Sonnar Summer. (The rise and fall of the sun king) Pt. 1


“Glass is King” is a phrase commonly used to express that the lens is the most important element of the photographic equipment.

The camera body is indeed very important, especially in the modern era of the ever changing/ continuously improving/ new sensors/ and daily devaluating digital bodies. But once you come to terms with your photographic style, it will hopefully take you back to the basis: the joy of manual controlled bodies (the “think camera” said Leica of its 1967’s M4), turning the speed dial, setting the desired aperture, focus the object, and manually advancing the film lever to the next shot, breathing the smell of the next film roll to be loaded.

Whatever the system you chose (35mm, medium format, large format, SLR, rangefinder), a quest will begging to find the lens that suits your style best,the focal length that matches your eye. Glass is king, and for me the king of the 35mm rangefinder is the Sun King, the 50mm f/1,5 Sonnar design lens.

Welcome the Sonnar Summer.

Chapter I.- The conquer of the 35mm standard focal length.

Part 1.- Let there be light.

Ludwig Jakob Bertele (1900-1985) was a genius optic-lens designer with immense hunger for light.

From 1919 to 1923 while working for Ernemann Co. of Dresden, he developed the first fast lens of the world for photographic cameras, the Ernostar 10 cm f/2,0 lens for the Ermanox Camera, a small camera holding 41/2 x 6cm plates. At the time f/4.5 was considered a fast lens by ordinary standards, consequently a 2.5x times faster f/2,0 lens constituted a huge innovation. This achievement marked the naissance of available light photography.

Previously in 1916 Charles Clayton Minor had developed a variation of the Cooke Triplet with an additional positive element in the front airspace. Said design was manufactured for the 18x24mm cine format around 1920 by the Gundlach-Manhattan Optical Company in Rochester, New York, under the name Ultrastigmat f/1,9 (40mm 50mm 75mm). This lens was one-seventh of a stop faster than the Ernostar but that is a relative aperture consideration provided that the Ernostar covered a ± 20° of field at f/2,0 with excellent definition, almost twice the field than the Ultrastigmat.

The Ernostar was a variation from the Cooke Triplet which followed a principle similar to the Minor objective; it featured six elements in four groups, the two front positive groups consisting of cemented doublets, plus a negative element and a final positive element behind the stop. The interface in the front component was dispersive while that in the second component was collective, and the rear airspace was quite wide.

By 1924 Bertele had improved his design and increased the maximum aperture to f/1,8. This Ernostar 85mm f/1,8 kept the six elements in four groups configuration, and consisted of a front positive element; a cemented triplet containing a high-index element between a positive and a negative element, so that the first interface was dispersive while the second was collective; then another negative element; while behind the stop was a final positive element. The new f/1,8 Ernostar gave better definition than the previous f/2,0 Ernostar, and covered a wider angular field (± 24°) so that an 85mm lens could now be used to cover a 41/2x6cm plate.

Sources of the series.


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