I am devoting a few pages to off-the-beaten-track Ektars. The Ektars featured in this section of the site are generally ones that were manufactured for Kodak cameras or for other camera manufacturers. Of course Ektars in free-standing shutters and barrels were purchased by other manufacturers of press and view cameras, but Ektars also appeared on some non-Kodak cameras with more complex mounts. Kodak also made Ektars for the military during the '40s and '50s--most notably the Aero Ektar. In addition to general aerial cameras and lenses, Kodak also made fire control and bombsight optics , some of which may have used the Ektar label. Only Ektars used on non-Kodak press and view cameras were included in the Kodak Reference Manual, Kodak Data Books, and in Kodak brochures for consumer and "professional" studio equipment. Undoubtedly there were Kodak publications for industrial and military applications, but these seem not to have made their ways into the academic libraries where I have found other information from this period.

Aero Ektars. Because of the importance of the air campaign in WW II, military demand was created for many kinds of photographic products, including lenses for aerial photography. George Aklin, of the Kodak Optics department, developed Gauss formulae for 7- and 12-inch high speed lenses called Aero Ektar's that involved Kodak's first use of lanthanum crown glass. Here is the patent for those lenses. Kodak later manufactured substantially the same lens in other focal lengths.

There has been much speculation about the radioactive measurements made from Aero Ektars. Both Lanthanum glass used generally in the Aero Ektars and the rear element, containing Thorium, are alleged to excite Geiger counters. The curator of the George Eastman House has acknowledged significant radioactive emissions of beta and gamma rays from Aero Ektars. There has been very active discussion about the health risks posed by the use of Aero Ektars and the need for care both in human exposure and to photographic materials. There has been some post-9/11 speculation that, in shipment, these lenses might trigger mail scanners designed to spot low-level nuclear sources, causing such shipments to be confiscated. Some comment suggests that the radioactivity may be caused by impurities in early glass compounds and that lenses of specific brand and model may vary in their "hotness" by batch of glass used. There have been reports of "hot" lenses from this period that have been evaluated as dangerous by professionals that monitor radioactive exposure. Other informed comment suggests that there is little danger in typical use. Though there does not appear to be agreement among experts, the cautious photographer will store these lenses away from people, animals, plants and photosenitive stock. Of the Kodak lenses the Aero Ektars appear to be the most likely to cause problems, and while there are reports of other brands and models of "hot" lenses, I haven't seen reports of other Ektars. Bob Monaghan collected many posts about this phenomonon on his medium format site, but the page has gone missing. Here is a link to my restoration of that page .

Dr Michael Briggs, a NASA gamma-ray astrophysicist has done historical and empirical research on these lenses and has published his findings, by far the most authoritative source I have found on the Web. Particularly interesting are the myths he dispels about the radioactive characteristics of Aero Ektars. He has found Aero Ektars in the following lengths: 6-inch f/2.5 (all from 1955), 7-inch f/2.5, 12-inch f/2.5, 13.5-inch f/3.5, and 24-inch f/6.0.

One aspect of Aero Ektars that Dr Briggs is following is the characteristic tint of the glass. While it may have had a yellow tint when new, Dr Briggs suspects that the radioactivity of the glass may have caused this tint to become browner. These lenses were made primarily for use with b&w infrared emulsions and the correction in color sensitivity may have taken into account their use at altitude with a design to minimize the effects of haze.

Because of the large number of Aero Ektars produced and their large maximum aperture, there is an active interest in adapting them to non-aerial use. On the Gallery page, you can see some of the kinds of mounts that have been adapted. Since the Aero Ektar has no shutter and is a large lens a body with a focal plane shutter is nearly essential, making Speed Graphics the most common platform for the 7-inch version of this lens. There is just room on the 4x5 Graphic lens board for a custom mount and the Graphic front standard seems sufficient to handle the projection of the large front element. Here is a page with links to the more extensive sites featuring this combination .

Military Ektars. Several Kodak cameras available on the consumer market were used by the military during WW II. Kodak 35s had either Anastigmat or Anastigmat Special lenses, the little brother of the Ektars. Some of these were made in black for the military. The Medalist was used in large numbers by the military because of its sturdy construction and excellent lens. Some Medalists occasionally doubled for weapons--a three pound metal object whirling around your head on a strong strap can be an effective way to clear a path. I am not aware of a special military version of the Medalist. Kodak's Graflex Division made Speed Graflexes with modifications for the military and many of these came with Ektar lenses. The piece de resistance of military Ektars was their use on the Combat Graphic , an oversized rangefinder design based on the early Contax and designed by Hubert Nerwin, who was chief of design at Zeiss Ikon, when he was hired away by the U. S. military. These were designated KE-4 and KE-6 by the military.

In the 1950s, Kodak made military versions of the Kodak Signet in olive and black. I am not aware of any other differences in the specs for these models besides external color and military model markings.

Kardon. As the German sources for precision miniatures became inaccessible in about 1940, the American military began looking for domestic sources. One of the apocryphal stories about the Kodak Ektra was that the military expected it to become the American Leica/Contax. Kodak marketing plans certainly had commercial Leica and the Contax sales in their competitive sights, and based on Kodak's pride that the Navy had so quickly adopted the Medalist , they may have hoped for the same result with the Ektra. There is little public evidence that the Ektra was ever in a serious consideration as a combat camera, and the folks at Pacific Rim Camera report a very different story of this logistical search. The American division of Leitz had spare Leica parts, but apparently no inclination to make them into finished cameras for U. S. Army/Navy use. The military planners eventually found Peter Kardon who agreed to develop an American Leica, which became known as the "military" and the "civilian" Kardon , fitted with an f /2 47mm Ektar, strikingly similar to the /1.9 50mm Ektra Ektar.

Hasselblad. The original Hasselblad HK7 had a military connection; it was Victor Hasselblad's improved version of a captured German surveillance camera which he developed for the Swedish Air Force. When consumer Hasselblads were first introduced in 1948, the lenses for the model 1600F were primarily Kodak Ektars in the first Hasselblad mount. When Hasselblad produced the improved 1000F , he continued this line of lenses. The first two Hasselblad models had focal plane shutters and therefore barrel lenses. The choice of optics was quite a natural one, since he had developed an earlier friendship with George Eastman and the Hasselblad family business had been the exclusive distributor of Eastman products in Sweden. Enjoy the story of the development of Hasselblads at the company's Web site.

Television Ektanons. Kodak made a series of television lenses that were apparently used on broadcast and industrial cameras. Some of these have mounts like the mount of the Ektra Ektars. There may be specifications in Kodak and possibly RCA industrial catalogs circa 1950 that would be interesting.

Have an Ektar anomaly? Send me a description and an image, to the Comment? email address below, and I will add it to this page.


10/25/2010 19:00