|Focal Length (mm)|
|Max Aperture (f)|
|Min Aperture (f)|
|Flange-Focal Distance (mm)|
Schneider Componon-S 50/2.8 
Five-element enlarger lens with concave aperture. Second version (1981-1990) with Illuminated aperture and preset lever. Optically identical to .
For most Rodenstock lenses there’s a Schneider equivalent. Or, if you’re writing a Rodenstock review, vice versa. In every commercial niche you find ‘standard’ and ‘deluxe’ options. If you want to enlarge medium format negatives you buy a Schneider 80/4 or a Rodenstock 80/4. In Japanese, that’s a Fuji ES 80/5.6 or Nikon EL 80/5.6. Upgraders opt for monstrously more expensive Apo or EX versions. If you’re one of the much larger group of 35mm enlargists, you’ll be shopping for a Schneider Componon-S, Rodagon, Fuji or Nikon 50mm f2.8. Rodenstockers and Fujists have a like-for-like upgrade path, but the short Apo Schneiders are slower and different focal lengths: 45mm and 60mm. Why no Schneider Apo-Componon 50/2.8?
Guesses and theories have been offered. Schneiderites even suggested the common Componon-S 50/2.8 was so good it didn’t need upgrading. Indeed, Ctein’s 1999 survey was happy to place the Componon-S alongside the Apo-Rodagon 50/2.8 and note that the Schneider had the best central contrast of any 50mm tested. Well, much though I love a good story, I’d like to – almost – concur with these apparently unlikely opinions, and explain why.
This review is of a single sample of the second generation, five-element Schneider Componon-S 50/2.8 , which is also applicable to the first version . The problem with five-element lenses in general is that they tend to be more tightly optimised for short-range reproduction and aren’t quite as well corrected. Take this lens beyond its comfort zone and it records a healthy 87.6% average for f5.6-f8 at far distance, with strong Zone A performance, but not reaching a mark of 8.5 until almost f8. However, brought up close, it leaps to a properly deserved Gold-awarded 90.4% with truly outstanding performance across the frame at its peak of f5.6.
As an enlarger lens, then, the ‘standard’ five-element Componon-S 50/2.8 could hardly be improved on: colour is bang-on neutral; field curvature, geometric distortion and chromatic aberration are all textbook. It’s significantly better at being an enlarger lens than the Rodenstock – 90.4% v 80% – and it’s almost as good as the Apo-Rodagon-N 50/2.8 (90.8%). In fact, if you don’t do anything silly with it, it’s almost perfect: take the Gold and rejoice.
As a taking lens, however, the choice isn’t quite so clear cut. While the Componon-S 50/2.8 is highly recommended for product, food and copy photography – ‘arm’s length applications’ – 50mm is too short to have an image circle with space for movements. At 1:1 and higher ratios, this five-element version isn’t as sharp as the later six-element models. At the working distances used in general photography and film-making, the world-class-ugly bokeh created by the Schneider’s concave-5 aperture dominates over its perfectly respectable sharpness and colour rendition.
In conclusion, then, while being a wonderful enlarging lens, the Schneider Componon-S  is a surprisingly great – and equally unsuitable – taking lens. Later versions, however, improve the distance performance and smooth over the bokeh issues with an upgraded curved-5 Makro-Iris.
If you don’t believe the Componon-S 50/2.8 is that much better than the Rodagon 50/2.8, and you’re also not happy with Ctein’s conclusion, but you do (erroneously) subscribe to the maxim ‘you get what you pay for’, consider UK list pricing: the ‘standard’ Componon-S 50/2.8 retailed for £794, compared to the £699 Apo-Rodagon-N 50/2.8 and the £459 Rodagon 50/2.8. Quite how the Rodagon and Componon-S have ended up with the same value in the used market is a mystery, but the expensive-sounding Apo-Rodagon-N regularly fetches triple the price of either – making a used Componon-S a great buy.