Wide angle in the 50's

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by Ian Rance, Mar 25, 2008.

  1. Nowadays there are lenses available covering 180 degrees right down to just a
    few - a massive range.

    My question concerns wide angle lenses. In the 1950's (for the 35mm format)
    the 50mm was what everyone used, but was there no call for wide angle lenses?
    I know that 35mm lenses were available (at a slow speed - f5.6) but were there
    any wider lenses, and if so, why were they not more popular like today?

    Even for the Exacta range, I seem to recall only 40mm being available, but you
    could get telephoto I think.

    This is from a 35mm lens from the mid 1950's:
    http://d6d2h4gfvy8t8.cloudfront.net/6517762-md.jpg but there must have been wider.

    Any information on wide angle lenses in the 50's much appreciated.

    Ian, UK
  2. I've used Leica wides from the late 50's.

    21/4 and 35/2.8.

    They also made a 28, a bit slow at f6.3.
  3. Kodak Retina Reflex have 28mm lens. But the max. aperture is limited to f/4. Most of these wide angle lenses in 50s are limited to f/4 or smaller. Therefore, it has became unpopular. For those with larger aperture or wider, the price will be very high and usually unaffordable in public.
  4. First, there HAVE been lenses covering 130 deg or so, like the Goertz Hypergon. This was a large format lens and had awful light fall off, a spinning star-shaped iris was used to compensate this.

    Second, wide-angle lenses following the traditional design always will have light fall-off towards the edges. Maybe this was a major problem, it was more or less solved by introducing the retrofocus design (as a by-product).

    Third, do not underestimate cost of lenses in the 50s. A Leica body was available for more than a month's pay of an average employee, and lenses were rather expensive, too. This limited the commercial success of lenses and maybe of wide-angle lenses, too.
  5. Thanks for the input. I do have the Retina 28mm f/4, but that was right at the end - 1959/60 IIRC. I have not heard about the Leica wides - any good? Any results to share? What year were they made available?

    To make this a bit clearer, what is the widest lens for any 35mm camera/system I could have purchaced in around 1954-1957?

    Ian, UK
  6. Leica 28 6.3 were made in the 30`s or 40`s as were 35s. In 1960 the 21 4.0 was available.

    I got my first Pentax in 1966 and they were on the second generation of 35mm lens designs.

    The problem was making a wide lens that could clear the mirror of a reflex camera. P. Angeniux developed the retro-focus lens and that started the ball rolling. The trade off was distortion. Hasselblad made the 38mm as a fixed lens camera+ non reflex body to resolve the distortion. They also made a 40 that could be used on the reflex.
    The 38 was the better uality lens.
  7. Thank you Winfreid. You can see my lens has some light fall-off - that is a Schneider Kreuznach 35mm f/4 from 1957 (for the Retina Reflex 1956-1959 model). Were the Kodak C series lenses retrofocus?

    Thank you again, Ian
  8. Ian, all lenses for 35 mm SLRs (the class includes the Retina Reflex) shorter than around 50 mm (and some of the 50s too) have to be retrofocus to clear the mirror.
  9. Dan, the same 50mm inner lens is used with the 35mm front component (the back of the lens never leaves the camera). It probably is retrofocus, but I am not sure.

  10. Very wide angles seem to have been pretty rare, but not all wide angles were so slow. I have the 35/2.8 Rodenstock Heligon that my dad bought in Germany in 1951. Pretty decent lens, too.
  11. Matthew - what camera does that lens fit? I have a 35mm f/4 Rodenstock Heligon from the 1957 period, but I have never seen one as early as yours - do tell me more!

    Ian, UK
  12. Kodak Retina introduced the "c" series in i954 with 35mm and 80mm interchangeable front elements. I think Contaflexes of the same era had the same choices, and probabl;y others.
  13. Apparently, until WW2 35mm lens designers didn't really know very well how to design WA lenses. 35mm lenses were available, but that's only a little bit wider than the film diagonal (which is 43mm). Zeiss had a 28mm but it was f:8.0 Tessar! And Leica countered with their f:6.3/28mm Hektar which was less than spectacular in performance.<P>Remember that there was no coating of lenses in those days, and WA lenses, even today, require many elements to correct their aborations.<P>Also, before WW2 film was pretty grainy, and anything less than the standard 50mm required additional enlarging which was not always technically successful.
  14. You need to look to rangefinders for the ultrawides, since in the 50s they hadn't figured out how to make ultrawide retrofocus lenses. Contax had a 28 in the mid 30s, and in the 50s had a 21, 25, and 28s. I believe both Nikon and Canon both had 25s around then, too--the Canon was introduced in 1956. By the end of the 50s, Canon had already made three different 28s.

