I have been exploring the world of early wide-angle lenses. Wide-angles have always been amongst the most difficult to design. Although there were earlier, specialist examples, wide-angle Rapid Rectilinears and later wide-angle anastigmats came on the scene from the 1880s. The advent of new optical glasses in that period help solve some of the design problems, but working apertures were very small - f/14 or f/16 would be the fastest, and you might need to stop down a good deal smaller than that to get acceptable results. These were typically lenses for architectural or landscape photographers using cameras of half-plate or larger. The 35mm photographer could also find the odd specialist (expensive) lens even in the 1930s but for most people until the 1960s a 35mm lens was probably the widest in the camera bag. The problem was not made any easier by the popularity of the SLR, which needs a large space between the back of the lens and the film, to accommodate the mirror box. That problem was solved by the use of retrofocus designs (the principle of the telephoto lens, used backwards) with quite large numbers of elements, therefore needing the coating technology which was developed during the Second World War. The early pinnacle of this was the remarkable 8mm f/2.8 Nikkor fisheye, which can be seen as two lenses in one. The front half is a fisheye lens gathering an image of a 180° hemisphere, and that is passed on to a kind of relay system which projects it through the empty space in the camera to either the viewfinder or the film. Its predecessor, a couple of years earlier, had needed the mirror to be locked up as the rear of the lens projected through the camera to within a few millimetres of the film plane.
I am hoping to try out some of the early rectilinears and anastigmats, and compare their performance. They look pretty, and carry famous names like Zeiss, Ross, Wray, Berthiot and Rodenstock - but how well do they work? As most of them have lost their mounting flanges long ago, I have dug out of my box of oddments one of those iris-diaphragm-like adjustable-diameter lens boards and mounted it on a Sinar panel. Wonderful! I don't know why I didn't do this years ago, it makes quick trials of lenses so dramatically easier.
There are plenty of Gandolfi cameras around dating from, loosely, around 1900 and thereafter.The earlier models, roughly 1885 to 1900, were different and do not seem to be easy to find. As a young man, Louis Gandolfi was finding his way in the world and trying different designs. Eventually, as we all know, he concentrated on producing high-quality bespoke cameras albeit frequently from a catalogue of regularly used designs. His few early advertisements show different cameras, which apparently (unlike all his later products) should have the model name engraved on the nameplate as well as his own name as manufacturer. So does anyone have one of these? If so I would be very interested to see photographs.
An occasional and irregular blog, mostly of photographic experimentation and photographic history.
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