Deep Dive: Han ANH Droid Caller (Kobold vs. Linhof)

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MastahBlastah

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So my recent acquisition of this (very affordable) Linhof flash has motivated me to finally really dig into the Han ANH droid caller ... a prop for which I've been passively studying and gathering reference for some time:

Unaltered Linhof_2.jpg


Unaltered Linhof_1.jpg


As I inspected my flash and pored over the best reference material I could find, I realized that this Linhof is actually very well-suited for the Han ANH droid caller. There were at least three variations of the droid caller used in ANH alone (Han, Luke, Jawa) but for the sake of being intentional and concise, I plan to limit discussion in this thread to the Han prop, as much as possible. These Kobold and Linhof flashes, like most camera gear produced in their time, have plenty of subtle variations both within and between each brand. Some of these details overlap between the two brands, and some seem to be exclusive to their maker. Does anybody have any background on the relationship between these two companies? Were their flashes manufactured in the same factory, but just represent different phases of production? Or a shift in branding, perhaps? Even without that information, it's possible to make some deductions based on these subtle details. Let's discuss ...

Here's the screen-used prop, as depicted on "Parts of Star Wars" from user lonepigeon ...

Han ANH Droid Caller_POSW.jpg


Exhibit A: Silver Finish vs. Black "Wrinkle Paint"

Silver Kobold_POSW.jpg
Black Kobold_POSW.jpg


For those who don't know, the general consensus has been for years that Han's droid caller was based on an almost identical Kobold flash that sports a black, textured grip on the lower tube (photo above courtesy of lonepigeon at "Parts of Star Wars"). Most people who've replicated Han's droid caller who couldn't track one of those down have chosen to paint their replica, or silver vintage flash with black "wrinkle paint". This technique closely matches the look of the common black Kobold, but I've heard it mentioned that those were in fact wrapped with a black, wrinkle-textured "grip" material, versus painted. Can anyone with a black vintage Kobold confirm this? Is there a visible seam anywhere?

* EDIT: I followed up on this and I totally mis-remembered this. I was thinking of someone who had proposed the "textured wrap" method as a possible approach to achieving the finish on a replica. Scratch that! *

There's some great info and speculation in the run thread for that replica, and some have proposed the idea that Han's droid caller was in fact based on the elusive "Silver Kobold" which was used for Luke's ANH droid caller. This theory is based on some reference photos that are posted there, that I don't feel quite comfortable posting as I'm not certain of where they initially came from. Here are some of those quotes, though:

I know a lot of us are doing and loving the krinkle paint but is it accurate for screen used props? Most notably, Han's. His looks like it might have either been a silver variant that was painted with regual black paint. Either that or there is a variant with non-krinkle black paint. Thoughts?


It was PROBABLY the silver variant painted... but I like krinkle

OK, that photo is hard to argue with. To my eyes, that finish is far too smooth to match the texture of the standard black Kobold. By my research, that leaves three possibilities that would explain this:

Theory # 1: Textured Grip Came Off

* EDIT: Scratch this theory, as the "textured grip" on the Kobold was just a myth. The black ones are in fact wrinkle-painted. *

This is where the truth behind the textured grip becomes important. Is it possible that the proposed black, textured grip either fell off or deteriorated enough for the team to strip it off and paint the lower tube black? Can anyone with the appropriate flash tell me if this seems feasible? How firmly is that grip mounted on there? I have some antique pieces with what I assume to be a similar material, and they are practically falling off. See this textured material on my authentic WWII German binoculars:

Textured Grip_German WWII Binocs.jpg


Theory # 2: Silver Kobold Painted Black

OK, let's say that textured grip is firmly on there, and theory #1 is unlikely. What's the next natural conclusion? Maybe they painted a silver Kobold black? Why not? We know that they've done this before with other droid caller props (Han ESB). I have a problem with this theory, though, and the details lie in yet another common variation found across these flashes:

