Pictorialism and Leitz

April, 1980 portrait with Leitz Thambar and a Leica M4 camera

Toronto. A century or more ago a trend in photography called Pictorialism took place and photography merged with art resulting in soft, slightly fuzzy and some times grainy images in monochrome tones usually other than black.

Leitz belatedly responded with their 9cm portrait lens called Thambar. The Thambar first hit the market in 1935 and by 1949 it was gone.  Less than 3,000 were made but the strange lens missed the pictorialism movement. After the war years, interest shifted to sharp images once again. The f/2.2 soft-focus Thambar used peripheral spherical aberration to create the softness when the lens was used near its wide-open apertures. A special disk with a silvered spot was used to block central light rays.

I picked up my 1938 Thambar in December 1979 during one of my casual lunch-time walks downtown in Toronto. The massive industrial looking lens was like a 200m Telyt in design – black with a bit of soft chrome. The Thambar was difficult to use effectively – one had to experiment with f/stop, lighting, etc. Without the silvered spot filter and stopped down, the lens had the characteristic Leitz sharpness.

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