120 lp/mm resolution, 70/55mm image circles, Akrobat™ precision positioning mechanics to fit across multiple cameras & sensor formats
NWS Instruments AG conceives, designs and makes high precision optics and mechanics in Switzerland. Founded in 2016 after years of incubation and supply chain preparation, we aim to serve expert photographers who work in architecture, commercial, jewelry and tabletop, as well as industry, academia and government. In the right hands, our instruments enable digital SLR and mirrorless cameras to produce images that rival 8×10 film quality. Here are actual images created by experts using our prototypes:
Why our instruments are special:
Our optical instruments deliver more performance – more resolution, more color richness, less chromatic aberration – to extract the full potential from digital SLR or mirrorless camera sensors. Beta testing showed that there is plenty of performance in reserve to serve more capable sensors into the future.
- Our optical instruments are designed to fit on, and work across, many camera mounts and formats – one instrument, many mounts. They will fit nearly any new camera sold in 2020, from Micro 4/3, APS-C, Full-Frame, to Medium Format. Just choose the suitable mounts to change from one camera to another in seconds.
- Our optical instruments are completely manual – precision, mechanical focus, round 15-blade apertures to render the most natural, Gaussian out-of-focus bokeh.
- Our optical instruments have larger image circles than full frame so they can cover multiple sensor sizes up to medium format.
- The larger image circle and long flange focal distance allow the instrument to be decoupled from the camera mount and offer view camera-like flexibility on full frame bodies, and ultra-wide angle and super macro on medium format bodies.
- Our Akrobat™ precision positioning system takes our optical instruments to the next level – whether it is a simple 1-axis rise and fall shift to compensate for converging verticals, or all 4-axis movements in a combination of Scheimpflug tilt, swing and lateral shift, our modular system extends the creative potential inherent in our optical instruments.
- The glass elements in our optical instruments are ground, polished, coated, assembled and tested; and the precise mechanical parts are made and final finished in Switzerland. The instruments are then packed and shipped directly to end users all over the world from northwest Switzerland, hence our name “NWS”, for “Nordwestschweiz”.
Here is our company website.
Here is a video touring the factory where our optical instruments are made in Switzerland – it starts with grinding, polishing the glass, then cleaned and measured in the clean room before applying the coating and assembling them into complete instruments. Each assembled instrument is then measured and adjusted on multiple highly precise machines for spacing and alignment, then onto to the MTF machine for final adjustments and testing. You will also see one of our 23APO being tested and adjusted on the MTF machine at the 2:10 time mark in the video below. This process allows us to validate the performance of every instrument and to generate a the Performance Validation Report (Messprotokoll) that is shipped with it. If any instrument does not pass all tests, it will never be shipped.
Who should buy an NWS Instrument?
The instruments offered in this Kickstarter campaign were designed specifically for expert photographers with high performance expectations such as architecture, nature, food, jewelry, tabletop as well as archival, documentary and forensic analysis. The instruments perform best when used with great discipline and patience so their full performance potential can be realized.
Many commercial and institutional photographers work this way but we know that many dedicated, serious amateur photographers would also welcome this level of performance and flexibility in their pursuits. The results of this Kickstarter campaign will help us determine if our market assessment is accurate and that there are customers for what we make.
What this Kickstarter campaign is all about:
- Having successfully brought our ambitious optical designs to prototype production and completed the beta-testing with demanding expert commercial photographers, we are raising funds for two reasons: to complete prototyping of the Akrobat™ system as well as preparing the tooling necessary for series production of both optical and mechanical products.
- As superb as our optical instruments are when used on their own, the Akrobat™ can significantly extends their creative application. Both models of the Akrobat™, the 1x and 4x, allow the instrument to be positioned exactly where the user needs it to create the photograph they want – with superb ergonomics, precision and rigidity.
- Switzerland has the highest skilled factories and workers, but this comes at a price. To be competitive in market, the only way is to sell directly to the end user. We stand ready to serve expert customers in both English and German all over the world, directly from Switzerland.
How you can back us:
- You can back us through pledges on optical instruments and the Akrobat™ system
- Two instruments are offered: a 23mm f/3,5 apochromatic wide angle that covers sharply to an image circle of 70mm, and a 110mm f/3,2 apochromatic macro telephoto that covers sharply to 55mm. We incorporated a lot of feedback from beta-testers and the serial production units will reflect these improvements.
- The Akrobat™ is presented here in its prototype-ready form. Final product may change a bit as they will incorporate feedback from beta-testers.
- Here is a summary of the Kickstarter rewards we planned for you:
Details about our instruments – for the demanding and inquisitive among us:
Please note that these images represent the prototypes you see above. Series production models will incorporate improvements and recommendations through the beta-testing program for superior performance, ergonomics and appearance.
