Carl Zeiss Tessar 115mm f/3.5

The Carl Zeiss Tessar 115mm f/3.5 Macro/Close-up Pre-Set Lens is a gem among lenses.

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Carl Zeiss Tessar 115mm f/3.5 Pre-set Bellows Lens for Contarex.


Years Manufactured: NR
1962 thru 1973 for the Contarex cameras.
The Carl Zeiss Tessar 115mm f/3.5 Lens has been around since at least 1945 in other mounts, and maybe a different design, but only in 1962 was the Contarex version introduced. I know very little else about this lens. It is famous in Europe but in the U.S. most people are unaware of it.

Build Quality: 10
Maybe The finest built lens I've ever used. Built like a Swiss-Watch/Tank with medical-like precision and all metal construction. The Carl Zeiss Tessar 115mm f/3.5 is made of the highest grade metals and glass. It is extremely well sealed as my sample at over 40 years of age shows no grittiness and the rings all move like new. It's solid everywhere. Even when fully extended there is almost no detectable play.
The front of the lens has the unique Contarex bayonet mounting for filters and hoods. It is often mistaken for the rear of the lens. (seen below in "Filter Size")

Lens and camera manufacturers seem to have gotten away from building the "absolute best" and are now cutting many corners to save money. I doubt if lenses of this quality will ever be produced again.

Side View - Carl Zeiss Tessar 115mm f/3.5 Bellows Lens

Ease of use: 8
As far as ALL MANUAL lenses go they don't get much easier than this.
The lens design is extremely well thought-out. The aperture ring is at the front of the lens, far away from the focusing ring so accidentally moving focus is minimized. Once focused you can grab the lens barrel without fear of changing focus. Changing f-stops is swift... if the lens is wide open then the aperture release button is at 12:00 and at about 9 o'clock at f/22 (facing your subject) so without looking you always know your approximate f-stop setting. The button for stopping the lens down is completely out of the way, and always at about 5 o'clock. A Double Cable Release can be used to close the lens and fire the shutter at the same time.

The Zeiss 115mm does achieve infinity focus on a Contarex as well as other camera mounts it was made for and some mirror-less sensor cameras can be adapted, like the Nikon1, otherwise an adapter and/or a bellows will be required and infinity focus MAY not be achievable.

The operation of the lens will be a bit difficult to use for a while but once you get the hang of it, it's superb. You'll then wonder why they don't make all bellows lenses like this now. If you can get one mounted to your camera they are great... the more you use it the more you'll like it.

Appeal: 10
Universal Appeal. Hold one and your hooked.
To those owning them and those wanting them they are a definite 10.
Popularity is continually growing as a tool as well as collectors item. This is such a nice lens that you'll feel like wearing gloves just to touch it. Really!

Focusing Rating: 10
Very, VERY smooth focusing and with 1 full turn taking you from stop to stop, giving you plenty of well spaced fine tuning.
The 1/2" (12mm) focusing ring is just above the base of the lens for easy access (as seen below) which is especially useful when using long extensions. Once set, the firm, fluid feeling focusing ring stays in place, requiring just the right amount of pressure for fine focusing. It is conveniently out of the way close to the camera body with aperture settings at the front of the lens, a big plus. This lens was built for close-up/macro photography and the designers must have loved macro because they constructed it in such a "macro photographers" user friendly way.

NOTE: The more you can turn a lens from stop-to-stop the finer the focusing ability, so in macro it is most desirable. A full turn is a lot... grab one of your lenses and check it out. In shooting subjects that require quick focusing, like sports, you'd want fast access to all shooting distances, so a lens that only requires 1/3 a turn or less would be much better for the job.

I am a totally manual advocate for almost all photography, but in sports, wildlife and other fast response shooting, some of the new auto-focus lenses can walk circles around manual-focus lenses even in the hands of the most seasoned pros. If you do buy an AF lens and think you might want to shoot film someday, make sure to get lenses that have an aperture ring. Nikon is breaking my heart as they come out with awesome lenses that can only be used by newer cameras because they have no aperture ring. Forget shooting them on film cameras for now, but maybe Nikon will be kind enough to produce an adapter.

