A while back I wrote a entry about the fact that Copal was no longer going to make the Copal 0 shutter. For many photographers, the idea of a manual shutter is more than likely beyond comprehension as they are used to the modern electronic shutters that work in all DSLR cameras and Medium format cameras like the Phase One DF+ and Pentax 645 Digital cameras. Here all you have to do is set the shutter from the camera controls, and take the shot. The lens and camera communicate and the aperture is automatically stopped down a micro-second before the shutter opens. Of course this is the way all modern cameras work unless you are working with a Large format camera or a tech camera. Large format cameras can take either a film back or digital back, and most tech cameras are designed to work with a Medium format digital back. In both situations, you are using a lens that has no communication electronically to the camera body, instead you have to manually set both the shutter and aperture. The aperture is controlled by the aperture ring on the lens and this is controlled by the lens manufacturer i.e. Rodenstock or Schneider. However neither of these companies manufacture a shutter.
Rodenstock and Schneider both have a very modern line-up of lenses that have been optimized for the higher end Medium Format Digital backs, like the Phase One P65+, IQ160 and IQ180. However all of these lenses are still dependent on the Copal shutter 0. (Both Schneider and Rodenstock make electronic shutters but as I explain below in most cases these shutters are not very practical).
The shutter in this case, is fitted between the lens elements during the creation of the lens. By far the most common shutter in use today is the Copal shutter 0. This shutter is used with every Rodenstock and Schneider lens that is being made currently and will also be installed in any of the older lenses made by both of these companies. The Copal shutter is made in Japan and as far as I know has been the standard shutter for these lenses for years. These shutters are also called leaf shutters by their design as they are placed inside the lens and thus the camera is not dependent on having a shutter installed.
About 4 months ago, Copal announced that they would no longer be making their manual shutters. Apparently this part of their business model is not a large one and they are moving on with other products. Copal is quite a large Japanese electronic company and they have many other products that are still being made. So what does this mean?
For most photographers, nothing. They are using cameras with focal plane shutters, ones that are built into the camera body, not the lens. However for a small group of photographers, this is a huge deal. These are the photographers using either large format cameras or tech cameras. There are three tech camera companies, Alpa, Cambo and Arca and all of these companies design pancake cameras that are designed to use a medium format digital back and a Rodenstock or Schneider lens. In this case the tech camera is basically just a platform that holds the digital back and lens for the photographer. All tech cameras are totally dependent on the Copal shutter 0 since they are using lenses that require this shutter.
Eventually Rodenstock and Schneider will have to come up with a replacement shutter solution as they can no longer manufacture their lenses without a shutter solution. I am curious as to just how many Copal shutters that each of these companies have in stock as it’s impossible to find a Copal shutter to purchase. Companies like B&H photo have been back ordered for months and I am pretty sure that they will not be getting anymore stock. When the original announcement came out on Copal discontinuing the Copal shutter 0, it was implied that there would be one last batch made. As far as I can tell, no new shipments of these shutters has occurred.
If you have a tech camera or large format camera, this might not seem like a big deal. But it will turn into one eventually for these reasons:
- Copal had a lock on this shutter and they are not planning a replacement either manual or electronic
- Rodenstock and Schneider have designed “electronic” shutters and some have shipped but the current versions are not very well thought out for non-studio work
- Replacement of a Copal Shutter is not an easy process
- There is only one company in the U.S. I am aware of that can service a Copal Shutter 0
Let me elaborate on each of these.
1. There is a entire market that is totally dependent on the manual Copal shutter 0. Rodenstock and Schneider lenses sell for over 3.5K on average and some sell for close to 10K. All of these lenses are currently designed to use the Copal shutter. Without a manual replacement on the horizon, it soon may not be possible to purchase these lenses. I find it amazing that neither Rodenstock or Schneider have come out with any futures statements as how they plan to work around this issue in the future. All they have done is make their versions of electronic shutters.
2. The Rodenstock and Schneider electronic shutters have many issues. First and foremost they have to have power and the current designs depend on having a PC or Mac present to power the shutter. There is also a black box that goes in between the PC and camera and all of this adds quite a bit of both weight and confusion to the lens. These shutters also add 1K in additional cost to the lenses and they have a very limited shutter speed range. Most of the electronic shutters I have seen will do not have a bulb setting, offer a top shutter speed of 1/125th of a sec, and have a low end of 1 second or less. Net they are very limited in the shutter speeds that they make available.
3. If you have to physically replace a Copal shutter, then the lens and broken shutter have to be sent back to the lens manufacturer, not the tech camera company, like Arca or Cambo. This is because each shutter has to be colimated for the lens since the shutter is placed inside the actual lens. This is a rather involved process and will not be done in a short period of time. I recently had a 40mm Rodenstock lens I purchased used that was not shipped to me in very good packing. During shipping, the lens 0r shutter was damaged and I had to send the lens back to Rodenstock. They in turn had to remove the shutter from the lens, and adjust several of the lens elements. After this was done, Rodenstock had to re-colimate the lens and shutter to get the best possible results. This entire process took almost 2 months from the day I first sent the lens back. You can expect the same turn around time if you are replacing a broken shutter.
4. The only company I know of that can work on a Copal shutter in the U.S. is Precision Camera works in Chicago. They can adjust the timing and work on a shutter that has broken, to possibly repair it, however if the physical shutter has to be replaced, I don’t think that Precision Camera works can do the re-colimation process so the lens has to still go back to the lens company. Precision camera works is small company and I am not sure how much longer they will be able to work on these lenses.
5. One of the main reasons that Tech cameras have become so popular is that the current line-up of wide angle lenses for Medium Format cameras are not that good. They tend to have extreme corner softness unless at aperture ranges of F14 or higher, where as you can dial in a 40mm Rodenstock to be extremely sharp across the entire frame. Mamiya’s 35mm F 3.5, 28mm F4.5 and 45mm F2.8 all have this problem. The only lens I have found in the Mamiya line up that holds up is the 55mm F2.8 but that is not a very wide angle lens.
Things have gotten very interesting now that one of the key components, the Copal shutter 0, is no longer being made. The only other solution I know of where you could use a Rodenstock or Schneider lens with a broken Copal shutter would be the Alpa Focal Plane shutter camera. This is a camera that has a focal plane shutter and it can operate independent of the need for a Copal shutter. However this only works with Rodenstock or Schneider lenses with the Alpa mount. So for Cambo and Arca camera users, this is not a good solution.
Hopefully we will see a new company come up with either a reliable manual shutter or a more versatile electronic shutter that will work in the Rodenstock and Schneider Digital lenses currently on the market.