Condition of vintage (SOFT FOCUS) lenses
It’s obvious that vintage glass rarely turns out to be flawless but what kind of defects on (SF) lenses can be ignored and which not? What about scratches, chips and separation … will they affect the image and show up in the final print?
While we're on it, could you please throw in a “TOP 10” or “TOP 5” of famous SF brand names? Hopefully, some can be used on a 8x10 field camera …
Many thanks in advance,
If you're looking at real soft focus lenses, as long as the condition isn't dreadful, you're okay. Meaning, a little separation around the edges is no big deal, but two elements that are completely separated so you can't really see through them would need to be cleaned and recemented to be useful.
My favorites are the Wollensak Verito and the Voigtländer Petzval. The Petzval isn't really a soft focus lens, but it's a nice portrait lens with a lot of curvature of field, so you can get some interesting pictorial effects. I also like the Voigtländer Heliar, as you can see from my avatar, but it's not a true soft focus lens either, though it produces an almost three dimensional separation between the sharp and unsharp parts of the negative, which is a great classic effect. The Universal Heliar is a true soft focus lens with soft focus control by means of a ring that moves the internal fifth element.
For 8x10" portraits, a lens of around 14-inches or 360mm is usually a good choice, but you can go longer if you have enough bellows, and you could go as short as maybe 10" or 250mm, if you're okay with a bit less working room, but it's not a dramatic difference. Because you're really in the macro range when making a portrait with 8x10" or larger, rules about using a lens that's twice the "normal" focal length for the format don't apply in the same way as they do for 35mm or medium format. Ron Wisner had a good article about this at one time, but I don't believe his website is up any more. It might be floating out there on some internet archive site or in the google cache.
In addition to those David mentioned, I also like the Rodenstock Imagon, a simple 2 element Achromat that uses disks with variable holes (like a "sink strainer") to vary the softness. I use both the 420mm and the 480mm for 8x10.
first off, welcome!
there are a few large format pictorial lens users here
hopefully we can answer some of your questions and point you in
the right direction for finding info here on the web ...
i am not sure about the top ten or five
but wollensak made many many portrait lenses
in its day. some of them were better than others.
often times they were based on a lens design ( like a petzval )
or a rapid rectalinaer.
some of their names began with the letter V
for example vitax ( fast f3.8 ) was based on a petval
and it had a de-focus knob ( which are sometimes sheered off )
the defocus knob moves the rear element back and forth
to give a soft effect, if the lens is stopped down, sometimes
they are frozen too.
the verito was based on a rapid rectalinaer and could be used as a convertible
the veritar was a coated and slower version of the verito ...
there was also the versar, varium, volta and others ...
you can get a good idea of what lenses were available
by poking around seth broder's website cameraeccentric.com
he has vintage catalogs from the manufacturers with information
about focal lengths, and converted focal lengths ...
some of the wollensak lenses came in a barrel ( no shutter ) others
were mounted in a "studio shutter" that uses a long throw shutter release ( or a degroff! )
it was a simple shutter that people often think is broken or useless when they describe a lens they don't know about.
some of the older lenses were mounted in pneumatic shutters, newer ones were in betax shutters that had variable shutter speeds
and the veritars were often mounted in modern alphax shutters.
some folks like to use the 14" lenses that cover 8x10 for 5x7 cameras so the camera isn't in the face of the sitter
and the next size up for 8x10 ....
have fun and good luck!
Also, google "jim galli" to find his website where he demonstrates the effects of various classic soft focus lenses.
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If you're interested in Pictorialism and need a lens that will fit on an 8x10 field camera--I'd suggest a 14 1/2" Wollensak Verito. The Verito is a good choice for pictorial landscapes, portraits, and stopped-down--it's sharp enough for general use. It's not a small lens, but will easily fit on an 8x10 field camera and it's not too heavy. It's a convertible lens, so if you remove the front element, you have a 24" soft focus lens. It won't be inexpensive, but it's affordable and a good value. The Verito is available as a barrel lens without a shutter, or in a Studio shutter. If you find one in a Studio shutter, there will be a good chance that it's broken. That's ok, as long as the aperture function works--you must have a working aperture with a Verito because the aperture controls the degree of diffusion. That leaves you with the question of how to deal with no shutter or a Studio shutter with a maximum speed of ~1/25 second. I use orthochromatic litho film because it's slow and develop it for continuous tone or shoot with wet plate (the insane option). Another option is the use of a large Packard shutter. Petzval lenses are another interesting option, but not really classic pictorial lenses.
