This is the story of the Enna Werk Ultra-Lithagon 28mm F/3.5, and the dawn of the age of wide-angle SLR lenses. these days, a 28mm prime lens may seem yawningly ordinary, but prior to 1953 no such lenses existed. The Ultra-Lithagon has the distinction of being the second 28mm lens ever made (the first being the famed R11 created by Pierre Angenieux in Paris in 1953). Barely two years after Angenieux’s ground-breaking achievement, Johann Lautenbacher working at Enna-Werks in Munich, Germany released his version of the 28mm retro-focus lens. Separate from this fascinating history, the Ultra-Lithagon also happens to be a lovely lens capable of superb results. If, like me, you love manual lenses from mid-century Germany, then this classic lens is not to be missed.
Those who have read any of my previous articles will know that I make no attempt to hide my penchant for silver lenses made in Germany in the 1950s. That obsession started when I purchased a mint condition Zeiss VEB Contax D camera and then set myself a goal of owning a full set of period correct lenses to shoot with it. After much frustration and many curses, my repairman gave up on the shutter curtains of the Contax, but my passion for the lenses continues unabated.
I already owned two versions of the Contax Biotar 58mm f/2, the Schneider-Kreuznach Xenar 50mm f/2.8, and my beloved Carl Zeiss Jena Biotar 75mm f/1.5. All that was required to fill my stable of lenses was a wide angle lens, and if I wanted a silver lens, the Ultra-Lithagon was the obvious choice
Specifications of the Enna-Werk München Ultra-Lithagon 28mm f/3.5
- Manufacturer : Enna-Werk München, Germany
- Patents : US Patent No. 2959100A, Deutsches Bundespatent 1062028 & DE1228820
- Designer : Johann Lautenbacher
- Production Dates : 1955 – 1959
- Production Amounts : 1,600 in this version and 8,500 in Enna Sockel mount
- Design : 6 Elements in 6 Groups; enhanced retro-focus design
- Angle of View : 75°
- Aperture : Preset aperture f/3.5 – f/22
- Aperture Blades : 10 blades
- Minimum Focus : 0.3m (12”) – ∞
- Material : Aluminum barrel and brass lens mount
- Dimensions H x W : 50mm x 53mm (2” x 1 1/8”)
- Filter Thread Diameter : 52mm
- Weight : 112 grams (4 ounces)
- Mounts : M42, Exakta, Praktina
In 1950, the Angénieux Retro-focus Type R1 35mm f/2.5 (France) was the world’s first retro-focus wide angle lens for SLR cameras. Three year later in 1953, the company again made a world’s first with the release of the even wider 28mm retro-focus lens. Angénieux named his lens “Retrofocus” to indicate that the focus was shifted backward. This term was originally used by Taylor, Taylor & Hobson to refer to their inverted telephoto lens. Although Angénieux attempted to unsuccessfully trademark the term, it has now become a generic term for this family of lenses.
Barely two years later in 1955, Enna-Werks released their version of a 28mm retro-focus lens, the Ultra-Lithagon, so called because they had already released their 35mm Lithagon, and Ultra signifies the wider field of view. Enna-Werk first unveiled the lens at Photokina in 1956, and it was first mentioned in the press in Modern Camera Magazine (UK) and Popular Photography (USA) in January 1957.
The fact that Enna became only the second manufacturer in the world to release a retro-focus 28mm lens was a significant achievement at the time. The lens was designed by head optics designer at Enna-Werks, Johann Lautenbacher, who forms part of a small group people who were the first inventors of retro-focus wide-angle lenses, including Pierre Angenieux (Etablissements Angenieux de Paris), Günter Klemt (Schneider-Kreuznach), Harry Zöllner, Rudolf Solisch and Wolf Dannberg at VEB Carl Zeiss Jena. You can read more about this history in my article, Carl Zeiss Jena Flektogon Wide Angle Lens History and Review.
