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Adapting Vintage Meniscus Lenses part I - 35mm Cameras delivering Beautiful Soft Focus.

Jim Galli

Member
For those of us in the very small club of making soft focus images, the history and the rule is you do it with massive 8X10 cameras and film because the handful of lenses made 100++ years ago for that purpose were all made for the 8X10 portrait industry. So basically there's no such thing as 35mm soft focus. At least not in the classic style.

Minolta used to offer a soft focus lens. I have one. It was a single non achromatic meniscus, in other words a .99 cent magnifying glass. It color bands like mad with ugly purple fringes. Not a great solution. Nikon offered a sophisticated 135mm lens that allowed you to single out your sharp area and defocus front and back, but it isn't a soft focus lens, its a controlled de-focus lens with a sharp area selected.

Years ago the Pinkham & Smith folks made a soft focus lens for early black and white movie cameras. There's like 3 on earth and 2 haven't been found yet. That leaves the one Hemingway has and as far as I know he isn't parting with it. But it's superb. Something I dreamed of and have had on my ebay watch list for 15 years. Suffice to say, one has never come to auction. Karl Struss made his own soft lenses when he switched to making movies for Hollywood. Same story as far as availability.

But as luck would have it, I have discovered a source for affordable achromatic meniscus doublets in sizes usable on 35mm! For the nerds, if you want a cross section, look at drawings of the front element of a Petzval type. That's what these are. Achromatic meniscus doublet is accurate enough. Don't ask me to divulge my source because I'm trying to make an honest buck selling these on Ebay. Ebay. Ebay. If you're interested in seeing what is possible, visit my sales pages. Each page has about 8 artistic images done with these lenses. Much easier to do that than re-post them all here.

But I will post some earlier work that I did with my Nikon FE2 and Tri-X film.

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Yes! Warts and all. I don't do perfect, sorry.

These little lenses are all 90 - 120 years old and they're small enough that I just mount them in my Nikon body cap. That means to be able to use them you have to have a macro bellows. Just put the lens in the lens cap on the bellows, focus, and voila! ART! That's all there is to it. OK, maybe a little more than that, but they do offer something different than all the cookie cutter crap we're all seeing these days.



 

Jim Galli

Member
OK, color fanatics. Here's a portrait of my high school buddy, Glen done about a month ago.

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Done with my trusty OLD Nikon D200. About as high tech as I get.

 

Jerome Marot

Well-known member
Minolta used to offer a soft focus lens. I have one. It was a single non achromatic meniscus, in other words a .99 cent magnifying glass. It color bands like mad with ugly purple fringes. Not a great solution. Nikon offered a sophisticated 135mm lens that allowed you to single out your sharp area and defocus front and back, but it isn't a soft focus lens, its a controlled de-focus lens with a sharp area selected.
Minolta offered at least two different soft focus lenses, the manual focus Rokkor Varisoft 85mm f/2.8 and the autofocus 100mm f/2.8, none of which was a single non achromatic meniscus. Canon still produces a 135mm f/2.8 soft focus for the EOS mount. If you are looking for a simple meniscus, Lensbaby may have what you are looking for in their extensive collection of "low fi" lenses.

About Nikon, I understand you mean the "DC" (for defocus control) lenses, of which there exist a 100mm f/2 and a 135mm f/2. They are indeed not soft focus lenses.

Minolta also had the "portrayer" filter series, which used frequency selective coatings to soften the colors responsible for skin blemishes while leaving the rest relatively sharp. Technically, they are also "soft focus".
 

Jim Galli

Member
My bad. What I was thinking of was the Spiratone Portragon 100mm f4. Not sure where I got Minolta out of that. My brain is old.
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
Jim,

I so appreciate the opportunity to explore alternative image effects with these old lenses.

I thought in the original “Landscape” meniscus lenses, (convex to film plane and concave to the subject), one had to get down to F 16 to get a sharp image free of aberration. So do these old Frenchies have a flat element for achromatic correction?

I have an old Nikon film camera, but for me, Eos body cap mounts would be perfect. I have sent a bunch to you!


I have a new Canon Eos bellows to mount the meniscus lens to either a Canon 7D or 5 DII but I will also put a new battery in my Eos 3 film camera and have even more fun!

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Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
I also have a helical focus Canon Eos to Eos adjustment adapter that should be better for street work and the park.

Asher
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
I must say, Jim, that I really appreciate the work you have put in to mastery of real film and wet plate photography with the widest variety of soft focus lens.

You have used everything from the most prestigious Pinkham & Smith “Visual Quality” Lenses all varieties of Petzvals, Projection lenses and even odd combinations mounted in sewage pipe!

The shutter? Often just a humble lens cap, sometimes a Packard shutter and from time to time a “Doctor” or like with an actual Copal shutter!


For now, this one brings back memories of your major soft focus collection of pictures!


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Jerome Marot

Well-known member
Something else. If someone needs a simple meniscus in 35mm format, the cheap cameras from the 70s quite often used that. Look for the full plastic ones. You can probably get them for free. They often still work perfectly as there was little which could go wrong.

