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Pinkham & Smith Semi-Achromatic Doublet, Ser. III, No. III - Polaroid 804 8x10

    I've been looking through my viewfinder at different subject matter w/this lens since I bought and restored it, a restoration which took about 7 months.  The Ser. III is the softest lens I've ever had on a camera, when looking at something illuminated by bright light, and pointing it in certain directions, I wasn't able to make out anything I was looking at but a garish/blown up/blown out mess.    There are lighting scenarios where using this lens isn't going to work, and the challenge of using this lens is matching a lighting scheme to this lens where the lens can perform its best.

    Over the course of having the lens, I started playing around w/lighting schemes and I gradually started to think of  subdued light as the way forward for me and this lens, and while juggling around low light schemes and checking 'em out w/this lens on my Toyo, l began to see whiffs of this lens potential. 

    The Ser. III is the most extreme example of how lenses like these are really 2 lenses, they're one type of lens giving a soft dreamy rendering w/a lot of pop around the highlights in scenes w/very bright lighting, they become a more subtle type of lens capable of more nuance in more subdued lighting situations w/more subdued highlights.   

     The lens is very difficult to focus under the best of circumstances, and you really have to fish for where the focus is.    Since the lens is so soft you can be looking through the groundglass and not realize you've passed by that 'sweet spot' where there's a sharp image overlaid w/a soft one.  The plane of focus is ever so thin, as it was on this shot, where I'm at 4 feet away from the Subject Matter w/a 16 inch lens.

     I shot this w/some very old Polaroid 804(8x10 instant) using natural light and a single modeling light from one of my strobes.  I went through about 7-8 Polaroids, until coming onto the lighting scheme you see here.  Shutter time for this shot  was 'one thousand one, one thousand two, and then since the light  coming through the windows wouldn't wait, I immediately shot a sheet of both FP4 and Porta 160 color to see what that would look like.

    What I believe you can see in this image is the sharp image overlaid with a soft one, particularly on camera right as you look at the edge of the glass globe, either that or I'm seeing things.  You tell me.

    Focusing this damn thing for the better part of 15 minutes straight before taking this shot gave me a headache, but I think I learned some things about the lens. 








Reader Comments (9)

Congratulations on a fine first image with THE lens. I hope there will be many more as I can certainly see the potential here. Wonderful, thanks. Wonder if I'll ever find one.

So talk to me, if I was looking at a Neon sign at night time in Las Vegas with this thing, are you saying it would be impossible to get a sharp outline of the actual neon filled glass contained inside the obvious glow?

July 3, 2008 | Registered CommenterJim Galli

I was very lucky to get this shot the first time, extremely lucky. All of my efforts came to 'nil' as most lighting illumination and/or intense highlights were/are just too much for lens. Some of the initial Polaroid test sheets were taken w/what I thought was very subdued light and STILL it was too much for the lens and for the Polaroid and were simply blown out.

Now all of this is at bet. F4.5-6, and of course I can always close down, but what would be the point of that? Closing down at some point gives the look of the VQ IV, so doing that, I may as well shoot with the VQ and save myself these headaches.

Look at the top of the glob, that was an effect I left in, I could see it on the groundglass, probably because of the thickness of the top of the globe caused a magnifying effect. Point is, this is from the a 60 watt modeling light from one of my 'itty bitty' made in China strobes I've had for 2000yrs.

Neon sign, forget it, or at least I'll forget it for right now, at my point in the learning curve w/this lens, maybe possible, but taking pictures of the light sources themselves has always been a 'dicey' proposition. This lens doesn't like a whole lot of light for what it does. A little goes a LONNNNNGGGG way w/this lens.

Maybe put another way, it's this, where I see where this lens talks is why I like this lens, I can see a sharp image inside of the soft one, look at the top-left corner of the globe, at the top, just to the left of the glow at the top, the left 'shoulder' of the lens. You'll have to look, but you can see the faintest outline of the sharper edge, inside the soft texture. It's there. Now this is w/light that is extremely 'low key' and getting dark to my naked eye but not quite.

The trouble w/using the lens w/more intense highlights is that they blow out and the sharply defined image overlaying the soft image DISAPPEARS, so you end up with the VERY SOFT part of the image, but not the sharp part. The intensity of the highlight covers that up, at least when you're wideopen or close to it. This image is at F6, most intese light source illuminating subject matter is 60 watt lightbulb!!!!

A challenging lens, definitely, and I was EXTREMELY lucky to get this, becuase from fumbling around all this time looking at what lighting schemes DIDN'T WORK, and from the Polaroids that DIDN'T WORK, a 'little devil' in the back of my mind was starting to whisper to me, 'you may not be up to this lens'.

