A LOT OF BOTTLE


There's nothing particularly unusual about f/3.5 Tessars. Sure, the design is a bit over-stretched at that aperture: f/4.5 is better, and f/6.3 Tessars (when you can find them) are magical. But given that there are quite a few f/2.8 Tessars about, a good f/3.5 is more than OK. Stop any of them down to about f/8 and they tend to be pretty indistinguishable from their faster siblings.. 



What you rarely see, however, is a 30cm f/3.5. That's right: 300mm. From the serial number (338 939) it was made in 1919, and it's seriously big: 2.2 kg (just under 5 lb) plus another 250 g or so (over half a pound) for the brass flange, which has been hacked about a bit to fit onto a modern, fairly small lens panel. The diameter of the front of the barrel is just over 100 mm, or almost exactly four inches: it was not until the 1930s that the metric system became the norm in Germany, which is for example why Leica screw-mount are not 39x1 mm but 39 mm x 26TPI (threads per inch). Length is 115mm, near enough 4½ inches. 

Optically, it's in about as good condition as anyone could reasonably expect: a couple of small marks, but nothing serious. It's uncoated, of course, though there are traces of the natural coating caused by oxidation of the glass: it was, after all, 99 years old when I gave it away in July 2018. Yes, I could probably have sold it, but I really like Yannis Stournas's work, and I'd prefer that it went to someone who really, really wanted it and would use it rather than to a collector. He shoots 5x7 inch/ 13x18 cm wet plate, so he needs all the speed he can get, and the 300 mm will even give him a bit of movement on that format. Insofar as you can compare formats of different shapes, it's roughly equivalent to 60 mm on 24x36mm film full-frame digital: a very nice focal length for portraiture, and not too long for general use. I have no real need for it because if I want to do large format portraits I use a 21 inch (533 mm) f/7.7 Ross on 8x10 inch, where it equates roughly to 75 mm, and my general purpose lens on 8x10 is a 300/9 Nikkor. 


There's not much else to say. There's a large XIV engraved on the mount: probably a “Series” number, which was common in those days. As far as I can guess a Series number refers to lenses of a particular design and speed, though longer lenses in a given series are sometimes slower than shorter ones. 


The aperture numbers are not spaced linearly and are engraved ridiculously small. Unfortunately I neglected to photograph the lens “right way up” before Yannis took it away, so you can't see them.  They follow the old Continental sequence of f/3.5 – f/4.5 – f/6.3 – f/9 – f/12 – f/18 – f/25 – f/36 – f/50. With the exception of f/3.5, these are 1/3 stop smaller than the next familiar number down, so f/4.5 is 1/3 stop smaller than f/4, f/6.3 is 1/3 stop smaller than f/5.6, and so forth down to f/50 being 1/3 stop smaller than f/45.  The f/3.5 maximum aperture is 2/3 stop slower than f/2.8 or 1/3 stop faster than f/4. They're all rounded anyway: on other lenses I've owned, f/12 has appeared as f/12.5, and the difference in actual light transmission is likely to depend more on the design than on the calculated aperture, especially with faster lenses such as my f/1.4 Summilux and my f/1.5 Sonnar. 


The 15-bladed  diaphragm is wonderfully circular, and that's about it. I'm slightly ashamed that I didn't try to use it more, but I've never been all that keen on either f/3.5 Tessars or on very shallow depth of field. Also, it was a swine to mount and (as I said) the tiny aperture numbers are very hard to read. So it's gone to a good home, and I hope that one day I'll be able to persuade Yannis to shoot a couple of portraits with it, one of Frances and one of me. 


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Words and pictures copyright (c) Roger Hicks 2018