My Wollensak Vitax is huge. I can't imagine the average field camera would handle it. Not because of the weight [it's mostly air] but it needs a big lensboard. I think a Sinar size board would be too small.
I'm wondering when did these lenses go out of fashion? Mine was caked in enough dust to grow a full farm. Studio shutter was no better. It all came apart for cleaning but it wasn't a pretty sight in the beginning.
I'm guessing many of these lenses have been sitting unused in cases for a long long time.
The only defect I've found that is a show stopper would be one that some one got after with a Brillo Pad. Scratches, some balsam seperation at the edges, even 1/4 inch chips doesn't seem to hinder much.
As to favorites......they are all like a beautiful women. Who wants to choose? Ya gotta love them all. Yesterday I made platinum prints all day from negs made with a $48 lens. But I still think my Struss was worth the 1.5K I paid.
No want or need to list the Top Ten and start a bidding war but I will try to explain the types to look for.
First, the simple magnifying glass, completely uncorrected and a pain to place an aperture in front of BUT can have an interesting look to it.
Next, the simple meniscus, very popular as a portrait lens, these can run from very soft to more than sharp enough, usually expensive. Spencer Port-Land, Grundlach Portrait Meniscus, Pinkham Smith, Straus, Imagon, Fuji SF, Kodak Portrait Lens 4.5.
Next, Petzval, not really soft-focus but do have a curved field and lovely fall-off, a very nice look, from historically collectible expensive to fairly cheap.
Next, oversized RR/Aplant, purpose built to f/4 for portrait work. These are the most highly prized and expensive SF lens and are too large for a field camera. Pinkham-Smith, Hyperion, Eidoscope, Nichola Perscheid, Portrait Euryscope.
Next, oversized modified RR/Aplant, purpose built to f/4 for portrait work. These are highly prized and fairly expensive SF lens and are too large for a field camera. Verito, Veritar, Photoplastic Portrait, Plastigmat Portrait.
Next, the Cooke Triplets, these were very popular and made by most companies, from f/3.5 - f/5.6, with or without adjustable soft-focus, and from very highly prized to unknown, unloved and unwanted. TTH Cooke, Varium, Cassar, Hypar, Sigmar.
Next, the modified Cooke Triplets, Heliar and Tessar. These are not soft-focus lenses, actually professionally sharp but the OOF rendering is soft and smooth. They usually come with mega-blade apertures for a perfectly round iris which makes the transition from the focus plane to the OOF very distinct leading to a very 3 dimensional rendering. Most of the 360mm and longer appear to be optimized as studio portrait lenses. This could be why they are THE most popular portrait lenses used across the planet. Heliar, Tessar, Ektar, Xenar, Ysar, Raptar.
Last, the dialytes, Unar and Dogmar. These are normal lenses but B&L did make an adjustable soft-focus Portrait Unar and the Goerz Dogmar is triple convertible and very soft when converted. The process lenses may have a nice look but they are not soft-focus and usually too dark for portraits.
All of the above will lose their soft-focus look by f/11 and should be completely sharp by f/22.
Hope it's a help.
One very slight note to Pauls excellent listing above. I would not group the earlier Portrait Euryscop f4 with the later purpose built lenses like Eidoscop and Nicola Perscheid. The Euryscop is not soft even at f4. It's black magic how Voigtlander did it but it acts more like a sharp anastigmat while the others were designed to be very soft at f4. Prices haven't been too bad on the Euryscops and I'd hate to see them raised falsely because folks think it's going to work like a Pinkham IV. Beautiful lenses, but not soft focus.