Sweet Dreams on Ulm Street

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by rick_drawbridge, May 1, 2011.

  1. Around 1959 a man named Albert Schacht, rumoured to have been a lens designer for Zeiss, set up shop in the town of Ulm, Germany. He began producing lens in a variety of mounts, all built to a very high standard of design, materials and finish. I'm delighted to have obtained one of his fine creations, the M42 135mm R Travenon f/4.5
  2. Schacht lenses are rather rare in my part of the world, and correspondingly rather expensive. The company made lens up until about the '70's, initially in Exacta, Leica, Edixa and some M42 mounts, The first lenses were beautifully made but basic, typified by the Travenon, lacking even pre-set apertures. But because of their excellent quality the lenses were sought after by discerning photographers. In time, pre-set lenses were produced, followed by auto lenses in the various mounts. A confusing series of names were generated, all very similar, such as Travanar, Travenon, Travelon, Travegar and Travegon. It's been suggested that the "Trav" prefix denoted four elements, and this is consistent with my observations. Production seems to have ceased in the early '70's.
    My copy reached me as a gift from a nice lady in town who'd heard that "I like old cameras and things". It was in a parlous state and I initially despaired of restoring it; enclosed in it's beautiful leather case it had sat in a workshop behind her house, untouched for a couple of decades. The case was encrusted with filth, and the lens had begun to develop a verdigris on it's fine polished body. The glass was reasonable, but oil from the aperture blades had found their way onto the rear elements; at some stage someone must have decided a little bit of oil was required to keep things moving as the quantity present was vastly in excess of any manufacturing application. So, I stripped it down; the oil had created a patina on the face of one element, working into the coating, but luckily it's visible only by reflection rather than in transmission. The diaphragm is a glorious piece of machinery which I gently cleaned with Zippo and a Q-Tips, sixteen blades in a very small circumference, producing a circular aperture.
  3. The lens is a strange structure. Four elements in three groups, all the optical bits and pieces are contained in the little body at the front of the lens. This screws into the long extension tube with it's helical focusing mechanism. Aperture is changed by revolving the knurled ring at the very front of the lens. And that's it; beautifully machined, everything now revolving smoothly, and the body of the lens restored by copious washing and gentle polishing with metal polishes. The case is an absolute work of art, now reeking sweetly of saddle dressing. The lens screws into a plate in the cap of the case, the cap and lens is inserted into the case and the carry-strap tightened to hold everything in place.
  4. I tried it out this morning, hand-held, holding my breath, afraid I'd be disappointed. But I wasn't. The Travenon is a remarkable lens, with a glorious bokeh, great contrast and colour rendition, and exquisite resolution, and very soon I'm really going to put it through it's paces. It's not a lens one can point into the light, but that's typical of the era and design. To me, the fact that Albert Schacht managed to get four simple little pieces of glass to perform so well is quite astounding. I attach a few samples, taken between rain showers this morning, none of them at an aperture smaller than f/8 and many with the lens wide open. There are no works of art, but you may find something of interest.
  5. That lens is truly a work of art, and it performs as well as it looks - mind you, you have repeatedly demonstrated an ability to, first off, produce beautiful images in a graphic sense, and secondly to extract the very best from whatever equipment you're using! I think this particular lens is pretty enough to justify its existence with its looks alone:)
    I admire also your faith in your mechanical skills - I have yet to crack open a lens... and I don't even mean something as special and rare as the subject of this post. I have a Canon FD 100mm f2.8 (pretty much as garden variety as they come) that stopped stopping down and I am afraid to have a look see lest I break it... mind you, its next to useless now and I am still mystified by it as I am by any lens, and therefore afraid to look inside;)
    Pleasure as always!
  6. The color rendition and sharpness are both gorgeous. That's a sweet old lens.
  7. What an interesting post.
  8. Excellent restoration work. Very nice pictures, as always. Enjoyed it all. I have looked for those stop-down lenses. But hardly any coming up these days. sp.
