Prior to the mid-30s Kodak had purchased most of its lens from other manufacturers. An impressive early 'industrial park' of photographic manufacturers had grown up in Rochester, some of which were responsible for supplying lens stock to Kodak. The history of these firms and their relation to Kodak is recorded by Rudolf Kingslake, Kodak's Director of Optical design. As part of Kodak's business strategy in the mid-30s to increase its market share of the emerging advanced amateur/professional market, the company undertook a program to increase its R&D and improve its manufacturing skills. This is described in the Kodak prospectus for the Ektra.

The optical part of this expansion program is outlined in Kingslake's, Lens in Photography. Using largely established lens formulae, Kodak designed new lenses for several new cameras that would be introduced in the seven year period starting in 1935. Kodak research was revealing new glass formulae and exploring surface coating materials and mechanical designs that would reduce internal reflections.

In the 1930s most Kodak lenses were called simply Anastigmats; the lineage of Kodak lenses is documented on another page . The new line of premium lenses that Kodak manufactured in its own factory were called Anastigmat Ektars; as the line developed "Anastigmat" was dropped and functional names like "Projection" and "Wide Field" were prepended. Unlike named lenses offered by some other manufacturers, Ektars were not of a particular optical design, but rather the name was used as a premium designation--the best lenses Kodak manufactured for a given function. So even within a line of lenses for a particular camera -- the Ektra -- there were lens of different designs--a 35mm Heliar, a 50mm f/3.5 Tessar, but a faster 50mm in a Biotar design and two tele lens with Tele-Tessar heritage.

The Ektra Ektars introduced in 1941

The Ektar made its debut in 1936 on a Kodak Bantam Special as an uncoated 6-element f /2 "Kodak Anastigmat Ektar". By 1940, a 14-inch f /6.3 Eastman Ektar in a Tessar design and a 107mm f /3.7 Ektar in a modified Tessar design, had been added for professional work. Two outstanding new cameras were introduced in 1941 to match the optical quality of the Ektars--the Kodak Ektra with six new interchangeable Ektar lenses and the Kodak Medalist , a new rigid-bodied coupled-rangefinder design for 2.xx x 3.xx film that mounted a new 100mm f /3.5 Ektar of a Heliar design.

In the design, production and marketing of this new line, Kodak emphasized:

  • Color correction to exploit new color emulsions being introduced in miniature formats aimed at the consumer market and large formats aimed at the commercial and industrial markets.
  • The design experience that the Kodak optical department could bring to refining optical formulas to emerging materials like glasses, coatings and metals.
  • Kodak's considerable experience in leveraging economies of scale for preserving quality and reducing costs
  • A recognition that product visual and ergonomic design mattered.

A less publicly proclaimed goal, but one that is clear from the development of Kodak product lines, is the recognition of a new consumer class--the prosumer--that could be developed between the existing "press the button and Kodak does the rest" market and the professional market. While individual product features changed over the roughly 20 year period surveyed here, the strategic goals remained in place until post-WWII competitive pressures eroded Kodak's market.

The Ektar program was started when C. W. Frederick was head of the optical department at Kodak. Rudolf Kingslake may have had some direct involvement with Ektar design but does not mention this in his books. He does directly credit F. E. Altman with the design of the 100mm f/3.5 Ektar used on the Medalist and the f/3.3 Ektar wide angle for the Ektra, and presumably Altman was involved in the design of many of the other Ektars. Kingslake also reports that Willy E. Schade, who joined Kodak in 1932, was "the designer of many of their (Kodak's) best lenses," so we can assume he was involved in the Ektar program.

While Ektars were, in principle, the best lens Kodak could market, for their intended purposes, they were not equally good in a given situation, if only because the designs were not equally mature or successful. Since lens interchangeability had not been a significant feature in the Kodak consumer product line, the suitability of particular designs wasn't emphasized in Kodak marketing until it introduced the Ektra and began creating specialized designs for press and view cameras about 1940. Then, even in the premium Ektar lines, the design trade offs between fast lenses, like the Ektra Ektar f /1.9 50mm and slower lenses, like the Ektra Ektar /3.5 50mm lens became apparent.

