Julius and Gilbert Durst
Everything stemmed from the passion shared by
the two brothers from Bressanone, whose
photographic talent was anything but casual.
father, a painter, had always made photography a
hobby. Their mother, daughter of an engineer, even
owned darkroom equipment. And there were lots of
photography buffs in the rest of the family.
To this interest, cultivated from childhood, was
added a particular technical talent. The brothers
designed and built hunting gear, kites, gliders and
radio equipment and as youths even built grass skis,
bobsleds and go-karts.
But their main interest was still photography.
their studies inevitably went in that direction:
while Julius (1909-1964), the inventor, learned the
necessary skills at the trade school in Constance,
Gilbert (who would become manager) trained at a
famous photography studio in Innsbruck. But these
commitments didn’t keep them from continuing to
invent and construct.
The Oberrauch family
“We can’t go on like this”, Julius Durst declared
after four years in business. Processing the patents
developed in-house for photographic equipment
required greater capital and a company enlargement.
So the search for a suitable financial backer began
The famous “Alois Oberrauch und Söhne”
leather-goods factory, founded in 1865, showed
interest in the Durst brother’s project, leading to an
Oberrauch-Durst partnership in 1933.
From then on the Dursts handled photographic
techniques while the Oberrauch family ran the
This combination of know-how and
capital quickly bore fruit and in 1936 the brothers
officially founded Durst Phototechnik AG. Now they
needed a design studio, a production department
and another for mounting. So in Bressanone they
leased the former Seidner beer factory.
could start up mass production and, a short while
later, world distribution of modern photographic
Everything began in 1929…
The initial hobby soon became a paying profession.
In 1929 Julius and Gilbert dared to take the big step
and set up their own business.
At home they repaired
and built photographic equipment of every type.
A friend acted as dealer and payment collector.
Every new order was tailored to customer
requirements and based on a specific design.
In this period they created elegant individual pieces,
such as cinematographic accessories like reelwinders
and viewers, stamp screeners, darkrooms,
trimmers for paper in rolls and photocopying
machines for postcards. With a “Magic Lantern” they
attempted their first enlargements.
As we said, every product was custom-designed,
while individual components were made by a
Bressanone blacksmith on his forge, in totally
primitive conditions and using obsolete machinery.
“You can’t imagine how we suffered”, Gilbert Durst
Postcards from the Alto Adige
The Alto Adige (southern Tyrol) was a tourist
attraction. And so were postcards of it. The local
ones were excellent in quality but definitely too
expensive. Rationalization was the answer.
In 1934 the famous Durst copier began operating.
This was a sophisticated machine able to thriftily
reproduce many photographs in limited copies.
Demand was high but still too limited, not enough to
keep the business afloat. So they decided to get into
other, more remunerative, sectors.
The first patents
To protect themselves from idea theft, from 1934 on
they took their inventions to the patent office.
Those were the days of the first patents for enlarging
machines, photocopiers, innovative frames for
negatives and auto-focus.
In subsequent years, down
to the present, Durst was granted many copyrights,
even on the international level. Great inventive
ability and small but decisive innovations soon
allowed Durst to conquer the world market.
Durst Phototechnik AG was officially founded in
Snapping photos with Gil
Right from the start the biggest dream was creating
a serially-made camera. The dream came true in
1938 with the first Durst camera, called Gil.
a 6 x 9 box camera using photographic film. Thanks
to its double shutter and convex surface to rest
the film on – permitting better focus and clarity of
image in the areas near the edges – image quality
was definitely superior to those of other cameras in
the same price range.
Building a camera required much more sophisticated
mechanics and so the Durst brothers inaugurated
a department devoted exclusively to camera
In 1942 began mass production of a huge enlarger
for 30 x 40 cm negatives. Soon after, creating very
thin pressure-cast aluminum components made it
possible to create sophisticated designs.
In fact, in addition to smooth running the machine
had to look good, and the use of special lacquers
gave an elegant appearance to its surfaces.
The age of the motor begins
In 1943 an enlarger equipped with a motor and
mercury-vapor bulb set the stage for a new
generation of equipment. It was produced following
the principles already adopted: “quality, stability,
precision mechanics, perfect optical axes, the finest
optical equipment available, endurance”.