As to the more complex lenses, most of the time they work by under-correcting spherical aberration. The effect is to add a second unsharp image to the sharp one, and we see the sharp image surrounded by some kind of "glow". The glow is the second image. I am simplifying a bit, but this is the general idea. There were actually some filters, most notably the "dreams" from filter maker Cokin, which added a collection of low power lenses in front of the camera, the effect is also the same as the low power lenses create a second, defocussed, image.

The classical large format lenses (e.g. Pinkham, etc...) also work in a similar manner. The effect looks subtly different because not everything scales up or down perfectly in optics between different formats, but the underlying idea is generally the same. The exception were lenses designed for orthochromatic film, which used chromatic aberration and the peculiar spectral sensitivity of the film of the time.
 

Jim Galli

Member
Asher, millions of old Kodak folding cameras were produced with similar lenses. Simple achromatic doublets but as you say, they worked at f16 22 32 and 45 to produce a somewhat acceptably sharp image. If someone installed an aperture these little lenses would do the same. But if we wanted sharp pictures why would we bother with something like this. We leave them wide open and allow the uncorrected aberrations to do the magic. A tool in your tool box, nothing more. But being achromatic doublets causes all of the colors to land on the same plane so we don't get color banding like my spiratone.

When I get these, the convex element is facing forward. I reverse them for this purpose and face the convex element at the film. If you looked at a cross section of the front cemented group of the original petzval type lens, that's all these are. A very simple tool to accomplish a useful effect and very inexpensively compared to more sophisticated solutions made by the manufacturers. If I do anything well, it is that I always look for the most simple and elegant solution. Doesn't have to BE pretty. Does have to MAKE pretty.

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Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
I have obtained an helical focus adapter to allow focus of the magical GALLI-BODY-CAP mounted 100 year old French meniscus lenses!

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The Vizelex adapter, (from Fotodiox at $99), allows focus of Eos mount lenses.


So this would allow a an Eos lens to be focused on a Canon camera or using an adapter to other cameras such as the Fuji XT camera or my GFX or else a Sony or MFT camera!


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So I am so thrilled that these 3 lenses are on their way from the soft focus magician, Jim Galli

Asher
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
“115mm f3.3 juju lens, is the bigger one. 100 f4 is the smaller one. The gold one you'll have to measure because I don't have a Canon camera. Focus on infinity and measure from center of lens to image plane and divide by glass width in mm.”
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
Well, Jim,

The black rimmed lens was easiest to focus. Likely I need more distance and another macro ring. Will do that shortly.

Here is the first set of of pictures. The initial shot was under exposed and seems to show a background criss cross patten, perhaps of the sensor geometry!


looks like a canvas, LOL!
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
Well, Jim,

The black rimmed lens was easiest to focus. Likely I need more distance and another macro ring. Will do that shortly.

Here is the first set of of pictures. The initial shot was under exposed and seems to show a background criss cross patten, perhaps of the sensor geometry!

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the image above looks like a canvas, LOL!




But with better exposure

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Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
Lovely. hope you have some fun with them.
Thanks Jim,

Why the “GRID EFFECT” in the underexposed first image?

As to the larger meniscus lenses you

made for me, I have to add a macro ring to get the other lenses to focus better, if that’s the issue.

The little black lens seems to be 50mm according to the EXIF but I haven’t actually measured it! [its actually 100mm F 4.0].

We need to see how it looks in B&W as to me, softfocus classically is best in monochrome.

Asher
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
Now let’s see how they look processed the same way to B&W with a sepia finish in Topaz B&W effects

I optimized the process for the Galli-French Meniscus

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and then applied that correction to the image from the Canon 1.2L


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Jim Galli

Member
I like the $58 picture better. But of course I'm biased.

Here are 3 new images done with the Juju lens before I mailed it to Asher. These are haunted, every one.

HauntedForest_01s.jpg


haunted forest

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light on grasses

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wheat grass with looming shadow

Better get busy Mr. Kelman. No pressure. These are just D200 files. Tweaked of course.
 

Jim Galli

Member
Asher, if your EXIF data says 50mm f2 that is some kind of default in the camera. You'll have to go into the menu's and choose NON-CPU lens and tell the camera it's 100mm f4. The camera has no way to know what it is. It's a body cap! If your default with no info from you is f2 that explains the under-exposure.
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
Asher, if your EXIF data says 50mm f2 that is some kind of default in the camera. You'll have to go into the menu's and choose NON-CPU lens and tell the camera it's 100mm f4. The camera has no way to know what it is. It's a body cap! If your default with no info from you is f2 that explains the under-exposure.
Thanks for the 100mm f4.0 correction!

The camera didn’t give an f-stop, just thr default 50mm!

Will have more work in the morning!

Asher
 

Jim Galli

Member
Thank you. I just saw the light twinkling in those grasses and nailed it. Those were on one of my fire wood trips to the Nevada outback.
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
All the above pictures by Jim used a Nikon and I used a Canon 7D Mark 1.

I will start a new thread using the same adapter Same helical focus mount, (or the clunky bellows adapter), but on on the Fuji GFX MF.

Asher
 

Jim Galli

Member
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Happy Hall-O-ween everyone.

New today. 165mmf4. This one would cover 4X5 but this is just the old Nikon D200. Quick-N-Dirty
 
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