Carl Zeiss

Carl Zeiss T*


The Foundation

1846-1890 | 1891-1945 | 1946-1960 | 1961-1975 | 1976-1995

An extracted related contributing article from Contax Gallery, Malaysia

My favourite
Contax RTS, Contax RTS II and Contax RTS III

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In 1896, Dr. Rudolph developed the legendary Planar, a photographic lens still on the cutting edge of optical performance today. The Planar is used in the Contax SLR system, the Contax rangefinder G1 system and the Hasselblad medium format camera system. The Planar solved the problem of spherical aberration and astigmatism, perfectly by employing a symmetrical optical configuration. The Planar is one of the most copied lens formulae in the world.

By the turn of the century, rare earth glass was being developed at Schott and these were used extensively at Carl Zeiss, including lanthanum oxide, a rare earth that provides very high refractive indices and low dispersion. In 1901 the world saw the first aspherical lens, invented at Carl Zeiss Foundation, by Dr. M. Von Rohr. One can note that some of the buzz words we hear from other manufacturers were in fact in widespread use at the turn of the century at Carl Zeiss.

The Carl Zeiss Tessar was born of Dr. Rudolph's computations in 1902. The Tessar was known as "The Eagle Eye" in its early years of production because its high resolution and excellent contrast. This lens was a relatively simple lens construction of four elements in three groups. It too was copied by virtually every other lens manufacturer in the world. The Tessar is used today for the same reasons as in the past, simplicity of design, high resolution, high contrast and very low levels of distortion.

Ernst Abbe died January 14, 1905, after the company had grown into an industrial giant, much like it is today. In 1919, Frederick Otto Schott donated his share of the Schott & Genossen Glass Works to the Carl Zeiss Foundation. Now, the entire operation was under the ownership of the Foundation.

In 1912, the Eyeglass Division was established along with the Scientific Instruments Division. These two additions to the Carl Zeiss Foundation rounded out the product line of the company while the Eyeglass Division provided cash-flow for the entire company.

In 1925, the E. Leitz Company created a world-wide sensation with the introduction of a 35mm camera. It was innovative, small and instantly popular. The Carl Zeiss Foundation reacted to the success of the Leica a year later, in 1926, by buying four small camera manufacturing firms; Ica, Contessa-Nettel, Ernemann and Goerz, and merging them to form Zeiss Ikon AG. Zeiss Ikon produced cameras of many types during this period but no competitor to the Leica could be developed.

Finally, in 1932, Zeiss Ikon produced the Contax. A product that graced the top of the Zeiss Ikon line. This philosophy was different from Leica, who produced only Leica cameras. There were simple Leicas and very sophisticated ones, but the Contax represented the top of the Zeiss Ikon line.

The Contax of 1932 exhibited a feature set very little different from what we would find today in a top rangefinder camera, including a black body. It had the longest rangefinder base (100mm) ever. The first Contax had a vertical travel, eleven blade, metal, focal plane shutter. Shutter speeds could be set, all from the same dial, up to 1/1000 second. An extraordinary bayonet mount for attachment of interchangeable lenses. Interchangeable lenses were available with speeds up to fl.5. The Contax also had a detachable back to accommodate the changing of film. The Contax I was in production from 1932 to 1938, and by 1934 there were 12 lenses from 28mm to 500mm in the Carl Zeiss lens line.

As stated earlier, lens coating was invented by Carl Zeiss in 1935 and application began on the rangefinder lenses in 1943. The coating was withheld as a secret of Germany until well into World War II when a shipment of coated lenses was shipped to Sweden. This was the only shipment of coated lenses until after the war.

The Contax II began production in 1936 and added the world's first range / viewfinder. Shutter speeds ranged up to 1/1250 second. The Contax II also had a self-timer and a chromium plated body. The Contax II was produced until 1945.

The Contax III, in production from 1936 to 1945 sported a built-in light meter on top of the camera body. Otherwise all of the features of the Contax II are included.

In 1936 or 1937, Carl Zeiss engineers began work on a new kind of camera. It was to be a reflex viewing 35mm design. This camera was based upon the Contax II with the addition of a mirror. This design produced very dark viewing so a field lens was added, still, the image was too dark. A fresnel lens was added along with a pentaprism to make a correct reading right-to-left and right- side-up image. Focusing the lens was accommodated by turning a focusing ring on the lens.

By 1937, work on civilian products slowed to a stop while gunsights and bombsights took precedence. It is said that work on the Contax SLR continued during lunch breaks and other personal time. Unfortunately, all of the Contax SLR prototypes were lost during the war.

The Dresden camera works were destroyed by Allied bombing on the night of February 14, 1945. This bombing ushered in a difficult time in the history of Carl Zeiss Foundation. At the close of the war, Patton's Third Army occupied Jena and its prize; the Carl Zeiss factories. This action set the stage for the safe revival of the Jena works but the Treaty At Yalta decreed a pull-back of the American lines to positions further west. Jena and Dresden now fell under Russian occupation, taking almost the entire Carl Zeiss Foundation with it.

The withdrawing U.S. Army recognized the technological importance of Carl Zeiss and assisted in the removal of 126 key management and crafts-people from what was to become East Germany. The relocated Carl Zeiss employees, including the entire board of directors were relocated to the Contessa manufacturing facility in Stuttgart, West Germany. One of the first orders of business for the relocated board of directors was to officially relocate the Carl Zeiss Foundation to the Stuttgart offices. Thus, it was the position later, that the Carl Zeiss Foundation was an entirely West German company.

Meanwhile, in the eastern sector, the Russians were claiming reparations by dismantling 94% of the remaining Carl Zeiss tooling and factories. It has been said that the trains stretched for miles over a period of several months, back to the motherland, U.S.S.R.. This relocated tooling became the Kiev camera works, which produced low quality copies of the Contax and other Zeiss Ikon products for many years thereafter.

Even with the rape of the Dresden / Jena facilities by the Russians, the first component of the Carl Zeiss operation to be revived after the war were the original factories in Jena. They, also known as Carl Zeiss, introduced a small series of cameras labeled "Carl Zeiss Jena". These were assembled from parts on hand and the proceeds from their sale was also confiscated as reparations by the U.S.S.R.

Long term strategies for the two Carl Zeiss companies differed in that the East concentrated their efforts on their unearthed plans to produce an SLR, while the West modernized the Contax rangefinders of the past.


1846-1890 | 1891-1945 | 1946-1960 | 1961-1975 | 1976-1995

My favourite Contax Series: Contax RTS, Contax RTS II and Contax RTS III

Motor Drive | Power Winder | Focusing screens | Flash photography | Macrophotography | Remote Photography | Databack options | Accessories

Credit: A related contributing article from Contax Gallery, Malaysia; the source of the original content was not specified (could be downloaded from Carl Zeiss website. Some sections has been modified.

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