View Full Version : Zeiss makes Large Format Lenses???

Sol Campbell
5-Dec-2000, 03:48

I never knew that Zeiss makes Large Format Lenses. But I saw an item (#120073643 1) 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.


Kerry L. Thalmann
5-Dec-2000, 05:29

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 L. Thalmann
5-Dec-2000, 05:52
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.


John Hicks
5-Dec-2000, 13:45
> 135mm Planar T*

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

Kerry L. Thalmann
5-Dec-2000, 21:25
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.


John Hicks
5-Dec-2000, 23:28
> WRT to performance

Thanks very much; I understand your points about its performance. I've wondere d about the 135 Planar and have seen a few prints made from negs shot with the n on-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! <g>

6-Dec-2000, 21:07
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.

Sol Campbell
8-Dec-2000, 21:07
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!

Nelson David Blocher
13-Dec-2000, 12:45
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

21-Dec-2005, 21:32
When compare with the performence, was the Zeiss planar lens over the current Rodenstock or Scineider lenses? What are you guys comments.

21-Dec-2005, 23:27
Too bad Dagor77 is in Scotland right now, and apparently ignoring this forum. I bet he would have a dissenting point of view...

Bob Salomon
22-Dec-2005, 02:49
Regarding the 135mm T*.

In the 1980s the Japanese importer of Linhof cameras went to Zeiss and offered to purchase an entire production run of your lens if Zeiss would produce it for them complete in a wood presentation box.

After the deal was consumated the Japanese company approached a NY dealer, Ken Hansen, and offered part of the production to him - which he took.

That is prbably where your lens came from.

Emmanuel BIGLER
22-Dec-2005, 05:12
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*).

There is a recent compilation by Hartmut Thiele that might supply some new information about Zeiss Oberkochen serial numbers.
The book is self-published by the author, you can get it from the usual zeiss-o-phile places, including : Lindemanns bookstore in Stuttgart.
Fabrikationsbuch Photooptik III. Carl Zeiss Oberkochen 1948 bis 1996.
Photoobjektive und Fertigungsnummern, Fertigungszeiten, ..., Thiele, Hartmut, München 2005__

David A. Goldfarb
22-Dec-2005, 07:36
Ernest--I have a 135/3.5 Planar, late version, but not the latest T* version. It's a very sharp lens, but I don't think it is meaningful to compare it to a more modern lens. The Planar is a fast lens with just enough coverage for 4x5" designed to be sharp at wide apertures, and it does that extremely well. It's my first choice for low light or handheld 4x5" photography.

The latest Schneider and Rodenstock lenses in that focal length aren't as fast and have greater coverage, and are also very sharp lenses, but if you need f:3.5, they can't do that. If f:5.6 is enough for you, the modern lenses are more practical. If you need more speed and don't plan to use extensive camera movements, then the older Planar or Xenotar can do it.

22-Dec-2005, 07:53
Thanks all of you.
I have a question for David A. Goldfarb. Could you tell me how to tell old version and the late version? How much for the 135mm late version?
Another questions: 1. Anyone can tell me what is the difference between Linhof 80mm f2.8 planar and Graflex 80mm f2.8, they look exactly the same. Is that right?
2. somebody told me The APO-Lanther 150mm is the best lens, what do you guys think about the APO-Lanther? some people said it has radiation, is it safe to use APO-Lanther lens?
Thanks a lot.

David A. Goldfarb
22-Dec-2005, 12:03
As best I can tell, there are three versions of the 135/3.5 Planar made for Linhof (and perhaps there are other versions not connected to Linhof). The first was in a special shutter that had a special Linhof lensboard, so that it could close with the camera. The second, which I have, is in a regular Compur #1 shutter. The third version is the one mentioned above with T* coating, made for the Japanese market.

22-Dec-2005, 14:59

The first was in a special shutter

What is special about the shutter?

22-Dec-2005, 15:06
The Linhof shutter release (above) is still a positive pain in the ass. The crooked wire into the release keeps fall out. Stupid design.

David A. Goldfarb
22-Dec-2005, 15:53
My sense was that that shutter is designed to fit in the recessed board. The later ones certainly don't fit in a recessed board.

5-Jan-2006, 07:32
I have a Linhof Zeiss 135mm f3.5 #5194659 on electronic shutter, do you know what version of my lens? What was the peoduction year? Thanks

Dan Fromm
5-Jan-2006, 09:07
1969 or so

Mikael Tran
16-Jan-2006, 01:53
Thanks for the educational and informative reply; may i ask what is your thought on the Docter Wezlar 180mm/f4.5 lens in copal 3? Is it a good performer in term of sharpness and coverage? How much would this lens worth if it's in new condition?

