When Sara and I headed across the Willamette River from Northwest Portland to the convention center for the massive The One Moto Show a few weekends back, we decided that Sara would handle the main coverage for the event and that I would spend the day generally goofing off.
While I did provide a handful of shots for her first article as well as shoot a couple of spotlights for myself, I did in fact spend the majority of my time fooling around, and the results of this hard(?) work are shared here. You can learn a lot by trying something new, and my time at One Moto was no exception.
My weapon of choice for the weekend was Lomography’s 58mm Petzval Bokeh Control lens, wherein you can achieve a swirly bokeh effect by turning a dial on the fully-manual assembly. And when I say fully-manual I really mean it; you have to swap out the aperture inserts if you want to change settings, and the focus system is handled by one of your eyeballs.
That’s nothing new to old-timers or hipster film shooters, but a far cry from our quick and dirty automatic lenses of 2020.
Thus, getting used to the lens was a bit of a frustrating experience if I’m honest, and it’s really easy to overdo the user-chosen swirly bokeh ‘imperfections.’ This is clearly a lens designed with portraiture in mind, but I was determined to make it work at the motorcycle show.
Of course, you can dial the settings back and use it like a more or less normal 50mm, but where’s the fun in that?
Eventually I learned to stop using it to shoot entire bikes and honed in on details, where the focal length and the Soviet Helios-esque swirl really started to bring my images to life. In a small format like my camera or phone screen I wasn’t that amazed, but on a big monitor or for large-format prints I think the result becomes quite nice.
While I only took a few dozen photos with this lens, I easily spent more time with it than I did taking hundreds on my main setup. Once I got the hang of how the lens liked to be used, it was hugely rewarding.
With a new version at 55mm recently released and two versions around 85mm available, it will be a serious consideration if I’d like to include some version of this lens in my regular kit (this one is in my bag on loan). The lens has obvious shortcomings, but certain scenarios allow it to really shine, and the glass creates a look unachievable by anything else in-camera or even with post.
In the gallery below I did use a wide-angle lens so you could properly see the bike in question due to the tight space where the vintage bikes were on display, but the rest are taken with the Lomography piece. You’ll also notice I took a liking to that bad Moto Guzzi.
I need to take the Petzval out on a proper shoot with a full-size car to see how this 58mm works for that application. In the meantime though, I’d love to hear about (and see) some examples of other out-of-the-box camera setups that you’ve shot with, be it an offbeat expired film, tilt-shift, or something I’ve never even heard of. Catch you in the comments section below.
Trevor Yale Ryan