Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Monocle Lens

GIMP FIL Script Monocle Effect
The Russians are at it again. Aside from making a slow rise in the Medal Standings in their home turf of Sochi, they are also out there on the fringes on photography - not doing anything on the Digital side mind you, but they seem to have a love affair with optics, and setting the world on fire with a rather cool phenomena called "Lomo". The Lomo (Lomography) movement is named after the Russian's continued production of primitive film cameras which somehow make photographs with a unique and splendid charm, by combining many imperfections, like vignetting, ghosting, flare and light leakage into one.

One such device is a recent addition to their product line - the single element lens, or "Monocle Lens" (not to be confused with the monocle eyeglass worn by Mr. Peanut, and at one time also seen on Leon Redbone). I'm sure that Mssrs. Peanut and Redbone, both being true purists would both approve of the Monocle camera lens. Here is the official Lomo product, called the Petzval Lens, and it's a beautiful thing to behold, isn't it? Here's what it would look like on your typical DSLR cameras:

The Lomo Petzval Lens

This is a reproduction of a design that goes back to the dawn of Photography - the 1850's, with the difference being that it can be adapted to any modern DSLR camera. As you can see, it is little more than a brass tube with one single lens element (the meniscus) and several sizes and shapes of slide-in Aperture rings.

Ah, but the industrious Russians aren't content to wait on a pre-order of the Petzval from Lomo. Indeed, why not make your own version, by removing most of the innards from an old, preferably broken lens? Here's the idea, available at a fairly reasonable cost from a Russian Ebay seller - simply take a fixed focal lens apart and remove everything but the front glass element, make the element easily removable so you can drop in some Aperture rings in behind it... I think that's the general idea. And what do you end up with? Here at Flickr, are over 600 photos made using a Monocle Lens.

I really love the look, don't you?

But, frugal as I am, I set out to find some way of getting this for free, and I found it. It can be done with software, thanks to the great minds at GIMP. You simply download this Script Plug-in, and add it to your GIMP Script Folder, as per the instructions. When you re-start GIMP, it will appear under "Filters > RSS > FIL". You'll notice this is actually just another form of Film Emulation, but it has that little Tick-Box to add a Monocle Effect.

Here's the two horses again, this time in black and white, using the same tool (FIL) with Monocle Effect:

To my eyes, it's quite a bit less subtle than having the real lens, as seen in the Flickr pool of photographs. Software implementations often are less subtle than the real thing, I find. Unfortunately, the FIL Script doesn't offer any way of varying the Monocle effect (yet). For the sake of reference, here is the "perfect" photo I started with:

EOS 5D, Sigma 50mm f1.4, DxO Optics Pro
In one big way, I suppose the software method has the advantage of keeping a perfectly executed original, made with your high end gear, and then follow up with various filters, simulations and effects such as the Monocle Lens. However, if you shoot the original picture with a real Petzval or Monocle, then that's all you'll have - a picture with that pleasing Monocle distortion.

Finally, here is another shot to which I applied the FIL Script, this time in Sepia:

To my eyes, it's quite authentic looking - enough to be fun, except for being a bit too sharp, and the Sepia tone is a bit too bright. Again, the FIL Script doesn't offer any means of varying the effect (yet). One could experiment by combining it with other filter effects, for which GIMP now has hundreds available. My wish list is to have a software simulation that will provide a genuine copper tone, somewhat like caffenol processing. I could either do it the real way, in a darkroom, using Caffenol chemistry, or try creating my own GIMP script - I'm not sure which would be more difficult.

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