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GDR Lenses
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PostPosted: Fri Jun 05, 2015 7:33 am    Post subject: GDR Lenses Reply with quote

As this is also the place to talk about the history of lenses I want to share some historical facts which came to my attention recently.
Obviously cameras and lenses have been also produced by political prisoners under very inhuman conditions in the communistic Germany (DDR or GDR). Victims from that times are still trying to get some compensations from western companies which made good money from this very cheaply produced GDR stuff. Obviously without any success. Because of the very old and unsafe machinery from the 1950's mainly from Russia which have been used for the production processes there was also a rather high percentage of injuries and accidents during that production process. I've found a letter from a victims organisation addressed to "Beroflex" which was a western Germany company specialized in the marketing of GDR produced photographic equipment like "Revue" and others:
http://www.andreas-schmidt-info.de/data/storage/attachments/1207952910127.jpg
I simply wanted to find out the manufacturers of the under the "Beroflex" brand sold lenses and found that per accident.
It also explains somehow why the sample variation is rather high out of this strange production processes as those prisoners have not been trained experts in such professions.
I am somehow glad that I do not have many of these lenses (which are out of service anyway) and I am not sure yet that I will ever buy another one again after that knowledge.


PostPosted: Fri Jun 05, 2015 7:47 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I doubt the use of 'slave labour' was all that high. Complex things like optical assemblies and cameras require skilled workers.

The 'copy variation' of GDR lenses is, I think, often overstated. While Meyer/Pentacon had issues with some lenses like the Domiplan 2.8/50 and Orestegon 2.8/29, there just don't seem to be bad copies of the Zeiss Jena lenses to be commonly found. I mean, I've owned something like 20 copies of the Tessar 2.8/50 and never had a bad one. I've must have had ten copies o the Sonnar 4/135 and 3.5/135 in one guise or another and again, not a bad one.

I don't think the labour force is why there were issues really, it was more to do with the increasing difficulty in obtaining the necessary materials as the communist inefficiencies grew ever worse. There is a noticeable difference in quality between the 1950s and early 60s Meyer lenses in silver barrels and the later production from the same factory under the Pentacon conglomerate and it is due to the difficulties in obtaining materials. For instance, they found it impossible to obtain the correct screws so were forced to make their own.


PostPosted: Fri Jun 05, 2015 8:52 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thomas - I wonder if you might give us a brief English language summary of the letter's content? I know nothing about this subject.

Ian makes a sensible point about complex assemblies sometimes requiring skilled workers, but the assembly of cameras like Prakticas and Zeniths is really a matter of routine and easily done by semi-skilled operatives - familiarity rather than skill is the main consideration.


PostPosted: Fri Jun 05, 2015 10:48 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Stephen,

At least I will try to explain.....

First of all you have to understand that the political crimes of the GDR regime are still not all known and there are several historical commissions in place in Germany who deal with the subject and go thru all documents which are at least to a great extent still available. It was rather easy to end up in such prisons for several years for just criticism of the regime or for an unsuccessful trial to leave the country.

The letter was issued by an German NGO dealing with such German questions about the circumstances during the communistic regime in the GDR addressed to "Beroflex", a western Germany marketing company for mainly eastern Germany photographic products of that time about the camera "Praktica" and the related lenses which have been produced to a great extent by political prisoners from a prison in Cottbus/DDR. It states that the Prisoners have been forced to work for the camera industry under critical circumstances as otherwise they would have been tortured or otherwise sanctioned. They had to produce 3 to 4 times more quantities than the "free workers" in the comparable "Pentacon" factories. Unlike in the free factories where they had rather up to date machinery the prisoners had to work with very old machinery mostly from Russia which have been rather unsafe additionally. As a consequence this led to many injuries and many workers lost some fingers or likewise. The dangerous production step of lens tubes is explicitly mentioned. Also the missing eye protectors for the work on the lathes led to serious eye damages.

This is only the first page of the letter. Other pages are unknown to me. So it ends telling "Beroflex" about the hard circumstances for producing their products.

I am assuming that on the unknown pages of this letter they are claiming for some compensation for their tortures during that production processes. However, that's my assumption only.

Nobody in Austria and I am assuming also in western Germany was aware that those rather cheap products distributed by Beroflex, Foto Quelle (Revue) have been made to obviously a great extent by such political prisoners. More and more stories like this are nowadays reported also by the (official) German TV channels. It's also a rather unhappy part of the German (and partly Austrian) history of the last century.


