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The Carl Zeiss company is a Germanmarker manufacturer of optical systems, industrial measurements and medical devices founded in Jenamarker in 1846 by Carl Zeiss, Ernst Abbe, and Otto Schott. There are currently two parts of the company, the Carl Zeiss AG located in Oberkochenmarker with important subsidiaries in Aalenmarker, Göttingenmarker and Munich and Carl Zeiss GmbH located in the foundation city Jenamarker. It is the largest producer of optical equipment in the world .

The organisation is named after a founder, the German optician Carl Zeiss (1816–1888).

Carl Zeiss is the premier company of the Zeiss Gruppe, one of the two large divisions of the Carl-Zeiss-Stiftung. The Zeiss Gruppe is located in Heidenheimmarker and Jenamarker.

The other division of the Carl Zeiss Foundation, the glass manufacturer Schott AG and Jenaer Glaswerk, is located in Mainzmarker and Jenamarker.

Carl Zeiss is one of the oldest existing optics manufacturers in the world.

Zeiss corporate history

Carl Zeiss Jena (1910)
The manufacturer Zeiss in Göttingen.
The history of Carl Zeiss AG begins in Jenamarker before World War II, then the world's largest location of camera production. Zeiss Ikon represented a significant part of the production along with dozens of other brands and factories, and also had major works at Dresdenmarker.

In 1928 Hensoldt AG was acquired by Carl Zeiss and has produced the Zeiss binoculars and riflescopes since 1964. This situation sometimes resulted in the somewhat odd situation that the same products were offered under both the Hensoldt and Zeiss brand names. The Hensoldt System Technology division (resulting from a merger of the military optics operations of Leica and Hensoldt) was continued by Zeiss under the Hensoldt name until 2006.

The destruction of the war caused many companies to divide into smaller subcompanies and others to merge together. There was great respect for the engineering innovation that came out of Dresden—before the war the world's first 35 mm single-lens reflex camera, the Kine Exakta, and the first miniature camera with good picture quality were developed there.

At the end of the war Jena was occupied by the US Army. When Jena and Dresden were incorporated into the Soviet occupation zone, later East Germanymarker, Zeiss Jena was assisted by the US army to relocate to the Contessa manufacturing facility in Stuttgartmarker, West Germanymarker, while the remainder of Zeiss Jena was taken over by the (Eastern) German Democratic Republicmarker as Kombinat VEB Zeiss Jena[29368]. The occupying Russians took most of the existing Zeiss factories and tooling back to the Soviet Union as the Kiev camera works, which produced copies of the Contax and other Zeiss Ikon products.

The western business was restarted in Oberkochen (in southwestern Germany) as Opton Optische Werke Oberkochen GmbH in 1946, which became Zeiss-Opton Optische Werke Oberkochen GmbH in 1947, but was soon renamed to Carl Zeiss. West German Zeiss products were labelled Opton for sale in the Eastern bloc, while East German Zeiss products where labelled "Zeiss Jena" for sale in Western countries.

In 1973, the Western Carl Zeiss AG entered into a licensing agreement with the Japanese camera company Yashica to produce a series of high-quality 35 mm film cameras and lenses bearing the Contax and Zeiss brand names. This collaboration continued under Yashica's successor, Kyocera, until the latter ceased all camera production in 2005. Zeiss later produced lenses for the space industry and, more recently, has again produced high-quality 35 mm camera lenses.

Following German reunification, VEB Zeiss Jena became Zeiss Jena GmbH, which became Jenoptik Carl Zeiss Jena GmbH in 1990. In 1991, Jenoptik Carl Zeiss Jena was split in two, with Carl Zeiss AG (Oberkochen) taking over the company's divisions for microscopy and other precision optics (effectively reuniting the pre-war Carl Zeiss enterprise) and moving its microscopy division back to Jena. Jenoptik GmbH was split off as a specialty company in the areas of photonics, optoelectronics, and mechatronics.

The Hensoldt AG was renamed Carl Zeiss Sports Optics GmbH on 1 October, 2006.

The companies of the Zeiss Gruppe in and around Dresden have branched into new technologies: screens and products for the automotive industry, for example. Zeiss nonetheless still continues to be a camera manufacturer, and still produces the Pentacon, Praktica[29369], and special-use lenses (e.g., Exakta).

