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Out and about with Mr Thambar


M9reno
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Today was my first full day out and about with the Thambar 90mm f/2.2. Here are some samples. All with dot filter attached, from wide open to medium aperture. All with my M9.

Edited by M9reno
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Other subjects. Still with dot filter. Minimal manipulation in LR.

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People, street, etc. Still with dot filter, the creative adaptability of this lens to extremely different moods and subjects is amazing.

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Very interesting! After seeing this selection, and doing some research (I don't think I've ever heard of this lens before), I can really see its appeal for romanticized portraiture. It softens the image as intended, but also reduces contrast a great deal....too much, IMO. It may be worth a try to bump the contrast some. Did you try without the dot filter? Just curious. Thanks for posting these.

 

Larry

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No, the filter is clear except for the central dot. The lens just shows dramatically less spherical aberration as it is stopped down. See the official Leitz instructions here: http://www.l-camera-forum.com/leica-forum/leica-collectors-historica/320536-thambar-instruction-booklet.html#post2635639

 

All the best,

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Al,

Interesting results with that olens combination. I really like the softness of the portraits but am ambivalent about some of the others.

Paul

 

I liked the other ones more than the portraits. Some have a very interesting mood. The portraits are dull (not the subjects of course).

Jan

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Many thanks. This lens (manufacture date 1937) proves, I think, to what extent taste is culturally conditioned. It is an eye to a pictorialist aesthetic of the early 20th century, which we can perhaps understand on an intellectual level, yet not fully on an aesthetic level.

 

For example, look at the 'fuzzy' Greta Garbo 1925 portrait taken by Arnold Genthe (near the bottom of the page).

Arnold Genthe - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

One can hardly understand, as I have read, that this portrait was instrumental in catapulting Garbo to fame!

 

I have just come across an interesting and recent (2007) University of St Andrews PhD thesis by one William Russell Young and look forward to reading it. The Leitz Thambar is mentioned on p. 310. Just skimming, what caught my attention is how late the release of the Thambar came, since in the mid-1930s Pictorialism was in steep decline, if not altogether dead, as an aesthetic movement.

 

It would therefore be fascinating to understand a bit more of the marketing rationale of this lens at Leitz. Only about 3,000 were produced, as the lens was both expensive and relatively unpopular. I have read a 1949 interview of Max Berek that emphasised how important it was for the first Leica lenses to be as sharp as possible, in order to prove the camera in the market against its larger-format competitors, and how therefore the early lenses, particularly the Elmar 50 f/3.5, were designed with this priority foremost in mind.

 

So it seems it was only ten years after the launch of the Leica that Leitz could afford the luxury of producing an 'artiy' and specialised lens like the Thambar, a lens that some would have regarded as a bizzarre anachronism. Imagine paying so much money for a lens that was intentionally unsharp! (I cannot help comparing this, mutatis mutandis, with the recent release of the M Monochrom!).

 

The Berek interview is reprinted in K. Kühn-Leitz (ed.) _Max Berek: Schöpfer der ersten Leica-Objektive. Pionier der Mikroskopie_, (2009).

 

Here is the link and the abstract to the W. Russell Young thesis:

http://research-repository.st-andrews.ac.uk/bitstream/10023/505/6/W%20Russell%20Young%20PhD%20thesis.pdf

 

The history, practice and aesthetic of the soft focus lens in photography is elucidated and developed from its earliest statements of need to the current time with a particular emphasis on its role in the development of the Pictorialist movement. Using William Crawford's concept of photographic 'syntax', the use of the soft focus lens is explored as an example of how technology shapes style. A detailed study of the soft focus lenses from the earliest forms to the present is presented, enumerating the core properties of pinhole, early experimental and commercial soft focus lenses. This was researched via published texts in period journals, advertising, private correspondence, interviews, and the lenses themselves. The author conducted a wide range of in-studio experiments with both period and contemporary soft focus lenses to evaluate their character and distinct features, as well as to validate source material. Nodal points of this history and development are explored in the critical debate between the diffuse and sharp photographic image, beginning with the competition between the calotype and daguerreotype. The role of George Davison's The Old Farmstead is presented as well as the invention of the first modern soft focus lens, the Dallmeyer-Bergheim, and its function in the development of the popular Pictorialist lens, the Pinkham & Smith Semi-Achromatic. The trajectory of the soft focus lens is plotted against the Pictorialist movement, noting the correlation betwixt them, and the modern renaissance of soft focus lenses and the diffuse aesthetic. This thesis presents a unique history of photography modeled around the determining character of technology and the interdependency of syntax, style and art.

 

This is all fascinating to me. Sorry for the long post!

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m9reno, that is not only fascinating for you.

 

Curt Emmermann wrote in „Die Leica“ Heft 1 1935 the article „Soft-Fokus“. He describes that about 1927 began the movement of „Neue Sachlichkeit”. But that meanwhile one had to accept, that sometimes practices of pictorial manner are still justified – so e.g. the “Soft-Fokus”. The outmost sharpness of an Elmar-Typ after Emmermann is not the one and only to look for in any case. But nevertheless one must avoid, that the negatives don´t suffer from a “weichlichen and unbestimmten Zeichnung”. This would be a fault against whom says Emmermann - we fightet “bei verschiedenen weichzeichnenden Kinoobjektiven, mit denen wir seit Jahren an der Leica versuchsweise gearbeitet haben… In dem Leitz-Thambar, das seit kurzem auf dem Markt ist, liegt ein gekonntes Soft-Fokus-Objektiv vor.“ [aaO S.8 f.]