Lautenbacher did not copy Angenieux’s 28mm lens formula, although the Ultra-Lithagon is a similar optical system of retro-focusing six elements in five groups, as can be seen in the image above.
Although the first Ultra-Lithagon was in M42 mount, like my lens, the lens formula was later used for OEM lenses for Argus as the Sandmar, Corfield Periflex and Rectaflex. The second generation of the lens released in 1960, and came in the Zebra stripe design in Enna Sockel mount, which was also sold as the Porst Super Weitwinkel 28mm f/3.5.
A Short History of Enna-Werk München
Enna-Werk was founded in 1920 in Munich as an “optical institute” (a laboratory for the production of lenses and optical components) by Ing. Alfred Neumann. There is scant available history about Enna-Werk, which is sad because they created some of the world’s most renowned lens developments of the 1950s, such as the six element Ennaston (later Ennalyt) 85mm f/1.5, and the Enna Munchen Tele-Zoom 85-250mm f/4 for ALPA, the second 35mm zoom lens ever made.
There are two apocryphal stories about how the company’s name originated. One version is that Neumann named it after his daughter Anne, transposing the letters backwards to create Enna. However, I believe that the more obvious version of the origin of the name is that it is merely phonetic for the initials of the founder after the European method of using surnames first, thus Neumann Alfred becomes N.A., pronounced ENN-A in German. The fact he has two of the letter N in his Christian name also makes me think this is the most obvious origin. After Neumann’s death, his son-in-law, who was married to Neumann’s daughter Anne, perhaps allowed the first version to circulate.
Timeline of Enna-Werk München
- 1920 : Enna-Werk is founded in Munich “München” Germany by Ing. Alfred Neumann.
- 1927 : Dr. Appelt senior joins his father-in-law’s company.
- 1944 : During WWII, the company used forced labour to supply lenses for the German military. In 1945 the plant was destroyed by allied air raids and was relocated to Ebersberg, near Munich.
- 1945 : After the end of WWII and the death of Ing. Neumann, his son-in-law, Dr. Werner Appelt, takes over the management of the company which was renamed Enna-Werk Optik-Gerätebau Dr. Appelt GmbH & Co. KG. This was the start of the most productive period in the company’s history.
- 1948 : Reconstruction of the original Enna factory in 3 Konradinstrasse in the Giesing neighbourhood of Munich.
- 1950 : Enna starts selling lenses branded with their own name, prior to this the company was an OEM manufacturer making lenses for other companies. Branded Enna-Werk’s lenses included lenses for AkA, Alpa, Argus (Sandmar), Balda, Bolta, Braun, Corfield, Dacora, Edixa (Wirgin), Feinwerktechnik, Franka, Ihagee, Leidolf, Lipca, Photavit, Photo Porst (Revue), Photo Quelle, Regula and they even made lenses for Polaroid. However, despite being an OEM manufacturer producing consumer grade lenses, the company was also able to produce world-class lenses. This idea is reinforced by the fact that they produced lenses for Alpa in Switzerland, a Swiss firm which only accepted the highest quality lenses.
- 1952 : Enna released their first M42 mount lenses for SLR cameras and was the first manufacturer in Germany to produce a wide-angle lens, the 35mm f/3.5 Lithagon. During the 1950s, Dr. Siegfried Schäfer was the primary design engineer at Enna Werk. An avid photographer himself, Schäfer based some of his designs on drawings by Ludwig Bertele, the designer of the famed Sonnar.
- 1956 : Prior to 1956 Enna lenses read “Enna-Werk München” on the lens ring, and from 1957 onwards they read “ENNA München.”
- 1958 : Enna releases the world’s fastest wide-angle lens for SLRs, the Super-Lithagon 35mm f/1.9 designed for their revolutionary Sockel lens system “Springblendensockel.” This was a precursor to Tamron’s Adapt-all system, and it allowed a photographer to have a set of lenses for SLR cameras with a variety of focal lengths from 24 – 600 mm. Adapters were available for M42, Praktina and Exa mounts with lenses named Lithagon, Ennalyt and Revuenon (Porst).
