“Swirly Bokeh” on a budget.

These days it is quite simple to fit what are called “legacy lenses” on to micro 4/3rds camera bodies.  There’s a lot of info about this on the Internet, and also a lot of info about the use of “adapted lenses”.  “Legacy lenses” are lenses made in the past for other still photography uses, and that can include antique lenses.

One such antique lens is the Petzval type developed in the 19th century by Joseph Petzval.  The Petzval lens is quite simple and has very interesting “swirly bokeh”.  This means that the out of focus areas in the background look as if they are going round in a circle.  It’s quite unsettling the first time you see it.  It’s hard to find an original Petzval lens, but it’s now being remade in Russia for the Lomography company.  It costs over £500, so it’s a serious investment unless you are going to use it a lot.  I’ve found a much cheaper alternative!

It’s a Chinese lens with a focal length of 35mm and an maximum aperture of f1.7.  It’s made for CCTV cameras, and it’s fitted with a “C-type mount”.  This is where the “adapted lenses” thing comes in, as the lens comes with a C-type to micro 4/3rds adapter.  It’s made by a company called Fujian and I got it from Amazon for a smidge under £24.

You can see from this defocused image what the bokeh looks like.  There is very much of a “swirl”.

It does look a bit odd on my Olympus E-M10.  Even on such a small body the lens still looks tiny.  Some people refer to this sort of lens as a “toy camera lens”, though it is made for a serious photographic use.

It’s not at all sharp anywhere in the frame at f1.7 though it improves somewhat as you stop the lens down.   You do lose the swirly bokeh as you stop down though.  If you put a subject, such as this car aerial with ribbon on it, in a reasonably central place, you can use the background creatively.  The “swirlyness” fits with the curves of the ribbon.

I wanted to see how it handled bokeh highlights, so I found some honeysuckle that was quite a distance from the other plants in the background and shot at f1.7.  Centre sharpness does improve for closer objects, so the foregound plant isn’t actually too soft.  I like it!

I’m going to try it out for portraits, so keep an eye out for another post.  Spend over £500 on a newly-made old Petzval?  I think not!

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