Twenty-two years after its foundation in 1994 by Lars Netopil, the Solms Camera Fair held at the Taunushalle (Taunus Hall) of this city of the Land of Hessen (Germany), located at around 80 km from Frankfurt, has turned into one of the most important photographic fairs of classic and vintage cameras, lenses and accessories in the world, as well as a twice a year landmark international event within its scope,
by dint of a great effort fulfilled by a number of professional exhibitors from both Germany and many other countries of the globe, sharing a love for their trade and a passion for this type of top-notch stuff featuring an amazing level of mechanical and optical technology, along with second to none standards of reliability, duration in time working flawlessly for many decades and a timeless beauty.
An attendee to the Solms Camera Fair looking over a Leica M3 with a 4 elements in 3 groups Elmar 50 mm f/2.8 lens in bayonet mount.
The Leica M3 is the best rangefinder camera ever made along with the Nikon SP, and with difference the best choice to attach it standard 50 mm lenses thanks to its extraordinary 0.92x magnification viewfinder and an effective rangefinder base of 63.71 mm.
On its turn, the Elmar 50 mm f/2.8 (manufactured between 1957 and 1954) is an exceedingly small and light (220 g) retractable lens with a superb entirely metallic (chromed brass) mechanical construction, excellent correction of distortion and vignetting to negligible levels, and features a circular 15 blade diaphragm resulting in an exquisite and smooth bokeh at full f/2.8 aperture, though its sweeting spots are at f/4 and f/5.6, where both sharpness and contrast are excellent (the latter being particularly better than at f/2.8).
Front top area of the Leica M3 where we can see the window of its 0.92x viewfinder (on far right, providing the main image for the VF and being combined with the bright-line frames, the rangefinder metering field and the LED indicators), the brightline illumination window (in the middle, gathering ambient light to produce in the VF the brightline frames for lenses of different focal lengths) and the rangefinder window (on far left, providing the image for the very bright rangefinder metering field).
Sixty-two years after its launching into market in 1954, the Leica M3 keeps on boasting the best viewfinder made in the world hitherto (far superior to the cream of the crop of current digital professional cameras with different sensor formats in the reflex and mirrorless scope alike), followed by the top-notch viewfinders of the also analog cameras Nikon SP, Olympus OM-1, Leica R8 and Leica R9.
A first-rate service and painstaking attention paid to the customers,
(who are allowed to thoroughly check the correct and full operating state of the items together with their cosmetic appearance) as top priority for exhibitors, along with a craving for offering highly competitive prices, make up a very interesting additional bonus for the visitors, who in increasing numbers have gathered at the Solms Taunushalle (venue of this one of a kind relishing rendezvous for any enthusiast of analogue photographic equipment) for more than two decades.
One of the tables of the Solms Camera Fair on which can be seen among other cameras and lenses two historical black painted Robots II Luftwaffen-Eigentum cameras with collapsible chromed brass Schneider-Kreuznach Tele-Xenar 7,5 cm f/3.8 in very good cosmetic and working condition.
This camera, manufactured by Otto Berning and Company, Düsseldorf (Germany) between 1940 and 1945, was deployed by the Luftwaffe during the Second World War in different aircraft like the Messerschmitt BF 109, Messerschmitt 110 and Focke Wulf 190 on reconnaissance or firing control missions, getting 48 24 x 24 square format pictures on a standad 35 mm film roll inside special film cartridges.
It was inserted in a black housing with a double spring device working automatically and without shaking (in the FW 190 it was installed inside a cradle under the right wing and connected to the guns), albeit it could also be used handheld by the crew.
The standard Robot II camera had been launched into market in 1938 and already featured a lot of improvements fulfilled by Heinz Kilfitt, including a viewfinder located in the lens axis and another one at 90º for spy work and the motor driven by a spring wound up with the large knob placed on the upper area of the camera.
This was a small but heavy camera, lacking any RF or light meter but with a comprehensive range of lenses manufactured by Schneider-Kreuznach and Zeiss for it between 30 mm and 400 mm and featuring 26 mm screw mounts.
On the other hand, the small 24 x 24 mm format was also featured by the Isographe (precision photographic device) 24 x 24 invented by Lucien Baudry, coupled to a Som Berthiot Paris Flor 40 mm f/3.5 lens and manufactured between 1945-1947 according to horology parameters, with brass alloy parts supplied by watch wholesalers and boasting a high precision shutter as well as a large frame viewfinder and the unique trait of a sight through the objective.
An experienced German dealer showing a 4 elements in 3 groups A. Schacht Ulm Travenon R 135 mm f/4.5 first version (preset lens with 40.5 mm filter, made between 1960 and 1970) in M42 mount and very good condition to a visitor of the Solmser Fotobörse.
The appearance of this utterly metallic long-focus lens boasting an excellent mechanizing and a minimum focusing distance of 1.5 m, is simply gorgeous and its state-of-the-art 16 blade diaphragm created by its designer the genius Ludwig Bertele (who knew that it would have been exceedingly complex to handle such a big number of blades with a mechanism featuring auto aperture) enables to get a very beautiful and distinctive bokeh resulting in pictures with unique vintage aesthetics of image, with the added bonus of its light weight (279 g) and a length of 11.4 cm.
It was manufactured in Exakta and M42 mount, and the possibility of currently using it coupled to both 35 mm analog cameras and digital cameras of various formats and brands is a true relish for any lover of portrait photography, as well as being highly appreciated for full HD and 4K filmmaking.
From an optical viewpoint, its scheme was a display of ingenuity by Ludwig Bertele, who departing from a Tessar type managed to get all the elements and groups into the front area of the lens hollow tube (as a matter of fact the whole opto-mechanical forward assembly goes threaded into the tube and can be uncoupled turning it on the left) , so avoiding the intricacies inherent to the building of a real tele lens design, on placing the whole optical cell inside an expanded stretching of the focusing, begetting a very capable performer which will have to be used with a shade on it when getting pictures or shooting contrejour to avoid reflections, as often happens with vintage lenses like this.
An early black painted screwmount uncoated Leitz Hektor 135 mm f/4.5 lens (manufactured betwen 1933 and 1960) featuring 4 elements in 3 groups, built-in tripod bush and a chrome focusing scale being observed by a visitor. It delivers a great bokeh thanks to its 15-blade circular diaphragm.
As a matter of fact, the very recent Solms Camera Fair held on November 26th, 2016 has been an outstanding success, with 100 exhibitors from a number of countries (Germany, United Kingdom, France, Japan, United States, Austria, Belgium, Holland, Spain and others) and around 500 attendees who arrived at the Solmser Fotobörse not only from Germany but also from worldwide to have unforgettable experiences and acquire top quality cameras, lenses and accessories.
In this regard, the Solms Camera Fair epitomizes the feature that has traditionally turned this professional sphere events celebrated in Germany into world class encounters:
the very good condition (often in A/B, near mint or mint condition and perfect functioning to get pictures at every diaphragm and shutter speed) of a high percentage of the articles on sale, not only Leica ones (though the legendary German photographic firm is the core of the fair) but also from other prestigious brands in the History of Photography like Nikon, Canon, Zeiss Ikon, Ihagee Exaktas, Voigtländer, Rollei, Mamiya, Minox, Kodak, Hasselblad, Zenza Bronica, Alpa, Olympus, Pentax, VEB Pentacon Dresden Prakticas, Linhof and many others.
The presence of visitors from Far East was very abundant during the Solmser Fotobörse November 26th, 2016. Here we can see a Chinese collector and great enthusiast of classical cameras and lenses gleaning information on a black early Leitz Summarex 8,5 cm f/1.5 lens from 1943.
This time the object of desire is a 6 x 12 cm panoramic format Widelux Model 1500 Super Wide Angle camera using 120 roll films, while a dealer gives advice and supplies as much information as possible to the potential purchaser.
This is a highly professional environment in which knowledge and honesty do perform a pivotal role, since the future trust of the customers becomes a major aim. In the meantime, a 4 elements in 4 groups Asahi Pentax Super-Multi-Coated 500 mm f/4.5 lens in M42 mount (manufactured between 1971 and 1976, featuring a weight of 3,5 kg and a minimum focusing distance of ten meters) is witness to the dialogue.
Kine Exakta Version 4 from 1938 with rectangular magnifier and 6 elements in 4 groups and Carl Zeiss Jena Biotar 5.8 cm f/2 lens with 12 blades, whose design dates back to 1927 and sports and asymmetric Double Gauss formula with 6 elements. It shares the same features (with the exception of the Vacublitz bipolar plug which was modified, with the addition of a third threaded flash hole) as the previous models that began with the historical Kine Exakta Version 1 Round Magnifier from 1936, the first 35 mm format single lens reflex camera in the world, created by Karl Nuchterlein (design engineer at the Ihagee Kamerawork Steenbergeen & Co. Dresden) which meant a revolution that anticipated in around thirty years breakthrough concepts that would change the worldwide photographic market from late fifties onwards and even boasted flash synchronization for every shutter speed, with the Dresden firm subsequently bettering itself in 1950 on fulfilling a commedable development of the system through a new interchangeable viewfinder introduced with the Ihagee Exakta Varex that enabled the photographer to choose between the original waist-level screen or an eye-level pentaprism.
one located on the left of the camera (for 1/25 s, 1/50 s, 1/100 s, 1/150 s, 1/250 s, 1/500 s , 1/1000 s, B and Z)
and another one twice larger on the right with a black scale of figures showing times of 1/10 s, 1/2 s, 1 second, two seconds, 3 seconds, 4 seconds, 5 seconds, 6 seconds, 7 seconds, 8 seconds, 9 seconds, 11 seconds and 12 seconds, id est, an amazingly comprehensive choice of mechanically controlled long exposure times, available after turning the smaller shutter speed dial on the left to the Z position.
This is a milestone accomplishment for a camera created in 1936 and probably the technological pinnacle ever achieved in the field of mechanical shutters along with the groundbreaking concepts incepted by Peter Loseries and Otto Domes while improving the focal plane shutters of the Leica M cameras (firstly designed by Ludwig Leitz, Willi Stein and Friedrich Gath for the Leica M3) during middle and late sixties through their in-depth research on swinging sector camera shutter including first and second swinging sectors, with each swinging sector featuring a number of aligned bearing studs and many lamellae mounted for rotary motion with respect to the axis of a corresponding bearing stud on the working of the shutter and the functioning relationship of a pin and slit mechanism linked to the lamella of each sector bringing about the driving of the sectors.
Suffice it to say that the red scale of figures on the top right side of the 24 x 36 mm format Kine Exakta cameras enables to choose delaying shutter speeds of 1/10 s, 1/2 s, 1 s, 2 s, 3 s, 4 s, 5 s, 6 s and 12 s for the self-timer.
Therefore, it is a gorgeous masterpiece shutter and a true horology device whose birth was inspired by the movements of A. Lange & Söhne watches of the time, so the unutterable sound begotten by the different models of Kine Exaktas (above all when using the slow speeds of the large dial on the right of the camera top panel, which must be winded) belongs to the realm of top-drawer clockwork.
Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 fourth version (manufactured between 1979 and 1994) and sports the same optical formula as the Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 Fifth Version (1994-2013).
It is one of the greatest feats in the history of photographic lenses.
Featuring 6 elements in 4 groups and 8 blades, it was designed by Walter Mandler at the Ernst Leitz Canada factory in Midland, Ontario, managing to reduce the weight (195 g) in comparison to the 6 elements in 4 groups and 10 blades 3rd version (200 g), beating the resolution of the Summicron Rigid 50 mm f/2 (1956-1968) and simultaneously improving the contrast a great deal, doing it without any aspherical or floating elements, reducing the manufacturing cost by means of the use of flint glass in the first bigger element in addition to other elements inside the objective in synergy with the last two elements made of top class high index lanthanum glasses, keeping the doublets cemented (taking advantage of the mechanical design advantage that their mounting means), applying common radii all over the lens to foster the use of a very low figure of grinding and polishing manufacturing tools to a limit of four, and stretching the classic Double Gauss scheme to its feasible scientific and physical boundaries, according to the parameters set forth in his mythical dissertation Über die Berechnung einfacher Gauss-Objective at Giessen University (Germany) in 1979.
Metabones Leica M to E Mount adapter. Built according to very high levels of mechanical quality, precision and noble metals, it makes possible to take advantage of the superb full frame 24 x 36 mm CMOS sensors (boasting 24, 37 and 42 megapixels, depending on the model) of the Sony A7 series cameras coupled to the Leica M lenses featuring great luminosity and excellent opto-mechanical performance, making up a very compact binomium able to deliver impressive image quality along with possibilities of enlargements to king sizes without picture degradation. It features a flocked interior to eliminate any possible flare and focuses flawlessly to infinity.
Through Leica M adapters, this tiny lens has proved its great symbiosis with professional digital cameras, both in the 24 x 36 mm format (Sony A7, A7II, A7R, A7RII, A7S, A7SII, Leica M9, Leica M, Leica M Monochrom and others), APS-C (Fujifilm XT-1, Fujifilm XT-2, Fujifilm X-Pro 1, Fujifilm X-Pro 2, Fujifilm XE-1, Sony NEX-5, Sony NEX-6, Sony NEX-7, Samsung NX series) and Micro 4/3 ones (Olympus OM-D E-M1, Olympus OM-D EM-5, Olympus OM-D EM-5 Mark II, Olympus PEN-F, Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4, Panasonic Lumix DMC-G7, Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8), delivering superb image quality, even at maximum f/2 aperture, with high contrast and crisp detail on almost the entire picture area, in an stunningly compact and light combo resulting in very comfortable handheld shooting throughout many decades of intensive use, thanks to its first-rate mechanical construction.
Needless to say that coupled to analog rangefinder 24 x 36 mm format Leica M cameras like the Leica M3, Leica M2, Leica M6, Leica M7, etc, it also renders extraordinary results with chemical b & w and colour films alike, having traditionally excelled among others with the Kodak Tri-X 400.
It´s no wonder that many of the visitors of top-of-the-line classic camera fairs like this, are not only analog cameras users, but also owners of mirrorless and reflex digital ones which they connect to manual focusing classic and vintage lenses to get very special and different image aesthetics, colour renderings, 3D character and bokehs impossible to achieve with more perfect modern aspherical lenses in which aberrations are better corrected and whose optical formulas are particularly optimized thinking of getting the best possible resolving power and contrast together with uniformity of performance at every diaphragm aperture.
Therefore, the arrival of digital photography has brought about a very important worldwide revival of classic and vintage manual focusing lenses with great personality, beautifully made, more reliable than modern lenses (which often feature failing electronics and are easily decentered because of their complex optical designs together with AF and image stabilizing modules inside barrels), manufactured during the XX Century and often - particularly the large aperture primes obtaining an image quality in a class all by themselves- at very affordable prices , as well as preserving their value within time much better, like:
Metabones LTM39 to Leica M adapter with 6-bit coding. Made with uncompromising precision with highly accurately machined brass covered with chromium plating, this is cutting-edge Canadian manufacturing technology of noble metals, with the most exacting standards of craftsmanship, enabling to use any screwmount Leitz Leica lenses made since mid twenties of the XX Century onwards with rangefinder Leica M digital and analog 24 x 36 mm format cameras, preventing any focusing errors and enhancing the correct optical alignment, with the added benefit of a very sturdy construction, true electronic integration of aperture diaphragm and a 100% precise focus at infinity.
