View Full Version : Date of manufacture and quality of Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar 4.5/300

Gregory Popovitch
12-Jan-2004, 12:27

I recently bought a Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar 4.5/300 that I plan to use on a full plate (6.5 x 8.5 inches) camera for making daguerreotypes. Since dags are so slow I am trying to find a fast lens that will cover this size. The lens doesn't seem coated. My questions: when was this lens manufactured? Can I expect a decent quality from it? Any other suggestions for fast lenses? I also have some process lenses (apo-ronar) but these are slower. Thanks, gregory

Gregory Popovitch
12-Jan-2004, 12:30
Just realized that I forgot to mention the lens serial number. It is: 10832797 Thanks, gregory

Philippe Gauthier
12-Jan-2004, 12:51
Tessars are not known to be very sharp wide open. If I went through the trouble and the expense of making dags, I think I'd stop the Tessar to at least f/11 or f/16 to get as much as resolution as possible and I'd live with the longer exposure time. You don't want to do action shots, do you? So why waste the fun of working slowly, not to mention precious materials?

Gregory Popovitch
12-Jan-2004, 13:14
Thanks, Philippe. I don't want to do action shots, but portraits and street scenes. Even at f/4.5, exposure times are 5 to 10 seconds in bright sun, so you can understand that I will not always be able to stop down. Since the dag is not enlarged, a great resolution is not absolutely required, but if possible I will of course stop down if only for depth of field. Any other fast lenses that you might recommend?

12-Jan-2004, 13:43

The link only goes up to 1942 and stops around 2.5million for serial numbers.

So if I'm reading things right that's a post war East German lens. I thought Zeiss started coating late 1930's.

Dan Fromm
12-Jan-2004, 15:45
Around 1975, has to be coated. Is it one of those cheap copier lenses?

Arne Croell
13-Jan-2004, 07:48
That lens was made in the late 1970's by Zeiss Jena in the GDR and is of course coated. The design was by Merté, from 1928. It is certainly not a copier lens, but was an LF taking lens made for the GDR and other Eastern Block cameras. Most of those, like the different "Mentor" cameras, had behind the lens shutters, so the lenses were ususally sold in barrel mounts. Since you won't enlarge, and use only part of the image circle (it covers 8x10 with some movement), using it wide open should work fine. If you want to improve the quality without much loss in speed, stopping down just to f/5.6 increases the contrast significantly.

Arne Croell
13-Jan-2004, 07:53
One addition, Zeiss Jena also made a coated f/3.5 version of that lens in the 1950's.

Ernest Purdum
13-Jan-2004, 08:12
Gregory, I think the idea of making daguerrotypes is intriguing. Exposures so long that pedestrians don't appear in street scenes would be an interestng experience. This said, however, I hope you are aware that making daguerrotypes is a dangerous occupation. Mercury poisoning is a horrible illness. I am sure that there are ways of keeping the fumes contained, and I hope you know how to do it.

Good luck in an intersting endeavor.

Gregory Popovitch
13-Jan-2004, 08:31
Thanks again for these answers. I'm happy to learn that the lens should be OK wide open, but I will try to use it at f/5.6 as a rule. I wonder if the f/3.5 lens was much heavier? And was it as good at f/4.5 as my lens would be at f/5.6? As for making dags, I have already started making them about 6 month ago, not "in camera" but by re-photographing silver print using a repro bench. I'm really excited about doing some in-camera. Now I need to find a fast and cheap wide-angle lens covering 6 1/2 x 8 1/2 inches. I was thinking of the 165mm f/6.8 Angulon, but maybe someone can recommend a faster lens? As a chemical engineer, I'm well aware of the danger of mercury poisoning, and anyone attempting to use mercury development needs to use a well-made fume hood with outside exhaust. A safer process is the Becquerel development, where the dag. plate is developed by exposing it to yellow light (no mercury). There is a great web site describing how to make dags at http://www.newdags.com.


Arne Croell
13-Jan-2004, 08:48
Gregory, I have not seen the f/3.5 300mm , but I do have the 210mm in both the f/4.5 and the f/3.5 versions and the latter is more than 50% higher in weight (I don't have it at hand right now to give you accurate numbers). It has probably not the resolution of the f/4.5 at f/5.6, but it should be much better than anything that the original Daguerreotypists used - remember, all their lenses were astigmatic and not coated.

Gregory Popovitch
13-Jan-2004, 09:08
Thanks, Arne, that is very helpfull. I think I'll stick with my current lens at f/5.6, which is already quite heavy. And you're right that these are probably much better than the 19th century lenses! Just for fun I picked a couple of these old lenses to see what they can do, and the abberations may be interesting in some cases. But I expect this Tessar to be my main lens!


Armin Seeholzer
18-Apr-2004, 14:54

Just want correct a false statemant from Philipp! Tessars are very sharp wide open most of them reach best sharpness 1-2 f stops closed and not more! But for thad you have to have the film on the right place and exactly flat!!!! Tessars are also have the name eagle-eyes here in german speeking aeras! God light!

