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Tuesday, 01 December 2009


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Interesting story. It reminds me of an old tire business saying: "Goodrich developed it but Goodyear sold it."

Concerning format size vs lens quality: Geoffrey Crawley demonstrated your point last century. Sorry, I have only the oft-repeated story, no link:

Crawley reportedly compared results from a Seagull 6x6 (Chinese, with a mediocre lens) with those of a top-quality (Zeiss? Leica?) 35mm camera and found that the poor lens with the larger negative clearly outperformed that of the much more expensive camera with its miniature negative.


It is "Schneider-KREUZNACH", without the "t". Trust me, I am from Germany.

Thank you for the great work.

best regards,

Andreas Suchert.

Got to get a bottle of that Schneider wine then.

"It is 'Schneider-KREUZNACH', without the 't'. Trust me, I am from Germany."

Fixed. Thanks. I am continually surprised to find that I am not as good a speller as I think I am.


I buy my enlarger lenses because they are marked "Schneider Kreuznach".

"I am continually surprised to find that I am not as good a speller as I think I am." M.J.

And I, for one, am continually surprised (and pleased) to see what an excellent command you have of the English language and how erudite is your expression of it. It makes reading your daily output a real pleasure, not just for the content but also for the way it is written.

When I had an SLX2 then 6006 (for about 9 months in the late '90's) I was very keen to get the Schneider glass as many colleagues thought it was superior and had more attractive qualities than the Zeisssesess, ( the Macro was considered legendary ). Much to my dismay that every piece I tried to get was snapped up (secondhand) and, if I remember, the new prices were around a quarter more than the Zeiss over here. Alas, my dream system faltered and I went into other more widely available camera marques. But, not before I played around with an Exacta 66 with the 80mm Schneider. That big green armoured hunk felt alot more assured than its Pentacon cousin, but, alas, it also had a frame spacing problem and it was sold on to a repairer.
I adored the Rolleis from the SLX on and was told that thier optics had better manufacturing standards than for the Hasselblads in the '80's and '90's, not sure if anyone else can verify this ?
Strangely, if I hadn't bought the Sony A900 I was considering throwing everything into the Rollei's because of their quality.
By the way, how on earth did Samsung get Schneider Kreuznach onto the optics of their less than average digital compacts, surely shome mishtake ?

Well, thankee, Leigh. I must be candid and confess that not everyone agrees with you; a few weeks ago a former editor gave me a lecture--actually a cross between a lecture and a scolding--regarding how lax and lazy my writing had become. I've been trying to do better since, but as blogs are essentially indulgences....

What ho, away we go,


Tarnation, Mike!

After years of agonizing, here I was, last weekend, fully resolved to sell off my medium format equipment (a Plaubel Makina 670, and a Rollei 6003). Well, the Rollei SLR, anyway, a 6008 without the interchangeable back, but still retaining the preloaded cassettes, which made the backs a belt and suspender solution anyway.

But I digress. Now, this week, you have made it impossible for me to part with my Schneider Xenotar PQS HFT 80mm ƒ/2.8. Or the Schneider PQ Xenar 150mm f/4. They will fill up my cupboard, continue to annoy my better half by their mere unused presence, and leave me conflicted between the cost of medium format developing these days, and the pleasure of shooting with them.

"überkamera (is that a word?)"

It is now, 'cause Mike Johnston said it.

I'd say that the label is less important (though not totally unimportant) now that the Internet is teeming with reviews and tests. I have no qualms about recommending 3rd party lenses when I know their quality is up there, or slamming brand name lenses when they're crap. Of course, there will always be some discussion about what's more important or whether the tests are correct, but we now have *way* more of an objective basis to base our purchases on. If I made The Perfect Lens tomorrow and sent it to, say, DPReview, Photozone, and SLRGear, I'd get more demand than I could possibly fulfill, regardless of label.

Perhaps, but I feel like I've read many passionate arguments centering around what country certain lenses are made in, as if that makes a difference...essentially, magical thinking....


"Crawley reportedly compared results from a Seagull 6x6 (Chinese, with a mediocre lens) with those of a top-quality (Zeiss? Leica?) 35mm camera and found that the poor lens with the larger negative clearly outperformed that of the much more expensive camera with its miniature negative.'