- The Leica R lenses like the Summicron-R 50 mm f/2, Summilux-R 50 mm f/1.4, Apo-Summicron-R 100 mm f/2, Vario-Apo-Elmarit-R 70-180 mm f/2.8, Summicron-R 90 mm f/2, etc.
Novoflex Leica R to Leica M adapter. Made in Germany. This long standing firm has always excelled in its products, and its adapters are not an exception: made with painstaking workmanship, peerless accuracy and choosing the best available metals, enabling utter accuracy at infinity focus and featuring the 6-bit coding.
Novoflex Leica-R to Sony NEX adapter.
Rayqual M42 to Canon EOS adapter. This is another of the current world class manufacturers of these amazing devices making possible to enjoy the use of legacy lenses on modern digital cameras with sensors of different sizes. The Japanese firm manufactures its adapters with exceedingly high precision, very tight tolerances and the highest level of engineering, allowing infinity lens focusing and TTL metering at the real shooting aperture, often with centerweighted metering offering manual focus, AE exposure and TTL flash with a wide range of digital camera bodies from different firms. Stephen Gandy has been the foremost promoter of these Japanese superb adapters whose most significant goal has always been to avoid the poor fit and incorrect focus, so they´re precision made and tightly fitting to remarkable standards of quality, with awesome finish in black matte colour and use of noble metals.
- The AI and AIs Nikkors and Micro-Nikkors from seventies and eighties (AIs Micro-Nikkor 105 mm f/2.8, Nikkor 50 mm f/1.4 AIs, Nikkor 50 f/1.2 AIs, Nikkor 35 f/2 AIs, Nikkor 105 f/2.5 AIs, Nikkor 105 mm f/1.8 AIs, Nikkor 24 mm f/2 AIs, Nikkor 135 mm f/2 AI, Nikkor 180 mm f/2.8 AIs,
- The Olympus Zuiko from seventies, eighties and nineties (Zuiko 24 mm f/2, Zuiko Macro 50 mm f/2, G-Zuiko Auto-S 55 mm f/1.2, Zuiko Auto-T 85 mm f/2, Zuiko MC Macro 90 mm f/2, Zuiko Auto-T 100 mm f/2).
- The Canon lenses in FD mount like the Canon FD 50 mm f/1.4 S.S.C, Canon FD 55 mm f/1.2 S.S.C Aspherical, Canon New FD 50 mm f/1.2L, Canon FD 85 mm f/2L, Canon FD 135 mm f/2).
- Unique lenses like the MC Rokkor PG 58 mm f/1.2 manufactured by Minolta during seventies, Carl Zeiss Jena Pancolar 80 mm f/1.8, Nikkor H.C 50 mm f/2, the Carl Zeiss Biotar 75 mm f/1.5, the Tokina AT-X 90 mm f/2.5 Macro, the Minolta MD 50 mm f/1.2, the Helios-40-2 85 mm f/1.5, the MC Jupiter-9 85 mm f/2, the Tamron SP 90 mm f/2.5 Macro in Adaptall Mount, the Vivitar 135 mm f/2.8, the MC Volna-3 80 mm f/2.8, the Carl Zeiss Jena Prakticar 300 mm f/4, the Primotar 135 mm f/3.5, the Tele-Megor 180 mm f/5.5, the Orestegor 200 mm f/4, the Orestor 135 mm f/2.8, the Fujinon 55 1.8, the Minolta 100 2.8 Soft Focus, Carl Zeiss Sonnar 85 mm f/2.8 T*, Voigtländer Macro-Apo-Lanthar 125 mm f/2.5, Nikkor 85 mm f/1.8 AIs, Carl Zeiss 85 mm f/1.4 T*, Minolta STF 135 mm, Nikkor 50 mm f/1.4 Pre-Ai, MC Flektogon 35 mm f/2.4, Pentacon 135 mm f/2.8, Pancolar 80 mm f/1.8, Spiratone 105 mm f/2.5, Vivitar 90 mm f/2.5 Macro, Vivitar 85 mm f/1.8 preset, Aetna Coligon 100 mm f/2.5 preset, Leitz Macro-Elmarit-R 60 mm f/2.8, Canon FD 85 mm f/1.2 SSC Aspherical, the Leica Apo-Summicron-R 180 mm f/2, the diffraction limited Leica Apo-Telyt-R 280 mm f/4, the Nikkor-P 105 mm f/2.5, the Canon FL 55 mm f/1.2, the Jupiter 11-A 135 mm f/4, the Contax Makro-Planar 60 mm f/2.8, the Carl Zeiss Jena Biometar 80 mm f/2.8 MC, and others.
