Colour and Collaboration
The Agfa story begins in 1867 in Rummelsburger See, on the outskirts of Berlin, when chemists Paul Mendelssohn Bartoldy and Carl Alexander von Martius founded the Gesellschaft Für Anilin-Fabrikation mbH. For the next 120 years, this expertise cast the die for Agfa’s successes and failures: aniline is a base ingredient in dyes, explosives, plastics, and photographic chemicals.
Following the purchase and merger of Dr. Jordan’s chemical factory in Treptow in 1872 the suffix ‘Aktien-‘ (Shared) was added in 1873 – foreshadowing future collaborations, and giving rise to the acronym AGFA: less accurate than the full AGFAF – but shorter, typographically prettier, and less evocative of the Heimlich Manoeuvre. Over time, AGFA became Agfa. Mindfulness of Agfa’s 19th Century decision to drop the F of ‘Fabrikation’ and its willingness to switch cases will help us identify lenses made decades later.
Meanwhile, in 1890, across the border in Antwerp, Lieven Gevaert established a workshop for the production of calcium photographic paper. From disparate backgrounds, in different countries, both companies were destined to become increasingly influential in the burgeoning field of colour film, processing and printing, and in 1964 merged to form Agfa-Gevaert.
However, almost forty years prior to the merger, the Agfa brand had become synonymous with the production of innovative cameras and lenses: from 1927, Agfa made a successful two-pronged attack on the then-disconnected European and American markets: contracting production and sales in the States to New-York based Ansco.
Commercially, Agfa-Gevaert’s ‘Golden Years’ are considered to be the diversified 1960s-1980s, but Agfa’s industry-leading days in the photography sector were probably earlier: in particular, the 1950s generated a glut of zeitgeist-capturing products that remain desirable today. However, it would be remiss to skip over the 1940s that established Agfa as a force in German production and built the foundation to create these exciting products. Although a prosperous decade, Agfa’s global reputation was tarnished by deep collaboration with the Nazi regime. Agfa’s services – chemical and optical – were in demand: the company was involved in the production of Zyklon B gas used to exterminate undesirables in the concentration camps, and in return Agfa made free use of skilled prisoners in their factories. After World War II, Allied powers charged with hobbling the strength of German industry made it a priority to break up the IG Farben combine of which Agfa was a key part.
Agfa’s company history, photographic dyes and paper, and cameras and taking lenses are well documented elsewhere, but the story of Agfa’s projector, enlarger and industrial optics is less well known – an omission we now attempt to redress.
Agfa Enlarger Lenses
Agfa’s enlarger lenses never achieved the global awareness of other German brands, or other products in its stable. PhotoCornucopia’s Big List only listed two; in 1983 the ‘Darkroom Magazine’ overview overlooked them; forum chatter goes quiet when you ask. In fact, you can read widely online and never learn Agfa ever made them. Vade Mecum – which can usually be relied upon to say something – on this point says nothing: a Color Solagon DI 70/4.5 is mentioned but not identified as an enlarger lens. And yet Agfa had a wide portfolio: Solinar-S, (Color-)Magnolar, Color-Magnolar II, Magnolar, Colostar-N, Colostar-U, and Color-Solagon in versions DI and DII. Delta currently lists more than forty Agfa-branded enlarger lenses – plus process and industrial lenses – with a low degree of confidence that even this catalogue is complete.
Agfa Varioscop (commonly misspelt ‘Varioscope’) enlargers were sold from the late 1950s until 1974 and were considerably more popular on mainland Europe than in the US or UK. In 1960, the newly-released Varioscop 35/44 was fitted as standard with a Color-Solagon DII-series 60/4.5 but in subsequent years was more commonly packaged with some species of Magnolar. The larger, Italian-made Varioscop 60 was sold alongside the 35/44 in most markets throughout the 1960s and had an excellent reputation. Agfa had close ties with Steinheil in the 1940s and 1950s, and a similar relationship with Durst in the 1970s and 1980s: the Agfa C66 Colormat enlarger was a modified version of the Durst 605.
Unlike brands that seek to appeal to all market segments, Agfa only sold good lenses. Some were very good. It could be argued that Agfa’s (wartime interrupted) Golden Age was 1940-1960, when their camera bodies and taking lenses were world class. But Agfa’s reputation for optical excellence and innovation didn’t rest solely on these deservedly popular products: Agfa’s most impressive mid-century work happened out of the limelight: in their high-end enlarger and industrial lenses, and those made for special applications like the Agfa Recording Camera and the Repromaster range.
