Zeiss Ikon is a German company that was formed in 1926 by the merger of four camera makers, and indeed the word Ikon came from ICA and Contessa-Nettel, two of the constituents in the merger. The other two companies were Ernemann and Goerz. The company was a part of the Carl Zeiss Foundation, another part being the optical company Carl Zeiss. Logically, most of the Zeiss Ikon cameras were equipped with Carl Zeiss lenses. Soon AG Hahn für Optik und Mechanik, Kassel, and Goerz Photochemisches Werk GmbH, Berlin, joined the Zeiss Ikon syndicate. It became one of the big companies in the phototechnical capital Dresden, with plants in Stuttgart and Berlin. Until WWII Zeiss Ikon was the world's market leading maker of 8mm movie cameras.
Postwar production began early in May 1945. But it was interrupted because several factories were closed for dismantling their production machines. The machines were given as reparation to the soviet camera makers which had suffered demolition during the war. The production of the sophisticated Contax rangefinder cameras was prepared in Dresden and relaunched with new machines in Jena before all the machines were tranfererred to Soviet camera maker Kiev. In 1948 the East German part of Zeiss Ikon became state owned. Production and development of Ernemann projectors and movie cameras were continued since 1949. Camera production was continued in 1947 with the Tenax and the Ikonta models. Soon the company's stock of shutters was running out. In 1950 it decided to produce its own shutters. In 1948 the company could introduce its advanced SLR model, the Contax S. Since there were suits about trade mark names with the West-German Zeiss Ikon AG, VEB Zeiss Ikon was renamed to VEB Kinowerke Dresden in 1958. Later it became the main part of the East German combinate Pentacon.
The Carl Zeiss company is a German manufacturer of optical systems, industrial measurements and medical devices originally founded in Jena in 1846 by Carl Zeiss (Photo above on the right), Ernst Abbe and Otto Schott. Due to the results of World War II there are currently two parts, the Carl Zeiss AG located in Oberkochen with important subsidiaries in Aalen, Göttingen and Hallbergmoos (near Munich) and Carl Zeiss GmbH located in the foundation city Jena.
The organisation is named after one of its founders, 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 Heidenheim and Jena.
The other division of the Carl Zeiss Foundation, the glass manufacturer Schott AG and Jenaer Glaswerk, is located in Mainz and Jena
The history of Carl Zeiss AG begins in Jena 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 Dresden.
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 Germany, Zeiss Jena was assisted by the US army to relocate to the Contessa manufacturing facility in Stuttgart, West Germany, while the remainder of Zeiss Jena was taken over by the (Eastern) German Democratic Republic as Kombinat VEB Zeiss Jena. The occupying Russians took most of the existing Zeiss factories and tooling back to Russia as the Kiev camera works, which produced low-quality 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. Western German Zeiss products were labelled Opton when sold into the Eastern block, whilst Eastern German Zeiss products where labelled "Zeiss Jena" when sold to 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 35mm 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 35mm camera lenses.
Following German reunification, VEB Zeiss Jena became Zeiss Jena GmbH, which became JENOPTIC Carl Zeiss Jena GmbH in 1990. In 1991 the company name was shortened to JENOPTIC GmbH. 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, and special-use lenses (e.g., Exakta).
Today, there are arguably three companies with primarily Zeiss Ikon heritage: Zeiss Germany, the Finnish/Swedish 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 bring the firm beyond just being another optical workshop, so 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 assortment of optical glass available was not sufficient. After some calculations, he found that, if optical glasses of various properties were available, performance of optical instruments would dramatically improve. His challenge to glass manufacturers was finally answered by Dr Otto Schott, who established the famous glassworks at Jena 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 did not make great improvement. But the point of these new types of optical glass was the possibility of further corrections, especially correction for astigmatism, and the highest level of correction: apochromatic corrections. Abbé 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. This family was constantly developed. In 1891, Series I, II and IIIa appeared with respective maximum apertures of f/4.5, f/6.3, and f/9. 1893 came Series IIa of f/8 maximum aperture. These lenses are now better known by the trademark "Protar", 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 gave the idea a rethink and 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.
At about the same time, 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. While it was very sharp, it suffered from coma, thus restricted 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 safe to say that every lens manufacturer has produced lenses after 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 Leica in the field of professional 35mm 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 can be said to be superior to almost every equivalence 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 Oberkochen, while the original Zeiss firm in Jena 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 35mm 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 35mm single-lens reflex Contaflex, and other types of cameras.
Since the beginning of Zeiss as a photographic lens manufacturer, it has 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 terminated camera production in 2006, these lenses are then made by Cosina, who also manufacture 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 35mm 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 and Nikon, who by and large produce their own lenses. However on January 18, 2006 Zeiss announced that it plans to independently market a series of fixed focal length lenses designed primarily for Nikon film cameras.
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 high-dioptre spectacles to use thinner lenses. These are sold in many countries, though not in the United States.