Also, what is so special about the 75mm f4.5 Biogon lens that many are willing to pay thousands of dollars for such a rediculously hefty lens? Thanks!

Arne Croell
28-Jun-2006, 11:28
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*).

There is a recent compilation by Hartmut Thiele that might supply some new information about Zeiss Oberkochen serial numbers.
The book is self-published by the author, you can get it from the usual zeiss-o-phile places, including : Lindemanns bookstore in Stuttgart.
Fabrikationsbuch Photooptik III. Carl Zeiss Oberkochen 1948 bis 1996.
Photoobjektive und Fertigungsnummern, Fertigungszeiten, ..., Thiele, Hartmut, München 2005__
I have that book. According to the author the original manufacturing data from 1948 to 1965 (about 4 million serial no.) are quite spotty, but the later data are better. Thiele does not list the coating type, but he does list the date of the optical design, the serial numbers and occasionally the manufacturing dates. For the 135mm f/3.5 Planar there were 2 designs, one from October 18, 1956 and one from October 3, 1969. The former, older one, usually has a 58mm filter size and the newer one a 67mm one. According to Thiele, Zeiss made 1484 lenses of the 1969 design up to 1996. The T* version is based on the 1969 design, just with a different coating. As far as I know, T* coating was introduced 1979 (can somebody confirm or correct that?). Zeiss Oberkochen made 600 units of the 1969 lens in 1971 and 1975, 200 units in 1980, and 684 units after that, the last batch in 1992. Whether the 200 lenses from 1980 (serial nos. 6293258-6293457) are T*-coated or not, I don't know. I have seen a T* of the first batch after 1980 (6578427-6578726), so we can deduce that there are at least 684 T* Planars in existence, maybe 884. Consequently, they made at least 600 single coated lenses of the same type before the introduction of the T* coating, maybe 800.

Steve Hamley
28-Jun-2006, 12:57

There is no "best" lens. The "best lens" is a myth in search of a believer (and it doesn't have to search much, people flock to the myth). There are bad, good, and better lenses for a given purpose.

If you need fast, I have a Zeiss 165mm f:2.8 that fills the bill, but it's also huge and very soft wide open. if you want fast and sharp wide open, the 135mm Planar, Biogons, and the Sonnars are reportedly good - but relatively large and little or no coverage. Schneider also made f:3.5 Tessars in this general focal length although they're probably old enough to be uncoated.

The Apo Lanthar is a good lens. It's reasonably fast at f:4.5, sharp, and has an out of focus transition (bokeh) that many people like very much. They also have a pronounced yellow color cast when shooting color as many have reported and my 150mm Apo Lanthar does, compared to the much more neutral cousin, the Heliar. If I had only one 150mm lens, the Apo Lanthar would not be it.

Like the Repro Claron, early ones used thorium glass to increase the index of refraction of some of the glasses. Late ones like mine are not radioactive. I have an earlier Repro Claron that is radioactive and haved owned a Repro Claron that was not radioactive. Yes, they are safe to use.


Arne Croell
28-Jun-2006, 13:06
I have a Linhof Zeiss 135mm f3.5 #5194659 on electronic shutter, do you know what version of my lens? What was the peoduction year? Thanks
It is the 1969 version, single coated, made in 1971 according to Thiele.

Bob Salomon
28-Jun-2006, 13:43
". 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)."

The facts are:

the Japanese Linhof distributor ordered a full production run of these lenses from Zeiss and bought the entire production.

The distributor then sold some to Ken hansen in NYC.

you can easily verify that with Lou Shu at Photo Gizzmo in NYC who managed the large format department at Ken hansen's at that time.

Ken may have also sold some to Samy's Camera in LA.

David G. Gagnon
1-Jul-2006, 10:05
Anyone know why the Bausch & Lomb lenses sometimes have Zeiss in thier name. Was that done because Zeiss owned the patent on the formula of the glass? Example: B & L Zeiss Tessar or B & L Zeiss Anastigmat.

Thanks in advance.

Ole Tjugen
1-Jul-2006, 11:55
B&L made a lot of Zeiss lenses under license. Just like Krauss in France, these are marked with the names of both the licenser and the licensee.

Both of these, and the UK, Italy and lots of other makers around the world, also made their own lenses. (and I can't for the life of me remember the name of the Italian maker..)