Color emulsions had been developed in the mid-1930s and optical research and production targetted better color performance. Improvement in lateral color correction were major design goals in the Ektar program. Zeiss had developed an effective lens coating procedure for its lenses in 1935 and offered its first lenses in 1937. The history of Kodak's early lens coating is detailed on another page . The emerging Ektar models were the first to be coated, perhaps as early as 1939, but Kodak had not yet developed the sophisticated vacumn deposition procedure developed at Zeiss. Marc Small suggests that Kodak's delays in coating progress were because it did not understand the marketing advantage that Zeiss was leveraging. While there are obvious lapses in Kodak marketing in this period -- for example, its failed attempt to subvert the 135 format in favor of the 828 format -- Kodak had a long history of marketing successes. A complicating factor in international marketing was that Kodak had production facilities in England, France and Germany. With the Battle of Britain, the invasion of France, Kodak AG in enemy hands, suspension of many consumer product lines, ramping up military production and the introduction of new Ektars, the coordination of products lines in the early 1940s might have had it special challenges.

With the end of WWII, Kodak, like other industries turned its productive capacity to consumer goods. Lens coating became an initiative across product lines. While German and Japanese manufacturer were still digging out from war damage, Kodak had apparently decided by 1948, and perhaps much earlier, that I did not want to extend the Ektra experiment. While Bantam folders were produced until 1953, production of the Bantam Special ended in 1948. The Medalist II with a coated lens and synchronized shutter replaced the original Medalist in 1946 and continued in production to 1953. The Medalist was replaced by the Chevron , which used a 4-element 78mm Ektar. The Ektar even made its way down into mid-priced cameras in the successful Signet 35 . Many of the Retinas were fitted with Ektars, both before and after WW II; some of these were U. S. manufactured, while others were rebranded Schneider lenses. Kodak Cine-8 and Cine-16 Ektar lenses were available from 9mm to 76mm and 15mm to 152mm respectively. A review of the Kodak Data Books: Lenses, Shutters and Portra Lenses, from its first edition through its sixth edition, shows a continual reduction in offerings of Ektars--the slow vaporization of the Kodak Golden Age.

Kodak offered a broad range of Ektars mounted in Kodak, Compur and Ilex shutters for use on press and view cameras. Commercial Ektar's , updated versions of the earlier f /6.3 Eastman Ektars were Tessar-type lenses for large format cameras and were available in 8 1/2, 10, 12 and 14-inch versions, in either shutters or barrels. In addition to the two medium format Ektars, developed in the early 1940s, Kodak added 127mm and 152mm lengths that were commonly offered on 3 1/4 x 4 1/4 and 4 x 5 Crown and Speed Graphics. The 203mm f /7.7, was freshened in 1948 and brought into the Ektar line. The line of Kodak Anastigmats for press and viewcameras in 7 1/2, 8 1/2, 10 and 12 inch versions was retired about 1948. Kodak also introduced a post-War series of 80° Wide Field Ektars in 80mm, 100mm, 135mm, 190mm and 250mm lengths.

Many of the Graflex MF/LF reflex cameras were fitted with barrel-mounted Ektars. Although the Kodak lens publications do not list these specifically, I assume they were similar to barrel-mounted lenses of the same length. I am familiar with 127mm and 152mm versions on my 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 Series B and 3 1/4 x 4 1/4 Super D.

Kodak's earlier enlarger Ektars were labelled Projection Ektars and were available in 2 inch, 3 inch, and 4 inch lengths as early as 1940. These lenses were designed to have a flat field, good coverage and corrected to work at short focusing distances. In 1948 these lenses were renamed Enlarging Ektars in line with Kodak's functional naming conventions. The 2- and 3-inch versions were Heliars; the 4-inch is an air-spaced symetrical design. There were many Enlarging Ektars produced for commercial enlarging equipment. These are often on the market as fixed aperture lenses in a wide range of lengths.

In any discussion of Ektar lenses, the conversation will periodically vere into folklore, some of which is based on fact and some on gossip embellished by fantasy. There were many Ektar lenses designed and built that did not reach the consumer market or some that did, but were not standard production. Kodak also served the military and industrial market, where there has been and perhaps remains documentation about these products. I deal with these variations in some detail on pages titled, Ektar Anomolies, though in some cases they are only anomolies to the consumer market. Kodak also manufactured and distributed lenses for broadcast and industrial cameras and where there are sometimes apparent similarities to lenses in consumer lines, e.g. the kinship between Ektra Ektars and Television Ektanons.

For more information on Ektar lens design and performance see a page no longer available, but restored from Robert Monaghan's Medium Format site and information at Below is an index to pages with data extracted from several Kodak publications that include specifications for Ektar lenses.

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.


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