Today, there are arguably three companies with primarily Zeiss Ikon heritage: Zeiss Germany, the Finnishmarker/Swedishmarker Ikon (which bought the West German Zeiss Ikon AG), and the independent eastern Zeiss Ikon.


The Zeiss company was responsible for many innovations in optical design and engineering. Early on, Carl Zeiss realised that he needed a competent designer so as to take the firm beyond just being another optical workshop. In 1866, the service of Dr Ernst Abbe was enlisted. From then on novel products appeared in rapid succession which brought the Zeiss company to the forefront of optical technology.

Abbe was instrumental in the development of the famous Jena optical glass. When he was trying to eliminate astigmatism from microscopes, he realised that the range of optical glasses available was insufficient. After some calculations, he realised that performance of optical instruments would dramatically improve, if optical glasses of appropriate properties were available. His challenge to glass manufacturers was finally answered by Dr Otto Schott, who established the famous glassworks at Jenamarker from which new types of optical glass began to appear from 1888, and employed by Zeiss and other makers.

The new Jena optical glass also opened up the possibility of increased performance of photographic lenses. The first use of Jena glass in a photographic lens was by Voigtländer, but as the lens was an old design its performance was not greatly improved. Subsequently the new glasses would demonstrate their value in correcting astigmatism, and in the production of apochromatic lenses. Abbe started the design of a photographic lens of symmetrical design with five elements, but went no further.

Zeiss' domination of photographic lens innovation was due to Dr Paul Rudolph. In 1890, Rudolph designed an asymmetrical lens with a cemented group at each side of the diaphragm, and appropriately named "Anastigmat". This lens was made in three series: Series III, IV and V, with maximum apertures of f/7.2, f/12.5, and f/18 respectively. In 1891, Series I, II and IIIa appeared with respective maximum apertures of f/4.5, f/6.3, and f/9 and in 1893 came Series IIa of f/8 maximum aperture. These lenses are now better known by the trademark "Protar" which was first used in 1900.

At the time, single combination lenses, which occupy one side of the diaphragm only, were still popular. Rudolph designed one with three cemented elements in 1893, with the option of fitting two of them together in a lens barrel as a compound lens, but it was found to be the same as the Dagor by C.P. Goerz, designed by Emil von Hoegh. Rudolph then came up with a single combination with four cemented elements, which can be considered as having all the elements of the Protar stuck together in one piece. Marketed in 1894, it was called the Protarlinse Series VII, the most highly corrected single combination lens with maximum apertures between f/11 and f/12.5, depending on its focal length.

But the important thing about this Protarlinse is that two of these lens units can be mounted in the same lens barrel to form a compound lens of even greater performance and larger aperture, between f/6.3 and f/7.7. In this configuration it was called the Double Protar Series VIIa. An immense range of focal lengths can thus be obtained by the various combination of Protarlinse units.

Rudolph also investigated the Double-Gauss concept of a symmetrical design with thin positive meniscii enclosing negative elements. The result was the Planar Series Ia of 1896, with maximum apertures up to f/3.5, one of the fastest lenses of its time. Whilst it was very sharp, it suffered from coma which limited its popularity. However, further developments of this configuration made it the design of choice for high-speed lenses of standard coverage.

Probably inspired by the Stigmatic lenses designed by Hugh Aldis for Dallmeyer of London, Rudolph designed a new asymmetrical lens with four thin elements, the Unar Series Ib, with apertures up to f/4.5. Due to its high speed it was used extensively on hand cameras.

The most important Zeiss lens by Rudolph was the Tessar, first sold in 1902 in its Series IIb f/6.3 form. It can be said as a combination of the front half of the Unar with the rear half of the Protar. This proved to be a most valuable and flexible design, with tremendous development potential. Its maximum aperture was increased to f/4.7 in 1917, and reached f/2.7 in 1930. It is probable that every lens manufacturer has produced lenses of the Tessar configuration.

Rudolph left Zeiss after the First World War, but many other competent designers such as Merté, Wandersleb, etc. kept the firm at the leading edge of photographic lens innovations. One of the most significant designer was the ex-Ernemann man Dr Ludwig Bertele, famed for his Ernostar high-speed lens.

With the advent of the Contax by Zeiss-Ikon, the first serious challenge to the Leicamarker in the field of professional 35 mm cameras, both Zeiss-Ikon and Carl Zeiss decided to beat the Leica in every possible way. Bertele's Sonnar series of lenses designed for the Contax were the match in every respect for the Leica for at least two decades. Other lenses for the Contax included the Biotar, Biogon, Orthometar, and various Tessars and Triotars.

