that’s how the light gets in – II

Petzval Portrait lens – first popular photographic lens design – early 1840s

Toronto. When the Daguerreotype process was announced in January 1839, it was so slow that only still life and landscape views could be recorded. The news of the process speed resulted in a two direction thrust: chemically, to enhance the process in order to increase its speed of recording; and optically, to design a much faster portrait lens for the camera.

The decision to improve the portrait lens speed was via an announced award by the “Society for the Encouragement of National Industry“. Their challenge was taken up by amongst others, Chevalier and Petzval. Chevalier’s design won gold (but was soon forgotten), while Petzval’s, at the university in Vienna where he taught, won silver and went on to be a great success. In spite of no design experience, Petzval designed an f/3.6 lens of 150mm focal length with the prescribed flat field, etc. The submitted lens was manufactured in Vienna by the optical house of Voigtlander and later by many other optical houses. This lens was about 20x faster than the original Chevalier lens. (See the previous post on Chevalier’s 1839 lens.)

And like I said in that post: To read more, pick up a copy of Rudolf Kingslake’s “A History of the Photographic Lens“, (1989) or  Josef Eder‘s epic “History of Photography” (1932, 4th edition) translated by Edward Epstein and published in 1945 by Columbia University with the Dover reprint in 1978.

NB. The title is a line from Montrealer Leonard Cohen’s song/poem  “Anthem“. I have enjoyed his music and poems for over a half century now. This version is from his last world tour and was recorded in London, England.

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