Steve Cushing Impresionist Fine Art Photography

Steve Cushing Impresionist Fine Art Photography

Embracing imperfection, recording emotions, one impression at a time…

1955 Carl Zeiss Triotar 135 mm f/4

The Lens details of a series of images taken by Steve Cushing on mirrorless camera.

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This lens is a cook triplet.

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Carl Zeiss was born in Weimar on 11 September 1816. He built microscopes in Jena from 1846 onward.

The correct way to pronounce "Jenna" is to make it sound like "Yenna" in English.

The history of Zeiss mirrors German history and all of its highs and lows. It was founded as a business in 1846. World War I, the global financial crisis and World War II were years of ups and downs.

Carl Zeiss Jena had become a Social-Democratic bulwark. From 1933 and through World War II Carl Zeiss supported the Nazi regime as did most major German industries. About 1937 the atmosphere at Dresden changed (something was coming) and civilian projects were put on low priority, and military items, such as gunsights, bombsights, etc were being pushed. The prototypes were kept in the lower (second) basement level and all further work was done by the devoted staff on their own time, usually during the lunch periods.

When World War II began in September 1939 there was an air of invincibility in Germany, and in keeping with traditional practice, Zeiss products proudly borne the makers trademark and city of origin of the product. Forced foreign labourers (Fremdarbeiter) were brought to work at Carl Zeiss Jena manufacturing facilities.

Hubert Merwin was Director of the design department of Zeiss-Ikon Dresden from 1932-1945 and Zeiss-Ikon Stuttgart from 1945-1949. When Mr. Nerwin joined Zeiss, the first CONTAX camera (later designated as Contax I) was already in production. Zeiss made numerous improvements in the camera design many of them affecting the external appearance. The camerastore-owners complained to Zeiss Ikon, that the frequent changes harmed the sales. Mr. Nerwin estimated, that during the course of two years, there were design changes (external and/or internal) about every three months; naturally, some of those changes were minute, and not necessarily discernible by the dealer/customer. In 1933 it was decreed, that no more external changes should be made on the Contax I. All the improved concepts being developed, were to be incorporated in the forthcoming CONTAX II, then on the design boards.

This explains the various Contax I versions, while the Contax II and the subsequently released Contax III, seemed to be completely uniform in appearance. Actually, the Contax II and III also contained internal changes—but by decree, none of these changes were to be detectable by the dealer/customer, judging external appearance.

Around 1936-1937, when the Contax RF cameras well established, the idea of a reflex finder camera was explored by the design group- The concept was to produce a reflex camera body, that could use the external bayonet lenses of the Contax RF cameras (85 mm focal length and longer).

In 1945 the U.S. Third Army advance, and on April 13 the regimental combat team 80th Division cleared Jena where they found the Carl Zeiss factory complex. It had sustained what they described as "surprisingly little effective bomb damage"

After the defeat of Nazi Germany in WWII, in compliance with the Yalta agreements the U.S.military forces departed. In June or early July the Russian military forces occupied Jena and the remainder of what became East Germany (German Democratic Republic). Russians 'appropriated' the original optical equipment and designs from Carl Zeiss factory in Jena. Carl Zeiss know-how was one of the most prized possessions of the post-war era and helped accelerate innovation in the USSR's optical industry, After the war ended, the Contax RF model dies were taken by the Russians to Kiev, along with certain drafted Zeiss staff, to replace the lost or missing dies and production tools. By one year later, the Russians had evacuated much of the remaining technical and management staff and about 92% of the Carl Zeiss Jena manufacturing facilities to the east. But the Russian fear of possible further conflict with the western allies rendered moving any production capability into a more defensible Russian province a sensible strategic step.

The Zeiss staff remaining at Dresden, then decided to proceed with the production of the Contax SLR model; because of the departure of the Contax dies, the Zeiss staff decided to change the lens mount and use a 42mm screw-in mount, and chose to use a horizontally moving, cloth focal piano shutter, because the tooling for a cloth shutter was much Simpler, and quicker. The postwar Dresden Contax SLR was produced under the direction of Mr. Winzenburg, who took over the design group after Nerwin left for Stuttgart where they assembled assorted prototypes, machine tools, dies, hand tools and trucked in to Berlin-Zellendorf. Production resumed in September 1945. It took the Stuttgart team seven weeks to return to Stuttgart with American military assistance) because of Russian intransigence.

So after WWII, there were suddenly two Zeiss-Ikon companies, one in East and the other in West Germany. The "Zeiss Stiftung von Jena" established at Heidenheim with the "Opton-Optische Werstatte Oberkochen GmbH" factory at Oberkochen on the banks of the Kocher River near Stuttgart. The Schott Glass Works subsidiary was located at Mainz.

