Zeiss makes Large Format Lenses???

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I never knew that Zeiss makes Large Format Lenses. But I saw an item (#1200736431) on E-Bay that is indeed a Zeiss T* 4x5 lens!

Which other lenses do they make? Can you get them from B&H and the like? If not then where?

I am a big Zeiss fan and so would very much like to know.


-- Sol Campbell (solcam31@hotmail.com), December 05, 2000



That's my 135mm Planar T* that's for sale on eBay, so I'll take a stab at answering your questions (and I hope anybody else who knows anything about this lens will jump in as well).

First, you might want to visit the Future Classics section of my LF web site at:


for a little more info on this lens.

This is an extremely rare lens, and not in current production (and it never was in mass production). I've read a few things about this lens online over the years, but I have no way of verifying the accuracy, so consider the following more "urban legend" than fact (I'll throw in some verifiable facts in subsequent paragraphs). I have heard... that this lens was originally a special order item produced by Carl Zeiss for the Japanese government. I have also heard that the original order was for 140 units, but 150 were actually produced with the extra 10 lenses going to a New York dealer (I heard Ken Hansen, but again, I have not verified this as fact). This very limited production run was supposedly some time in the 1988 - 1990 time frame. I have also heard than an additional production run of perhaps 700 lenses were made in 1993. Again, this is unverified by me, so consider it hearsay. This is all third hand (at best) information, so anything that was factual at the start, may have gotten corrupted as it passed through the grapevine. Anyone with true factual information on this lens, please jump in here and help us all out.

Now, onto the facts. Of course, prior to WWII, Carl Zeiss Jena was one of the largest, most well respected large format lens producers in the world. They were famous for their Protar line (Series III, IV, V, VII, etc.) that they manufactured themselves and also licensed the design to other manufacturers in other countries (Bausch & Lomb in the USA, for example). And of course, their most famous design was probably the Tessar (also made under license by other manufacturers). This is all ancient history, but many people reading this no doubt still use these older Zeiss lenses (or their B&L clones). It should also be noted, that in 1926, Carl Zeiss bought out the German Goerz company (which split from Goerz American Optical prior to WWI) and produced a couple lines of Zeiss Goerz Dagors (conventional f6.8 Dagors and the wide angle 100 degree f9 Zeiss Dagors).

Post WWII, Zeiss made the legendary Biogon, Planar and Sonnar lenses for the Linhof cameras (and continued to make large format Tessars as well). They made two sets of these lenses. One for the 2x3 baby Linhof (53mm f4.5 Biogon, 80mm f2.8 Planar, 100mm f2.8 Planar, 105mm f3.5 Tessar and 180mm f4.8 Sonnar) and for 4x5 (75mm f4.5 Biogon, 135mm f3.5 Planar, 150mm f4.5 Tessar, and 250mm f5.6 Sonnar). The 80mm Planar, 100mm Planar and 180mm Sonnar (and a 100mm version of the Tessar) were also manufactured for the Graflex XL medium format rangefinder system of the 1960s and early 1970s, and the 75mm Biogon was made in a rather substantial quantity for the US military in a barrel mount for aerial mapping applications (these are still available from military surplus dealers). All of these lenses were single coated, made in the Zeiss Oberkochen factory through the 1950s and into at least the mid-1960s (and possibly a little later - perhaps early 1970s - at least for the Graflex XL line). Anybody know exactly when Zeiss quit making their LF lenses for the Linhof cameras? They are still listed in a Linhof Technika General Catalog I have from March, 1966, but my references are sorely lacking through the late 1960s and early 1970s. I do have an issue of International Photo Technik from February, 1981 that shows a 75mm Biogon in an ad for the Master Technika. However, I seriously doubt this lens was still in production at such a late date (but I could be wrong). BTW, the serial number on the lens, clearly visible in this ad, is: Nr4118416. Can any of you Zeiss-o-philes point me to a source for serial number vs. date of manufacture for Zeiss lenses (would also help date my Planar T*). I have also been told that Zeiss bought out Voigtlander and very late APO Lanthars (mid 1960s) were also manufactured by Zeiss (but still sold under the Voigtlander name). Even though these are all older single coated designs, the Zeiss large format lenses of this period are still highly prized by both users and collectors. They were generally considered the best large format lenses available at the time they were in production.

That brings us to the 135mm Planar T*. Whatever the reason for its existance, it does exist, and in VERY limited quantities. Where can you get one (other than the one I'm selling on eBay)? I don't know. You might check the usual large format speciality shops that stock a lot of used and exotic lenses (Kenmore, Len & Repro, Quality Camera, etc.) The last one I saw in a Shutterbug ad was listed at $3700 and was gone by the time the next issue came out. It is rare, and it is expensive. It is valued as a prized collectible piece, but it is also a wonderful performer. It has less coverage than the modern 135mm plasmats, but within the limits of its coverage, it is everything you'd expect from a modern T* multicoated Zeiss lens. This was the only T* multicoated general purpose large format lens Zeiss ever made (I believe they also made some multicoated Zeiss Luminars - speciality lenses for ultra close-up photography).

I hope that didn't sound too much like a sales pitch. I'm really just trying to answer your questions as best I can, and I sincerely hope others with knowledge to contribute on this lens will join in the discussion as well.


-- Kerry Thalmann (largeformat@thalmann.com), December 05, 2000.

For the sake of completeness (and since I also mentioned the Zeiss lenses for the 2x3 Linhof and 6x7 Graflex XL), there is also the 38mm f4.5 Biogon T* that is in current production for use with the Alpa12. However, since it barely covers 6x6 with no movements (80mm image circle), it isn't really a large format lens. So, like I said above, the 135mm Planar T* is the only general purpose large format (4x5) lens Zeiss ever made featuring their T* multicoating.


-- Kerry Thalmann (largeformat@thalmann.com), December 05, 2000.

> 135mm Planar T*

Did you find any significant differences (other than coverage) between it and the usual 135 Sironars, Symmars etc?

-- John Hicks (jbh@magicnet.net), December 05, 2000.

Hi John,

Well the obvious differnces are that it's bigger, heavier and a lot more expensive ;^}. Also it's about 1 1/3 stops faster making the image on the ground glass about 2 1/2 times brighter than a 135mm f5.6 lens. The image produced on the BosScreen on my Linhof is a sight to behold. Very bright, even and sharp (that's what I like about the BosScreen). It is a pleasure to use in low light conditions - the brightest lens LF I've ever owned. Still, that is more a matter of convenience than performance.

WRT to performance. I have not done any formal resolution testing on this lens, but based on the results I'm seeing on my 4x5 transparencies, it's certainly in the same ballpark with the best LF lenses I own (110mm Super Symmar XL, 135mm and 150mm APO Sironar-S). However, to be honest, at the apertures I normally work at F22 - f32, all of these modern lenses are probably diffraction limted in terms of their sharpness. As you would expect with the T* multicoating, it also has excellent contrast and resistance to flare. This yields very vibrant, saturated colors. Since I don't have an APO Symmar in the 135mm focal length, I can only compare it to my 135mm APO Sironar-S (considered by most to be the best 135mm currently on the market). There is a small but noticeable difference in the color rendition/saturation. At first, I thought it was as simple as the Planar having a slightly warmer color palette, but it's more complex than that. I'm not exactly sure if the Planar has a little more saturation combined with more vibrant colors (it's more than just a matter of sticking a warming filter on the 135mm APO Sironar-S). There is a differnce, but it is very subtle, and I am at a loss for a way to describe it. Also, since I shoot under natural light that changes dramatically over the course of the day, from day to day, season to season and location, the test conditions and the light source have more to do with the final results than the lenses under test. However, when I have shot the two side by side (same scene, same light, same exposure) there is still a very subtle difference. Perhaps those more familiar with Zeiss lenses from using them on the Hasselblad can better describe the "look" of images produced by these lenses (this is the only Zeiss T* lens I have ever used, so I'm not a Zeiss expert by any stretch). BTW, I'm not saying the Zeiss "look" is better. This is too subjective of an area to make such claims. Some will prefer the images produced by the Planar, others will prefer the images produced by the APO Sironar-S.

Also, I have not done any side by side comparisions at stops wider than f16. Supposedly, one strength of these fast Planar lenses is their performance at wide stops. That said, the APO Sironar-S is also very good in this respect (but it starts 1 1/3 stop down from the Zeiss maximum aperture). Finally, there is the issue of Bokeh. Again, an area where I'm no expert. I'm a universal focus guy - I generally try to get everything in the frame sharp. However, in our three dimensional world, this is not always possible. I have noticed that the Planar has very smooth transitions between the in focus and out of focus areas. Yet again, the 135mm APO Sironar-S is also very good in this regard.

