View Full Version : How did Copal copy Compur so blatently?

Frank Petronio
25-Oct-2006, 18:27
As many of you know, I waste too much time here and on eBay when I should be working. I didn't get into large format photography until 1983, but as I look at vintage lenses from the 60s and 70s I am struck by how closely the Copal shutters mimic the Compurs. Now I am also guilty of reading too deeply into the SK Grimes and LensN2Shutter websites, so I am already biased towards the Compur/Prontor shutters over the "cheap, lower quality" Copals. But I'd like to know a little of the history from the old(er) dogs who watched it happen. Except for the plastic levers, the shutters look almost identical from the late 1960s to recently. I am assuming it was the Japanese upstart Copal copying the premium German Compur cosmetics.

How come Compur didn't sue Copal for trademark infringement?

How come Compur didn't fight back a little bit harder? Even the German lens manufacturers seem to have gone to Copals... were they that much less expensive? And didn't people care about the quality and the ethics of the shutters they bought? Were the Copals somehow thought of as being better for some reason?

Or is it just the same Leica versus Nikon/Canon story replayed?

If I were Herr Compur I would have gone over to Japan and slapped that Mr. Copal right across the chops!

Doug Dolde
25-Oct-2006, 18:34
Too much time on your hands Frank

Kevin Crisp
25-Oct-2006, 18:46
Shutters kind of look like shutters to me. If you take the two kinds apart, something I've not been able to resist doing, the resemblance ends. The compur is much more complicated and intricate. The Copal is simpler and does the job well enough for most people. So why does it surprise you that Copal has won out?

Paul Fitzgerald
25-Oct-2006, 19:08

I guess Compur never heard "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". They kept 'improving' their shutters and priced themselves out of the market, not to mention driving techs crazy retraining for each.(and the never ending inventories)

Just a thought.

Per Madsen
26-Oct-2006, 02:49
I think most of Compur's patents regarding the mecanical part
of the shutter was pre WW2. All german patents was voided
after WW2.

Carl Zeiss would for example have had a patent on coating until
1960, if the original DRP patents had not been voided in 1945.

H.Deckel (the makers of Compur) was a (and still is) a part of the
Carl Zeiss Stiftung.

Emmanuel BIGLER
26-Oct-2006, 03:26
I agree with Per with a few comments

- To the best of my knowledge, the copal is not a copy of the compur, the mechanisms are different. So it might be difficult to sort out what was covered by a patent and what was not, when both shutters were for sale as competing products. Copal had to comply with Compur's and Prontor's specifications, same for all other German and non-German manufacturers of shutters that existed before WWII. To comply with those specifications for threads and diameters was required so that a 1 to 1 replacement could be possible, this pre-existed probably a long time before the Copal even existed ;-)

About the cancellation of German patents after WWII : this patent issue helped MPP, England, to fabricate and sell a camera so close to the Linhof Technika that it would not have been possible without patent cancellation.
Pierre Glafkidès, a Kodak engineer, in his famous book on Photographic Chemistry and Physics, explains that at the end of the war, allied forces investigated Agfa to find the Secret of the Extra-Hard Brovira paper ;-) So cancelling Reichspatents was probably highly appreciated by many who had had access to the best-kept-secrets of the German World ;-)

- the Compur Werke factory was closed probably in the late seventies or beginning of the eighties ; the Hasselblad CF line of lenses was introduced in 1982 after the demise of the Compur Werke in Münich, and the fabrication transferred to the Prontor Werke in Calmbach, in the Black Forest.
The Prontor Werke was (and still is) also controlled by the Carl Zeiss Stiftung and continued to fabricate shutters under the Compur brand until the beginning of the XXI-st century.