The West German branch, in Stuttgart, developed an all-new line of rangefinder cameras using the Contax bayonet lens mount, and launched the Contax IIa in 1950. Meanwhile, the East German group completed work on an all-new SLR camera that had been in development since the beginning of the War. This camera was introduced at the 1948 Leipzig Fair as the Contax S. The Contax S was the originator of the M42 lens mount, which was immediately adopted by KW as they reintroduced the prewar Praktiflex as the Praktica with the new mount. In addition to introducing the M42 mount, the Contax S also gave us the first eye-level pentaprism viewfinder, and it was also the first optical viewfinder system to provide (with the standard 58/2.0 lens attached) a 1:1 magnification in the finder. Zeiss was reformed in West Germany and became Zeiss Icon, Early 1970's tensions between the two firms between the two firms peaked (as they did between East and West) with each of both companies claiming the exclusive rights to the patents, trademarks and traditions of "Carl Zeiss". This culminated in a series of legal battles around the globe, among these was one resolved by U.S. Supreme Court granting rights to the name "Zeiss" to the West German Zeiss firm. Many trademark disputes followed with the part that was left in East Germany. Stuttgart became the Wests company's domicile.

Zeiss Ikon merged in the mid 1960s with Voigtländer, another important German manufacturer, and one that had been controlled by the Zeiss Foundation since 1956. Zeiss Ikon ceased the production of cameras in 1972. This was a great shock for the entire German camera industry. Parts of the Zeiss Ikon product line then went to Rollei, and part of the know-how was used to revive the Contax name in collaboration with the Japanese maker Yashica.

In my opinion, Bertele is nothing short of a genius. He made very bright F-number lenses in a time where anti-reflective coatings did not exist, and in a time when glass choices were still primitive. He continued to design spectacular lenses like the Sonnar F1.5 and the Biogon, both which I think are not only lenses that perform beautifully, but also look beautiful. I think his lens designs were the leading technology of the time. This design also gives wonderful BOKEH. (Click for more information)

When Bertele designed The Ernostar he made large aperture lenses possible, but the large asymmetry caused coma. Because of this the field of view for a normal lens, about 50mm focal length for 35mm format, was just not possible. Also, without anti-reflective coating technology at the time, the more glass-to-air surfaces there were, the more flare, and the transmission and contrast of the image decreased with this flare.

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By Anonymous - en:wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0Link

This Lens

People often think "100+ elements" produce better shoots and they are reject triplets, pretty wrong... this lens is sharp, lightweight and bokeh is nice, nice. To get maximum performance you certainly need great daylight, in proper light lens is wonderful.

Triotars are the ultimate portrait lens. In shade where is contrast pretty weak this lens is easily create hi-key feeling beautiful shoots. The lens is available in Exakta and M42 mount , with RED T marked and without that. You also may you find in export version AUS JENA or just T , due legal battle in past between eastern and western company of Zeiss.

The Triotar 135mm 4 was manufactured in numbers in the 1950s by Carl Zeiss Jena but you can find pre-war versions too. It is the predecessor of the Carl Zeiss Sonnar 135mm. The early version is slimmer and weighs 275 grams. Later “fat” versions are much more common. The lens barrel is much wider in the fat version. Overall it is larger than the previous version and feels a bit bulky. The increase in size results into a more solidly built lens. The fat version has preset aperture settings.

  • good bokeh
  • value for money
  • sharp when stopped down
  • good color rendition

The Triotar is one of the most affordable M42 telephoto lenses that you can find. Although it is a bit soft when shot wide open at f4, it is a good performer when stopped down a bit. When you set everything correctly you do get very good results. I was especially impressed by the colours that you will not obtain with any other lens in that price range.

They say that “there are no bad 135mm lenses” and the Triotar is no exception!


  • flare prone
  • usability

The first thing that will strike you when using the second version of the Carl Zeiss Triotar is its’ size. It is nearly twice as long as the Carl Zeiss Sonnar 135mm. This makes it very cumbersome to use. Focusing is extremely slow which is not ideal for fast shooting. You will have to twist the focusing ring a very long way from close focus to infinity. That can get a bit tiresome at times.


I am surprised at how cheap these lenses are on eBay. The quality is excellent and to have a piece of history in your camera bag for the price of a round of drinks is just unbelievable.

in short like all CZ lenses it’s a world-class lens.

For general information on lens design and lens elements go to the homepage HERE


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