The Lomography Daguerrotype Achromat has been around for a few years now- a replica of one of the original portrait lenses from way back in the day, it’s based on a formula from 1839 according to the manufacturer Lomography. Here you can see it with the f2.9 aperture thing that drops into the slot at the top of the lens. For full details on the lens and its backstory you can take a look at the Lomography website HERE.
Lomography sent me a copy of the lens to play with and see what I could get with it out on the streets. It comes with a whole bunch of aperture holes (to use my technical term) which you drop into a slot in the lens to change either the aperture or the shape of the bokeh to provide interesting effects, but for the purpose of my test I thought I’d go “peak artistic portrait” and restrict myself to the widest aperture hole (an f2.9) on my Nikon d850.
Anyone who knows me and my street portrait style knows that I work quite fast, usually with an AF lens on my camera so that I’m not taking up too much of my subjects’ time. This lens, however, is totally manual with no electronic connection to the camera, so it forced me to slow right down – which was a nice change from my typical workflow – and the strange look of the lens on my modern DSLR (I can best describe it as a steampunk brass snout) certainly got a lot of looks and interest, and actually helped my success rate, as it allowed me to tell my subjects the story of the lens and its history, which in turn piqued their interest and desire to have their picture taken.
The Lomography Daguerrotype Achromat has a character which blooms highlights with a soft haze, so looking through the viewfinder, it took an amount of playing around as I wasn’t sure that I was nailing focus all the time, even when using focus confirmation. This was initially disconcerting, but after a few tries I got the feel for it and just went with what I thought was accurate focus, which worked perfectly well.
Playing with the Lomography Daguerrotype Achromat, I was reminded how much modern lenses favour sharpness over character. In a pro situation I will often use my Sigma art 35mm f1.4 or 50mm 1.4 which always deliver beautifully sharp shots but are always lacking in character in my opinion. Perfect sharpness isn’t always desired in a portrait, and I often find myself messing with my Sigma shots in lightroom to add character. This lens is the exact opposite. It has loads of character and is full of surprises, providing a very analogue experience which I initially fought but then grew to love once I saw the types of shots I was getting.
The lens does crazy things when highlights enter a shot- you get haze, blooms of light and strange bokeh that forced me to ensure that my shots weren’t full of heavy contrast or extremely brightly lit areas when framed. But it’s these exact “inconsistencies” from a modern lens perspective that made the portraits I took so full of beautiful endearing character. The shots I got are sharp yet soft at the same time, with a look I can best describe as ROMANTIC. And it truly gave me something beautifully different when compared to my usual output. The out of focus areas were always interesting – either super smooth or filled with wild moments of bokeh which I couldn’t predict, and which made the background elements of my portraits a lot more interesting without dominating the foreground.
I’ve played with many lenses with “character”, but this one is truly packed with it – and I enjoyed the lack of control and just having to trust in it to deliver interesting shots- which it did all the time (whether I wanted it to or not!).
I’ll leave you with some final thoughts on the Lomography Daguerrotype Achromat before I share some pictures:
- It’s beautifully made
- It’s a 64mm lens with a max aperture of F2.9 and comes in Canon EF, Nikon F and Pentax K mounts
- It comes in a black or brass finish
- It looks crazy (which started conversations on the street and helped me to engage subjects)
- You may not always feel like you’re in focus, but go with it and “feel” rather than look
- The lens does mad stuff with highlights- enjoy it and see what you get
- It’s PACKED with character at f2.9, and I’ve captured some wonderful portraits with it
- In a world obsessed with sharpness, this lens laughs at you (in a 19th century French accent)
- If you want something different to add a new look to your portraits, I’d certainly recommend it
So there you are. Now here’s some street portraits…
Anil Mistry is a creative director and photographer. You can find him here: