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Schneider vs ISCO: A Guide to Cinelux Lenses


Schneider Cineluxes and ISCO Ultra Mcs and Cine-Xenon

Schneider Cineluxes and ISCO Ultra Mcs and Cine-Xenon


There’s enough buzz within the film world that many ears perk up when you mention a “Schneider Cinelux Ultra MC”. Here at The Boutique Lens we’ve taken special interest in these lenses because they possess excellent qualities such as their large maximum apertures that lend to image creating power that is unsurpassed by native glass.

But, the knowledge tends to go blank when other similar lenses are mentioned. So, we wanted to bring this article to the public to talk about specific differences between these similar lenses.

In this article, we’ll cover:

  • The “Why” Of Using Cinelux Lenses on Your Camera

  • The History of the Cinelux

  • The Various Lenses Related to the Cinelux

  • A Discussion on ISCO vs Schneider Cineluxes

  • A Ranking of the Related Lenses in Terms of Image Quality

  • Which Cinelux Family Lens Fits Which Camera

Schneider Cinelux mounted on a Fujifilm GFX 50S Medium Format Digital Camera

Schneider Cinelux mounted on a Fujifilm GFX 50S Medium Format Digital Camera

Why Use “An Old Projection Lens” On Your Camera?

Why use a theater lens adapted for your camera? Cinelux lenses offer what many photographers want, but what most companies don’t think the photography market at large can sustain—Amazing sharpness and character at the large aperture of f/2 while being able to accommodate a large coverage area.

So, why are Cineluxes such a good answer? The theater industry at large didn’t only want sharp lenses with great color rendition, but also large aperture lenses to allow for more light to pass through, thus conserving their projector light bulbs.

The high-quality, large 70mm movie film needed a lens that accommodates an image that large—and this happens to be a great fit for 120mm film, as well as larger than full-frame sensors.

Fast Glass for Medium Format Cameras

So, to answer “why use a theater lens on your camera?” The character and quality of these lenses is stunning and one of a kind—amazing sharpness, impressive depth of field, buttery smooth bokeh, super good contrast, wonderful colors and all the rest. Plus, they’re considerably small (some, such as the 90mm Super Cinelux or the 105mm Cinelux Ultra, can fit in the palm of your hand), lightweight, and many have functional hoods build right into the barrel.

If you’re searching for a fast, good portrait length lens for your Phase One, GFX, Pentax 645/67, Mamiya 645, or other medium format camera, Cinelux lenses are the best options available in terms of image character and quality.

Schneider Cinelux Ultra MC 105mm f/2

Schneider Cinelux Ultra MC 105mm f/2

The History of Schneider and ISCO Cineluxes

Word to the wise: If you’re not a history-oriented person, feel free to skip this part. However, do know, to understand Cinelux lenses and the ISCO vs Schneider debate, it’s best to first understand the relation between Schneider and ISCO.

The Beginnings

We begin in 1913 when the original Schneider company, Optische Anstalt Jos. Schneider & Co. (later named Schneider Kreuznach) was founded by Joseph Schneider in Bad Kreuznach, Germany. Several years later in 1936, ISCO was formed as a subsidiary.

Former CEO of Schneider Optics states, “The company ISCO was formed as a subsidiary of the Joseph Schneider Optical Company (JOSCO, as renamed in 1921) in 1936, prior to World War II, reportedly by order of the German Military High Command as a way of distributing critical military production so as to make the production of optics (aerial reconnaissance cameras, binoculars, anti-aircraft sights, etc.) less vulnerable to enemy attack.”

The Rise of Cinelux

Skip ahead a few years, in 1972, the U.S. subsidiary, Schneider Corporation of America was founded (later renamed Schneider Optics by former CEO Dwight Lindsey). Around 1976, Schneider Corporation of America bought some significant property from the Kollmorgen Corporation (you may know that name from the Super Snaplites we sell).

Among that property was their inventory, trade-names, and lens designs among which the “Cinelux” was present. Kollmogen had made this line of lenses called “Cinelux” during the 1950s, and after the purchase, the Schneider Corporation of America sold the remaining lenses over the next few years.

