The lens produces minor barrel distortion, little vignetting and minimal colour fringing, even in image corners on a full-frame body. Fringing generally goes unnoticed anyway due to the significant amount of blurring towards image corners. Centre and edge sharpness start to increase at around f/4 and f/5.6 respectively. However, the lens gives its desired effect at wide apertures, so you’ll usually shoot in the f/1.6 to f/2.8 region. Looking more like a trumpet than a camera lens, the Petzval 85mm Art Lens is a crowd-funded collaboration between Lomography and veteran Russian firm Zenit.
The lens takes its design cues from Joseph Petzval’s Victorian optic, and suitably enough, it looks like something you’d buy at an antique fair, with its brass barrel and a geared rackfocusing system that features a thumbscrew. A black version is also available, but it’s more expensive at around £550/$700, and doesn’t look like it’s been recycled from a shell casing.
The ‘Waterhouse’ aperture set is similarly antiquated: you insert plates near the rear of the lens to stop down from the wide-open aperture of f/2.2 all the way to f/16 in single f-stop increments. Special aperture plates for shaping defocused elements are also available. The number of glass elements used in the lens isn’t specified, but the secret formula enables a sharp area at the centre of the image, with vignetting and a swirly bokeh effect towards the edges.
The lens isn’t blindingly sharp at the centre, but gives a beautiful look to portraits. The vignetting is subtle on FX cameras and negligible on DX ones. Similarly, the swirly bokeh is reduced on a DX body, but still looks fabulous.