The ALPA History


For over 20 years, the ALPA Medium-Format Photographic Platform is a cornerstone of high-end photography. The ALPA History tells the new ALPA story through the most critical stages back to the foundation of the "old 35 mm Alpa" of Pignongs SA in the French-speaking part of Switzerland in 1918.

The Timeline


Introduction of the HR Alpagon 6.5/138 mm Float. The first large format lens with a floating element and resulting outstanding resolution over the full distance from far to close.



20 July 1969, 20:17:40 UTC - In these very minutes 50 years ago, the first manned spaceship landed on the surface of the moon. A few hours later, Neil Armstrong was the first human to set foot on our satellite. In addition to all the familiar stories, one of them almost got forgotten. The first film lenses were called Switar and were developed and produced by the manufacturer of the famous Macro Switars for the 35 mm ALPA. ALPA became the new Switar brand owner 15 years ago. So we have collected some bits and pieces around this event. And now, in the anniversary year, we are especially proud to introduce a new line of high-end cine lenses under the brand name Switar.


Introduction of the all new ALPA 12 PANO, a special project for our Chinese friends. The PANO features an extended horizontal shift.



The plus has the perfect shape. The Swiss know this fact and show it as a Swiss cross in their flag. You can turn it as you like - it always fits. The new ALPA 12 PLUS can also be shifted plus and minus 20 mm on each side. Stitching multiple images is a snap. Move it up and down, right and left. Besides, the latest camera body from Swiss manufacturer ALPA features an entirely symmetrical design - front and back. It's not the camera that decides what fits, but the photographic object. The ALPA 12 PLUS breathes ALPAs experiences of the last 12 years with the XY, MAX, and STC. The PLUS is the camera for still and moving image - Perfect for many tasks as architecture photography, landscape, commercial tasks, studio work and much more. All of them strongholds of ALPA cameras.


Enhancement of the ALPA tripod range and ball head.


Introduction of ALPA lens module for vintage ALPA 35 mm lenses, start of the ALPA moving image solutions.


Introduction of the ALPA GON, the first modular tripod head and man other new products and solutions.


Introduction of the all new adapters for controlling Hasselblad H lenses and Contax 645.


ALPA was nominated with the ALPA 12 FPS for Design Price Switzerland 2013/2104 and wins the Rado Innovation Prize with the ALPA 12 FPS: The nominations for Design Prize Switzerland 2013/14 have been decided: out of some 300 projects submitted, the nominating teams have now recommended 37 to the jury as candidates for this year's prize awards.

Their choice reflects contemporary developments in design: projects connected with sustainability are represented, as are products of the investment goods industry. The 12th award ceremony of the competition, which is held every two years, will take place in Langenthal on Friday, 1 November 2013.


Introduction of the ALPA 12 FPS, the electronically controlled focal plane shutter camera and adapters for controlling Canon EF and Nikon PC-E lenses, Hasselblad V lens adapter and Mamiya 645 (man.) lens adapter.

Zurich, 12 September 2012 - ALPA of Switzerland will present at Photokina 2012 (Cologne, 17 to 23 September 2012) its latest model: the ALPA 12 FPS (Focal Plane Shutter). With the FPS new and invaluable photographic possibilities become reality. In addition the new model enhances the existing and further developed ALPA 12 platform’s potential massively. With the FPS ALPA opens the door into a new dimension: from the modular camera platform to the open toolbox. The ALPA 12 FPS is a shutter module when it is used together with another ALPA 12 camera. It is, however, also an independent camera when it is combined on its own with a back, a lens and a suitable adapter. This opens up the use of brand-new or fond old lenses from dozens of different manufacturers of optical systems – with or without a central shutter and with or without manual or electronic aperture control. Plus a free choice of format – only limited by the image circles of the lenses and by the sensor sizes.