On the other hand, the silky smooth focusing rings of a very high percentage of classic manual focusing lenses associated to the distinctive image quality and gorgeous out of focus rendering they generate, has turned them into real highly coveted jewels in the scope of HD and 4K video recording, coupled to the most updated digital 24 x 36 mm, APS-C and Micro Four Thirds photographic cameras boasting that function, being possible to obtain filmic results making good use of selective focusing, specially the ones boasting fast apertures and being able to capture wondefful still and video imagery.
Kodak Retina 1a with 4 elements in 3 groups Schneider-Kreuznach Retina-Xenar 50 mm f/3.5 lens (Tessar variant) and Synchro-Compur shutter featuring speeds between 1 second and 1/500 sec and Bulb.
Designed by Dr August Nagel and manufactured between 1951 and 1954, the mechanical construction of this small 35 mm format folding camera weighting 500 g is a wonder of precision and the image quality delivered by its sharp lens (which improved the performance of the previous Schneider-Kreuznach Xenar 5 cm f/3.5) is very high.
It hasn´t got any rangefinder (which would be introduced in the Kodak Retina IIa, made between 1951 and 1954) or exposure meter (featured by the Kodak Retina IIIc, manufactured between 1954 and 1960 ), so the focusing must be made by means of a distance scale and the metering through estimation.
The whispering almost inaudible leaf shutter (able to synchronize flash at all speeds up to 1/500 sec) boasted by this really beautiful camera manufactured in Germany by Nagel Kamera Werke factory at Stuttgart (Germany)..
Leica M7 Test Camera from Belgium. Its main difference with respect to vast majority of M series 24 x 36 mm format analog rangefinder models boasting mechanical escapement was that it pioneered the autoexposure in aperture priority mode, id est, the photographer sets manually the aperture on the lens and the camera chooses the shutter speed.
Therefore, the shutter of the Leica M7 (redesigned with two different levels of pressure: one to lock the automatic exposure reading and the other one to release the shutter) is electronically controlled, though the mechanically operated speeds of 1/60 s and 1/125 s have been preserved to be able to keep on getting pictures if the battery fails.
Launched in 2002 by Leica Camera AG, it can be considered an evolution of the Leica M6 TTL (they´re almost identical in look), and as a matter of fact, the exceedingly reliable and quiet cloth focal plane shutter inherent to the analog Leica M breed of cameras goes on being essentially the same, and only the speed control mechanism is electronic, though Leica made a commendable effort with the viewfinder of the M7, which is clearer, more brilliant and more contrasty than the excellent VF of the Leica M6 TTL.
The Leica M7 includes more than a thousand components and its assembly takes approximately 16 hours, with a further thorough calibration of the viewfinder on a measuring bench.
Needless to say that the manufacturing methods and technologies to make this camera (in the same way as the rest of analog Leica M models) are state-of-the-art, with all the metallic pieces being put together mostly by hand by highly skilled and experience employees, in synergy with CNC controlled milling machines and highly complex mechanisms like the ones featured by the mask frames whose bright-lines for the chosen focal lengths are reflected into the viewfinder, with different positions of them with respect each other, so variously sized windows are generated and a pair of luminous frames is visible at the same time.
Hasselblad Super Wide C (version 1959-1969) with a single coated 8 elements in 5 groups Carl Zeiss Biogon 38 mm f/4.5 and metallic external viewfinder.
This 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 (6 x 6 cm) medium format camera along with its fabulous Carl Zeiss Biogon 38 mm f/4.5 makes up one of the best combos ever made for architectural, landscape, photogrammetric, aerial, industrial, archaeology and indoor photography, thanks to its permanently attached superwideangle lens (equivalent to a 21 mm objective in 35 mm format) featuring fluted metallic focusing ring and delivering exceptional optical performance in terms of lack of distortion, absence of vignetting and impressive uniformity of sharpness and contrast in center, borders and corners of the image, even at full aperture.
Unlike most Hasselblads which are slr cameras, the Hasselblad Super Wide C is a viewfinder camera.
The Hasselblad Super Wide Concept started in 1954 and bears DNA of two foremost German optical designers:
a) Hans Sauer, a inspired optician, former assistant of Ernst Wandersleb (Optical Designing Chief at Carl Zeiss Jena before Second World War) who adapted the already existing Biogon optical formula to a create a 38 mm lens to be coupled to a medium format camera using 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 (6 x 6 cm) film.
Hans Sauer, who went to Oberkochen after the Second World War, had already a huge experience facing difficult challenges and extreme designs, because among other accomplishments, at the end of thirties ha recalculated at Jena the 1896 excellent original symmetric 6 elements Planar by Paul Rudolpth (Zeiss), designing a new 5 elements Planar with innovative original coating which greatly solved the excessive proneness to flare of the excellent original Planar, though undoubtedly his masterpiece was the Carl Zeiss Biogon 38 mm f/4.5 for the different diachronic models of the Hasselblad Super Wideangle cameras.
b) Ludwig Bertele, a true genius, who was the designer of the original Zeiss Biogon 21 mm f/4.5 formula in 1934 for coverage of 24 x 36 mm format films for the Zeiss Ikon Contax II mirrorless with rangefinder cameras (launched into market in 1936) and had also been applied in large format cameras for aerophotogrammetry and topographic aerial reconnaissance, equipped with the fabled Zeiss Topogon (created by Bertele at the beginning of thirties, from which there was a wondrous Zeiss Topogon 25 mm f/4.5 version with a 82º coverage angle, manufactured in very few units for the 35 mm Contax rangefinders) and Zeiss Aviogon (likewise designed by Ludwig Bertele at the beginning of fifties) super high quality resolution, derived from the Biogon and boasting excellent Carl Zeiss coating and new ultramodern optical glasses developed by the Schott factory.
