Petzval 80.5mm f / 1.9 MKII review: a superb vintage-style lens

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Just over a year ago, Lomography released the 180th Anniversary Edition of the Petzval 80.5mm f / 1.9 MKII Bokeh Control Art Lens which promised many improvements over its 85mm predecessor. It looked like it would put a historic goal back into the hands of creatives at an affordable price of $ 549. Then ?

The 80.5mm f / 1.9 MKII Art Lens with Bokeh control has been in development at Lomography for about seven years and is finally available for the Nikon F and Canon EF mounts. While the “base version” comes in three different colors, the bokeh control model I reviewed here is only available in black aluminum.

Besides the color limitation, the real difference between the base version and this bokeh control version is the ability to control the amount of swirling bokeh effect in the images using the bokeh control ring that goes from 1 (barely noticeable) to 7 (maximum bokeh). I feel like raising the scale to eleven was a missed opportunity, but we can let that go for now.

The original Petzval lenses from 1840 were previously only adaptable to large format cameras until Lomography began rebuilding them for digital systems in 2013. In doing so, the company sought to bring back the old “romantic” aesthetic. Of the first portraits. Even though this particular lens was intended for the Nikon F mount, its adaptation with the FTZ mount made it quick and easy to use on the Nikon Z mirrorless system without any issues.

Since the lens weighs only 440 grams, it’s easy to balance on a gimbal, which could make it quite a fun lens for videographers to use. For the purposes of this review, however, we’ll focus on the lens from a still-shooter’s point of view.

Build quality and design

The Petzval 80.5mm lens doesn’t look that different from any other manual lens apart from the built-in lens hood and metal lens cap. It does have a few notable differences, though: the bokeh control ring at the end of the lens, and the “slide plates” you can insert to change the shape of the bokeh, if you decide to go further.

The focus, aperture, and bokeh rings each have good tension which I noticed when making adjustments, so you shouldn’t have to worry about drifting due to gravity or positioning. However, since these three rings are of the “no click” style (meaning there is no noticeable click when making changes), you should check your settings if you are about to take an important photo to make sure no rings have slipped. .

I found that when shooting freehand it was easy to accidentally hit one of the three rings slightly while moving. Other than that cautionary moment, the lens performed well and overall it was nice to shoot. Aesthetically, the lens is also robust. Even the paint on the lens body and the lettering seemed almost impossible to scratch. It is clear that the Lomography team took their time with the quality of the presentation and the look of this lens.

Something that concerns me about the longevity of this optic is the lack of waterproofing or weather protection. While the lens appears to be pretty well designed, the fact that there is no mention of weatherproofing on the official site and the lens has a bokeh pattern insert leads me to believe you should be very careful using this lens outside in the “elements” just to be sure water does not get inside.

It’s also worth noting that the bokeh control version of this lens cannot easily have an ND, polarizer, or any other type of threaded filter mounted on it. In my testing I didn’t need it, but I can absolutely imagine situations where an ND filter would be useful. Maybe in the future this could be something that could possibly be redesigned in the home section for bokeh control. The base version of this lens lists a 62mm thread for the filters, and the Bokeh control version would have a 67mm thread (at least on the Canon mount), but in either situation they’re not easy to fit. place or remove.

Focus and aperture

The lens has an aperture range of f / 1.9 to f / 16 and each of those stops looks as expected from a quality standpoint. That said, with a lens like this, it’s a little hard to imagine why you would want to film it more than wide open, as it detracts from the lens of having it the more you close that opening.

When you shoot at f / 4 or higher and with minimum bokeh control, it honestly looks like any other 80mm lens. When you’re at f / 3.5 and shallower, that’s when the true nature of the lens begins to shine. Still, I can see the benefit of a lens that has the ability to deliver extremely unique visuals while still being able to transform into something more “normal”. This adds to the ease of use of the optics.

When shooting wide open, you will experience a soft focus and a distorted vintage feel, which is probably why you would choose something like this lens in the first place. With that in mind, be prepared to take plenty of extra photos to be sure you’ve hit your focus, as it can be easy to miss. This brings me to my next note on a learning curve – The Bokeh Control.

