The other NASA lens – the Angenieux f/0.95

Before the Zeiss f/0.7 there were other lenses used in the space race. The Ranger program was a series of unmanned missions to space launched by NASA in the early 1960s, primarily to obtain the first close-up images of the surface of the moon. Ranger 1, launched in August 1961 failed to launch. It was not until Ranger 7, launched in July 1964, that the first high-resolution images of the lunar surface were obtained.

The mission carried six lenses, two wide-angle, and four narrow-angle that transmitted on two channels. The F (for full) system had one wide-angle and one narrow-angle camera. The P (for partial) channel had 4 cameras: two wide-angle and 2 narrow-angle. The images provided better resolution than was available from Earth based views by a factor of 1000. All 6 cameras were RCA-Vidicon slow scan TV cameras using C-mount optics.

Three of the cameras (A,P3,P4) had a 25mm f/l lens and three had a 76mm f/2 lens [1]. The wide-angle lenses used were made by French optical company Angenieux and were 25mm M1 lenses with an adapter attached to mount them to the Vidicon cameras. Strangely enough the NASA documentation specs [1] these lenses out with f/1.0 apertures, but these lenses seem to actually be f/0.95.

The P.Angenieux Paris 25mm f0.95 Type M1 was developed in 1953. The patent for the lens, was issued in 1955 [2]. It is a 8 element lens in 6 groups. It is derived from the Gauss-type, from which is differs by the fact that each of the front lens, and the rear lens is subdivided into two lenses. This allows for the increase in relative aperture while retaining good correction for spherical aberrations.

You can still pick up one of these lenses today for circa US$500.

Further reading

  1. Ranger VII Photographs of the Moon Part I: Camera “A” Series, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology (August 27, 1964)
  2. Pierre Angenieux, “Large Aperture Six Component Optical Objective”, US Patent #2,701,982 (Feb.15, 1955)
  3. Adorable 25s – 25mm F0.95 Speed Lens Comparison on Lumix GH3, 3D-KRAFT! (Feb. 2013)

Shooting photos from a train

Someday you might be in a situation one day where you will need to take photographs through a window. For example travelling on one of the many of the worlds great rail journeys, which often provide scenery which is impossible to see otherwise. Rail trips that are specifically touted as being “scenic journeys” will often have an observation car with large windows, panoramic windows that take in a view of the sky as well, or an open-air carriage, like that found on the Northern Explorer from Auckland to Wellington (in New Zealand). The problem is that not all trains offer a glass-free interface between you and the scenery.

The biggest problem with photographing through windows is that glass (or perspex) is usually not that clean, often plagued by dust and dirt, things about which you can do little or nothing (well you can clean the inside, but not the outside). If it isn’t in a filmy layer of dirt, or a streak, there is likely very little to worry about. Since you will be focusing on distant objects when shooting from a moving train, nearby dirt specks likely will be of little worry, as they will barely show on a photograph. This becomes more problematic in direct sunlight which can emphasize dirt, streaky panes, and dust smears. Obviously, the best thing to do is to try and find a piece of glass that is pretty clear to shoot through. There may be a chance that there are also windows that can be opened.

A shot of a river along from the Bergen Line west of Myrdal (Olympus E-M5Mark II, 12mm, f/2.8, 1/1000)

Another two issues when shooting through glass are reflections and glare, but they can be alleviated by placing the lens hood directly up near the glass (but don’t press the lens against the glass because that can transfer vibrations from the train to your camera). Select a reasonably sized aperture which will reduce the impact caused by details from the glass (e.g. dirt), but not too large as it might impact depth-of-field. Note that the best results will be achieved using manual focus. Shooting through glass (or even wire mesh), the auto-focus can be misled by the surface and may not focus beyond. Autofocus can also take a while to focus, which can lead to you missing the shot. Trains generally move fast, so if you hesitate you loose the shot.