Exhibit B: The Stepped vs. Smooth Transition

Droid Caller_Smooth vs Stepped.jpg


If you look at all variations of these flashes, you'll see two types of top assemblies (circled in red above). One has a smooth, rounded transition to the lower knurling (like mine) and the other has a subtle step in the transition (See comparison photo above, courtesy of lonepigeon at "Parts of Star Wars"). It's commonly accepted and apparent from screen reference that Han's droid caller has a smooth transition, which can be seen in this frame from the Disney+ 4K version (and even more apparent in the b&w pre-pro photo):

DisneyPlus 4K_Droid Caller_Smooth Transition Reference.png


So here's where it gets interesting. In my years of searching, I've never seen evidence of a silver Kobold with a smooth transition. They all seem to have a stepped transition like the one pictured above. Has anyone ever seen a smooth-transitioned silver Kobold? If so, I would love to see a photo of it. If they in fact don't exist, then this leads to a third potential theory:

Theory # 3: Silver Linhof Painted Black

Now I know many will take issue with this theory, both because it's been commonly accepted for a long time that the Han ANH was a Kobold, and because many here have invested lots of money into that notion! But, I've yet to see any evidence that proves Han's droid caller couldn't have been a Linhof. In addition to not having seen a smooth-transitioned silver Kobold, I've also never seen a stepped, or black Linhof. Many may quote the other, smaller "tells" (which I'll dig into soon) but I believe that all of these other details visible in reference from the Han ANH prop can be found on both Kobolds and Linhofs. If you've ever followed a discovery thread here on the RPF, you're probably familiar with the phenomenon where someone discovers a potential source for a found part, then others continue to build other discoveries and extrapolations upon that discovery, and eventually the initial theory becomes solidified as "fact" without any real proof. If somebody here has reference to disprove this theory, I would genuinely love to see it, as my intention is to understand the truth about this prop, not to prove that "my Linhof is more accurate!" I'd love to have my prop proved slightly inaccurate if it meant that the truth about the real prop was uncovered in the process. So, let's dig in further to the trial of "Kobold vs. Linhof" :lol:

Exhibit C: Small Knurled Nut

Han ANH Droid Caller_Small Nut_POSW.jpg


There are two types of these small, knurled nuts (circled in red above) that I've seen on these flashes. There's a cone-shaped variety, and a more flat-profiled variety. It seems to currently be common consensus that Han's ANH prop featured the more common "cone-shaped" small nut, pictured in the above reference photo, courtesy of lonepigeon at "Parts of Star Wars". Personally, I can't tell for certain from this photo which nut is used, but in the B&W pre-pro photo quoted previously, the nut looks very much flat to me. There's a shadow there that I can't quite explain otherwise, but it's really too blurry to say. Either way, this isn't a tell for "Kobold vs. Linhof". Although my Linhof (and most that I've seen) has a flat nut, I've seen cone nuts on several Linhofs (see quote below for an example):

Here is another Linhof, which looks almost identical to the ESB version. Notice the screws are together and the bulb in recessed. This particular model is probably older than mine because it says West Germany instead of just Germany.

View attachment 399471
View attachment 399476
View attachment 399478

Furthermore, I've also seen flat nuts on Kobolds! (see quote below for an example):

Here's an image of the Kobold flash that is the exact same as my Linhof I saw recently:

View attachment 1317594

I'd love to know if the Han ANH had a cone or flat nut, if anyone has reference that shows it more clearly, but to me, this outcome also doesn't give us any definitive insight into "Kobold vs. Linhof"

Exhibit D: Bottom Knurling:

Some have pointed out one detail that could act as a proper tell with better reference. It's a subtle difference, but the knurling on the very bottoms of the lower tube (and upper aluminum part) are slightly different from Kobold to Linhof. The Linhof has an ever-so-slightly tighter knurling pattern. See quote below for a nice comparison:

Here is a picture of my Kobold next to my Linhof

View attachment 399271

This user also went on to claim that:

After seeing a bunch of different Kobolds, I think I can confidently say that at least the tops of Linhof's could have been used with the bottoms being Kobold. I have detailed pictures in a article I just wrote on Linhof, if you're interested.