  9. What a beautiful piece of equipment.
    I always love to see your reviews.
  10. Such a pretty lens, the like of which is not seen any more; and we're poorer for it. Thanks for sharing, and thanks for taking the time to perform and document the rescue!
  11. What an interesting lens, and what a lovely restoration job! Good pictures too.
    "Four blades in three groups" -- so is it basically a Tessar design, or is it a different arrangement of four elements in three groups?
    Peter and Les -- I have that same Canon lens and now you've got me worrying that its aperture will fail! It's fine so far, fortunately.
  12. Nice work, Rick. I believe that with your talents, the lens is quite secondary.
  13. I'll second Ted's comment. The lens is nice, but the pictures nicer. Wonderful combination. :)
    However, I have to show my M42 copy on a more suitable and beautiful camera ;)
    I've also got the lens in Exakta mount.
  14. A little web research turned up this page, which has pictures of several Schacht lenses in Exakta mount, along with frustratingly-small images of some vintage Schacht brochures:
    http://captjack.exaktaphile.com/Schacht page.htm
    I note that the brochure describes this lens as "long-focus" in contrast to telephoto (they have another, noticeably shorter 135mm lens that was a telephoto design), and the lens diagram appears to be pretty much a straight Tessar as far as I can tell. So this lens is as long as it is because it really is 135mm focal length, not just 135mm "effective focal length" as would be the case with a telephoto. This allows it to avoid some of the issues related to telephoto designs as well. Hmm. I may have to look around for one of these...
  15. Thank you all for the interest and responses. Craig, I would have loved to gone deeper into the Schacht design philosophy, and the short but productive history of the company, but space doesn't allow in these posts, and as you've found, there's not a lot of information available. Good ol' Captain Jack is one of the better sources, and I would have liked to have found a post-able copy of the brochure. I find the lens a neat design concept, with basically a fine Tessar-type lens bunged into a long focusing extension. As you've observed, it side-steps many of the complications of building a true telephoto. I hope you can find one.
    You're right, JDM; I should have used a more appropriate camera, and your Contax combo looks superb. I often use the old Zenit as a carrier in photographs, as it's severity accentuates the beauty of almost any lens. The only exception would be the Zenit with it's Industar 50, when the camera actually manages to look prettier than the lens...Peter, I'm not an accomplished technician in any sense, and I have quite a collection of lenses I've set aside for "One day..." This lens was a very simple challenge. I haven't had a Canon lens let me down as yet, touch wood...You're right, Donnie, we seem to forget how very simple lenses can produce fine results, but that leads to the delight of re-discovery.
    And thank you Steve, Gene, Ted, Marcel, S.P. and Les, for the kind words. While much of the satisfaction lies in completing one of these posts, it's always great to get a little praise!
  16. Though I've stumbled upon the name.. didn't realize the exclusivity! Your sense for product presentation and I think the Zenith matched the lens particularly well!! Looking forward to some more photos!! Please`?
  17. Rick, I am just glad folks like you take the time to bring us these tidbits of history and eye candy - I always look forward to these posts and eat 'em up when I see them. As a by the way, the Canon 100mm was a first for me too, and I don't even know when it happened, there was no apparent bump or abuse, just one day a grinding feeling when there is usually a click-click-click:)
    Les, if I ever do crack it open I will be sure to post the inevitable sitcom... I fear it will be something along the lines of "Idiot vs Lens, lens wins..." lol :D But given the prices of these, I don't feel I have much to lose.
  18. Rick - what can I say but Bravo, Rick, Bravo.
    Peter - have you considered sticky aperture blades? I had a similar problem with an 80-200 F4L and Ken Oikawa eventually diagnosed it as oil on the blades.