    The first really wide lens I remember for through-the-lens viewing on an SLR was the 20mm/4 Flektagon, which came out around 1965 or so, if I remember right.
  15. In the 1950's (for the 35mm format) the 50mm was what everyone used, but was there no call for wide angle lenses?
    In case we're talking about SLR lenses... You know all about retrofocus design and when it was introduced by Angenieux? As the others mentioned, non-SLRs had wide angles available, but at a high cost and with some optical drawbacks.
  16. Here's something to look at:
    You can find a lot of stuff on RF lenses (and high-end classic gear in general)on this site
  17. Thank you - interesting stuff. I would love to see a selection of contemporary Kodachromes projected taken with some of those early wides.

    Is the C lens system (used by the Kodak rangefinders and the Reflex type 025 - fron cell exchange) a retrofocus design? It is this type: http://d6d2h4gfvy8t8.cloudfront.net/6517534-md.jpg to fit this camera: http://d6d2h4gfvy8t8.cloudfront.net/6517531-md.jpg

    Ian, UK
  18. I think a lot of credit should go to the late Herbert Keppler of first Modern Photogrpahy and later Popular Photography magazine for popularizing the use of wideangle lenses. He wrote many columns of his travels using moderate wideangle lenses, mostly 35mm lenses, and the examples he published created a lot of consumer interest in wideangles. I think that in turn pushed the manufacturers to make 35mm and 28mm lenses available at affordable prices.

  19. Thirty-five mm really isn't all that wide. In any other format a 50mm would be a short tele, "normal" being defined as a film format's diagonal, which is 42mm for 35mm. I think the origin of 50mm for 35mm was that the 24x36mm frame was twice a movie frame, and normal for a 35mm movie frame was 25mm, and 35mm still frames are 2X that, so. . .
  20. That's an interesting comment of Herb Keppler. Manufacturers seemed to be pushing a longer focal length during the 1950's.

    The Canon Serenar 28/3.5 that I had for while dated to 1951 or there abouts.

    Most of the pre-1960 wide angles had a fair degree of sharpness fall off towards the edges of the field, unless closed down a coupled of stops from wide open aperture. My Serenar was no exception.
  21. In the depression era it was expensive enough to buy one lens. There was no market for extra lenses so not much effort went into designing them.
  22. Ian, the Rodenstock Heligon I have fits a Leica thread mount. My dad got it, as far as I know, in Germany in 1951, along with a Steinheil Culminar 135 4.5 and a Tewa viewfinder. I'm not at home so I can't be any more specific as to serial numbers, pictures of it, etc.
  23. Ian, if you do a google search for Rodenstock Heligon 35, one of the first links will be to an ebay listing for one like mine, with an astonishingly high "buy it now" price! The listing claims it's very rare, but of course this is fleabay and someone may be stretching the point a bit. Anyway, it's a nice enough lens and mine looks like that one.
  24. Thank you all - some good and interesting information here.

    Ian, UK
  25. Well, y'know, there were many many wide angle lenses for professional formats as far back as the late 19th century. 35 mm was really a fringe amateur format until the early '50s, but from the mid-'30s on, perhaps a little earlier, there was a range of wide angles for range finder cameras, e.g., Leica and Contax, pitched to rich amateurs. By the early '50s there were, um, upper crust wide angles by, e.g., Angenieux, for Exakta and Alpa, but these two weren't SLRs for the many. And by the late '50s Zeiss Jena (DDR) was producing short lenses for east zone SLRs.
  26. I have an M42 Rodenstock-Eurygon 30/2.8. I'm not sure exactly when it was made, but I know it was also available in Exakta mount at the time.
  27. The early wide lenses were symmetrical non-retrofocus, style lenses. Many of the Leica and Contax wide lenses came within millimeters of touching the shutter curtains. They usually sat deeper inside the camera body than they stuck out. I think I remember seeing a 19mm lens like this for the Canon rangefinder cameras, but that might have been early 1960s.
  28. 35/2.8 postwar Biogon for Contax RF was excellent. My 35/2.5 Nikkor for Nikon RF was even better.

    21/4.5 Biogon is also a stunner.
  29. A few from the Nikkor WC 35/2.5 (Nikon S, Fuji Provia 100F)

    <p><img src="http://farm1.static.flickr.com/161/344664542_3c3162d16a_o.jpg">

    <p><img src="http://farm1.static.flickr.com/124/344664540_360e4c2fca_o.jpg">

    <p><img src="http://farm1.static.flickr.com/138/344664536_106ce4b2d1_o.jpg">
  30. I'm finally back home, and thankfully, my Leica did not disappear in my absence, nor its minty little Rodenstock Heligon:
  31. '...24x36mm frame was twice a movie frame...'