In terms of your 'Neon' scenario, I always say 'where there's a will, there's a way. The issue is the lens was designed to put a sharp rendition of the image on top of a soft one, that it does like no other lens period, at least to me. Nothing in my stable of lenses puts a sharper image inside such a soft version of that same image, until the intensity of the highlights overpower everything and the sharp image disappears.

I should add that shooting this shot exposed very low key DOESN'T give you any appreciation of how soft this lens is at wideopen in bright light. In bright enough frontal light, it's a mess.

What I've got from all this so far is in bright light, the Ser. III is going to act like a lot of other soft focus lenses with a lot of glow/halo, minus any nuance. In subdued light, it's another lens, and it distances itself from the others.

That's my take

July 3, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan Brewer

OMT, what's so interesting about the top left shoulder of the globe that I previously mentioned, is that there's a glow created by the oof area either just in front of, or behind the point of focus(I don't know which) in that area, and inside that faint glow, you can see a sharply curved black line which is the outline of the globe in sharp focus. This outline is faintly silhouetted against the brighter background highlight behind the globe, and since it's all glass you can see it.

It's faint, but if you look, you can see it. That is what I love about this lens, especially that part of the image, I'm going to remember that, I'll try to repeat this effect on a larger scale in another image later.

July 3, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan Brewer

Jonathan and Jim,
When I got my 9" Verito from Jim I couldn't use it immediately because of a lack of lensboard so i played with it by holding itto project an image on a piece of card. The thing that surprised me was the formation of 3 distinct areas od sharp focus. In other word -- the actual image that was "focusused -- an image in front othe that plane and an image behind the focused image. I discovered this by moving the lens closer and further away from the dimpled light. I'm not certain what you call the light in the US but basically it is about 150 watts with a conical silvered body and a dimpled lens at the front. I concentrated on the actual pattern and discovered the three levels of focus by accident. Despite what most people claim about the Verito I find the best results with mine are acheived stopped down a little and that seems to bring the three levels of focus closer together. Wide open on 5x4 it is "very" soft. As I said mine is a 9" version and possibly quite old. I don't know if the design of the Verito changed at all over its life.


July 3, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Nicholls

Hey Steve

My very simplistic understanding of SA took note of how these lenses used that to create a soft image over a sharp one, I'm surprised there can be three planes of focus, and if I'm understanding that correctly, then wow!! Jim has a Verito, I wonder if he gets the same effect?

Once you get close to a ballpark focus on the Ser. III, which say for example is between 2 and 7, you can rack the focus back and forth between 2 and 7, and it all looks the same. The changes between the points are VERY brief and VERY faint, 'it's here, and then it's gone'.

When focusing the image above where you see where my final focus was, I passed this focus point by without recognizing it several times, before finally going back and settling in on that point.

Only after going back and forth several times and really concentrating and going it very slowly do you began to catch a very brief 'wisp' that is say 5 which is the exact point at which there's a soft image over a sharp one.

What trips you up is the the other points 2,3,4,6, and 7, don't look worse than 5, they look the same, until you really concentrate and go slowly until you see that 5, very faintly has a slight/ever so slightly a wisp of a difference and is where the focus is nailed.

It's not the same as a regular lens where is goes from worse to better to best in a smooth steady progression until you get a 'snap focus', that ain't happening w/the Ser. III

I'm not trying to introduce needless 'drama', in fact, I hoping one of you guys lucks onto a Ser.III, and I'd like to be there when you first try to focus it.

It doens't help that I have 59yr old eyeballs either. If my eyesight deteriorates any more as I get older, then I'll probably be forced to put the lens up for sale. Hopefully that won't happen for while.

July 3, 2008 | Registered CommenterJonathan Brewer

Ok -- I've worked out what the three images are -- I think.

The Verito I got came with another set of front and rear barrels [A Petzval set of similar length] When the Verito front barrel is used with the Petzval rear the phenomena I described occurs [for me] It is a Petzval with a soft/sharp centre and softer edges.

I just tried the Verito as a Verito and it is a single sharpish image with a lot of glow. I suppose that is why i prefer the Verito closed down a bit. Jim's description of mush is applicable on an enlarged 5x4. Stopped down it is quite nice. I'm not complaining.

July 4, 2008 | Registered CommenterSteve Nicholls

Greaty stuff. wideopen1.squarespace.com s great.

March 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKenton

And this is the reason I like wideopen1.squarespacew.com. Surprising posts.


March 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLavern

Wow. wideopen1.squareslace.com deserves an award.


March 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFaith

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