Naturally, not all lenses will work equally well with all backs. However, what is ‘good’ and what is ‘less good’ is a decision solely for the photographer or, if he or she is working according to a commission, naturally also for the customer. We see a new attitude toward many aspects of picture quality in this: away from the unedifying factionalism and toward the acceptance of subjective opinions and evaluations. The ALPA 12 FPS opens up the field of shift/tilt/swing/stitch in a wide range of variants and with the corresponding accessories to a whole new world which had previously hardly been possible, if at all.

The whole system is controlled by a continuously expandable firmware in a concept which includes all previous ALPA 12 models, many lenses and almost all digital backs produced in the past ten years. A previously unknown variety of possibilities and combinations is opened up – a toolbox which the user can equip and utilize according to his or her own needs or while using already existing tools. ALPA is pleased to demonstrate the enhanced ALPA 12 platform to the interested photographers during Photokina in Cologne, hall 2.1, stand B21. Availability and prices of the new ALPA 12 FPS and accessories will be communicated after Photokina.


During Photokina ALPA presents their newest model. The ALPA 12 STC offers the unsurpassed ability of freehand photography as well as stitch- or shift operation from tripod. Anticipating software solutions like the keystone correction like in Phase One’s Capture One 6 the STC’s base movements set priority to lateral shifts for stitching. Another milestone are the ALPA HPF (High Precision Focusing) rings. They allow a much more precise focusing and ease the use of highly precise laser distance meters. Instead of a logarithmic scale it subdivides the complete travel of the helical in steady 5 degree segments and indicate even every single degree as a marking. The third novelty is the introduction of the ALPA iPhone holder. Together with the ALPA eFinder this becomes a very individual tool for the photographers.


ALPA introduces a Photoshop® plug-in handling the residual distortion in ALPA wide angle and standard lenses for free. The tool is based on photogrammetrical principles and this part got developed together with the Institute of Geological Science at the University of Bern.


The “gap” between the ALPA 12 SWA and the ALPA 12 XY is closed by the new ALPA 12 MAX which combines many of the technical features of the XY with a hand-holding facility through reduced weight and smaller dimensions.


ALPA 12 METRIC, designed for photogrammetry is introduced – a specialized camera on the basis of the ALPA 12 WA. It is produced exclusively on request. Short Barrel concept introduced.


The general partnership ALPA Capaul & Weber has been converted into ALPA Capaul & Weber Ltd. with backdated effect from 1 January 2007.

ALPA launches the first ALPA Metric together with the University of Berne. This type of camera is used for photogrammetric measuring.

The ALPA "Short Barrel" concept: Shortening the lens-boards ("barrels") in the "Short Barrel" lenses by 34 mm permits the use of the interchangeable 0°-6° ALPA tilt/swing adapter (later 0-12° and others). The limitation to focal lengths of 80 mm and longer allows for constructing a reliable tilt/swing mechanism while enabling the most important medium and long focal lengths for this purpose. The "Short Barrel" lenses also allow the better use of given image circles. Even with long focal length lenses, it becomes possible to utilize the full 6x9 format without cropping.Long focal length lenses can provide the desirable optimal unity of digital or roll-film back, camera body and lens, and distribution of weight and aesthetics.


The ALPA platform is extended with the ALPA 12 XY. With this exclusively tripod-mounted camera, settings of a precision are feasible that had simply not been possible with other constructions.


ALPA introduces the small ALPA 12 TC (Travel Compact) and the contours of a connected platform become visible. It becomes clear that the ALPA consists not just of one or two models but is conceived as a complete modular system.


ALPA adjustable digital adapters introduced.


From 3rd May 2003 - 31st August 2003 a special exhibition at the

Musée Suisse de l'Appareil Photographique
Grande Place 99
CH-1800 Vevey/Switzerland

Phone +41-21-925 21 40

dedicated itself to a review of one of the world's greatest camera brands.


During the Photokina 2002 ALPA presents two new prototypes: the ALPA 12 ST and ALPA 12 SST.