I read their article on Linhofs and it's a great read! Now, here's one more detail to throw a wrench in things. There's also a version of the silver Kobold that features a smooth bottom, with no knurling (allegedly used for Luke's ANH droid caller). See below photo from lonepigeon at "Parts of Star Wars":

Silver Kobold_Smooth Bottom_POSW.jpg


A clear view of this part, or even the top knurled section, may give us more insight into "Kobold vs. Linhof" but these details are pretty fuzzy in all of the reference that I've seen. Again, if anybody can illuminate this part of the prop, please chime in! But for now, this detail also seems to be a moot point in determining "Kobold vs. Linhof"

Exhibit E: The Test Bulb:

Han ANH Droid Caller_Test Bulb_POSW.jpg


I've seen a handful of variations when it comes to the test bulbs found on these props, but some things do seem to be consistent from what I've seen. The Kobolds' test bulbs can be varied, both in placement and in assembly, but most (possibly all?) of the Linhofs that I've seen feature the same assembly: knurled brass ring with a small blob of solder and a recessed, flat bulb. I believe this is (at least one) of the assemblies that could be considered accurate to Han's ANH prop. It's worth mentioning that this same style can also be found on the Kobolds. Here is my reasoning behind this conclusion:

It's sort of tough to tell, but the above, and the following reference seem to indicate that the entire assembly (brass ring and bulb) had been missing from the Han ANH prop both before and during filming (below reference from Disney+ 4K Screen Grab / Chronicles respectively):

Han ANH Droid Caller_Missing Bulb Assembly_2.jpg.png


Han ANH Droid Caller_Missing Bulb Assembly_1.jpg


Now, you may be asking "if the bulb assembly is missing, how can this be a tell? The answer is, "I don't know"! Though I do have some thoughts. From all of the reference I've seen, it seems that the silver Kobolds all feature the more ... protuberant bulb assembly seen in the following photo, courtesy of lonepigeon at "Parts of Star Wars":

Silver Kobold_Bulb Assembly_POSW.jpg


Can anyone with a flash sporting this bulb assembly speak to what it looks like when removed? Does it match what's seen in the reference photos posted above? My Linhof with brass ring assembly seems to match very well when removed:

Linhof_Bulb Socket Comparison.jpg


Exhibit F: Bottom Mounting Hole

This final variation brings up a lot of questions for me. Like most cameras and flashes, each of these flashes sports either a female 1/4"-20 threaded hole, or a 3/8"-16 threaded hole at the bottom. For a bit of context, these are the two standard sizes used for mounting cameras, flashes, etc. and are still the standard today. The size threading used mostly just depends on the size of the equipment, but it's a common dilemma among photographers/cinematographers that you'll have to mount one to the other, so there are tons of simple methods for adapting these threads, and there have been for eons. Now, here's what I've gathered from my research (please correct me if you've seen something to disprove this):

Black Kobolds sport a 3/8"-16 mounting hole on the bottom, while silver Kobolds feature a 1/4"-20 mounting hole. I'll come back to the relevance of this later.

Linhofs, on the other hand, all seem to feature a common male cold shoe mount with a female 1/4"-20 hole drilled/tapped into the cold shoe. In case you don't know, cold/hot shoes are just another method for mounting camera equipment. Even the casual photographer has likely seen a "hot shoe" mount atop their modern camera, which features an electronic contact that mounts/interfaces with a more modern flash. The "cold shoe" is just the more primitive hot shoe, without electronic contact, and was/is used simply for mounting. These mounts typically also include a female 1/4"-20 hole, to give the photographer a few options. Here's a picture of that assembly on my Linhof:

Cold Shoe Mount.jpg


Now, when I saw this piece in the sale photos, my experience with cameras told me that this piece was most likely an adapter that's threaded into a 3/8"-16 hole on the bottom of the flash. This is a very standard method, as it would allow the photographer to choose their mounting system (3/8"-16 hole, 1/4"-20 hole, or cold shoe mount). Once it arrived, I realized that this is not the case. It seems that this cold shoe could be a separate piece, but it's been welded into a larger hole on the bottom of the flash, as seen in the photo below:

