Over Christmas I set myself a little task of trying to make a 120-year- old Bausch & Lomb + Beck lens fit on a fairly modern camera. The lens was given to me in the late 1980’s by one of my very first models. It was a nice thought but to be honest, I came close to chucking-it-out on several occasions because I could find no use for it. It was designed to fit on the bellows on an old folding-type camera. The lens itself is around 120 years old and is beautifully-made. Fortunately, I never actually had the heart to throw it away.
Making a 120 year old lens work on a modern mirrorless camera, series…
- Making a 120-year-old Bausch & Lomb + Beck lens work on a modern mirrorless camera. (You are here.)
- 120 year old Bausch & Lomb + Beck lens, in action, on Portsdown Hill.
- How I mounted my 120-year-old Bausch & Lomb + Beck lens.
So now, more than thirty years on, with an ever-growing interest in vintage lenses, I thought I’d see if I could actually mount it successfully on a modern mirrorless digital camera, and hopefully capture some images. And importantly, I wanted to do so without causing any damage to the 120-year-old vintage lens.
[Please click on images to enlarge]
Guessing its age
To be honest, I’m not sure exactly how old it is. I’m guesstimating it is around 120 years. The text engraved into the brass immediately beneath the lens mount reads, “BAUSCH & LOMB OPT. CO. PAT. JAN. 6. 91” Considering I’ve had it for three decades, that date must be 1891-01-06, and I’m guessing is was made within a decade or so of the patent being granted.
The lens itself is a British-made Beck “symmetrical” lens – meaning it has the same glass each end. In the middle is a leaf shutter and an iris, offering apertures between f/5.6 and f/45 – though it seems to have a sweet-spot around f/11. Beck was a well-known British optics maker – apparently Laurence of Arabia had a Beck Camera. The iris and pneumatic shutter release mechanism was made by American/Canadian company Bausch & Lomb. It’s still in business today, making medical optics.
I’ve back-calculated its focal length based on its its physical aperture sizes at f/8 and f/16 and it works-out at ~ 102 mm. And its flange distance in order to focus at infinity ~ 120 mm. Granted, my methodology in all of the above calculation is a tad flaky, but I had to make an approximation in order to figure out how to mount it.
Macro Bellows to mount the Bausch & Lomb + Beck lens
In order to mount the Bausch & Lomb + Beck lens, I decided to purchase a macro bellows. Frankly I really should have bought one years ago. They are such useful things to have, especially if you enjoy experimenting with vintage glass. Anyway I found a Soviet era Versatz bellows on eBay in almost unused condition, complete with its original box and test certificate, dated 1983. At just £13.49 plus P&P, I decided it would make a perfect “Christmas gift to self“…
It has an M42 thread each end – male at the camera end and female at the lens end. And interestingly this particular bellows ends can be reversed, so it will work in “moving camera” and moving lens” mode, as shown in this article’s header image.
Fortunately for me, the female end is large enough for me to stuff the rear end of the lens assembly in the hole and hold it there by hand – albeit in a not particularly steady or stable manner!
Another stroke of luck, the lens assembly shutter mechanism has a “T” position. In this position, one can cock the shutter, tap the release lever, and the shutter stays open. It should stay open until one taps the release lever a second time. Unfortunately it is a sort of hair trigger and one has be very careful not to touch the lever while holding the lens in place. And of course one has to hold the assembly still and not get one’s large sausage-like fingers in the way. Then very carefully you have to tap the release button on the camera with the other hand. This is probably an easy task for some people, but it pushed my hand-coordination to its limits, I can tell you!
Some pictures with the Bausch & Lomb + Beck lens
My very first picture with my vintage lens, SooC (straight out of camera), no edits, just scaled down for the worldwide web…
I calculated the lens has a focal length of around 102 mm. As a friend commented, this is rather long for a µ4/3 camera with a 13 mm x 17.3 mm sensor. It fills the frame as a 200 mm would on a 135 format (36 mm x 24 mm). The ceramic plant pots in the photo were around 8 metres away. The lens aperture is f/11. Granted, its far from perfect. And if you zoom in there is some strange chromatic stuff going on too. However considering its age, and the fact I was holding the lens in the hole by hand, it is sharper than I expected. I’d add that I was shooting through a double-glazed window too. It was too wet to take it outside.
I did manage to grab a few more indoor shots. This is a set of pewter “Huldra” 50ml whisky tots, made to celebrate the release of the Tandberg Huldra 10 receiver, back in the early 1970s…
My trusty Huldra 10 multiband stereo receiver. Worth noting that due to the long focal length of this lens, I needed to move back almost five metres away from the Huldra, in order to capture its full width of approximately 54 centimetres…
Once I receive the part I need to secure the lens assembly on the bellows properly, and it stops raining, I plan to take it up to Portsdown Hill, on a nice clear day, and take some snaps over Portsmouth and Southsea. That should really put it through its paces.
- Bausch & Lomb history…
- Bausch & Lomb today…
- Transpires that Beck is still going too, trading today as Beck Optronic Solutions Ltd,..
- Beck history…
- The Camera Wiki has quite a an informative article regarding early Beck products…