ALPA has received the award Design Distinction in Consumer Products in the International Design Magazine's Design Review (I.D.® Magazine, 116 East 27th Street, Floor 6, New York, NY 10016, USA).

"... Projects like yours keep I.D.'s Review at the forefront..."

"... the camera is at the pinnacle of product design..."


The uncompromising search for the highest possible precision begins to pay off. The appearance of digital backs in professional quality requires minimal mechanical tolerances – and the ALPA 12 cameras are engineered from the beginning for precisely this.


The ALPA camera's outstanding technical and aesthetic characteristics triumph. ALPA was presented with the top award of the Red Dot for Highest Design Quality in the contest Design Innovations (Design Zentrum Nordrhein Westfalen, Essen/Germany).

"... The clarity of the design is thus continued in the pictures. RED DOT Highest Design Quality for: degree of innovation, functionality, formal quality, ergonomics, durability, symbolic and emotional content, product peripherals, self-explanatory quality..."


ALPA cooperates with Seitz Phototechnik AG, Lustdorf/Switzerland, have turned the suggestions and wishes that have been made regarding the ALPA 12 prototypes into reality. The result of all these changes are two production models rather different from the original prototypes:

- the ALPA 12SWA (SHIFT/WIDE ANGLE) with built-in perspective control and
- the ALPA 12WA (WIDE ANGLE) without perspective control

At the Photokina 98 the first two ALPA 12 models are shown. Both were for medium-format: ALPA 12 WA (Wide Angle) and ALPA 12 SWA (Shift Wide Angle).


Capaul & Weber, Zurich, at long last acquire the world-wide rights to the brand-name ALPA. The new owners aim is to continue the tradition of quality established with the classic 35-mm ALPA reflex cameras and to enter into the field of medium-format cameras. On 18 April 1996 the internet domain alpa.ch was registered and soon the first website went online.


On 29th February 1996 Capaul & Weber, Zürich/Switzerland, purchased from the official receiver under a "vente aux enchères privée" the worldwide rights to the brand name ALPA. Already at the Photokina in the autumn of 1996 the first prototypes of the ALPA 12 were presented to the public. They were the result of a close cooperation between Capaul & Weber with Seitz Phototechnik AG, Lustdorf/Switzerland. At the ALPA stand at Cologne as much as in the international specialised press, these prototypes of the first ALPA for the medium format were the target of lively interest.

1990 - 1996

Why did the simple bankruptcy case of Pignons SA take six years to reach a conclusion? We (Capaul & Weber) have tried since December 1990 to purchase ALPA and succeeded only in 1996. We still do not know why it took so long. Well-informed sources do not lay the blame entirely on the overworked official receiver's office. Instead, they hint at the peculiar social, economic, political and even religious complexities of this rather remote corner of French-speaking Switzerland. More information on the 35mm-SLR-ALPAs made by the defunct Pignons SA, Ballaigues/Switzerland: www.alpareflex.com


The company can no longer compete with manufacturers from outside Europe. The fatal blow however is delivered by problems within the company. Pignons SA declares bankruptcy. The last ALPA model produced by Pignons SA is the ALPA 11.


It seems that in the 80's when the professional Nikon and Canon F's and the Pentax LX had exchangeable viewfinder systems also Pignons SA thought about introducing a new pro model with such a feature. As a leftover there is a non-functional, solid metal mockup exhibit in the collection of the Swiss camera museum in Vevey. If it was planned to name the new project "ALPA 12" is uncertain. Only a - maybe later - stamped "12" reminds on that.


The model 11si of 1976 marked the technological apex as well as the end-point of the ALPA 24x36mm SLR development. While the ALPA 11si gold (18 carat gold plated, 10 micron layer) offered in the 1980s for somewhat less than US$ 7,000 may have delighted some collectors of exquisite luxuries, a refinement of photographic technology it was not. The production of ALPA 11si cameras fell throughout the 1980s to reach a low of 4 to 5 per month. At the same time, Pignons was developing such exotic products as a special camera for identity cards on behalf of the Zaïre government.