Unaltered Linhof_Bottom Interior.jpg


My thoughts are that the factory's tooling was still designed to give this flash a 3/8" hole in the bottom, but for whatever reason they eventually decided this would be a better method. Or perhaps this method came first, then they dropped this piece once they considered the method that I detailed above? Some evidence that supports this: I did once see a Linhof on eBay that lacked the cold shoe mount, but I got the seller to send me additional photos and it was evident that someone had removed it forcibly by breaking the welding. I could see a ring where the outline of the cold shoe's round base had dug into the aluminum of the flash base, and the remaining hole was not threaded. Perhaps another Star Wars fan on the same quest as me? Or perhaps just a photographer hoping to find a threaded 3/8"-16 hole for all the practical reasons I listed above? Either way, this is a very important detail when it comes to "Kobold vs. Linhof". Why? Here we go:

Han's ANH droid caller is seen sporting a camera mounting screw that's been threaded into the bottom hole, as seen in the the following photo from lonepigeon at "Parts of Star Wars":

Han ANH Droid Caller_Mounting Screw_POSW.jpg


Now in the past, people have made the assumption that this is a 3/8"-16 threaded camera mounting screw. These screws are one example of the male component of the threaded mounting system for cameras, flashes etc. and there are literally countless subtle variations of them designed for different purposes, going back forever. Why is this relevant?

It's relevant because if the flash used was in fact silver (either Kobold or Linhof) and if the conclusions I've drawn thus far are true, then the Han ANH prop had a 1/4"-20 hole on the bottom, not a 3/8"-16 hole. This is further evidenced by the fact that despite a ton of active searching, I've never seen such a screw with such a large diameter, that came with a 3/8"-16 male thread. I was a camera assistant in the industry for years, and it was literally my job to have dozens of these screws of all shapes and sizes available in my kit at any moment. I have, on the other hand, found several screws exactly like this that features a 1/4"-20 male thread. They are the same material, same diameter, same straight-knurled pattern, and have the same prominent, concentric machining marks on the bottom that can be seen in screen grabs. Furthermore, all of them came specifically from German camera/flash mounting systems of the same era. I've used one of these screws on my build, for which I'll be making a separate thread if anyone's interested in following that process:

1_4-20 Metz Screw_1.jpg


1_4-20 Metz Screw_2.jpg


Even the screw that lonepigeon has on "Parts of Star Wars" is a 1/4"-20 screw, if you look at it:

Camera Mounting Screw_POSW.jpg


Now, here's where it gets trickier. From the following reference (Disney+ 4K version) we can see that the mounting screw never seemed to sit quite flush with the bottom of the flash during filming. Notice the visible gap between the base of the flash and the top of the mounting screw's disk:

Han ANH Droid Caller_Raised Mounting Screw Reference_1.png


If you look at the previously quoted B&W pre-pro photo, it's even more obvious that this was the case before filming. Now ... yes, there is a gap there, but is the gap big enough to allow for the presence of the Linhof's cold shoe mount?

Metz Screw in Unaltered Hole.jpg


To my dismay, most certainly not. But, if you look closely you'll notice that there are two gaps here. The gap between the cold shoe and the flash base, and the gap between the disk and the cold shoe, which is significantly wider. This second gap is intentional, and is explained by the logic of how the flash would mount to the appropriate bracket. If you look at the screw on its own, you'll see that it's not thread all the way to the base. The 1/4"-20 hole that it's mounted in is also a blind hole (it isn't drilled all the way through the metal) so the screw "stops" here on its own. The resulting space is a relief to fit the metal bracket onto which the flash would be mounted, when rigging up a camera/flash combo.

So, the most natural conclusion here (to my dismay as a Linhof owner) is that this could be a silver Kobold base, sans cold shoe, with a 1/4"-20 hole and appropriate camera screw screwed in as far as it would go, considering the relief for the flash bracket.

