Petzval 58 / by Luke Lee

One Lens, One Camera, One Photographer

This time, it's Petzval 58.

If you've followed my instagram feed, you already know I've been playing with this lens.

It's a beautiful golden lens. It was a head turner. Very bright at f1.9 but almost unusable at that aperture as it gets extremely hard to focus  with its knob and somewhat blurry view through the EVF.

To be honest, I struggled a lot. It was different experience than using Voigtlander 40mm f1.4 Noktor. That lens was much easier to pre-focus and was easy to nail it even at f1.4. But this, this is not an easy lens. Given it's age, I guess I should have assumed that.

For me, it was lack of information on top of the lens. When the lens is manual, you don't look for information in the viewfinder, you are looking at the lens for them. However, it has lack of it. You have no idea where you are focused or how much depth of field you have. For aperture value, you gotta know what aperture ring you have just put in the lens, and for focusing, you have to turn the knob at the bottom of the lens while looking through the viewfinder. You can't pre-adjust it by looking at the focus distance on the lens, well, it doesn't have one.

The light naturally falls off at the edges and you can control the amount of that imperfection from the lens. It does pop the middle of the frame quite a lot and you can play with it for sure. But if you like putting subject off from the centre of the frame... well, you don't buy this lens because of it's image quality.

March of the Photographers

Colour is very neutral. It doesn't pop any colours initially. I can think of using an older lens that has not been overly well preserved. No, this lens does not suck though. When you are stopping down to like f4 or slower, you get a really good sharpness overall. But when you are using faster aperture values, sometimes you wonder 'what the hell have I bought this for'.

In the post processing, you do appreciate though, for neutral colours. And also you realise, the lens didn't kill the colours, but preserved it underneath. You know that, at least, it's better than the cheap bundle lenses that just kills the colour data. It's not a killer colour popper, but it doesn't kill colours like cheap lenses. But you can't expect great colour performance straight out of the camera. So you just make peace with it and let that one go.

Then you should realise. This lens is not something you buy because of the quality. If you were looking for a popping colour, a finger slicing sharpness, edge to edge clarity, you shouldn't have been looking for old design lens. You buy this lens because it's interesting. Some might say a toy lens. But hey, this was not a toy when it first came out. The quality just got better, that's all.

The hardest thing for me with this lens was focusing.
The focusing knob is not as accurate as rather modern focusing ring. I've used other manual focusing lenses, but this one is beyond the level of those. You just can't have that accurate focusing with this knob. I tried to turn it slowly, then it skips bits occasionally. It's not like turning the focus ring of these manual lenses and find the sharp point. It's more like using a diopter dial and trying to nail the sharpest point for your eyes. Not so user friendly. Probably why the design didn't last all this years.

However, after a while, you realise, how much of the sharp focused photos you have grown used to over these years of digital photography. You can open up some of those older photography books and you find out, focusing is only part of the photography, not everything. Slowly, realise that fact and let that one go.

So it has come to an end. At the end of the day, I'm wiping off the sweat on my forehead and putting the lens out of the camera, replace it with Zeiss 55mm f1.8. An ultra sharp top of the line quality lens with fast native AF. It becomes so easy to take photos. I'm not even thinking and the camera (or should I say computer) does the job for me.

I think this is why we are starting to look retro and going back to the hard way of doing things. Modern technology is great. It is accurate, fast and very efficient. I would appreciate it when I'm on a job. I cannot miss things and because as a person, I can make mistakes, time to time, I need help from good gears that can do the thinking for me.

But, when it's not critical. When I'm not on a job, and trying to be creative. I take things that aren't as intuitive any more. Things that are now aged and not as common to find around. Petzval 58 is definitely not an easy lens. I've basically given up using it wide open. I've given up getting accurate colours or focus. I've given up expecting uber sharp photos. It's not an impressive game changer of a lens.

It's fun. It's different. It's hard and it's old. It's something we are loosing. An analogue soul.

No I'm not selling this lens. I might change the mount adapter though. Mine sucks.