Voigtländer

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Voigtländer was one of the the world's longest-lived camera and lens makers. The brand is still used by other firms.



Company history

Voigtländer was founded in 1756 in Vienna, Austria by Johann Christoph Voigtländer, as a scientific instrument maker. Voigtländer was an optician and inventor, noted for his work on mathematical instruments, and held letters patent (a state-protected monopoly, the forerunner of a Patent) from the Austrian government, granting an exclusive right to carry on that business. For example, Voigtländer invented instruments for linear and circular measure (i.e. to measure and divide distances and angles with great precision) which were used for calibrating surveying and navigational instruments including astrolabes.[1]

Voigtländer died in 1797, and the company passed to his widow and two eldest sons, Wilhelm and Siegmund. Another son, Friedrich Voigtländer, took control in 1808.

 

In the 19th century, Voigtländer made optical products including opera glasses and periscopic lenses. In 1840, the Hungarian Josef Petzval designed the innovative Petzval lens for Voigtländer. The lens, with the widest relative aperture of any then made (about f/3), was very successful for its intended purpose: the making of daguerreotype portraits.[2] The wide aperture allowed a very considerable reduction in exposure times. The lens' main limitation (it only covers a narrow field of view) prevented it being adapted for other uses (landscape, for example), but does not matter for portraiture. The design was widely adopted, and Petzval lenses were made for about the next century. Voigtländer also made cameras, including the first all-metal daguerrotype camera.

In 1849 Voigtländer built a branch factory in Braunschweig (Brunswick) in Germany under the name Voigtländer & Sohn, Optical Institute, and in 1862 the company moved its headquarters to Braunschweig. In 1898 the company, until then family-owned, became a public company (i.e. sold shares on the stock market, becoming Voigtländer AG).[3] By 1915 the company had outgrown its buildings and moved to new premises in another part of Braunschweig. Unsurprisingly, the company made some military products during the First World War.[4]

Voigtländer remained independent after the War, when hard times (due in part to the effects of War reparations on Germany's economy) caused some other firms to enter mergers. In 1920, Rudolf Heidecke and Paul Franke, employees of Voigtländer, left the firm to form Franke & Heidecke (their first camera, the Heidoscop, bears a striking similarity to Voigtländer's Stereflektoskop; Heidecke was a designer, and it seems likely that he either had rights to this design, or had Voigtländer's blessing to use it). In 1925, Schering AG (a chemicals company) bought a majority share in Voigtländer. The company expanded its premises again in 1929. It was in the period of Schering's ownership that many of the familiar Voigtländer cameras were made, including the first Bessa. Voigtländer again made military equipment (including but not limited to aerial reconnaissance cameras, binoculars and rifle scopes) for Germany's rearmament and the Second World War, but continued development of cameras at least up to shortly before the War itself; the Bessa 466 was designed around 1938 (Voigtländer's British patent for this innovative camera was finalised in 1940, actually during the War)! During this time parts of production were moved to the Wolfenbüttel district (still on the outskirts of Braunschweig), where prisoners of war were employed.

In 1956 Schering sold its shares in Voigtländer to Carl Zeiss.


Lenses

Despite the successful early metal camera designed by Voigtländer, lenses were the company's main contribution to photography in the 19th century, and the success of Voigtländer's camera lines of the 20th century was based on the quality of its lenses. At the turn of the 20th century, Voigtländer had a branch office in New York, Voigtlander & Son Optical Co. (with no umlaut), advertising Voigtländer lenses like the Dynar for use with the better Kodak cameras.

While still in Austria, Voigtländer introduced the Petzval lens, which became a standard lens for portrait photography: Voigtländer's Petzval lenses were fitted to cameras of many makers. The lens has four elements, divided in two groups, the two front elements cemented, the two back elements just placed close to each other. The lens has a characteristic vignetting and curvature of field, but it made images which were very sharp in the centre. This and its wide aperture make it ideal for portraiture, though of little use for other photography; portrait photography was a big business, however. In 1900 Carl August Hans Harting, working for Voigtländer produced another fast lens, the Heliar, a symmetric lens, improved by him as an asymmetric design in 1902. Other fine lens designs of that time were the Dynar and Kollinear (later Collinear) lenses. During the 20th century the Skopar and Color Skopar lenses became the standard lenses for Voigtländer's own cameras. Voigtländer also made the Zoomar, the world's first interchangeable zoom lens, in 1959.[5]

The Voigtländer camera and lens age can be determined by the serial number on the lens. See this Voigtländer lens serial-number reference to date the original production year.


Lenses

See here for dating the serial numbers of Voigtländer lenses.

Cameras

Early cameras

35mm SLR

35mm RF, interchangeable lens

35mm folding

35mm fixed lens

* Vito B, small or big finder

120 folding

120 TLR

127 folding

Folding plate cameras

  • Alpin (9x12 and 10x15) (1906-1928)
  • Alpin Rapid (9x12) (1925)
  • Avus
  • Bergheil
  • Metall-Heliar-Kamera (9x12) (1903-1920)
  • VAG

Reflex cameras

  • 1905: Heliar Reflex (9x12 cm)
  • 1908: Bijou ('Miniatur-Reflex-Kamera'; 4.5x6 cm)
  • 1912: Spiegel-Reflex-Kamera

Stereo cameras

Other plate cameras

Zeiss Ikon / Voigtländer

35mm SLR

For the Icarex line, see Zeiss Ikon.

35mm fixed lens

126 film viewfinder

  • Bessy k/ak/as/s
  • Vitessa 126 CS / 126 electronic / 126 S electronic

Voigtländer (Rollei)

35mm SLR

With 42mm screw lenses:

With Rolleiflex SL35 lenses:

35mm rangefinder

  • VF 101 (1974–76)
  • VF 102 (1974, prototype)
  • VF 135 (1976–80)
  • VF 35F (1981)
  • XF 35 (1981)

Intermediate period

35mm

  • Vito CS
  • Vito C-AF

110 film pocket camera

Cosina and Ringfoto

Long after the demise of the original Voigtländer company, the brand was re-used by Ringfoto and Cosina.

Notes

  1. For example, Christie's in London sold a brass alidade by W. Voigtländer of Vienna (one of J.C. Voigtländer's sons) in June 2000. An alidade is a surveying instrument for measuring or marking the horizontal angle of sighted landmarks.
  2. Greenleaf, Allen R. Photographic Optics. Macmillan, New York, 1950. p67-8.
  3. Thus British Patent 18157 of 1897, Improvements in Photographic Objectives, is in the name of Friedrich, Ritter von Voigtländer, while US Patent 716035 of 1902, Lens, is in that of Voigtländer & Sohn Aktien Gesellschaft; both patents at Espacenet, the patent search facility of the European Patent Office.
  4. For example, Voigtländer binoculars at PBase.
  5. US Patent 2902901, Reflex camera varifocal lens, filed June 1958 and granted September 1959 to Frank Back personally, and German Patent 1094480, Pankratisches Objektiv für Aufnahme- und Wiedergabe-Zwecke (A Pancratic Objective for Taking and Projection), filed January 1959 and granted December 1960 to Voigtländer AG, citing Frank Back as the inventor; at Espacenet.

Links

In French :

In German :

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