If the Prontor Professional shutter was still fabricated, I would likely have all my new lenses equipped with this superb self-cocking shutter. The last batches of the classical Compur made in Calmbach, on the other hand, at a substantial additional cost, offered little extra features (e.g. a slightly higher sped for the #1, if I remember well) with respect to the Copal, so it was quite obvious in the nineties that the Calmbach-made Compur was a lost cause.
But what was offered by the Pronto Pro as a 100% mechanical, zero-battery shutter was unique, is no longer offered on the market, and IMHO, was worth the extra Deutsch Mark for it ;-) Self cocking Copal Press shutters still exist but do not offer all the refinements and features of the Protor Pro series. Rollei electronic view camera shutters (#0 and #1 only) offer most features that the Pronto Pro offered, but at a nominal cost ;-) and with the burden of a separate battery-dependant control box.

The brand name "Deckel" still exists, since a separate branch used to fabricate precision machine-tools. Here at the mechanics workshop we have several manually-operated Deckel machines, I have no idea whether they are still fabricated ; probably not.
We also have a very recent "Deckel-Maho" laser-milling machine which still bears the famous brand name.

Mark Sampson
26-Oct-2006, 04:45
And then I read somewhere (Grimes? Kingslake?) that Compur got the concept for their timing mechanism from Ilex Optical in Rochester. And IIRC Ilex was a spinoff from Wollensak...

Frank Petronio
26-Oct-2006, 04:53
Thanks you! I understand the Copals are much simplier inside than the German shutters but this is enligtening.

Bob Salomon
26-Oct-2006, 05:09
The inventor of what is now knowned as the Compur shutter was Veletin Linhof. This was the first product that he made. When his interests turned to manufacturing cameras rather then supplying shutters to manufacturers like Kodak and Voigtlander he sold his shutter system to Deckel. Deckel in turn was absorbed into the Zeiss Trust and the shutter which was made part of Prontor Werke.

Even recently on Rupert Mayer PL in Munich there was a Deckel factory next to the Linhof factory. Haven't looked to see if it is still a Deckel building.

As for the Prontor shutter. Prontor is still supplying a shutter for large format lenses but it is a version of the Prontor Magnetic which requires a controller and a power source to operate. There is at least two controllers and power sources currently available. One from Sylvestri and one from Schneider.

Bob Salomon
26-Oct-2006, 05:11
Too early in the AM. That should be Valentin not Velentin.

Ernest Purdum
26-Oct-2006, 11:02
Rather surprisingly, since earlier clockwork shutters existed, Ilex was able to obtain what must have been very broad patent coverage of clockwork timed shutters. Deckel, who had been making the pneumatic-timed "Compound" shutters, obtained a license from Ilex for clockwork shutters. Apparently the main value of the license was the concept. Mechanically Compur and I lex shutters are quite different. Both Ilex and Wollensak were founded by former Bausch & Lomb workers.

I think Seiko shutters are more similar to Compur than are Copals.

This got my curiosity aroused as to the present situation regarding the excellent Deckel machine tools. I did a search and found "Deckel Maho Gildemeister (Shanghai) Ltd.". I'm happy that someone is trying to build on the Deckel foundation. Everything comes from China these days. Maybe someday we'll get some more modern shutters from that country.

Per Madsen
26-Oct-2006, 11:46
It could be a case of parallel development, if for example Copal only had the
shutter dimensions (0, 1, 2, and 3) and developed their own design
to fit the element dimensions.

That could also explain the different internal construction of the
Copal shutters compared with the Compur shutters.

When was the first Copal shutter marketed in Japan ?

Lee Hamiel
26-Oct-2006, 15:06
I'm enjoying this thread.

Frank - it would have been Patent infringement as opposed to Trademark infringement - regardless it appears that the patents would have expired long ago - once expired they become public domain. The only other issue would be if further patents were filed to protect further improvements over the years. At this point it's 20 years from the date of filing the patent application.

With that said - maybe you might want to start making your own shutters:) May want to seek counsel (of the intellectual property type) before doing so.

I really enjoy the historical tidbits that come along once in a while & thanks for posting.