The 23APO and 110APO Instruments are primarily intended for 24x36mm full frame sensors but usable with limitations on 33×44, 30×45 and even 40×54 sensors:
- A 120 lp/mm MTF50 rating enables these instruments to fully exploit the resolution potential inherent in the latest 60-150+ Megapixel digital cameras and backs,
- Chromatic aberration is nearly eliminated in both instruments, being limited to under 10µm, or about 2 lateral pixels on a 3,8µm-pixel pitch technology sensor,
- Linear distortion is -4.8% at the edge of the image circle of the 23APO and 0.8% at the edge of the image circle of the 110APO,
- Significant efforts have been made to render out-of-focus areas with pleasant, natural Gaussian distribution.
- Aperture control uses 15 blades, and is graduated with a dual scale on the instrument barrel – the traditional f/ number for each opening, as well as the Point Spread Function (PSF) in microns (µm) at each corresponding lens opening. NWS Instruments pioneers the use of PSF markings on the instrument barrel to quantify inherent optical performance. PSF is a function of the effects of diffraction and residual optical aberrations: the lower PSF diameter, the higher possible optical resolution.
- Their large image circles – 70mm for the 23APO and 55mm for the 110APO were specified to provide sharp coverage for Micro Four Thirds, APS-C, and Full Frame sensors with generous margins in case perspective and sharpness movements are necessary. Both instruments will illuminate 30×45, 33×44 and even larger sensors but performance will decrease if any off-axis movements are used.
- To facilitate compatibility across many camera systems, the instruments are fitted with Hasselblad V-compatible lens mounts with a back focal distance of 74,9mm, allowing them to use widely available adapters to attach to almost any camera. Please note that these instruments were not designed to be used on Hasselblad V-cameras due to significant incompatibilities.
- The 23APO enables perfect instrument leveling with another NWS Instruments innovation: a certified spirit level from Wyler AG in Winterthur, Switzerland is incorporated directly on the instrument barrel.
- The Akrobat™ 1x provides the correct adaptation of our instruments to cameras with Canon EF, Fujifilm GFX, Nikon F and Sony E-mounts. It shifts perpendicularly to the optical axis by ±11mm and rotates 360° continuously around the optical axis with spring-loaded detents every 15°.
- Focus control on both instruments are fully manual. The focus ring turns 90° on the 23APO to a minimum distance of 44cm and the 110APO turns 300° to its 57cm minimum. Optical performance is fully optimized along their focusing ranges through differential optical element movements. In addition, the 110APO adds a focus ring brake which provide focus control from rapid focusing to complete fixation to avoid focus creep.
- As ultimate assurance of product quality, NWS Instruments is the first to deliver every instrument in series production with a Performance Verification document showing test results from a state-of-the-art Modulation Transfer Function measurement system. The results verify that the measured instrument meets published specifications within a ±10% tolerance.
- A note about external finish on our instruments. We use a variety of metals based on the suitability of their properties to our specifications. External surfaces are typically 7075 T6 aluminum which is inherently strong. The surface off the CNC machine is the surface we use – not sandblasted or polished or cosmetic reasons because any post processing carry risk of structural damage or disturbing µm-level tolerances. We also use the Type III or Hard Anodize process which is 2.5x thicker than normal Type II anodize for superior wear resistance. This metal-anodizing combination has a slightly “industrial” look, and will not have a “jewel-like” appearance. This fact must be considered in any decision to use our instruments.
To deliver our promised optical performance, both optical and mechanical components require very precise manufacturing by experienced experts to extremely tight tolerances – this is why we are located in Switzerland, close to our factory partners who have been established for years in the heart of the Swiss precision manufacturing industry.
The Akrobat™ 1x and Akrobat™ 4x Modular Instrument Positioning System
Our optical instruments attach to cameras with what is commonly known as a “lens mount adapter”. This means the lens has a mount that is different from the camera it will be attached to. In the case of NWS optical instruments, it would be from a Hasselblad V to almost any camera mount available new in 2020. If the adapter used is of good quality – meaning they hold the lens perfectly perpendicular to the image plane and precisely at the 74,9mm flange focal length distance required by our optical instruments, they will work very well.
To allow additional degrees of freedom, photographers need to decouple the lens from the optical axis. Akrobat™ is the trademarked name of our mechanical instrument family which is used to precisely position lenses beyond using it fixed to a camera mount, with the optical axis of the lens directly centered and perpendicular to the image plane.
Akrobat™ 1x has one-axis movements, while the “Akrobat™ 4x” provides movements along 4 axes.
It is presented here in its final 3D design before prototyping. We anticipate only very minor changes to these designs before we reach series-production.
