Great cameras are often defined by their lenses. Whether it’s a close-up, wide angle, or zoom, lenses allow photographers to literally capture more than meets the eye.

The first true photographic lens was developed by an Englishman named W. H. Wollaston in 1804 and fitted to a camera obscura in 1812. His meniscus lens, as it is called, permitted photographers to keep a wider range of their subject in focus than ever before.

Unfortunately, these lenses did not work well at close range, which meant they were ill-suited to portraiture. In 1840, an Austrian named Joseph Max Petzval devised a portrait lens that solved this problem, although people sitting for daguerreotype portraits were required to remain perfectly still for up to two full minutes.

Petzval lenses were fitted to Voightländer cameras—only 70 were made in 1841 and 600 the following year, but the lenses were quickly copied by German manufacturers. Today, working brass-barrel “Petzval-type” lenses, as they are often called, from the 19th century are readily available, although they are not necessarily inexpensive.

Subsequent improvements to camera lenses occurred in 1862 (the wider-angle Harrison & Schnitzer Globe lens, which was used in landscape photographs) and the Dallmeyer (1866). The telephoto lens arrived in 1891, but its was the Zeiss anastigmat lens of 1890, renamed the Protar in 1900, that signaled the arrival of the first modern camera lens.

Countless advances and refinements were made in camera lenses throughout the first half of the 20th century, but the game-changer occurred in 1959, when the Voigtländer-Zoomar made its debut. Vivitar improved the zoom even more in 1975 with its Series 1 lenses—the macro in that family allowed a photographer to zoom from 70 to 210 millimeters.


Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Collection D'Appareils Photo

Collection D'Appareils Photo

While we couldn't read everthing - it's mostly in French - the images on this site speak for themselves. Its an ext… [read review or visit site]

Magic Mirror of Life

Magic Mirror of Life

Jack and Beverly Wilgus have put together a great trove of information and images of camera obscura-related photos … [read review or visit site]

Cameras and Co

Cameras and Co

An impressive collection of antique and vintage cameras, this site features high-resolution images of over 120 came… [read review or visit site]

George Eastman House

George Eastman House

This showcase of vintage cameras and photography is plainly designed, but the camera collection and related referen… [read review or visit site]

