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

Schneider Enlarger Lenses

Post-war Schneider enlarger lenses comprise three ranges:

Componar – budget workhorses
Comparon – middleweights optimised for higher magnification)
Componon – “the acme of enlarging lens design”

The Componar Family

Schneider’s Componar triplets remained in production from 1936 to 1991 and can be seen as the foundation of the company’s range. They were single-coated almost as soon as the war ended, denoted by a red ‘delta’ symbol – the inital of Schneider ‘Duroptan’ coating. By the mid-1940s, it was understood that serviceable enlarger lenses should be coated and the symbol shamefacedly disappears. Componars of 1950-1970 were solidly wrought in chromed brass barrels but evolved little apart from improvements in (single) coatings. Early models have a fifteen-blade single-leaf diaphragm, but in 1961 Componars acquired the dual-leaf ‘scalloped’ aperture of the Componons.

In 1975, Schneider modernised the Componar with a new black polycarbonate barrel, a zebra aperture ring and a radically simplified square four-blade diaphragm. Shortly afterward, Componar became Componar-C, and the 50mm f4.5 stepped up to f3.5 specification and acquired Schneider’s distinctive ‘convex-5’ aperture. By 1985, Schneider’s Componars had all been recomputed and released in facelifted barrels with ‘straight-six’ apertures. The 50mm f3.5 thereby evolved into an improved multicoated 50mm f2.8 – Schneider’s ultimate triplet.

The change of direction appears to be as a result of a combined cost-saving initiative with Czech manufacturer Meopta. Certainly by the early 1980s, the two companies were working closely enough to share lens assemblies on the optically identical second generation Componar-C and contemporary Meopta Belar, and similarly parts-bin-sharing Meopta Anarets and the four-element Componar-S models. It’s likely that Schneider-designed lens assemblies were manufactured in the Meopta factory for both companies. With the launch of the Schneider/Meopta Componar-S in 1991, the triplet era ended, although the Componar brand survived in Tessar form until the end of the line for Schneider’s enlarger lens range c.2005.

Between 1950-1980, Schneider also had a close relationship with enlarger manufacturer Durst. Schneider added Durst branding to early Componars (and other Schneider lenses). Later, Durst’s ‘ownership’ of Componar lenses extended to elbowing aside the Schneider-Kreuznach moniker to brand lenses ‘Durst Componar’, then – a step further – ‘Durst Comprotar’. All such were Schneider Componars in all but name, and have serial numbers within the main Schneider sequence.

ComponarDateElementsDistinguishing Features
50/3.53 / 3
50/4.01961-19643 / 3
50/4.5 [V1-5]1936-3 / 3Chromed brass barrel. Single-coated.
15-blade single-leaf circular diaphragm
50/4.5 [V6-8]Chromed brass barrel. Single-coated.
15-blade, dual-leaf scalloped diaphragm.
50/4.5 [V9]Black plastic barrel, zebra aperture ring
4-blade diaphragm. Single-coated.
60/43 / 3
75/3.51949-19513 / 3
75/4.53 / 3
80/5.63 / 3
105/4.53 / 3
135/4.53 / 3
50/3.5 [V1]3 / 3Black plastic barrel
Convex 5-blade diaphragm
50/3.5 [V2]3 / 3Black plastic barrel
Straight 6-blade diaphragm
50/2.83 / 3Black plastic barrel. Multicoated.
Straight 6-blade diaphragm.
75/4.03 / 3
105/4.03 / 3
50/2.84 / 3
80/4.54 / 3
90/4.54 / 3
105/4.54 / 3

First Generation [1955-1969]
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 most have the complex 15-blade, two-part diaphragms that create a ‘scalloped’ aperture at midway openings. However, between 1959-1961, Schneider opted for a simpler, fully circular 15-blade diaphragm on the Componon and Componar (most serials in the 6,xxx,xxx range). The company reverted to the original diaphragm design sometime in 1961 (low 7,xxx,xxx serials).

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.

Componon-S 50/2.8 Versions

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.