Based on feedback in discussion with our beta-testers, we decided to significantly enhance the design of the original Akrobat™ system announced on January 14, 2019 and presented on our website. Two important considerations precipitated these changes: precision and operating ergonomics. The original concept remains as archived information on our website but we believe the redesign is a significant refinement and step forward.
The original Akrobat™ concept was a 4-axis only. We have since expanded the family from 4-axis for total flexibility to 1-axis for simplicity and portability, while maintaining precision and ergonomics.
The Akrobat™ 1x connects NWS optical instruments to camera bodies while allowing a ±11mm shift perpendicular to the optical axis. This is especially useful in architecture and interior applications. It comprises 2 parts:
- the 1-axis movement part that allows an attached instrument to shift up to 11mm off-axis perpendicular to the optical axis and rotating every 15° degrees on the optical axis to enable diagonal shifts. Each 15° off 0° is marked on a scale on the rim of the adjuster, as well as a spring ball-check to provide tactile confirmation.
- the multiple camera mount interface that allows connection to various camera bodies. Initially, 4 camera mounts will be supported – Canon EF, Fujifilm GFX, Nikon F and Sony E. As demands increase, other mounts will be made available.
To switch the Akrobat™ 1x between different cameras bodies, only the moderately-priced camera mount interface needs to be changed, there is no need to buy a complete new instrument or Akrobat™ 1x. On the back of the movement part, mounting hole locations are marked for the 4 available bayonets to facilitate assembly. This provides expert users the unique ability to select the best tools for the job and budget.
Some may call the compact, modular 4-axis Akrobat™ 4x a “view camera” because it offers the same corrective optical adjustments and movements, and make it easy, secure, repeatable. We are OK with that too.
The heart of the Akrobat™ 4x is the NWS-designed 4-axis head. “4-axis” means movements such as tilt, rise/fall, shift and swing are all accomplished on the same head. When used on its own with the rear post and rails removed, it can easily serve as a very competent yet robust and compact tripod head at about 84mm wide and deep, and 125mm tall, including a 3/8-16 tripod screw.
It has w large diameter rotational controls for each movement:
- swing/panorama is through rotating the entire top portion of the head where the lens mount and dovetail are. Wide finger grooves are provided for gloved use on the perimeter of the dovetail plate. Rotational angle is only limited by what is attached to the lens bayonet and can be up to 360°.
- tilt is accomplished by rotating the 84mm knurled ring just below the dovetail plate. The large diameter allows effortless yet precise adjustment of the tilt angle of ±10°. We believe this large diameter offers significant benefits in precise tilt angle adjustment and therefore Scheimpflug control.
- rise and fall is through rotating the 70mm knurled ring through its range of 10mm rise, and 10mm fall. This design makes it easy to make adjustments without have to take the eye away from the viewer or tethered monitor allowing much easier converging vertical line correction.
- lateral shift is effected through the knob on the bridge which moves left and right by ±15mm.
Each axis is equipped with an engraved scale for repeatability, and center detents on every axis allow set up to be quick, precise and repeatble.
An Akrobat™ 4x head with a lens bayonet can accept NWS’s optical instruments, other Hasselblad V-mount lenses, or via optional NWS-designed adapters, traditional view camera lenses mounted on Compur/Copal No. 0 or No. 1 shutters.
Focusing with NWS optical instruments should be done on the lens itself to take advantage of optimized optical performance based on the focused distance, while extremely precise focusing can be done by adjusting the stepless drive on the front dovetail using the graduated handwheel that moves the lens bayonet along the dovetail on top of the head. Tension of the stepless drive can be adjusted all the way to full lockup of a 2kg optical instrument payload.
An additional feature of the head is the availability of M3 mounting holes on the side of the bridge. An M6 screw hole and a 6mm dovetail can be added to the bridge so adjustable metrology positioning arms, such as the Fisso brand made by Baitella AG in Zürich, Switzerland, can be used to hold a French Flag to precisely shape ambient light around the optical instrument or to anchor the Akrobat™ to non-conventional anchors such as iron pipes, steel beams or optical tables inside a laboratory.
For the camera mount bayonet, several options are available – a Canon EF, Nikon F, Fujifilm GFX or Sony E mount sits on a “dummy post” that provides the exact height required for perfect alignment with the optical axis. The stepless drive on the rear dovetail allows additional, precise focus adjustment, as well as flange focal distance compensation for using lenses of shorter focal lengths.
For positioning a digital SLR or mirrorless camera body in portrait orientation, using a medium format film or digital back, or a Sinar p/p2 Multipurpose Frame, 3 additional dummy posts of the various heights exactly required to correctly align the optical axis will be available. The Sinar p/p2-Multipurpose Frame opens the Akrobat™ system to many 4×5 accessory attachment possibilities including 6×4,5 or 6×6 film backs, 6×12, 6×17 panorama and instant film.
