lenses a while back: 120 Angulon, 135 Planar, 135 Eurynar, 150 Symmar, 150 Heliar, 150 APO-Lanthar.
I've sold the Symmar, and relegated the Eurynat to "display duty".
-- Ole Tjugen, Luddite Elitist
i have a vitax, verito and 2 veritars. they are all 8x10 lenses ( 14 & 13.5 " ) but i use them on a 5x7 camera. the second veritar ( 10" - 5x7 lens) that i have for 4x5. the veritar lenses were made in the 1950s, and they were coated modern version of the older verito lens. from what i understand it uses both chromatic and spherical abberation ( or so i have been told ) to create its soft effect when shot wide open, and as the lens is stopped down, as with most soft focus lenses, the image becomes much less soft. i don't want to say completely sharp, because there is still a tinge of softness, but all the same, it is more like an anastigmatic lens when stopped down. the vitax is a petzval design which is what a lot of the 19th century lenses were, before the rapid rectalinaer lenses became popular. it has a curved field and is pretty fast ( f3.8!) and there is a knob on the side that you can turn. the knob moves the rear element to "defocus" the image, so if you stop down you can still soften the image. sometimes i shoot it wide open, when i want that effect, and sometimes i shoot with it stopped down to f8 or even f22 and defocus a little bit. it really gives a nice smooth and creamy look. the vitax, like the verito is in a studio shutter, which works well if you are taking low light portraits, but not very useful if you want to go outside and do enviromental-work. i use 300WS novatron monoblocks with a "medium" chimera and a 42" larson enterprises soffbox. i don't use the strobes, but the modeling lights, and it works really well with these older lenses. the veritars i take outside, since they have working variable speed shutters.
i find veritar portrait lenses on FEEbay from time to time and post a "heads up" when i remember. there aren't many of these lenses around, in good working condition, and they do not sell for thousands, but hundreds of dollars. if you like the cooke lens, one of these early 20th century "classics" might also work well for you.
before i forget, jay tepper always has a huge selection of soft focus/portrait lenses on his website: http://www.jay-tepper.com . he has a bulletproof return policy ( you don't like it for whatever reason i'll take it back and refund your $$ no questions asked! ) it might be worth checking out what he has, rather than surfing endless hours on FEEbay do get duped by a seller who has no idea his lens is missing a knob, or has a broken shutter or ??? the last i checked, jay had a vitax in a barrel for sale on his site
oh, i almost forgot, there is a guy at http://www.cameraeccentric.com/ who has a bunch of portrait lenses on his site including a verito lenses in betax shutters ( i think mark wangerin uses a betax mounted verito ) there are also catalog pages on his website where you can read what the folks at wollensak said about their lenses
Last edited by jnanian; 11-19-2004 at 09:46 AM. Click to view previous post history.
I have several Veritos in different focal legths and really like the results this design produces barely stopped-down between f/4-5.6. There is a glow to the image at that point which disappears as the lens aperture is reduced further.
Originally Posted by David A. Goldfarb
I also owned a Veritar at one point but sold it. The Verito had this diffused glowing quality while the Veritar was simply a soft lens IMO. I agree, the Veritar was "mushy." The Veritar lacked the magic.