A rapid recovery from the post-World War II
In 1946 the Gil was followed by the Duca, a pocket
camera for snapshots with a spool-less 12-shot roll
Professionals considered it an “ingenious machine”
noteworthy not only for its high technical level but
above all for its “absolutely original oval shape”.
Even the colors were up-to-date: lacquered in black,
brown, blue, red or white. The Duca showed off with
Durst’s sales abroad continued to grow. Even in
the 40s and 50s a good part of its production
was for the international market. In 1953 the first
distribution company was founded, the Deutsche
Durst GmbH, with offices in Munich.
In the 1950s Durst was one of the few companies
offering a lot of jobs in tiny Bressanone, at the time
visibly undersized, industrially.
The last and most spectacular of the cameras was
the Automatica. The first camera with an automatic
exposure meter and pre-selected diaphragm.
A special camera, created thanks to fortuitous
chance: towards the end of 1944 an American
fighter plane had been shot down in Bressanone and
its instruments scattered through the forest. Among
them was a tiny control device that Julius Durst
found and studied at length until he invented the
first automatic exposure meter.
The Automatica was presented in 1956. When
production ended in 1963 for questions of cost
the era of Durst cameras also came to a close. Its
enlargers began to reign supreme in the company’s
The immediate question was: black & white or color?
Durst decided to give several of its highly esteemed
enlargers a color head.
This was the year the new production plant starting
operating. After the 1964 car accident that cost
Julius Durst, the inventive builder, his life, the young
team he had organized took the company ahead,
ambitiously and courageously. Developing, for
example, the first color head that automatically
controlled exposure for all film formats, from
24 x 36 mm up to 13 x 18 cm. In 1966 eleven models
of products were being made, including enlargers
and various types of darkroom equipment. Salient
features: extremely high precision, compactness and
exceptional ease in handling.
Since dichroic filters always filter only one color
from the light, three are used to produce the three
primary colors (RGB) in the projection technique,
while the middle ground of the wavelength of green
is gotten through a band filter.
In the home-use sector the renaissance began with
the first amateur analyzers. In the 60s the amateur
darkroom era was thought to be over and done with.
Color photos celebrated their definitive triumph
but for photography buffs the chance of developing
colors “with reasonable quality” seemed
Things changed only when Durst
presented the first easy-to-use models destined for
amateur photographers. For a whole decade this
sector proved fundamental for Durst.
In 1977 it
accounted for 60% of total sales.
Durst (UK) Ltd. was founded in Epsom, England and
was the company’s first foreign production site.
The Closed-Loop system
The closed loop includes a system of measuring light
with a microprocessor able to correct all variations in
light quality before and during exposure. With three
narrow-band measuring cells in the aim-finder,
the percentage of the three basic colors – blue,
green and red – is measured five times per second
(practically continually) and compared with the
filter value while data is memorized for input and
If light quality shifts from the nominal
value, the color percentages are corrected by the
filter’s step-by-step motor. The system also takes
into account the quality of the incorporated color
filter and offsets secondary color density or other
sources of error. Even bulb replacement is no longer
a problem. The system immediately recognizes the
new characteristic of the light and modifies filter and
density values with a maximum precision of 0.025
for density values.
The year 1975 saw the start of a new era for
enlarging techniques: Magica 300/350, Durst’s first
daylight enlarger, made processing perfect even
without a darkroom. The second big event of the
year was the birth of the first professional Color-
Analyser CAN 450 for the modern photo lab.
To fully meet the demands of the enormous
American market, in 1976 Durst North America Inc.
was founded in Tempe, Arizona.
Durst goes “horizontal”
The leading company in the sector enthused the
professional world with the first horizontal enlarger.
In the early 80s Durst also brought out a new
amateur enlarger with automatic control of exposure
and an incorporated analyzer.
For the delight and
easy use of demanding photography buffs!
The innovative Durst HL 2501 model with microcomputerized
regulation and electronic focus was
able to satisfy all customer requirements.
Black & white photos – the province of home
darkrooms – were being increasingly supplanted by
color photographs. Mini-labs, able to turn out in
a day (and later in a couple of hours) color photos
of acceptable quality at equally acceptable prices,
contributed to the rapid decline of the amateur enlargement
market; in just 5 years, they dropped from
1 million photos in 1980 to less than 400,000.
