Petzval Kickstarter: Hipster photography reaches new heights with 1840 all-brass lens

New York-based photography specialists Lomography have already raised five times their goal to manufacture an all-brass camera lens from 1840.

James Vincent
Friday 26 July 2013 17:18 BST

A Kickstarter campaign has been launched to bring back to life one of the oldest modern camera lenses. Invented in 1840, the Petzval is famous for taking unique pictures that Lomography – the company behind the campaign – say are “near impossible to achieve using Photoshop and filters”.

Launched yesterday with funding ending on August 24 the campaign has already raised more than $500,000 – five times its goal – with just under 1,500 backers.

Photos taken using the Petzval lens are distinctive because of their narrow field of focus and ‘bokeh’ effect that makes objects in the background appear blurred in a circular pattern.

A photography taken with the Petzval lens

This is due to the lens’s large aperture and 85mm focal length which means that only a small portion of the image is completely in focus. Whereas modern lenses are designed so that the whole picture is in focus, the Petzval lens effectively blurs the edges of the image, drawing the eye towards the centre and creating captivating portraits.

When the Petzval was first introduced it revolutionized photography. The Daguerre & Girouz Camera (the first ever mass-produced camera, introduced in 1839) had a long exposure time meaning early photographers had to wait up to ten minutes to take shots even in bright sunlight. The Petzval, by comparison, was twenty times faster and produced photographs with a much sharper focus.

The shallow field of focus makes for engaging portraits

The redesigned ‘Lomography Petzval’ will work with both digital and analogue modern cameras and fits on to Canon EF and Nikon F mounts. Lomography are hoping to ship the first 1000 lenses to backers by December 2013 before they put the Petzval up for general sale.

Lomography: An analogue movement

If anyone was able to launch such a campaign it's Lomography. Not only have the analogue photography specialists already had one succesful Kickstarter campaign (for a smartphone adaptor to scan 35mm film) but they first made their name with the reinvogration of a classic analgoue camera.

Launching twenty years ago as a photographyic community, Lomography was born out of the discovery of the Lomo LC-A camera by a group of Russian students. The students loved the quirky and unpredictable photos produced by the cheap plastica camera, and sought out other models produced by the now-defunct LOMO company.

The Diana F+ is perhaps the most well known camera associated with the company. This 1960s design classic soon became a cult hit, with its heavily vignetted snaps beloved of fashion photographers and camera nerds alike.

Embraced by celebrities from Elijiah Wood to Neil Gaiman the Lomography movement continued to grow and grow, and with the introduction of apps such as Instagram and Hipstamatic the aesthetic behind the cameras hit the mainstream. Sepia tinted, blurred, scratched and messed up photos became the norm.

In part the Lomography movement can be seen as a rebellion against the digital clarity of modern cameras. As sharp focus and perfect colour-reproduction became the norm they also became boring, flat, and artificial. Young consumers now associate authenticity with the 'unpredictable' looks of filters - ignoring the fact these are generated by algorithims, as routinely regimented as possible.

The irony that Lomography's attempt to rediscover an analogue and spontaneous mode of photography has been hijacked by a mass-produced digital world of computer-generated filters is probably not lost on the project's founders but hey, who really cares when the pictures look this good.

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