Work also continued somewhat haphazardly on a new 24x36mm SLR model for which drawings, tools and even prototypes are said to have been made. The whereabouts of this material today is as unclear as that of many other parts and semifinished goods made by Pignons at that time. A film transport motor of considerable technical ingenuity and interest is reported to have reached an advanced stage of development. A new vertical-travel metal blade focal plane shutter was under development that is rumoured to have been a brilliant feat of engineering. Some of these developments are said to have been sold to Far Eastern buyers.


In that year the ALPA Roto SM60/70 appeared, a unique 360° panoramic camera. The famous Swiss photographer Emil Schulthess and the technical designer Hermann Seitz, each played major roles in its development. Today, the Seitz Roundshot is the leading instrument of its kind worldwide. Seitz Phototechnik AG, Lustdorf/Switzerland, also designs and produces the new ALPA 12 wide angle medium format cameras.


With the introduction of the model 11si, the CdS-cells (cadmium-sulphide) that had been used since model 9d were replaced by Si-cells (silicon). The Pignons stand at the Photokina '76 in Cologne presented yet another surprise to visiting aficionados: a camera from Japan bearing the ALPA label: the ALPA Si 2000.The new model was built on the Chinon CE II Memotron with M42-screw-mount. The metamorphosis from Chinon to ALPA was accomplished through a few deft changes on the outside of the camera. Brilliant marketing idea or an own-goal against the image of a superior brand? In any case, this escapade ended when both the Si 2000 and its successor the Si 3000 with K-bayonet-mount (introduced 1980 and based on the Chinon CE-4) ceased production some years later.


A local parson, Charles-Louis Rochat, was fascinated by electronics and developed prototypes of an exposure meter and a control unit for slide projectors. The control unit entered serial production at Pignons SA under the name Varidia.


With the ALPA 11el a new model appeared on the market with improved mirror and shutter.


The match-needle exposure control was replaced from model 11e upwards by LEDs (light-emitting-diodes). At the end of the 1960s and at the beginning 1970s, Pignons employed an all-time record of about 70 people and produced around 200 ALPA cameras per month. This was a huge number for a camera that was manufactured manually by skilled craftsmen. It is, of course, only the output of a few minutes on an automated camera production line. In that year did Pignons SA finally give up their original business of supplying parts to the watchmaking industry.


The third ALPA-generation appeared: the redesigned upper body of the models numbered 10 and 11 did not necessarily look more beautiful but they did have a coupled exposure meter. Some models also carried a family crest, a feature more popular with some than with others.


Production of the ALPA reaches 1,300 cameras per year which record is then followed by an initially slow but later increasingly steep decline.


With the model 9d ALPA achieved a technical masterstroke: one of the earliest cameras with a TTL (through-the-lens) exposure meter. There is some controversy as regards the camera that was the very first with this technical advance. Ihagee Dresden/Exakta can point to patents dating back to 1939 while Pentax and Topcon held presentations in 1960 and 1962, respectively. There is also the distinction between market introduction in Europe and the USA. In any case: ALPA was there among the first.


Model 6c introduced an asymmetric form of the prism head covering, combined with a new selenium exposure meter. Moreover, the shoulders of the upper part of the body that had hitherto been rounded were now redesigned to be angular. As a first for ALPA, there was also a horizontal viewing eyepiece - until then there had either been a waist-level viewfinder (ALPA Reflex) or a vertical (model 4), respectively a 45° viewing angle eyepiece (models Prisma Reflex, 5 and 6 - except for 6c - as well as 7 and 8).


With the b-models the rapid return mirror and the typical ALPA film advance lever made their first appearance. The latter had to be operated front-to-back rather than in the more common back-to-front mode. This unusual arrangement simplified the construction and allowed the user to keep his eye close to the camera's eyepiece while operating the lever.


With model 6 a split-image rangefinder was introduced.