However, even during the company’s heyday – in common with many well-known brands (AICO, Beseler, Cambridge, Durst, etc) – Agfa enlarging lenses were rarely made by Agfa: indeed, it is rumoured that the Color-Solagon DI and DII series were the only Agfa models designed and manufactured in-house. Later Magnolar models were jointly marketed by Durst as ‘Neonon’ and were made in Japan – likely by Pentax. The Solinar-S, Color-Magnolar I and II, and Colostar-U/-N models were made in Germany – some perhaps by Staeble (who almost certainly made the Repromasters*). Others were evidently made by, or in collaboration with, Steinheil, given the similarities between Steinheil’s own enlarger lenses and certain Agfa designs.
Adding to the nominal and physical similarities, the trade connection between Steinheil and Agfa is supported by the fact Agfa Varioscop enlargers are often seen – and likely sold – fitted with Steinheil lenses. Although not widely know today, Steinheil München, founded by the titular Carl August von Steinheil in 1855, was a distinguished maker of optical instruments for well over a century. For more on that, please see here >
According to wikiwand.com: “Steinheil supplied various manufacturers and quickly developed an extensive range in this area. From 1950 the Agfa company in Munich was supplied with Steinheil Culminars for their Varioscop enlarger. Some were sold under the Agfa Magnolar name.“
Note the similarity between these images captured by a Canon EOS R5 using the Steinheil Culminar VL 10.5cm and Agfa Color-Magnolar 105mm – both nominally f4.5 maximum aperture.
The Steinheil Culminar and the Agfa Color-Magnolar are almost on par, particularly when you factor in the actual difference between their (nominal) f4.5 maximum apertures. Because Agfa’s Heliar-based design seems to open up to something closer to f4, while the Steinheil lens shows better correction for CA and is therefore the preferred choice of the two.
When we compare the Steinheil 10.5cm with the Mark II Color-Magnolar, it’s a different story. Here the Agfa is noticeably sharper. While it retains some of the CA issues of its predecessor, overall it’s the best and most desirable of this 105mm trio – at least in terms of its macro performance.
Agfa Solinar S
The Solinar name first appeared to four-element Agfa lenses in the early 1940s – notably in Prontor shutters on Isolar and Isolette folding cameras – and by 1952 was the subject of a unique patent by Agfa. Among enlarger lenses we find a Solinar S 60/4.5 and the Solinar S 105/4.5 – both four-element Tessar designs distinguished by angled fascia rings in black noses with silver ‘Steinheil-style’ bodies: large knurled brass aperture rings with triangular markers.
To dismantle these, and the Magnolars, for cleaning and repair, the nose is rotated out of the lower half, against the stop screw that actuates the diaphragm. If torque is applied to the wrong part of the housing it’s possible to damage the aperture selection ring: quite a few Solinars, Magnolars, and Color-Solagons we’ve seen have misaligned, over-running, or (at worst) free-spinning rings. Apart from that issue, the brass and aluminium cases are well engineered.
Impressions and Sample images Agfa Solinar S 60 mm
Agfa Magnolar [V1 and V2]
Between the Tessar Solinars and the Heliar Color-Magnolars sits the Magnolar range, consisting of just two focal lengths (60mm and 105mm – both f4.5). Version 1 of the Magnolar 60/4.5 is distinguished by mixed-case lettering on the fascia ring and lower serial numbers. These are four-element designs optically identical to the Solinar-S 60/4.5. This petite lens was a widely-fitted entry-level option for Varioscop enlargers. The Magnolar 60/4.5 Version 2 has upper-case lettering on the fascia, higher serial numbers and is a superior five-element lens probably identical to the Color-Magnolar branded 60/4.5.
In testing, even the basic Magnolar 60/4.5 [V1] performs surprisingly well: scoring just over 85% for near-field averaged sharpness at f5.6-f8. This would have been an excellent enlarger optic – on the same level, for instance, as the EL-Nikkor N 105/5.6 – certainly not a make-weight Varioscop kit lens buyers would have been keen to upgrade. The circular ten-blade aperture makes for natural bokeh. Overall rendition is excellent and it’s recommended as a taking lens – but don’t expect to find an adaptor for its outlying 27.4×0.5mm mount.
These 5/3 (Heliar type) enlarging lenses are a clear step up from the four-element Solinar S/Magnolar [V1] precursors. They appear to have been the standard lenses that Agfa sold with a lot of their Varioscop enlargers and come in the usual focal lengths. However besides the Color-Magnolar 60/4.5 and the Color-Magnolar 105/4.5 an additional Color-Magnolar 75/4.5 has also been seen online, even though it looks completely different and more like a special purpose lens. Agfa was an early provider of bespoke and short-run lenses for medical, forensic and a wide variety of industrial applications.
In an official Agfa advertisement from the 1960s they are described as six-element lenses, but all samples seen and recorded appear to be five-element. Perhaps at one point Agfa intended to market the Color-Solagon lenses under the Color-Magnolar designation.
Agfa Color-Magnolar II
The Mark II’s have the same 5/3 construction, but different casings and improved optics – included upgraded coatings. In my quick tests it seems to hold up fine to the non-Apo six-element lenses. All these Agfa enlarging lenses feature solid metal builds and wonderful circular diaphragms (with fifteen-blades for the 105mm and 10 for the 60mm). Just like their predecessors there is a Color-Magnolar II 60/4.5 and a Color-Magnolar II 105/4.5
Sample Images Color-Magnolar II 105 mm
Agfa Colostar Series (N and U)
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.
Color-Solagons are among the least documented – and most underrated – enlarging lenses. According to one catalogue, the Color-Solagon name first appeared on a fast lens for the Agfa Silette in 1956. However, that 50/2 lens was an option for the slightly earlier Karat IV. We can thereby date the range to the late 1950s and 1960s. It seems likely that this six-element lens predated (and ‘inspired’) the Color-Solagon enlarger lenses and subsequent Agfaflex 55/2. The Double-Gauss design was the subject of a unique patent by Agfa. However, the taking lenses feature a different 6/4 construction even though they share the name:
Agfa seems to have used two different 6/4 designs for their enlarging lenses with the 60, 80 and 90 mm DII variants featuring a 6/4 Plasmat design (similar to the Schneider Componon-S) and the Color-Solagon DI 70/4.5 using a more symmetrical version of the basic Solagon (Double-Gauss) design. So far it looks like this was the only lens Agfa ever used it in, while all of the later (Staeble-made) enlarging and repro-lenses appear to be closer to the Plasmat design.
They are seen in four focal lengths:
Roman numerals are used in other Agfa series to distinguish new models, but in this unique case it seems like DII marks a different design from DI, and it may also designate a different application. There is a Color-Solagon-D 60/4.5 as well as Color-Solagon DII 60/4.5. However, the DII 60mm exists in two (different-looking) versions. One was supplied with the Varioscop 35/44 for a period of time (confirmed by catalogues dating from 1960), but the majority were shipped with Color-Magnolar/Colostar lenses.
The (Color) Solagon DII 60/4.5 was standard on the the 3906 version of Agfa’s Registrierkamera (translated ‘Recording-Camera’ or Register Camera) manufactured from 1961-1970, likely by Alex Jacknau of Berlin whose outwardly identical Radar Camera survived the Registrierkamera into the 1970s. Some versions are labeled Bundeswehr and/or featured the Big J Jacknau logo. More commonly the 3900 series are seen with Agfa Color-Telinear 90/3.4 (fitted via the f2 Zwischenring Typ 3923 adaptor), Agfa Color-Solinar 50/2.8, Agfa Color-Ambion 35/4 and Agfa Color-Telinear 130/4.5 but samples have been observed with Schneider Curtagon 35/2.8 and Rodenstock Rotelar 75/4 lenses. Likely the Solagon-equipped Registrierkamera was intended for close range work and the DII version of the 60/4.5 may have been optimised for this application, hence the distinction from the Color-Solagon D 60/4.5.
Serial numbers further muddy the water: given B- C- and E-prefixes, we would hope for a chronological/alphabetical sequence, but the DII’s come earlier (alphabetically) than the DI’s. And the DII 90 skips a letter and reverts to five digital all-number serials like the sub-75 mm Colostars. And the Color-Solagon D 60 has an M-prefix.
The Color-Solagon 70mm, 80mm and 90mm were perhaps used in a minilab or a similar device because they come with a retaining ring that wouldn‘t be necessary when used in an Agfa enlarger. The 90 mm has an aperture scale on the rear of the lens but the rest of the range mysteriously leaves the user guessing as to which aperture is selected. Mounts are always 0.5mm fine pitch, with diameters of 27.4 mm, 39 mm and 42 mm.
The 70mm is almost twice the weight of the 80mm, despite having the same nominal maximum aperture. However, the 70mm has an internal baffle that, if removed, would give a maximum aperture closer to f/2, albeit with compromised image quality. While the front external diameter of all three lenses is somewhat similar, the front element of the 70/4.5 version is bigger (31 mm) than the 80/4.5 and 90/4.5 (27 mm) and the rear element is considerably larger (38 mm v 28-29 mm). It’s an optical heavyweight, too: scoring 88% for far distance and 90.1% for near field – sharper than any other Agfa lens, and matching of state-of-the-art lenses like the EL-Nikkor 80/5.6, Fuji EX 75/4.5, Kodak Ektar 75/4.5 and Schneider Apo Componon 90/4.5. Its overall sharpness is a little notch above lenses you might expect it be competitive with: ie, Rodenstock Rodagon 80/4 and Schneider Componon 80/4 – closer, in fact, to the elite-level Apo-Rodagon-N 80/4. For full details, please see the Hall of Fame > and the 70 mm DI listing.
The 80 mm f/4.5 DII is also a very sharp lens, scoring 88.2% for near-field f5.6-f8 average, but dipping quite hard to 85.8% at distance, where the corners suffer relative to its shorter sibling. Again, for full details, see the 70-85 mm Group Review and the 80 mm DII listing.
I‘ve never encountered what I would consider a ‘perfect’ sample of this lens – not even close, actually! Most suffer from coating damage, fungus or separation issues which makes it hard to judge their original quality. Unlike fine wine, lenses do not improve with age. Perhaps susceptibility to such issues lead to the untimely discontinuation of this promising family of lenses.
However, Color-Solagons prove to be wonderful taking lenses, resolving tremendous detail across a wide range of magnifications and they have among the smoothest rendering of any enlarging lens with minimal mechanical vignetting and circular apertures, combined with near-apochromatic colour rendition. Because they are largely unknown they don‘t usually fetch high prices, but they are are likely to require servicing and many samples are already beyond practical repair – which is a pity, because these beautiful, enigmatic lenses are worth preserving at any cost.
Agfa Magnolar [V3] / Durst Neonon
The later, all-black, Japanese-made Magnolars share only a name with their predecessors. The Magnolar 50/2.8, Magnolar 80/5.6 and Magnolar 105/5.6 were jointly marketed by Durst as ‘Neonon’ and launched early in the second quarter of 1978. The three versions of this lens appear interchangeably marked AGFA MAGNOLAR and Durst Neonon as late as 2000. Engraved ‘Made in Japan’, uncertainty still surrounds the maker. Here’s a round-up of current theories:
A: It was Pentax. Why? Durst officially refused to name names, but whispers have long leaked out that Neonon/Magnolars were made by Pentax. Circumstantial evidence is quite strong. There are said to be rare and collectable Pentax-EL-branded Neonon/Magnolars in circulation: a Pentax-EL 50/2.8 appears to have been sold in 2003 – as verified by one experienced vendor – but no images survive. Pentax SMC-A lenses of this period certainly have a similar look and feel: with flat black fascia rings, silver rings on the nose and distinctive stippled rubber control rings. As the above picture shows, even the typography and knurling is identical. Furthermore, Asahi Optical Co was the Japanese distributor of Durst enlargers from at least 1978 to at least 1998 – lending credence to claims Pentax made the lenses – but potentially explaining away the appearance of Pentax branding without proving Pentax was the manufacturer. Pentax released a 6-element, 4-group SMC-A 50mm f2.8 Macro lens approximately eighteen months after the launch of the Neonon/Magnolar V1s which is a strong candidate to be a cell transplant from an enlarger lens into a taking helical. Note that the six-digit serial numbers of this lens all begin 5xxxxx and the five-digit serial numbers of the Neonon/Magnolars all begin 5xxxx. Or,
B: It was Minolta. Why? Because they have a 50/2.8 and 80/5.6, and Agfa were rumoured to have had some kind of manufacturing relationship with Minolta in the 1970s and the companies collaborated on the 1996 ActionCam. However, the CEs are optically quite different, and far superior to the Neonons, and they’re not the same as the entry-level E-Rokkors either.
C: It was Fuji. Why? Because they’re Japanese.
D: It was Olympus. Why? See above.
E: It was Hoya/Osawa. Why? Because they’re Japanese, and made many lenses for re-branders.
F: It was Komura. Why? See above.
G: It was Tomioka. Why? See above.
H: It was Cosina. Why? See Minolta, minus the experience with enlarging lenses.
H: It was Nikon. Why? Well . . . Nikon do have lenses at those focal lengths. They’re physically similar, and Nikon retired a very good range of lenses with exactly those specifications within a year of the Neonon’s launch. Speculation that Durst purchased and repackaged pre-N EL-Nikkors is tempting, given that Durst followed the same MO purchasing and repackaging Schneider’s outgoing Componon (V2) design and launching it about the same moment Schneider moved on to Componon-S. But, for the time being, who knows?