Glare due to the sun peaking out from behind the clouds directly at the window. Bergen Line (Olympus E-M5Mark II, 12mm, f/3.5, 1/1000)
Whoops, pushed the shutter at the wrong moment – nice photo if it wasn’t for the pole. Bergen Line (Olympus E-M5Mark II, 12mm, f/6.3, 1/400)

Here are some general tips:

  • Use continuous shooting mode, because it allows taking many photos at once which in turn means a few may produce really good photographs.
  • Use a polarizing filter to cut some of the reflections.
  • Use fast shutter speeds (and shutter-priority) to compensate for the train’s movement and vibration. Start with 1/500 for distant subjects, and 1/1000 to 1/2000 for nearby ones. Direction matters as well, so moving towards or away from a subject (rather than crossing laterally in front of it) usually allows for a lower shutter speed.
  • Use a wide-angle lens, since the short focal length helps to minimize movement.
  • An overcast sky is better than sunshine or rain. Too much sun will produce shadows and reflections, and rain will end up creating an artistic distortion effect when you shoot through the window.
  • Do research before the train trip to find notable sights, especially where the train may curl itself on a tight curve.
  • There will always be some form of blur in the image. The closer to the horizon, the less blur there is, because the train is moving slower with respect to distance closer to the horizon (i.e. motion parallax).
Running rapids alongside the Flåm Railway (Olympus E-M5Mark II, 12mm, f/2.8, 1/400)

Train speed also plays a factor, both in the shutter speed settings, and timing shots. The Norwegian Flåm Railway which travels between Myrdal and Flåm is an extremely scenic journey (if you can ignore the hoards of tourists). The train journey takes about 60 minutes and travels at a leisurely 40kph along the 20.2 kilometres. Conversely the Bergen Line, all 493km from Oslo to Bergen, the train will travel an average of 70kph.

View of a train on a slight curve, Flåm Railway (Olympus E-M5Mark II, 12mm, f/2.8, 1/800)
Windows that open on the Flåmsbana, Flåm Railway (iPhone 6s, 4.15mm, f/2.2, 1/192)

It is possible to successfully take pictures through glass on a moving vehicle. The caveat is of course that there has to be good scenes to take photos of. For most of the VIA rail trip from Toronto to Montreal, there isn’t a lot to see because the railway line sits level to the surrounding area, and passes through somewhat monotonous scenery (the train travels at 100kph). Some of the best photographs can actually be taken approaching Montreal, when the train slows down. Conversely, train trips like those in Norway offer a richness of photographic scenery. Just remember not to forget those who ride on the train as well.

Don’t forget the human story side to a train journey (Olympus E-M5Mark II, 12mm, f/2.8, 1/800)

Was this the fastest lens ever?

In the May 1975 issue of Popular Photography, Norman Rothschild talked about this lens [1] – the Zeiss 40mm Super-Q-Gigantar f/0.33 for Contarex cameras. A truly remarkable fast lens. Or was it?

The lens was a complete gag. It was first shown at a press dinner at Photokina 1968, but the lens is nothing more than an aspheric condenser lens, “capable of little else but woozy images” [1]. Rothschild actually carried the lens, mounted on a Contarex, around with him for a number of days at Photokina, with lots of people admiring it. He recalls people whispering excitedly that “It must be some new kind of fisheye lens!”, or a newly designed superspeed lens. But few asked what it was, and fewer still asked to look through the viewfinder.

It was the brainchild of Zeiss Ikon’s manager of Public Relations, Wolf Wehran. At Photokina 1966, many of Zeiss’s competitors had displayed their new light gathering heavyweights with apertures of f/1.2 or faster. Wehran, together with a friend in the lens making department then created a lens so unorthdox it could not be ignored. His point was to illustrate that lens speed was not the most important feature of a lens. The lens was always a physical impossibility – it had a diameter of 125mm, and was a 2-element, 1 group lens. The images produced were similar to that of a normal lens with a Softar soft-focus/diffusion filter attached.

The “Q” stands for “Quatsch,” which translates to “nonsense” in German (derived from quatschen – to talk nonsense). The lens itself went up for auction in 2011 at the famous WestLicht Photographica Auction where it sold for €60,000. Not bad for a lens that does nothing!

