Photo: ...Descending...
Pinkham & Smith Visual Quality Motion Picture lens-- 75mm f/3, on Nikon D3


Here you will find information on my use of soft-focus and Pictorialist lenses, and my techniques for mounting, using, and processing images from these lenses in this very digital world.

In addition, I will expound from time to time on the subject of "The New Pictorialism", and the development of a reflective style in current circles. Topics from Google Plus posts will find a home here, and perhaps some relative permanence in the ever-renewing world of social networking.

--Bruce Hemingway

Friday, November 25, 2011

So what is "A New Pictorialism"? ...Part 1...

My interest in the period of photography known as Pictorialism began when I found a copy of the Taschen edition of Camera Work / The Complete Photographs 1903-1917 in a local bookstore. The question of why some of these photographs resonated so strongly with me became a quest for understanding of the styles and the context of photography at the beginning of the twentieth century. That in turn led me to study the birth and development of photography in its entirety.

My background as a musician and composer (in my youth) had given me some understanding of the development of styles within the context of prevailing social and economic forces.  Further, my background as a technologist has sensitized me to the dynamic relationship between a developing technology and its use by artists. My childhood love and familiarity with the Monet collection at the Art Institute of Chicago set a resonance with qualities I found in the work of the Pictorialists, particularly the work of Stieglitz, Steichen, Kasebier, Clarence White and Fredrick Evans, all of whom were exhibited as part of Steiglitz' Photo Secession.

So, in a series of occasional posts, I will try to articulate those aspects of Pictorialism that I am trying to use in my own work, as well as to mention those things that  do not transfer to A New Pictorialism. On the way, we'll look at some examples, both old and new.

Stay tuned!

Morning 1908
Clarence H. White
Camera Work 23

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Darlot Pillbox Meniscus lens

Darlot Pill Box Meniscus lens, circa 1860-1880, about 180mm

A. Darlot was a French optical company, founded in the 1850s as Jamin-Darlot in Paris. In 1860 it became Darlot. It made camera lenses, marked "Darlot, Opticien" or "Darlot Paris" and the initials "AD" of A. Darlot, the letters crossed as logo.  B.F. & Co. refers to Benjamin French & Company, who were the sole U.S. Importers of Darlot lenses for many years.

This lens is a Pill Box simple meniscus landscape lens, which Darlot manufactured from about 1860 to about 1880. This lens is probably from the latter production.

The Pill Box design uses diaphram washers held in by a retaining mechanism, allowing the user to change washers to stop the lens down. Invariably, only the installed washer has survived. However, pictorial usage of such lenses dictated that the entire end cap be removed, so that the spherical distortion could be appreciated for its diffusion effects. My copy of this lens has one washer stop, which gives me the following apertures (roughly estimated):

  • With the end cap removed: f/5
  • End cap on, no washer: f/11
  • Washer installed: f/20

Here are some example images:
Washer installed-fully stopped down

Retaining cap removed- wide open

wide open

wide open

six image stitched- wide open lens- CameraFusion back
in color
I also have the Darlot-manufactured Puligny Adjustable Landscape lens featured in another post, as well as a Darlot No 2 Hemispherique Rapide lens and a Darlot wide-angle landscape lens. The latter two are entirely too sharp for my tastes.

A smaller mount for old lenses

While using a Linhof as a shift-tilt camera mount for a Nikon D3 (previous post) is useful, it is also bulky and heavy, and requires a tripod. I came up with this setup to use the same Linhof III lensboards.

In making my Linhof setup shown in the previous post, I had bought two scrap Linhof III bodies for parts, along with many used lensboards and blanks. I was able to put together one complete camera from the parts, and had a front standard left over. I added an old M42 bellows unit, some extension tubes, and a Nikon mount adapter. I used a series of step-up rings to obtain a front opening large enough to accommodate the lens opening in the Linhof board holder and epoxied the rings to the board holder.

Detail of lens mount and bellows, with Darlot PillBox Meniscus lens, about 180mm


  • This setup is no harder to hand-hold than a 300mm f/2.8 telephoto lens, and can be dropped in a shoulder bag when on an outing.
  • It is quite sturdy, and accommodates lenses of at least 12" focal length. I can add more extension tubes if necessary.

