Carl Zeiss...then and now

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by andy_collins|1, Sep 10, 2008.

  1. I have entered the world of Carl Zeiss lenses the easy way, a great find at the flea market. The lenses perform
    well and will probably perform even better when I've really gotten the hang of the Exakta. I often see posts on
    various websites about Carl Zeiss lenses being used on the current crop of DSLRs, usually with a lot of
    enthusiasm flavoring the post. My question is this; how do the old Carl Zeiss lenses compare to the newer ones,
    and are they worth bothering to mount on a current camera? I did happen to see an auction on the big auction site
    for a CZ lens for an Exakta, but the picture was of the lens, something along the lines of the Biotar, mounted on
    a Canon 20D. Would that be worth the trouble or are the newer lenses so much better that there's no comparison?
  2. If you're in for quality - use the new ones. They are sharper, better coated and more flare-resistant than the old ones.

    When you're looking for a special "look" - try the old ones.
  3. Just a warning, you're going to stir up the Zeiss enthusiasts out there.

    Many of the newer lenses are based off of these older Zeiss lenses. It's my understanding that the downfall of Zeiss related to expensive workmanship, intricate mechanics, needed repairs and maintenance on products, loss of patent protection in WWII, and the Japanese companies heavily focusing on reverse engineering many of their more popular designs (Planar, Sonnar, Tessar). Of course some lens designs are easier than others.

    Now you're asking a question that has to do with "Why shoot classic?". Complicated and full of opinions on this forum, the best answer I could give would be uniqueness. Many of these lenses were as close as a lens can get to "handmade". I've heard the rumor that after the War when production resumed, workers had to board a ferry every morning to the plant. The plant was supposedly built atop of a man made lake to absorb the force of some of the machinery to ensure top notch quality. Each lens has a unique quality. In my opinion, it comes down to color rendition and how the lens feels.

    I can't really describe how some of the forumlas feel, but there's a mood. My Tessar is like an exacting optical instrument that will not lie (good for vacation snapshots, landscapes, and some street photography). My Biogon is sharp corner to corner, but the color rendition is so forgiving on any subject My Sonnar wide open can feel just a tad dreamy and stopped down has a distinct charm (for when I'm goofing off with film in the camera). Oh yes, and my Planar can do no wrong (for when I want everyone to look like they're featured on Hallmark or just beautiful in general).

    Consider investing in a few FSU lenses to see if you like the character. Jupiter 2 is a Sonnar copy, Jupiter 12 is a Biogon copy, and I'm not sure on the rest. I've yet to be disappointed by a Russian lens. I enjoy how certain lenses has light fall-off at certain apertures and with a cropped sensor, hard to say how it will feel. All you can do is try!

    Anyone correct me if I'm wrong on anything.
  4. The story about the ferry refers to the Zeiss glass making facility, which was situated on a barge in order to ensure the minimum vibration as the glass cooled. The lake wasn't man made, so far as I'm aware. I've seen a picture of the barge (with bowler hatted officials in the foreground) and it wasn't very big, presumably because they were making the glass in small quantities.
  5. Thanks for the corrections, HP. Appreciate it :)
  6. I think the ferry story is rather an urban legend. AFAIK Zeiss did not make optical glass in large quantities. They left this business to Schott which still is one of the leading optical and industrial glass manufacturers. Maybe Zeiss had their own glass research laboratory. Leitz has such a lab, and some of the optical glass types used in their lenses is made to their recipes by companies like Dow Corning.
  7. "I have entered the world of Carl Zeiss lenses the easy way ... My question is this; how do the old Carl Zeiss
    lenses compare to the newer ones,"

    There's a really cheap way to find out: buy a Contax G1. This was an autofocus rangefinder first marketed in the
    mid-90's. A kit with the 45mm f2 Planar can be had for $250. The 90mm f2.8 Sonnar is $100. While you're at it,
    might as well pick up the 28mm f2.8 Biogon for $250.

    For what it's worth, I really like the G1 I just bought. Reading back through old posts, you'll find many
    complaints about the AF performance. I have a bunch RF cameras from other makes, and frankly, the AF on the G1
    is faster than what I can do manually on any of them.

