ilex seminat

admittedly i might have a few too many lenses.  i don’t have curio cabinets full of them, or 4 shelves piled high but i am always a sucker for a cheap lens that might be interesting.    the merriam-webster online dictionary defines interesting as holding the attention.  its usually the cheap unwanted lenses that hold my attention.  i bought a speed graphic camera as my entry to large format photography back in around 1988 from an old camera store called e. p. levines.  i bought it back when it was still on lincoln street in Boston ...  before it moved to 23 drydock in south boston.

In the 1980s the speed graphic was kind of an unloved camera, every photographer back in the day had and used and sold one.  I was pretty excited because not only could i use shuttered lenses (it came with a tominon 127 in a polaroid press shutter) it had a curtain shutter so i could use the camera with enlarger lenses, stuff harvested off of junk folders, and cheap barrel lenses that at the time costs almost nothing.  In case you read the 127 might not cover a 4×5 negative, i have use the tominion for decades and never had coverage issues.  maybe i lucked out?   What’s a speed graphic?  Its one of those old fold-up  newspaper cameras press photographers used back in the day.  they look like this.

they are a great camera for playing around with.  you can fashion a lens out of pretty much anything, from a dollar store magnifying glass (cheap magnifying glasses) to a 19th century brass barrel lens that cost as much as a used car (brass lenses on google shopping ) ….

i bought the Seminat more than a decade ago.  It was before the soft lens gold rush had really started.  people really weren’t buying up brass lenses most people wanted super sharp super contrasty, like a digital camera but for film.  people hadn’t been bitten by the wet plate photography bug yet either.

So … there was this guy on ebay who started all his auctions at .77¢ .. and there it was and $40 or 50$ dollar later it was shipped to me from sunny california.  ( sorry i don’t have a photograph of my lens, but it looks kind of like this … mine is in an old ilex general shutter. )

i usually don’t stop the lens down, and i like to put the shutter on TIME so i can just do a long exposure.  it takes a little while to learn how to focus with this lens to get the most out of it.  Years ago I was taught a trick, to stop a soft lens down and after it’s focused open it up.  it does give a nice diffuse image i like photographing outdoors or through a window.

ilex seminat wide open
garage floor and tree
retina
multi hour retina image
reversed tinted with photoshop
leaves and branches and sky
seminat as a close up lens on a 5×7 camera.
seminat on a 5×7 camera.

This might actually be the only thing you ever read about the Ilex Seminat, or maybe posts on a photo forum where I have talked about it.  You might also hear that it’s a piece of junk, maybe it is?  You might read old photography magazines+ads on google books, (usually they talk about the cinema lens ilex sold with the same name)  maybe they are the same lens?

I guess the moral of the story is that sometimes just buying a cheap lens on a whim works out.  Play with it to figure out what the lens is good for and what it can do.   If you don’t like it you can always put it up for sale for about what you paid for it, and get your $$ back.  If you were wondering, nope, I won’t be selling this lens anytime soon…

Author: jnanian

I am a Freelance Photographer in Rhode Island. I make photographs using a variety of methods with and without a camera, and I teach photography online and in person. I make photo emulsions from scratch, I coat my own photo paper and make cyanotypes too. I am a huge fan of Caffenol ( I helped write the Caffenol Cookbook ) and instead of instant coffee, I roast my own Sumatra Robusta beans. I sell them so you can make your own long lasting, film and print developer called Sumatranol. I also sell silver recovery products.