looking for "bad" lenses !

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I want your bad lenses ! Hey ! Don't laugh ...I am looking for old lenses that are suitable for impressionistic / dreamlike landscapes similiar to the recent work by Sally Mann. She says she uses old barrel lenses that leak light, vignette, and are uncoated. Outside of buying scores of lenses and experimenting, does anyone know of particular lenses that would lend themselves to this type of photography ? By that I mean, there are "bad" lenses...and then there are bad lenses. Photography is moving so quickly towards the whole ultra-sharp, digital look.... I want to go the opposite direction.


-- john david pope (jdpope@fastband.com), January 24, 2000


Hi John, here is the secret to the crazy shot, and you can use your current lens. You get a skylight filter. Then get some clear laquer in spray can from the hobby store. Spray some laquer into the lid until you get a pool. Dip into the pool with the head of a straight pin. Dab the laquer onto the filter then turn the filter over so the laquer dries in a blob. Pimple the surface of the filter with the spots averaging from 1/8 to 1/4 inch a part. Then shoot to see if you like the effect. You can clean the filter off and rearange the spots too. That ought to produce enough flare for creative effects.

-- david clark (doc@ellensburg.com), January 25, 2000.

Older enlarging lenses can give ineresting results, and they're cheap.

-- Dave Brown (db1@sisna.com), January 25, 2000.

Hi John: Try some of the add-on closeup lenses made for 35mm cameras (use them without the 35mm lens). The kind that screw in like filters. I have used the +2 in an old barrel with good results. You may need to glue the lens in with epoxy. Also use magnifying lenses. I have seen some of Sally Mann's work that looks like magnifying images, with only the center section of the neg sharp. Doug

-- Doug Paramore (dougmary@alanet.com), January 25, 2000.

You need to look for lenses made in the 19th century to get the kind of images you are talking about. Anything made after 1900 is almost certain to be too well corrected. Maybe your local camera store has an old, old view camera on the top shelf used as decoration, that has a suitable old lens.

-- Ron Shaw (shaw9@llnl.gov), January 25, 2000.

This works when the temperature and humidity are right. Breath on the lens so the water vapor in your breath condenses. The expose AS the condensation evaporates. Timing is important - the exposure should be long enough to get both "fogged" and "unfogged" parts.

That said, go to antique stores and dig around and buy any of the old scary looking lenses you can. I have a convertible with some sort of internal fungus or something - a smokey - milky appearance, that will not make a sharp image - unless I convert it and remove the "offending" element. It's kinda hard to describe the "de- focused" effect but it is sortta neat if you like that kinda thing.

You might try shooting through crinkled clear cellophane for part of the exposure and so on and so on and so on.

-- Sean Yates (yatescats@yahoo.com), January 25, 2000.

This is different than 'soft focus'. It is a lens with a very narrow circle of coverage, and becoming poorly corrected off axis as well, like lenses from the 19th century. On axis corrections and sharpness, however, are still fairly decent.

-- Ron Shaw (shaw9@llnl.gov), January 25, 2000.

If you haven't already, I suggest you try working with pinholes. They can have a unique 'dream-like' quality and softness. They work well with large format due to limited enlargement. An 8X10 contact print is remarkably 'sharp'. I think they work best in B&W. The price is right and you don't need a shutter, an aperture cap will do.

-- Gary Frost (gfrost@home.com), January 25, 2000.

You don't say what format you intend to use but generally old large format portrait lenses in focal lengths of 9" and larger may give you the "look" you're after. These are tricky lenses as the image quality changes with different f stops and at different working distances--many variables requiring a bit of experimentation. Many pre 1900 lenses are quite sharp despite design advancements that came later around the turn of the century. Nevertheless, portrait and pictorial photographers kept the softer lenses popular well into the 20th century. Look for names like Pinkham-Smith, Spencer Port-Land, Wollensak Verito, Wollensak Vesta, Wollensak Versar, Graf Variable, and, of course, the Rodenstock Imagon. Some of these are most difficult to use and learn as the ground glass focus is not the same as the developed image on the film, hence the term "chemical" focus. These are often trashed as "bad" when, in fact, they work fine when you learn the focusing correction methods. Further, you can get interesting results with single elements of certain doublets, but with a loss of some speed.

-- C. W. Dean (cwdean@erols.com), January 25, 2000.

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