Steve Cushing Impresionist Fine Art Photography

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

Zeiss STEREOTAR C CONTAX 3D 35mm f3.5


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It is spring 1938: Two years after the launch of Contax II. Already in full production, with the newly released Contax III and Zeiss IKON launches this scene-taking lens to capture in 3 dimensions for use on the Contax system. Unlike the paths taken so far using special two lens cameras the company create an adapter for stereoscopy on a standard single lens camersa. Zeiss IKON called this a STEREOSCOPIC TRANSFORMER set and it was built specifically for their Contax cameras. It included a series of sub accessories designed to adapt the product for all uses.

Undoubtedly, this accessory, was then, and still is now admired and revered by collectors. It is so unique. Only one other manufacturer decided to follow this route and that was Leica. The lens had as its primary function, in addition to supplying photographic needs as well as many other products of this brand, a primary aim to spread German supremacy among other nations.

It should be noted that this equipment was intended for the exclusive use of the Contax brand without immediate possibilities for use in other brands; for this reason, despite being built by Zeiss Jena (1938-1940) and later by Zeiss Oberkochen (1954-1956), it always carried the Zeiss IKON brand.

The Zeiss STEREOTAR C CONTAX 3D 35mm f3.5 was therefor ONLY sold as a kit for Contax cameras.

Not used for quite a few years due to the DSLR film plane distance, it is now possible to use the system on a mirrorless full frame camera. There are two versions the pre war f4 version and this post war f3.5 version. After the war Zeiss redesigned the Stereotar for the Contax, and in 1952 released the 3.5 version. This review is of the 1952 version.

The unit adds two separate lenses in the space of a single lens. I believe them to be triplets but cannot find any information on this. Each lens has its own diaphragm. The two lenses produce two 18 x 24mm half frame images (useful area 16 X 22.5mm) on the single full frame plane. This was designed this way to enable the use a standard film with a full 35mm frame of 24 x 36mm so that the user could mix stereo and standard images on a standard roll of film. As the two lenses have a 35mm focal length, the two together give a standard 50mm field of view.


It was provided with a prism for distances over 2 meters, providing the greater stereo separation needed. It also came with a separate viewfinder and a Contameter close up set.




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There were also accessory close up lenses mounted to a frame to define the focus and frame. They were available in lengths of 6, 9 and 13cm.



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Looking at a 1960 dealer catalog, I find it interesting to note that the Stereotar was sold with the beamsplitter for $164 (although they were also offered separately for $125 and $39 respectively). The viewfinder ($10), the Contameter rangefinder (without Proxars, $66), the Proxars ($16.50 each) and the case ($29) were all sold separately. So if you have an outfit that is incomplete, pieces may not have been lost, but rather never purchased originally.

Only 1200 of these were made in two batches, serial numbers St12201 to St12700 and St15001 to St15700. This is still an expensive and desirable addition to any collection.

The past and pre way are largely the same although the pre-war version does not have the focusing wheel as on the post war version.

Pre-War

Post-War

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The main unit has two lenses each with their own diaphragm that are controlled by a single unit.

The septum between the two lenses protrudes a very long way (20mm) into the body and moves forwards and backwards when you turn the focus knob, on my Canon it almost touches the shutter film gate but the lens is slightly closer than needed for infinity due to my hand made adapter and I did not wish to completely recalibrate this just for this lens. This lens will thus fit most full frame cameras but you would need to cut the septum to use this lens on a non-full framed camera. The septum is made of brass so this is easy to do, just carefully file down the septum bit by bit until it fits just be careful when trying it on the camera to ensure that you do not damage the shutter. I had to do this on another unit to fit a converted full spectrum Canon M and the lens works fine.

When the Stereotar is mounted, to get the best stereo effect the line joining the two lens axes has to be exactly parallel with the line of the film. On a Contax body the outer bayonet mount achieved that automatically. Providing the adapter is aligned correctly it will work fine but ensuring that the camera is horizontal to the image plane is something you need to consider when taking the photographs.

