The Daguerreotype Achromat 64mm f2.9 by Lomography

I am 37 years young and old enough to know that life is an endless cycle. What is hip one day becomes obsolete the next to only emerge back sometime later as vintage. In this episode, I want to present you a lens which gave the birth of practical photography in 1839. Lomography brought it back to life in April 2016: The Daguerreotype Achromat 64mm f2.9 Art lens.


Some History

When I published History of Photography (simplified), I mentioned the French, Louis Daguerre, as one of the inventors of modern photography. His discovery on reducing the exposure time from hours to minutes thanks to mercury vapour was a revolution and lead to the first photograph of people in 1838 (a shoeshine boy and his customer in a street of Paris).

First photo of people by louis daguerre

First photo of people by Louis Daguerre in 1838

The photographic process is nothing without a lens. Charles Chevalier came from an optic manufacturing family. His fascination for Daguerreotype (the camera following Daguerre’s concepts) and his relationship with Niepce (inventor of the chemical process to capture an image onto a medium ) and Daguerre lead him to be commissioned to produce a lens specifically for the Daguerre-Giroux cameras. His lens was achromatic (also know as an achromat) designed to limit the effect of chromatic and spherical aberration.

Chevalier Achromat (1839) & Lomography Achromat (2016)

Chevalier Achromat (1839) & Lomography Achromat (2016)


Lomography

In 1982, General Igor Petrowitsch Kornitzky, right-hand man to the USSR Minister of Defense and Industry, slammed a little Japanese compact camera called the Cosina CX-1 onto the desk of his comrade, Michail Panfilowitsch Panfiloff. Panfiloff, who was the Director of the powerful LOMO Russian Arms and Optical factory, carefully examined the item, observing its sharp glass lens, extremely high light sensitivity and robust casing. Realising its potential, the two gentlemen gave orders to the LOMO PLC factory in St. Petersburg, Russia, to create an improved version of the Cosina CX-1 – and the first working sample of the LOMO LC-A was born. Little did they know then how much this camera would be praised for years to come. Even 14 years later, when the Russian manufacturers decided to stop its production, the fans across borders, successfully convinced the decision makers at the factory and the then-Vice Mayor (Vladimir Putin) to keep it going.

Aperture on the LOMO LC-A film camera

Aperture on the LOMO LC-A film camera

Distance scale on the LOMO LC-A film camera

Distance scale on the LOMO LC-A film camera

Since then, Lomo has become Lomography and faithful to its 10 Golden Rule commandment, has been producing lenses and camera equipment that transpose and ignite photographic creativity. In April 2016, they successfully crowdfunded, in just four hours, their project to revamp the Daguerreotype achromat lens designed originally by Charles Chevalier nearly 200 years earlier. This time, the lens would not be specific to a camera but nearly compatible with all.

The Daguerreotype Achromat with its box and waterhouse apertures

The Daguerreotype Achromat with its box and Waterhouse apertures


The Lens design

The body

The lens is beautifully made of brass and comes in two colours: natural golden brass or black. I, like many, prefer the vintage look of the brass. It is a relatively heavy lens with its 689g. Unlike Canon standard lens, this lens comes its lens hood, also made of brass.

It has four engravings which I find add some character to the vintage design:

  • A racehorse on the cap, a nice reference to Muybridge experiment in 1878.
  • A reference to Chevalier in the middle of the body
  • A distance scale
  • The Lomography signature

The inside

It achromatic design makes is a very simple lens with two elements in 1 group.

The simple design of the Daguerreotype Achromat by Lomography

The simple design of the Daguerreotype Achromat by Lomography

Effect of the Achromatic Lens design on chromatic aberrations

Effect of the Achromatic Lens design on chromatic aberrations

Focal length & Aperture

This achromat has a fix focal length of 64mm with a maximum aperture of f2.9. The aperture system consists of the 10 Waterhouse aperture plates (6 standard & 4 creative):

The waterhouse apertures for the Daguerreotype Achromat by Lomography

The waterhouse apertures for the Daguerreotype Achromat by Lomography

Filter

This art lens accepts filters, and eight can be purchased from the Lomography store. From Circular Polariser, ND filter to colour filters. Given the small filter diameter of 40.5mm, these filters are very affordable (around £10 each).

The Daguerreotype Achromat accepts filters of 40.5mm

The Daguerreotype Achromat accepts filters of 40.5mm

Colour filter set for the Daguerreotype Achromat by Lomography

Colour filter set for the Daguerreotype Achromat by Lomography

Essential filter set for the Daguerreotype Achromat by Lomography

Essential filter set for the Daguerreotype Achromat by Lomography


Focus or out of focus that is the question

This topic deserves its own chapter! The Lomography Daguerreotype Achromat uses an helicoid focusing mechanism which means the lens expands when focused at close range. The minimum focusing distance of 0.5m is en par with a 50mm lens which usually is 0.45m. This lens is fully manual and given the absence of electronic contacts at its rear; you do not get any focusing confirmation. Therefore this lens does require some getting-used-to especially for the spoiled photographers like me who rely on the top of the range modern DSLR and Canon L lenses.

To increase your chance of sharp focussed images, you can do the following:

  • Turn off the focus points display in the viewfinder. This will give you a clearer image to set your focus manually
  • Focus bracket by setting the focus not only where you think it should be but also slightly before and after

Aperture test

Here are the photographs I captured during the recording of the video to show the effect of the aperture plates. These were obtained with the camera on a sturdy tripod and the camera set on aperture priority mode. These images have not been retouched.

