THE ALPA HISTORY IN A NUTSHELL
1918: 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.
1944: Pignons SA introduces its first camera: the “ALPA-Reflex, Model C”. Continuous development leads to technical masterpieces such as the Model 9d, among the first cameras in the world with an exposure meter behind the lens.
1946: The brand ALPA was officially registered in Switzerland on 19 Februrary 1946: Registration of the ALPA brand in Switzerland on 19 Feb 1946
1965: Production of the ALPA reaches 1,300 cameras per year which record is then followed by an initially slow but later increasingly steep decline.
1990: 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.
1996: 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.
1998: 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).
2000: 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.
2004: ALPA adjustable digital adapters introduced.
2005: 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.
2006: 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.
2007: 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.
2008: 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.
2009: ALPA launches the ALPA Lens Corrector. A Photoshop distortion correction plug-in for free.
2010: Introduction of the ALPA 12 STC, the HPF rings and iPhone holder plus App.
2012: Introduction of the ALPA 12 FPS, the electronically controlled focal plane shutter camera and adapters for controlling Canone EF and Nikon PC-E lenses, Hasselblad V lens adapter and Mamiya 645 (man.) lens adapter.
2014: Introduction of the all new adapters for controlling Hasselblad H lenses and Contax 645.
2016: Introduction of the ALPA GON, the first modular tripod head and man other new products and solutions.
2017: Introduction of ALPA lens module for vintage ALPA 35 mm lenses, start of the ALPA moving image solutions.
2018: Enhancement of the ALPA tripod range and ball head.
… to be continued
THINGS ARE SIMPLE AT THE TOP
“... I am passionate about this camera and it never leaves my sight. I have finally found the camera for me. All else pales...”
“... One cannot overestimate the power of quality. I thought originally that I didn’t need ALPA. I was wrong...”
“... The camera’s feel is almost impossible to explain to anyone who has not handled it – the ALPA simply exudes quality. Everything about it is as well made as it can possibly be, but there is more than that; it is touched by magic...”
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For as long as anyone can remember, ALPA has been known to perfectionists of photographic technology as one of the world’s top names. The reputation is now based on six camera models, all engineered to the highest supportable degree of mechanical precision. Their versatility and the reduction to the essentials attracts all those photographers who wish to leave the world of compromise behind them when they choose their instruments, who search for unhindered access to their creativity.
As simple as possible is as good as possible. That is the principle and ALPA is the result. All six models of the ALPA form a common, modular platform that ensures full compatibility. Part of the concept are integrated lenses from 23 to 250 mm focal length, adapters for digital backs, and directly attachable roll-film backs up to 6x9 as well as an extensive range of accessories. Part of the concept is the full compatibility of all ALPA models with the very first ALPA 12 of 1998. Such compatibility will also be retained in future. Nothing in the ALPA platform is arbitrary, nothing is accidental, nothing is superfluous. All is subordinated to the motive “only the best endures”.
Precision and quality
Connoisseurs and experts have always known the decisive importance of mechanical precision and optical quality. Developments during the past few years have made many more aware of the decisive value of precision and accuracy. It is above all the digital backs that demand a minimum in tolerances and a maximum in optical performance if their potential is to be fully exploited. With more than 60 Megapixels, sensors up to 40 x 54 mm (40.4 x 53.9 mm) at 6.0 µm pixel size – here is where the chaff is rapidly separated from the wheat: the tiniest mechanical inaccuracy, the most minor shortcoming in performance of lenses can turn into distortions, lateral color aberration and other errors. It is here that the ALPA platform is confirmed in the clearest way possible: uncompromising orientation in construction and highest possible precision in execution, only the best lenses and those exclusively adjusted optimally on the collimator by the manufacturers (Schneider-Kreuznach in Bad Kreuznach and Linos/Rodenstock in Munich). Only thus can constant quality at the highest level be developed. That ALPA cameras also look good and have won many a design price merely confirms the old saying “true beauty comes from within”.
Which model for what purpose?
Those who like or need the technical quality of a high-end digital back or of a grown-up roll-film format up to 6x9, but who must travel light and work expeditiously, those are the very people who most appreciate the ALPA 12 TC, the ALPA 12 WA and the ALPA 12 SWA. They are the ALPA cameras that are easy-to-handle not just with light-weight lenses, but that can also remain within the ever-tighter limits for traveling bags. Ergonomically formed handgrips and the silky-smooth, instant shutter release contribute to the superior quality of your freehand shots. Where complex camera settings such as shift (perspective control) simultaneously in both directions with tilt/swing (zone of sharpness control) from tripod are used but where free-handed photography is also required, the ALPA 12 MAX can offer a particularly flexible solution. Where work is done almost entirely on tripod, the ALPA 12 XY comes into its own by adding the capability of shift movements limited only by the sizes of the image circles of the lenses available. The ALPA 12 MAX and the ALPA 12 XY offer the possibilities of digital stitching, without the slightest movement of the lens during shifting. This is needed to avoid a change of perspective and is a characteristic indispensable to avoid unwanted stereoscopic effects. The sixth ALPA model also needs to be mentioned here: the ALPA 12 METRIC is used in digital photogrammetry, i.e. for photographic computer-supported measuring for cartography and many other scientific and industrial applications.
In praise of simplicity
Why do we lay so much stress here on the uncompromising orientation of all ALPA products towards the greatest possible simplicity? We think that there is a direct connection between limiting oneself to the essentials – and the reliability of a camera. We also think that there is a growing general weariness with the missing transparency, the limited control, the patronizingly automated picture-taking – and above all with the arbitrary nature of the results. We think that there are enough photographers out there who are not meekly inclined to tolerate this situation, but who are trying to escape from it with the help of their photographic knowledge and skills – and possibly with an ALPA.