The Crawley article appeared in the BJP and was reputedly suggested by Stanley kubrick.

Crawley is usually a pretty sharp cookie but in this test I recall that, bizarrely, he used a Nikon zoom. I think he wanted to exactly replicate the focal length of the Seagull's lens. His conclusion was that the TLR gave results on a par with the Nikon.

A bit OT maybe, but anyway: a few months ago I had the chance to visit the former Zeiss Icon / VEB Pentacon factory in Dresden. It has now been turned into a technical museum, allegedly including the subject of photography. Much to my disappointment, the photography-part was mostly confined to period before the creation of Zeiss Icon (1926) and with absolutely nothing at all about Pentacon. You could go through the whole museum without ever knowing what was manufactured there after 1949. Strikes me as a blatant example of how history is often (re)written by the winning part.
But at least the building in itself is a very beautiful industrial monument. A picture of the characteristic tower, used as logo on the Pentacon cameras, can be seen here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/christianehoej/3984406362/

Lars (photographer by interest and historian by profession)

I've mentioned this here, before... when I was selling cameras, at a "pro" oriented retail store in the Greater Boston area, in the 80's... Rollei products were next-to-impossible to stock.

Rollei never had its own salesmen, or warehousing, in the US... as Hasselblad did... using independent sales representatives, and shipping (sporadically) directly from Germany. I had several photographers attempt to buy a standard outfit (two cameras, three lenses, a couple of extra backs/inserts) eventually... after months of waiting... just give up, and buy H'Blad stuff.

You can't really suggest, to a Bride, at her Wedding, that you can't make a photograph of her extended family, because Schneider 50mm lenses, from Rollei, have been On Backorder for almost a year... "Pros" need to be able to get the tools of the trade when they need them, and not when the toolmaker is good and ready to send 'em.

That's why nobody bought Schneider lenses... the cameras were designed to appeal to "Pros", and they couldn't buy 'em, here in The States, for either Money or Love... and, at the same time... I had shelf-miles of H'Blad, Mamiya, and Bronica boxes (of every camera, lens, and accessory) on the wall, right behind me.


Quick look on ebay shows they aren't exactly giving them away!

If I remember correctly, the consumer rejection of Schneider lenses for Rollei medium-format SLRs wasn't based on prejudice alone. Schneiders were in many cases significantly more expensive than their Zeiss counterparts, which were by no means low-priced themselves. There was also the confusion of trying to decide between two lenses with similar focal lengths and apertures, one with a familiar name, one less so. Furthermore, if the Schneiders were superior to the Zeiss it wasn't widely known. Since Rollei was offering both it couldn't very well diss one in favor of the other, at least not in ads and product brochures.

For those considering Rollei SLRs as well as lenses, take note of their Achilles Heel: they are completely dependent on a proprietary battery. When the original battery dies, a replacement will be hard to find, if not impossible. You may be able to find a specialty vendor who can re-cell the original, but only you can decide whether it's truly worth the effort, especially considering how many excellent alternative camera and lens systems are available.

I don't think you are quite right about Schneider lenses being rejected by "consumers". The 6000 series sytem was much more popular and common here in Europe than in the states and it was never a "consumer" system, it was aimed and used by pro users who generally pick what works best. The Schneider lenses were at least as numerous as Zeiss here in the UK

"It was an early object lesson about the camera market for me: people buy lenses by the name, like buying wine by the label. (Not that there's anything wrong with the Schneider name.)"

Not surprising, really, when there was only a pretense of objective testing that was frequently suspect and only of only the most popular lenses. So people who have nothing to go on rely on recommendations from photographers they respect or the brand name. Most people are financially and technically unable to buy and test for themselves the competing models of the lens they are interested in. I am curious. Is that how you came to the conclusion that the Schneider was superior to the Zeiss, or is that also "informed" word of mouth?

This lens that you are looking for, is it that one?

Sort of on the subject: years ago, Kodak made the Retina Reflex, a 35mm SLR as good as anything from Zeiss or Leica, with Schneider lenses.

So what did they do? They killed it off, and replaced it with an Instamatic SLR, and 2 years later...

They did the same thing with their dSLR. What gives with them? Of course Schneider are just as good, if not better.

