An Illustrated Guide to Antique and Classic Soft Focus Lenses Part 2
Taylor, Taylor & Hobson Cooke Lenses
The Taylor, Taylor & Hobson company of Leicester, England and later of New York, began their production of soft focus lenses about 1898, and via various company name changes and restructurings, still sell a soft focus lens today (Cooke PS945)!
The first model was the Cooke Portrait Lens Series II which was first sold about 1898. This lens, and its future variations, would be sold for over 50 years. The lens utilized the same diffusion principal as the Dallmeyer Patent Portrait lens, that is, by moving a lens element in relation to the other elements to add varying degrees of spherical aberrations to the lens. Below is an advertisement from the December 1898 issue of The Photographic Dealer describing the lens.
Cooke Portrait Series II Lens. The Photographic Dealer Dec. 1898
From the 1904 Kodak Limited Catalogue
Early Series II. Image Courtesy of Leicashop.com
In 1907, T,T&H followed up with another soft focus model, the Series VI Portrait Lens. This lens featured the same type of diffusion as the Series II, but added knobs on the lens where "cords'" could be attached to the lens to make adjustments more easily while focusing on the camera. It was slower than the Series II at f/5.6, but also less expensive and smaller. See below for a December 1907 The Camera magazine advertisement.
Series VI Lens. image Courtesy of Eddie Gunks
The 1911 advertisement below describes both the Series II and VI lenses.
The Cooke line would continue to grow and expand into numerous models and updated features.
About 1910, The Cooke Portrait Series II expanded to include the Series IIa f/3.5 which featured a greater speed of f/3.5.
By 1920, another lens was introduced, the Cooke Portrait Series I f/3.1. This was for "Extra Rapid Artistic Portraiture."
About 1924, the various models began featuring a finger gripping device as an easier way to adjust the diffusion, rather than twisting the lens. This feature is also referred to as a "knuckle duster" and/or "knuckler." While the pre-1920 lens models mostly featured 3 different positions for the various diffusion amounts, many now featured 5 or 6 positions for a greater range of diffusion.
In 1926, the Series IIb f/4.5 lens was developed and basically replaced the original Series II lens.
In 1930, the Series IId and IIe lenses were also added to the lens line and by 1936, the Series VIa was added.
The Cooke lenses were extremely well made and were very expensive lenses (more than triple the price of a Verito ) and many of the longer focal lengths weighed in excess of 30 pounds.
Series IIA. Image Courtesy of Cinematto on Flickr
Series IIe. Image Courtesy of Cinematto on Flickr
Early 1920's Catalogue Pages. Image Courtesy of CameraEccentric.com
1930's Catalogue Pages. Image Courtesy of CameraEccentric.com
While the Cooke Portrait Anastigmat line of lenses was the main soft focus product by T,T&H, in 1911, they also produced the now, rarely seen, Cooke Achromatic Portrait Lens. This lens was basically a copy of an older lens sold by T,T&H, known as the Rapid View and Portrait Lens which was a combination meniscus lens with a good amount of spherical aberration left in the design.
An 1911 issue of The Photographic Times writes, "The Taylor- Hobson Company of New York have placed on the market a single Achromatic lens known as the Cooke Achromatic Portrait lens. This is really the old Rapid View and Portrait lens made twenty years ago by Taylor & Hobson, of Leicester, England, and known then as the R. V. P. For many years the lens has been used by artists like Mrs. Kasebier, Clarence White, and Alfred Stieglitz, and has been preferred by them to the modern anastigmat. It has been marketed as the result of numerous inquiries that have been received for a lens of that type. Whoever expects sharp definition will be disappointed, but the photographer who desires softness and roundness coupled with line modeling and a true perspective, will be both astonished and delighted. Each Cooke achromatic portrait lens is furnished in an English sole-leather carrying case, and shows the same fine workmanship that characterizes Cooke anastigmats. The lenses work with a full aperture of /7.5. Full particulars will be mailed on request by the Taylor-Hobson Co., 1135 Broadway, New York."
The Photo-Miniature magazine of February 1912 remarks, "The Taylor-Hobson Co., 1135 Broadway, New York, have placed on the market a single achromatic lens known as the Cooke Achromatic Portrait lens. This is really the old Rapid View and Portrait lens made twenty years ago by Taylor & Hobson, of Leicester, England, which has been used by artists such as Gertrude Kasebier, Clarence White and Alfred Stieglitz, in preference to the modern anastigmat, for certain sorts of pictorial photography. It is noteworthy for its softness of definition, roundness and plasticity of modeling, with an accuracy of drawing which is particularly pleasing in portraiture. Those who seek these qualities in their work, and do not demand extreme speed or sharp definition, will be pleased with the performance of this lens."