PostPosted: Fri Jun 05, 2015 3:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Interesting post. At least prisoners were making lenses in DDR. In Yugoslavia Tito's political opposition was sent to Goli Otok / Naked Island. There they were crushing rocks all days in bright sun.

I doubt Beroflex is the one to be emphasized in this story though. And optical industry of Warsaw Pact. This is political subject. There was chain of command and factory directors were not ranked really high.


PostPosted: Fri Jun 05, 2015 4:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Very interesting info.

I wonder if there was some sort of QC process being done on the items they exported? Or perhaps the British importer did QC on the imported items, sending back the duff ones?

I say this because apart from the Domiplan 2.8/50 and the Orestegon 2.8/29 I am unaware of any GDR items that were sold here that had quality issues. Yes, the Zeiss lenses often have sticky apertures and stiff focus but that is not a QC problem, it is merely the breakdown of lubricants and the ravages of time and the same thing occurs with other brands; in fact, the worst example is probably Kiron who used a grease that breaks down into an oily liquid with the result that the majority of Kiron lenses today are found with sticky irises.

This whole issue illustrates the chronic inefficiency of the centrally planned economy. As everyone knows, the Germans are the most efficient people on the plant (perhaps with the one exception of the Japanese) and even they could not make the centrally planned system work. Add in some corruption and you have a terrible situation.

When you read about the conditions the GDR lens makers had to work under, particularly from the mid 70s onwards, then it is a pretty impressive feat for Zeiss to have managed to produce what they did. The best of the Zeiss products from the East fully matched their contemporaries from the West, items such as the Pancolar 1.8/80 and Pancolar 1.4/55 for the Praktica bayonet are the equal of the equivalent Planars made in the West. Zeiss did receive priority for materials and resources over Meyer/Pentacon, so they had it somewhat easier and Pentacon really struggled, but even so, the 2.8/28, 1.8/50 and 2.8/135 Pentacons produced in the 1980s for the Praktica bayonet are the equal of their Japanese counterparts.

One of the biggest failings of the GDR was in electronics, the entire Warsaw Pact bloc was a long way behind the west in electronics, particularly IC design and fabrication. This can be clearly seen in the Pentacon Praktica cameras of the B series produced in the 1980s. They are good cameras but the electronics are unreliable so a great number of them today are faulty and it is almost always the electronics. That said, other cameras from the 70s and early 80s had electronics issues too, the Konica FT-1 is notorious for it and good luck finding a working Mamiya Z series.

It has to be said - one of the main factors for why the East was behind the West in many technologies is the military spending; too large a portion of the GDP of the Eastern bloc went into maintaining a huge military with the result that the industries producing consumer goods were chronically underfunded and often unable to obtain essential resources. The end result was that by 1990, the GDR was flying MiG-29s that were every bit as capable as the best of the west with synthetic aperture scanning radars and other electronic systems the equal of the west while at the same time the best car their citizens could hope to own was a rotten 40 year old design with a heavily polluting two-stroke engine (the Trabant).

The East's technology shouldn't be judged by what it produced for it's consumers, but by what it produced for it's military. A stark example is when a pilot defected by flying his MiG-25 Foxbat to Japan in the early 70s. The Japanese and Americans were shocked at the technology used in this plane, from the titanium structure to the massive and immensely powerful Foxfire radar, it was a superior high level interceptor to anything possessed by the West and the Americans admitted, they couldn't have built an equivalent aircraft as they couldn't duplicate the metallurgy used in both the fuselage and the engines.


PostPosted: Fri Jun 05, 2015 4:43 pm    Post subject: Quality control Reply with quote

I do not know whether there was forced labour in the Zeiss factories, but they did have quality control. If you look at the Tessar of a Werra for instance, you will find a symbol looking like a ring or an o on top a number 1. That is the prime export quality. Lower ranks had other symbols and went to other markets.

p.


PostPosted: Fri Jun 05, 2015 4:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ian,

In general you may be right with your analysis of the general commercial production versus the military investments. Similar situation in Russia where they manage to built more reliable spaceships than the U.S. but fail to produce reliable cars till date.

However, that's not new at all for me. The interesting and new part for me is that the forced political prisoners to produce very cheap photographic products for export. What I do not know is whether this was done only for Beroflex or for others too. But as explicitly "Praktica" cameras and lenses are mentioned I think that this was a general issue.