To sum up, the Carl Zeiss Biogon 38 mm f/4.5 design of the different models of Hasselblad Super Wide camera lineage stands for a mechanically and optically superb lens stemming from Ludwig Bertele´s unique large format Zeiss Topogon and Zeiss Aviogon lenses for large format aerophotogrammetric cameras, adapting the optical scheme to the image surface of the 6 x 6 cm negative format of the Hasselblad Superwide, in such a way that a very high resolving power of 200 lines / mm is achieved to capture even the most hidden details, together with a high contrast to make up for the atmospheric fog, a practically non existent distortion to assure the geometric fidelity in the image, a very wide covering angle of 90º allowing to photograph large spaces in all their width and sumptuosity, an exceedingly even illumination on all the frame area so as to obtain an amazing resolution from corner to corner and a maximum lens aperture enabling fast enough shutter speeds to avoid shaking.
Besides, the Carl Zeiss Biogon 38 mm f/4.5 stands out among a lot of other parameters because of its extraordinary depth of field — encompassing from 3 meters to infinite at full aperture, from 1,2 m to infinite at f/11, and from 66 cm to infinite at f/22 — and because of its uncommon capacity to capture light, fairly beautiful contrast and very wide tonal range.
With the modern optical designs helped by very powerful computers, specific top quality softwares optimized for optical correction of lenses and the use of aspherical lenses, the retrofocus designed super wideangles have significantly approached to the level of the true super wideangles regarding attained sharpness, but their distortion correction doesn´t attain the peerless perfection of the non retrofocus ultra wideangle designs or its level of excellence for the carrying out of architectonic and photogrammetric photography, since the non retrofocus super wideangle lenses are smaller in size and sharper than retrofocus super wideangle designs, and their rear elements are located very near the film plane (as a matter of fact, the Biogon 38 mm f/4.5 back elements are placed at a very short distance from the mirror of the Hasselblad Super Wide camera, to ease a reflex viewing system).
It all is highly revealing from an optical viewpoint, because the non retrofocus Zeiss Biogon 38 mm f/4.5 lens of the Hasselblad Super Wide cameras goes on being — having elapsed 62 years since its appearance — the second best medium format super wide angle lens in the world, only slightly beaten by the fabulous super wideangle Mamiya 43 mm f/4.5L with external finder of the Mamiya 7 rangefinder 6 x 7 cm format mirrorless with rangefinder camera, thought it´s important to highlight that this Japanese lens follows the original 10 elements formula of the Biogon.
Things of this level can´t come cheap, but classic camera fairs like Solms one become a great chance to acquire them in very good cosmetic and working condition at much lower prices than during their halcyon days, and their opto-mechanical quality and durability throughout many decades (they´re built like tanks) turn them into a very interesting choice.
Contarex Bullseye 24 x 36 mm format camera, one of the apexes of the German photographic industry ever, coupled to a Carl Zeiss Tessar 50 mm f/2.8, while in front of it can be seen from left to right a Carl Zeiss Distagon 35 mm f/2, a Carl Zeiss Sonnar 85 mm f/2, a Carl Zeiss Distagon 35 mm f/4 and a Zeiss Ikon B56 Contarex 50-135 mm metal lens shade.
Designed by Zeiss Ikon engineer Edgar Sauer (whose original patent for this camera with coupled exposure meter dates back to May 15, 1962), it was launched into market in 1960 (production lasted until 1966), this was by far the best 35 mm camera in the world (so the main goal with which it was built was attained), boasting a superb mechanical quality and a number of technological innovations that it pioneered roughly 22 years ahead of time, something really impressive for a camera whose first conceptual draft was presented in Stuttgart (Germany) on August 21, 1959.
It was an utterly mechanical camera manufactured with uncompromising parameters in terms of building level excellence, without any constraint in production costs and state-of-the-art technological breakthroughs, using the best available noble metals and a massive quantity of ball bearings, gear trains, sheaves, etc, and it is a highly reliable camera in spite of its great complexity, with the added benefit of its exceedingly bright and clear viewfinder featuring a highly evolved Fresnel lens with ground glass ring and split-image RF in the center surrounded by a very well devised microprism collar, eight years after the invention of the Fresnel lens screen by Edgar Sauer himself and Dr Hans Rühle in 1952.
Suffice it to say that as unveiled by the world-class expert Jean Loup Princelle in a historical article in the number 57 of September-October 2001 of the legendary Cyclope French magazine, the Contarex Bullseye needed more than 4,000 different operations for its assembling, including 1100 parts created under 0.001 mm tolerances by taking advantage of special tools.