  19. As far as design is concerned, I think this is pretty much the conventional design for such lenses. I have a 50's vintage Steinheil Culminar in Leica thread mount, which is the same design, 135/4.5, with all its glass up front, 16 aperture blades, etc. At some point I also had a Canon of the same apparent design (also LT mount). Yours is prettier, though, with its scalloped rings, and I'm guessing it's a better performer. It's been a long time since I shot anything through the Culminar, but my recollection is that it was nothing special. I may have to crank up the old Leica again and see if the intervening years have changed my opinion, but judging from your shots above, the Schacht will be a hard act to follow.
  20. Kayam,
    I have, and I am not ruling it out, what gives me pause is the "crunchy" sound of the aperture ring... I suppose cleaning the blades will require surgery any how, so I will attempt to go slow and document my..uhm... "progress" and see what gives:)
  21. Rick,
    You did a great job in rescuing this lens and then putting it to good use.
    I like your other shots but that Diaphragm one is mesmerizing. Maybe it is just me.
    I did find a little information on the Schacht lenses. In 1962 Modern Photography posted a lens list with a guide to their design. I will post a small chart of available lenses and the design to your lens.
  22. Really interesting post Rick, not many Schachts this side of the ditch either! The diaphragms on some of these old lenses really are a work of art, no short cuts taken in those days!
    I seem to recall that Schacht made some interesting macro lenses, could be confused there though.
  23. Thanks, Chuck, always good to get your input, and Kayam, the occasional "Bravo!" always goes down very well! I'm pleased you liked the post. You're right, Matthew, other lenses I've encountered of this configuration have been fairly ordinary, but the Travenon turned in an above-average performance.
    Thanks Marc, there's really very little out there on the Schacht lenses, and the table will be filed away. That iris pic sort of draws one in... and Tony, I have the occasional peek at Aussie Ebay and have searched for copies, but there's not much offering. You're right about the macros; there's an 50mm f/2.8 which sells for big dollars, and a Travegar 133mm f3.3 which seems to be somewhat sought after.
  24. Rick, a quick thank you - I mustered the courage and appears that I have actually fixed a lens! See FD forum if interested.
  25. Rick,
    brilliant stuff, yet again. Loving your 'road tests' of the various cameras and lenses you've acquired, the combination of beautiful old gear and quality images is very motivating. I'd never heard of Schact lenses but will keep my eyes open from now on for one like your M42 example.
    Incidentally, Rick, I have a closet Fujica rangefinder addiction happening myself, and have a 35-EE as well as a few spare EEs and SEs, waiting for me to get them up and running. Time, of course, is the usual problem...
  26. My comments on the Zenit came off sounding harsher than I intended, I just meant that the Contax was more a contemporary body.
    Strangely enough, I never actually bought the Travenon - got my copies with camera bodies sold as a 'kit'.
    There are some other similar 135mm or so lenses that are essentially a hollow tube with some glass at the end.
  27. Excellent, Peter, I'm just glad it didn't turn to custard, with me partially to blame! Thanks, Brett, your reaction to these posts is exactly what I'd hoped for. Good luck with the Fujicas; there's something about the feel of those cameras; I think that if I was blindfolded and someone handed me one, the moment I hefted it I'd know it was a Fujica. And absolutely no offence, JDM, I'll obviously have to stock up on a greater range of bodies...
  28. I'll obviously have to stock up on a greater range of bodies...​
    Oh, oh. I'd warn you, but it's obviously already too late. :)
    Keep up the good work!
  29. I stumbled across A.Schacht lenses many years ago when I collected a lens kit for a Leica IIIa.
    A. Schacht was NOT a lens designer but rather a production manager of Zeiss-Jena. The lenses were designed by L. Bertele who made some very famous lens designs for Zeiss, he was the designer of the Sonnar type lenses. L. Bertele had his own contract engineering firm in Switzerland in the 50s and 60s.
    The Schacht company was NOT founded in Ulm, the very early lenses have an "A. Schacht Muenchen (Munich)" engraving. Around 1965 the company was purchased by a holding company and continued to manufacture lenses until the late 60s.
