Large Format Photography Vintage Lens Project
I am actively working on a project to create large format contact prints with each of my vintage lenses so you can see the optical characteristics and learn a little about the history and technical details of each lens.
For the first phase of the project I am shooting the lenses wide open at maximum aperture in my darkroom studio using the scene that you see to the left of this text.
I am currently using Arista EDU Ultra 100/Fomapan 100 B&W sheet film tray developed in my version of D-23 and I am making large format silver gelatin contact prints developed in my version of D-72.
In the next phase, I will be creating a variety of different images ranging from stopping down for sharper images, to dialing in soft focus effects, both in the studio and outdoors so you can get a good sense of how each lens performs in different scenarios. I am surrounded by over one million acres of the Mark Twain National Forest in the rolling hills of the Missouri Ozarks that is full of freshwater springs, rivers, mills, barns, and epic landscapes, so finding new subjects is never an issue.
I was originally drawn to vintage lenses because of Pictorialism photography. I felt like photographers during this era in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were creating highly emotional art versus simply "taking" a photograph or documenting something. I am sure this comment makes Alfred Stieglitz very happy as he worked tirelessly to elevate photography to the same level of other art.
To a large degree, I still feel the same way today, nearly 40 years later and this is one of the core reasons I continue to make silver and platinum prints in the darkroom and use vintage lenses from the 19th century.
Once I understood vintage lens designs better, I really embraced the errors "aberrations" from each period even more. Over the years, I have acquired a variety of large format lenses ranging from the mid-1800s to modern-day 21st-century lenses and I have included some of them on this page. The vintage lenses are very special to me for a couple of different reasons.
First, when compared to modern-day razor-sharp lenses the vintage glass helps me stand out from the crowd and create unique photographs that help me portray my true inner feelings about my subjects.
Any lens from 1900 and forward is capable of making very sharp images, so I am most interested in lenses from 1840's to 1899. These lenses can range in price from reasonable to increasingly expensive.
It really isn't about being unique for the sake of being unique for me, it is about realizing a vision that I have in my mind's eye. While I can appreciate the razor-sharp images of today, whether they be digital or analog, it just isn't my style. This is probably why I make my own silver gelatin emulsions by hand and pour my own glass plates, paper negatives, and film.
I seek out the so-called errors in the various lens designs within each period and find ways to exploit that within my artistic expression in a positive way.
The Wiki page History For Photographic Lens Design provides a nice summary overview of the many different optical designs since the beginning of modern photography.
I had my phase of doing that only to realize that it will never work. Every creative person needs to follow their true vision and everything else will fall into place over time.
Secondly, I simply love anything that is old. I quite possibly could have been born 100 years too late.
If they only had air conditioning in the mid 19th century, I would transport back in a second.
My personal preference is to use plain (only sensitive to UV and blue/violet light) or orthochromatic type emulsions (insensitive to red) that is hand poured on dry plates or paper negatives. Because that workflow is so slow, I elected to use modern panchromatic sheet film and commercial silver gelatin paper in order to be able to work though this project a little faster. Once I make complete a full pass through my vintage lens inventory, I will select the lenses that I like the most and then use those with my handmade emulsions, dry plates, and papers.
Most of the photographs on this page are taken with my Chamonix 8x10 View Camera or my 100+ year-old Eastman View No. 2 8x10 View Camera. I have several reducing backs that I use for my Chamonix view camera to include the 5x7, 4x10, and 4x5 formats, making it very versatile with a variety of different lenses and I have a 5x7 reducing back for my Eastman camera. I have a Sinar Copal Shutter that allows me to have a shutter for my barrel lenses.
MY LARGE FORMAT VINTAGE LENSES
Cooke 13" F4.5 Series II Variable Soft Focus Lens
I am actively photographing with the vintage lenses listed below as well as researching the history of each lens. If you have information about any of the lenses, connect with me.
Kodak Portrait Lens 305mm (12 in.) F4.8 in No. 5 Universal Synchro Shutter
Rodenstock Imagon F5.8 200mm in Copal 3
Zeiss 135mm F/4.5 Jena Tessar Compur BT
Goerz Red Dot Artar 12 inch 300mm F9 Apochromat Barrel Lens
Friedo Wiesenhaven, Hamburg, F8 Effwee Aplanat Extra Rapid Lens
Cooke Series V F8 5x8 9.2 inch Lens
Nikon Nikkor 240mm APO F9 Process Lens
Voigtlander Heliar 30cm/300mm F4.5 Barrel Lens
Bausch & Lomb 20 inch 508mm Lens
Rodenstock Monar F3.5 Lens
Wollensak Velostigmat Series II F4.5 7 1/2 inch Lens
Wollensak Verito 14 1/2 F4 Soft Focus Lens
SINAR COPAL SHUTTER