Professional labs – photographic labs as image
suppliers – providing large-format and designer
ads for museums, became important new groups of
customers, with new and specific needs in terms of
reliability, image quality and services.
More precise, faster and cheaper
In 1985 Optimo and Optopia kicked off a new
generation of enlargers. Their highfalutin names
stood for a complete system for modern and rational
image processing. Features included a new lighting
system, sophisticated electronic commands and very
Design becomes an important factor in
Otl Aicher, founder of the Hochschule für Gestaltung
in Ulm, handled Durst’s corporate design, creating a
new typeface, coding colors and the gray scale. At
the same time he created a new typeface, which he
called Rotis, and made it the Durst typeface.
The decision to deal with the technical theme in
a literary way, writing books as the expression of
high-range marketing, can be traced to Otl Aicher.
The first book, “Colors in Tyrol”, was introduced by
Aicher himself, while the second, “Transit”, a work he
greatly influenced from the graphic standpoint, was
published after his death.
New products and new values in rendering terms
once again constituted milestones. In the amateur
sector, for example, outstanding were the welltested
Modular 70 or the Printo developer, based
on a modular concept, easy to use and offering the
utmost in quality.
For the less expert a “knowledgeable advisor” was
Magico, a completely new, exceptional enlarger
offering considerable advantages.
Durst goes digital
In 1992 began intense research and development
work. Presented in 1994, the Lambda 130 was
the first result. Lambda is a laser printer for large
formats displaying high-resolution digital texts and
images on all traditional photographic supports up
to a width of 127 cm.
With more than 900 installations, starting in 1995, in
professional photo and reproduction labs, pre-print
centers and industrial departments, Lambda
inaugurated a new era in the large-format technique
and set new standards in terms of image quality.
“Lambda print” became a synonym for quality in the
art photo sector.
Durst opens a new production plant in Lienz, in
the eastern Tyrol
With the advent of inkjet technology and its growth
potential, it was necessary to expand production
capacity. Thanks to generally favorable conditions in
the eastern Tyrol, it was decided to open a new
production plant (2750 sq m) in Lienz. July 30, 1999
saw official inauguration of the Durst Digital
Technology GmbH plant in Lienz.
In 2001 the Rho 160 went on the market. This was
the first high-performance inkjet printer, destined for
flexible, industrial digital printing of large formats
and designed for use in photo labs, in serigraphy and
in the print sector.
Thanks to the new technology it was now possible
to print on non-glossy supports, rolls or panels, with
maximum width of 160 cm and maximum thickness
of 40 mm in the case of rigid supports.
The printed materials could be used immediately
after production, with no further work required.
After opening distribution offices in Germany,
England and the United States, 2002 saw the birth of
Durst France, with which the company renewed its
strategy of being present on major markets.
In January 2003 the Lienz plant began the
production and market introduction of the first
printer designed in-house, the Rho 205, a flatbed
inkjet printer 2 meters wide.
Revolutionary Quadro Array technology
Durst’s Quadro Array technology is based on
Spectra nozzles. Four slots in a single heated plate
with continual ink flow in an array of a total of
In 2005 Durst doubled its production space in Lienz,
enlarging it to 6500 sq m, and revamped the plant to
make it a high-tech point of reference. At the same
time as the new plants, an “art park” was named for
the company’s co-founder, Luis Oberrauch, and a
“Technical Academy” for digital printing was opened.
The new building hosts a whole production cycle –
from the pre-printing station to a complete station
for cutting and folding digitally printed packaging
– and classrooms where students from all over the
world learn the art of digital printing.
In 2006 Durst presented Gamma 60, the world’s
first industrial inkjet printer for printing ceramic tiles
for flooring and facing. Thanks to use of pigmented
ceramic ink that Durst developed, with Gamma 60
it is possible to use the same enamels utilized for
traditional serigraphy systems.
On July 23, 2010, the Lienz research center was
This new research center for inkjet technology,
equipped with one of the most up-to-date
chemistry-physics labs and a suitable scientific team,
specializes in researching the bases for using inkjet
printing in the energy technology, life sciences and
health sectors and in security codes for brands – the
products of 2018 and beyond …