On the other hand, the Contarex Bullseye sports a horizontal cloth roller-blind shutter and a specific large size bayonet (making it up a system camera with lenses between the Distagon 15 mm and the Mirotar 1000 mm, some of them truly stratospheric like the Carl Zeiss Biogon 21 mm f/4.5 and the Carl Zeiss Sonnar 85 mm f/2, together with scores of accessories), since it is a completely new model whose most distinctive trait is the "bullseye" selenium cell holding an ultra sophisticated mechanism of miniature diaphragm coupled with the diaphragm of the lens.
Moreover, apart from the standard back, this camera could use interchangeable backs which could be preloaded by the photographer and switch quickly when needed, as well as enabling to change film types mid-roll.
Carl Zeiss Dustagon 35 mm f/4 for the Contax Bullseye 24 x 36 mm format slr camera and one of the best lenses ever made in this focal length and aperture both from an optical and mechanical viewpoint. On both sides of the lens focusing ring can be seen the two lobes (characteristic of the Carl Zeiss lenses in Contarex bayonet mount) helping to get an accurate focus.
The Contax Bullseye and particularly its comprehensive assortment of lenses designed and manufactured for it were built like nothing before them, with everything made to the highest specifications feasible at the moment from a scientific, mechanical and optical viewpoint, to such an extent that however incredible it may seem, the precision and smoothness of their focusing helicals approach very much to the ones of some Leica top-of-the-line highly luminous M lenses of nineties and first decade of XXI Century designed by the mechanical wizard Andre de Winter, as well as exhibiting a gorgeous satin chromed bright aluminium finish which is the reference-class one in the history of photographic lenses.
The Carl Zeiss lenses designed and created from scratch for the Contarex Bullseye meant a revolution in the slr domain for their unmatched optomechanical performance (to such a degree that for a significant percentage of optical pundits they go on being the best primes made hitherto for slr cameras as to sharpness and contrast achieved), their extremely beautiful rendering of colours, their commendable minimum focusing of 30 cm and their fabulous cosmetic appearance.
Additionally, the Carl Zeiss Contarex lenses have a further utterly innovative hallmark for the time: they lack aperture ring, which is set on the camera aperture wheel, anticipating in more than thirty years a trend that would prevail both in the lenses for 24 x 36 mm format slr professional cameras of analog cameras during nineties and early XXI century and the current lineup of lenses for digital cameras (dslr, mirrorless without rangefinder and mirrorless with rangefinder with sensors of different formats well within the XXI century.
Upper view of a Leitz Wetzlar 90 mm f/4 lens head on a OUAGO/16467 focusing adapter for use with Leica Visoflex II or Visoflex III reflex boxes. It was manufactured between 1959 and 1983.
Lateral view of the same 3 elements in 3 groups Leitz Wetzlar 90 mm f/4 lens head on a OUAGO/16467 focusing adapter in Leica M bayonet for use with Leica Visoflex II or Visoflex III and enabling the focusing from 1 meter to infinity.
This combination is a masterpiece of German optical and mechanical expertise and its cosmetic appearance can only be defined as exceptional, enhanced by the painstakingly accurately made scalloped focusing ring and the amazing machining precision of the Visoflex helical focusing mount of the OUAGO adapter.
It delivers a first-class image quality (very sharp, with good contrast and great colour rendition) even to today standards, both with analog and digital cameras, and its exquisite focusing smoothness, small size (length of only 3.5 cm, diameter of 5.9 cm) and low weight (174 g) turns it into a very interesting choice for Full HD and 4K recordings.
Beaulieu R16 movie camera using 16 mm format film. On the left of the image can be seen the eyepiece of the viewfinder.
Lower area of the same Beaulieu R16 cinema camera attached to a Takumar 50 mm f/1.4 Super-Multi-Coated lens through M42 mount adapter, a highly efficient combination since the small surface area of the 16 mm format chemical cinematographic emulsion needs truly top quality lenses to draw its full potential.
Not in vain, the 7 elements in 6 groups Takumar 50 mm f/1.4 Super-Multi-Coated is one of the best 50 mm lenses ever made, particularly if we bear in mind its incredible price/performance ratio with a resolving power of 89 lines/mm, excellent contrast and a great bokeh, its small size and weight (230 g and a length of 43 mm), its 8-blade diaphragm, its excellent 7 layer multicoating bringing about a praiseworthy resistance to flare and ghosting, along with a a solid entirely metallic mechanical construction, virtues turning it into a keeper both in the photographic and filmmaking arena, analog and digital alike (within the latter one it has already proved its worth in Full HD and 4K recordings), where the accuracy and smoothness of its focusing helicoid work like a charm and allow substantial creative possibilities playing with depth of field.
A visitor to Solms Camera Fair checking a 7 elements in 6 groups Canon FD S.S.C 50 mm f/1.4 in very good condition.
This is one of the best standard lenses ever made regarding price/performance ratio along with the Takumar 50 mm f/1.4 Super-Spectra Coating and some East Germany Carl Zeiss Jena lenses.