  • Only the center 24mm x 36mm of the image area is available to the camera. Many of these old diffusion lenses vary in their lens qualities from center to edge, both in diffusion effects and in fall-off. The larger image area is the biggest advantage to the full Linhof-Camerafusion-D3 combination.
  • No shift or tilt. I was not able to include those parts of the Linhof front standard because of space constraints. The full rig gives me the Linhof lens movements. For even more movements and longer draw, I can use the Camerafusion back with a Cambo 4x5 body, with extended 35" draw, and Linhof adapter board. That rig will accomodate much larger lenses.
This simple rig has proved to be an excellent solution to using smaller classic and soft-focus lenses with my available cameras. Now, where did I put that Universal Iris Lens Clamp?

L-R: Pulligny Adjustable Landscape lens w. case; Imagon 200mm; Graf Variable 8.5-9.5"; Verito 7-1/4"

Using large-format soft-focus lenses with the Nikon D3

To use large-format soft-focus lenses with the Nikon D3, I have developed several systems. This one uses an old Linhof III body with a CameraFusion digital sliding back, made by This back allows the digital camera to slide in two dimensions, and obtain images which can be stitched together into a large image, roughly the size of a 4x5 film negative.
Linhof III, 240mm Heliar, CameraFusion sliding back, Nikon D3

240mm Heliar on Linhof III, wonderful portrait lens

CameraFusion horizontal position slider, in centimeters;  0 is center of 4x5 film area

CameraFusion vertical position;  50% is center of 4x5 film area
Rear view of CameraFusion, D3 in upper-right corner position of film area, lower-left position of image
I have used this with many different lenses as shown in other posts. I also use the CameraFusion back with a studio Cambo 4x5 and very large lenses, like the Wollensak Velostigmat  Series II F4.5 12"lens, the Kodak Portrait 305mm lens, and the Voigtlander Portrait Euryscope Series III Nr 5 f 4.5 14" lens.

 Wollensak Velostigmat 12" on Cambo SC with CameraFusion digital back and Nikon D5000. 5 rows, 11 images each row, stitched with Autopano Giga software. Full size 22307 x 7803 pixels, approximately 174 megapixels.

Original in Zoomify here:

Old lens: the Graf Variable

Left lens: Graf Variable 8.5-9.5" f/3.8-f/4.5

This lens can function as a sharp anastigmat lens working at f3.8 maximum or a diffusion lens working at f4.5 maximum.  The adjustment from sharp to diffused focus is by turning a calibrated control ring at the front of the barrel, moving the front cell in or out about ¼”.  When it is out, the lens is a sharp f/3.8 – when it is in, the lens is a soft focus f/4.5, and the amount of rotation controls the diffusion.  The lens is calibrated with two scales of f stops – one each for sharp and soft focus, and will cover a 5"x7" format. This lens works best with stitching on the CameraFusion sliding back.

sharp setting, wide open aperture 

soft setting, wide open aperture

medium soft setting, f/5.6 aperture

full soft setting, wide open aperture
I have two Graf Variables in my collection: the 8.5-9.5" shown above, and a smaller 7.5-8.5" lens which I use with a helical focus unit. They deserve to be used more.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

An early "ZOOM" lens

Adjustable Landscape Lens No. 1 ML Puligny. A. Darlot (A. Turillon) Paris No. 7574 circa 1897

This lens is a variable focal length (~ 180 to 360 mm) by changing the distance between the two lens groups with a rack & pinion. Another feature: this lens has two twelve-bladed diaphragms, outside of the two groups, one front and one behind the lens groups. These diaphragms are graduated from 5 to 20 millimeters. Puyo and Puligny published "Les Objectifs d'Artiste" Paris 1906, which outlined their designs for Pictorial lenses. The designs were made by several optical houses of the day. Puligny was the engineer. Charles Emile Joachim Constant Puyo (1857 – 1933), was a prominent french pictorialist photographer.

Charles Emile Joachim Constant Puyo - Apparition, 1910
I would add that this lens is extremely difficult to use. Besides requiring constant re-focusing for any focal length change, it is not corrected for chromatic aberration, which means that the apparent focal point is not necessarily what you see in the viewfinder or with live view. Two diaphragms, both of which affect softness and focus, add to the confusion.

Someday I'll figure it out. :) Maybe. In the meantime, I can look at Puyo's image above, and only dream...