Agfa-Gevaert: Industrial Lenses

If Agfa somewhat receded from the minds of consumers in the second half of the Twentieth Century, the company’s involvement in what we might call ‘industrial’ optics certainly did not – encompassing photo-industrial devices such as minilabs and printer controllers, and the full spectrum of imaging applications for medical and manufacturing industries. If Agfa’s ‘over the counter’ presence waned between 1960 and 1990, they remained a major player behind them – in hospitals, pharmacies and factories. Sadly, little of this legacy survives: in most cases the optical components went the way of the obsolete technology it was attached to. However, some remains: lenses plucked from the jaws of crushers, lovingly extracted from moribund hardware to begin a new life as off-piste capture lenses – or paperweights.



The frequently mis-spelled Colostar appellation (unlike Solinar and Color-Solagon) was never applied to taking lenses – although Agfa did make 42mm fixed aperture (f11) Colorstar lenses for their (entirely unrelated) Agfamatic 50 and 100 pocket cameras. The connection to Hungarian prog rockers Colorstar is also unfounded. Agfa never tired of reminding us about its colourful past but in the 1950s ‘Color!’ was an industry buzzword liberally (and meaninglessly) tacked on to a range of hardware already capable of colour reproduction to sync with the newly chromatic world of film, chemistry and paper Agfa was pioneering. When added to -Magnolar and -Solagon, it signifies nothing more than a marketing moment. Unfortunately, removal of the middle ‘ur’ from ColourStar makes Colostar inappropriately redolent of colostrum, colostomy and colo-rectal.

The range is diverse and hard to rationalise, but probably linked by serial numbers with A-G prefixes to the Color-Solagon range designating industrial lenses or flagging optimisation for unusual magnification ratios. Colostars are seen in focal lengths from 38-150mm – mostly Colostar U or Colostar N. The 150mm is simply labeled Colostar. The peculiar focal lengths and presence of fixed aperture models suggests that some were designed for specific use-cases. Agfa Colorstar U and N lenses always have the exact focal length hand-written on the rear.

Hans-Martin Brandt notes that the 3.5x optimised Colostar N 75mm f4.5 was fitted to Agfa’s Colormator N-Series for rollhead printers (manufactured from 1959 until the late 1980s) and Variograd Photographic Belt Copying Machines (manufactured from 1957-1987). It’s likely that Colostars were fitted to laboratory imaging systems such as the Agfa Labomator, too – but Colostars were never offered by Agfa to the public market, and only found their way onto other imaging platforms after retirement – most notably digital cameras, where they make fine macro lenses at their intended working distance.

Agfa Variograd 76/90 Photographic Belt Copying Machine fitted with a Colostar lens

The Colostar range was likely in production by Agfa at Münich Kamerawerke from 1957 until around 1980 –although it can’t be ruled out that Agfa subcontracted production to a German partner, as it had before. The absence of a serial number index makes it impossible to pin dates to samples, which vary in finish and are evidently spread over several decades. Broadly speaking, samples with low serial numbers have all-silver casings that, in higher serial samples, were redesigned with black and silver casings with large ribbed aperture rings – although this trend reverses in the case of the 60mm. The fine-pitch (0.5mm) mounts vary, too: 27.4mm, 39mm, and 42mm are seen. For full details please see the main archive for the expanding catalogue of Colostar lenses.

Colostars are akin to a reversed version of the Color-Magnolar II, which makes them a 5/3 Reverse-Heliar, similar to the longer Ental II’s by Taylor Hobson. In tests, Colostars tested so far have straddled Silver-to-Bronze award territory: the physically impressive Colostar-U 100/4.5 scored as high as 83% for f5.6-f8 average near field, but a rather less confidence-inspiring Colostar-N 77/4.5 only rated 78.3% for far distance.

Consistently sharper close up than at distance, Colostars’ performance as taking lenses is compromised relative to the flagship Color-Solagons: there are Colostars with sharp Zone 1 and soft Zone 3, and there are Colostars that resolve evenly from corner to corner, but aren’t critically sharp anywhere. As you might expect, they are most comfortable at 3.5x magnfication. What these well-corrected workhorses have in common is civilised bokeh, moderately low contrast, well controlled chromatic aberration and graceful rather than eye-popping colour rendition.

Agfa Minilab Lenses

Agfa was also a successful manufacturer of minilabs. confirms that Agfa (like Tomioka) had a working relationship with Copal:

“In 1983, a collaboration with the Japanese company Nihon Densan Copal was started in the minilab segment. Copal developed and produced the complete machine body with the integrated wet end for paper image development. The film input area with the integrated film scanner was developed, produced and provided by Agfa. The customer’s exposed negative films were usually developed in a special machine in the laboratory before being printed.“

During the 1990s and on into the 2000s, Agfa’s minilabs included the MSC Series (100, 101, 101-D and 200), MSC2, MSC3, CLS13 and CLS23. The MSC 100 was fitted as standard with a variable focus imaging lens covering 135, IX240 and 110 formats. Optional lenses could be fitted that covered 120, 220 and other formats. These machines included the designation 8506 (the Agfa MSC100, for instance, was officially DD+8506111H010E). Imaging arrays (including a condensor, like the one below, from a MSC 101.D) and lens parts for these machines usually include an 8506 reference.