Shot taken on a tripod without any aperture plate and the Daguerreotype Achromat 64mm by Lomography

Shot taken on a tripod without any aperture plate and the Daguerreotype Achromat 64mm by Lomography

Shot taken on a tripod without any aperture plate and the Daguerreotype Achromat 64mm by Lomography

Shot taken on a tripod without any aperture plate and the Daguerreotype Achromat 64mm by Lomography

Shot taken on a tripod with the f2.9 aperture plate and the Daguerreotype Achromat 64mm by Lomography

Shot taken on a tripod with the f2.9 aperture plate and the Daguerreotype Achromat 64mm by Lomography

Shot taken on a tripod with the f4 aperture plate and the Daguerreotype Achromat 64mm by Lomography

Shot taken on a tripod with the f4 aperture plate and the Daguerreotype Achromat 64mm by Lomography

Shot taken on a tripod with the f5.6 aperture plate and the Daguerreotype Achromat 64mm by Lomography

Shot taken on a tripod with the f5.6 aperture plate and the Daguerreotype Achromat 64mm by Lomography

Shot taken on a tripod with the f8 aperture plate and the Daguerreotype Achromat 64mm by Lomography

Shot taken on a tripod with the f8 aperture plate and the Daguerreotype Achromat 64mm by Lomography

Shot taken on a tripod with the f11 aperture plate and the Daguerreotype Achromat 64mm by Lomography

Shot taken on a tripod with the f11 aperture plate and the Daguerreotype Achromat 64mm by Lomography

Shot taken on a tripod with the f16 aperture plate and the Daguerreotype Achromat 64mm by Lomography

Shot taken on a tripod with the f16 aperture plate and the Daguerreotype Achromat 64mm by Lomography

Shot taken on a tripod with the f6.3 creative star aperture plate and the Daguerreotype Achromat 64mm by Lomography

Shot taken on a tripod with the f6.3 creative star aperture plate and the Daguerreotype Achromat 64mm by Lomography

Shot taken on a tripod with the f6.7 creative star aperture plate and the Daguerreotype Achromat 64mm by Lomography

Shot taken on a tripod with the f6.7 creative star aperture plate and the Daguerreotype Achromat 64mm by Lomography

Shot taken on a tripod with the f4.5 creative holes aperture plate and the Daguerreotype Achromat 64mm by Lomography

Shot taken on a tripod with the f4.5 creative holes aperture plate and the Daguerreotype Achromat 64mm by Lomography

Shot taken on a tripod with the f4.8 creative holes aperture plate and the Daguerreotype Achromat 64mm by Lomography

Shot taken on a tripod with the f4.8 creative holes aperture plate and the Daguerreotype Achromat 64mm by Lomography

 

Handheld test

Here are some of the photographs I have captured while hand holding the camera:

Handheld shot with the f5.6 aperture plate and the Daguerreotype Achromat 64mm by Lomography

Handheld shot with the f5.6 aperture plate and the Daguerreotype Achromat 64mm by Lomography

Handheld shot with the f5.6 aperture plate and the Daguerreotype Achromat 64mm by Lomography

Handheld shot with the f5.6 aperture plate and the Daguerreotype Achromat 64mm by Lomography

Handheld shot with the f5.6 aperture plate and the Daguerreotype Achromat 64mm by Lomography

Handheld shot with the f5.6 aperture plate and the Daguerreotype Achromat 64mm by Lomography

Handheld shot with the f5.6 aperture plate and the Daguerreotype Achromat 64mm by Lomography

Handheld shot with the f5.6 aperture plate and the Daguerreotype Achromat 64mm by Lomography

Handheld shot with the f5.6 aperture plate and the Daguerreotype Achromat 64mm by Lomography

Handheld shot with the f5.6 aperture plate and the Daguerreotype Achromat 64mm by Lomography

Handheld shot with the f5.6 aperture plate and the Daguerreotype Achromat 64mm by Lomography

Handheld shot with the f5.6 aperture plate and the Daguerreotype Achromat 64mm by Lomography

Handheld shot with the f6.3 creative star aperture plate and the Daguerreotype Achromat 64mm by Lomography

Handheld shot with the f6.3 creative star aperture plate and the Daguerreotype Achromat 64mm by Lomography

Landscape too

The Daguerreotype Achromat is not limited to portraiture. One can obviously use it for capturing some compelling landscape. Here is my attempt truly outside my comfort zone:

Landscape shot at f4 with the Daguerreotype Achromat by Lomography

Landscape shot at f4 with the Daguerreotype Achromat by Lomography

Conclusion

The Daguerreotype Achromat by Lomography has a solid built. The natural brass looks amazing although it seems more sensitive to scratches than other lenses. The focus mechanism has some friction and I prefer one that is smoother and ease the back and forth movement to set the focus right manually. I found that shooting with the Achromat was a challenge. The absence of automatic focus or focus confirmation made shooting with the Achromat a challenge for me. I struggle to get a good focus when my subject is more than 3 meters away or when I use an aperture plate wider than 5.6.

That being said, I really enjoyed playing with this achromatic lens for the past 2 months. The images produced by this lens do have a unique feel which cannot be achieved using a modern lens. The Daguerreotype Achromat is made for slow pace shooters who value more the mood of an image than the absolute sharpness in the blink of an eye. This is a sharp lens nonetheless. A sharp lens with a soft touch.

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