Was there really a portrait lens?

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A recent thread asked the question, "Was there really a lens designed for portraiture?" I am amazed that most answered 'no' which is incorrect. There WAS such a lens and I used it for thousands of portraits in the late seventies. The lens was made by Kodak and the name Portra-Ektar seems to ring in my memory. It was an amazing lens in that if you stopped it down to minimum, it was very sharp. If you shot it wide open, it was a fuzzy as puting a half-inch of Vaseline on your front element of your super-sharp APO-Whatever! We used it for portraits by testing what f-stop to use to just take the edge off the super sharpness that delineated every 'zit' on some persons face. As I recall, we used it at about f-11 or f-16, and the image appreared sharp but just soft enough to mush out those 'zits'! We used Photegenic portrait strobes and balanced the strobe light out put to match the exposure for the F stop we were using. It was a magnificent lens, designed specifically for portraiture. I will make some LD phone calls to try to find out the correct name and focal length and post it on this site. For portraits....it was one helluva lens. To answer the question about a lens made for portraits...the answer is not yes, but hell YES. And a a fine one at that! Richard Boulware - Denver.

-- Richard Boulware (boulware-den@att.net), November 06, 2001



I believe the lens you are describing was called the Portrait Ektar. It consisted of 1 group of 2elements positioned behind the shutter. Kodak wasn't the only one the have similar portrait lenses. Wollensak probably had the largest line of soft-focus portrait lenses. They had a number of different models such as the Vesta, Vitax, Verito, and Velostigmat, to name a few.

Of course, any of these lenses could be used for any purpose. They weren't limited strictly to portraiture. During the era of the Pictorialists, it was quite common for photogs to shoot almost anything and everything with these lenses. Many of the photo oriented publications of that era show many soft-focus landscape and architectural photos. As a matter of fact, the "fuzzy-wuzzies" (as Ansel Adams called them) used and abused the soft-focus portrait lenses so badly, that they were probably instrumental in the formation of Group f/64.

So, even though the original intent of the soft-focus lenses was for portraiture applications, they were eventually used in many other areas. Give a photographer a little room to work, and they will find some screw-ball use (or misuse, depending on how you look at it) for a lens.

-- Ken Burns (kenburns@twave.net), November 06, 2001.

Lots of 'em on eBay. "Kodak Portrait Ektar."

-- Wilhelm (bmitch@home.com), November 06, 2001.

Whoa. It's the Kodak Portrait Lens. Period. No Ektar!

Two of them: 12" lens recommended for 5x7, and 16" for 8x10. The 12" came mounted in a No. 5 Ilex Universal Synchro Shutter, while the 16" was supplied in barrel only. Both are Lumenized [coated].

Both lenses are f4.5.

-- Alec (alecj@bellsouth.net), November 06, 2001.

You also have the Rodenstock Imagon in focal 200 mm for 6x9, 250 mm for 4x5" and 300 mm for 5x7". they are build in to elements in one group back of the shutter.

-- C Schmerber (c.m.Schmerber@wanadoo.fr), November 07, 2001.

Ken Burns: Are you the same Ken Burns who makes those nice documentaries on PBS? It's an honour to have you participate in the large format forum!

-- Andre Noble (andrenoble@yahoo.com), November 07, 2001.


No, I'm not the one who did the documentaries. Sorry.

-- Ken Burns (kenburns@twave.net), November 07, 2001.

Take a look at this:http://cgi.ebay.com/aw-cgi/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem& item=1292523149. I have an Imagon for my 4x5 and LOVE it!!!

-- Scott Walton (scotlynn@shore.net), November 07, 2001.

Richard brings up a good point about softening the zits and other imperfections. A lot of the promotional literature for the old (and new) soft focus lenses emphasizes the reduction of retouching--a costly expense for every portrait studio. Portrait customers have always expected the photographer to remove real or perceived flaws in their portraits. I believe studio portrait photographers cared more about this feature than making distinctive artistic images.

-- C. W. Dean (cwdean@erols.com), November 07, 2001.

I have a 300mm Imagon for my 5x7. Mounted in the old Compound #5 shutter, this is a great kit for portraiture. You get the 5x7 format, which is not only an ideal shape for portraiture, but also is very well suited to contact printing. It's a good size as well as a good shape, plus you have the Imagon, maybe/probably the most flexible of all the classic portrait lenses (the Wolly Verito and Kodak Portrait are very well thought of -- see above answers, etc.).... There is a crucial CAVEAT with respect to the Imagon-300-for-5x7 kit: Imagons come with three diffusion-varying disks that mount on the front of the lens. All three are dandy for various purposes, but the one that provides the greatest degree of diffusion (and which for that reason often gets the most work) ONLY COMES WITH (WORKS WITH) THE OLD COMPOUND #5 SHUTTER! Only the older Imagon 300s came in Compound No. 5; the newer ones came in Copal #3 -- a lovely shutter, but the center hole in the largest of the three disks is too big for the Copal #3 to cover! That later Copal kit doesn't even come with the big disk. Another point: The older Imagon 300s came with a green filter, inasmuch as the lenses were made with black and white portraiture primarily in mind. The newer ones, made in the color studio era, come with a neutral density filter (or two?). Being in black and white only, I'm happy to have the old green filter (no problem if you don't; they're about as easy to find, separately, as the Abominable Snowman). Finally, pay no attention to those who say negative things about the old Compound No. 5 shutters. They do go on the fritz, but they're almost impossible to kill, and very reparable/adjustable (reasonable rates at Grimes, too). Massive, yes, but amiably so. -jeff buckels (albuquerque)

-- Jeff Buckels (jeffbuck@swcp.com), November 07, 2001.

If anyone wants to see a photo of a 12" Kodak Portrait lens, there is one on ebay at http://cgi.ebay.com/aw-cgi/eBayISAPI.dll? ViewItem&item=1295111021

-- Ken Burns (kenburns@twave.net), November 08, 2001.

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