Closing Remarks:

Concluding Theory #1
: Could it be that this is a mismatched combination of parts? A silver Kobold lower, mounted to a separate smooth-transitioned top, either from a Kobold or a Linhof?

Concluding Theory #2: Could it be that this is entirely a Linhof flash, and there's just some jury-rigging with the bottom of the flash? Speculation is endless here ... perhaps someone removed the cold shoe on the Linhof and the disk was mounted by the prop guys to cover the hole and/or damage?

Lingering Questions with Big Implications:

1) Is there a version of the Silver Kobold that has a smooth transition at the top?
2) Is there a Linhof that doesn't have a cold shoe mount on the bottom, with just a proper 1/4"-20 or 3/8"-16 hole instead?
3) Does a Linhof smooth-transitioned top fit on a Kobold bottom? More specifically, a silver Kobold bottom?

3) Who's got the GOOD REFERENCE?

Here's hoping that this sparks some good conversation, and that it's not an overload of information. The existing research on this prop seems to be scattered across different threads here on the RPF, so I thought it may be helpful to have it compiled into once place. I'll be posting a build thread soon showing how I made my Linhof more accurate, if anyone is interested in how I've tackled that (specifically the camera mounting screw on the bottom).
 
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2Cell

Well-Known Member
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Diggin' it!

Well researched information drops like this are so nice.

I'd say as someone who collects and sells high-end camera gear rebranding of equipment is often accompanied by a differing finish that exudes more "class." The fact that Linhof cameras are some of the best large format kits even to this day and command a premium price would lead me to believe that the silver finish was specifically chosen too match the finish of the cameras.

For example:

image-asset.jpeg


While the leatherette makes up most of the camera body's covering the beauty is in the highlights of polished metal so the Linhof silver flash would've paired nicely while the black Kobold would have been more drab.

When it comes to flashes (and really many accessories overall), many camera makers outsource production to another company but specify how it looks. I'd surmise that's exactly what happened with the Linhof flash. They liked Kobold as a manufacturer but wanted theirs to stand out and they probably even sold it at a premium just because their name was attached.

Hopefully this is a fun rabbit hole to go down.
 

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MastahBlastah

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I'd say as someone who collects and sells high-end camera gear rebranding of equipment is often accompanied by a differing finish that exudes more "class." The fact that Linhof cameras are some of the best large format kits even to this day and command a premium price would lead me to believe that the silver finish was specifically chosen too match the finish of the cameras.

For example:

While the leatherette makes up most of the camera body's covering the beauty is in the highlights of polished metal so the Linhof silver flash would've paired nicely while the black Kobold would have been more drab.

When it comes to flashes (and really many accessories overall), many camera makers outsource production to another company but specify how it looks. I'd surmise that's exactly what happened with the Linhof flash. They liked Kobold as a manufacturer but wanted theirs to stand out and they probably even sold it at a premium just because their name was attached.

Hopefully this is a fun rabbit hole to go down.

Thanks for chiming in 2Cell! This is actually super helpful in understanding the potential relationships between the two companies. Your theory about outsourcing the work makes a ton of sense. Would be cool to know for sure one day. Perhaps the truth will float to the surface?

nice :)
just for fun, here is a cool small variation. it doesn't have any bulbs or knurled screw. they are filled:
View attachment 1317746

Wow, check it out ... no knurling on that stubby bottom! Do you know if it's a Linhof or a Kobold? Not out of the realm of possibility that it was a mod from a previous owner, but that wouldn't make much sense given the way the internals are laid out on the full-sized flashes.
 
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eethan

Sr Member
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Wow, check it out ... no knurling on that stubby bottom! Do you know if it's a Linhof or a Kobold? Not out of the realm of possibility that it was a a mod from a previous owner, but that wouldn't make much sense given the way the internals are laid out on the full-sized flashes.