    When Leitz did not manufacture M39 lenses any more A. Schacht was the semi-official supplier of M39 lenses, they had M39 lenses with rangefinder coupling from 35mm to 135mm. The late 135mm lens could be used as a macro lens on a bellows since the lens head could be unscrewed from the barrel. As mentioned by others, they also made lenses in M42 mount (later ones had automatic aperture and automatic DOF indicators) and Exakta mount. The more black finish, the newer the lens is - they started with a black front bezel and the later lenses were all black with black-and-silver focussing and aperture rings.
    A. Schacht made some more accessories, such as the Travemat TTL meter prism for the Exakta and Edixa cameras. They also made cine lenses, enlarging and projection lenses, as well as a lens kit for the Leidolf (Lordox) 35mm cameras.
  30. PS. They also made lenses in Praktina mount. Some of their M42 lenses had an additional Edixa or Praktica engraving.
  31. 2nd. PS: in the 1980s and later, there were some lenses with Travenar or Travegon designator but these had nothing to do with the A. Schacht lenses, they were of far-eastern origin and available in a variety of mounts for comtemporary SLRs. I have seen a genuine A. Schacht lens in Minolta SR mount on *bay but I am not sure whether this was a later modification.
  32. Wow! Thanks, Winfried, that's exactly the information I was looking for at the outset. Duly noted and filed for reference, many thanks. Do you happen to know how and when the "Ulm" connection arose?
  33. According to
    the company was established in Munich in 1948 and moved to Ulm in 1954.
    "Albert Schacht was head manager of manufacturing with Zeiss in Jena from 1913 to 1919, from 1919 to 1926 with Ica AG and after the merger into Zeiss Ikon AG manufacturing manager in Dresden. From 1939 to 1946 he was technical director with Steinheil in Munich.
    Schacht founded his own firm in Munich in 1948, in 1954 he moved to Ulm. Schacht manufactured lenses in the focal length range of 35 to 200mm for all current mounts. All lenses were designed by Ludwig Bertele who - with the support of Wild-Herbrugg - founded his own optics design company in Switzerland in 1946, Schacht knew him quite well from his job with Zeiss-Ikon.
    Constantin Rauch who already died in 1964 held some of the shares of Schacht. In 1967, the Constantin Rauch holding acquired 100 p.c. of the shares and established a company running the Schacht section. In 1969 all optical activities were sold to Will KG in Wetzlar, the plant was moved to the headquarters in Wetzlar and partially to Runkel (a small town near Wetzlar, WB). Due to manufacturing shortages of the Will KG they had to change their product range and give up photographic lens manufacturing in 1970. "

    This is an excerpt from a fabulous compilation of the history of german photographic equipment manufacturers by a certain Mr Thiele, available in german only. Will KG still exists but today they manufacture industrial optics only. Their microscopes had a certain reputation, and many german slide projectors of the 60s and 70s were equipped with Will lenses. The Constantin Rauch company was mainly a manufacturer of industrial precision equipment in Ulm and was merged in the Mannesmann holding as "Mannesmann Praezisionstechnik" (precision equipment) in 1971.
    Schacht lenses for 35mm cameras (mostly in Exakta or M42 mount, sometimes in M39 or Praktina and very seldom in Alpa mount) appear pretty often on german *bay.
  34. Many thanks, Winfried. Many's the time I wish I could read German...
  35. Wonderful post Rick, indeed. Thank you for sharing.
  36. Many's the time I wish I could read German...​
    Same here. I should just bloody well learn it then!
    One thing about this lens: the diaphragm blades. Why is it that even today, new lenses can have as few as six? I mean, Nikon claims to make superlative lenses, and yet for some reason, decade after decade, their 50/1.4 was stuck with six or seven blades. Maybe their user base didn't raise the issue? What's weirder is that many Zeiss cine lenses had three blades. Even Stanley Kubrick for some reason was happy with that. Seriously...
