Saturday, April 15, 2023

Soft Focus Pictorialist Effects ~ part Two

Chetworth Del Gato posted a soft focus image to Flickr.  I saw it, appreciated it for a moment, and was about to move on to look at something else when I stopped and had a good long look.  Gawds! I think it's gorgeous.  Call me Old Fashioned.  Call me a Sentimentalist.  Call me a Fool.  I don't care.  It's a great image.

The subjects eyes are sharp.  The entire image glows beautifully.  The edges are gently softer overall than the center, but not by much.  The lighting is nearly perfect.  The composition is classic.  To me it's a good example of what current day Pictorialist practitioners can achieve.

Chetworth used a 9inch Pinkham & Smith Semi-Achromatic to 5x7 film. That lens is filled with optical imperfections that modify the scene in "just the right way."  It's such an "artistic" optic.

I asked the photographer if he felt one could replicate the effect in smaller format cameras. He said he didn't think it was possible.

If you know me, you know I love a good challenge.  That's really what this series on Soft Focus Pictorialist Effects is all about.  I'm still trying after many years to see how close I can come to duplicating the "look" and "feel" of large format film photography what uses early soft focus lens.

In the first post on the topic I talked about how a "resolution hole" opened up when using the Pentax 85mm f/2.2 Soft as the lens was stopped down.  This is where the center of the image is sharp and without much of an overlaying softness, and where the edges retain an obvious amount of under-corrected spherical aberration.

The "resolution hole" appeared at f/4 and became very apparent at f/5.6.  It is so strong that it was somewhat disorienting to me in the f/5.6 comparison image.  This got me to thinking and wondering.

How sharp is this Pentax 85mm f/2.2 Soft at f/5.6?

The following may help answer that.

To begin with, it's important to note the image I use here was shot at the lens' minimum focus point.  The subject was about a foot or so away from the camera.

While the image talked about in this blog entry is not trying to duplicate the effects Chetworth achieved in his 5x7inch film photograph, it is a potentially important stepping-stone to a greater understanding of how I should use this dastardly Pentax 85mm f/2.2 Soft.

Setup ~ 

  • Camera - 
    • Sony A7, 100ISO, 2sec timer, "A" mode
  • Lens - 
    • Pentax 85mm f/2.2 Soft at f/5.6
  • Bogen tripod
  • RawTherapee - similar image processing settings applied to all images


How sharp is it?

As always, click on the image and enlarge to 100percent to see whatever there is to be seen.


Close up study ~ Pentax f/2.2 Soft 85mm at f/5.6

Looking at the on-axis dial face of the stopwatch where I focused the lens, I'd say the lens is pretty darned sharp.  If I were after something sharp, I'd have no problem with the center of the frame.  Looking at the near-off-axis portions of the image I see the abrupt transition from sharp to an under-corrected spherical aberration overlay of softness.
By now it should be pretty obvious that in close-up work, the Pentax f/2.2 Soft is not, repeat not, a general purpose lens.  I type this thinking of comments I've read around the internet over the years where people talk about soft focus lenses and say things like such-and-such lens is soft from wide open, but it cleans up nicely by f/this-and-that.   This is not one of those lenses.

On the other hand, if I wanted to photograph flowers, I might not care, and in fact might appreciate the rapid increase in surrounding softness outside the "resolution hole."  On the proper subject, composition, and background, the lens might help create something rather interesting.  Right there is another hint at how to use this lens.

As I said in the previous entry, so far the images made in these comparisons use the Pentax Soft near its minimum focus point.
Without getting too far ahead of myself, I have the strange feeling that there might be a specific matrix of possibilities/applications where meniscus soft focus lenses operate at their best.  I'll explore this idea a bit further in the near future.

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