It has no brand, it's a smaller version, like a one cell maybe.
I will take a pic tomorrow of all my kobolds too, I have a few variations too ;)
 

coolhanluked

Sr Member
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Ok i just pulled out my 2 kobolds i have a silver and a black and the black is definitely paint. There is no seem! Mine even has a scratch on it and you can clearly see its paint.
 

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MastahBlastah

Sr Member
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Ok i just pulled out my 2 kobolds i have a silver and a black and the black is definitely paint. There is no seem! Mine even has a scratch on it and you can clearly see its paint.

Interesting! I've heard that there could be a smooth-painted black version out there, so the question is: does it also have the wrinkle texture?

Are you able to post a photo of it? Is it the stepped or smooth version?

Thanks!
 

coolhanluked

Sr Member
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Theres some noticeable and subtle differences between them. Also the black one is smooth to a step down. The black seems to be 1/4 20 but the silver is 3/16 on the bottom
 

coolhanluked

Sr Member
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Also the black is a krinkle finish but worn smoothish. I look at that reference pic and i don't see smooth i see worn smoothish. I wouldn't say its proof that they painted it.
 

coolhanluked

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On a side note... hans is missing the entire bulb assembly as we can see in the stills. That is not an easy task! It does not unscrew or simply fall out. I know this because i took my silver one completely apart like 10 years ago at least. (I fitted it with electronics to have light and sound which i have not finished yet.) And it was very hard to get it out. It took a lot of creative tooling to get it out. You have to gut a lot of stuff to get to it. (I didn't care cuz you'll never see the inside of it)
 

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MastahBlastah

Sr Member
RPF PREMIUM MEMBER
On a side note... hans is missing the entire bulb assembly as we can see in the stills. That is not an easy task! It does not unscrew or simply fall out. I know this because i took my silver one completely apart like 10 years ago at least. (I fitted it with electronics to have light and sound which i have not finished yet.) And it was very hard to get it out. It took a lot of creative tooling to get it out. You have to gut a lot of stuff to get to it. (I didn't care cuz you'll never see the inside of it)

If you read "Exhibit E" in my first post here, you'll see that I was able to remove my bulb assembly by simply threading it out. My assembly was the knurled brass ring type with recessed bulb, though. If you couldn't get your assembly out, it could be a tell that Han's had the brass ring assembly, like this one. Mine literally just screwed right out and it matches reference perfectly, IMO.

Bulb Assembly_Mounted.jpg


Bulb Assembly_Removed.jpg


Bulb Assembly_Loose.jpg
 
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2Cell

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It's actually weird too that the brass bit isn't removeable from the bulb, at least as far as mine goes. With that brass ring feature and the need to eventually replace bulbs, you would either have to be able to remove it as it must act as a shield for the bulb or there were specific bulbs that had that bit as part of the assembly to use as replacement.
 

MastahBlastah

Sr Member
RPF PREMIUM MEMBER
Good point! I'm going to take my black one apart now.

If you're talking about the black flash that you posted a photo of above, that doesn't have the brass ring bulb assembly. It has the plastic variety. Isn't that the type that you said wouldn't disassemble?

It's actually weird too that the brass bit isn't removeable from the bulb, at least as far as mine goes. With that brass ring feature and the need to eventually replace bulbs, you would either have to be able to remove it as it must act as a shield for the bulb or there were specific bulbs that had that bit as part of the assembly to use as replacement.

I'm prettuy sure (at least with the brass ring variety) that what we're referring to as the "bulb assembly" is really just a bulb that was once commonly available. As we've seen in your thread, 2 Cell, other bulbs like the Graflex test bulb will fit in there, so at least the threading is common. I've seen other more rounded bulbs like the Graflex bulb in other Kobolds over the years, perhaps those were just from instances where the bulb burned out and someone couldn't find the proper brass ring variety?
 

2Cell

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The size bulb socket definitely seems standard and I've come across many of those types of bulbs in my selling gear over the years but never that variety. I'd lay money on the brass ring being a protector of sorts. Maybe they were proprietary to Kobold...
 

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