George Samuel Devereux is a dedicated analogue advocate who embraces the character and unique aesthetics that you get when using film. He shared his experiences shooting with the Petzval 85 Art Lens and opened up to us about how the nature of film photography can be liberating and can change the way you approach photography.
Hello George, please tell us a bit about yourself.
Hi, I’m George, a photographer based in the green pastures of Worcestershire in the West Midlands. I’ve had a passion for photography for around twelve years now, and have always been particularly interested in people and portraiture. It’s still odd to me that I’m talking about my photos in a context like this, as I still remember a Christmas when I was younger, wishing I wasn’t going to get a little digital camera as a gift, as I knew I’d never use it... and I didn’t!
However, years after that, following a rather heavy night out with some friends from college, I decided that I didn’t just want to sit inside and play computer games, I wanted to get out of the house and meet people, and figured I’d follow in my father's footsteps and buy a camera. It was a Nikon D100, and it sat on the shelf for nearly half a year before I picked it up and attempted to learn. Twelve years later, it’s my life. I’ve been more places, met more people and had more opportunities than I ever could have anticipated.
You have a very unique style of photography using portraits with film. How did that style come about and why do you choose to shoot film?
This may hurt some ears to hear, but at the risk of that I’ll be honest, I think digital photos taken with a plain lens have a tendency to be a little bland. Sure, one can blur out the backgrounds and get a “professional” looking photo with a decently sharp lens and a DSLR, but with the lack of color grading the images usually seem a little too flat. One can go the route of editing their images to add that pop, or can go the way of film to add that genuine vintage flair. Regarding color, shooting film is like placing a hand in a box of chocolates and plucking out something delicious. Each film has its own look, its own warmth, its own color pallet that is almost impossible to mimic digitally, and I love that.
I used to mock those that used film, saying things such as “why would anyone choose to step backwards when we can take 1000 photos using a digital?” It’s true that you’re limited to 36 photos or less with film, and that you can’t just hold down the shutter to guarantee that moment, but that’s what’s so liberating about it. It completely changes your ethos of shooting, instead you find yourself waiting for the perfect moment, properly taking in your surroundings to find the right frame and shooting sparingly. I’m also addicted to the process of developing a roll to see if there are any keepers. Sometimes I even leave it a while so I forget what was shot on it, just for that added excitement!
You regularly use the Petzval 85 Lens, what do you enjoy about this lens and how does it lend itself to your style of photography?
Does it need to be said? The bokeh of the Petzval is just to die for. I’m a big fan of vintage lenses and outside of a professional circumstance, have never really understood the obsession with sharpness. "Sharp" this, "sharp" that, it seems to be the only metric people measure lenses with these days. Whatever happened to character?
The Petzval 85 is a great blend of the character some of these vintage lenses have, I’m sure for some I don’t need to name a particularly popular Soviet-Era lens, but with the modern benefit of actually knowing how to build one well, and get that unique, swirly bokeh deliberately. I find this really compliments my own work, and adds an element of uniqueness to the images, be them film or digital. You’re left with something looking creative and different instead of robotic and clinical. At first use the Petzval 85 can seem a little noticeable and a tad fiddly, but you very quicky get used to manual focusing instead of relying on your autofocus, and the random encounters with people asking what lens you’re using is always a nice excuse to engage in a passionate chat about photography – which is nice, because my family are sick of it.
What gear/film do you use with this lens?
I’ve recently made the move to shooting mirrorless, as have many this last year or two, and I have to say it really breathes a new life into all vintage and manual focus lenses, the Petzval in particular. Let’s just say my eyes are not the best, and relying on an optical viewfinder is fine, but not always ideal for guaranteeing that an eye is in focus and not the ear, say. Shooting with mirrorless’ focus peaking ability means that while I am still manual focusing, making those small adjustments is a lot clearer and easier to do, which is ace. That being said I have a particular love for my Pentax ME Super and love few things more than sticking the Petzval on it and shooting some expired film from my collection in the fridge!
Any shooting tips for people wanting to test this lens out?
If you’re shooting mirrorless using the focus peaking abilities of your camera is great and makes manual focusing a breeze on any lens, however if you’re shooting on a DSLR my advice is to switch your camera into continuous shooting and fire several shots while slowly turning the focus dial, just to guarantee you get the shot you want. I find that the bokeh of this lens works amazingly well when you’re getting a little light through say tree cover or something similar, and for studio work I really like to use this lens in conjunction with fairy lights too. The Petzval 85 is an ideal lens for portraiture and remains one of my favorites to use, if you have a chance to try one out or are on the fence about picking one up, I can highly recommend you give it a s-whirl.
To see more of George's work, visit his Instagram page.