The lens appears to only have remained on the market for a few years, perhaps due to its slow speed and the multitude of competing products that were available in the marketplace.
Cooke Portrait Anastigmat. Image Courtesy of Ebay User amwcameras
Image Courtesy of Ebay User amwcameras
A pair of RVP lenses. Image Courtesy of Alejandro Martinez
Hyatt Special Portrait Lens
About 1900, H.A. Hyatt, a photographic supply house, marketed the "Hyatt Special Portrait Lens" which was a petzval type portrait lens with diffusion added via the rear element, copying the Dallmeyer Patent Portrait style of diffusion. Hyatt's advertisement, shown in the St. Louis and Canadian Photographer Magazine of January 1903, made no attempt to hide the fact it was similiar to (if not a direct copy) the Dallmeyer.
Wollensak Royal Portrait and Vitax Lenses
In 1906, Wollensak began selling the Royal Portrait Lens which had an "Improved Petzval" design with a speed of f/3.8. The lens also featured a diffusion adjustment which moved the front element of the rear group, thereby creating diffusion at will. Given its similarities to the Dallmeyer Patent Portrait Lens, it may have also had the same modified Petzval formula as that lens (see http://antiquecameras.net/petzvallens.html). Regardless, this was an updated type of Dallmeyer Patent Portrait lens - an improved Petzval with the ability to add diffusion.
The lens name was discontinued in 1908 and it became known as the Wollensak Vitax Lens. Wollensak began establishing a policy of naming their lenses starting with the letter "V," and this is the most likely reason for the name change. Below is the 1906/1907 Wollensak Catalogue page showing the Royal, and the 1912/1913 Wollensak Catalogue advertising the Vitax. Image Courtesy of cameraeccentric.com
Vitax Lens. Image Courtesy of Garrett Allen
Vitax knob with 0 thru 5 settings of diffusion. Image Courtesy Mike Ryan Copyright 2010
The Gundlach Achromatic Meniscus Portrait Lens was first marketed in 1907 and was a two element meniscus that limited chromatic aberrations, but retained spherical aberrations for its diffusion method. As such, diffusion declines as the lens is stopped down.
The lens was f/6 in speed and was first produced in brass and later in black paint. Given the black example (below), is marked "Gundlach Manufacturing Corp." which didnt exist as a trade name until 1928, this lens line was likely sold into the 1930's.
C. 1922 Catalogue Page. Image Courtesy of www.cameraeccentric.com
Note: "Gundlach-Manhattan Optical." ~ Image Courtesy of Geoffrey Berliner
Note: "Gundlach Manufacturing Corp." ~ Image Courtesy of Jonathan Brewer
In 1910, H. Oliver Bodine designed and with the manufacturing assistance of Wollensak, began marketing his Bodine Pictorial Lens. The lens was completely corrected for chromatic aberrations and partly for spherical aberrations.
The Photo-Miniature Magazine of April 1911 wrote, "Now comes H. Oliver Bodine, Keeper of the Photo Crafts Shops, Racine, Wisconsin, and a pictorialist whose work at the Salons entitles him to respect, with the Bodine Pictorial Lens, which is introduced to my readers by an example of its performance on another page of this issue. Unless I am mistaken, this illustration will create, in the hearts of many, a keen desire to possess one of these lenses. Let me confess that I want one myself. The Bodine lens, as its name implies, is intended for the man or woman interested in pictorial photography, and is, of course, equally suited for portraiture, figure studies or landscape work. As compared with ordinary lenses, the Bodine lens is of unusual focal length in proportion to the size of the plate it is intended to cover, and so constructed that it retains the separation of the planes, atmosphere, etc., which other lenses usually obliterate. Used at its largest aperture, the Bodine lens gives an equal amount of diffusion throughout the picture image; but, by decreasing the size of the aperture to f/16, sharper definition can be obtained at will, so that it can be used for work requiring the finest detail when this is desirable. Despite all the talk about the "man behind the gun," there is room for a lens such as Mr. Bodine has designed, and it will undoubtedly prove itself a help in pictorial photography when used with intelligence and discrimination. The readers of THE PHOTO-MINIATURE, especially, will appreciate the power of such an objective, and for them this notice is given rather than to advertise the Bodine lens. I am told that the Bodine lens will be ready next month, in four sizes, retailing at from twelve dollars to twenty-five dollars, these prices including a set of Bodine's new Ray Filters and Monochrome Lenses for viewing the subject. The facts that several hundred of these lenses have already been ordered in advance of their introduction, and that the makers put an absolute guarantee of "satisfaction or money refunded " behind them, should give them great popularity. Descriptive booklets and sample prints may be had from Mr. Bodine, addressed as above, by all who will mention this editorial note."
