Kodak Anastigmat lenses began appearing about 1915. Many of the Kodak advanced amateur cameras of this period could be purchased with any of several lenses fitted, including the Goerz Dagor f /6.8, Bausch & Lomb Plastigmat f /6.8, Bausch & Lomb Zeiss Tessar f /6.3, Cooke Anastigmat f /6.5, as well as the Zeiss Kodak Anastigmat f /6.3 and the Kodak Anastigmat f /7.7. Increasingly through the 1920's and 1930s, Kodak installed lenses of its own manufacture on its cameras. Most of the 616 and 620 folders of the 1930s had Kodak Anastigmats with maximum apertures of f /7.7, /6.3, /5.6, or /4.5; and most of the Anastigmats on Kodak amateur cameras of the 1930s were modeled after the Cooke air-spaced triplet. In general, Kodak never followed the European tradition of naming its lenses for the optical formula and in the early 1930s most of the quality amateur lenses were simply "Anastigmats." As Kodak expanded its lens lines, it also created new names for lens lines to describe relative quality and special performance characteristics.

The last half of the 1930s was a time of investment at Kodak in new designs and manufacturing techniques. In the 1940s, as consumer supply was usurped by war time needs, defense requirements spurred new developments. Consumer and professional lens introduction in early postwar years capitalized on these developments. Thus there was continual improvement in Kodak lenses in design and in quality control from the mid-30s to the early 50s. This makes tracing actual lens design more difficult in retrospect. Rudolf Kingslake was appointed head of Kodak optics in 1939 on the retirement of C. W. Frederick. An early Kingslake achievement was the publication in 1940 of the Kodak Reference Handbook containing detailed technical specifications of Kodak lenses. While there are production departures from what is documented in the Handbook, its information and information that has appeared in the successor, Kodak Data Books, has made research into Kodak lens design much easier for collectors. An additional source of documentation about Kodak optical design, though not production varients, are patent records .

By the mid-30s, two developments changed the direction of Kodak optics--the exploitation by German camera makers of 35mm film stock and the development of color emulsions. Miniature cameras from Europe--primarily Leica and Contax--were being offered with much faster lenses, so shortly after Kodak introduced the Retina in 1934 and the Bantam cameras in 1935, the top models of those cameras had a new model of Kodak lens--the Ektar. Initially the fastest Retina Ektars were f /3.5 of Tessar design, soon followed by the f /2.0 "Anastigmat Ektar" of Biotar design on the Bantam Special and slightly later Retina . In the Ektar line, Kodak began to apply its research about the effects of lateral color aberration, particularly on newly released color emulsions. These new lenses employed new glasses that Kodak developed and in addition to lateral color correction, other aberrations were also minimized. The least expensive Bantams received the nondescript "Kodalinear" f /8.0, while the next model had the Anastigmat f /6.3 triplet. The model just below the Bantam Special got a new Tessar type lens--the Kodak Anastigmat Special 47mm f /4.5. The maximum aperture of this lens was increased to f /3.5 in 1938 for Kodak's first entry into the domestic 35mm market--the Kodak 35. Cheaper versions of the Kodak 35 had f /4.5 and f /5.6 triplets as Kodak Anastigmats.

In 1937, a new set of Kodak advanced folders for 616 and 620 film debuted--the Vigilants, Monitors, Seniors and Specials--that had either the /6.3 Anastigmat triplet or a new Tessar-design/4.5 Anastigmat Special. This brought a new quality level to what would become known as "medium format." It also preceded by four years, the introduction of the first medium format Ektar on the 1941 Medalist. You can compare Kodak Anastigmat Special (Anastar) and Ektar design on a page with cutaway photographs. There were also Tessar-design Anastigmats in 103mm and 126mm lengths, that in their general documented structure were indistinguishable from the 100mm, 101mm and 127mm Anastigmat Specials. This similarity in the Kodak documentation raises some obvious questions. Was the quality of all Anastigmats the same over the course of their existence and over all of Kodak's product lines? Was an /6.3 Anastigmat triplet on a Kodak Senior the equivalent to an 7 1/2-inch Anastigmat Tessar design in an Ilex shutter to be used on a view camera and costing several times more than the Senior. Intuitively, we would probably expect the larger lens to be better in some ways. Countering that intuition is that the Senior lens was made in much larger numbers, bringing down the unit costs dramatically. Chris Perez's resolution tests  for an uncoated Anastigmat Special used on the Kodak Special Six-20 shows that these folder lenses can still provide good film-based results. Also consider that each lens was designed independently and glasses were selected to meet the particular optical needs of a given focal length, aperture and lens design. Some designs are inherently more successful than others. Product lines run their course and new materials--glasses, coatings--designs and manufacturing techniques intersect product lines at different points in their maturity.

In the 1948 Data Book, Kodak recognizes a naming change with this announcement:

About 1954, Kodak introduced a new product line of taking lenses with the Ektanon in the Bantam RF, the last of the Bantams and only the second model to have a unit-focusing lens. The Ektanon was "less complex than the Kodak Ektar" but still of "high quality", color corrected and Lumenized. The Bantam RF was an adaption of the highly successful Signet 35, but for the now dying 828 film format. Kodak had used "Ektanon" as the brand name for the less expensive line of enlarging lenses since about 1948. The Ektanar line followed about 1958 as the normal length lens in a refresh of the Signet line--models 30, 40, 50, 70 and 80. All were triplets, to replace the f /3.5 Ektar which was a Tessar design. Kodak described Ektanars as "less complex than Ektars" and that "these lenses are high quality, color-corrected optics." Kodak explained that the use of lanthanum in the glass formula allowed a simpler design while achieving "excellent optical correction." I have found no direct comparisons in Kodak publications between Ektanons and Ektanars. Kodak had been using rare earth elements in their glass mixes since the late 1930s, though not necessarily in modest lens designs. The Signet 70 and 80 models had interchangeable lenses, the wide angle and tele versions did not carry the Ektanar label, but were rather named Signet Wide Angle and Signet Telephoto.