That year saw the presentation of the second ALPA-generation, designed by André Cornut and showing major technical advances: in place of the sheet-steel construction a new die-cast alloy body was introduced as well as the ALPA bayonet lens mounting. The new body was extraordinarily robust and of remarkable, purely functional beauty. For many aesthetes, the ALPA models 4, 5, 7 and 8 as well as the early model 6 are among the best that the camera designers' art has ever produced.


Pignons SA, resp. ALPA, has never produced its own lenses, preferring to buy them from the most reputable manufacturers. A list of suppliers reads like the "Who is Who" of optical manufacturing: Angénieux, Asahi, Berthiot, Chinon, Enna, Kilfitt, Kinoptik, Schneider, Yashica, Zoomar, etc. From 1951 onwards, the 50mm lens MADE IN SWlTZERLAND of Kern Aarau - made exclusively for ALPA - played a special role. The 1:1.8 Switar introduced that year was replaced after 1958 by the Macro-Switar with Visifocus depth of field indicator which in turn was given a reduced largest stop of 1:1.9 in 1968. Kern Aarau had thrown away all the relevant tools, so a lens mounting by Chinon of Japan was used after 1982 for the last Macro-Switars.


With the ALPA Prisma Reflex appeared one of the very first single lens reflex cameras with a pentaprism. This roof prism device, by virtue of the cross-over of internally reflected rays, gives an erect, laterally correct image. The viewing eyepiece has a view-angle of 45º - a typical ALPA feature up to the model 6c of 1960.


The brand ALPA was officially registered in Switzerland on 19 February 1946: <a href="/_files/ALPA_CH-Marke-114673_1946-1966.pdf" target="_blank">Registration of the ALPA brand in Switzerland on 19 Feb 1946</a> (PDF MISSING)


In that year, the Spring exhibition at Basle, the Mustermesse, at long last introduced the ALPA Reflex to a wider public. It can rightly be regarded as the year in which ALPA entered the exclusive world of top-of-the-range cameras.


While war raged all around Switzerland, Pignons SA produced a first series of ALPA Reflex cameras as well as one model, the ALPA Standard, with a non-reflex viewfinder only. Although the world had too many problems to take much notice of these premieres, a few of the new cameras nevertheless made it to the USA under the names of Bolca and Bolsey Reflex.


In that year, Pignons SA first made contact with the technical designer Jacques Bolsky, who also called himself Boolsky or Bolsey at times. Born in the Ukraine under the name of Bogopolsky, he studied medicine in Geneva and in 1924 opened a company there, Bol SA, to market his 35mm movie camera Cinématographe Bol and later his 16mm Bolex. To this day Bolex is a world-famous name in 8mm and 16mm motion picture cameras. In 1930 Paillard SA of Ste-Croix took over Bol/Bolex SA and appointed Bolsky engineering consultant to the newly-created department Ciné-Bolex.

Ten years later Bolsky exchanged Europe for the USA, leaving the ALPA forerunners (developed since 1933) to Pignons SA. In the USA, Bolsky had some success with the movie and photo cameras of his Bolsey Corp. of America, New York. The very first Bolsey cameras were manufactured by Pignons SA, but soon newly developed designs appeared under the Bolsey name, manufactured by the Obex Corp. of Long Island, NY. On 1st of June 1956 this company also took over the marketing of Bolsey Corp. products.

Jacques Bolsey died suddenly in the USA on January 20, 1962, at the age of 66. Happily, the chance offered by Bolsky was seized at Ballaigues. His proposals involved the expansion of the company into the manufacturing of photographic cameras. Until the 1940s, prototypes and experimental cameras were developed - some as single specimens, some in limited series - under a variety of designations: Bolca, Teleflex and Viteflex. A special feature to be found in some later ALPA cameras, too, was the combination of the reflex principle with a built-in additional non-reflex viewfinder.


The company Pignons SA in the Swiss Jura mountains is founded. In accordance with local tradition, the company initially concentrates on the manufacture of parts for the watch-making industry.