Soft Focus Portrait Lens

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BradS

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After reading Mr Whitaker's excellent demonstration of the Wollensak Verito soft focus lens at:
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I poked around the web for more info on this fascinating class of lenses. There isn't much info out there. I'd really like to get a modern example of this lens but can't afford the Cooke PS945. I see Fuji also market a softfocus lens that uses discs. Does anybody here have experience with these -- or another modern sf lens? I'd love to see a presentation similar to that done for the verito by William. What's the down side to the discs? I've read of unnatural artifacts in the highlights -- any comments?
 
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blansky

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There are some great old lenses out there like Voightlander Heliars that can be picked up that have very interesting soft effects for portraits. Also probably are a lot cheaper.

David Goldfarb can probably give you information on that.



Michael
 

David A. Goldfarb

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I have a Verito (actually just bought a second one, but I haven't used it yet--it's at SK Grimes for mounting), and I really like it.

Each soft focus lens has its own character.

Lenses like the Imagon and the Fuji use "sink strainer" disks so that it is possible to limit the amount of light entering the lens without correcting for spherical aberration (the cause of "soft focus") as would normally happen when stopping down a lens. I personally don't like the effect of the Imagon--too mushy for my taste--but it may work for you. Out of focus highlights always take the shape of the aperture, so if the aperture looks like a sink strainer, so will the highlights.

As you might guess from my avatar, I'm also a fan of the Heliar, but generally the standard Heliars in a focal length a bit longer than "normal" for whatever format I happen to be shooting. The Heliar effect usually has the subject in sharp focus, with a very smooth background, and an almost three-dimensional quality. There is also a soft-focus Heliar--the Universal Heliar--which has a movable middle element that makes it possible to adjust the extent of spherical aberration.

The Graf Variable also has this kind of adjustable soft quality.

Ansel Adams used a Spencer Port-Land for a while, which was soft wide open and sharp stopped down.

The Nicola Perscheid is a famous soft-focus portrait lens, but I've never seen a photograph made with one--they are too valuable as collectibles, I think.

The Beach portrait lens is another possibly interesting one. I've seen a few portraits by Beach, and they are interesting.

The new Cooke lens is based on the Pinkham-Smith lens, which was popular in the age of Hollywood-style glamour portraiture. It came in different versions for different effects. For the price of the Cooke, you could buy an 8x10" camera and a classic lens, and arguably have a better tool for the job. The advantage of the Cooke would be, if you happen to like the particular effect that it gives, and the modern sync shutter. With older lenses, you may have to add strobe sync to a primitive shutter (around $125 when I've asked about it), use a Packard shutter behind the lens with sync, or use open flash technique (which I've done), or alternately use continuous lighting.

John Nanian has a few soft focus lenses--Verito, Veritar, and others, so I'm sure he'll register an opinion here.
 
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BradS

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David A. Goldfarb said:
As you might guess from my avatar, I'm also a fan of the Heliar, but generally the standard Heliars in a focal length a bit longer than "normal" for whatever format I happen to be shooting. The Heliar effect usually has the subject in sharp focus, with a very smooth background, and an almost three-dimensional quality. There is also a soft-focus Heliar--the Universal Heliar--which has a movable middle element that makes it possible to adjust the extent of spherical aberration.

David,

The more I look, the more I like the effect produced by the verito/veritar. Sounds like the Heliar lenses give substantially the same effect -- no? Is it also the result of spherical aberation -- as with the verito?
 

David A. Goldfarb

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It's a different look. The Verito is more diffuse wide open and doesn't quite have that sharp/soft contrast that the Heliar has. The Veritar is also something else. I find it a little mushier than the Verito. The Heliar also gets sharper and sharper as it stops down, and the Verito does too, but it's not as "crisp" stopped down as a Heliar (which may or may not be a bad thing).

Spherical aberration is the main thing that produces the soft effect with most soft-focus lenses, but there are other aberrations that contribute to the "personality" of one lens or another. One of these days I'll shoot some comparison shots and post them to show the differences, since I have a 360mm Heliar, a 14.5" Verito, and a sharp lens or two in that focal length range.
 
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David A. Goldfarb said:
One of these days I'll shoot some comparison shots and post them to show the differences, since I have a 360mm Heliar, a 14.5" Verito, and a sharp lens or two in that focal length range.

I sincerely look forward to it. Please PM or email me when you do....

Brad.

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JohnArs

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Hi

I'm a big fan of the Imagon because it gives extrem variations with 3 discs and without discs and it has a wonderfull 3D look to.
I also have the Universal Heliar like it also much but need to use it a bit more to really know it especially his soft part is a bit tricky in the beginning, as it is with any other SF lens. You have to do a lot of testing so you really learn your tool!
Good luck!
 

Ole

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I did a similar test with shorter lenses a while back: 120 Angulon, 135 Planar, 135 Eurynar, 150 Symmar, 150 Heliar, 150 APO-Lanthar.

I've sold the Symmar, and relegated the Eurynat to "display duty".
 

