Bokeh Dreams…The Petzval 58 1.9 Bokeh Control Art Lens Review

BOKEHDREAMS

Bokeh Dreams…The Petzval 58 1.9 Bokeh Control Art Lens Review

By Steve Huff

All images here were shot with the Petzval 58 1.9 and Sony A7RII. 

I have been shooting with a lens that looks mighty familiar to me in design and looks. Brass, VERY Old School and unique in the way that you change aperture and even focus the lens. That lens is the new Petzval 58 1.9 Bokeh Control lens, and to me, it looks like a smaller version of the Lomo 85 Petzval  f/2.2 Art Lens, but this 58 1.9 is actually, IMO, a much better lens that the 85. When I was asked to review this lens I assumed it would be like a 58mm version of the 85. Soft wide open, low contrast and washed out colors.

Nope. Not only does this 58 1.9 offer me sharper images (ONLY at the focus point though), it also gives me more contrast and better colors than I remember getting from the 85 Petzval. But in addition to this, we get full Bokeh Control where we can dial it in on #1 and get a nice smooth-ish Bokeh or we can go to #7 and get swirl city.

When set on #7, this lens delivers SWIRL like I have never seen before. Click it for larger and see his face is pretty sharp, wide open shot. 

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Thanks to Joseph Petzval and his swirly Bokeh from the 1840’s we are now being able to purchase a replica of sorts, but even better as the original Petzval had ONLY massive swirl where this recreation gives us choices of Swirl Level with a focus ring type of dial on the lens barrel, allowing us to dial in what we want. Pretty cool if you ask me. When Lomography put up the kick starter for this one, they reached the $100,000 goal within FOUR HOURS. This tells me that there are plenty out there looking for something different, and this just may be the most unique lens I have ever touched, used or owned (yes, I am buying this one).

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Truth be told, these types of lenses are usually very gimmicky, and this one is no exception. Even so, I LOVE this lens and can not bring myself to let go of it when I am done with my review time (which is why I am purchasing my demo model) as to me, it sort of reminds me of another lens I adore, the old Canon RF Dream Lens (See my review here, and 2nd look here). While not the same, both of these lenses offer something that I like to pull out of my hat from time to time, and that is 100% UNIQUE rendering that not many of us use, or see often in everyday photos.

The 58 1.9 comes in a fantastic package with book, manual, pouch, Waterhouse aperture plates and a Brass cap. $749

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I have a history of shooting, testing and really liking small, prime and unique lenses. While many will ay “THAT BOKEH IS NASTY”, I say “THAT BOKEH IS UNIQUE” and in the right scenario, can look quite nice. Artistic, as I said, unique and different. I like my shots to be different from everyone else and seeing that most these days shoot with phones, a lens like this would make some of those phone shooting young ‘ens ask “HOW DID YOU DO THAT”?

Click images for better versions!

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Now of course a lens like this is not for every day use. If you did end up using this lens every day for two weeks, you would tire of the look and you would be frustrated for missing some shots, as it is 100% manual focus and that Bokeh is wild, meaning you really need your subject in the center-ish area of the frame to be in focus. Take a look at the shot below and see that one face is out of focus due to being out of the sharp area of the lens, which is dead center:

Click it for larger, swirl on 7

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Same here…swirl on 7

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So in reality, for me anyway, a lens like this is meant to be on your shelf for those days, times and moments that you want to be a tad more creative or want the swirl. Speaking of swirl, I know that many out there hate swirly bokeh, and many out there also love the effect from time to time.

THE SWIRL – IT’S ALL ABOUT THE SWIRL but you CAN DIAL IT OUT! 

This lens is so cool as it gives you a choice with your Bokeh. It has seven settings  though I admit, I was using either #1 or #7. From mild to wild. Setting 1 will give you an old school smooth bokeh but you will still have a little swirl in the corners. This is not a “corner to corner” sharp lens..if you want this, grab a normal 50mm f/1.4 and stop down to f/5.6. Those seeking any kind of perfection, stay away from this one as you never know what will pop up on your LCD when shooting a lens like this. As I said, it can go from MILD to WILD.

