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 barrell with "Made in Germany"
or something. 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.
A true 1936 collapsible Carl Zeiss
Jena lens, not coated.
As far as I know no collapsible Russian
lenses were build, so there aren't subject to fake.
Also Contax II and III RF cameras are subject to fake, so please be
When it is not a fake?
- if it says "Jupiter" or something kyrillic in the front ring. The
Zeiss Sonnar were great designs, leading the fast 35mm lens class
for at least 20 years. The Russians continued to reproduce these
German prewar designs, which to copy was allowed due to law of
nations. Whereas Zeiss and Japanese factories like Nikon and Canon
improved these designs after the war until ~ 1958, the Russians
- if it's a past-WWII East German Zeiss lens. Between 1945 and 1990,
there were two German companies with the Carl Zeiss name: Carl
Oberkochen in West-Germany and Carl Zeiss Jena in the
East (German Democratic Republic/ DDR), both producing lenses: Carl
Zeiss Oberkochen for the Contax Rangefinder, Icarex, Contax SLR made
in Japan, and Hasselblad cameras. Carl Zeiss Jena (in some markets
referred just as "Jena") made lenses for the East-German Contax-S,
Pentacon, Exakta, Praktika, and other M42 SLR lenses. Carl Zeiss
West made very few M42-lenses for the Zeiss Voigtländer Icarex 35S
TM. It must be added that not all Carl Zeiss (West) lenses were made
in Germany. Since 1970's the "volume" series for the Contax (Japan)
SLR including the Planar 1.4/50 were made at Kyocera in Japan with
quality assurance by Zeiss. These lenses were engraved "Made in
Japan" in opposite to "Made in West-Germany".
- all Jupiter lenses known so far were build with coated glass. Most, say 95% of
all Contax RF lenses before 1945 were build with uncoated optics. So uncoated
lenses, in particular with chromed brass mouting (more weight than
aluminium alloy) or the nickel-plated (partly black) lenses before
1936 aren't easy to fake, although it is possible that they were
repaired with Russian parts. This is possible for cameras (Contax
II, III) as well.
- Every coated 1.5/5cm or 2/8.5cm alloy Sonnar, in particular with
Leica Thread Mount (LTM) . In peacetime Carl Zeiss lense barrells
were made of brass, in wartime alloy. Since all Russian lenses are
made of alloy, you never see a brass fake.
Zeiss RF lenses very seldom were made in LTM, even after the war.
Zeiss and Leica were strong competitors at that time. The few Zeiss
Sonnars made in LTM were probably made for government or military
use and well-sought by Leica owners after the war. It is very
unlikely to found them in todays Russia.
Truly a fake
- big ugly letters, big focussing triangle, focussing scale in "M"
instead of "m", front ring with white "T"-coating symbol instead of
a red "T", big screws on the barrell, coating seems to look more
blue than purple... see the difference:
Faked 2/85 (see Russian case and caps!)
...and not money enough to fake a red "T"
NO fakes (see the differences)
Note the small letters, "." instead of "," seperator, small
Front ring engraving
note: small letters, "."-seperation, focussing in "m"
note: no black front-ring, no "ears" at f/stop-ring
Since more than 90% of the wartime-Sonnars are fakes you have to
know what you're looking for. Even true ZEISS wartime 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.
If you have a Jupiter lens: use it, and be proud of it! It's
one of the best designs in history of photography, and even by
today's standard capable of making great pictures or slides. I would
pay 100-150 USD for such a lens in excellent condition and
Short telephotos for Rangefinders of different
vintage from left to right: Canon 1.8/85 (1962 - 468g),
Jupiter-9 2/85 (1968 - 314g), Voigtländer 2.5/75 (2004 -
234g). Compactness and weight not too bad for a 70 years old
In particular the small number of nickel, and black ones are well
made. I own a black Jupiter-9. It's my most compact fast telephoto
for Rangefinder cameras.
A Jupiter with a faked front-ring it's worth less. As a
collector I cannot show these kind of lenses to knowledgable people
without beeing laughed.
If you like Sonnar lenses for compactness and quality, but avoid
beeing shammed, and don't like the Russian volatility of quality, do
- If you have a Contax, buy a "Zeiss-Opton" Sonnar made after
the war. Improved design. These are usually Contax mount. LTM is
extremely rare. Since all Zeiss-Optons are made of brass/ nickel
fakes are easily identified. Very well made and expensive. At least
600 USD (Contax mount)
West-German Zeiss-Opton (past WW-II)
- If you are proud owner of a Nikon Rangefinder or a Leica
screw-mount camera, buy a Japanese Sonnar (Nikon or Canon).
