The Schneider Story

Jos. Schneider Optische Werke has been a major player in global lens manufacture during our lifetime; it’s therefore strange to think of the company as a relative newcomer: ‘only’ being established in 1913 – almost forty years younger than their rivals Rodenstock. And yet within twelve months, Schneider released the first of many Symmar lenses, followed five years later by the groundbreaking Xenar design. By 1936, Schneider had sold one million lenses.

Schneider’s serial number system is ruthlessly simple – only complicated by the tortured on-off relationship with Isco, which we’ll return to shortly. On day one, Schneider made a lens and wrote ‘1’ on it. Every time the company made another lens, it engraved an incrementally larger number on it. Beginning with the 1936 seven-digit landmark, Schneider lenses and lens cells can be dated as follows:

1 000 0001936 (August)
1 200 0001937 (December)
1 400 0001938 (November)
1 600 0001939 (September)
1 800 0001942 (June)
2 000 0001948 (September)
2 200 0001949 (July)
2 400 0001950 (October)
2 600 0001951 (May)
2 800 0001951 (November)
3 000 0001952 (May)
4 000 0001954 (October)
5 000 0001957 (February)
6 000 0001959 (May)
7 000 0001961 (February)
8 000 0001963 (March)
8 500 0001964 (February)
9 000 0001965 (February)
9 500 0001965 (September)
10 000 0001967 (January)
10 500 0001967 (October)
11 000 0001968 (November)
11 500 0001970 (July)
12 000 0001972 (September)
12 500 0001974 (March)
13 000 0001976 (December)
13 200 0001977 (September)
13 400 0001978 (October)
13 600 0001979 (October)
13 800 0001981 (January)
14 000 0001983 (October)
14 100 0001983 (October)
14 200 0001986 (August)
14 300 0001988 (November)
14 400 0001991 (January)
14 460 0001992 (February)
14 480 0001993 (January)
14 500 0001993 (November)
14 510 0001994 (January)
14 520 0001994 (May)
14 540 0001995 (January)
14 560 0001995 (April)
14 590 0001996 (January)
14 600 0001996 (April)
14 620 0001996 (November)
14 623 3401997 (January)
14 651 5201998 (January)
14 690 3001999 (January)
14 726 6002000 (January)
14 730 0002000 (April)
14 756 4002001 (January)
14 788 4502002 (January)
14 820 9702003 (January)
14 853 7002004 (January)
14 890 8002005 (January)
15 000 0002008 (December) Serial numbers after this date untracked

Commonly sighted post-war Schneider enlarger lenses can be divided into four production generations and three ranges: Componar (budget triplet workhorses); Comparon (four-element long-focals optimised for 4:1 magnification), and high spec Componons (“the acme of enlarging lens design”). They can be identified as follows:

First Generation [1956-1969]
Mainly all-chrome metal cases, though some black metal Componons exist from this period.
Scalloped circular diaphragms (usually 16 blades). Single-coated.
Serials observed: 4864102-11130069 (engraved on fasica)

Second Generation [1969-early 1973]
All-black metal cases; scalloped circular diaphragms (usually 16 blades).
Believed to be optically identical to first generation models. Single-coated.
Componon and Durst models adopted all-black cases slightly before Comparon and Componar.
Serials observed: 11232633-12177008 (engraved on fascia)

Third Generation [late 1972-1981]
Mixed metal and polycarbonate cases (black) with bisected circle aperture indicator. Concave-5 diaphragms.
Optical formulae upgrades with phased introduction of Componon-S and faster Componar models. Single-coated.
Serials observed: 12481686-13848474 (engraved on rear cell)

Fourth Generation [1981-2008]
Increased number of polycarbonate components; green illuminated aperture indicator and preset lever. Early models have concave-5 diaphragms, some later models have curved-5. Multi-coating phased in.
In some cases, optical refinements over third generation (see in-depth model histories below).
Serias observed: 13860866-15197008 (engraved on rear cell).