Here you can see what I mean. On Setting 1, below, you still see extreme blur mostly at the edges. Even this is unique and delivers a very interesting look. But when turned up to 7, the swirl really shows up..

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And now on 7 – behind the lamp you can see more swirl as this will be directly behind your subject.

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You can see that this lens is doing some crazy things at each setting. It’s a wild lens but it’s also quite charming with its old school all Brass construction.

NIKON or CANON MOUNT ONLY! BUT, IT CAN BE ADAPTED TO SONY!

The Petzval 58 1.9 is made for Nikon or Canon mount. I have a Nikon mount version in Brass, and the lens also comes in a slick-looking shiny black. But I will choose brass as the 1840’s originals were all brass, from what I understand. If I am going to buy a vintage lens recreation, I want it to look like the original as much as possible. In fact, while out shooting this lens I had three people approach me to ask me what lens I was using. One guy thought it was an antique lens I somehow managed to adapt to digital. When I showed them what it was and how it worked they were very intrigued and gave a huge smile. It’s just so different from the norm that in this day and age of black zoom lenses and iPhones, the Petzval really stands out with its striking looks and design.

Image one is set to 7 for swirl, image two is set to 1 and the 3rd image may be somewhere in between..

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WHO IS THIS LENS FOR?

At $799, this is not a cheap $250 lens. It shouldn’t be as the construction all brass quality is stunning. The design is very old school and there is not any other lens like this in production. It’s worth the $799 but only to the photographer who wants to think outside the box. The person who wants DIFFERENT and UNIQUE. The guy or girl who sees the beauty in the SWIRL and the old school 1800’s Bokeh. I have seen some great work with this lens, and my experience is limited to a couple of days shooting so far but I already know I am hooked. If I sent this back to cameraquest.com I would miss it one day when I wanted this style and look.

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If you shoot with a Canon or Nikon DSLR I could see this being a little challenging to nail the focus as I never found MANUALLY focusing with a DSLR to be very good. I prefer using a good EVF for that and the Sony A7RII that I am using it on makes it able to 100% nail the focus, every time. I feel Lomography should start making these in E mount as well as they are made for it, so it seems when using it. So if you shoot Canon, Nikon or Sony, this is a lens you can shoot with. The Sony Nikon adapter I have is from Amazon and cost me $13. I use this one and it works perfect. 

I dig this lens more than the 85 Petzval (My review HERE) for its smaller size, better IQ and Bokeh Control as well as focal length which I prefer to 85. So for me, I love the new 58 and have  told Stephen Gandy he is not getting this review sample back, and to charge me for it. Yep, I bought it. Because sometimes, on some days I just want to go to dreamland with my photos and this is a lens one can grow with, learn its nuances and characters..and then, when that happens you will have a lens that will reward you with surreal beauty when you take your shot.

I mean, C’mon! Sometimes you just need to break from the norm of perfect sharpness and “create” instead of “snap”.

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WHERE TO BUY?

My lens came from CAMERAQUEST.COM. You can order it or take a closer look at it HERE. The price is $749. They are now IN STOCK and shipping!

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MORE INFO FROM CAMERAQUEST:

After Joseph Petzval introduced his iconic lens in 1840, portrait photography flourished. Now, 175 years later, it’s your turn to explore these first footsteps of photography with a handcrafted lens combining historical design and modern, yet original, Russian optics.
We’ve taken the best features of the New Petzval Art Lens to the next level: The New Petzval 58 Bokeh Control Art Lens comes with an unprecedented Bokeh Control Ring paired with a versatile 58mm focal length. Together with an f/1.9 maximum aperture, these traits will let you explore new photographic paths. For the first time ever, you have total freedom over the blurred areas in your pictures thanks to the Bokeh Control Ring that lets you determine the strength of the Petzval’s swirly bokeh.

Boasting a shiny varnish black or brass body, the New Petzval 58 Bokeh Control Art Lens is great for all different types of photography. From captivating portraits and busy streets scenes, to impressive architecture and wide landscapes, every image showcases harmonic color saturation and fine contrasts.