50/2.8 SDesignationProductionIdentifying Features
V1101461975-1981Five-element, convex-5 aperture. Single-coated.
V2148491981-1990Optically identical to [10146] but with aperture illumination and lever.
V3M25-mount version of [14849]
V4a168281990-1995New six-element design with concave-5 aperture in BLV-L.
Similar appearance to [14849] with crucial minor differences.
Lenses produced in 1994 only have the same curved-5 diaphragm
as [16828] V2, but no green band. Multicoated.
V4b168281995-2008Same six-element design as [V4a] but all models have curved-5
diaphragm in BLV-L. Green identifying band. Multicoated.
V518827M25-mount version of [16828]
V614796V-mount version of [16828] with Makro-Iris body.
V7HMc.1993Rare Componon-HM version seen with a 1993 serial.
Produced in unknown quantities. Testing indicates optimisation
for industrial or high-magnification application.
Seems apochromatic.
V8.210973012020-2021Revised optical design marketed as an industrial lens in V38 mount only.
Max aperture now f32. All metal body.
V9 Pyrite10973012021-Rebranded version of Version 8 V2

For enlargement and flat-field work, any post-1990 six-element Componon-S is recommended. However, for use as taking lenses where part of the image is defocused, post-1994 lenses have a much more benign curved five-blade diaphragm than the problematic convex-5 of pre-1994 production. It is probable that Schneider made incremental improvements to this design since 1990, but information on this point is not forthcoming.

Componon 50/4 Versions

Viewed as the poor relation of the Componon family, the five-element f4 is nonetheless an attractive and well-corrected optic that justified its price premium over the Componar equivalent.

50/4DesignationProductionIdentifying Features
V11955-1959Chromed brass body; scalloped two-leaf 15-blade diaphragm.
Red triangle on fascia. Durst-mount versions not marked ‘Durst’.
V20271959-1961Chromed brass body; circular single-leaf 15-blade diaphragm.
Black ‘L’ above f16 aperture mark.
Durst-mount versions marked ‘Durst Componon’
V3CPN501961-1966Chromed brass body; scalloped two-leaf 15-blade diaphragm.
Durst-mount versions marked ‘Durst Componon’
V4CPN501966-1973Black metal body; scalloped two-leaf 15-blade diaphragm.
Enlarged, dual knurled aperture and grip rings.
Likely improved coating.
V51973-1978Black plastic barrel; concave five-blade diaphragm.
Large white ‘bisected circle’ aperture indicator.
Likely revised optical formula and coating.
V6Prototype1974Small number of Componon-S prototypes
Possibly new six-element design.

Apo-Componon and HM-Componon


The Comparon Family (1964-c.2005)

Comparon – Schneider’s answer to the question “what would it be like to permutate a single Tessar with every possible diaphragm geometry?” Take the 75mm – please, take it. Released in 1959 to fill the gap between the Componar triplets and the flagship Componons the portmanteau Comp-ar-ons initially had a sensible 15-blade circular aperture. However, in 1961, Schneider decided to round the blade ends to embellish the suddenly-boring circular aperture with pretty little bokeh-ruining ‘scallops’ and complex dual-leaf blades. And thoughout the restless 1960s, this hippy-star diaphragm was nicely on-trend. But as the 1970s hove into view it was out with floral motifs and in with chunky – Comparons gradually acquired a black plastic body and brutally efficient four-on-the-floor diaphragm – much cheaper to produce in an era of economic crisis. Then, in the mid-1970s, Schneider switch to a five-blade diaphragm – not like Rodenstock, who had calmly been making curved five-blade apertures for decades without mucking about ringing arbitrary changes – no, Schneider bent the blades the other way: convexly, making a concave, inward-bending star of their aperture – finally reaching the most ruinous shape imaginable for smooth backgrounds and natural-looking bokeh highlights.

Conceived as a halfway house between the affordable Componars and the prestige Componons, Comparon was destined to expire squeezed between them. In the late 1980s Schneider had rationalised production costs to the point where the a lean plastic Tessar wasn’t significantly more expensive to make than the Componar-C triplet. After the launch of four-element Componar-S in 1991, consumers saw little point paying extra for a Comparon of similar design and performance, and the Comparon range was phased out – disappearing from most catalogues in the mid-90s and entirely absent by 1997.

ComparonProductionDistinguishing Features
50/4.0 [V1]1964-1968Chromed brass barrel. Scalloped 15-blade aperture
50/4.0 [V2]1968-1973Black metal barrel. Scalloped 15-blade aperture
50/4.0 [V3-4]1973-1982Black polycarbonate barrel. Convex-5 aperture
50/3.5 [V1-2]1982-1995Black polycarbonate barrel. Convex-5 aperture.

Schneider Projection Lenses

The Schneider brand tended to be attached only to the best of the company’s offerings for slide and cine projection. However, Schneider’s output was broad and their ‘second-tier’ brand, Isco, is found on projectors dating from 1946 to 2008. More about Isco’s relationship with Schneider can be found in the Isco Story article. But this chapter is largely the story of the Cine-Xenons, AV-Xenotars and Cineluxes.