Though suffering from coma and a bit soft contrast wide open, the Canon FD 50 mm f/1.4 S.S.C is a keeper making up a highly efficient bynomium with such top class cameras like the Canon F1, Canon F1 New and Canon T90 (the three are extraordinary cameras, and the latter one is one of the most beautiful cameras ever made, with a visionary and gorgeous design made by the visionary genius, 3D philosopher and aerodynamics pundit Luigi Colani, as well as sporting a lot of features and specifications that turned it into the sire of all subsequent models of AF Canon cameras, both in the analog and digital realm until now).
It´s very sharp from f/2 onwards, and its uniformity of center/borders/corners results between f/2.8 and f/11 is truly commendable, and its 8 blade diaphragm renders a beautiful bokeh with smooth out of focus highlights at the largest apertures.
Another image of the same lens in which we can see its solid mechanical construction entirely made of metal, unlike the plastic modern kit zooms attached to most digital cameras, which in addition are far less luminous, so the viewing quality on watching through the VF is much lower.
The precision mechanical coupling breech-lock mount inherent to Canon FD lenses and optimized to prevent any mechanical wear, since on attaching the objective, there isn´t any rotation of the contact surfaces between the body and lens, and the same happens with the signalling mechanisms.
The available second hand assortment of Canon FD lenses include such great performers as the Canon FD 55 mm f/1.2 S.S.C Aspherical, the Canon New FD 50 mm f/1.2L, the Canon FD 85 mm f/1.2L, the Canon FD 135 mm f/2 (which gives an extraordinary image quality on a par with L lenses), the Canon FD 200 mm f/1.8L, the Canon FD 300 mm f/2.8L, the Canon FD 400 mm f/2.8L, the Canon FD 500 mm f/4.5L and others.
Leitz Hektor 135 mm f/4.5 in Leica M bayonet mount showing its socket for tripod. Manufactured between 1954 and 1960, it has 4 elements in 3 groups. It is a long lens design with non rotating lens head during focusing and click-stop diaphragm.
It features a 15 blades circular diaphragm, so its bokeh is splendid, but its optical formula is optimized for portraits at f/4.5 and f/5.6, so on shooting at those two widest apertures the center is sharp but the performance in borders and corners varies between blurred and soft.
Its mechanical construction is superb, with an awesome cosmetic appearance in the satin chrome of most of its barrel and the vulcanite of its lower third, albeit it is a very prone to flare lens and a shade should be permanently used.
Anyway, for contexts not belonging to the portrait domain (in which it can excel in the hands of an experienced photographer knowing what he´s doing), this lens isn´t a top class choice at all for other manifold contexts, because of its lack of sharpness at the two largest apertures, rendering of dull colors, low contrast and the aforementioned proclivity to flare, though the possibility to couple it to a number of digital cameras in different formats with which photographers can get pictures shooting handheld stopping down between f/8-f/11 at high and very high sensitivities between ISO 800 and 3200 without noise (avoiding shake pictures and preserving very good quality of image thanks to the state-of-the-art sensors), has fostered its versatility, and a certain revival of this lenshas taken place during recent years, although best results will be obtained doing portraiture at f/4.5 and f/5.6.
Nevertheless, the 4 elements in 4 group Leitz Elmar 135 mm f/4 (manufactured between 1960 and 1965) is a much better alternative as an all-around performer, because of its far superior sharpness at all apertures and its top-drawer 12 blades diaphragm, so it´s a keeper in terms of optical performance, image quality attain and achieved results in portraiture, as well as having a price tag often turning it into a bargain.
Nikon F2S Photomic with Nikkor 50m mm f/1.4 standard lens, one of the variants of the superb Nikon F2 slr camera which reigned supreme within the realm of photojournalism throughout seventies of the XX Century.
It is an utterly mechanical camera built like a tank and boasting a horizontal travelling titanium shutter, depth of field preview, mirror lock-up and a remarkable self-timer between 2 and 10 seconds, in addition to having a wide assortment of interchangeable focusing screens and meter prisms available, along with more than 50 excellent manual focusing Nikkor lenses.
This camera was designed and manufactured to last a lot of decades of professional hard use in a number of photographic genres, didn´t most times need any kind of repairing and vast majority of them work nowadays like a charm.
On middle top of the camera you can see the Photomic DP-1 prism featuring exposure meter with outer window and a button to check the battery charge.
Nikon reached the glory during seventies and eighties with world dslr flagships like the Nikon F2, Nikon F2S Photomic and the electronic and also superb Nikon F3, as well as manufacturing cameras with an incredibly good price/quality ratio like the Nikon FM2, another entirely mechanical camera featuring very compact size and weight (540 g), shutter speeds between 1 second and 1/4000 s and B, an extraordinary titanium shutter and flash synchronization up to 1/200 s (which would be subsequently improved by the legendary Japanese photographic firm until reaching 1/250 s sync speed in the Nikon FM2n launched into market in 1984), so it was used in plenty of different photographic assignments, including wedding photography, a field in which it was wisely chosen as a very competent photographic tool in symbiosis with the excellent Nikkor and Micro-Nikkors lenses until mid of the XXI Century decade.
Those were the days.
Text and Photos: José Manuel Serrano Esparza