Wollensak must have been extremely impressed by Bodine's lens and it's sales potential, as by May 1911, The Photo Miniature Magazine was reporting that Mr. Bodine was now working for Wollensak. They wrote, "H. Oliver Bodine, whose personal service won for him so many friends during his association with the Photo Crafts Shops, at Kenosha, and Racine, Wis., has taken the position of director of publicity for the Wollensak Optical Company, Rochester, N. Y. This means that the world will be intelligently and persuasively informed about the Wollensak specialties to the practical advantage of all concerned."
Wollensak made a few tweaks to the Bodine lens and the lens became the very popular Wollensak Verito lens (see below).
Given its very short time on market, this lens would appear to be rare. An example exists at the Eastman House as part of the Alvin Langdon Coburn collection.
The lens is marked f / 5, but the the December 1910 issue of Camera Craft Magazine contained a large advertisement describing the lens and its designer, states the working aperture is f / 6, as shown below.
Bodine's Pictorial Lens ~ Image Courtesy of Trentonlane on Ebay
The December 1910 issue of Camera Craft magazine ran a long article written by H. Oliver Bodine and it explains the development of his lens.
Wollensak Verito Lens
The Wollensak Verito Diffused Focus lens was popular almost from its start in 1911 and remained in catalogues up to about 1950. It was a 3 element doublet design that was light in weight and was readily available in a Wollensak shutter.
The Verito's of 1911 and early 1912 were f/5 in speed, but by the 1912/1913 Catalogue the Verito was slighty modified and updated to f/4 in speed, which made it even more attractive as a portrait lens.
In 1920, it was updated again and the Photo-Era Magazine ofJanuary 1920, wrote, "During the past ten years, the Wollensak Optical Company of Rochester, N.Y., has probably done more to popularize soft-focus photography than any other firm in the optical industry. In making its Verito Diffused Focus F 4 lens, and by encouraging and instructing the photographic profession in its correct usage, this firm has succeeded in establishing in the minds of the general public a genuine appreciation of the quality of image rendered by the soft-focus type of lens. The advantages of the old Verito Lens are already well known, as, for example, its convertibility with a rear focal length of about half again as long as the doublet; high speed of F/4; great reduction in the amount of retouching necessary; suitability for Graflex or studio use, or for enlarging where soft-focus effects are desirable. Although the old type Verito has already established itself in high popular favor, the Experimental Department of the Wollensak Company has been constantly on the alert for any possible new improvement. It seems that it has succeeded in its endeavor to "better the best." A new Verito has been developed which has all of the characteristic qualities of the old lens but practically eliminates the slight halation that was sometimes apparent with the old construction. Furthermore, this lens will give a softness at F/4 that is about comparable to the old lens at F/6, the result of which is that the professional photographer and the advanced amateur using the soft-focus type of lens can employ the objective at its widest opening without obtaining a displeasing fuzziness. The new construction makes possible exposure at a great speed with no danger of double line, halo or mushy appearance. Unlike other soft-focus lenses, the new Verito renders the same image in the groundglass that it does in the finished negative."
The Verito's wide range of apertures allowed for varied soft focus effects from f/4 thru f/8 and by the time one reached f/11, the Verito became a sharp lens capable of crisp images. Convertability, speed, and the capability of soft to crisp images made it the most popular soft focus lens ever produced. Over time "Special Verito" lenses were even produced for small format cameras.
The first version of the Verito was produced in brass, but quickly changed to black enamel paint. It was readily available in numerous sizes, in barrel or shutter, and the final version featured coated glass.