Kerry L. Thalmann
18-Apr-2004, 18:31
Wow, what a coincidence! I just finished an article for View Camera (May/June issue) on Zeiss Tessars and their legacy (Tessar type lenses from other manufacturers, like Schnider Xenars, Kodak Commercial Ektars, Fujinon L Series, Nikkor M series, etc.). As part of my research, I acquired some late Zeiss Jena DDR barrel mount f4.5 Tessars. If you can live without a shutter (sounds like you can, due to the length of your exposures), these lenses can be great bargains.

Just to elaborate on Arne's comments... As Arne mentioned, your lens was made in the mid-1970s and is of course coated. Ziess Jena continued to make these barrel mounted Tessars until the large format lens division was sold to Docter Optic in 1991 (after the reunification of Germany). Lenses with 4 and 5 digit serial numbers were made between 1980 and 1991. These lenses were very well made, both the glass and the mechanical mounts. While the corners may be a little soft (on 8x10 for a 300mm lens) wide open, they sharpen up quickly (certainly by f8 - for contact printing, f5.6 would be fine on 8x10 and wide open should be perfectly usable on 6˝ x 8˝ - if you don't mind the limited depth of field).

Schneider also made a series of Xenars (their tradename for their Tessar deravitive) with a maximum aperture of f4.5. They also had some longer focal lengths (420mm and 480mm) if you want long AND fast. Like Ziess, Schneider also briefly had a series of f3.5 Xenars (big heavy beasts), but all the f3.5 Xenars I have seen were pre-WWII and uncoated. They may have made a few after the war, but if they did, they must have been very limited production numbers.

Another fast f4.5 lens that will cover 8x10 is the 12" f4.5 Kodak Ektar (not to be condufused with the Commercial Ektar, which has a maximum aperture of f6.3), and it's predecessor, the uncoated 12" f4.5 Kodak Anastigmat. One advantage to these Kodak lenses is that they came mounted in shutters. I have an uncoated 12" Kodak Anastigmat from 1940 that's in a Compound No. 5 shutter. The 12" f4.5 Ektar came in an Ilex Universal No. 5 shutter and was made up until the early 1960s (it's still listed in my 1961 Kodak catalog). If you want a fast lens, with enough coverage for 8x10 AND desire a leaf shutter, the Kodak's would be the way to go (I also believe Bausch & Lomb made a 305mm (12") F4.5 Tessar in a Compound No. 5 shutter). If you don't mind an ucoated lens, the Kodak Anastigmat is a bit of a sleeper. It's a good lens, very affordable, and just a little lower in contrast than the later coated Ektar model.

Not sure what camera you're putting this on, but any lens that's this long and this fast is bound to be on the heavy side. My 12" f4.5 Kodak Anastigmat tips the scale at about 3 lbs. (which really isn't all that bad considering it comes in a shutter). Just make sure your camera's front standard can handle the size (6x6 lensboard should be fine) and weight.

Hope that helps, Kerry

Jason Greenberg Motamedi
19-Apr-2004, 08:13

I have been making dags (both traditional and Becquerel), for some time, and have been slowly testing appropriate lenses. Let me first suggest that if you are just starting with in-camera dags (if not forgive me for being presumptuous) that you do not try to make 1/1 plate: too expensive, and too many things to go wrong.

1/4 plates or 4x5s are good places to start. For fast lenses for the 1/4 to 1/2 plate size, the best lens you will find is the f/2.8 150mm Xenotar. It is a great lens, and is suitably sharp a f/2.8 for what you will need. A cheaper lens is the 8" f2.9 Dallmeyer Pentac. Not very sharp at full aperture, but ok for portraits. There are a few other fast lenses which will cover 4x5s, but most are exotic, very expensive, and not very sharp, such as the f/2.5 Dallmeyer Speedic.

Tessars ARE acceptable open wide. Not as sharp as a modern plasmat, but since there is no enlargement they are fine at f/4.5, and just acceptable at f/3.5. These are good lenses to start with, since they are cheap and easy to find.

Aero-Ektars are very fast, but due to the radiation (yellow-brown) stain on the glass, can loose up to 2 stops of speed with yellow-insensitive daguerreotype plates; best off avoided, except uncommon 13.5" f/3.5 model, which have less stain (see below)

Lastly, period lenses, particularly Petzval portrait lenses, work remarkably well. I have a 11" f/3 Dallmeyer Patent Portrait which, when used with a 1/2 plate, is incredibly sharp: much sharper than my Xenotar at f/2.8. These lenses have lots of coma, a curved plain of focus, which many find attractive.

Lastly, for 1/1 plates, there are very few options for fast lenses. It is possible to find 300mm f/3.5 Tessars or Xenars, but these are uncommon. Of course, the f/4.5s are easily found and pretty cheap in barrel. These are fine, but the depth of field can be a real problem: I found that for landscapes I almost always stopped down to f/8 or beyond, so I gave up on Tessars, and now use a modern 300mm f/5.6 lens.

For 1/1 plate fast portrait lenses, the huge Petzvals are irreplaceable. However, if you can find one, the 13.5" f/3.5 Eastman Anastigmat is a good, sharp lens and will cover 8x10. This lens is also called the 13.5" Aero-Ektar. Don't try to use the 12" f/2.5 Aero-Ekar, which has dark yellow glass. All of these are massive lenses, weighing upwards of 10 lbs, and need to be fitted onto a studio camera. A normal field camera will not hold them securely.