Just like its predecessor–the New Petzval 85 Art Lens–the New Petzval 58 Bokeh Control Art Lens features a classic gear rack focusing mechanism and Waterhouse aperture plates for a truly 19th century-like photographic experience.

Compatibility:
The New Petzval 58 Art Lens comes available with Canon EF and Nikon F mounts, which means it’s immediately compatible with a whole host of analogue and digital cameras. You can also pair the New Petzval 58 Art Lens with many other analogue and digital cameras, like the Sony A7 for instance, by using adapters which can be purchased separately.

Package includes:
New Petzval 58 Bokeh Control Art Lens Brass or Black
Standard Waterhouse aperture plates
Front and rear lens cap
Leather Pouch
Photo and manual book
Instruction manual
Features:
Focal Length: 58mm
Aperture: Waterhouse aperture stops, f/1.9, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16
Image Circle: 44mm
Field of View: 41 degrees
Optical Construction: 4 lens elements in 3 groups
Lens Mounting Profile: Nikon F or Canon EOS EF
Electronic Contacts: No
Closest Focusing Distance: 0.6m
Focusing Mechanism: Gear Rack Focusing
Filter Thread: 52mm
Bokeh Control Levels: 1 (minimum swirl) to 7 (maximum swirl)

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25 thoughts on “Bokeh Dreams…The Petzval 58 1.9 Bokeh Control Art Lens Review

  1. I’m wondering how you would compare this lens to the Lensbaby Velvet, yet another all Bokeh all the time lens. I’ve found the Velvet to also be very hit or miss. When it works, it works brilliantly. When it fails, it fails utterly. I’m still playing around with the lens, usually staying away from the f1.2 maximum because wide open the lens delivers all blur, all the time.

    The Velvet comes in at a lower cost than the Petzval as it forgoes brass for more traditional steel. It’s a hefty piece of metal and glass with more a traditional focusing and diaphragm set up. It seems to be in the same category of “different” but also different from the Petzval. Your thoughts?

  2. The Imagon gives much nicer results and can be found second hand for less money than $750.
    It does not make this fuzzy look but a sharp core with an overlay of dreamy highlights in a degree chosen by the photographer with perforated front discs much, much easier to use that these unpractical Waterhouse inserts. It might help “to sell the product” but it will be a PITA to use.
    Sure, nostalgia helps to make money nowadays. I always wondered why Ford did not issue back in modern times their venerable Ford T, but with air bags and what is neeeded for safety on the road.
    I am sure that nostalgia would bring many people who cannot afford a true oldtimer car, to buy one of these recreations. To pay $750 to Mr.Gandy for one of these old/new hybrid creations might be OK for rich people who do not care about expenses. My choice of best artistic photographic pictures combining sharpness with dreamy bokeh is the already mentioned Imagon, far, far superior to the pictures shown here.
    By the way Mamiya offers similar (perforated disk) working lenses, Fuji does it as well and there are interesting lenses for 35mm cameras with variable soft focus, alas at too expensive prices in the second hand market, again because of dealers making money out of nostalgia,
    Whoever has enough time and enjoys tinkering about, will obtain very interesting results by removing single lenses of any old lens he might have (lenses without any value) and this practically at no cost, just investing time and patience in a joyful way. He will obtain as much swirl and the kind of bokeh he likes. I would never buy such a lens even if the price was lower. THANKS to this site for showing me the “results”. IT IS VERY CONVINCING!

  3. Every time any “swirl bokeh” lens comes around half of the answers are “I got a headache just by looking at the picture”, “I’m dizzy” and so on.

    If a simple picture makes you feel THAT sick, I recommend a visit to the internist or neurologist.
    Also, calling what is clearly a one-trick pony (even when it is said in the description and the article) “one-trick pony” like you’ve just cured cancer with your wit gets old very quickly.

  4. Not that I don’t like swirl back ground…but this one doesn’t look good… Many old lens at much cheaper price does a much better job (Once I used included Kern / Cooke / or even Soligor Television lens)

  5. I mention it from time to time on this site, but I too own a one trick pony 58mm…my rokkor-x f/1.2 – costs quite a bit less than this, but doesn’t swirl. The “bokeh” however from f/1.2-5.6 however is phenomenal. Just thought I’d throw my 2 pennies in. I too understand a lens that does one thing…interestingly.