I have an Autocord, a Lubitel and a Yashicamat sitting in a cabinet.

That Schneider really makes the cut!

You might have thought that anyone considering making, and selling, a camera type already long in production would address its well-known deficiencies before going to a new market with it. Old wine in new bottles? And re the comment about prints made from a 2-1/4 Seagull neg looking better than ones from a Leica... absolutely not. Someone gave me a Seagull TLR and the quality was just... bad. (I'm sorry that I wasted 2 or 3 rolls of VP120 on that poor imitation of a camera.)

"I am curious. Is that how you came to the conclusion that the Schneider was superior to the Zeiss, or is that also 'informed' word of mouth?"

No, I tested and used the 60, 80, and 150 for the Rollei 6000 system, in both flavors. All were good lenses, realistically speaking, but I was a bit of a nut about lenses in those days.


"This lens that you are looking for, is it that one?"

No, that's the 5-element "E" lens which is believed to be identical to the Jena lens. The one I seek is the 6-element "MF" lens made by Schneider, which looks about the same but is physically a little longer.


"a few weeks ago a former editor gave me a lecture--actually a cross between a lecture and a scolding"

That wasn't the former editor of the UK "Black & White" magazine, was it? I recall she always put in a disclaimer about the occasional American spelling in your pieces.

No! Ailsa is extremely amiable. It was someone I don't know.


Wow. Those examples you linked to. Stunning.

Mike, please keep the postings on old or film cameras and lenses coming! I love reading this stuff.

I believe what people may have thought about Schneider lenses is what Dante Stella called "metaphysical doubt" that you once pointed out talking about 50mm lenses. I think of that every time I read someone online pointing out that their Leica lens is from Germany and not Canada so it must be better. Personally I'm a contrarian so if the "pack" prefers one thing I'll usually go with the other if there really is no difference other than personal bias on the part of the pack.

hello Mike
First, thanks for this great article. I ,for one , has always considered Schneider-kreuznach as one of the -or maybe the- most prestigious lens maker.
I have had seven Rollei TLR's and the 2.8 schneider kreuznach is the best lens ever fitted on a Rolleiflex despite what used prices might suggest
Since you mention Schneider lenses on Rollei 6000's , Let me say that the super angulon - I believe it was a 40mm or a 35mm is the sharpest lens I have ever used

Although far from being an expert on medium-format lenses I can say the best medium-format lens I personally ever used was a Nikkor 55mm f/4.5 fixed lens on a Plaubel Makina. A Japanese-made camera with a German badge. Maybe not so coincidentally it also was the best medium format camera I ever had. Alas, long since gone to pay for other photo extravagances.

Yeah, "überkamera" is a german word, see the übermensch (superior man) from nietzsche (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%9Cbermensch).

if you don't want to go into that direction, but rather into the funny one, try


it's like superduper-something, only with more stil. and we germans speakers actually use that... :-)

Fixed! And thanks.


In my story, there are two reasons why the "Schneider > Zeiss" argument didn't work for me:

1. While we can analyze and measure and test lenses from both marques, sometimes it comes down to a qualitative assessment of the results. And, sometimes even then, the rationalizations can't be put into (good) words. When i was looking to purchase medium format systems (at first, in the early and mid 90s) what i wanted most was for my pictures to look like the pictures made by my heroes. They were, at that time, Irving Penn and Richard Avedon. Knowing that they used Rolleis with Zeiss lenses and Hasselblads with Zeiss lenses was enough for me. How could i need 'better?'

Besides that, perhaps a 'better' lens would not give me the very specific kind of image i love? Looking now at photographs by such photographers as Clifford Coffin, for example, i see a luscious softness in the photographs, and i can almost always attribute that to using a Rolleiflex. I'm certain, though, that if the same images were made with a modern Rollei 600x Schneider lens, it would be sharper. Much sharper, probably. But, that's probably not what i would want. Looking at the posted samples (above), i see imaging that reminds me more of what comes from a dSLR. Maybe it's just 'too sharp?' There just isn't any romance there. Maybe the Schneider is too technical/clinical. Great, i'm sure, for certain types of work, but i want/wanted to shoot fashion and portraiture.