The last important Zeiss innovation before the Second World War was the technique of applying anti-reflective coating to lens surfaces. A lens so treated was marked with a red "T", short for "Transparent". The technique of applying multiple layers of coating was developed from this basis after the war, and known as "T*" (T-star).

After the partitioning of Germany, a new Carl Zeiss optical company was established in Oberkochenmarker, while the original Zeiss firm in Jenamarker continued to operate. At first both firms produced very similar lines of products, and extensively cooperated in product-sharing, but they drifted apart as time progressed. Jena's new direction was to concentrate on developing lenses for the 35 mm single-lens reflex camera, and many achievements were made, especially in ultra-wide angle designs. In addition to that, Oberkochen also worked on designing lenses for large format cameras, interchangeable front element lenses such as for the 35 mm single-lens reflex Contaflex, and other types of cameras.

Since the beginning of Zeiss as a photographic lens manufacturer, it has had a licensing programme which allows other manufacturers to produce its lenses. Over the years its licensees included Voigtländer, Bausch & Lomb, Ross, Koristka, Krauss, Kodak. etc. In the 1970s, the western operation of Zeiss-Ikon got together with Yashica to produce the new Contax cameras, and many of the Zeiss lenses for this camera, among others, were produced by Yashica's optical arm, Tomioka. As Yashica's owner Kyocera ended camera production in 2006, and Yashica lenses were then made by Cosina, who also manufactured most of the new Zeiss designs for the new Zeiss Ikon coupled rangefinder camera. Another licensees active today is Sony who uses the Zeiss name on lenses on its video and digital still cameras.


Now over 100 years old, Zeiss continues to be associated with expensive and high-quality optical lenses. Zeiss lenses are generally thought to be elegant and well-constructed, yielding high-quality images. Even old lens designs such as the Tessar demonstrate engineering elegance and in the modern age of plastic parts, many Zeiss lenses are still made with predominantly metal components.

Zeiss licenses its technology to be manufactured by third-party companies and indeed, many have done so. Notable names include Hasselblad, a famous name in medium format professional cameras. Rollei, Yashica, Sony, Logitech and Alpa amongst others, have used or manufactured lenses under Zeiss license. The Contax line of 35 mm cameras, first produced by Yashica and subsequently Kyocera until 2005 are perhaps the most well-known to fit Zeiss lenses. Notably absent from this list are the Japanese companies Canon, Nikon, and Pentax, who by and large produce their own lenses.

On April 27, 2005 the company announced a collaboration with Nokia in the camera phone market. The first product to emerge out of this collaboration is the Nokia N90.Outside the world of cameras and imaging, Zeiss also produces spectacle lenses, particularly lenses made from high refractive index glass, allowing people whose prescriptions require stronger spectacles to use thinner lenses. These are sold in many countries, though not in the United States.

The Carl Zeiss Industrial Metrology subsidiary is a respected source of coordinate measurement machines and mutidimensional metrology systems. Zeiss is a recognized partner to the automotive industry.

A unique pair of fast 50mm F/0.7 lenses originally created by Zeiss for NASA's lunar program had the distinction of being reused by Stanley Kubrick in the filming of his historical drama, "Barry Lyndon". The period atmosphere of the film demanded that several indoor scenes be filmed by candlelight. To facilitate this, Kubrick had, with great difficulty, the lenses modified to mount onto a cinema camera. [29370]

Zeiss is currently in the process of designing the optical components for the James Webb Space Telescope set to replace the Hubble Space Telescope sometime in 2014.


Zeiss and its subsidiaries offer a wide range of products related to optics and vision. These include camera and cine lenses, microscopes and microscopy software, binoculars and spotting scopes, eyeglasses and lenses, planetariums and dome video-systems, optics for military applications (head tracker systems, submarine periscopes, targeting systems, ...), optical sensors, industrial metrology systems and ophthalmology products. The largest part of Carl Zeiss AG's revenue is generated by its Semiconductor Manufacturing Technologies division, which produces lithographic systems for the semiconductor industry as well as process control solutions (electron microscopes, mask repair tools, helium ion microscopes).

Medical Solutions

This branch of Carl Zeiss is managed by Carl Zeiss Meditec. It is divided in Ophthalmology/Optometry, Neurosurgery, ENT, Spine, P&R, Dentistry, Radiotherapy and Gynecology.