Of particular interest to those who use very heavy equipment, a long rail connecting both the front and rear dovetails allow the heavy equipment mounted on it to be shifted fore and aft along the optical axis, thus compensating the relocated to achieve perfect balance on the tripod and camera stand, and eliminating the much-dreaded instability leading to equipment droop – or worse, the loss of of the equipment itself!
Very ambitious types can use a 4x head in lieu of a dummy post and bask in the privileges and advantages of being the most extreme users of the Akrobat™.
Our journey – the short version:
- Dreaming about utopia is one thing, delivering on promises when we take customers’ money is something completely different. The incubation of our venture started in 2009 and it took until now to be ready to go to market – R&D took about 3 years to refine our optics and mechanics, but finding the right factories, tooling up to deliver the quality, and refining our end user experience took a lot longer, nearly five years. To say that it has not been easy is an understatement. More importantly, it’s not about money invested, but finding and developing trusting and enduring relationships.
- If you are interested in the long version of our story, we are happy to share it over a hearty libation any time.
- After many long flights, sleepless nights and with the support of many encouraging and kind souls, we are now finally ready! We are all set to start lens production when orders reach our optimized batch size. It make no sense to build something only to have them sit in a warehouse, or to build one-off’s where quality may be compromised.
- The Akrobat™ is another story. What started out as an ingenious concept has been refined and revamped based on observations from our lens beta-testing programs. Although our original concept remains, we added substantially more precision, ergonomics and robustness to deliver an even more rewarding experience to the demanding expert user. This became one of the major reasons for this Kickstarter campaign.
The NWS Instruments AG Team
Steven K. Lee
Founder and CEO
A leading technology CEO with proven track record of successful company turnaround, business model innovation and profitability, as well as long term growth initiatives.
- 2016 – Present : CEO, NWS Instruments AG, Lenzburg, Switzerland
- 2006 – 2008: CEO, Leica Camera AG, Solms, Germany. Led the successful turnaround of the 1,000-employee company to profitability within 18 months as well as chartering the development of 19 new products.
- 2000 – 2006: VP of Strategic Development, Best Buy Co., Richfield, Minnesota, USA. Drove multiple strategic planning and revenue growth alliances. Created the first profitable private label technology manufacturing business as well as filing design patents with Porsche Design, Austria.
- 1995 – 2000: Founder, Canorus Inc., Nashville, Tennessee. Led the global transition of digital audio production and archival to 24/192 high definition format.
- 1977 – 1995: IBM Corporation, Armonk, New York, Corporate Marketing
- Steven holds 7 United States Patents with 10 additional applications.
Dr. Christoph Horneber
Co-Founder and Director of Optical Design
A master optical designer specialist in lenses for imaging optics who designed for example the iconic Leica Noctilux-M 1:0,95/50mm ASPH and the Tri-Elmar-M 1:4/16-18-21mm ASPH
- 2016 – Present: Director of Optical Design, NWS Instruments AG
- 2012 – 2016 : Optical Designer, Hembach Photonik GmbH, Germany Specializing in lenses, mirror optics and optical metrology
- 2008 – 2012: Team Leader, Optical Engineering R&D, RUAG Space AG, Zürich, Switzerland
- 2003 – 2008: Optical Designer, Leica Camera AG, Solms, Germany
- 1998 – 2003: PhD candidate at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg Doctoral Thesis: „Phase measuring deflectometry“
- 1998: Undergraduate, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Physics
- 1994: Undergraduate, Imperial Collage London with Imperial College, International Diploma in Physics
Dr. Bernhard Michel
Co-Founder and Director of Optical Engineering
An authority in development and analysis for optic systems since 1998 servicing the needs of the automobile and aerospace industries.
- 2017 – Present: Director of Optical Engineering, NWS Instruments AG
- 2011: Founder and CEO, Hembach Photonik GmbH, Rednitzhembach, Germany. The firm has 8 employees, with automobile, aerospace, industrial optics and medical engineering cleints
- 2006 – 2010: CEO, Simuloptics GmbH in Schwabach, Germany
- 2000 – 2009: European representative of Breault Research Organization (USA)
- 1998 – 2005: Engineering office for optics design and analysis
- 1992 – 1998: Research Associate, Max-Planck Institut/University of Jena, Germany. Project on light scattering by nano-particles
- 1992: Undergraduate, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg Nuclear Physics
- Past projects included light guides for BMW 3, 5 and 7 series, Mercedes S Class and optical analysis of space missions such as Meteosat Third Generation, Sentinel 3 and 4
We invite you to query and challenge us, work with us to support us, and join us and back us! Thank you.