Modern Era [2008-] TBA

The Componon Family

The commonly-held view that Componons are all six-element lenses is incorrect. In fact, in 1956, Schneider’s most popular Componon was a five-element 50/4 retailing at $59.50, almost double the price of the four-element Componar 50/4. However, at 60mm, a Componar / Componon comparison creates compound confusion, even without a comparable Comparon: the Componar had a maximum aperture of f4, making the equivalent Componon – one stop slower – seem poor value. However, the Componon 60/5.6 was a six-element design and offered superb resolution and consistent illumination for 35mm enlargements.

Apart from the five-element 50/4 and the four-element 105/5.6, the rest of the first generation Componon line-up were six-element, four-group designs, ranging from 28/4 to 360/5.6. That so many have survived in such good condition testifies to their rugged all-metal construction.

A number of Componons from the 1956-1973 period were badged and sold by Durst. With the exception of external jackets and mount variants, these are all identical to the Schneider-Kreuznach branded lenses, and can be dated using the same serial scheme. Most Componons of the first generation (up to 1969) came in chrome silver barrels, but some are seen in all-black livery, which became standard for Schneider enlarger lenses after 1969. A silver lens can positively be identified as produced between 1956-1969. All first and second generation Componons have serial numbers engraved on the fascia, and complex 16-blade, two-part diaphragms that create a ‘scalloped’ aperture at midway openings.

Third generation products were launched at Photokina in late 1972 with the introduction of revised livery and branding and a barrel design incorporating polycarbonate components. The 80mm and 100mm focal lengths immediately benefited from a revised optical formula and therefore a new designation: ‘Componon-S’. Over the next decade, Schneider gradually rolled out -S upgrades – new versions often supplementing rather than supplanting the old. Sometimes Schneider replaced like-for-like but in some instances (notably, in 1975, the fast and expensive Componon-S 50/2.8) they launched all-new lenses. By 1986, only the 28mm, 35mm and 60mm remained in original Componon specification.

Also spawned from third-generation production were the W.A. Componons: the 60mm and 80mm (both f5.6) were launched at Photokina 1973, followed three years later by the 40/4, launched almost simultaneously with Rodenstock’s Eurygon 40/4 and Bogen/Hoya’s 40/3.5 WA. Offering 20-30% greater coverage than standard optics, this range of six-element lenses covered 35mm, 6×6 and 6×9 in focal lengths shorter than previously possible.

Third generation lenses had a distinctive aperture marker: a large, white, bisected circle – and all featured a new inwardly-curving five-blade diaphragm. Serial numbers were engraved on the rear cell rather than the fascia. Lenses of this period were simpler and lighter than first and second generation models, but equally durable. The optically upgraded Componon-S models were uniformly more refined, but the ‘Concave-5’ diaphragm (which intrudes at maximum aperture) contributes to harsh bokeh when used as taking lenses.

Arriving during the Fourth Generation production (post-1981), M-Componon lenses were optimised for 1:1 magnification and higher. These six-element designs were available as 28mm, 50mm and 80mm, all with maximum apertures of f4 and minimum apertures of f32.

The Apo-Componon Family


The Story of the Componon-S 50/2.8

Most Componon lenses were very good. Simple adaptation of an antique Componon 60/5.6 to today’s state-of-the-art digital camera usually yields a pleasant surprise in terms of minimal aberrations and excellent across-the-frame resolution. Some, though were special. The Componon-S 50/2.8 has remained in continuous production down to this day – half a century and counting. It’s so good it survived the death of film (as a meaningful commercial enterprise). Most enlarger lenses are long gone from manufacturer’s catalogues, but the Componon-S survived, transitioning into new applications, and can still be purchased new.

It may seem that Schneider and Rodenstock have played a decades-long civilised game of two-handed Monopoly. Where there’s a Componon, there’s a Rodagon; where there’s an Apo-Componon, there’s an Apo-Rodagon. From 1960-2000, lens for lens, the catalogues matched almost exactly: large format optics, digital optics, enlarger lenses. Even prices matched. Again and again, customers asked: which is better? And truthfully, differences were small. Rodenstock lenses were known for slightly lower contrast, and to peak at smaller apertures; whereas Schneider lenses were considered slightly punchier, with better sharpness wide open. In their field, though – in their time – they dominated: a German axis of excellence only matched by the combined Japanese savvy of Nikon and Fuji.