  1. Norman Rothschild, “The Super-Q-Gigantar lens – it’s a gag, but some people took it rather seriously”, Popular Photography, 72(5), pp.58,62 (1975)

Rear Window – the publicity stills

Every movie made publicity stills, and Rear Window was no different. The interesting thing about some of these shots, is the camera used. The two shots in question include Grace Kelly shooting Jimmy Stewart with a Korelle Master Reflex. What I don’t quite understand is why this particular camera was chosen, as opposed to the actual camera used in the movie, the Exakta VX.

This camera was the US version of the Meister-Korelle, a 6×6 SLR which used 120 film. It was the last version of the Reflex-Korelle, a camera made by VEB WEFO (Werkstätte für Feinmechanik und Optik), a short-lived, state-owned company in East Germany. The original Reflex-Korelle was designed by Franz Kochmann released in 1935. Production of the camera lasted from 1950 to 1952. The camera’s basic design and configuration was carried forth in the cameras such as the Exakta 66, Praktisix, and Pentacon 6.

As to why this camera? Likely because it seems to have been a camera commonly used by cinematographers. The lens? Hard to completely decipher, and by no means one of the “standard” lenses listed with the camera. Companies like Astro-Berlin did provide lenses for the Master Reflex, as cited in publications like American Cinematographer. Or perhaps a Kilfitt?

Further reading:

the histogram exposed (iv) – multipeak-unimodal

This series of photographs and their associated histograms covers multipeak-unimodal histograms, i.e. images which have a histogram which has a core unimodal shape, yet is festooned with peaks.

Histogram 1: A statue against the sky

This image, taken near Glasgow Scotland, has a broad spectrum of intensity values. The histogram has an underlying core “unimodal” shape, bias towards highlights, a result of both the statue and the clouds. The image has exceptionally good contrast. The jagged, multipeak appearance is an artifact of the broad distribution of intensities, and intricate details, i.e. non-uniform regions, in the image.

iPhone 6s (12MP): 4.15mm; f/2; 1/3077

Histogram 2: Oslo lion

This image, taken in Oslo (Norway), is the “poster-boy” for good histograms (well almost). It has an underlying unimodal shape, mostly in the midtones. It is a well-formed image with good contrast and colour. There are shadows in the image, but that is to be expected considering the clear sky and the orientation of the sun. There are no pure blacks in the image, the shadow tones created by the dark windows. There are also few whites, less than 1% of pixels, that are the result of light reflecting off light surfaces (such as the lion).

iPhone 6s (12MP): 4.15mm; f/2; 1/1012

Histogram 3: Plateau river

This image, taken from a moving train on the Bergen Line in Norway, high up on a mountain plateau. The histogram has an underlying core unimodal shape, composed predominantly of midtones, in addition to the lighter end of the shadows (①). There are no blacks and few highlights to speak off. The image has exceptionally good contrast. The jagged, multipeak appearance is an artifact of the image detail, i.e. non-uniform regions, in the image. For instance the sky tapers gradually from 150 to 190 near the top of the hill.

Olympus E-M5(II) (12MP): 12mm; f/7.1; 1/400

Ultrafast lenses – the Simlar 50mm f/0.7

The Zeiss 50mm f/0.7 Planar was not the only f/0.7 lens of the period. There was also the Simlar 50mm f/0.7. The Simlar lenses were made by Tokyo Kogaku, which would eventually become Topcon (Japan). The original lens was designed by Maruyama Shūji. The story of the lens originates from the December 1951 issue of Asahi Camera [1]. It was ordered by the Japanese Army for use in nighttime reconnaissance photography, and was completed in 1944. Before it could be used for its intended purpose, the copies of the lens were claimed by the Aeronautical Engineering Institute of Tachikawa for X-ray medical photography. The article suggests ten copies were made by wars end, but their fate is unknown except for one lens kept by Maruyama Shūji.

A second, postwar version of the camera was produced in 1951 – the dimensions and the weight had both changed (123.7mm×105mm ∅, 2.5kg). Only three copies of the lens were made, of which two were supposedly used on a Antarctic expedition by the Mainichi Newspaper. The Trade and Industry of Japan publication from 1955 shows the lens.

