Schneider Kreuznach Lenses & Novoflex Accessories on Leica M Cameras

Oct 17, 2018  By Lex Bosman
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Cleaning out closets can be very rewarding and that is how I got lucky to get some neglected older Leitz material. The dust on the Bellows II had done no harm to it and after cleaning, it turned out to function as it should together with the Visoflex III on a (analogue) Leica M camera; the Elmar 3.5/65mm which was also included in the set delivered fine images. The bellows is rather bulky, but with the use of the Elmar 3.5/65mm and the lens heads of an Elmarit 2.8/90mm, Tele- Elmar 4/135mm and of the Telyt 4/200mm I soon discovered many new possibilities with this old equipment. Of course, the flow of rings and adapters connected to the use of Visoflex and bellows had to be explored as well, it is a fascinating world on its own that you can easily get lost in. But there are more lenses and accessories around that can be used.

A few months later I found a Schneider-Kreuznach Xenar 4.5/135mm lens with Leica thread mount on a Novoflex bellows with focusing rail (codeword VISBIG) for little money. I learned that my lens was produced in 1958, which made me curious how this one of over fifty years old would perform today. As a short lens this was one of the options for customers who bought a Novoflex bellows, it needs the bellows to focus. So here Novoflex enters the story as well. Subsequently I found a beautiful Xenar 4.5/150mm, which turned out to have been made in 1956. Apart from these two, other bellows lenses from Schneider-Kreuznach could be chosen as well: in a 1956 Novoflex pricelist the Xenar 4.5/180mm and the Tele-Xenar 5.5/240mm are mentioned as well. This list also has several Novoflex lenses, like the 3.5/105mm Noflexar (which was produced by Schacht), and lenses from Steinheil (the Culminar 4.5/135mm for example) and the Rodenstock Imagon 4.5/120mm. Another likely Schneider lens apparently was not yet available in Leica thread mount– nor for Contax – according to this Novoflex pricelist, but this Xenar 3.5/105mm and the Xenar 4.5/105mm were available for SLR camera’s like Alpa, Arriflex, Praktica, Exakta, for the Italian Rectaflex and the British Wrayflex.

The five Schneider-Kreuznach bellows lenses, from left to right: Tele-Arton 5.5/240mm, and Xenar 4.5/180mm, 4.5/150mm, 4.5/155mm and 4.5/105mm

However, Schneider did produce these 105mm lenses in LTM as well and together with the other four they appear in a Schneider leaflet of around 1962 as a group of lenses for use on the bellows, attached to either SLR- or rangefinder cameras with reflex housings. These lenses were specifically meant for close-focus photos, but they could also be used for telephotos, although the bellows limits this kind of function very much. The type of the Xenar lens existed already since 1919; it has been produced in many variants and for various cameras. With four lenses in three groups, it was described in another Schneider brochure as a development of the Taylor triplet (1895). Schneider apparently changed the name of the 5.5/240mm lens from Tele-Xenar to Tele-Arton in 1955, when the last batches of the first and the first batches of the second lens appear. Intriguing is the last of the production batches of only 5 Tele-Xenar 5.5/240mm lenses in July 1955: according to Schneider archival material, these were meant for Leica cameras. Would this perhaps imply that Leitz considered using this Schneider lens as a bellows lens, perhaps to replace the old Telyt 4.5/200mm in the years before Walter Mandler designed the new and much better Tely 4/200mm?

After some time, I could assemble this group of Schneider lenses, when I found the Xenar 4.5/105mm (mine from 1958), the Xenar 4.5/180mm (this one produced in 1954) as well as a 1964 Tele-Arton 5.5/240mm (fig. 1). For the Xenar 4.5/180mm, I needed a Novoflex LEIXUR ring to use it on the bellows with Leica thread mount on the lens side, which Novoflex very kindly sent me. An adapter from another manufacturer exists as well, perhaps from Schneider itself.

On Leica M cameras a bellows can be used together with a reflex housing. Already in 1933, Astro Berlin introduced the Identoskop, which was the first reflex housing for Leica cameras. Two years later Leitz came with the PLOOT and other companies also saw the possibilities of the rangefinder systems that Leitz and Zeiss were producing and offered alternative products. In the 1950’s Kilfitt and Novoflex produced reflex devices and bellows to be used with Leica or other camera’s. The company of Karl Muller in Memmingen produced a reflex housing in 1948/49 which could be obtained for the Contax IIa and IIIa cameras and for Leica cameras with thread mount, the Reproflex, which was followed in 1950 by the Novoflex (hence the name of the firm itself), equally available for Contax and Leica thread mount cameras. Initially, the Reproflex was delivered with a Steinheil Culminar 13,5 cm lens (fig. 2) and it was not intended for use with a bellows since Muller did not produce bellows yet.

The Novoflex reflex housing, however, being a further development, could be used with a special bellows NOBAL. Bellows and reflex housing were fitted together with a large screw underneath the reflex housing, just like the Leitz Visoflex I was attached to the Leitz Bellows I. An ingenious system fits the reflex housing and the bellows together without the use of bayonet or thread mount (fig. 3). The cubic box for the mirror with the slanting corners of the Novoflex reflex housing is very similar to the Leitz PLOOT, but the solution to lift the mirror and release the shutter of the Novoflex is simpler than the double cable-release of the PLOOT and the Visoflex I. Novoflex provided release bridges for both Contax and Leica screw mount cameras; soon after the introduction of the Leica M3 Novoflex delivered the release bridge NOSYN for the M camera’s (fig. 4). I was very lucky that Novoflex could still send me one! The Novoflex reflex housing (or mirror box) could be fitted with either a vertical finder (code name NOSE) or a “prismatic observoscope” (code name NOPRI) and it must have been a rival for the Leitz PLOOT, and the Visoflex I, introduced in 1951, the Mversion of which appeared in 1955. In the aforementioned 1956 Novoflex pricelist the reflex houses appear for Leica LTM and Leica M camera bodies: the one with the vertical finder for $99.50 and the one with the prism finder for $119.50. The variant with the M bayonet was probably introduced in 1955 and most likely had an adapter ring to connect the LTM reflex housing with a Leica M camera body.

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