View Full Version : Suter Aplanat A No 3

18-Jul-2006, 09:42
I have a Swiss lens which lacks direct information on focal length, a fate it seems to share with some other old lenses. It bears the inscription No 32955 E. Suter Basel Aplanat A No 3. I have tried to search the net to find the focal length, but so far without mentionable success. Now I wonder weather any of you experts would take the effort to open your fireproof archives and look this lens up in your Suter catalogue from anno domini ???? and see what you can find? I have found that this lens type consists of two achromats. Mine has a Compound shutter that needs some reviving. The aperture scale rates from F (!?), via 8 to 45. The glass seems to be in rather good condition.

What can I expect as picture taking caracteristics of this lens?

Svein Lindberg

Ole Tjugen
18-Jul-2006, 10:57
Suter Rapidaplanat Serie A, F/6, was made in 13, 21, 24, 30, 42, 48, 55, 65, and 90cm focal length.

From that it's a good guess that your No. 3 is a 240mm.

Sharp coverage is from 20 degrees at full aperture to 50 degrees at small apertures (general figures for fast f/6 Aplanats). Within this angle a good Aplanat (and Suter made GOOD Aplanats) is at least as sharp as an anastigmat of the same age.

Data from "Photographisches Hilfsbuch für ernste Arbeit" by Hans Scmidt, printed Berlin 1910. And also corroborated by my owh experience with a Suter Aplanat Serie B No.6 - 480mm and ultra sharp.

18-Jul-2006, 14:13
Thank you, Ole. Was it customary to use a "F" letter (bright and clearly written) on the aperture scale? On my specimen it says nothing about "Rapid" in the inscription, but it may have no practical implication, or were Rapidaplanat and Aplanat different constructions? I found somewhere a formula saying that

wide open aperture= focal length /diameter of the open "hole" when wiewing the lens from the front (here 38 mm). If the "F" on the scale means 6, this gives me a focal length of 228 mm, whereas a starting aperture of 6,3 (a more common number, as most of you know), gives 239,4 , which I regard as colose enough to 240!

Ole Tjugen
18-Jul-2006, 15:29
Suter's Aplanats tend to have only Series and No. clearly engraved. Focal length and max aperture is something the original owner would have known when he pought it, which doesn't help us much a century later. The Serie A was the Rapid Aplanat, Serie B was the "universal" Aplanat F/8. Herr Schmidt sometimes wrote far more than the lens makers did.

Mine's got a very big and clear "F" on the aperture scale too. And lots of very clear numbers.

Focal lengths should always be taken with a lump (not grain) of salt. For most practical purposes, 228 is "close enough" to 240. The same goes for maximum apertures...

I've set up a little "Focal length measuring device" consisting of a long corridor with a window at one end and a sheet of cardboard on the other. I mark off the width of the projected image of the window on the cardboard, and compare this to the marks from lenses of "known" focal lengths. This simple "device" has proven remarkably accurate as I get more lenses for calibration. My best tool here is a "Vade mecum" type "Satzobjektiv", seven elements from 15 to 75cm focal length which turn out to be precise to within a few mm!

20-Aug-2008, 17:17
you have spoken well of aplanats, so I got one for a good price and just cleaned it up.

It's 11 inch focal length measured. It has the above mentioned "f" and 8 through 44 nicely engraved. Also "Universal Rapid Aplanat" and the next line "Serie E" No 3."

Could this be a Suter? The only clues are how Serie is written, and the 8-11-16 ...scale.


Ole Tjugen
20-Aug-2008, 17:33
I'll have to check when I get home in a day or two, but Suter lenses usually have the name engraved: Quality lens makers were known enough that they put their names on the lenses for marketing purposes. That doesn't mean that the nameless ones are bad, or that they are made by second-rate makers - only that they are less likely to be by Suter, Busch, Voigtländer, or Meyer.

"Serie" with that spelling indicates German, Swiss (as Suter) or Austrian. Which means I might be able to find out something once I get home - that's exactly what I have in my old (German) books. "E" is far enough out in the alphabet that a Serie E Universal Rapid Aplanat should be possible to find, especially knowing that a No. 3 is about 275mm.:)

20-Aug-2008, 17:49
Interesting and thanks for doing that. I can take pics or whatever will help too. It'll be interesting to do a shootout with my Dallmeyer Rapid Rectilinear of the same length. I just held them both up to the wall and could swear I see a diffence! I look forward to hearing back from you.


Struan Gray
21-Aug-2008, 00:05
I think the original 'universal aplanat' was a Steinheil design using the then new Jena glasses. 'Universal' meant wide enough and fast enough for a broad range of uses. It seems to have then become a generic term for a Goldilocks Aplanat or Rapid Rectilinear, and many, many lens makers and re-badgers seem to have used it, especially in Germany. The 'Series E' might be a better clue as to the maker, but there my knowledge runs out.

It's quite hard to find information about Suter focal lengths online, but so far as I can tell the Aplanat B series follows the same ordering as the A series Ole posted. I have a Aplanat B No. 7 which is indeed around 55cm in focal length.

Ole Tjugen
21-Aug-2008, 05:47
Struan, I have the complete list at home. :)

21-Aug-2008, 08:15
Here is a pic for fun. The glass is very nice, the aperature turn ring was knocked off track, but I fixed it. The lens now looks and works fine.
I'm waiting on an (appropriately named) universal iris mount so I can use more of these flange-less lenses.

Ole Tjugen
22-Aug-2008, 01:36
Suter Aplanats as of 1910:

Rapidaplanat f/5: 20, 27, 38, 42, 50, 65 and 80cm.
Rapidaplanat Serie A f/6: 13, 21, 24, 30, 42, 48, 55, 65 and 90cm.