Very well made, up to West German standards. They were never faked.
Improved design also. 300-400 USD (Nikon or LTM mount)
Samuel Tang (Austrailia) wrote in
www.rangefinderforum.com (I cite his text with his permission):
"To recap: the East German company Carl Zeiss Jena was
not, as many was led to believe, a "fake" company bearing the
name of Carl Zeiss to leech off the reputation of the name; it
was the original company in the original factories where all the
pre-WWII lenses were made. For that matter, the company name was
"Carl Zeiss", as as per the custom of the time, the location of
the company was also marked on the lens: in much the same way,
the company who made the Leica lenses was not "Leitz Wetzlar"
The US forces reached Jena first and according to the agreement
reached at the Yalta conference, the US occupying forces would
vacate for the Soviet forces to take over administration. Thus
"Operation Paperclip" was put into action: several hundred Carl
Zeiss personnels were "escorted" at gunpoint, along with a huge
amount of material resources, to the area destined to be under
US control, so that a new optical company could be established
there. The Carl Zeiss company name was registered in a hurry,
and so was the Carl Zeiss Foundation.
Meanwhile, the company in Jena was pretty much left in the cold
but it still tried its best to get back into business, but as
the original Carl Zeiss Stiftung re-registerred with the
authorities a matter of days later than the new one in the west,
it lost its legitimacy as seen in many overseas countries. In
much the same way, Carl Zeiss Jena did that too, for not having
the rights to the name it had been using since the latter days
of the 19th century.
While East Germany manufactured cameras of many types. the
original Zeiss Ikon company in Dresden took little time to shift
from rangefinder cameras to single-lens reflex cameras, although
for a number of years afterwards, Carl Zeiss Jena still produced
lenses for the West German-made Contax IIa and IIIa cameras. But
Carl Zess Jena had to satisfy the demans of domestic
manufacturers of cameras and other markets too, so apart from
specialist photographic optics (such as the Apo-Germinar process
lenses), the photographic lenses it produces were for reflex
cameras, made by Exakta and KW (which later became Pentacon).
Consider the two brands 35mm single-lens reflex cameras, Carl
Zeiss Jena was one of the two main supplier of lenses to them,
the other being Hugo Meyer. With the exception of some
short-lived detours such as Praktina and Pentina, a staggering
quantity of lenses were made in Exakta, Praktica M42 screw and
Praktica B mounts; the B-mount ones were of course the last made
and many of completely new designs. Using a M42-mount 35mm
single-lens reflex would be a good way to access these Carl
Zeiss lenses (along with the many fine Meyer ones too).
But back to the CRF topic: Carl Zeiss Jena, after the way, did
produce a series of 35mm compact cameras called the Werra, of
various specifications; the top model, thte Werramatic, featured
exposure meter, coupled rangefinder, and three interchangeable
lenses: 35mm Flektogon, 50mm Tessar and 100mm Cardinar, all very
fine performers, and with a Prestor leaf shutter with rotating
blades which could give a marked top speed of 1/750s (although
it can indeed run at 1/1000s with ease.
(..) Another thing which has a lot of people confused is
that, even before the partition of Germany, there were three
organizations with the name of Zeiss. Carl Zeiss Optical came
first, established by Carl Zeiss, and after his death the sole
ownership passed on to his partner Ernse Abbe, who established
the Carl Zeiss Stiftung who acquire Carl Zeiss Optical as one of
its core dividions. Carl Zeiss Stiftung grew from that and
carried on acquiring other businesses and at the same tieme
diversifying, and in 1926, acquired four camera manufacturers,
merged them to form Zeiss Ikon, its photographic equipment
division, and based in Dresden. Zeiss Ikon bought lenses from
Carl Zeiss Optical for its cameras but Carl Zeiss was of course
free to supply its lenses and other products to other camera
After the war, the new Carl Zeiss Stiftung, Carl Zeiss Optical
and Zeiss Ikon were established in the American Zone, but only
the new Zeiss Ikon in Stuttgart had any historical link with the
old Zeiss Ikon, because one of the companies which was acquired
to form Zeiss Ikon was the Stuttgart-based Contessa-Nettel.
By the way, some of the earlier lenses by the new Carl Zeiss
Optical (then using the Zeiss-Opton name) in Oberkochen were of
extremely poor quality; while the glass parts might be
acceptable, the mounting was very badly designed and would
indeed disintegrate after some years; I do feel that many
Zeiss-Opton Tessars were affected by this problem but not sure
if those lenses made for the Contax Iia and IIIa suffered