Slide Projector Lenses

Cine-Xenon was already a well-established brand (etc) TBA

8-16mm Cine Projector Lenses

Domestic projectors (TBA)

35-70mm Cine Projector Lenses

A fuller narrative of how Schneider became associated with the Cinelux brand can be found in the Isco Story, but for our current purpose, we can pick up the account after the separation of the two companies in 1983 and the appearance of the first Schneider-branded theatrical projection lenses: the Schneider Cinelux-Ultra range. Previously this range had been known as the Isco Cinelux-Ultra and had been made in Schneider’s Göttingen subsidiary. In 1978 it won an AMPAS Technical Achievement Award (a kind of less glamourous Oscar) in recognition of the new standard it set for cinema projection. The range initially comprised lenses of focal lengths from 35-150mm – all multicoated, air-spaced six-element designs. Subsequently made in Kreuznach, Cinelux-Ultra was to remain in production in some form until the very end of the analog film projection era – being retained on the catalogue until 2017, although by then radically altered.

In 1985, Isco’s divergence from Schneider resulted in two, quite different (premium) versions of Cinelux being launched almost simultaneously – neither called Cinelux. Isco launched Ultra-Star* HD and Schneider debuted Schneider Cine-Xenon in harmony with its slide projection range. While Cine-Xenon was a minor refinement of Cinelux-Ultra, Ultra-Star* HD was a more radical leap to a seven-element design that dominated the theatrical projection market of the late 1980s.

Cine-Xenon remained in production until at least 1999, five years after its replacement by the Schneider Super-Cinelux line in 1995 – although most serial numbers in circulation derive from 1988-1989. The seven-element Super-Cinelux finally allowed Schneider to reclaim technical parity with the output of their former subsidiary Isco, and indeed Ultra-Star* HD Plus and Super-Cinelux both received Technical Achievement Awards for ground-breaking excellence in 2000. Two years later, Schneider topped everything with the release of the Schneider Cinelux-Première: indisputably the finest theatrical projection lens made: a faster, variable aperture derivative of Super-Cinelux, deploying aspherical elements and improved coatings.

In 2008, a prodigal Isco limped back to the family home and was reabsorbed into the family. To celebrate, in 2011 – deep in the digital film era – Schneider launched a final, commemorative-seeming range of black and grey Schneider Cinelux-Ultra [V3] designated ‘Classic Cinema’. This range of taking lenses, zooms, cinemascope lenses and anamorphic attachments was retained in the catalogue until at least 2017. There’s a touching scene at the end of Star Trek: Picard where the old gang is reunited on the bridge of the starship Enterprise – mellowed with age, and ready to hang up their suspiciously balletic space-pumps. Despite never being destined to sell in worthwhile volumes, and definitely finding itself in the wrong era, The final Cinelux-Ultra was a similarly fitting hybrid of reunited Schneider and Isco technology: Schneider-branded Isco Ultra-Star* HD Plus taking lenses and Ultra-Star-branded anamorphic attachhments made by Schneider, complemented by Schneider’s VP-Cinelux zooms. The range was more of an ornanmental, but nonetheless, moving, retrospective – summarising the best of a half-century of Cinelux lenses.

Even today, when deployed as capture lenses, Cinelux lenses have an emotive quality: they’re were always expensive and beautifully wrought but their ability to take beautiful picture is an entirely accidental by-product of their strengths and limitations. On the plus side – and more so in the later variants – Cinelux lenses have high resolution in the frame centre. They are well corrected, and very well coated – and this gives rise to rich, high-saturation colour rendition and very smooth bokeh. On the downside, they have small image circles and (with one exception) fixed, wide apertures – and this gives rise to signficant resolution drop-off and increasing aberration in Zones B and C.

This combination of properties, when shooting centrally-framed subjects on 36x24mm sensors, creates the visual impression of a faster lens: there’s an steep delta between their sharp Zone A and their (beautifully) blurry Zone C. What you get in Zone B depends on which era you buy into (later lenses are specifically improved here) and what focal length you choose: shorter lenses barely cover the format, featuring significant swirl and optical and mechnical vignetting; longer lenses (typically above 80mm) have image circles large enough to cover 645 (especially those marked 70mm and 870), and correspondingly fewer aberrations in the Zones B + C.

A full list of Schneider Cinelux lenses and anamorphic attachments is found below. For more details, see individual listings in the main archive. For comparisons between Isco and Schneider cine projection lenses, please see the Isco Story.

PICCinelux-Ultra [V1] f2.01983-xxxx
35-150mm6 / 6
PICCine-Xenon f2.01985-1999
xx-xxmm6 / 6
PICCinelux-Ultra f2.0 [V2]xxxx-2008
xx-xx mm
PICSuper-Cinelux f2.07 / 71995-2008
xx-xx mm
PICCinelux-Première f1.7-4.07 / 72002-2008
xx-xx mm
PICCinelux-Ultra Classic Cinema [V3]7 / 72001-2017
xx-xx mm

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