The imaging array above (dating from 2001) was suitable for fitment of 109,8506, 110,8508 and 110,8509 lenses. These numbers don’t necessarily refer to focal lengths.

Agfa’s range also included fp.100, fp-120 and fp.200 models, as well as the Peiting-made d-Lab Series (1, 2 and 3) which continued to sell worldwide even after Agfa’s collapse when ownership of d-Lab transferred to Minilab Factory Gmbh in February 2006. Widespread retirement of these devices in the last decade has put a number of interesting purpose-built varifocal lenses into circulation. They’re heavy and hard to adapt but have great potential as macro lenses, as user DIN0 notes on the mflenses forum. Here are a few images we shot with them:

Agfa Repro & Scanner Lenses

Agfa-Gevaert 107/4 (scanner lens)

Agfa Repromaster Series

Agfa Repromaster lenses

Custom Builds, Prototypes, or M. for Mystery?

When compiling the Agfa enlarging lens serial numbers list (below), one thing stood out immediately: whenever a lens had a serial number with an M-prefix, it was impossible to find another. Agfa made many special purpose lenses in small runs that rarely surface in the used market, but even compared to those, it’s very unusual.  M. lenses span different lens families and totally different constructions. Two in our collection are very similar to known models: a Color Magnolar 105mm and a Colostar N 42/4.5 – but others have no designation beyond a serial number.

This M.3210 Colostar 42 mm lens came in a decidedly non-standard mount. Application unknown.

The 42 mm Colostar appears to be of standard 5/3 construction, as does the utilitarian M.3054 5/1. Both have a fixed aperture and the same outer diameter. It’s likely that the peculiar focal lengths of 105.8 mm and  105.672 mm are also Heliar or Reverse-Heliars.

M.3525 6/3 and M.3421 6/2 appear to be triplets. Because of their simple, compact construction, typical of Agfa’s industrial and prototype lenses – and their optimisation for close-up work – it’s possible these are stillborn competitors to the Zeiss Luminar or Lomo Mikroplanar. We await answers.

The presence of discrete M.xxxx serial numbers on the close-up attachments with dioptre markings fitted to industrial versions of Colostar N lenses (above left, a 0.646 dioptre lens fitted to a Colostar-N 75mm) lends weight to the theory that M is for ‘Machine’. Taking another shot in the dark, perhaps the M. signifies custom made (‘Maßanfertigung’) or prototype sample (‘Muster’). But for all we know at present, it stands for ‘Mysteriös’.

To give an idea of the quality of these lenses for macro work, I made a brief comparison of the M.3525 6/3 and a reference enlarging lens of similar focal length, the Rodenstock Apo-Rodagon N 50/2.8. The M.lens is clearly better optimised for higher magnification ratios.

Agfa 3525 6/3 (LEFT) vs Rodenstock Apo-Rodagon N 50/2.8 (RIGHT)
Agfa 3525 6/3 (LEFT) vs Rodenstock Apo-Rodagon N 50/2.8 (RIGHT)

Lenses by application

Agfa-Gevaert 107/4  Agfa Horizon scanner
Agfa Mikrogon 14.5/2.8 36xMicrofiche reader
Agfa Mikrogon 26.7/3.2 18xMicrofiche reader
Agfa Mikrogon 27.7/4.9 24xMicrofiche reader
Agfa Mikrogon 21/9.8 72xMicrofiche reader
Agfa Repromaster 80/4Repromaster copy camera
Agfa Repromaster 135/9Repromaster copy camera
Agfa Repromaster 150/9Repromaster copy camera
Agfa Repromaster 210/9Repromaster copy camera
Agfa Repromaster 213/9.5Repromaster copy camera
Agfa Repromaster 240/9Repromaster copy camera
Agfa Repromaster 270/9Repromaster copy camera
Agfa Super-Intergon 105/5.6Repromaster copy camera (?)
Agfa Super-Intergon 210/9Repromaster copy camera (?)
Agfa Super-Intergon 213/9.25Repromaster copy camera (?)
Agfa Super-Intergon 270/9Repromaster copy camera (?)
Agfa Super-Intergon S 305/9Repromaster copy camera (?)
Agfa Super-Intergon WA 305/11Repromaster copy camera (?)
(Agfa) Staeble Magnogon R 80/4.5Enlarging (?)
(Agfa) Staeble Magnogon R 105/4.5Enlarging (?)

* Vade Mecum notes tooling and mount similarities between Staeble’s Ultragon and Helioprint and Repromaster lenses, concluding that Staeble likely made all three.

Additional chapters in the Agfa-Gevaert story:

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