View Full Version : How come Zeiss got out of the large format field?

Tony Galt
6-Mar-2002, 13:38
Out of curiousity, does anyone know when and why Zeiss ceased production of larg e format lenses? They certainly remained in the medium format and 35 mm arenas, but seem to have left LF behind a long time ago. Since they were pioneers in the area, this strikes me as odd.

Doremus Scudder
6-Mar-2002, 14:29
I'm just speculating, but possibly WWII had something to do with it. I know a lot of German companies got "reorganized" after the war. Anyone know the real history?

J. P. Mose
6-Mar-2002, 15:10

Here is my two cents and I will look forward to the responses others provide as I have a soft spot for the LF Zeiss lenses. Zeiss' timing was about as bad as Graflex introducing the "1000 shutter" in the late 1950's. Reportage and other fields requiring hand held shots were switching rapidly to medium format (Rolleiflex TLR became very popular with newpaper photographers). Hence, the need for fast lenses and high speed shutters diminished in large format. The Zeiss lenses for large format (excluding the Tessar, which had been around for decades) such as the Biogon, Planar and Sonnar were first introduced for the Linhof 23 series cameras around 1955 and later in 1957 for the Linhof 4 X 5's (this is all based on my assessment looking at Zeiss serial numbers, old Linhof catalogs/books, etc.). The Zeiss lenses were and STILL are outstanding performers as far as sharpness, contrast and resolution. They also perform very well at wide apertures. The LF Biogons wide open have even illumination over the field, similar to the 38mm Biogon used on super wide Hasselblads. Sounds great until the subject of coverage is mentioned. In comparison to Symmar, Sironar, Grandagon, Super Angulon, etc. the Zeiss lenses didn't allow for much movement so they were not the choice for commercial work. They were also very costly (and still are used!). A Super Technika IV with a 75mm Biogon, 135mm Planar and 250mm Sonnar cost around $2,800 in the late 1950's, which was the price of a decent automobile. LF Zeiss lenses are very heavy, especially the 75mm Biogon (3 lbs +). The 75mm Biogon requires a 95mm screw-in filter. The 250mm Sonnar was the first lens dropped and the others followed in the 1970's. The 135mm Planar was manufactured in a very small quantity with multicoating (T*) in the early 1980's.

So, if you want to able to shoot hand held 4 X 5 with wide apertures and can stand the weight, cost and limited coverage the Zeiss lenses may be for you. In large format though, this would be the exception and not the norm for todays market.

Best regards,

J. P. Mose

Fred De Van
6-Mar-2002, 17:22
They sure were wonderful but very limited lenses. I still have and use a 53mm Biogon and love it. The 135mm Planar was simply amazing. Amazing but relativly usless. It had no excess coverage, and would have been far more useful had it been 180 or 210mm. The color from both lenses is absolutely brilliant. These were big heavy lenses with very small image circles. They have their uses but swings, tilts, rise and fall need not apply unless you are using a roll film back. Forget about using them on most lightweight field cameras. I twisted arms at Granview Camera and have my Biogon mounted on a Granview 4x5. Works wonderfully. I still love them.

Bob Salomon
6-Mar-2002, 18:30
Economics. Return on investment was below their requirements. Hence they also no longer make prontor and Compur shutters for view cameras as well.

Struan Gray
7-Mar-2002, 05:05
I would say opportunity cost, rather than pure ROI. If your business is founded on the concept of quality over everything else you need to go after the customers who truly need that quality. Photographers, for all their waffling about precision and resolution, don't.

Ziess is still a world leader in lenses for lithography, and they are unique in many ways when you start to push up into harder UV and X-ray radiation. Those are applications where people have a need for cutting-edge performance, and the budgets to pay for it.

Struan Gray
7-Mar-2002, 11:12
Incidentally, the Carl Zeiss group had it's best financial results in its history last year, so it is at least possible that they do know what they're doing.

Patrick Raymore
7-Mar-2002, 16:44
Zeiss probably does not make large format lenses because it would not be profitable. How many large format photographers are willing to pay $3000 to $5000 for a Zeiss lens? I am amazed that they have decided to make a 645 system and question if it is actually profitable considering the small market and the competition. Remember medium format has a remarkably small share of the photo market. Yet, overall they are making a profit.

Addressing the Zeiss Planar T* 135mm f3.5 in particular, this is a very limited production lens. The history of this particular lens is something that I am still looking into. I have only owned this optic for few weeks now and so can't address some its finer points, such as color saturation and Bokeh, but so far I am delighted with the optic. Let me mention a few first impressions. It is a meticulously made optic. The quality of the craftsmanship just jumps out at you. Next is that the large aperture, which makes focusing a pleasure. Compared with my other optics in this focal range this one makes the ground glass glow. If you want to know of which I speak look into the finder of any SLR after you stop it down to F5.6. Try to focusing at f5.6. Now open the aperture up to F3.5 and compare. The comparative ease of focusing at the larger aperture belies the fact that f3.5 is only 1 and 1/3rd stops faster. Something happens to ground glass images at apertures beyond f4.5. While the share brightness is pleasant even more important is the CERTAINTY with which I can lay that plane of sharp focus where I want it. It makes me warm and fuzzy inside when I know that I am in focus. As for the limited image circle, I find it to be around 180mm which is enough for landscape work using the front tilts, shifts etc. If I need more then I use the back tilts shifts etc. That way I don't run into image circle problems. Just think, it has about the same image circle of a standard 65mm or 75mm large format lens. This is not an all purpose optic by any means, but, when you feel the need for speed this is the optic you should look into. It invites the use of wide apertures. (Better test your ground glass alignment)

Thilo Schmid
7-Mar-2002, 18:46

Zeiss is not working the way you might expect. At least not in the past. This may change or may be in a process to change while they prepair for going public in the near future.

Zeiss usually does not develop a product and sell it on the market like Rodenstock, Schneider, Fuji or Nikon is doing. They most likely don't even have the neccessary organizational structures for doing that.

Without Contax/Yashica, Hasselblad or Rollei, there wouldn't be any Zeiss lenses for either MF or 35mm. If you want Zeiss something to do, you have to place an order and pay the bill. So the correct question should be: why hasn't anybody else placed an order for Zeiss Large Format lenses? You can figure out why.


Steve Clark
10-Mar-2002, 11:59
In a letter directly from Zeiss, it was a matter of economics.