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The set comes with a front unit to enable a greater split in the lens distance for non macro shots over 2.5 meters under this you do not need the front unit.

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The lens also has a series of 3 special proxars (close up lenses) for 20, 30 and 50mm distances. These are made for the two lens system so differ from normal optics. They simply push into the lens unit as can be seen from the image on the right, they DO NOT screw in. They are called Stereo-Proxar if you need to but them separately, there are some on the net.

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History

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.

Today Carl Zeiss is reviving the Zeiss Ikon name. The new Zeiss Ikon camera, introduced at the 2004 Photokina show, is a rangefinder camera with Leica M-mount, developed in Germany and built by Cosina in Japan. Like the Contax G1 and G2), it has lenses made in both Japan (by Cosina) and Germany.

So it is spring 1938: Two years after the launch of Contax II and already in full production, Contax III Comes to Zeiss IKON to launch a scene-taking equipment in 3 dimensions, relevant to the Contax system. Unlike the paths taken so far to create an adapter for stereoscopy, Zeiss IKON came to build a STEREOSCOPIC TRANSFORMER set for their Contax cameras, including a series of sub accessories designed to adapt the product to all uses.

Undoubtedly, this accessory, admired and revered by collectors, had as its primary function, in addition to supplying photographic needs, as well as many other products of this brand to spread German supremacy among other nations.

Mr. Vierling, who was an avid advocate of stereo photography, did not "invent" or design the Contax Stereotar—he was however a populariser of the concept. Under the German patent system, it is the Company, and its top management, whose name appears as the inventor on patents.

3D photos, much like 3D movies, have a reputation for being a bit of a fad. It falls in and out of fashion. Its popularity is on the rise again, but it’s not a modern phenomenon. It has been around for decades.

Humans see the world in 3D. Our eyes can detect height, width, and depth. Our brain processes the information from both of our eyes to give us stereopsis vision. It means we have depth perception and can judge distances. So often we arrive at a stunning landscape and start clicking away with the camera. Equally as often, the results disappoint us. This is because it's the 3D nature of the scene that makes it so stunning. And our photographs are only 2D. Therefore the "wow" factor is completely lost.

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3D photography is a great way to add a little something extra to your photography. You can just take more than one image by moving the camera slightly to the left or right. But this only works when you have a stationary subject, because you need to take two photos in quick succession of the same scene with no other movement in the shot.

Try taking a 3D photo of your pet dog this way, and the chances are that Popcorn will have moved between shots!

This lens adapter means the two pictures are taken at exactly the same time so it does not suffer the same fate. Anything can be photographed.


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This Lens

This lens splits the full frame into two equal sections each with its own lens so does not split the image as in beamsplitters. This makes it function more like a stereo camera.

Summary

I have played with stereo photography first with the Asahi Pentax Stereo Adapter and Viewer kit for 49mm which I found a bit of a gimmick, then the Stitz 3D Stereo SV-1 which was quite good when used on long focal lengths but useless for portraits or close ups, it also was from heavy. This Stereitar has two lenses and can be used without the beam splitter on the front making it quite small. The set comes with a front unit to enable a greater split in the lens distance for non macro shots over 2.5 meters under this you do not need the front unit.

The lens also has a series of 3 special proxars (close up lenses) for 20, 30 and 50mm distances. These are made for the two lens system so differ from normal optics. They are very simple and effective in use.

At first I was worried as the septum between the two lenses protrudes a very long way (20mm) into the body and moves forwards and backwards when you turn the focus knob, on my Canon it almost touches the shutter film gate but the lens is slightly closer than needed for infinity due to my hand made adapter and I did not wish to completely recalibrate this just for this lens. This lens will thus fit most full frame cameras but you would need to cut the septum to use this lens on a non-full framed camera.

I have found this system to be amazing and fun. It's great for learning about both depth of field and where to place that depth of field in an image, also great for learning about composition and ensuring that the image has a single story to tell. If you can't achieve this with a normal photo forget trying 3D.

If anyone here knows the optical layout of the lenses I would love to know what it is as the bokeh is really nice.


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