2. There were openly expressed prejudices against Rollei at that time, and perhaps those went further toward discouraging me. I really did (still) want to buy a 600x system. It seemed to make more sense than a Hasselblad. It was a more evolved system. But, retailers (at just about any PRO shop in NYC) inevitably talked me away from Rollei. The claims: a) It will be difficult to sell later/resale values are low - as Rollei wasn't embraced by American photographers. It was a "European" thing. [This was before Ebay, of course.] or b) The batteries may be problematic; or c) Too much reliance on electronics. The cameras are unreliable.

Those were DEALERS' mantras. In New York City. How could i possibly go against that? Note, though, that no one ever said anything about the Zeiss versus Schneider thing. In fact, i believe i was always told that the Schneiders WERE better than the Zeiss. But, that argument never had much weight with me. I already knew of Zeiss' reputation, and because 'genius' photographs were already being made with Zeiss glass, i couldn't see a reason to need anything else. It's sorta like being dead-set on making 'Holga photographs,' and then Holga comes out with a 'better' glass lens. Sure, the glass lens is probably better than the old, classic plastic thing. But, if you look at all the photographs that enticed you in the first place, you're going to go with exactly the lens that made them.

Nice article, Mike, and I agree with JonA that reading about medium format is much more interesting than reading about the latest Nikon D3s, anyway (gr).

Regarding the snubbing of the Schneider lenses for the Rollei 6000 series (in the USA, at least): Perhaps another factor was the performance of the 80mm Xenotar for the earlier Rollieflex TLR. The tests by Christopher Perez (http://www.hevanet.com/cperez/MF_testing.html) suggest that the 80mm Xenotar has very high centre resolution but poor edge resolution (as if its design was optimised for portraiture), whereas the 80mm Planar is sharper across the field. So, perhaps the Xenotar name was too strongly tainted to be successful later.

BTW, that retired editor who gave you a scolding might have just chanced upon your casual but hilarious "What were you smoking, Mike?" piece from a month or so ago. Your skillful use of words makes your writing a pleasure to read.

Regards, Rod S.

I still have my 6003 and 43/80/180/300mms and keep wondering whether to sell them. They certainly helped me make some of my best photos ever. I'm just too drawn to the ease of post processing with digital! I believe that of my lenses only the 80mm was a 'Zeiss'.

My understanding at the time was that the 80mm was good but not up to the more modern Schneider 80mm and this was because it was a Rollei lens based on an older Zeiss design. The current Zeiss for the Hasselblad was supposedly more modern and and better than the Rollei 80mm.

I initially bought the 6003 used from B&H, but then built up the system buying at Robert White in the the UK, precisely because the US seemed to prefer Hasselblads. I think I managed to find a cable release in LA once. The system was wonderfully engineered but very heavy for outdoor use. The focusing and aperture rings on those things are wonderfully smooth.

Maybe, just maybe, I'll dig out my film dev tank and scanner again.


25 years ago when starting my studio I've tested the major brand medium format cameras before stettling on rolleiflex system. the technological advance and reliability of the camera and lenses and its sharpness are unsurpassed by this day.

we retested 2 years ago on a benchmark again with other medium format lenses. was i happy about my findings. the results of my in the meantime well used lenses surpassed by far all cameras (incl. fujinon lenses, branded as socalled "hasselblad.... camera's &lenses....) in the test.
I continue to use my rolleiflexes incl. the rollei xact system with two 33MB digitalbacks from sinar hopefully for some years or decades to come.

@ Andrew Lamb--
Thanks for your recollection of the BP Crawley article, certainly grist for my remembrance mill.

Do you or does someone have a copy or direct citation of the comparison?

It's hard for me to see how a conclusion that found the two formats comparable would have worked its way as deeply into photographic lore as I think this one has.

Howard and Andrew,
I once had an ambition to edit a collection of all the best (i.e., geeky but good) articles I could find from all the hobbyist photo magazines in English. I gave up when I actually tried to get the rights to a few. The very first article I picked required days (and a good deal of hard work) to track the author down, and after several emails he casually denied permission to reprint the article. I still think it would be a great service to photographers to have such a compendium all in one place, but it would probably take me the rest of my life and maybe a third of my afterlife to get the job done.

You know what they say: Oh well.


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