Verito optical layout
Early f/4 Verito in brass. Image Courtesy of Ebay User Timbermann
Black enamel paint f/4 Verito. Image Courtesy of Ebay User Aktstudio
Black enamel paint f/4 Verito in shutter. Image Courtesy of kevincameras.com
Pre 1920 Verito with Diffusion Stops for adding diffusion during enlarging. Image Courtesy of CollectibleCameras.com
1912/1913 Wollensak Catalogue page
1935 Wollensak Catalogue page. image Courtesy of www.cameraeccentric.com
1940's Catalogue Page. Note smallest sizes were f/6.
Along with the Verito in 1911, Wollensak introduced the Velostigmat Series II lens with a speed of f/4.5. This lens was marketed as a "high speed Anastigmat." It was produced in sizes with coverages ranging from 3.25x4.25 inch to 11x14 inch, with a diffusion feature on the three largest sized lenses (6.5x8.5, 8x10, 11x14). The user was able to twist the front part of the barrel causing the front element to move out of position to add diffusion. There is a scale marked with 5 settings on the front barrel edge to denote the various diffusion amounts. This feature allowed Wollensak to market this lens as a sharp general purpose lens that also allowed diffusion to be added at any f stop. This differed from the Verito where the aperture selected determined the amount of diffusion.
The August 1911 issue of Camera Craft Magazine wrote, "The Wollensak Optical Company had a most complete exhibit of photographic lenses and shutters in their booth at the St. Paul Convention. The line included several new and interesting lenses and shutters. The Series II Velostigmat, F-4.5, recently perfected, is a remarkable lens, having all the good qualities of an Anastigmat. The three larger sizes are equipped with an ingenious device whereby the operator is enabled to obtain any degree of softness or diffusion he may desire. As this lens has a field that is absolutely flat, any diffusion introduced by means of the diffusing device will result in an equal diffusion or softness over the entire plate. This diffusion is by no means what is termed "fuzzy" and no ghosts, or double outlines result, as is the case with some lenses intended for soft focus."
By 1911, Wollensak was able to offer photographers the Vitax, Verito, and Velostigmat Series II lenses, all with distinct purposes and with various types of diffusion methods, and as such, the three lenses were frequently advertised together.
Image Courtesy of Ebay User The Rangefinder
Image Courtesy of alag3.mfa.kfki.hu
Image Courtesy of KevinCameras.com
Diffusion settings around front rim
Early version in brass. Image Courtesy of Geoffrey Berliner
1912/1913 Wollensak Catalogue Page. Image Courtesy of CameraEccentric.com
As previously mentioned, Wollensak would advertise its three, soft focus capable lenses as a trio. In fact, one ad refers to them as the "big three." Some period advertisements are shown below:
In 1911, the Spencer Lens Company produced the "Port-land" lens. The name was to denote this lens was useful for both portrait and landscape work. The shorter focal length models are f/4.5 in speed, while longer focal lengths are f/5.6.
The 1915 book, How To Choose and Use a Lens remarks, "The Spencer Port-Land is a single meniscus lens possessing a distinctive character of its own. It gives great softness without losing the drawing, and works nominally at about f/4.5, though few workers can utilize its image at any stop larger than about f/5.6, on account of its giving a number of overlapping images. Its softness is different from that of any other lens."
The March 1921, New Photo-Minature Magazine writes, "The Port-land Lens, F/4.5 (Spencer Lens Co.), is not offered as a general utility lens, being designed for portraiture and landscape work. It is a single achromatic combination of unusual rapidity, with a flat field, corrected for rectilinearity, and gives a diffused or well-defined image at will. This diffusion being most largely the result of spherical aberration, it is controlled by the use of the diaphragm, so that by stopping down the lens a sharp image is obtained. The degree or quality of the diffusion given at the largest aperture, however, is not excessive, giving soft lines and masses, luminous shadows and roundness of delineation without loss of form."
There appears to be at least three manufacturing variations:
1. Early all black and marked "Port-land." 2. Black barrels with aluminum parts and marked "Portland." 3. All black lens and marked "Portland."
According to Mr. Russ Young, Port-land lenses up to 1920 were marked "Port-land" after which the hypen was dropped.
Early black version marked "Port-land." ~ Image Courtesy of Steven Tribe
Image Courtesy of Steven Tribe
Black and Aluminum version marked, "Portland." ~ Image Courtesy of User Keeds on Large Format Photography Forum
All black version marked "Portland." ~ Image Courtesy of 8x10 User on Large Format Photography Forum
Goerz entered the soft focus lens market in November 1912 with their Portrait Hypar Lens. The lens is an unsymmetrical anastigmat consisting of three single elements, featuring f/3.5 speed in the shorter focal lengths and f/4.5 in the longer lengths. Goerz highlighted that this was a very flare resistant design which did not produce 'fuzzy" pictures, but rather blended outlines and tones to produce "exquisite modeling."