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hi there

i have a vitax, verito and 2 veritars. they are all 8x10 lenses ( 14 & 13.5 " ) but i use them on a 5x7 camera. the second veritar ( 10" - 5x7 lens) that i have for 4x5. the veritar lenses were made in the 1950s, and they were coated modern version of the older verito lens. from what i understand it uses both chromatic and spherical abberation ( or so i have been told ) to create its soft effect when shot wide open, and as the lens is stopped down, as with most soft focus lenses, the image becomes much less soft. i don't want to say completely sharp, because there is still a tinge of softness, but all the same, it is more like an anastigmatic lens when stopped down. the vitax is a petzval design which is what a lot of the 19th century lenses were, before the rapid rectalinaer lenses became popular. it has a curved field and is pretty fast ( f3.8!) and there is a knob on the side that you can turn. the knob moves the rear element to "defocus" the image, so if you stop down you can still soften the image. sometimes i shoot it wide open, when i want that effect, and sometimes i shoot with it stopped down to f8 or even f22 and defocus a little bit. it really gives a nice smooth and creamy look. the vitax, like the verito is in a studio shutter, which works well if you are taking low light portraits, but not very useful if you want to go outside and do enviromental-work. i use 300WS novatron monoblocks with a "medium" chimera and a 42" larson enterprises soffbox. i don't use the strobes, but the modeling lights, and it works really well with these older lenses. the veritars i take outside, since they have working variable speed shutters.

i find veritar portrait lenses on FEEbay from time to time and post a "heads up" when i remember. there aren't many of these lenses around, in good working condition, and they do not sell for thousands, but hundreds of dollars. if you like the cooke lens, one of these early 20th century "classics" might also work well for you.

before i forget, jay tepper always has a huge selection of soft focus/portrait lenses on his website: http://www.jay-tepper.com . he has a bulletproof return policy ( you don't like it for whatever reason i'll take it back and refund your $$ no questions asked! ) it might be worth checking out what he has, rather than surfing endless hours on FEEbay do get duped by a seller who has no idea his lens is missing a knob, or has a broken shutter or ??? the last i checked, jay had a vitax in a barrel for sale on his site :smile:

oh, i almost forgot, there is a guy at http://www.cameraeccentric.com/ who has a bunch of portrait lenses on his site including a verito lenses in betax shutters ( i think mark wangerin uses a betax mounted verito ) there are also catalog pages on his website where you can read what the folks at wollensak said about their lenses :smile:

good luck!

-john
 
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smieglitz

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David A. Goldfarb said:
It's a different look. The Verito is more diffuse wide open and doesn't quite have that sharp/soft contrast that the Heliar has. The Veritar is also something else. I find it a little mushier than the Verito.

I have several Veritos in different focal legths and really like the results this design produces barely stopped-down between f/4-5.6. There is a glow to the image at that point which disappears as the lens aperture is reduced further.

I also owned a Veritar at one point but sold it. The Verito had this diffused glowing quality while the Veritar was simply a soft lens IMO. I agree, the Veritar was "mushy." The Veritar lacked the magic.

Joe
 

clay

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I have two Verito's as well. They have the 'magic' you want. Another one that has not been mentioned is the Kodak portrait lenses. They have the glow also, plus the more recent ones were coated, so your shadows are not quite as flat, plus the 305 normally can be found in an Ilex shutter with speed choices and everything.
 

Charles Webb

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Fujinon 250mm SF lens.

Does anyone have direct experience using the Fujinon 250mm SF lens with 4x5 or larger?

I am interested in a possible comparison with other popular soft focus lenses,
I do not care for what I call "muddy" prints, (high lights spread into shadow or the shadow into the high lights) I want the optical effect I used to get
with and old P&S lens I once owned. The new P&S Cooke lens is completely
out of question budget wise, so am trying to find an SF lens that can come
close to what the old P&S gave me.

Thanks in advance for any help, information or sugestions.

C Webb
 

wfwhitaker

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GaussianNoise said:
I poked around the web for more info on this fascinating class of lenses. There isn't much info out there..... I'd love to see a presentation similar to that done for the verito by William.

Glad you enjoyed that page! I'm working on doing something similar for a number of portrait/soft-focus lenses which would hopefully become something of an online reference. To be valid, it really needs to be done under the same subject/lighting conditions in a controlled setting. And my collection of lenses isn't quite as many as I'd like (is it ever?), so I may be hitting some of you up for some loaners!


GaussianNoise said:
...I'd really like to get a modern example of this lens...

Why a modern example? The old ones are the real deal. My 8 1/4" Verito was a direct fit into an Ilex #4 sync shutter. YMMV, of course. And as Clay already mentioned, the 305mm Kodak Portrait usually comes in an Ilex #5. Neither shutter is as reliable as a modern Copal, but then they don't cost $3000, either. A set of ND filters is a very good thing to have, too. This is the original "aperture priority"!

Another example of an image by the Verito is the sunflowers in my personal gallery.
 
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wfwhitaker said:
Why a modern example? The old ones are the real deal. My 8 1/4" Verito was a direct fit into an Ilex #4 sync shutter.