 

I think this nearly hidden hint is for me the prove that this pictorialistic aspect of lens-smoothness in distinct cases never was forgotten nor gone. The time was filled by for Emmermann unsufficient experimenting with smooth Kinolenses on LeicaBodies until Leica brought the Thambar. The Thambar perhaps came late - because the Elmarsharpness was more important for the establishing and survival of the Leica. Do first things first.

 

But the Thambar was on the other side -as one can see- by far not totally unzeitgemäß. It was to have for 195,- Reichsmark – for the Hektor 7,3 you had in the same time to pay 260,- Reichsmark - so it even was not the most expensive lens. (Elmar 5cm 75,-RM.)

 

In Heft 2 1935 Emmerman writes about “Praktisches Arbeiten mit dem Thambar” and brings two picture-examples (Portraits) how he thinks one could work with the Thambar, but saying that it is only his way. To my surprise the smoothness in the two portraits is very very self restrainted, far less than e.g. in a Rodenstock - Imagon. Perhaps like with the Hektor 7,3 + one f-stop - or even two.

 

I strongly recommend both articles for Thambar Users and Lovers. (I still have none.)

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^ Thank you very much for your very interesting comments. I must certainly find a copy of "Die Leica" to read about the Thambar.

 

For me the words of Emmermann are encapsulated in the following two paragraphs from the Leitz instructions:

 

Paragraph 1: "Soft-focus delineation involves a combination of two distinct effects. It does not entail sacrificing the sharp outlines of a photographic image; but it does imply, first, that the contrasts of the subject are moderated, and secondly, that a "sunny" impression is produced in the picture."

 

This, I take to mean that Leitz is attempting a soft-focus lens with soft contrast BUT also sharp outlines. This is perhaps an answer to critics of the traditional Weichzeichner lens.

 

Paragraph 2: "In the construction of the new lens special consideration has been given to avoiding as completely as possible any tendency to excessive 'and inartistic diffusion "haloes". It must, however, be remembered that very intense "haloes", such as may occur with objects under extremely hard lighting taken at the full opening of the iris diaphragm, fail to give a "sunny" effect but merely produce a picture that is obviously unsharp."

 

This, I take to mean that the ideal Thambar portrait is unlike my own above, and more like Emmermann's more restrained variety. Again, low contrast but sharp outlines: a tall order, and here I simply plead inexperience!!!

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Yes Sir. I think thats it. For me perhaps the truth lies in the mid. For me the two Emmermann examples or not strong enough thambar-types. Clichees, difficulties with the reproduction and prints ? Emmermann writes that the Thambar is a pronounced "Sonnenobjektiv". "D.h. seine Stärke beruht in der sonnig-lichtvollen Wiedergabe kontrastreicher Motive." Anyway - I see your Thambar found in the right hands.

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Yes Sir. I think thats it. For me perhaps the truth lies in the mid. For me the two Emmermann examples or not strong enough thambar-types. Clichees, difficulties with the reproduction and prints ? Emmermann writes that the Thambar is a pronounced "Sonnenobjektiv". "D.h. seine Stärke beruht in der sonnig-lichtvollen Wiedergabe kontrastreicher Motive." Anyway - I see your Thambar found in the right hands.

 

It looks in any case from the studied avoidance of the term 'pictorialism" (or equivalents) in the Leitz literature, that the lens is intended as a new and very different type of lens, a Sonnenobjectiv, for instance. Or one might think of it as a post-Pictorialist lens.

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Leitz Leica wrote 1935 in : Die auswechselbaren Leica Objektive: "Für den wirklich durchgebildeten Amateur und den Fachphotographen steht aber mit dem Leitz-Thambar ein Hilfsmittel für künstlerisch wertvolle Arbeiten zur Verfügung." (Oh, oh - a kind of kitchen-aid for artistic precious work - but a little bit marketing necesse est. If they would have known the expression "Sonnenobjektiv" ...oh, oh but caution Sonnar = Zeiss.)

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In the English version of the same catalogue the first sentence of that paragraph reads: "This lens is naturally of no use to beginners in photography."

 

Strong language, and Leitz probably anticipated criticism by producing this lens, and perhaps wading into the controversy between pictorialists and "straight photographers".

 

In the 1930s the battle of aesthetics was being was being won by the latter, thanks to people like Ansel Adams, who has this to say in his autobiography (_An Autobiography_ (1985)), p.91):

 

"Who were these pictorialists (we called them the fuzzy-wuzzies) that Group f/64 so strongly reacted against? At this time their champion was a Los Angeles photographer, William Mortensen. His photographs were of models suggesting classic and Renaissance characters in historical and allegorical situations while in various stages of nakedness and period costume. They were just plain awful."

 

Embodying pictorialism in the person of Mortensen, it would seem to me, made extraordinarily "easy pickings" for someone like Ansel Adams. Mortensen's was an extreme, almost baroque variety of pictorialism, the style in full decline, where soft focus was by far the least objectionable part. No doubt Leitz would wish to avoid mixing with such a crowd!

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  • 3 years later...

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