I’ve never used a lens like this before, and at first it really turned my composition game upside down. As I learned to use the lens, I admit that there were a lot of photos deleted in the review process. As I mentioned above, the bokeh control allows you to go through seven levels of bokeh, with level one being roughly the same as you would see on a standard f / 1.9 type lens and the level seven pushing the maximum bokeh effect. Since I wanted to treat this as a vintage style lens, I shot at f / 1.9 and pushed the bokeh dial all the way to seven.

What I discovered is that with a lens like this you have to throw your conventional training for composition completely out the window.

Notice that her forehead and hair are outside of the “safe zone” and blurry here.

To keep things “sharp” with these settings, you actually need to make sure your subject is in neutral in the frame. Even if your camera tells you that the focus is near the edges with full focus, once you take the photo the edges will be filled with swirls and bokeh. When I treated the Petzval 80.5mm like any other portrait lens, I messed up a bunch of the early frames until I managed to make up for that.

Once you’ve changed your thinking about composition, taking photos with this lens can become a lot of fun with the 80.5mm soft focus and amazingly swirling bokeh patterns.

Image quality

If you happen to use this lens at f / 4 or higher, it behaves and returns results like any other primary lens of this focal length on the market, except for the very outer edges of the frame. which will always display a small amount of indications. -the bokeh swirls and vignetting that Petzval lenses are designed to produce. I took quite a few pictures in this f / 4 to f / 16 range and they were all very similar to the sample image below.

As long as you stay focused, the image is sharp. Colors come out of the camera a bit cooler than normal, but that’s easily offset by the post if you want to warm things up.

f / 8 Bokeh level 1
f / 1.9 Bokeh level 7

As you can see from the examples above, the difference between “normal” and “real Petzval” is pretty extreme, and I have to say… I love it to the extreme. The thing to keep in mind with this lens is that if you use it as it is meant to be used, only your “center mass” will be in focus. When you do, your photos will be soft, dreamy, and full of amazing bokeh.

Also, if you want to get a little more creative with your bokeh patterns, the lens allows you to insert bokeh slides containing pre-cut shapes, moving the patterns from the soft oval / circle to something entirely new. In the package I reviewed, the lens came with three inserts that allow you to add a star, diamond, or heart pattern to your shots as shown below.

Sample images

A wonderfully enjoyable goal

After almost a year of not really shooting due to the pandemic, not only did working with this lens require me to adjust my framing mindset, but it actually inspired me incredibly to get out and about. shoot more as a whole. I found myself capturing more images of things that I would never have seen before as a subject, all because of how bokeh patterns can make things so crazy and interesting.

The Petzval 80.5mm f / 1.9 MKII SLR Bokeh Control Art lens is available in the Lomography Store for $ 549, which puts it somewhere in the middle of other prices for “normal” 85mm lenses ranging from $ 200 to $ 800.

Things i loved

  • The ability to control the amount of bokeh is interesting and fun
  • Solid metal body and lens hood
  • Smooth and stable aperture, focus and bokeh rings
  • Sharper than I expected when shooting from f / 4 to f / 16
  • Small and light
  • Useful for video
  • Affordable price considering the niche market
  • Click-free rings work well
  • The paint seems very scratch resistant

Things i didn’t like

  • Quite large learning curve
  • Cannot easily mount ND or other filters
  • Focusing can be exceptionally difficult, especially when shooting at wide aperture
  • No weather resistance

Are there any alternatives?

Petzval lenses are a very specialized style with the only real rival for something as unique and interesting as Lomography lenses would be the Lensbaby line, and while Lensbaby has some incredibly fun and interesting products, I don’t think they do. have anything that really rivals or compares to the Petzval bokeh models, nor the flexibility or sharpness of this lens.

Should you buy it?

Yes. The Petzval 80.5mm f / 1.9 is suitable for both professional and creative purposes, and – perhaps most importantly – it’s just a blast to shoot.


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