The Goerz Portrait Lens was very expensive, similiar to that of the Cooke line and more than triple the cost of a Verito lens.
Wilson's Photographic Magazine 1914
Image Courtesy of Ebay User Kissintoads
Goerz 1915 Catalogue. Image Courtesy of CameraEccentric.com
Struss Pictorial Lens
According to many sources, Karl Struss first began making "home made" soft focus lenses about 1909. However, it wasn't until 1915 that he would market the Struss Pictorial lens and employ Frederick Keasbey to manufacture the lens. Some interesting background information on Mr. Struss can be found here: http://www.tfaoi.com/aa/5aa/5aa206a.htm
The Struss Pictorial lens was a simple, single element meniscus design with both spherical and chromatic aberrations present. It was unique in that with interchangable elements, multiple focal lengths could be had with the one barrel. Velvet lined barrels were also highlighted as a means to reduce flare with the Struss lens. Late advertisements also mention the lens element being available in quartz !
The New Photo Miniature Magazine of December 1921 wrote, "The Struss Pictorial Lens, f/5.5 (Frederick W. Keasbey), is a strong favorite with many pictorialists, with a record which amply supports the extraordinary claims made as to its qualities. In form it is a simple meniscus, fitted in a velvet-lined aluminum mount. This ensures a high light transmission efficiency with no loss by reflection, which means a brilliant image and illuminated shadows, with a greater actual intensity than other lenses of the same focal length and aperture but thicker and having more reflecting surfaces. Supplementary lenses are available, which, used interchangeably with the regular lens, offer a wide choice of combinations for different kinds of subjects and effects. The quality of the definition may also be varied by means of these combinations. As the lens is not corrected for chromatic error, it is necessary to adjust the focus before exposure, so that the quality and degree of diffusion is controlled by the user, and depends upon his skill in the use of the lens. To this, and the special character of the diffusion resulting from chromatic aberration, the remarkable effects obtained with the Struss may be due in large measure. Thus, with this lens you can photograph directly into a blaze of sunlight on water or against the strongest light, and still retain the visual quality of the gradations without fog or flare. It gives a delicious quality in the rendering of textures and tone values, and firmness with freedom from mushiness in the lines."
Photo-Era Magazine of June 1915 wrote, "ithas been said that the Struss lens has individuality; that the character of its image differs somewhat from that of other soft-focus lenses. This is undoubtedly true, yet no little of the pleasing quality of Struss prints is due to the view-angle of 30 degrees advocated by the maker, which means a 12-inch lens for 4 x 5, 15-inch lens for 5 x 7, 18-inch lens for 6 1/2 x 8 1/2, and 21-inch lens for 8 x 10, this despite the fact that these lenses will cover much larger plates. These focal lengths seem abnormally long in comparison with most anastigmats now in use, but they do much to ensure normal visual and aerial perspective. Indeed it is to be regretted that anastigmat-manufacturers recommend the use of lenses shorter than the diagonal of the plate, because high corrections ensure ample coveringpower. The average lens now in use is of too wide angle."
Due to the lens' utilization of both spherical and chromatic aberrations for diffusion, it was a difficult lens to focus and use to best effect.
1931 Advertisement. Note Quartz Element. image Courtesy of Kimiaki Ishizuka
Struss Pictorial Lens. Image Courtesy of Kimiaki Ishizuka
18 inch Struss. Image Courtesy of Geoffrey Berliner of capworkshops.org
A version for Graflex SLR type cameras was also made that enabled the lens to be mounted into the body so the lens did not project too far forward of the lensboard and allowed the camera to close - simply, the flange threads were moved mid-barrel.
Graflex version of the SPL. Image Courtesy of John Nichols Gallery.com
Interchangable element(s) for various focal lengths. Image Courtesy of John Nichols Gallery.com
information Tag that came with lens above. Image Courtesy of John Nichols Gallery.com
In 1916, Struss added a third style mount to the line up - the "Sliding Mount." This allowed the barrel to either project forward of the lensboard (like the original fixed barrel style), or with the flange slid up barrel, (like the "Graflex' style shown above), a good portion of the barrel would project back into the camera body for overall compactness. The Photographic Journal of America Magazine ran the following article in its August 1916 edition: