What’s in a Name?

Frequently, confusion. As if we didn’t have enough trouble cataloguing lenses with names like Nooky and Veginar, (thanks Leica and Kodak), Delta-world is far from the semantic ideal of one name for one thing. Major changes to a lens design sometimes go unflagged, while other, outwardly dissimilar lenses are optically identical.

In many cases we have needed to disambiguate historic iterations with version numbers or unique references. Sometimes this escalated beyond expectations – we have identified eight versions of the AICO 75mm enlarger lens and eleven versions of the Will Maginon 85mm projector lens, each slightly different – cosmetically, optically, or mechanically. Sometimes there are catalogue numbers; sometimes helpful serials; sometimes not.

Homonyms

Just as ‘bark’ can mean tree-wrap or dog-woof, so ‘Componon’ can mean many things: lenses with round, concave-5, scalloped or curved diaphragms; five or six elements; single or multicoated. There are Apo-Componons, Apo-Componon HM’s, Apo-Componon HM Makro Irises, Componon-S’s, at least one Componon-S HM, Componon Machine Vision, and just plain Componons. Some flavour of Componon has been in continuous manufacture since the 1960s, until today. Knowing which is which really matters.

It wouldn’t be so bad if Schneider’s nomenclature was entirely Componon-based, but the waters are muddied by the dyslexia-baiting Comparon and Componar ranges. Rodentsock played similar transposition games with their Rodagon, Rogonar and Rogonar-S models, and the easily-confused Omegar and Omegarons, some of which were branded Omega.

Then there are the product names that seem to have been so irresistibly catchy, everyone wanted to use them: ‘Agomar’ springs to mind. ‘Actinar’ lenses were made in Japan by Musashino Koki for the Rittenreck 6×9 SLR camera from 1956 until the late 1960s. Because ‘-reck’ had an undesirable connotation in the English-speaking world, export versions of the cameras, and some of the lenses, were labeled Optika II. Musashino Koki lenses for this camera at home and abroad were known as Aetna Actinar or Optika Actinar. The same lenses found their way into bellows mount and (probably) enlargers in focal lengths from (at least) 25-210mm. However, unrelated Actinar lenses were also made in West Germany by Steinheil in the 1930s for a variety of folding cameras.

Synonyms

Certain industries, youngsters and criminal communities use secret lingo – cant known only to those in the know. A simple substitution cipher: you say ‘monkey’, and it’s understood to mean £500; you say ‘chirpsing’ and it’s understood to mean ‘chatting or flirting with’; you say ‘Vivitar’ and it’s understood to mean this lens is NOT made by Vivitar but rather by whomever Vivitar was economically chirpsing that year.

Many Delta lenses weren’t made by the company named on the fascia. For instance, it was common for projector manufacturers to print their brand on the necessarily prominent (but no less outsourced) lens – eg Gnome, Simda, etc. Enlarger manufacturers played the same game: few made their own optics; many struck deals to rebrand them – eg, Durst, AICO, Vivitar, Beseler, etc. Significant examples include:

Beseler HD = Rodenstock Rodagon
Beseler Professional = Komuranon E
Beseler ColorPro = Hoya or Kowa, depending on the vintage
Durst = Schneider, Rodenstock, Agfa or Pentax, depending on the model
Vivitar VHE = Schneider Componon
Vivitar 6-Element = Fujimoto
Zeiss = Zett

Sometimes a lens shifted identity depending on the local market and language perceptions. For instance, Computar sounded sophisticated in English-speaking markets at a time when German- or US-made products had greater leverage than the Japanese-sounding Kowa, or the positively alien-sounding Chugai. Perceptions stick, and even though they are identical, Computar-branded lenses regularly sell for more than the Kowa or Chugai ‘versions’.

Sometimes it was more complicated: particularly in post-war Germany it was common for the major manufacturers to collaborate on a lens design and each market or package the resultant brain-share in a slightly different way. In Japan, there was a similar joint effort between Hoya, Yashica and Osawa that was globally marketed by Bogen, Beseler and Omicron.

Compared to the number of companies making projectors, relatively few companies made lenses for projectors. Kodak was a particularly active rebrander of Isco and Schneider and the success of the Carousel slide projector resulted in many lenses carrying this name instead of the lens-maker. It’s helpful to know a little Kodak-speak, too: Retinar S-AV 1000 lenses are optically identical to the Ektapro versions, whose housings had compatible focusing gear racks. However, the premium Retinar S-AV 2000 models are known as Ektapro Select. Both series are later than, but not always superior to, lenses simply labeled Retinar. It’s likely that Kodak made its own entry-level models, but most Kodak projector optics are optically identical to a Schneider or Isco equivalent and we identify them as such in the archive.

Meridian piggy-backed closely on the success of the Kodak Carousel and seems to have been free to claim anything made in West Germany. Meridian lenses are often a good buy, because they rebranded some of the most interesting designs from Docter (the 60/2.8), Isco (the 45/2.8 PC) and Schneider (several of their best zooms) and yet made little lasting impact on the market. Again, where possible we identify the maker of all Meridian-branded lenses in the main archive.

The Changelings

Perhaps you’ve stared at the concentric rings on the back of a 50/3.5 or 75/4.5 with an unfamiliar name and though “I’m sure I’ve seen this lens somewhere before . . .” Flitting like ghosts, or a bad case of déja-vu, through the Delta catalogue an infinitely rebranded lens recurs: a cheap Japanese-made triplet with a black body, silver mount and red dot. Yes, you have. Many opinions exist as to who originally made these lenses, but I hope they invested their doubtless considerable earnings wisely because these things are ubiquitous.

Potentially Misleading Things Printed on Lenses

Anastigmat

Anastigmat, Anastigmatic, or even Anastig (presumably Stig’s sister) is commonly seen on enlarger lenses. Once, it actually meant something. Wikipedia notes:

“An anastigmat or anastigmatic lens is a photographic lens completely corrected for the three main optical aberrationsspherical aberrationcoma, and astigmatism. Early lenses often included the word Anastigmat in their name to advertise this new feature (Doppel-Anastigmat, Voigtländer Anastigmat Skopar, etc.). The first Anastigmat was designed by Paul Rudolph for the German firm Carl Zeiss AG in 1890.”

As a marketing tool, it retained some cachet up until the 1950s, but gradually came to sound old-fashioned in an era when stigmatic lenses no longer existed. At around the same time, ‘electric’ light fell from favour (as all lighting was electric). See also the death and reincarnation of ‘wireless’ radio. Anastigmat rarely indicates a change in optical formula when printed on a lens. See also ‘Colour’.

Wetzlar is Not a Surname

Who is this Will.Wetzlar anyway? Why didn’t he use spaces in his signature? When he did, why the comma – as in “Will, Wetzlar”? Why in the worldwideweb did he print W.Will.Wetzlar on his lenses? Or brag about being Docter Wetzlar? Was he related to Maginon Wetzlar and Leitz-Wetzlar? And what is it with Germans and spaces separating words anyway?

Historically, German industry was regionalised. Towns and villages often had a specialism central to their culture: pencils, carburettors or – in the case of the Wetzlar (the 12th largest city in Hessen) – lenses. It’s therefore common to find a region printed on a German lens in a way that invites a foreigner to read it as a personal surname or part of a company name.

In English it would be more natural to write ‘Friedrich’s of Munich’ (rather than ‘Friedrich München’), or ‘Meyer Optik from Görlitz’ (rather than Meyer Görlitz), or ‘Ernst of Leitz’ – no, wait, that actually was his name. The Germans diligently tried to make it clear to us silly foreigners with all the dots and dashes: it’s not morse, and it ain’t typographic whimsy.

In the case of A. Schacht, the place of origin also identifies the date of production: a lens printed ‘München’ was made prior to the company’s 1954 relocation to Ulm, which appears on all lenses henceforth.

The distinguished community of lensmakers in the area around Wetzlar – including Ernst Leitz (Leica), Wilhelm Will and Docter Optic(s) – printed ‘Wetzlar’ on their lenses as a badge of honour, identifying them not only as (West) German, but as representatives of the German tradition of localised engineering specialism – somewhat like a ‘Rhone Valley’ or ‘Bordeaux’ wine. And if buyers of Gnome projectors thought their Maginon-Wetzlars were made by Leica – well, where’s the harm?

Fuji is a Place

I think we all recall from Latin class how to conjugate the verb ‘fuji’ – fuji, fujimi, fujimoto, fujinar, fujinon, fujitsu. But not all the above are the Fuji you’re thinking of. Just as the German manufacturers took pride in their regionality, many Japanese manufacturers co-opted the unmistakable symbolism of Mount Fuji for their corporate branding.

The towering peak in this case is Fujifilm Holdings Corporation, who did indeed manufacture a wide range of enlarging lenses called Fujinon and Fujinar, and a handful of projector lenses labeled with a P-suffix. Fujinon also appears on Fujifilm’s cine projectors.

However, Fujimoto is an entirely unrelated company whose enlarger lenses are labeled with cheerfully Lancastrian phrases such as E-Lucky (a product in want of an exclamation mark, if ever there was, lad!) and Luckinar – complete with equally optimistic packaging. It’s probable that Fujimoto manufactured the Jessop/Vivitar/Spiratone six-element sleeper lens, and they are a strong candidate to be the silent supplier of some of the changeling 50mm and 75mm lenses referred to above.

Also unrelated: Fujimi makes model cars, and Fujitsu (Global) apparently “makes the world more sustainable by building trust in society through innovation” – as well as selling photocopiers. Busy people. You might come across some of their hidden lenses in the ‘Industrial’ section . . .

Colour!

Colour (AKA color) film is a different animal to black-and-white, but no-one has successfully designed a black-and-white lens. Notwithstanding this, in the era of colour emulsions and colour TV and Technicolor cinema, lenses weren’t left out. Some manufacturers (thanks Agfa) leapt onto the bandwagon and pulled out all guns blazing to avoid looking that gift horse in the mouth, and plastered ‘Color’ labels on everything they sold. Solagons became Color-Solagons; Solinars became Color-Solinars; Stars become ‘Colostars’ (so keen they forgot the R). We had Color-Magnolars, -Agolons and -Agomars. We had Color -Pros, -Plans and -Paxons, and none of it ever meant anything.

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