Steve Cushing Impresionist Fine Art Photography

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

Pre-War 1938 Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 85 mm f/2.0 for Contax Rangefinder Camera.

Fitting is a duel bayonet Rangefinder (RF) mount with a 34.85mm Flange distance - this lens will fit and achieve focus to infinity mirrorless cameras but not DSLRs.

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

Fitting is a duel bayonet Rangefinder (RF) mount with a 34.85mm Flange Distance - this lens will fit and achieve focus to infinity mirrorless cameras but not DSLRs.


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.

This Lens

Due to its optical characteristics the Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar T 85 mm f/ 2 is very popular with photographers and collectors. There were four versions of this lens, two pre-war, one war and one post-war Jena. The sample images are taken with the second pre-war version from 1936, better built than a Leica, made of brass very heavy about 600g,

More than 90% of the pre war and wartime Zeiss lenses are fakes you have to know what you're looking for. Zeiss Sonnar lenses of World-War-II-era are often faked from vulgar Russian Jupiter lenses by simple changing the front-ring, and sometimes engraving the barrel with "Made in Germany" or changing the ring to a pre-war number sequence. This faking is alleviated due to the fact that parts of the Carl Zeiss Jena lens plant and machines were disassembled and rebuild in Russia after the war, as well with many workers, engineers, parts and maybe whole lenses going with them, and were build quite unchanged as Russian lenses until youngest present. So it's hard to distinguish them.

If the serial number is pre-war it is easy to check for fakes. In peacetime Carl Zeiss lens barrels were all made of brass, in wartime alloy. Since all Russian lenses are made of alloy, you never see a brass fake. Even true ZEISS wartime alloy lenses were not made up to peace standards, materials and quality control. The alloy barrels don't withstand well the ravages of times. As a collector who likes to use that stuff actually I don't see a reason why to pay a lot of money for a fake, but at a good price that is OK. All my pre-war lenses here on this site are brass thus not fakes.

These lenses were designed as an interchangeable lens for 35mm rangefinder cameras. They became popular almost 90 years ago when Leitz introduced the Leica II and Zeiss introduced the Contax I. Both companies brought out full lines of lenses, and totally dominated the market for 35mm format cameras.

This is a very special version of this lens. It is a brass 1938 version of the lens. Maybe you are wondering why someone would want a heavy version of a Carl Zeiss lens when there are aluminium versions. Whilst the internet is full of supposedly pre war aluminium versions of Zeiss lenses these are all fakes made in Russia after the war. Zeiss ONLY made brass lenses before the war.

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

Sonnars render images differently due to their asymmetric design. The Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar T 85 mm f/ 2 is a legendary fast portrait lens with a single-layer coating for rangefinder Contax I – Contax II cameras produced at the Carl Zeiss Jena works in Dresden.

Lens In Use

  • When used wide-open, field-curvature and spherical aberration spreads the depth-of-field across the frame, giving a “3-D” look.
  • Open up to F4 and the image is sharp across the field.
  • Used wide-open, uncoated Sonnars have less contrast and muted colours compared to modern designs.
  • Point of focus and limited depth of field gives rise to a unique Bokeh, full of comets and spheres.
  • It has an iris consisting of a circular 15-blade aperture.
  • Very bad handling of back light (side light is handled well with a hood), it does create some chromatic aberrations.

Contax Rangefinder lenses use a double bayonet fitting. Converters for digital cameras can be very expensive. A cheaper solution is to make your own. Front sections of the Russian made Kiev Rangefinder can be purchased and after cutting of the excess brass can be fixed inside a cheap M39 adapter.

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Please note the flange focal distance (FFD) (also known as the flange-to-film distance and flange focal depth) is 34.85mm, therefore these lenses will only focus to infinity on a non DSLR. They work fine on a Mirrorless digital camera.


The aperture control is continuously adjustable, not discrete, therefore any intermediate values is possible (you can set the aperture in between the numbers). This peculiarity is valued for creating visual effects. The pictures taken with this lens are characteristically "airy" and voluminous. The lens generates nice bokeh and rounded circles. General flexibility and contrast are very good. This makes the Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar T 85 mm f/ 2 almost perfect portrait lens.

in short it’s a world-class lens.

For images using this lens click HERE

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

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