The ALPA Log

The Eagle Has Landed


20 July 1969, 20:17:40 UTC - Switar on the Moon - The first cine lenses on the moon were special Switars, commissioned by NASA.

July 19, 2019
The Eagle Has Landed
Photographic Know-How

20 July 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the first manned landing on the Moon. This technical achievement represents a milestone in technology and science. Therefore, it is not surprising that some of the devices used during the missions became icons. These devices were the first of their kind in the manned exploration of the Earth's Moon. From a photographic point of view, the Hasselblad medium format camera with Carl Zeiss optics is well known and has given us such unforgettable images as "Earthrise" by Apollo 8. Well-known is the OMEGA Speedmaster Professional, the "Moonwatch", which also stood in as a lifesaver in an emergency. For example, when Armstrong's Speedmaster replaced the broken on-board timepiece of the Apollo Lunar Module or while a "Speedy" was serving as a navigation aid during the Odyssey of Apollo 13. The Speedmaster is considered to be the most tested watch in the world.

Hasselblad Apollo 70 mm Camera
NASA: Neil Armstrong, EVA simulation April 1969, Apollo 11

NASA/Bill Anders: "Earthrise", 24 Dec 1968, Apollo 8
OMEGA Speedmaster Professional
NASA: Buzz Aldrin in the Lunar Module, Apollo 11

NASA: Buzz Aldrin on the lunar surface (first watch on the Moon), Apollo 11

SWC - The Swiss Flag

From a scientific and documentary point of view, however, two other Swiss contributions were of interest. The first is the "Solar Wind Composition (SWC) Experiment", the only non-American experiment of the Apollo 11 mission. This experiment with solar wind sails was proposed, designed and evaluated by Johannes Geiss and Peter Eberhardt from the Institute of Physics at the University of Bern and Peter Signer from ETH Zurich.

Solar Wind Composition (SWC) Experiment
NASA: Solar Wind Sail with Lunar Module, Apollo 11

NASA: Solar Wind Sail with Buzz Aldrin and Lunar Module, Apollo 11

Switar lenses on the Moon

And the second one? Probably less familiar is the fact that the two film cameras onboard Apollo 11 were equipped with Switar lenses from Kern Aarau (Kern & Co. AG, Aarau). Kern manufactured the well-known 50 mm (macro) Switars for the 35 mm ALPA and the equally famous Switar cinema lenses for the Paillard Bolex. These lenses had to withstand the most demanding mechanical and thermal conditions as well as pressure fluctuations. In addition to smart design solutions, special steel and aluminium were used.

The Switar NASA lenses were mounted on a 16-millimeter film camera (DAC, Data Acquisition Camera) from J.A. Maurer, Inc. of Long Island City, New York. This combination was used, among other things, to shoot all color film sequences from the lunar surface. Noteworthy, famous scenes as the call from President Nixon and of course saluting in front of the US flag were captured with these cameras.

NASA ordered a total of four focal lengths from Kern Aarau, some of which had already been used during the Apollo 10 reconnaissance mission. The first lens to be manufactured was the NASA-Switar 10 mm with aperture 1.6. The 16 mm format has dimensions of 10.3 mm × 7.5 mm and the image diagonal is around 12.75 mm or ½ inch. Thus, the 10 mm lens corresponds to a focal length of 35 mm in 35 mm equivalent. The adapted design is based on the corresponding cinema focal length and was therefore available relatively quickly. On the lenses, the T-values are engraved as the largest aperture.

Kern Aarau NASA Switar Lenses and the Maurer 16-mm-DAC (Moving Image)
Stadtmuseum Aarau, Kern Collection: Kern Aarau, NASA Switar 18 mm and 180 mm

NASA: 16-Millimeter-Camera Maurer DAC with Switar 10 mm / 1.6 (T 1.8)

The NASA Switar 18 mm corresponded approximately to a slightly longer "normal focal length" and was very fast with a maximum aperture of 0.9 (T 1.0). Besides, there was a 75 mm with an aperture of 2.2 (T 2.3). The comparable focal length on 35 mm would equal a telephoto of a remarkable 250 mm. An even longer 180 mm telephoto lens with an aperture of 4.5 (T 4.6) was only built in two units and was probably never used on a mission. With an equivalent of 600 mm, these optics were perhaps a bit too much.

Kern produced a total of 33 units of the 10 mm Switar, 21 units each of the 18 and 75 mm Switars and the mentioned two units of the 180 mm lens. The Neil Armstrong camera with mounted 10 mm lens is in the collection of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington. It was only after Neil Armstrong's death that it arrived here.

SWITAR - From Kern to ALPA

Kern Aarau registered the Switar brand in Switzerland during the war in January 1944. The deposit in the USA took place in 1946. Under this brand name, Kern Aarau manufactured Cine lenses for the Bolex by Paillard and the 35mm Alpa by Pignons SA. In 1988, the company became part of the Wild-Leitz Group (now Leica Geosystems).

Probably as part of a streamlining process, Leica Geosystems did not renew the trademark registration in 2004. ALPA Capaul & Weber AG came across this in the context of trademark research and immediately registered the now orphaned trademark Switar internationally again in summer 2004. Soon ALPA launched the high-end medium format lens ALPA / Schneider Apo-Switar 5.6/36 mm under this brand.

ALPA Capaul & Weber AG is pleased to announce a new range of high-end Switar Cine lenses in the anniversary year of the Moon landing. For the first time, new Switar lenses will be available for the moving image. The lenses in PL- and LPL-Mount cover image circles up to 70 mm and can, therefore, serve large-format cine cameras.

Under the name ALPA Platon, ALPA also offers a 4k motion solution based on Hasselblad's H6D-100c digital backs. With a sensor area of around 30 x 54 mm, this is currently one of the largest digital recording formats for moving images. And with this combination of Switar and Hasselblad, two protagonists meet again - at least in terms of brands - who 50 years ago participated in one of the most daring technical undertakings of modern times.

ALPA Switar Cine Primes 70 mm and ALPA Platon

ALPA: ALPA Switar Cine Prime 70 mm, 35 - 210 mm

ALPA: ALPA Platon with Switar 80 and 35


We thank the Stadtmuseum Aarau / Sammlung Kern and Mr Rolf Häfliger, as well as Mr Aldo Lardelli for their information and pictures on this topic. In particular Kern Aarau / Häfliger - Kern-Objektive für die Raumfahrtprogramm der NASA was of great interest.


Kern Aarau / Häfliger – Kern-Objektive für das Raumfahrtprogramm der NASA
Stadtmuseum Aarau – Sammlung Kern
Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum – Omega Chronometer Neil Armstrong
Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum – Solar Wind Composition Experiment
Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum – Hasselblad 70mm Camera Apollo 11
Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum – Switar 18 mm-Objektiv und DAC-Kamera (*)
Schweizer Nationalmuseum – Schweizer Technologie auf dem Mond
Swiss National Museum – Swiss Technology on the Moon
Das Solar Wind Composition Experiment
The Solar Wind Composition Experiment
Flickr - NASA – Project Apollo Archive
NASA – Apollo 11 Lunar Surface Journal
NASA – Press Kit Apollo 11

(*) Note: The text of the Smithsonian is ambiguous. The lens manufacturer was Kern Aarau and not Maurer.