There is also a similar story around affecting the production of furniture for "IKEA", the famous Swedish furniture distributor.
I did know, that the cheap furniture was produced in the former eastern Block countries because there was a problem with poisonous chemicals which polluted the homes of the western customers. That was a rather big issue in the 1980's here in Austria and as the reason for that the production processes of the eastern countries was mentioned. But I've seen now a similar attempt to get compensation from IKEA for the affected DDR prisoners.

Who knows what else will come up sooner or later since nobody is hiding those "DDR secrets" any-longer as the responsible people are dead already.

Finally nobody can do anything about today. Historically it's interesting anyway and at least a possible additional explanation of the quality issues of the GDR products.


PostPosted: Fri Jun 05, 2015 4:54 pm    Post subject: Re: Quality control Reply with quote

paulhofseth wrote:
I do not know whether there was forced labour in the Zeiss factories, but they did have quality control. If you look at the Tessar of a Werra for instance, you will find a symbol looking like a ring or an o on top a number 1. That is the prime export quality. Lower ranks had other symbols and went to other markets.
p.


Similar procedure as in Russia. The crap was sold domestic and only the better ones went for export. In that respect, yes, they had a QC-system. But none which is comparable to western standards. The reason behind was simply to get as much as possible of the "good western money", i.e. to export as much as possible.


PostPosted: Fri Jun 05, 2015 6:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I would not entierely agree on "crap at home, gold for export".

I have numerous soviet lens, both export and domestic versions, no difference in quality, besides lettering. even more I have Helios 44-K4 lens with english letters printed skewed - seems like ring slipped from machine when text was applied, but it was hapily sold for export.


PostPosted: Fri Jun 05, 2015 8:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

CuriousOne wrote:
I would not entierely agree on "crap at home, gold for export".

I have numerous soviet lens, both export and domestic versions, no difference in quality, besides lettering. even more I have Helios 44-K4 lens with english letters printed skewed - seems like ring slipped from machine when text was applied, but it was hapily sold for export.


I am on your side. Wink

I have all of my Russian lenses from the domestic Russian market and imported them myself to save a lot of money and all of them are far better at least in terms of mechanical quality than my GDR lenses. I couldn't compare the optical quality as almost all of my GDR lenses are already out of service and therefore I stopped the purchase of additional ones already some years ago to avoid further troubles.

At least it's an old saying that they most probably searched for the better or nicer ones for export. I don't really know whether this is really true.


PostPosted: Fri Jun 05, 2015 8:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thomas, I just read that what you started.

May I advise as a Moderator, to stay away from political issues. This is a lens and camera forum and
such issues tend to drift away very easily into some political discussions, which we don't want and allow
to have here.

Stay on the technical side please Wink


PostPosted: Fri Jun 05, 2015 9:57 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

kds315* wrote:
Thomas, I just read that what you started.

May I advise as a Moderator, to stay away from political issues. This is a lens and camera forum and
such issues tend to drift away very easily into some political discussions, which we don't want and allow
to have here.

Stay on the technical side please Wink



Dear Klaus,

I considered this issue rather as a historical technical and not as an political issue and thought that some historical background information would be OK for this forum. Even more as I was emphasizing on the technical impacts and not so on the political aspects of the story.
The question is where to establish the "red line" when it comes to some historical background information about quality issues of let's say Russian or Chinese or German or I don't know what kind of equipment and possible causes.
On the other side, what is considered as political issue at all?
Where does it start?
All of this informations are freely available on internet and are also broadcasted by TV channels.

So should I take it from your advice that discussions about the history of production processes of photographic equipment is not allowed at all on this forum?

This would not allow to talk about quality differences and their possible causes in a historical context at all from my point of view.

It is a matter of fact that especially WWII had a very big impact on the German industry for photographic equipment and I do not want to discuss about any reasons for the cause of WWII. Likewise I don't want to discuss about the DDR regime as such. It's history anyway.

May I ask you therefore please to be a little bit more specific as to what is here considered to be a political and not a historical issue?

What is the real policy of this forum?

I will then decide how to proceed in respect to my further contribution, which may in the worst case possibly result to be again a reading only guest and not a supporting member any longer. I don't know yet.