The strange thing about the second series is that the weight of the lens changed from 1kg to 2.5kg, which is a substantial increase. I would beckon to suggest that the design of the original series was copied from either the wartime Zeiss objective, or perhaps the Herzberger objective. When the war was over, there was either issues with using the patent, or an inability to obtain the proper glass, adding extra weight. However there does not seem to be any surviving pictures of the second series.

For those interested, here is a link to another lens, the Simlar-F 180mm f/1.5 produced in 1942. It provides a sense of the aesthetics of the Simlar lenses.

Further reading:

  1. Asahi Camera December 1951. “Toki no wadai: Hachi-nen mae ni Nihon de dekite ita F0.7 no renzu” (時の話題・八年前に日本で出来ていたF0.7のレンズ, Topic of the time: An f/0.7 lens made in Japan eight years ago). P.84.
  2. Topcon Club – Lenses

More Rothschild on photography

“In a civilization which is becoming more and more mechanized, in which buildings look more and more alike, in which native crafts which gave identify to individual tribes and nations are being replaced with machine-made goods, in which relatively few people make music and many listen to it, in which passive sitting before a TV set is the order of the day, photography offers the ability to produce works of art.”

Norman Rothschild, “The Super-Q-Gigantar lens – it’s a gag, but some people took it rather seriously”, Popular Photography, 72(5), pp.58,62 (1975)

Rear Window – the “other” camera?

Although L.B. “Jeff” Jefferies used an Exakta camera in Hitchcock’s “Rear Window”, there were other cameras present in the room – most notably the one that took the photograph on the racetrack that lead to Jeff being in a wheelchair with a broken leg. What was that camera?

From the image shown it is clear that it is a large-format camera, most likely a Graflex Speed Graphic, a type of press cameras. As the name implies, these cameras were mainstays of press photographers until the 1960s, cumbersome but often preferred for their large negatives which allowed extensive cropping and enlargement without loss of detail. Considering the closeness of the shot taken by the camera on the track, it is a wonder Jefferies survived at all.

The broken Graflex camera?
The photo of the crash

Rothschild on photography

“Once the transistor radio is turned off, once the hi-fi set is not being used; and once the thrilling ride in the sports car, motorcycle or snowmobile is over, there is silence – the actual experience is over except as a fond or not-so-fond memory. Carrying the use of the camera to its logical conclusion gets you a picture, a solid reminder of your continued involvement.”

Norman Rothschild, “The Super-Q-Gigantar lens – it’s a gag, but some people took it rather seriously”, Popular Photography, 72(5), pp.58,62 (1975)

the histogram exposed (iii) – bimodal

This series of photographs and their associated histograms covers aesthetically pleasing bimodal histograms.

Histogram 1: A sky with texture

This image (of a building in Edinburgh) has a broad spectrum of intensity values. The histogram is bi-modal with two distinct humps. The right peak is associated with the overcast sky (and white van). The left shallow mound comprising both midtones and shadows makes up most of the remaining image content. There is a small flat region in between the two that makes up features like the lighter portions of the building. Note that pixels maps on the right of the histogram below show the associated pixels in black.

Histogram 2: Out on the lake

This photograph of the Kapellbrücke was taken in Lucerne, Switzerland. The histogram is bimodal, and asymmetric, and reflects the information in the image: the left hump (①) is associated with the lower portion of the image (shadows and midtones), and the right peak (② highlights) with the sky. There is relatively well contrasted image. The clouds have some good variation in colour, as opposed to begin pushed completely into the whites.

Fujifilm X10 (12MP): 7.1mm; f/9; 1/800

Histogram 3: Carved in stone

This is a photograph of the Lion of Lucerne, in Lucerne, Switzerland. It provides a classic asymmetric bimodal shaped histogram. The left mound, ①, contributes the images dark, shadowy regions, whereas the remaining, larger peak ②, bias towards highlights, defines most of the remaining image. It is well contrasted given that a shadow is cast on the sculpture as it is relief into the wall. The overlapping region between the two entities, ③, forms the transition regions from ① to ②, often visualized in the picture as regions of low “shadow”.

Fujifilm X10 (12MP): 21mm; f/3.2; 1/850