    The diag. for a 18x24 frame is 30mm, 43mm for 24x36.
  32. What actually started the WA stampede, of course, was the Zeiss f:4.5/21mm Biogon for the Contax IIa (covered 90 degrees).<P>The early extreme WA lenses for SLRs were not retrofocus, requiring that they be used with the mirror up and an auxillary finder.
  33. Here is what I have for the pre-war Contax line of lenses:

    28mm f:8 Tessar;
    35mm f:4.5 Orthometar;
    35mm f:2.8 Biogon (that is good and fast, even by todays standards).
    40mm f:2 Biotar;
    42.5mm f:2 Biotar (I will happily trade my Corvette for one of these).
    The last two of these lenses were really normal for the format, but as the 50 had become something of a standard, most people still considered them wide.

    In the Post War era, there are several changes to the line-up:
    21mm f:4 Biogon;
    25mm f:4 Topogon;
    35mm f:3.5 Planar(I have only seen one of these on ebay in 10 years!)
    35mm f:2.8 Biometar;
    35mm f:2.8 Biogon;

    For Leica the lenses the wides in a SM lens is 21mm with the honors going to the Super Angulon, and in M mount the widest is the 15mm hologon.

    Several things to consider with the wide lenses for range finder cameras, and SLRs. The Range finder lenses may drop off a bit at the corners (bad with wide open much better stopped down), but they do not distort like the Retro focus designs. What I mean buy that is, that the SLR wides will tend to bend the vertical lines at the edges in kind of a spherical way. This is not present in the range finder lenses as seen above with the Nikor. And with the 12mm and 15mm recently made by Cosina, they actually cover the format well, unlike the funky Fish-eye lenses for the SLR. Also, keep in mind that 21mm may not seem that wide form an angular perspective, however in terms of depth of focus, the lens seems very short (especially for a time when press photos are routinely shot with a 127mm on a Speed Graphic. To get the same angle on a 4x5 you would need an 85mm lens, and at its smallest aperture, it still has perhaps depth of field from 6 feet to infinity.

    In closing, the reason that wide angle lenses were uncommon in the 1950's is purely economic, in many cases the extra lens would double the cost of the camera kit! Zeiss claimed that in the entire time they made the Contax camera, that they never made money on the cameras, and just broke even on the entire line with the lens sales.
    Like Henry Ford said: "I would give the car away, if I could be the exclusive maker of spare parts."
  34. Thank you for the interesting comments.

    I have done a small study on my own 1955 35mm SLR lens, and have found something unusual. The standard 50mm lens is a symmetrical non-retrofocus design, but by replacing the front part of the lens with a 35mm f5.6 component I can have a wide angle but non-retrofocus lens for SLR use.

    If wide angle lenses can be made to a non-retrofocus design yet still fit in front of the mirror, I wonder why this was not persued?

    Ian, UK
  35. Ian, the 35/5.6 Retina Curtagon's back focus is longer than its focal length. Otherwise the mirror wouldn't clear the rear element. The same is true of the convertible lens.

    Why do you insist that neither is retrofocus? If they aren't retrofocus, how can such short lenses be used on a 35 mm SLR?
  36. Dan,

    The reason I thought this is that the 50mm f2 fitted to the reflex is the same lens as fitted to the 1930's-1950's Kodak Retina folding (non-SLR) cameras which did not need to be retrofocus (I measured with a vernier caliper to the rear cell on my IIIc). If the lens in the camera body remains - just the front elements replaced - then that made me think that the lens was still not retrofocus. I will be honest and say that I am still learning about all this, so I am probably wrong in my workings.

    Ian, UK
  37. Ian, the rear cell old 50/2 Retina Xenon wasn't designed to work as the rear cell of a wide angle (Retina Curtar) or telephoto (Retina Longar) lens. Trade names persist, designs change.


  38. Ian, "the 50mm was what everyone used". This is not correct regarding SLR designs. The 50mm as an industry standard came along in the 1970s, replacing 55mm and 58mm in many product lines.
  39. Tom; In Kine Exakta I slr the 1930's had a 50mm F2.8 TESSAR; The 1950's and 1960's Exakta slr had the 50mm tessar again; the Pancolar f2; the cheapie Domplan triplet that was 50mm too. The REASON that newer designs of slrs like the Nikon F of 1959 had a 5.8cm lens in F1.4 was the mirror was bigger than exakta's. Later about 1962 the 50mm F1.4 nikon cam out for Nikon F.
  40. Tom, to expand on what Kelly wrote, modern 50 mm lenses for 35 mm (and digital imitations of 35 mm) SLRs are all slightly retrofocus. The 55 mm and 58 mm lenses sold with early Minolta, Nikon, and Topcon SLRs were all of normal construction, i.e., neither telephoto nor retrofocus.

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