Kind regards,


PostPosted: Sat Jun 06, 2015 12:07 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Politics aside.....a few years ago I owned a Russian Lada Niva that I used for competitive 4x4 trials, and I feel that it was truly representative of the ethos of Soviet manufacturing, especially as the Lada Niva 4x4 was pretty much a Soviet designed vehicle, with a lot of old Fiat technology thrown in. The Niva is a true giant in the 4x4 world, it deserves it's place up there with the Landcruiser, Landrover and Jeep, and I've competed with all of them. The Niva has some superb design and equally superb manufacturing, but it has crap in seemingly equal measures. I threw the original Niva engine out and just about doubled it's horsepower with a bigger Fiat engine, and the transmission never failed, it was strong, small light and superbly designed, especially compared to Land Rovers agricultural and basically weak transmission. But on the downside, the factory must have been short of electrical cable and the whole car had the same coloured wire - pink - for live and earth in some places! None of the door locks worked, the seats collapsed, the interior trim actually melted from the heat of the exhaust and bits fell off at random. In the end the bad outweighed the good and although I still say it's the best 4x4 I've ever had, certainly the most fun, it was just too high maintenance to keep as a competitive 4x4.
And like I say, I think this is representative of Soviet manufacturing back in the day, and indeed a lot of other countries suffered the same way as quality control, which I worked in back in the 1970's, was still an emerging discipline. For me, there's no reason to think that lenses, cameras or any other product they produced in the Soviet Union wasn't built with the same manufacturing ethos, which was basically a belief that getting quantity out of the door at all cost was more important than getting a high quality product out of the door. Which is my old Lada had a basically pink wiring loom and my friends with Lada's didn't.


PostPosted: Sat Jun 06, 2015 12:24 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

kds315* wrote:
Thomas, I just read that what you started.

May I advise as a Moderator, to stay away from political issues. This is a lens and camera forum and
such issues tend to drift away very easily into some political discussions, which we don't want and allow
to have here.

Stay on the technical side please Wink


I think it's almost impossible to discuss the history of photo-equipment manufacture without touching on "political" aspects sometimes. The development of the German industry in the 1930s and its separate re-birth in the Federal and Democratic Republics in the 1950s and 60s is inextricably connected with economic policies that were driven by differing political ideologies. The same is true for the Japanese industry whose evolution was substantially guided by state policies.

If the forum were to insist on a blanket prohibition of political factors in the story of photographic progress, then it would be a sadly misplaced policy. However, I suspect that the Moderator's intervention is aimed at more specific and emotive aspects of politics which aren't concerned with the technical and commercial development of the camera industries - perhaps it would be timely to point out that such issues can be aired in the "Dive Bar" ?


PostPosted: Sat Jun 06, 2015 12:25 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

David, interesting story. I had a similar experience with my "normal" Lada station wagon which was based on the old Fiat 124 back in the late 70's. Finally I've sold it again to get rid of all the troubles. Since that time I never tried one again. Wink
In Austria there is a small company which imports Russian "Dnepr" motobikes and before they sell those bikes to the Austrian customers, every bike is totally disassembled including the engine and then reassembled again in order to guarantee the correct functionality and to increase the lifetime. They have reported that in the Russian factories the bikes are only assembled somehow and not according to the specifications which is the cause of the most defects, especially of engine failures. A correct reassembled Dnepr is a rather reliable bike and lasts almost forever. It's BTW a copy of a very old pre-war BMW bike and also available with side wagon. Quite funny. A new Oldtimer.


PostPosted: Sat Jun 06, 2015 2:05 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Russian equipment is often designed to be used by semi-educated peasant folk and work and keep on working in the worst conditions with the bare minimum of maintenance.

One good example is the famous ZiL truck, they made them for many decades with hardly any changes and exported them all over the world. The saying about them was 'if it burns, ZiL will run on it' which meant the damn things would run on just about any fuel from paraffin to heating oil. The stories of peasants running them on homemade potato spirits are probably not so apochryphal.


PostPosted: Sat Jun 06, 2015 4:02 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yes,

actually, russian lens were made by drunk bears, which were playing balalaika at evenings Smile



have any of you visited any camera lens manufacturing facility ever?


PostPosted: Sat Jun 06, 2015 7:23 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

but Thomas, the document you show and which I read is written in Bavaria in 1988 !
This document is interesting but its content should be interpreted .


PostPosted: Sat Jun 06, 2015 8:20 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

scsambrook wrote:
kds315* wrote:
Thomas, I just read that what you started.