- 1961 : Release of the Enna Munchen Tele-Zoom 85-250mm f/4 for Alpa in Switzerland, just two years after the release of Voigtlander’s Zoomar, the World’s first zoom lens. This was an astonishing achievement for a small company. Dr. Seigfried Schäfer of Enna, along with Frank G. Back, was the co-inventor of one the first commercially available zoom lenses, the Enna Munchen Tele-Zoom 85-250mm f/4 in Alpa Mount. You can read more about the lens on Steve Gandy’s Camera Quest where he writes “Although the West German manufacturer Enna is generally is not considered among the best lens makers, the quality of this zoom’s construction is really outstanding. In my opinion its construction is superior to Angenieux, and the equal to Kinoptic. It is also one of the rarest Alpa lenses.”
- 1962 : After the death of Dr. Appelt senior, his son, Dr. Werner Appelt junior, takes over management.
- 1964 : The four-millionth Enna lens produced, a telephoto zoom, is handed over to the Münchner Stadtmuseum or City Museum of Munich.
- 1965 : Establishment of the company’s own plastic injection moulding shop and toolmaking department.
- 1968 : Start of production in the new factory in Wegscheid near Passau. The Munich plant was expanded.
- 1972 : During the Olympic games in Munich, Enna became an official Olympic supplier which allowed them to use the Olympic five ring symbol on their products. By this time, camera and lens production in Germany was fast losing ground to manufacturers in Japan. Sensing the winds of change, Enna wisely chose to diversify and began to concentrate on the production of plastic parts. Initially they provided plastic parts to the camera industry and then branched out to the production of slide mounts, slide magazines and slide projectors.
- 1986 : Due to a decrease in company profits from 1983 onwards caused by the downturn in the German camera industry, the company sold their original factory building in central Munich and relocated most of the production to the factory in Wegscheid. The original factory building in Munich had become too valuable for use as a factory, and workers in Munich were paid much higher wages than at Wegscheid, which is a rural area on the border with Austria.
- 1990 : Finally, the company offices was relocated from Munich to 26 Raiffeisenstrasse, Wegscheid. At the same time the company ceased production of slide equipment and began to concentrate on plastic production. The optics division by this time was concentrating on high profit items for the German defense industry, such as optics for tank simulators. They also entered into cooperation with BRAUN PHOTO TECHNIK, Nuremberg.
- 1991 : As a result of German reunification, the company decided to sell their optics division and focus solely on the production of plastics.
- 1997 : Resumption of optics production.
- Today : Enna-Werk is still in business and trading as ENNA Werk Dr. Appelt GmbH & Co. KG. Although the company mainly produces injection moulded plastics, they proudly recognise their history and still use the original company logo showing a lens element.
Shooting the Ultra Lithagon
Prior to buying this lens I did a great deal of research. Reports from friends and the reviews that I read almost universally stated that the Enna Werk Ultra-Lithagon 28mm F/3.5 is a great lens. I haven’t shot the later version of the lens and the optical design of that later model is different (Enna may have improved the lens coatings) so my write up here is strictly referencing the early version.
Due to Covid-19 it’s been difficult to get out and shoot until recently, and I haven’t shot with a wide-angle lens for a while, so it took me some time to get back in the zone with composition and using this type of lens again. Once I got back in the groove I found the lens very easy to use. The focus feels just right, well damped and with a lovely feel. The quality of construction of the lens is very good, precisely machined, and the optics are superb. The lens is smaller than I expected and quite light due to its aluminum construction, and it works perfectly on my Contax Aria. However, like my Flektogon, the lens really needs a lens hood as it is prone to flare. It takes a 52mm crew in lens hood, and I don’t have one yet, so I just avoided shooting into the light.