  37. Thanks, Ralf, I'm glad you enjoyed the post. Karim, I don't remember, back in the old days, being quite so concerned with out-of-focus effects, and "bokeh", as we seem to be, now. Obviously, the better photographers were critical of their lenses' performance in this respect or the manufacturers wouldn't have bothered with such complexity, but I guess as the age of mass photography dawned it became far more economically viable to create simpler diaphragms, and most people wouldn't have noticed the difference. And I guess it just became the norm. Having said that, today I was cleaning up a couple of Soligor and Hanimex 135mm lenses from the '70's, and they both have 12 blades, which is quite a respectable number. Definitely something to watch for if you're fossicking around for old glass...
  38. I think the main reason to use only 5 or 6 aperture blades is the auto-aperture mechanism. Obviously it is not easy to get an auto aperture mechanism working with a high number of blades. There were some old Zeiss-Jena lenses with auto-aperture in Exakta mount with a lot of aperture blades - but it is not easy to find a sample without stuck aperture blades.
    Also, all the cameras with fixed lenses and auto-exposure with shutter priority have some kind of auto-aperture mechanism, and they all came with a maximum of 7 aperture blades. The Taron Auto-EE just had 4, and some cheap ones just had two (with a "cat's eye" aperture opening on some f-stop values).
    The later A.Schacht lenses with auto-aperture mechanisms also had just 6 blades, I have an A.Schacht Praktika-S Travenon f/1.9 50mm auto with 6 blades.
  39. Good points, Winfried, though Meyer/Pentacon managed to buck the trend with the M42 auto 15-blade 135mm f/2.8, a much sought-after lens today.
  40. I just found some more info on the A.Schacht company. The Constantin Rauch company, originally a manufacturer of screws, bolts and precision parts, used to manufacture metal parts for A. Schacht until the end of the 60s when this company was acquired by Mannesmann and was called "Mannesmann Praezisionstechnik", as already described. Later, the hydraulic equipment division of this company was merged into the Bosch holding after some more name changes, the precision manufacturing division was called Mannesmann Tally later and used to manufacture computer printers for some years.
  41. Rick, I can't imagine any photographer not caring about OOF hexagons in his images!
    Winfried, I think you solved the problem - for the most part. :) Oh, and we had a Mannesmann Tally dot matrix printer which was hooked up to our Atari ST back in the late '80s. Ah, good times, good times. I hear that Vodafone bought Mannesmann some time ago. Shame about that.
  42. We are quite a bit off-topic now. It is true that Mannesmann (who, after the acquisition of companies like VDO, an automotive electronics supplier, and Kienzle, a former manufacturer of office equipment and small computers) entered the telecom market and acquired one of the first licenses to run a wireless network in Germany. Vodafone bought the whole Mannesmann company before they could separate the telecom division from their industrial activities themselves. Vodafone then sold all divisions except for the telecom business. Some of the industrial (more or less steel related) activities are continued after several mergers by other companies and holdings, the name Mannesmann still exists in some company names.
  43. No, no, not "off-topic" -- EXPANDED topic. :)
  44. Rick,
    I found this page in a 1955 catalog. It is on the Travenar lens but I thought it would of interest just for the construction details. There is also a price list for the other lenses.
  45. Marc, that's a real find. The lens featured is a later auto version, but the details are much the same. It wasn't a cheap lens, by any means! Great to get details of the other lenses, too. Many thanks.
  46. Rick,
    While searching for info on your Acon camera, and I have found some, I came across this ad for Schacht lenses. I think what threw me was that the ad was listed under the Agof-Schacht name. Anyway it is just another piece to the puzzle.
  47. Thanks, Marc. One could speculate that Ago-Schacht Optical Corp. was the US importing entity for Schacht products, but who knows? A quick search reveals the possibility that some lenses were branded "Ago-Schacht", but there are no hard facts. As you say, a puzzle.

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