Improvised Meniscus: Half-a-Petzval

I’ve been wanting to shoot with a meniscus lens ever since I saw some of Jim Galli’s work. Went so far as to plan a home-made lens using an element from Surplus Shed and a barrel turned by a machinist friend. Then, as things sometimes happen, a lens collecting friend let me know he had what amounted to half-a-Petzval: The barrel, mount, and rear air-spaced elements only. Was I interested? Well, yeah!

So, the “lens” arrived. Made a quick-and-dirty lensboard, mounted it on the Seneca, and was immediately disappointed. Nice, sharp image, all the way across the ground glass with little fall-off. Hmm. Not what I wanted. I contacted my friend about returning the lens. Set the thing aside for a few days, looking for a box to ship it home in.

Then I gets to thinking: I wonder if the elements are in right? I locate a diagram of the Petzval design, remove the glass from my half-Petzval, and sure enough, the glass is in wrong. I correct the reversed, backwards elements, put it on the camera, the ground glass glows.  It’s just what I was looking for! I make a decent lensboard for it, load some holders, and head to a local cemetery.



The first shots, while far from perfect, showed potential. So, while my daughter was off school sick, I aimed the lens at her. And then her brother when he got home:



Now I’m definitely seeing potential.

It’s a difficult lens to focus – it’s not a true Petzval, so there’s no zone of sharp focus on the ground glass. Using it is a compromise between good and good enough. But I’m really liking the results!


One thought on “Improvised Meniscus: Half-a-Petzval

  1. I’m liking the results too! Seeing the shot of your son here rang a bell–I’ve happened upon your work before via other channels, other lenses, etc. I’m sure I must have been researching some old lens and found you. Great stuff! I too am into meniscus lenses these days. Still testing the latest i’ve obtained, but one no-name with about an 8″ FL and rotary aperture is turning out to be very interesting, especially wide open (about f-8?) where it turns into a pseudo-soft focus lens, great for portraits w/o the premium SF lens prices! (I’d still want your Verito…)

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