The Daily Tofu

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Photography: Clarus MS-35 Lenses - Elgeet 4" Telephoto, Wollensak 35mm wide

PhotographyTrey TakahashiComment

An early Clarus MS-35 model with the stock 2" lens. Photo: Genazzano

Digging through a host of old film equipment being restored and repaired for a new life, I ran across two lenses that had a strange mount system and had no real immediate information available about them. One was a Wollensak f3.5 35mm wide-angle lens, the other an Elgeet f4.5 4" telephoto. Intrigued as to what these two lenses were, I spent the next few days diving deep on the web to try and find out a bit of information, and what I found pointed me to an odd little ill-fated American range-finder 35mm camera known as the Clarus MS-35 from the post-war era.

In the post-war demand for consumer cameras, a small camera company popped up in Minneapolis, MN hoping to deliver a cheaper and reliable range finder camera to rival that of German imports such as Leica or Zeiss. In 1946 the company introduced its first model dubbed the MS-35, a range finder 35mm camera. Equipped with top shelf features at a fraction of the price, the MS-35 boasted a shutter capable of 1/1000 second speeds, several interchangeable lens offerings, and a solid tank-like construction (think Argus-like).  All of these promises came at a price half that of the popular Leica, just $120 USD (or $168 for the faster f2.0 50mm lens offering). As orders came flooding in and the first wave of units arrived in the hands if consumer’s flaws were immediately discovered: the shutter was often times unreliable and misfired occasionally and would not always shoot at the right speed, and some people complained about parts locking up tearing film when trying to rewind the camera. Soon enough this America camera full of promises was dubbed a lemon and had a bit of notoriety that came with it.

The Wollensak Raptar 35mm f3.5 in its original box. 

While shutter problems did exist, some collectors and camera enthusiasts say that the camera was unjustly targeted in a smear campaign. Regardless, the damage to Clarus' reputation was done and by 1952 having only ever producing one model of camera Clarus was forced to close her doors. Today the cameras sit as relics that hardly go mentioned, after all Leicas, Zeiss, Kodak, ad Argus usually come immediately to people's mind for people searching for a vintage camera. Still, this interesting camera had a lot to offer that might be quickly overlooked.

The clarus came with a few different lens offerings that were all interchange thanks to a (proprietary) screw mount. Most of the lenses offered including the base kit lens were manufactured by the Wollensak company; a company well known for their lenses in the 40s through the 60s before being absorbed into 3M. Now, for the Claris in particular Wollensak made produced a stock Velostigmat f2.8 50mm lens for the standard kit lens for the camera. While the Velostigmat lens was a high quality lens in its own right, the company also produced several lens offering for the camera as part of their Rapter line for those looking for higher precision lenses: Wollensak Raptar 35mm f3.5, Wollensak Raptar 101mm f3.5, and a Wollensak Raptar 2" f2.0. While out there and known because of their place in advertisements and in the hands of several collectors, they are incredibly hard to find.

The Elgeet 4" comes in a beautiful leather box with a velvet lining.

Perhaps even more intriguing is another lens offered in the unique Clarus mount: the Elgeet 4" f4.5 telephoto lens. Elgeet (now known as Navatar) was known for making high precision military/commercial grade optics but they also produced a wide variety of film lenses for 8mm and 16mm cameras. As far as I am aware, this is one of the few (if not only) Elgeet lenses manufactured for a 35mm film camera.

Now understanding the history behind these lenses, I had two very rare pieces of glass, but unfortunately no real way of shooting with them. Amongst the equipment they were found, there was not a Clarus MS-35 camera and for awhile they were shelved. That is until I discovered an eBay seller by the name ramir73 who sells a host of lens adapters for rarer glass to be adapted to full-frame mirrorless cameras. Shooting primarily with a Sony Alpha a7R, I picked up the adapter to hopefully bring some new life into these lenses

Elgeet primarily made telephoto cine lenses (c-mount) for 16mm and 8mm film cameras.

Update: Unfortunately the the adapter mentioned in this article was not able to work for the Sony Alpha a7R as intended due to it bypassing the original lens' helical (that is the section of the lens that moves the elements forward and back for focusing purposes). Hopefully an adapter can be made in the near future to bring these old lenses a breath of new life. Until then, keep posted!

Update #2: 7/29/2015: Contacting the same manufacturer of these rare lens adapters, it appears that he is able to make an adapter using the helical, and just mounting to the adapter using the original MS-35 screw mount. Time will tell if these lenses will have a fresh life breathed into them.

-Trey Takahashi