Antique Petzval Lenses: The Secret Ingredient Behind Hollywood’s Greatest Portrait Shots

In recent years, Hollywood has become more open minded to unconventional creative choices – whether in regards to aspect ratios, coverage style, or glass.

As part of this trend, we’ve seen many older / obscure lenses (including vintage Petzval portrait lenses), make their way onto major motion pictures.

I previously wrote an article all about the lenses used on Poor Things, which you can read here. In short, I loved their eclectic lens choices – ranging from fisheye to zoom – which were juxtaposed in the edit for striking cuts.

Of all the lenses used on that film, my favorites were the 58mm and 85mm Lomography Petzval lenses, which were used for many of the closeups.

After watching Poor Things, I did a deep dive on the Petzvals to find some other films that have made use of them. To my surprise, a growing number of Hollywood features have utilized some version of a Petzval lens.

Below I’ll briefly share a few examples of these amazing lenses in action.

But first, a bit of history…

Petzvals: Antique Portrait Lenses

The very first Petzval lenses were introduced way back in 1840, which is quite remarkable that they are still relevant nearly 200 years later.

Originally released by Voigtländer, Petzvals were the first lenses specifically designed for portraiture. They were engineered with two doublet lenses (and an aperture stop in between), which in part contributes to the distinct bokeh the glass is known for.

Petzvals have existed in different forms over the years.

For a period of time, the technology was used for film projector lenses. Many of these old projector lenses were later repurposed for cinema use, in addition to the original camera glass.

As of 2013, Lomography began producing new Petzval lenses that brought the antique technology into the 21st century. They have been quite popular ever since, in part because they offer a ton of control and customization over the bokeh the lens produces.

The newer Lomography Petzvals have often been rehoused (in many cases by TLS) to be more compatible with PL mounts and modern cinema cameras.

Each iteration of these lenses is different, but they all share the same optical characteristics. Smooth, swirling bokeh and an a surrealistic aesthetic.

Now, let’s take a look at some recent feature films that made use of Petzval technology…

Everything Everywhere All At Once

If one of the most celebrated Hollywood motion pictures of the last decade used Petzval lenses, it’s safe to say they are more than capable of mainstream use.

While the film didn’t make extensive use of Petzval glass, there were a handful of key shots like this one that used it to brilliant effect –

The Northman

Robert Eggers seems to be a big fan of Petzval lenses, perhaps in part due to their antique origins, which makes them suitable for period pieces like The Northman.

Much like on The Witch, these lenses are used on numerous closeups to create a dreamy, atmospheric and slightly disorienting look –


The Marilyn Monroe inspired feature film Blonde is known for its striking visual palette, which benefitted from an experimental approach.

It’s no wonder that Petzval lenses made their way onto this production, as a means to further stylize the narrative. Here are just a couple of the many beautiful examples of these lenses in action –

Poor Things

As mentioned above, I recently wrote an article on the unique lens choices in Poor Things, and how they contributed to the beautiful visual landscape.

Of all the lenses used on that film, the Petzvals (58mm and 85mm) were by far my favorite. They were used extensively throughout the film to capture shots like this –

Petzval Lenses: Final Thoughts

These are just a handful of examples of modern films that have been putting antique Petzval technology to use.

I would suspect that in the coming years we will only see more examples of Petzvals in action, especially as some of these bigger Hollywood features are putting them back on the map.

Inevitably, we will also see other unconventional lens choices too, as non-standard cinema lenses are starting to have a moment.

The Helios 44-2 lens is certainly one to keep an eye out for. It’s already been used on a number of feature films, and offers a similar look the Petzvals, although slightly less dramatic and not as stylized.

If nothing else, this should serve as a reminder that it’s always good to think outside the box with regards to lens choice. There are so many amazing lenses out there – some dating back hundreds of years.

No need to restrict yourself to a kit lens or even a modern cinema lens, when there are so many other options to explore too.

What’s your favorite unconventional lens to use for filmmaking? Leave a comment below!

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About Author

Noam Kroll is an award-winning Los Angeles based filmmaker, and the founder of the boutique production house, Creative Rebellion. His work can be seen at international film festivals, on network television, and in various publications across the globe. Follow Noam on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more content like this!


  • Riki

    This article delves into the resurgence of antique Petzval lenses in Hollywood and their contribution to some of the most visually stunning portrait shots in recent films. From Poor Things to Everything Everywhere All At Once, these lenses have made a significant impact on the cinematic landscape, offering a distinct aesthetic characterized by smooth, swirling bokeh and surrealistic imagery.

    Petzval lenses, originally introduced in 1840, were the first lenses designed specifically for portraiture, and their unique optical characteristics have continued to captivate filmmakers over the years. With the introduction of new Petzval lenses by Lomography in 2013, coupled with rehousing for compatibility with modern cinema cameras, these lenses have seen a resurgence in popularity.

    Films like The Northman and Blonde have embraced Petzval lenses to create dreamy, atmospheric visuals that enhance the storytelling experience. The use of these lenses adds a layer of depth on and emotion to the characters and settings, contributing to the overall narrative.

    As Hollywood becomes more open to unconventional creative choices, the use of antique lenses like Petzvals is likely to continue to grow. With an array of options available, filmmakers are encouraged to explore beyond traditional lens choices, embracing the rich history and unique characteristics of antique glass to create truly memorable cinematic experiences.

  • Mark Hensley

    I absolutely hated most of the lens choices in that film.
    Everything was just weird for weirds sake


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