Wide angle for 1/1 plate? Never tried. The f/8 and slower WA lenses will probably be painful. I would think that a modern 150mm f/5.6 Super-Symmar XL would be very nice, but a bit pricey. I think that Angulons do pretty poorly open wide at f/6.8, but you should certainly try. I used a 75mm f/4.5 Biogon once for 1/4 plate, and was really happy with the results--its a fast lens with very even exposure--but haven't found one yet in my price range.

Good luck, and feel free to contact me off line.

Gregory Popovitch
19-Apr-2004, 08:37
Thank you Armin, Kerry and Jason for the new answers. Kerry, I look forward to reading your article on Tessars in View Camera.

I'm excited about making daguerreotypes in-camera. I haven't started yet, but getting there. Jason, you are right that I should (and will) start with quarter plates. I'm already having a hard time polishing 1/4 plates, and I'm not looking forward to polishing the full plates.

I'm trying to gather all I need to be able to make 1/4 plates, 5x7" and full plates. I found a 210mm Zeiss tessar 1:4.5 for the 5x7" camera, and I also picked up a B&L Metrogon 6" 1:6.3 as a wide angle for full plate (unfortunately the glass has some marks that won't come off, it may have had fungus at one time that someone cleaned up). I also have an old Petzval type portrait lens (about 14") which I'll have to use wide open as I don't have waterhouse stops for it, and a couple other old lenses. So I'm pretty much set for the lenses, I just need to find some time to use them.


Michael S. Briggs
19-Apr-2004, 09:08
If you want a really fast lens, the brownish color cast of an Aero-Ektar can be greatly reduced by exposing the lens to UV light. See http://www.photo.net/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg?msg_id=005obo.
For the lens that I treated, a slight color cast remained even after a month of exposure to UV from BLB fluorescent bulbs. This might make a difference for a process sensitive to only blue and UV.

Older Xenotars also contain thorium glass and will be somewhat discolored. Newer ones do not have the radioactive thorium.

Jason Greenberg Motamedi
19-Apr-2004, 10:18
Just to follow up on a few points.

Michael is correct: Lenses with radiation staining can be cleaned up. I set a 178mm f/2.5 Aero-Ektar under a UV light for three weeks, and noted that the stain was greatly reduced. Unfortunately, what yellow remained still cost about a stop of exposure on an orthochromatic Daguerreotype plate, rendering it an effective f/3.5.

Longer f/3.5 Tessars and Xenars can be found occasionally on eBay. Some are coated, many are not: I have seen these range up to 300mm uncoated, and 250mm coated. Prices are usually pretty low. Tessars usually have a red T to indicate that they are coated, and Xenars, right after war, used a red triangle to indicate coating. Anther nice fast lens is the 210mm f/3.5 Hugo Meyer Trioplan. These sell for far less than their worth; look for a red "V" which indicates a post-war coated lens.

Finally, I have found with Tessars and Xenars, that wide open it is best to use a longer lens. Think about using a 210mm for 4x5, and a 300mm for 5x7. Your results will be much nicer.

A nice fast medium wide angle is the f/4 Ross WA Xpress: The 5" version will cover 5x7.

Good luck, and keep that fume hood sucking!

Arne Croell
19-Apr-2004, 11:19
I've played with the f/3.5 Tessars, 250mm and 210mm (both postwar and coated) a bit. In my experience they do show a little bit of focus shift when stopping down, most of it happening between 3.5 to 5.6. Something to keep in mind (i.e. focus at the taking aperture at wider stops), especially since Tessars normally are normally not expected to show any discernable focus shift.

Kerry L. Thalmann
19-Apr-2004, 11:45
A nice fast medium wide angle is the f/4 Ross WA Xpress: The 5" version will cover 5x7.

I believe this was the lens used on the WWII Navy Torpedo cameras. If so, you can probably find one cheap. Many people gut the old Torpedo camera bodies (requires a 24V supply to operate the limited internal shutter) and mount a modern lens/shutter on the body (or just salvage the roll film back to use on a 5x7 camera). In any case, I see these lenses from time to time on eBay and they are cheap. Just watch out for fungus and surface pitting. The ones that actually saw heavy use were exposed to a lot of moisture and salt spray. Fortunately, there are also some floating around that look like they sat in a warehouse for 50 years and never saw the light of day. All of the ones I've seen (from Torpedo cameras) are uncoated, but I think they did make a few coated, shutter mounted samples after the war. Can anyone confirm.


Jason Greenberg Motamedi
19-Apr-2004, 15:26
Kerry is correct, many of the 5" WA Xpres lenses were used on 6x17 Torpedo cameras. These are marked usually with "5in" and a serial number beginning with "VV.", with no other markings other than the iris. There were almost always uncoated, although I think a few were after market coated by B&J in the 1950s and 60s. For what ever it is worth, although my WA Xpres is not coated, I have not had a problem with flare or low contrast, even with 4 groups. Good design perhaps?