But if you look carefully, you might just spot that the Componon-S 50/2.8 is different.

Rodenstock’s six-element lens for 35mm was the Rodagon 50. Much like the Componon, it started life as an f4 and got faster. It went turbocharged in the ’80s with an ‘Apo’ version – much like the Componon. There was a gentlemanly agreement that the Schneider Apo-Componons would shift up to 60mm and 90mm, and the Rodenstock Apo-Rodagons would sit squarely on 50mm and 80mm. If you examine the stock 80/4 Rodagon vs 80/4 Componon, they are broadly comparable and were priced accordingly. If you compare the Apo-Componon 90/4.5 with the Apo-Rodagon 80/4 they are similarly excellent and unaffordable. The Apo-Componon 60/4 may be slower than the Apo-Rodagon 50/2.8, but both are state of the art. So far so like-for-like. Everything points to a predictable parity between the Rodagon 50/2.8 and Componon-S 50/2.8. Except the price.

After we tested these lenses, I began to fish around for a reason why the Componon-S 50/2.8 should be so much better than the equivalent Rodagon: in some respects the common, stock-looking Schneider was better than the deluxe Apo-Componon 60/4 Makro Iris. I tested several samples of each, but couldn’t get the variable results I was looking for to confirm my expectation bias. Then I began to look at catalogue pricing. When new, the Componon-S 50/2.8 was double the price of the Rodagon 50/2.8. In the UK, I was shocked to learn that it was £100 more expensive than the Rodenstock Apo-Rodagon N 50/2.8. Fortunately the news hasn’t reached the used market, where there’s no difference in the valuation of Componons and Rodagons – unless they’re ‘Apo’ – in which case the value triples. The Componon-S isn’t a fully apochromatic lens, but then again most reviewers note aberrations inconsistent with true apochromatic performance in the Apo’s anyway. But in most respects, the best of the Componon-S 50/2.8 variants is fully competitive with any Apo lens at this focal length. The knack is knowing which is which, and when Schneider made the meaningful upgrades that elevated this Componon into something special.

Delta lists nine versions of this lens, some of which share Schneider catalogue numbers, yet differ.

Version 1 [10146]: Produced 1975-1981. Five-element, concave-5 aperture. Single-coated.

Version 2 [14849]: Produced 1981-1990. Optically identical to [10146] but with aperture illumination and lever. Single-coated.

Version 3 [Catalogue # unknown]: M25 mount version of [14849]

Version 4a [16828] V1: Produced 1990-1995. New six-element design with concave-5 aperture in BLV-L. Similar appearance to [14849] with crucial minor differences. Lenses produced in 1994 have the same curved-5 diaphragm as [16828] V2, but no green band. Multicoated.

Version 4b [16828] V2: Produced 1995-2008 and beyond. Same six-element design as [16828] V1 but all models have curved-5 diaphragm in BLV-L. Green identifying band. Multicoated.

Version 5 [18827]: M25 mount version of [16828].

Version 6 [14796]: V-mount version of [16828] with Makro Iris body.

Version 7 HM [Catalogue # unknown]: Produced c.1993 in unknown quantities. Likely industrial or high-magnification application. Seems apochromatic.

Version 8 V2 [1097301]: Revised optical design produced from 2020-2021 and marketed as an industrial lens in V38 mount only, but equally suited to enlarger and taking application. Max aperture now f32. All metal body.

Version 9 Pyrite [1097301]: Produced 2021 to date. Rebranded version of Version 8 V2.

Any of the post-1990 six-element versions are the ones to have. However, for use as taking lenses where part of the captured image is defocused, post-1994 lenses have a much more useful curved five-blade diaphragm than the problematic concave-5 of pre-1994 production. It is very likely that Schneider has made incremental improvements to this design since 1990, but information on this point is not forthcoming.

The Componar Story

Prior to 1953 – in fact, at least as far back as 1934 – Schneider’s solitary enlarger lens range was the Componar: reasonably priced triplets. In 1972 the Componar range (typically f4.5 lenses) was redesigned with faster maximum apertures of f3.5.

The Comparons


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