Professional quality Kodak lenses were available from a pre-1940 date as Kodak Anastigmats. These were all Tessar designs with a maximum aperture of f /4.5, except for the No. 70 Kodak Anastigmat f /7.7 8-inch, which was a Dialyte design. These were offered in 5 1/2, 6 3/8, 71/2, 8 1/2, 10 and 12 inch in barrels and shutters and were numbered No 21 through No 36. The 1946 Data Book reflects Kodak's single-coating (Lumenizing) process throughout its lines of lenses, synchronized shutters and a revamping of professional lenses. The Wide Field Ektar series, a symmetrical design, was introduced; new 127mm and 152mm Ektars were added as new Tessar designs. All of the Anastigmats, except the f /7.7 8-inch, were retired and the Eastman Ektars became the Commercial Ektar line of f /6.3 lenses in 8 1/2-inch, 10-inch, 12-inch and 14-inch lengths. Commercial Ektars are Tessar designs, but have improved performance because of the smaller maximum aperture. Not everything in production is as it appeared in the Data Books, since I have two 7 1/2-inch Lumenized Ektars in Ilex shutters--one made in 1948 and another manufactured in 1965. Scans of information about professional Anastigmats is shown here .

In enlarger lenses, Kodak followed a similar strategy. In the late 30s and early 40s, there were both Projection Anastigmats and Projection Ektars, with the latter having better color correction. Initially, Projection Anastigmats included both projector and enlarger lenses; later the "Projection" preface was dropped in favor of "Enlarging". By the end of the decade, the lower quality lenses were called Enlarging Ektanons and the best corrected lenses were Enlarging Ektars, with the Enlarging Ektars being limited to the 2-inch to 4-inch range. Enlarging Ektars occassionally turn up in longer lengths and may have been documented in professional or industrial materials.

So, while the overall quality of Kodak lenses improved significantly over the period 1935 to 1950, Kodak established and maintained the following lines which differentiated relative quality at given production points:

  • Anastigmat (later Anaston)
  • Early advanced amateur folders
  • Later mid-level amateur folders
  • Entry level 35mm rangefinder
  • Professional lenses in shutters and barrels
  • Anastigmat Special (later Anastar)
  • Advanced amateur folders, avanced twin-lens reflex, 35mm rangefinders, mid-level Bantams

  • Ektar (originally Anastigmat Ektar)
  • Prewar and WWII highend miniatures
  • WWII and postwar advanced medium format
  • Postwar advanced miniatures
  • Postwar Graflex press and MF/LF SLRs

  • Wide Field Ektar
  • Postwar professional MF/LF lenses with expanded coverage

  • Eastman Ektar (later Commercial Ektar)
  • WWII and postwar LF highly-corrected lenses with normal coverage
  • Ektanon
  • Originally the less-expensive line of enlarging lenses, replacing Projection Anastigmats
  • A sub-Ektar unit focusing lens used on the Bantam RF
  • Ektanar
  • A "less complex than Ektar" line of normal length lenses for the expanded Signet line
  • Projection Anastigmats (later Ektanons)
  • Good quality lenses designed for flat fields and corrected for short working distances
  • Projection Ektars (later Enlarging Ektars)
  • Lenses designed for flat fields and corrected for short working distances and also highly corrected for color aberrations

Readers may note the absence of Cine Ektars, about which the writer is in more or less total ignorance.

Scans from Kodak Reference Manual

Ektar Home Page
Kodak Lens Index  
About Ektar lens data
Kodak Lens Lineage  
Kodak Ektar Summary
Kodak Lens Coating  
Kodak Lenses and Shutters © 1939
Kodak Reference Handbook: Lenses, Rangefinders and Shutters section © 1940  
Kodak Reference Handbook: Lenses, Rangefinders and Shutters section © 1942, 1945
Data Book on Lenses, Shutters and Portra Lenses, for Revising Kodak Reference Handbook, © 1942, 1945; Second 1946 Printing   
Kodak Data Book: Lenses, Shutters and Portra Lenses, Third Edition, (1948)
Kodak Data Book: Lenses, Shutters and Portra Lenses, Fourth Edition, (1952)  
Kodak Data Book: Lenses, Shutters and Portra Lenses, Fifth Edition, (1955)
Kodak Professional Handbook, Equipment Section, (1952)  
Kodak Data Book: Lenses, Shutters and Portra Lenses, Sixth Edition, (1958)
Kodak Lens Serial Numbers  
Enlarging Lenses      

This booklet predates the first edition of the
Kodak Reference Handbook and contains detailed information about many more lens models and considerable background information about Kodak lens design and production.

Kodak issued replacement pages to registered owners of the original Kodak Reference Handbook which was published in a loose-leaf binder; the replacement pages contained updated information about new products and processes. Newer versions of the Handbook would have contained these pages.
© dates in this material appear for 1940, 1942, 1943 and 1945 and perhaps other dates. One of the first separately bound Data Books was published in 1946 "For Revising Reference Handbooks," and noted as Second Printing.


10/29/2010 20:44