Around 1977, Schneider Corp. of America Vice President, Glenn Bergren collaborated with Karl Macher who was Schneider Kreuznach’s then chief optical engineer, to invest in a line of six element f/2 projection lenses. These lenses were to be branding “Cinelux-Ultra”. This line was fully designed by Schneider Kreuznach, manufactured by ISCO, and then also sold by ISCO worldwide. However, in the United States, the line was sold by the Schneider Corporation of America.

In 1978, Schneider Kreuznach quickly won the Technical Achievement Award of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (equivalent of an Oscar, in the technical film world) for this new Cinelux Ultra design. However, the “good times” didn’t last without some hiccups.

ISCO Ultra MC 110mm f/2 adapted to Pentax 67 film camera

ISCO Ultra MC 110mm f/2 adapted to Pentax 67 film camera

Troubled Times and Changing Ownership

In 1982, Schneider Kreuznach went bankrupt, shortly followed by ISCO. Schneider Kreuznach was quickly purchased back from the bank by it’s largest non-family investor. ISCO was purchased back by three parties: Kurt Lindstedt (the then managing director of ISCO), the Optical Radiation Corporation (who became the distributor of ISCO lenses in the U.S. cinema market), and an third unnamed party.

Schneider and ISCO parted ways for a while and even had a legal battle over the name “Cinelux”, which Schneider won. In 1983 and the years following, the range of products designed by Schneider increased to include the Super Cinelux and Cine-Xenon (1985) lines, among others. ISCO continued as a separate company for some time, developing various product lines.

Back on the Up and Up and Reunited

Schneider again won the Technical Achievement Award of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2000 for designing their Super Cinelux lenses and then again in 2005 for the Premiere variable aperture lens. Meanwhile, in 2003 ISCO filed for bancruptcy. However, ISCO cancelled the insolvency proceedings and in 2008, Schneider Kreuznach re-adopted their former subsidiary, ISCO Optics, who then over the next few years merged as a division of Schneider.

After the merger, Schneider reportedly continued the ISCO lines as a broader selection as well as slightly lower price-point items within the cinema market. It was in the 2009 that ISCO’s name was official changed to Schneider Kreuznach Isco Division GmbH & Co. KG.

Today, Schneider still produces industrial optics, cine optics, photo optics (medium format lenses for the Phase One XF) and filters, as well as some precision engineering equipment. Little if any information is publicly available today about the current operations or existence of the former ISCO.

Photo of Schneider Cine-Xenon 100mm f/2 Lens Adapted for Pentax 645

Photo of Schneider Cine-Xenon 100mm f/2 Lens Adapted for Pentax 645

What Are the Names of the Cinelux Lenses?

Some of the most popular, or perhaps the most infamous lenses that are tightly related the Cinelux Ultra MC are as follows:

  • Schneider Cinelux Ultra MC f/2 (and smaller, e.g., f/2.1, f/2.3, etc.)

  • Schneider Super Cinelux f/2

  • Schneider Cine-Xenon (or just Xenon) f/2

  • Schneider Cinelux Premiere f/1.7

  • ISCO Cinelux f/2 (and smaller)

  • ISCO Ultra MC f/2 (and smaller)

  • ISCO Super Kiptar f/1.7 and f/1.8

  • ISCO Cinelux Xenon MC f/1.6, f/1.7, and f/1.8

Schneider Super Cinelux

The Super Cinelux was released as an updated and improved design to the Cinelux Ultra. However, the Super Cinelux appears to only have been a title used for Schneider lenses 100mm and under.

At one point in time, the Ultra MC was the title used for the focal lengths of from at least 95mm-180mm, but was probably replaced at 100mm and less by the Super Cinelux.

Click here to view Schneider’s advertisement for the Super Cinelux.

To date, we have not found any Super Cineluxes which feature the ability to unscrew the barrel so as to divide the sections of elements. On the contrary, Cinelux Ultras and Cine-Xenons all seem to posses this ability.

It also appears that the Cine-Xenon (see next section below), was released shortly after the Super Cinelux, but where the Super Cinelux only went up to 100mm, the Cine-Xenon provided a full replacement from focal length from 30mm-180mm.

