Hallucinate Me a Memory: The Wollensak Raptar 162mm Lens

Education is a difficult profession to survive…literally. I am down for the count today from a head cold caught last week, and I feel like too much sleep is an impossibility. Between the hundreds of children I come into contact with, the hectic pace of a school day without break, the evaluating/marking/reporting cycles, and the life-long need to learn and adapt to the changing world: I do not know how any teacher makes it to retirement age. For my part, I love learning, the students never fail to amuse me, and I am fortunate enough to be able to take a sick day when I can no longer toil it out in the mines; when I falter. Yesterday was such a day, and I have fallen into the deepest of rabbit holes.

When I am sick, my memories ramble onto paths similar to those tread by Marcel Proust in his wretched Le Temps Perdu [the novels I love, but hate]. I think back in my sick fog through all of the people I have been, and all of the people I have known. I panic about the things that I forgot to do, and cringe at the awkward moments of my life as they flash before me. I whimper at the loss of cornfields in the rain and the tree filled with a robin’s blue eggs. I pine for mom’s gingerbread cookies. This morning found me eating Pop-Tarts and milk while greedily thinking of Saturday morning cartoons at my godmother’s house, where they had cable tv. Sickness gives me a moment to pause and reflect before the next great push towards the end of the next plateau.

view camera

On my way to the drugstore, where I needed to pick up cold medications for this ailing body, I was able to pick up the latest package from KEH. It was a bargain purchase of retail therapy to get me through a tough day in a tough week: a Wollensak Raptar 162mm f.4.5 lens, Kardan lens board, and a Hasselblad flash bracket  grip. At less than $100 it was all in good fun, but if I had known how much the vet bill for the dogs would have been, then I would have been more austere.

At $25 the Hasselblad flash grip seemed like a good idea. It would allow me to use the 501 C/M camera with more security when V. and I travel; trying to secure the box-shaped camera while in the neighbourhoods of Old Havana was not a simple endeavour. The bracket also features a weird trigger that permits you to snap the shot with your left hand while focusing and rewinding with your right. Frankly, it just looked interesting, and at $25 I thought it worth a try. Problem, it did not fit the camera, as the 3/8th screw mount was in the wrong place for the 501’s 3/8th hole. Disaster! After a few minutes of napping, as I only have energy for about ten minutes of sustained effort, I resolved that the Swedes must have some Hasselbladian feature to remedy this built into the grip. Eureka! Indeed, by unscrewing a tiny retaining screw in the mount the 3/8th can be switched for the smaller mount by a simple flip and return of the screw. Overall, it feels like a superb solution to the problem of carrying a Hasselblad while traveling in areas where you need a good grip on your camera. Perhaps it is not a stylish solution, but it feels indestructible and vaguely Buck Rogers in its design.

The second purchase was a Raptar 162mm lens for $49. Since mounting the Canon onto the Linhof camera bellows, I have been considering how to use the 4×5 lens characteristics for food and product photography; to create a unique styling in an over-saturated marketplace. A $49 lens that was made in the U.S.A. felt like it might be the right choice. The Kardan board, sadly, did not come with the lacquered symbol on it, which is a good thing because I butchered the aluminium with my Dremel to fit the 42 mount lens into the 42 mount hole – never let a sick man use a powertool, especially when his mind is wandering. The Dremel tool is evil. I never have the right bits, and it provides no control whatsoever, but I was channelling my grandmother and decided that the 40 seconds of cutting with reckless, head-cold induced abandon would get the job done. It did. I needed an hour long nap afterwards.  The perfectly round hole became a mouse-gnawed looking hole that was randomly uneven, but it did fit the lens and the flanges completely hid my botched Dremel work from all sight.

The Raptar was not the lens I needed for product photography. Once the lensboard was in place it was clear that the Canon would not focus except at a macro [close-up] range on the Linhof body. At f.4.5 [the cookie shot above] it is a bit of a blurry mess, but that was to be expected – I would expect to need to stop down to f.11 to get any level of sharpness. All is not lost, however. Since the Raptar is actually meant for use on the 4×5 camera, the 162mm fits perfectly between the two Schneider Kreuznach lenses [90mm and 210mm] that I own. It is small, light and should work beautifully as a unique, albeit blurry, lens for portraiture or travel on black and white film. The fact that it is the only American lens I have seen also makes it seem strangely appealing from a historical point of view. Whether it is digitally sharp is not a concern, as I was hoping for a unique perspective from this piece of glass. I am interested to see what V. thinks of it; we may try to shoot each other’s portraits this weekend if I feel any better. Experiments seldom bring about the desired effect, but the best ones bring about brilliant, unexpected results when one least expects it.

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