Industrial Metrology

Zeiss Industrial Metrology specializes in high accuracy measurement systems, including coordinate measuring machines, computed tomography measurement machines (non-medical), optical measuring equipment, metrology software and measurement sensor systems. The Industrial Metrology subsidiary provides this equipment to a wide range of manufacturing facilities worldwide.

Zeiss has manufactured coordinate measuring machines (CMM's) since 1973, introducing the UMM 500, using a Zeiss sensor system and Hewlett Packard computer. Zeiss has since vastly improved and diversified their product line and now feature many high accuracy CMM's, and now the Metrotom, a CT x-ray scanning measuring machine, with the ability to quickly and completely measure a part in 3 dimensions without ever touching the part.

Zeiss is currently a member of the International Association of CMM Manufacturers (IACMM).

Many of the sensor systems produced by Zeiss are proprietary technologies, using technologies exclusively patented by Zeiss, and therefore can offer better accuracy and repeatability than its competitors.

Zeiss was the first manufacturer of coordinate measurement machines to introduce computer numerical control (CNC) technology to a coordinate measuring machine. Zeiss was the first company to offer CNC stylus changer capability for coordinate measuring machines.


Zeiss offers many different types of microscopes:


Zeiss Ikon Camera

Zeiss Ikon is the name given to a range of top-quality cameras produced by a sister company of Carl Zeiss. Over the years, a number of camera models had carried the same name, leading to confusion among users who are unfamiliar with Carl Zeiss naming system. Zeiss Ikon users usually refer to their cameras using Zeiss' catalogue number, as everything sold by Zeiss was assigned one.

The latest Zeiss Ikon rangefinder camera was introduced by Zeiss in 2004 and is similar to the Leica Mmarker series cameras. The new camera, manufactured in Japan by Cosina, is fully compatible with Leicamarker and other lenses with the Leica M mount.

Camera lenses

ZM lenses

The ZM line are lenses made for the Leica M mount and for the new Zeiss Ikon camera. They are also compatible with other rangefinder camera bodies with M Mount e.g. the Konica Hexar RF (KM Mount), the Cosina Voigtländer Bessa RxM/RxA series (VM mount), the Rollei 35RF and the Epson R-D series. Some lenses are manufactured in Germany by Zeiss, some in Japan by Cosina.

  • Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 1:2.8 15 mm
  • Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 1:2.8 21 mm
  • Carl Zeiss C Biogon T* 1:4.5 21 mm
  • Carl Zeiss Biogon T* 1:2.8 25 mm

    (Zeiss claims this lens has a resolution of 400 line pairs per millimetre in the centre of the image at the aperture f/4; this value represents the calculated diffraction limit for the aperture f/4, meaning that it physically doesn't get any better, resolution-wise)
  • Carl Zeiss Biogon T* 1:2.8 28 mm
  • Carl Zeiss Biogon T* 1:2.0 35 mm
  • Carl Zeiss Planar T* 1:2.0 50 mm
  • Carl Zeiss C Sonnar T* 1:1.5 50 mm

    ("C" for "compact" and "classic")
  • Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* 1:2.0 85 mm
  • Carl Zeiss Tele-Tessar T* 1:4 85 mm

ZA lenses

The ZA line of lenses are for Sony Alpha/Konica Minolta/Minolta A mount. They are fully dedicated autofocus lenses with 8 electrical contacts, ROM-IC, and distance encoder ('(D)-function' to support ADI flash).

  • Sony α Carl Zeiss Planar T* 1:1.4 85 mm ZA [SAL-85F14Z]
  • Sony α Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* 1:1.8 135 mm ZA [SAL-135F18Z]
  • Sony α Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* DT 1:3.5-1:4.5 16–80 mm ZA [SAL-1680Z]
  • Sony α Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* 1:2.8 24–70 mm ZA [SAL-2470Z]
  • Sony α Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* 1:2.8 16–35 mm ZA [SAL-1635Z]

ZF Lenses

The ZF lens line are for the Nikon F-mount. They have no electronics, are manual focus only, AI-S compatible. They are optically identical to corresponding ZK and ZS lenses. Manufactured in Japan by Cosina. ZF-I sealed lenses are for heavy duty industrial use, ZF-IR for infrared use.