For this reason, we optically consider the Super Cinelux and Cine-Xenon to be similar if not identical.

Schneider 90mm f/2 Super Cinelux Lens

Schneider 90mm f/2 Super Cinelux Lens

As with any Cinelux below 105mm, the Super Cinelux cannot fully cover a Pentax 67, so this is a downside. However, they are great for 645. Also worth mentioning, we are able to upgrade certain Super Cineluxes from f/2 to f/1.7 via a modification.

Schneider Cine-Xenon

The Xenon version of the Cinelux was basically an upgraded Cinelux Ultra MC with better edge-to-edge sharpness and better vignette reduction. In Schneider’s words, “…exceptional resolution capability in the corners, extraordinary brilliance and optimum illumination distribution over the complete picture area.“

Schneider Cine-Xenon 120mm f/2 with aperture added

Schneider Cine-Xenon 120mm f/2 with aperture added

These improvements were accomplished by subtle improved optical design (“ renunciation of cementing of lenses 2 + 3 and 4+5 or accounting for the cylindrical film curvature in the projector of - 0.1 mm to -0.2 mm”) as well as updated coating and glass quality.

As mentioned above, the optical quality of the Cine-Xenons are probably similar if not equal to the Super Cineluxes.

Schneider Cinelux Premiere

The Cinelux Premiere was an f/1.7 line of aspherical element Cineluxes. Many focal lengths up to 90mm also included a variable aperture so that large-screen multiplex theaters could have the flexibility to stop down for increased sharpness and/or to correct issues associated with subtitles. 95mm and 100mm Premieres were known to not possess a variable aperture.

We have yet to find any info confirming that the Premieres will cover a medium format film negative, though longer lengths (90mm and up) are likely to cover a sensor like that of a GFX or Pentax 645Z.

Other Cineluxes Worthy of Mention

We’ve also seen A/V versions of Cineluxes. We are not familiar with the coating or glass differences in these. Other Cineluxes include the anamorphic attachments, VP Cinelux, and others that can be found in their brochures.

A Brief Modern History of ISCO Projector Lenses

ISCO also had other lines of projector lenses such as the ISCO Cinelux, ISCO Ultra MC, ISCO Super Kiptar, and ISCO Cinelux Xenon. These lines of lenses had different coatings and max apertures.

ISCO Ultra MC 120mm f/2 Lens

ISCO Ultra MC 120mm f/2 Lens

ISCO Cinelux and ISCO Ultra MC

The ISCO Cinelux and ISCO Ultra MC are essentially the same lens design, but with slightly different barrel housings. They are multi-coated lenses with excellent contrast and sharpness.

ISCO Super Kiptar, ISCO Cinelux Xenon, and ISCO Cinelux Xenon MC

Super Kiptars, Cinelux Xenon, and Cinelux Xenons MC were ISCO’s top-of-the-line lenses of their times. The Super Kiptar was a single-coated lens as was the Cinelux Xenon, while the Cinelux Xenon MC a multi-coated lens.

ISCO Cinelux Xenon MC 115mm f/1.7

ISCO Cinelux Xenon MC 115mm f/1.7

These lenses feature an impressive f/1.6 at 100mm, f/1.7 at 110mm, f/1.7 at 115mm, f/1.8 at 120mm, and f/1.6 at 135mm. These are the most rare of the ISCO lenses and typically the most expensive.

ISCO vs Schneider Lenses

Due to the limited resources that we currently have in regards to full spec info for the ISCO and Schneider lenses, it is difficult to rate each lens exactly. However, from our experience, they are all very good, sharp lenses.

Image Difference Between Cinelux Types

Apart from the aperture-featuring Premiere, the lenses with the biggest differences will be between all the f/2 lenses (Ultra MC, Cinelux Ultra, Cine-Xenon) and the single-coated Super Kiptar/Cinelux Xenon/ISCO Cinelux Xenon MC. In terms of the depth of filed in the image rendered, the Super Kiptars and Cinelux Xenons are ≥ f/1.8 lenses, so they differ from the f/2 of the other lenses in the lineup.

