Guaranteed way to get any photography nerd’s attention: tell them you’re shooting with an f/0.75 lens. That’s what the two photos in this post were taken with, a Rodenstock TV-Heligon 42/0.75 lens that I snagged off of eBay, along with an XR-Heligon 68/1.0 that I got for all of $10. The 42mm is perfect for Nikon mount; an M42 to F-mount adapter ring fits perfectly and can just be glued on. The 68mm is going to take a bit more effort, but an extension tube set and some more epoxy should do the trick.
These lenses are as about as specialty as it gets. They’re fixed-focus (the 42mm on my D300 focuses at about 3 inches in front of the lens), they have no aperture ring and so are fixed at maximum aperture, they are massively prone to flare, they have extremely low contrast, and they have an at times bizarre color rendition. I think they’re interesting because at those apertures, the depth of field is ridiculously tiny and so the shots have a dreamy feel that even an 85/1.4 can’t come close to.
More information about these lenses, shamelessly stolen from Robert Rex Jackson (check out this photo to see what the 42/0.75 looks like):
This lens was intended for [X-ray] fluoroscopy. The image in a fluoroscope appears on a very dim fluorescent screen (it could be much brighter if you didn’t mind exposing your patient to MUCH more radiation…heh…) and to get images they had a camera with a fixed-focus lens pointed at the screen. To get images that were usable without having to use extremely fast film (which would introduce unwanted grain) they had very fast lenses made.
So this lens was intended to shoot a screen from about six inches away. It was never intended to photograph 3D objects at varying distances. Using this as a general-purpose photographic lens is an extreme perversion of a once extraordinarily expensive industrial lens. But it’s fun, anyway.
The obvious inspiration for stuff like this is the inimitable Bjørn Rørslett, whose work I’ve admired for years, and I’m psyched to be able now to try my hand at this kind of thing. Just walking around this evening with the 42/0.75, I found myself trying to notice things that would look good as subjects for this lens: tiny patterns, local color contrasts, and the like. It’ll take me a while to “see” the way these lenses do.