May I advise as a Moderator, to stay away from political issues. This is a lens and camera forum and
such issues tend to drift away very easily into some political discussions, which we don't want and allow
to have here.

Stay on the technical side please Wink


I think it's almost impossible to discuss the history of photo-equipment manufacture without touching on "political" aspects sometimes. The development of the German industry in the 1930s and its separate re-birth in the Federal and Democratic Republics in the 1950s and 60s is inextricably connected with economic policies that were driven by differing political ideologies. The same is true for the Japanese industry whose evolution was substantially guided by state policies.

If the forum were to insist on a blanket prohibition of political factors in the story of photographic progress, then it would be a sadly misplaced policy. However, I suspect that the Moderator's intervention is aimed at more specific and emotive aspects of politics which aren't concerned with the technical and commercial development of the camera industries - perhaps it would be timely to point out that such issues can be aired in the "Dive Bar" ?

I could not agree more. I also see no reason why not to include that in the discussion, mainly because of the impact of political decisions on local production in totalitarian societies.


PostPosted: Sat Jun 06, 2015 8:38 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

memetph wrote:
but Thomas, the document you show and which I read is written in Bavaria in 1988 !
This document is interesting but its content should be interpreted .


I've tried to translate the document to the best of my possibilities. I don't know what you are missing.
You're right that this document is from a NGO located in Bavaria in 1988 and was initiated by ex-prisoners who suffered from those productions processes and criticizing Beroflex for their marketing strategies of such produced camera equipment and that Beroflex made obviously good money on the torture of the unlucky prisoners who didn't do anything wrong but just wanted to be free like people in other western societies.
That's actually all I can say about it. The most important factor is, that this document is an evidence that camera equipment was produced like this at all. At least from my point of view. That's more or less all I can say for the moment and that is obviously not wished here in this forum anyway.


PostPosted: Sat Jun 06, 2015 8:59 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

CuriousOne wrote:
Yes,

actually, russian lens were made by drunk bears, which were playing balalaika at evenings Smile

have any of you visited any camera lens manufacturing facility ever?


Great picture!

I didn't visit any of these facilities myself but on the occasion when Leica was nearly bankrupt some years ago and an Austrian camera fan with rather deep pockets took over the whole camera division to keep them alive, there was a interesting report on Austrian TV where the have shown quite interesting details of the whole production processes at the Leica facilities and also about the history of Leica. Obviously it was a good move for Leica that it is now an Austrian company... Wink


PostPosted: Sat Jun 06, 2015 10:16 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

tb_a wrote:
memetph wrote:
but Thomas, the document you show and which I read is written in Bavaria in 1988 !
This document is interesting but its content should be interpreted .


I've tried to translate the document to the best of my possibilities. I don't know what you are missing.
You're right that this document is from a NGO located in Bavaria in 1988 and was initiated by ex-prisoners who suffered from those productions processes and criticizing Beroflex for their marketing strategies of such produced camera equipment and that Beroflex made obviously good money on the torture of the unlucky prisoners who didn't do anything wrong but just wanted to be free like people in other western societies.
That's actually all I can say about it. The most important factor is, that this document is an evidence that camera equipment was produced like this at all. At least from my point of view. That's more or less all I can say for the moment and that is obviously not wished here in this forum anyway.

I don't think that this document is an evidence for the facts which are mentionned in it . This is not the way historians work.


PostPosted: Sat Jun 06, 2015 3:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

memetph wrote:

I don't think that this document is an evidence for the facts which are mentionned in it . This is not the way historians work.


It is your right to believe whatever you like. We are luckily living in a free part of the world.

I don't have any doubt's that this is a true story as this is no single event purely for the camera industry but also affecting other branches. I am very interested in the German and Austrian history especially of the last century and read a lot about such issues and I have seen ALL of such reports on the official German TV channels. No other country is more professional and precise in reporting every bit and byte of the own history than Germany, even if it hurts like that.
Furthermore this information is available thru the German Wikipedia site of Beroflex since more than 3 years. If there would be any doubt about, then such such pages are usually removed quite soon. Obviously nobody came up sofar that this is only a fairytale as otherwise this wouldn't be still available. Especially the German language pages of Wikipedia are maintained quite professionally.

Nothing more to say....


PostPosted: Sat Jun 06, 2015 11:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I have no idea about the facts and I don't want to discuss them. My remark was just that this document cannot be presented as an evidence as you wrote simply due to its origin and its purpose.