WE ARE TOOLMAKERS - FOR MORE THAN 20 YEARS
The beginning of the ALPA story reaches all the way back to the time of World War II. The first ALPA camera had been on the market for several years, but it was not until the 19th of February 1946 that the Swiss manufacturers Pignons SA, Ballaigues, registered the brand. In the following years, ALPA and their 35mm cameras became legendary. The production of these cameras reached its climax between 1960 and 1970.
In the 1980s, the boom stopped. Switzerland’s industry was hit by the vast economic globalisation. A lot of Swiss manufacturers faced financial and technical difficulty and some were even forced to close their doors. Among them, despite their outstanding products, was Pignons SA. The ALPA 11 remained their last camera.
50 years after the registration through Pignons SA, Ursula Capaul and Thomas Weber bought the brand on the 29th of February 1996. They revived and repositioned it as a modular medium format platform, adopting the qualities of the earlier ALPA-Generations, like their outstanding precision, their quality and their function-oriented design. The new ALPA of Switzerland was born alongside the new ALPA 12 camera.
Since then, another two decades have passed. In 2016, ALPA celebrated 20 years of medium format with the ALPA 12 platform - as well as 70 years of existence. It was a year of reminiscing, it reminded us of the untold stories about ALPA from all these years.
Today, ALPA is one of the last manufacturers of cameras in Switzerland, and an outstanding manufacturer in the global market. ALPA cameras are precision tools, made with passion and skilled craftsmanship for a small group of connoisseurs. Much like musical instruments, these tools require the practised fingers and the careful eye of a master. ALPA's photographers do not require automatic functions or a constant stream of new models. We simply provide the same that all good manufacturers of tools and instruments do – we provide the best possible quality in design, material and an open ear to all the wishes of our customers.
OTHER THAN THE OTHERS - A CHAT ON THE WHYS AND WHEREFORES.
After more than 45 years of concentrating on 35-mm reflex cameras, the ALPA brand name vanished from the scene. After a gap of eight years, the ALPA 12 appeared with a completely new concept of camera design. The new ALPA brand has since established itself securely at the top of its chosen field. The revived company is run by Ursula Capaul, Thomas Weber and André Oldani.
WHERE DID THE MOTIVATION COME FROM TO REVIVE THE ALPA BRAND?
Ursula Capaul: From joy and interest in any form of technology and from the extraordinary reputation of the ALPA brand that had been neglected for years.
WHAT WAS YOUR AIM REGARDING YOUR PRODUCT?
Thomas Weber: We wanted to achieve a maximum of satisfaction from the manufactured objects, from the design as well as from the manufacturing process. Characteristic for this: may there possibly be another manufacturer of cameras who recommends a book like “The Craftsman” by Richard Sennett? ALPA does so.
HAVE THE PRODUCTS TURNED OUT THE WAY YOU IMAGINED THEY WOULD?
André Oldani: Indeed they have. Anyone can see this when looking at an ALPA and, when touching one, feel it.
Weber: In the early days we occasionally heard remarks that we were making a camera that was much too precise and that no film could ever be made to lie sufficiently flat to justify such precision. But as soon as the first digital backs appeared with their absolutely flat sensor areas the picture changed. Suddenly, demands for precision were made that we had long before already fulfilled.
THE ALPA ISN’T CHEAP.
Capaul: Indeed it isn’t. The ALPA is for those who can tell the difference between price and value.
WHAT PRECISELY DO YOU MEAN BY “VALUE”?
Oldani: For many photographic tasks, the material that is manufactured for the mass market is sufficient. But then there are a number of applications that need a different basis with a higher precision and improved harmonization between the elements. Wherever the higher demands appear, there is the ALPA territory.
Weber: Technical quality in photography depends on a whole chain of components, and it is the weakest link in the chain that determines the quality level of the entire system. This means, for example, that the best lens in the world is not worth much if the filter used, the helical mount, the lens board, the camera body or the back do not come up to the same standard.
Capaul: It happens frequently that people think a lens with the same brand and model designation must bring the same performance on another camera. Not so! It is always the chain of components mentioned earlier that, as a whole, determines the quality of the result. A Schneider Apo-Digitar XL 5,6/35mm need not produce the same end-results as the same lens on another camera.
DIFFERENT ALPA MODELS HAVE DIFFERENT OUTSIDE SHAPES, AND YET THERE IS A VISIBLE INNER CONNECTION. HOW CAN THIS BE?
Oldani: At ALPA, form follows function, that is the basic principle to which need to be added the personal preferences of our users and the ideas of the engineers. It is in this interplay of wishes and ideas that our products develop, which in turn ensures that there is a formal relationship between our models.
THOSE WHO BUY SUCH A SOLID, LONG-LIVED PRODUCT AS THE ALPA WILL WANT TO KNOW IF THERE ARE STILL SPARE PARTS MANY YEARS FROM NOW.
Weber: ALPA Capaul & Weber looks back on an uninterrupted success story that has now lasted more than twenty years. This makes it at least probable that we will continue in this way.
Oldani: Whoever looks at the recent history of the camera industry will see that within a short period of time many very famous brands have vanished. Other traditional manufacturers had to be “revived” or are in intensive care, facing an uncertain future. As far as we at ALPA are concerned, we have every reason to be optimistic. We think we are on the right way.
Capaul: In this connection I must pay our very first customer a compliment because in 1998 this question was asked much more often than it is now. After a brief inspection of the first ALPA, Raymond Depardon of Magnum/Paris said: “I have waited for years for just this camera – I am ordering one right now.” Today he is working with several ALPAs.