Antique Cameras D. Tristram Ludwig

Antique Cameras D. Tristram Ludwig

David Tristram Ludwig shares high resolution images of his in-depth personal collection of antique cameras, includi… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Voigtlander Universal Heliar 4.5 / 36cm Soft Focus Portrait Brass LensCarl Zeiss Planar 85mm F1.4 Hft For Rolleiflex Sl35Cooke Portrait Anastigmat Series Iie 10 1/2" - 270mm F/4.5Ernemann Ernostar 85mm F1.8 Vintage German Cine Movie Camera LensJ.h Dallmeyer 3b LensAntique Brass Camera Lens Signed "williams Brown & Earle" Philadelphia - France Kodak Ektar 50mm F1.9 Vintage Cine Movie Ektra Camera LensVoigtlander Braunschweig Heller 18cm F 4.5 Lens In Vintage Compur ShutterAntique Photo Camera Lens By Perkin Son Rayment London Zeiss Contarex 55 F1.4Antique Petzval Type Lens Camera / Magic Lantern Lacquered Brass Wheel FocusLeica 90mm F/2 Chrome Summicron M Cat No. 11123 Made In 1959Vintage 1947 Kodak 12 In. Commercial Ektar Lens For 8x10 Large FormatMeyer-optik Gorlitz Trioplan 100mm F2.8 Prime Lens - Beautiful Bokeh!Thornton Pickard - Beck Symmetrical Vintage Brass Camera Lens Circa 1885Antique Portrait Lens F5 8x10 Monogram Jupiter 9 2/85 Ussr Camera Lens 85mm M39 Screw Mount Vintage Slr -oily BladesAntique Brass Magic Lantern / Camera Lens Brass Konica Hexanon Ar F/1.8 40mm Prime "pancake" LensAero Ektar 178mm F/2.5 LensVoigtlander W.z. Weichzeichner 18cm F/9 - Soft Focus - Portrait LensAntique Victorian Plate Camera Lens F Stops 8 - 64, Lens Cap & Mounting RingLerebours Et Secretan Brass LensDallmeyer Super Six 38mm F1.9 Projection Lens - Boxed - Beautiful!Vintage Canon Fd 50mm F1.4 S.s.c. Fast Prime Lens Manual Focus Fd Mount Carl Zeiss Jena Ddr Pancolar 1.8/50 Camera Lens 50mm M42 Screw Mount Vintage SlrLot Of 4 Vintage LensesVintage Kenko Fish Eye 180 Degree 35mm Lens 58284 W/ Case Vintage Camera Canon Fd 50mm F/1.2 Lens, Excellent ConditionVintage Ernst Leitz Wetzlar (leica) Summaron F=3.5cm 1:3.5 Lens - #1060532 Carl Zeiss Biogon 1:4.5 F=21mm Screwback Lens Nice W Zeiss 354 FilterLeica Summicron Dr With BoxNikon Micro-nikkor 105mm F/2.8 Ai-s Lens 105 F2.8 Ais Lens VintageDallmeyer 1.5 Inch F1.9, "d Mount", Box, Bolex 8mm Cine/pentax Q/38mmCarl Zeiss Jena Ddr Mc S 135mm 1:3.5 Camera Lens M42 Screw Mount Slr, Caps & BoxHuge Dallmeyer Projection Lens Job Lot - Boxed - 51mm 63mm - Not Super SixLeica Ii Serial 76982 Black W/ Elmar F3.5 LensTaylor & Hobson Cooke Telekinic Anastigmat 6 Inch F/4.5 LensMeyer-optik Gorlitz Orestegor 200mm F4 Prime Lens - Best Example You'll FindLeica 50mm F/2 Black Summicron M Cat No. 11819 V4 Made In Canada 1978P. Angenieux Y12 90mm F2.5 LeicaBausch & Lomb Baltar F:2.3 50mm Lens Vintage Movie Cine Vtg Smc Pentax-m F1.4 50mm Asahi Camera Lens Cozo 1a 49mm FilterHasselblad Chrome Zeiss Sonnar 250mm F5.6 LensVintage Rodenstock Apo Rodagon Germany F = 1:2.8 50mm LensJ.h. Dallmeyer No.9 Kinematograph C Mount Movie Camera Lens Needs CleaningCanon Fd Lens Set 28mm, 50mm, 35-105mm W/ AdaptersVtg 20" 508mm F5.6 Bausch & Lomb "big Bertha" Telephoto Anastigmat Lens Vf7744rAntique Bausch & Lomb Zeiss Tessar 5x7 Brass Lens Series 1c Large Format 1903Rare Vintage Dallmeyer "speed" Anastigmat F/1.5 - F=1" #192087 (087) - C MountP. Angenieux R51 Retrofocus 24mm F3.5 Exakta No ReserveSummilux 1:1.4/50 Leitz Wetzlar Lens Made In Germany Great ConditionKodak Commercial Ektar Lens 12" F/6.3 - 305mmSom Berthiot S42868 Cinor F3.5 100mm Camera Lens FranceSummilux Leica Camera Lens 1:1.4/35 In Original BoxWollensak 2.04" 51mm F/1.5 Raptar 7 LensRare Old Vintage Nippon Kogaku Japan W-nikkor 1:3.5 F=2.8 Cm Camera Lens + CaseDallmeyer Max-lite 89mm Projection Lens - Ideal For ConversionDallmeyer Popular 2" F4.5 Enlarging Anastigmat Lens Angenieux 10mm F1.8 Retrofocus Lens In 16mm Cine "c" Mount + Makers Front Cap