    And as for the lens... My, my, my. That 45mm Planar is breathtaking. All the reviews and accolades were spot on.
  8. I've got some experience using Exakta mount lenses (CZJ, Meyer, Steinheil) on Canon DSLR (1.6x crop) bodies.
    Honestly, image quality is stunning, way better than current Canon's consumer and prosumer lineup, haven't done
    any tests vs. top-of-the-line L glass (a test was done at a certified Canon repair facility that actually still
    does repairs on my Exakta gear, they've compared my CZJ Biotar 1,5/7,5 cm being CLAed by them versus Canon EF
    85mm/1.2 L; at optimum aperture Biotar was allegedly just a bit sharper, way softer wide open though). Using
    Exakta lenses with an adapter on Canon EOS is really awkward even for an experienced Exakta user, I really
    wouldn't recommend for casual shooting, but it can be fun and worth the effort from time to time.
    Here's a recent sample and a 100% crop::
    <img src=>
    <img src=>

    Best regards,<BR>

  9. Miha, that is fantastically impressive.

    Of course having a beautiful subject helps.
  10. Kerry,

    thank you! I'm getting married to the beautiful subject on Saturday.

  11. Man, I'm hankering for a Zeiss short-telephoto/telephoto...
  12. Andy Hi! nice to see you back in action! Now you are hooked on Carl Zeiss!. I have a few of these on Exakta and Praktica mounts. They have some special and variable characteristics within the same lens, such as, between different aperture settings, etc.[as mentioned above]. Perhaps in the early days of lens design they decided to make each lens perform different tasks with different characteristics. The MF lenses site gives you a full analysis for each lens by way of mostly close up shots and color and OOF, all mounted on Digital SLRs. This may suit your interest. I like both CZJ and Meyer lenses in this kind of special characteristics. There are some Meyer lenses like the Oreston 50mm; does not excel in sharpness per se`; but excels in texture and tonal gradation and gets quite sharp at F/8 to f/11. The Meyer Primagon, 35mm old fashioned-preset not multi-coated but makes very sharp pictures and excels in color rendering too. I am sure you would enjoy trying them out either on film or on digital SLRs. Best regards, sp
  13. Arjun Hi! you may want to try the CZJ 135mm f/4 on your exakta. They are available easily on ebay. Also easy to clean and lube. Good for portraiture as well as distant details at different apertures. There is also a Biometar 80mm protrait lens [a little rare, though!] but renders even other shots well. I used to have it on my Exa! regards, sp.
  14. Hi Andy, been busy here so haven't been looking in as much as I would like. See you have moved into Exactas, man are you in trouble now!
    They are a bit of a beast to use, but great looking cameras that get under your skin anyway. With Zeiss lenses there are of course, two distinct camps, West German Zeiss and East German Zeiss, the formulas may be the same but there is quite a difference in build quality to say the least. If you don't believe me, compare a Tessar from a Contarex to the Tessar from a Praktica or Exacta. That said, they still perform really well optically, but suffer from faulty apertures and focussing mechanisms, due mainly to the poor quality alloys used in their construction.

    The really good thing about Exactas is the amount of different lenses that were available for them, from Meyer, Schneider, Zeiss and many others. Why, you can even bolt on a Topcon lens. The Biotar that has been mentioned already, if you can find one with clear glass and free focussing collar, does have a special look, especially at wide apertures, and the Sonnars are pretty special too.

    Have fun with that left handed camera, and remember that no Exacta is complete unless you have at least 20 lenses for it!

  15. Actually, if you're into Zeiss lenses in a big way, the easiest to fit to Canon EOS cameras are the M42 mount ones. The Exakta mount works fine, but it is not so convenient as the M42 adapter, and it WILL ONLY MOUNT THE SMALLER, INNER MOUNT lenses, not, unfortunately, the big telephotos which used the outer mount on the later Exaktas. I have never been able to find any adapter that will fit the larger outer mount for EOS cameras, so don't buy a great honking Exakta telephoto and expect to fit it on your Canon. However, adapters even exist for Pentacon 6 mount medium-format lenses. For a few extra bucks, you can add a shift lens feature. I haven't quite figured out what do do with a 180mm (288mm equivalent) f/2.8 Sonnar shift lens!
  16. Subbarayan, yeah, I've been searching for a suitable lens of the sort for some time now on eBay. Recently, I thought I was tracking the perfect auction, only to have the seller cancel it a couple of days before it was scheduled to end. Hope I get what I'd like soon...
  17. Don't underestimate the less well known german lenses either. I have found Steinheil lenses to be nearly as impressive as Zeiss glass. In particular the 85mm 2.8 Culminar in Exakta mount.
  18. I suppose, amidst all this talk of top-quality glass, we ought to reiterate for ourselves that great photographs aren't made by great lenses, but by observant, argute, and, yes, even lucky photographers. Beautiful photograph, Russ.
  19. Hi folks, great responses! I was out of town for a few days so wasn't able to respond, but I appreciate the feedback. SP--thanks for the tips; those sound like they're worth looking into. Tony--I already fear I'm in trouble with this camera and what's more frightening is that I'll probably really end upwith 20 lenses! JDM--very cool shot of your 20D with that monster lens on it. That looks better than my 'big white lens' by far. Arjun--excellent point and a good reminder of where to place priorities.

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