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« From The Keppler Files: December, 1995 | Main | From The Keppler Files: February 1969 »

April 20, 2007


Peter Hennig

Dear Herbert Keppler

Interesting article!! As a matter of fact, the SLR camera that was going to became the Contax S, is first mentioned on the 23 of October 1945, in a briefing made by the camera constructor Wilhelm Winzenburg, for the Soviet major Turygin of the Soviet control commission at Zeiss Ikon AG in Dresden.

The Contax S was developed by the old Zeiss Ikon AG in 1945-1948. The first of June 1948, Zeiss Ikon AG was expropriated, and became the VEB Zeiss Ikon.

Best regards,

Peter Hennig
Member of the Zeiss Historica Society

Paul Steck

When I was stationed in England in the early 50's as a jet pilot, I flew traning missions in Germany and found myself in Wiesbaden, where I bought a Zeiss Contessa and an Exacta. The Contessa was usually with me in the cockpit, affording me many photo-ops.

JDM von Weinberg

Darn you, Red Baron, or whatever--I think the eBay prices for Biotars just jumped because of this article. I still use my Contax/Pentacon/Praktica lenses, with the added bonus that they (and Nikkor lenses) all work on my Canon EOS cameras. Aside from flare problems with primitive or no coating on the lenses, they are super. The Tessar doesn't seem to be so bad either--I'd be curious to see a modern lens test of it.

JDM von Weinberg

Herr Hennig's account is accurate, but he does not mention that Hubert Nerwin at Zeiss Ikon Dresden started planning for a Zeiss slr as early as 1937 resulting in a plan for a "Syntax"camera of which a few prototypes were completed despite the war. The Syntax team were dispersed at the end of the war and did not participate in the Contax S design, however, as Schulz describes in his Contax S book, and the story from there is as Henning indicates.

Leonard Laurin

I came across a Contax camera in a yard sale, it is identical to the Contax S shown above, but it has the letter D just below the Zeiss Ikon logo. It is German made and has a Biotar 58mm F2
Who can tell me more about this camera ?
It is stamped with number 29191
on the inner right side
It still works, and takes awesome pictures.

T. Alexander Halsey Palmer

Dear Mr. Keppler,

I believe the Soviet variant of the 58mm f2 Biotar is the Helios 44. I've owned one and it is sharp, though prone to flare. I've enjoyed reading your articles for almost three decades! I'm glad to see you on this blog.



Peter Hennig

Dear Mr. von Weinberg

The Syntax prototype was a quite different camera, build around the Contax II/III shutter. The construction was in general on a higher technical level, compared to the Contax S. The build in exposure meter was cross coupled to the shutter speeds and the aperture numbers. There was also a rangefinder camera prototype under the name of Contax IV in the late 1930´s, constructed in this advanced way by Mr. Hubert Nerwin.

The Contax SLR with a small D under the Zeiss Ikon logo, is the last serial of the Contax S.

Regards, Peter Hennig

Frank Mechelhoff

Dear Mr. Keppler,

the Biotar 2/58 designed 1936 for the Exakta and later Contax S and sold well into the 50's (upon Pancolar) was a 6 elements/ 4 groups design like the classical Planar. Please see this diagram: https://www.taunusreiter.de/Cameras/biotarExakta.jpg

What you refer as a 6 elements/ 5 groups design is the Ultron/ Xenon type invented by Tronnier and sold by Schneider Kreuznach. Cheaper to build because of one cemented surface less, and can be better corrected because of one more radius. This type, true, is the most common standard lens til present. Of the big Japanese companies, Pentax was the first to make it.


Regards; F.Mechelhoff


RIP.. But this was clearly in favour of the German industry

"Almost all the other camera manufacturers aped the Contax S lens focal length specs (or near them) and close focusing for their initial lenses: the 58mm f/1.2 Canon, 55mm f/1.4 Chinon, 57mm f/1.4 Hexanon, 58mm f/1.4 Nikkor, 58mm f/1.4 Auto Rokkor, 58mm f/1.4 Topcon."

Thats not totaly fair, it is only the fast lenses of the Japanese manufactures who used 58mm, and it was not bacause the aped after the Germans, but because of the problem with designing a fast 50mm (f1.4 or faster) without retrofocus. The f2 (the same speed as the Biotar) normals of most Japanese manufactures where 50mm or 55mm like Takumar 55mm f2 (later f1.8), Nikkor S (later H) 50mm f2, etc. If the Japanese really wanted to ape after the Germans they would of course also make the slow speed normals at 58mm to.

The truth is of course that 58mm normals, was because of limitation of design, and the Japanese where actually able to archive medium speed 50mm normals before the Germans, while the Germans used 58mm on their f2 normals, and it was only the slow speed 50mm Tessar who was a true normal. The Japanese where able to make 50mm medium speed normals, in the 50s and early 60s corectly their fast normal still was 58mm, but allready in 1962 Nikon was able to design a true normal (50mm) with the f1.4 speed.

C.H. Schouler

Please allow me to add some details on the history of Biotar lenses.

The very first Biotar deisgn was calculated by Moritz von Rohr in 1910. It was a 1:1.8 / 8,5 cm lens and designed as a projection lens for 18x24mm. But not before 1928 Willy Merté developed a new Type based on the Planar design, this was an 1:1.4 lens for cinematic recordings. These Biotars were sold from 2,5cm to 7cm focal length.
Further calculations led to the first Biotar for the 135 format: a 1:2/4cm for Contax and Robot. The first Biotar for SLRs was indeed the Biotar 1:2/58 which had been calculated in 1936. Later they produced the Biotar 1:1.5/75, still one of the fastest tele lenses ever. The Biotar design became frequently used for 16mm film cameras. Additionally, there were some x-ray lenses (like a 1:0.85) based on the Biotar design.
Biotars were sold until 1965 when they were replaced by the Pancolar models.
(Source: Hartmut Thiele: "Carl Zeiss Jena", 2007)

Dr K Schmitt

Here a like to my site showing that mentioned R-Biotar 0.85/55mm


Thanks for the great article!!

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