What isn’t in dispute is that these are high quality six-element lenses. The 80/5.6 scores a solid Silver 85.3% for near-field f5.6-f8 average sharpness but drops, almost into Bronze territory, to 80.3% for distance. For their intended application, these later lenses are superior in most respects to the Magnolar and Colostar optics, but they don’t approach the level of Agfa’s best, which get Gold awards for sharpness and are better corrected for CA and field curvature.
Agfa Minilab Lenses
Agfa was also a successful manufacturer of minilabs. Wikiwand.com 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 200, 100, 101, 101-D, which 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:
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.
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 Enlarging Lens Serial Numbers
Most manufacturers use serial numbers to track and display production batches or vintage. If you find a Schneider lens with the number 14,000,0001 you can be confident it was the fourteen-million-and-first the company made. It’s a helpful system. It works for everyone.
But not Agfa. Agfa serial numbers prior to – and (differently) after – their 1964 merger with Gevaert are more like the Enigma code – rendered intelligible only by a top-secret unscrambler. Agfa didn’t want lenses to be identifiable by the enemy with regard to their name, rank or serial number. There is a pattern, but it’s not alphabetical, chronological or (perhaps even) numerically sequenced, as you’ll note from the samples collected below.
Agfa’s enlarger lenses – Magnolars excepted – are differentiated by four-digit numbers as opposed to the five-digit numbers that identified their camera bodies taking lenses of the 1940-1964 period, which also have a letter-prefix that doesn’t appear to correlate to a year. Among ‘Delta’ lenses, the letter is used with some consistency to identify product types: for instance, we only see F#### serials on Colostar-N lenses, G#### serials on Colostar-U lenses, and more often than not V-for Varioscop or Vergrößerung on enlarger-specific lenses like Solinars and Magnolars of all ages. However, at focal lengths below 75 mm, Colostar-N and Colorstar-U serials revert to four significant digits with a zero prefix (eg 01299) – apart from the N 77 mm. And apart from the N 42mm, which has an M.prefix (see above). And apart from the N 38 mm, which has a six-digit serial despite never being mass produced, with serials only seen below 000100.
We await information from the unlocking of the Agfa archives held at FoMu in Belgium that may cast light on the hitherto unpublished logic of this system, but thus far Agfa’s intention to keep their serials schtum has been successful and it’s not possible to date an Agfa enlarger lens precisely. In the meantime, if you own or have found a lens outside the range of serials here presented, please let us know.
Agfa Projector Lenses
Agfa’s projector range comprised Diamator, Agfa 30, etc.
No Agfa projector lenses were serialled – often a giveaway that the manufacturer doesn’t take them seriously. However, even Agfa’s basic projector lenses were relatively high resolution optics compared to their competition – a fact that somehow never reach the wider market. Although their reputation in Western Mainland Europe is rightfully healthy, one British projector repair specialist I spoke to recently opined: “Agfa projectors – never were any good”. Well, many of their lenses certainly were.
It’s hard to establish any provenance for specific enlarger lenses. Agfa certainly had the in-house resource to design and make them, but in typical German (and very Agfa) fashion, there was a collective resource pool between Braun, Agfa and Staeble from the 1960s-1980s that makes it likely that some of each company’s intellectual copyright (and production fingerprints) might linger on any model in any range. However, specifically Agfa-branded lenses are seen of the following types:
Agomar was a lens name shared between many German manufacturers, and indeed there are (at present count) at least five versions of the Agfa Agomar.
Only one lens is seen marked Agfa Agolon: a plastic-barrel 90mm f2.5.
Finally, an instance where the Color-prefix really matters! Color-Agolon denotes a much heavier, much better version of the Agolon 90mm. Both are f2.5, but the Color-Agolon is throttled down from a real-world f2 with an internal waterhouse stop, giving better resolution, particularly in the corners. The dissimilarity of this lens’ drawing style to similar Braun and Staeble models suggests that this was a unique Agfa design.
The Reflecta Connection
Agfa Repro & Process Lenses
Special thanks [Edition 1.2]
For this initial draft, which covers a number of subject areas that haven’t previously been documented, we owe thanks to a number of people who have helped us on our way. Watch this space for future editions.
- FoMU – FotoMuseum in Antwerpen, Belgium.
- Hartmut Thiele, for the information he provides in his great books on a lot of different lens manufacturers.
- Bernhard (deramateurphotograph.de) who uses and displays many under-appreciated lenses on his fascinating blog.
- Flickr users Hans Kerensky and Khanfoto, as well as 情事針寸II and Tarzán de los Gnomos for fleshing out the numbers list, and helping on some discoveries.
* Vade Mecum notes tooling and mount similarities between Staeble’s Ultragon and Helioprint and Repromaster lenses, concluding that Staeble likely made all three.