Well, you hit on it already...the shutter. All of the Veritos I've seen (not many) have been in a studio shutter. Now, I don't even know what that is but have gleened that it's not at all realiable. An Ilex shutter would be great. Did you retro-fit yours?
 

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A Studio shutter is a single set of blades which functions both as iris and shutter. The aperture ring sets the maximum aperture to which the blades will open. They can be a bit finicky depending on age and abuse. Actuation is by a thumb lever for focusing and by cable release for exposure. The only setting, however, is effectively "bulb": press to open, release to close. There is no sync.

I've been told that the 8 1/4" Verito cells will fit directly into a #4 Ilex. In my case that was true and I was able to simply screw the elements into place and go take pictures. But I'm sure there were manufacturing variations and it would be foolish for me to claim that that is always the case. Check with Grimes and see what they say. I think the worst case would still be a fairly straightforward remount.
 

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Hmmm. I prefer to just shoot sharp and soften in printing. Gives me more control over the final image and I find it easier to control the focus in-camera when I don't have a soft focus lens on board.
 

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rbarker

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I'm with you, Cheryl. I'd rather put a filter of some sort on a sharp lens, or soften just what I want when printing.

That said, the sample Verito images linked above do look nice.
 

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Softening in printing is an interesting effect, as is using a diffusion screen or Softar or other lens attachment, but these are different effects from a soft focus lens, just as soft focus lenses are different from each other. Diffusion under the enlarging lens sprays the shadows into the highlights, which can be done subtly or not-so-subtly to produce a kind of ghoulish effect (not always a bad thing). You see this on some Mapplethorpe portraits. For a non-ghoulish softening under the enlarger effect, the most natural result I've seen is with a Zeiss Softar #1 on the enlarging lens for part of the exposure time.

Regarding other aberrations contributing to the soft focus effect, there is definitely chromatic aberration going on with the Verito, even stopped down. If you shoot a color transparency with a Verito and look closely at highlights with a loupe, you can see the color fringing distinctly. If you want to eliminate it with B&W, just add a strong monochromatic filter (like yellow).
 

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I have a very old Boyer 150 / 4.5 Saphir enlarging lens. It's terrible wide open for enlarging. It gets a lot better at f 11 or f 16. But it turn out to be an excellent softfocus lens with beautifull soft halos around faces and lights.
 

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GaussianNoise said:
Well, you hit on it already...the shutter. All of the Veritos I've seen (not many) have been in a studio shutter. Now, I don't even know what that is but have gleened that it's not at all realiable. An Ilex shutter would be great. Did you retro-fit yours?

I have a 7-1/4" Verito that is in an original Betax shutter. So some of them were put into non-studio shutters. This is a great 5x7 lens, btw.
 

wm blunt

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Russ Young of Santa Fe gave a great presentation at APIS a couple years ago on the soft focus lens. Never realized there was so much to soft focus. I don't use them but found the information very interesting.
 

David A. Goldfarb

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My second Verito, recently acquired, is the 11-1/2". I'm having SK Grimes make an adapter ring so that it can mount on a Linhof board via the rear filter threads (LF portrait lenses tend to be really big, so this is the only way it will fit), and I'm really interested to see how it works for 4x5" and maybe 5x7" (I need to make an adapter for Linhof boards on my 5x7" Graflex).

Studio Shutters are quite simple in design. They have two settings--open and closed. There's a lever to open the lens for focusing, and some have an air release fitting (like my 14.5"), and some have a cable release fitting (like my 11.5"). Once you get the hang of it, you can press and release the shutter in about 1/5 to 1/15 sec., depending on how big the shutter is. If you've got a working one, that's great. Old ones usually would require some remanufacture of worn parts to repair, but there aren't too many parts to fix, so it shouldn't be impossible.

Open flash technique is not that hard to do in the studio, and of course it's easier for us than for the old guys who had to deal with flash powder. You just work with the lights a little dimmer than normal in the studio (i.e., don't keep the modeling lights on full power, but maybe 1/4 or 1/2 power), open shutter, fire strobes, close shutter. Once you've got the routine, your human-sync speed ("H sync"?) should be around 1/2 to 1 sec., and the strobes will be bright enough compared to ambient that you shouldn't get any ghosting.
 

wfwhitaker

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Clay brings up a good point which I overlooked. The smaller Veritos (up to the 8 3/4") were available in shutters according to the catalog at the link I gave previously, so you might find one of those. I have a 9" in a Regular shutter (double air piston) which must be an earlier lens.

For longer focal lengths you're really stuck using a Packard. A problem with any of the longer focal length (fast) portrait lenses then or now is that the glass is big and the available shutters (short of a Packard) are not.
 

lee

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I have a 7.25 inch Veritos that was on an Elwood enlarger I bought several years ago. It is a barrel mount and I don't use it at all.

lee\c
 

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Another option is the Luc shutter, which mounts via three set screws in front of the lens. It has three settings--focus, bulb, and instantaneous (again 1/5-1/15 sec, depending on the size of the shutter. I use one of these on the 360/4.5 Heliar, and eventually I'll have strobe sync added to it, so that I can use it on different big lenses. They also came in smaller sizes.
 
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