As far as the lens’ performance, it lived up the reports I’d heard. Center sharpness is excellent from f/3.5 to f/8 and starts to suffer a little from f/11 and f/16. Images are sharp even wide open, with minimal vignetting. The lens has a minimum focus distance of 30cm (12 inches) from the film plane, which works surprisingly well, capable of producing lovely close-up images. Despite the mediocre f/3.5 aperture the lens is capable of really lovely Bokeh, as exhibited by the shot I made of a vintage car hood mascot.
The lens features a manually operated pre-set aperture, a common feature of early 1950s German lenses. Quite simple to use, you select the aperture you want to shoot, set that manually, and then you can open to the widest aperture to help focus, and then flick the aperture ring to the setting you have selected to shoot. Although the system was designed to allow easier focus on early SLR camera with dim viewfinders it still works just as well if you adapt the lens to shoot on a digital camera.
The Ultra-Lithagon worked beautifully with the Ilford XPR Super film, producing sharp and contrasty images, and even though it’s a single-coated lens it worked very well with color film as well. As I have discussed in my previous articles, lenses from different manufacturers often have their own distinctive color cast. Zeiss, Voigtlander and Soviet lenses tend to produce images with a yellowish tinge and enhance red. Canon FD, Rodenstock, and my favorite Schneider-Kreuznach lenses have a cooler palette, tending to enhance blues and increase vibrancy and contrast.
From the images I’ve made with this lens, it seems Enna lenses tend to have moderate contrast, produce softer colors, and enhance redness. However, it is important to note that these shots were all taken on film and shooting any vintage lens on a digital camera will produce very different images.
Another unusual feature of the lens is that it is one of the best lenses ever made for Ultraviolet photography, going down to down to 325Mm, making it better than the famed EL-Nikkor 63mm f/3.5. You can read more about the lens’ use for UV photography in the article Enna Lithagon 24mm, 28mm and 35mm by Enricco Savazzi.
Although the Ultra-Lithagon is a rare and collectible lens it can still be picked up for comparatively reasonable prices considering its rarity and quality. According to the author Hartmut Thiele, only 1,600 of this early silver version of the lens were manufactured; 1,000 in M42 mount, 500 in Exakta mount and 100 in Praktina mount. The majority of the Ultra-Lithagon design (8,500 pieces) were made in the later Zebra style for Enna’s Sockel System mount.
After I set my heart on the Ultra-Lithagon the road to obtaining one was long and winding, with several detours. The first copy I purchased was from a retired collector who actually sent me the 135mm Ennalyt by mistake. The second copy I bought had nasty fungus (irreparable, sadly), and I almost gave up. But determination and lens lust kept me going.
Finally, as I was trawling the net, I spotted a collection of junk for sale in South Africa for $25, and barely detectable among the fuzzy images appeared to be the very lens I was hunting. After my past experiences, I thought my luck this time was too good to be true; but I emailed the seller, asking if they could send me some extra images and lo and behold it was an Ultra-Lithagon, in used but optically clear condition. I told the seller they could keep all the other junk and just post me the lens, which they did immediately, by Sea Mail! Apparently, this was their only reasonable option, and considering the price I couldn’t complain. All I had to do was wait many long weeks for it to arrive on a slow boat from Capetown.
Many agonising weeks later it did arrive, and it was exactly as described. The lens barrel had some wear and tear, but the lens elements were spotless. All my lens hunting tribulations were worth it, and the Ultra-Lithagon not only looks lovely, but lived up to its reputation.
My friend Eric Kaas Sluis contributed a photo for this article, and sums up the lens better than myself…
“Despite its age and relatively obscurity this lens is very sharp and doesn’t have any major shortcomings at all, not in color rendering and no noticeable barrel distortion either. For a “slower” f/3.5 an excellent choice, however prices have gone up lately as it gets more followers, something I can understand. A vintage jewel this one, if you can get one, pick it up, will be worth it!!” – Eric Kaas Sluis
Want your own Enna-Werk München Ultra-Lithagon 28mm f/3.5?
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