Schneider Cine-Xenon 115mm f/2 lens with variable aperture for Pentax 67

Schneider Cine-Xenon 115mm f/2 lens with variable aperture for Pentax 67

Beyond that, Premiers, Xenons, and Super Cineluxes are the newer and reportedly improved upon the optics of their former Cinelux/Ultra MC lines.

ISCO Ultra MC vs Cinelux Ultra MC

The ISCO Ultra MC is reportedly the same optical design as the Schneider Cinelux Ultra MC. We have been very impressed with the image quality of the ISCO Ultra MC. We also love the solid build and attractive matte finish that many of the ISCOs feature.

Other Things to Consider When Searching for a Cinelux Lens

In terms of upgradability, the ISCO lenses (besides the Cinelux Xenons) cannot have an aperture added without a very significant mod.

Which Cinelux Lenses Have the Best Image Quality?

Without any regard to maximum aperture, in order of glass quality (sharpness, contrast, etc.), our best assessment of the lenses would be listed as follows:

  1. Schneider Premier

  2. Schneider Cine-Xenon

  3. Schneider Super Cinelux

  4. ISCO Cinelux Xenon MC

  5. ISCO Ultra MC/ISCO Cinelux and Schneider Cinelux Ultra MC/Schneider Super Cinelux

  6. ISCO Super Kiptar

Fujifilm GFX with Schneider Cinelux Ultra MC 105mm f/2

Fujifilm GFX with Schneider Cinelux Ultra MC 105mm f/2

Which Cinelux Will Fit My Camera?

From our experience so far, we’ve compiled a list of lenses that we are either completely confident, or at least fairly confident to work well with 645, 6x6, and 6x7 formats. Our criteria for “work well” is that is covers the negative without significantly noticeable vignetting. This list is not completely exhaustive, but will give you a good idea of the best options.

We also mention which lenses will focus to infinity. However, if closer focus distance is desired these lenses can be modded, possibly at the expense of reaching infinity. But, of course, one must ask “do I really need this lens to reach infinity?”

Photo of Schneider Cine-Xenon 115mm f/2 mounted on a Pentax 67 film camera

Photo of Schneider Cine-Xenon 115mm f/2 mounted on a Pentax 67 film camera

Which Cinelux Will Fit Your Camera

  • GFX, Pentax 645Z, Pentax 645D, or other similiar sized sensor

    • Premier (perhaps only with the 80mm and up. This is only hearsay for us and has not been fully tested.)

    • Super Cinelux 90mm-100mm

    • Cinelux Ultra MC 105mm-150mm

    • Cine-Xenon 100mm-120mm

    • ISCO Ultra MC 90mm-150mm

    • ISCO Cinelux (unsure of all focal lengths, but fit should be the same as Ultra MC)

    • ISCO Super Kiptar/Cinelux Xenon

  • Pentax 645/Mamiya 645/and larger digital backs such as p65+, IQ4, etc. to infinity

    • Super Cinelux 90mm-100mm

    • Cinelux Ultra MC 95mm-150mm

    • Cine-Xenon 100mm-150mm

    • ISCO Ultra MC 90mm-150mm

    • ISCO Cinelux (unsure of all focal lengths, but fit should be the same as Ultra MC)

    • ISCO Super Kiptar/Cinelux Xenon

  • Pentax 6x7

    • Cinelux Ultra MC 110mm-140mm and 150mm (to infinity)

    • Cine-Xenon *115mm-150mm (to infinity) *There are two different versions of the 115mm and 120mm which require heavy modification in order to infinity on 6x7

    • ISCO Ultra MC 110mm-140mm and 150mm (to infinity)

    • ISCO Cinelux (unsure of all focal lengths, but fit should be the same as Ultra MC—to infinity)

Conclusion

All of the “versions” of the Cinelux are excellent lenses. Besides not being able to have an aperture, the ISCO Ultra MC’s are excellent lenses, with perhaps even better “3D” effect compared to Cinelux Ultra MCs. The Xenon’s are all very rare, but have either amazing quality or impressive maximum apertures.

If one is looking for a great, lightweight portrait lens for medium format film, then any of these lenses will perform amazingly.

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