Richter Cine Collimators and Test Projectors
©2016-2022 Jorge Diaz-Amador, all rights reserved
Updated: 11 November 2023
Above: Richter Cine R2 Autocollimator setup with 254mm Objective, LED Mini-Maglite, M2 Focal Plane Micrometer, ARRI PL Lens Standard on Model B Optical Bench.
Foreground items: Fiber Optic Light Guide Adapter, 60mm & 130mm Collimator Objectives, ARRI Standard and ARRI Bayonet Lens Standards.
This was the original CinemaTechnic collimator which we used for all our lens and camera service from 2000 through 2006. The unit pictured above was sold in 2009.
Richter Cine Equipment
Richter Cine Equipment was an American company, based in upstate New York, that manufactured autocollimators and lens test projectors specifically designed for use in testing photographic and particularly cinematographic optics.
The company was founded around 1960 by Kenneth Richter, who was a cinematographer and a filmmaker specializing in travelogue films, who had a university background in optics and astronomy.
By the 1980’s the Richter Autocollimator system became very widely used in the motion picture camera and lens industry. It was the standard instrument used to calibrate focus of cine lenses in rental houses worldwide. In 1985 Kenneth Richter was awarded an AMPAS Technical Award (Technical Oscar) for his Autocollimator.
Production of the autocollimators and the Lens Test Projector were wound down by the late 1990’s. Richter Aero Equipment ended operations by October 1998. After Kenneth Richter’s passing two years later, the last remaining old stock was sold off.
Today Richter Cine Autocollimators are highly sought after in the second hand market. The represent by far the best value in lens testing equipment. However, the newest Richter Cine products are now over 20 years old.
When purchased used (internet auction sites, for example) the systems are always out of calibration. After reconditioning and upgrades, their accuracy rivals that of systems at 5 times the cost.
Richter Cine R-2 Reflex Autocollimator
Richter Cine’s best known product is the R2 reflex autocollimator. The system was comprised of an autocollimator reflex block (the reflex unit with reticle, beamsplitter and eyepiece), a collimator objective, and light source. It was possible to see the image reflected by film in the aperture of the camera being tested when a lens and camera were tested together.
The R-2 Autocollimator forms the heart of the Richter Cine collimator system.
The objective lenses used to project the reticle image out to the lens being tested are called Collimator Objectives. In the Richter Cine system they are always fixed focus on infinity.
Collimator objective focal lengths 60mm, 130mm, 180mm and 254mm were available. Longer focal lengths of 275mm and 500mm were available but are rare. Focal lengths between 500mm and 2000mm are listed in the catalog but are likely special-order items and only a few were actually built.
The different focal lengths accommodate testing a range of lenses, with longer focal length objectives required to test longer focal length lenses (at least a 2:1 focal length ratio is needed for acceptable accuracy)
Richter Cine M-2 Focal Plane Micrometer
The Focal Plane Micrometer (FPM) forms an indispensable part of a modern collimator system for testing photographic and cinematographic lenses. With the FPM you can view the image reflected off a highly polished reference reflector that simulates the image plane.
The FPM reference reflector can also be precisely moved toward and away from the lens being tested to check the position of best focus. When back focus is off, the micrometer tells you the exact amount of focus error. For lenses with shims you can know the correct shim to install to correct back focus to specification.
The original Richter M-2 units lacked the vertical support post and were mounted on a horizontal beam allowing them to be moved tangentially to the optical axis. All M-2 units have a large analog micrometer head. The earliest ones have a Starrett 468 micrometer with 0.0001 in graduations. Later models have a metric micrometer (Starrett 468 M) with 0.002mm graduations.
The reflector is caged by a black anodized aluminum nut with four or six set screws that adjust the reflector so it does not tumble excessively when the micrometer is turned. It is important not to disturb the set screws or turn the nut or calibration will be lost. On vintage systems that have not been calibrated you can assume calibration is already lost.
Although the reflector is made of a ceramic material and is harder than glass, the mirror coating is just as sensitive as any front surface mirror. About 90% of M-2 units have scratched reflectors. Replacement reflectors are not available. The best option is to convert to a digital micrometer.
S-2 Focal Plane Microscope
This relatively rare S-2 has a housing nearly identical to the M-2 but replaces the micrometer with a microscope. The image is formed on a reticle, representing the image plane, and the microscope allows viewing that image at 50x magnification. This accessory was intended for checking focus scales. The S2 does not have fine adjustments for X-Y or Z axes and as a result is very limited in use.
Optical Test Bench
There were two benches, Model A and Model B. The Test Bench is the support that allows the collimator system to be used, as it is difficult to use a hand-held collimator. The Model A, referred to as a “collimator holder” was a single-rod version only meant for testing small cameras, like SLR still cameras.
The Model B uses dual precision ground steel rods and recirculating ball bearings and allows for different rod lengths to be used. The Model B is the support that allows the collimator system to be used as it allow for the R-2 Collimator Block and Objective and the M-2 FPM to be kept in alignment. The top of the pivoting test table can also be used to mount cameras for checking ground glass focus (film cameras) or Flange Focal Depth (digital cameras) using a calibrated test lens.
Lens Testing Mounts (Standards)
In order to test a lens on the M-2 FPM, you need a lens mount that can me attached to the M-2 (which uses a large diameter fine pitch thread). Richter Cine called their mounts Standards. Each was made to be the same length as the flange focal distance of the camera mount.
Richter Cine made a large number of mounts, many for camera systems that are now obsolete. Richter did make an ARRI PL mount in very limited quantities. Production of mounts ended around 1998. No test mounts wore produced for Canon EF or any other mounts introduced after about 1990.
The original light source for the R-2 was a large lamp house that held an incandescent light bulb surrounded by a spherical reflector. This was powered by a simple power supply with a rheostat to reduce voltage in order to vary the light intensity.
This type of light source has a very warm color temperature, especially when dimmed, which affects focus accuracy. It also generates a great deal of heat which must be isolated from the R-2 block.
Today these original light sources are considered obsolete. The bulbs they used (16mm projector optical sound lamps) are no longer available.
Later models used a fiber optic light guide and a variable light source. A Fiber Optics Tri-Color light source was the last version made.
CinemaTechnic has developed new LED based variable intensity illuminators for the Richter Cine system.
How an Autocollimator Works
For photographic and cinematographic lens testing, autocollimators are primarily used to check focus. Experienced operators can also judge image quality subjectively. The autocollimator projects the image of a test reticle through the lens being tested and onto a simulated or real image plane. That image is reflected back through the test lens and the autocollimator and diverted to the eyepiece where it can be observed by the operator.
More about how autocollimators work (page in development)
CinemaTechnic has taken up the task of bringing the Richter Cine system into the 21st Century
The oldest Richter Cine items are now nearly 60 years old. We are now offering a reconditioning and calibration service for the Richter Cine collimators.
Don’t just assume your collimator is accurate. You may be needlessly adjusting lenses that were already properly calibrated.
Calibrating the Richter Collimator takes special equipment and experience. CinemaTechnic is (to our knowledge) the only provider of this service in the world:
For more information, please contact us via email:
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Originally published 2016-02-23 Last update: 2023-11-19