  • Carl Zeiss Planar T* 1:1.4 50 mm
  • Carl Zeiss Planar T* 1:1.4 85 mm

    (Not optically identical to Sony α Carl Zeiss Planar T* 1:1.4 85 mm ZA lens)
  • Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 1:2.0 35 mm
  • Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 1:2.8 25 mm
  • Carl Zeiss Makro-Planar T* 1:2.0 50 mm
  • Carl Zeiss Makro-Planar T* 1:2.0 100 mm
  • Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 1:2 28 mm
  • Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 1:2.8 25 mm ZF-I
  • Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 1:2 28 mm ZF-I
  • Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 1:2 35 mm ZF-I
  • Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 1:2.8 25 mm ZF-IR
  • Carl Zeiss Planar T* 1:1.4 85 mm ZF-IR
  • Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 1:2.8 21 mm
  • Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 1:3.5 18 mm

ZK lenses

The ZK lens line is for Pentax K mount. They have no electronics, are manual focus only, KA couplers. Optically identical to corresponding ZF and ZS lenses. Manufactured in Japan by Cosina.

  • Carl Zeiss Planar T* 1:1.4 50 mm
  • Carl Zeiss Planar T* 1:1.4 85 mm

    (Not optically identical to Sony α Carl Zeiss Planar T* 1:1.4 85 mm ZA lens)
  • Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 1:2.0 35 mm
  • Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 1:2.8 25 mm
  • Carl Zeiss Makro-Planar T* 1:2.0 50 mm
  • Carl Zeiss Makro-Planar T* 1:2.0 100 mm
  • Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 1:2.0 28 mm
  • Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 1:2.8 21 mm
  • Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 1:3.5 18 mm

ZS lenses

The ZS lenses are for the M42 lens mount (Pentacon/Practica/Pentax screw mount). By use of mount adapters they can be adapted to most 35 mm bayonet camera mounts including Canon FD and EF, Pentax K, Minolta SR and Sony/Konica Minolta/Minolta A mounts (with the exception of Nikon F mount), usually losing open-aperture-metering, multi-segment metering, focus confirmation, automatic flash zoom capabilities as well as some built-in shake reduction performance and EXIF data accuracy. They are manual-focus only and optically identical to corresponding ZF and ZK lenses. Manufactured in Japan by Cosina.

  • Carl Zeiss Planar T* 1:1.4 50 mm
  • Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 1:2.8 25 mm
  • Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 1:2.8 35 mm

ZE lenses

Introduced on September 2008, the ZE lenses are for the Canon's EOS EF mount. They feature electronic contacts allowing for focus-confirmation, as with standard Canon EF lenses. Major criticism has been drawn from the lack of auto focus motor, although focus confirmation is available. They are optically identical to corresponding ZF and ZK lenses.

  • Carl Zeiss Planar T* 1:3.5 18 mm
  • Carl Zeiss Planar T* 1:1.4 50 mm
  • Carl Zeiss Planar T* 1:1.4 85 mm
  • Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 1:2.8 21 mm

Super-rotator lenses

These are 360° tilt/shift lenses (based on Zeiss medium format lens designs) for 35 mm format including full-frame digital. Available mounts: Canon EF, Nikon F, Sony Alpha/Konica Minolta/Minolta A mount. Other mounts on request. Manual focus only, no electronics. Manufactured in Germany and Ukraine.

  • Hartblei Superrotator Carl Zeiss Distagon T* IF 1:4.0 40 mm
  • Hartblei Superrotator Carl Zeiss Planar T* 1:2.8 80 mm
  • Hartblei Superrotator Carl Zeiss Makro-Planar T* 1:4.0 120 mm

See also


  1. Carl Zeiss—A History Of A Most Respected Name In Optics.
  2. 150 Years of Hensoldt
  3. What you should know about Carl Zeiss Sports Optics GmbH
  4. Carl Zeiss, Industrial Metrology - About Us
  5. Slides of Half-Year Press Conference for fiscal year 2007/08, May 29th, 2008
  6. Carl Zeiss, Industrial Metrology - Products and Technology
  7. Carl Zeiss, Industrial Metrology - History
  8. Carl Zeiss, Industrial Metrology - The Metrotom
  9. Carl Zeiss, Industrial Metrology - About Us
  10. Carl Zeiss, Industrial Metrology - CMM Sensor Systems
  11. Carl Zeiss Camera Lens News 29, September 2008 (retrieved on October 3rd, 2008)

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