Review of Book on 19th Century French Lenses

c1843 lens by Chevalier courtesy of Camera by Todd Gustavson, published in 2009

Toronto. I did this review for Bob Lansdale back on August 3rd, 2013. At the time, the author had sent the book to Bob for review and write up in the journal Photographic Canadiana. This the review I wrote at the time.

Berthiot Chevalier Darlot Derogy
Hermagis Jamin Lerebours Soleil
Photographic Lenses
of the 1800’s in France

Corrado D’Agostini (author)
Caroline Elo (translator)
Copyright 2011 by the author
Published by Bandecchi & Vivaldi, Italy

This 371 page coffee table size book is published on high quality coated paper. The full colour pictures of French lenses (including many very rare examples) from the first century of photography are worth the price of the book. Copies are available from the author for 80 Euros plus shipping, or via for $149 US [$159 USD used in 2017 plus shipping. Also available from Camerabooks on the West Coast of the USA for $139 USD plus shipping.]

The book suffers from rather poor proof reading in this English edition. The translation seems to drift back and forth between French terminology and English. And neither is consistent. The occasional Italian word is left in and the odd sentence seems to be duplicated with only minor changes.

The book addresses photography from the apparatus perspective, especially the manufacture of lenses – all brass and glass in those days. The author traces the discovery of the elements necessary for a successful photographic process to a desire to print images. Before a successful solution evolved, books used lengthy textual descriptions and line drawings. After the Daguerreotype process was announced, considerable effort went towards making better quality lenses and images. This was followed by improved methods for the conversion of photographic images to printed images in books and newspapers.

The short history that precedes the optical workshops – or Ateliers – covers their evolution from makers of microscopes, telescopes, and scientific instruments to makers of photographic lenses. As photography was a monochrome process throughout the 1800s, the opticians addressed flatness of field and the reduction of spherical and astigmatic aberrations along with closing the gap between so called optical and chemical focus (a lens that is in focus on the ground glass will not necessarily be in sharp focus on an emulsion sensitive to different light waves than the eye).

The size of camera plates varied widely and lenses where rated for plate size (coverage) and focal length as well as aperture. The book suggests convertible lens (kit lenses or in French, trousse) were more common than single focus lenses. For example, a portrait lens of shorter focal length could be converted to a longer focus landscape lens by removing an element.

The book offers a section on the eight major French optical houses of the 1800s as listed in its title. A ninth section covers  the lesser French optical houses, ending with a truly amazing list of opticians so minor they merit only a single line of text. A separate section by author Ugo Menichini at the end of the book reviews some convertible lenses in added detail (even the odd none-French lens is included like that of Germany’s Emil Busch).

Besides the challenge of quaint English (or French) translations, I found the use of single  columns of justified text very difficult to read (the book is bound on the shorter edge making for great pictures and crying out for two or even three columns of text). And the frequent use of dark Wedgwood blue pages with darker blue or black text was very hard to read by incandescent light – nearly impossible to these old eyes. While there is a good bibliography and each section ends with foot notes, an index would be of great help.

With invention of photography in France the choice of a book on 19th century French lenses is logical. The author intends to publish two further books on lenses of the 1800s – those from German and those from British optical houses. For further details or to see other book reviews do a Google search on the author, Corrado D’Agostini, a professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Florence.


This entry was posted in book, lens and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.