  6. Why someone should pay so much money for a one trick pony / lens? I guess most buyers soon will be fed up with the image effect and never use the lens again.

  7. Wow, just terrible bokeh, almost immediately gives me a headache…would never buy one of these especially since there’s probably a digital filter that will do the same thing without spending $750. For that kind of money you can buy a Zeiss 50mm f2 ZM.

    A lot of money to spend for a one trick pony.

    1. same here, just looking at the pics make me feel dizzy ! except the black and white … so there is maybe something to do with this lens after all 🙂

  8. Cool review, Steve.

    I am curious how would this compare to Lensbaby’s new Twist 60 which should be really soon in early May? It looks like it would give the same swirly background with sharp center point focus just like this Petzval at less than 1/2 the cost. Comes in Sony E (as well as Canon & Nikon) mounts.

    It does not have the cool all brass old school build as the Petzval, but, for considerably less in cost ($280?) and with very similar “special effect”, to me it looks like it would be worth the trade off.. plus, you don’t have to swap out apertures, just turn the ring like a normal lens… and I think the build is more compact which may make it even easier to use. It’s a 2.5 vs 1.9, however, but I don’t think that less than half stop will be that much of a difference.

    I’d be interested to see what you thought if you were interested in comparing the two.

    Keep up the great work on your site.

    1. I like the effect, but obviously not for every photo and not everyone’s cup of tea.

      Still, I think it has a place and it could be fun to use this creatively if you’re in the mood to produce unusual looking photos.. most of the effect could be replicated in Photoshop probably, but not 100%.. I think a lot less work to just take a photo with such a lens than to dabble to much time in Photoshop to try to make it look like this.

      I think the point of this lens is having fun and being creative with the effect it produces, maybe missed by a number of readers here.

      At close to $800, it’s admittedly a bit steep for a lens you’d probably use far less than any other in your collection.. if you have the money and like the design and appreciate the unique look it can give you, it’s all good.

      As I wrote earlier, I think I’d go with a Lensbaby Twist 60. A 60mm f2.5 lens with near, if not exact, identical effect for less than half the cost of the Petzval… I feel it would be a more worthwhile investment as the entry fee to play around with such lens effect is a little easier to swallow. It’s not f/1.9 like the Petzval, it’s f/2.5, but it is 60mm so I think the look basically balances out and equals. It doesn’t have the cool all brass design, but I think the more compact and easier design could make it more attractive and usable to more.

      I think the Petzval and Lensbaby offer the same type of image rendering, but the Lensbaby does so at a lower investment cost.

      What would be even better, perhaps, is if you were interested in playing around with a circular swirly background or any other lens effects would be to get the Lensbaby Composer with swappable optics.. You can just get the Twist 60 optic (as oppose to standalone lens option, they have both options) and swap out for one of many other optics for a variety of effects plus the lens can tilt which adds to the possibilities for using creative lens effects. In the end, you’ll get more for your money to be able to interchange optics and effects.

      Yes, I know many regard Lensbaby as being on the pricey side, but overall, I think it’s within reason if you’re wanting an all in one type of product for creative lens effects.

  9. I like the second picture… shows the reason for a lens like this…. but its so specialized, I can’t see buying this to use it once or twice a year… but that’s just me of course…I’m happy this lens exists.

  10. Personally that “swirly” bokeh gives me a headache just looking at it. Not attractive at all (to me).

    1. Have to agree, I’m afraid. Pity, it looks as though handling it would be like cradling the crown jewels.

  11. There’s no question that it’s a unique and interesting lens. It would be nice to play with one, but I’m not sure I like the the circular bokeh effect enough to actually purchase one. Aside from that, the in-focus area does seem to be sharp and sufficiently contrasty.

    1. Yes, get the Fotodiox pro Nikon F to Leica M adapter. It’s about $40 and what I use. FYI you ‘have’ to have a Leica M240 etc (not the M9 or film) to focus using Live View.

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