Aplanat Serie B f/8: 13, 17, 23, 28, 36, 48, 55, 65 and 75cm.

Weitwinkelaplanat Serie C f/12: 11, 15, 22, 30 and 40cm.


I can't find any "Serie E" which might match, only Goerz Lynkeioskop Serie E f/7.7 which doesn't match up with a #3 being 275mm'ish at all. The only "Universal-Rapid-Aplanat" f/8 I find was made by Gebrüder Nitzschke of whom I know nothing more than that.


Struan, Aplanats were made before the new Jena glasses were introduced. Those glasses were what made the Anastigmats possible; Aplanats need only "common" flint and crown glasses.

Struan Gray
22-Aug-2008, 03:39
Thanks for the lists Ole - they'll save me some time next time I'm tempted into brassland :-)

I think I knew that aplanats/rr-s preceeded Jena glass, but I also think I'm right in saying that the 'Universal' name was applied to the improved aplanat series Steinheil brought out using the new glasses when they became available. I can't remember if I read that in the vademecum or the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, and I can't check right now - what is that first thing that goes as you get older.....

OK, I found a text-only vademecum lurking on my hard drive. It confirms what I thought I remembered. It also mentions the Goerz Lynkeioskop Series E as a very long-lived lens line (into the 1920s), so it's entirely possible that the unknown maker or rebadger of Garrett's lens was trying to leverage off the Goerz reputation - or sold Goerz lenses in disguise.

The vademecum does very briefly mention a firm of photographic manufacturers and dealers called Huth Brothers (Gebruder Huth) from Dresden who sold an f8 "Universal Rapid Aplanat Series E for 13x18" around the turn of the last century, presumably on one of their own camera models. That would fit with the styling of Garrett's lens (black front, 'modern' f-stops). But without provenance I would guess that is about as far as we're likely to be able to trace this particular lens.

Ole Tjugen
22-Aug-2008, 03:59
You're right - Steinheil's Universal-Aplanat of 1886 was made with "neue Gläser", new glass types.

Gebrüder Huth is not mentioned in Hartmut Thiele's "Deutsche Photooptik von A - Z", which I trust somewhat more than the Vade Mecum when it comes to German optics. This indicates that they were not the manufacturers of the lens...

"Modern" f-stops were used by most German manufacturers almost from the beginning. Some used other systems, but they are few enough that it is easier to identify the exceptions!

22-Aug-2008, 07:40
Thanks Struan and Ole, we've narrowed down this lens, and it's interesting history. I bet it's German, and it's from 1900 or so. Now it's up to the lens, I'll need to shoot with it. Great help.

Struan Gray
22-Aug-2008, 11:14
...I'll need to shoot with it.....

Steady on. A rash move like that could get you thrown out of the Guild.

14-Jul-2014, 08:05
hi guys,
pardon for taking up this old thread, but i have ran into similar problems regarding focus length and aperture.
i recently acquired an old danish 18x24 cm (nearly 8x10") mahogany camera in very nice cond.
it came with this brass lens, clearly marked:

E Suter Basel
no 17828
Aplanat A no 3
aperture markings goes from 3 to 100 in 6 steps
no "F" letter as seen on other lenses
no focal length.

i am quite confused, if i look at Ole Tjugens list in this thread, it should be a 240 mm,
but with my very best efforts, it gives 300 mm from aperture to GG at infinity . 280 mm to mount flange.
My metering Must be correct ?

as for aperture, i understand it should be F6 , but if i measure the iris with a caliper and calculate,
it gives app. F2,5. (focal length / iris diameter)
Where is the mistake ?
will the 6 F stops correspond to the steps in a modern aperture scale?

thank you

Steven Tribe
14-Jul-2014, 13:31
Don't be alarmed Klaus!

The list that Ole has is correct for the period of the reference he has. But there are differences between the numbers for different periods!
I have serial number 11,385 which is Series A, no. 4 and it doesn't match with the focal length given in Ole's list.

The Rapid F.5 Suter aplanat size no. 3 ( a somewhat later design to compete with Voiugtländer Euryscope III, perhaps?) was quite popular as a normal portrait lens in Scandinavian studios.

as for aperture, i understand it should be F6 , but if i measure the iris with a caliper and calculate,
it gives app. F2,5. (focal length / iris diameter)
Where is the mistake ?

It is F6. The mistake must be in your calculation. The old "F3" (meaning modern F6) could be a number of old scales. We need some other numbers to find out whether is the US, Dallmeyer etc. scale.

19-Jul-2014, 12:18
after reading further on, calculating the aperture, i understand, that one holds the lens at some distance from ones eye, and then meter the iris opening.
how on earth is that possible ?
i metered directly IN the iris.
anyway, the numbers on the lens:
3 - 4 -8 - 16 - 32 - 100
will that help ?


Jim Andrada
19-Jul-2014, 21:23
You don't want to measure the physical aperture itself but rather you should measure the apparent size of the aperture as seen through the front of the lens with the glass in place. This is what you should use to calculate the f-stop. So hold the lens up and look through the lens from the front and measure the size of the opening that you see looking through the front of the lens.

Peter Yeti
21-Jul-2014, 18:05

Your aperture numbers indicate one of the old numbering systems going with c*2^n, which have been popular in Germany. Goerz and Voigtlaender used them, though with a different constant for c. Your numbers come close to the Voigtlaender scheme where 16=f/16, so 3 is something like f/6.8. On the Goerz scale 24=f/16, so 3 would correspond to about f/5.6. I'd think that most anonymous makers in Germany would have stuck to one of these two systems.