So, compared to the APO Sironar-S (widely acknowledged as the "best" of the current 135mm plasmats), what you get is a significantly brighter ground glass image, PERHAPS marginally better performance at wide apertures, and a very subtle difference in the color rendition/saturation. I personally love this lens and the beautiful transparencies it produces (with a little help from me). So, why am I selling it? For me personally, given the places I shoot and the conditions I shoot under, I have an issue using such a rare optic when there is a fairly strong possibility I may damage it. This isn't really a monetary issue (I insure my equipment for full replacement value), it's just that I'm a little paranoid about damaging such a rare lens, when the results I desire can be obtained with a lens that can more easily be replaced if damaged. I know that sounds a little weird, but I deliberately leave this lens home when shooting at the coast (salt spray) or in the desert (sand) or anywhere else the potential for damage is great. I do not hesitate to shoot with my other expensive lenses under these conditions, because if they are damaged, they are easily replaced - not so with this rare T* Planar. I find myself babying this lens, when I'd rather just have the peace of mind of shooting with my other lenses and not worrying about potential damage. Hope I didn't scare away any potential bidders, but I'm a rough and tumble kind of shooter who does a lot of backpacking and shooting out in the elements. I'd rather not have the responsibility of caring for such a rare prize under such conditions. I'm not a collector, so I buy my lenses to use, not sit on my mantle. So, that's why this one has to go. Hopefully, it will find a new loving home.


-- Kerry Thalmann (largeformat@thalmann.com), December 05, 2000.

> WRT to performance

Thanks very much; I understand your points about its performance. I've wondered about the 135 Planar and have seen a few prints made from negs shot with the non-T* version, but have never tried one of either type myself.

BTW, regarding rough-and-tumble, us Leica weenies are always secretly relieved when we put the first ding in a new body. Then we can relax!

-- John Hicks (jbh@magicnet.net), December 05, 2000.

If you're willing to go for an older lens Schneider made the Xenotar series - I have a 135/3.5 and it is excellent.

-- Wayne DeWitt (wdewitt@snip.net), December 06, 2000.

Hi Sol

2 years ago I saw in a photoshop in Zuerich Switzerland a Linhof 4x5 inch with 3 differnet Zeiss lens. It started with about 105 mm up to 210 mm.They were about 30 years old or more but very sharp the owner told me. So in the past thre are some Zeiss lenses also for LF!

-- Armin Seeholzer (armin.seeholzer@smile.ch), December 08, 2000.

Thanks to all for the very educating information. I am a big fan of Zeiss and I have lots of their Contax G and 645 lenses. But with Schneider and Rodenstock making such super lenses I do not miss them in large format.

Kerry's 135mm Planar seems a great lens and if it was for around $500- 700 I would grab it in a minute. But really it is for collectors only. I doubt if it can be any better than a Apo Symmar 135 or Sironar-S 135 and more likely, inferior being 10-12 years old.

Thanks again!

-- Sol Campbell (solcam31@hotmail.com), December 08, 2000.

Just as an exercise in completeness, Zeiss at one point planned a set of lenses for the 5x7 format. An issue of International Photo Technik circa 1967 or 68, indicated that, at Photokina, Zeiss had shown a 110mm f8 Hologon (rectilinear of course), 210mm f5.6 Planar and a 500mm f8 Tele-Tessar for the 5x7 format. If I recall correctly, they even showed a photography of the prototype 500mm. Obviously, they never made it to production. My feeling is that the late production (read, post-Zeiss acquisition) 210mm f4.5 Voigtlander Apo-Lanthar is the closest we have to a Zeiss lens for 5x7 format. However, it appears that, at least in Europe, there was a great deal of using the Apo-Lanthar of the next larger format as a long-focus lens: International Photos is replete with many magnificently sharp pictures taken with the 150mm Apo-Lanthar on 6x9cm and the 210mm on 4x5" format. I gave up on my 300mm Apo-Lanthar because it was in the troublesome Compur Electronic 5FS but it was a terrific lens. regards Dave Blocher

-- Nelson David Blocher (dblocher@lckb-law.com), December 13, 2000.

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