Focusing Ring - Carl Zeiss Tessar 115mm f/3.5 Bellows Lens

Aperture Range: 8
The aperture ring is located near the front of the lens, with another ring just in front of it for opening the lens to focus as seen below.

Aperture Ring - Carl Zeiss Tessar 115mm f/3.5 Bellows Lens

Click Stops: 9+
1/2 Clicks
If they had just made it 1/3 clicks it would have scored 10.
NOTE" The Carl Zeiss Tessar 115mm f/3.5 is one of the very few lenses I've ever used that has not only 1/2 stop click-stops but also locks them in, requiring the pressing of a release to change f-stops. What a great feature! Between f/16 and f/22 is a full stop only. You can see this button in the picture above. It does however allow for some stopping between locking clicks. The 115mm f/3.5 Tessar is one of the lenses that truly shine in this area. The ring at the front of the lens allows opening the diaphragm for focusing and with a simple push of a wisely placed button, or a single cable release, the spring-loaded ring stops the lens down to the preset f-stop and does so with mechanical precision. You can see this button in the depressed mode in the picture below, just left of the cable release socket, which can stop-down the lens also. This cable release socket is used to close the lens only, not create an exposure so you'll want a double cable release for greatest productivity and ease of use.

The cable release socket is a bonus for my DSLR setup. I use a single cable release to close the diaphragm (stop the lens down) without having to touch the lens thus avoiding possible movement... especially critical in macro shooting.

Aperture Release - Carl Zeiss Tessar 115mm f/3.5 Bellows Lens

Aperture Blades: 10
15 Beautiful Blades!

 Aperture Blades - Carl Zeiss Tessar 115mm f/3.5 Pre-set Bellows Lens for Contarex

Prime Aperture Range: NYR
f/5.6 - f/8 are indistinguishable. Use f/8 for the added DOF in macro shooting.

f/3.5 and f/22 should only be used when absolutely necessary.
f/4 and f/16 showing considerable weakness.
f/5.6-f/8 - Sweet Spot
f/11 Showing just the tiniest bit of diffraction.

Quality diminishes outside this range. The range may include f/11 on a Contarex camera since I have about an extra 10mm of adapter extension. Stay at f/5.6-f/8 to be sure. With minimal extension the results were almost identical.

Closest Distance Reading on Lens Barrel: NR
3'  Feet
0.8 Meters

Distance to object at 1:1 & Extension Required: NYR
Normal - 172mm
Requires using the lens's focusing ring plus full bellows extension (187mm) to get full 1:1 with my current setup.
Reversed - 195mm
**Did not measure reverse as this lens performs much better mounted in a normal fashion.
Reverse mounting tests discontinued on this lens.

Distance to object at Maximum Magnification, Horizontal Coverage & Extension Required: NYR
Normal - D= 151mm  HC= 21mm  EXT= 187mm
Reversed - D=135mm  HC= 11mm  EXT= 245mm
**I have to use 2 different bellows for "normal & reverse" mounting and have more extension on one setup.

Distance to object at LEAST Magnification & Horizontal Coverage:
Normal - D=1525mm  HC=300mm
Reversed - D=381mm  HC= 62mm

I reversed this lens and an interesting and unexpected thing happened. With a 49mm revering ring mounted to the lens and camera alone, (no bellows) the lens seemed more like a piece of a lens, not able to focus but not much out of focus, no matter if at it's farthest or closest setting. (see picture below) It was sharpest at about 30 feet away. All the lenses I have ever reversed turned them into more of a jewelers loupe. Next is to mount it to a bellows and see what happens. I expect this to have something to do with the fact that this particular lens requires some extension, even on it's native Contarex cameras. Maybe more tests will give the answer. Shooting in this fashion could prove to be interesting for portraits or as a theme/same-look for a series of shots.

Reverse Mounted - Carl Zeiss Tessar 115mm f/3.5 Pre-set Bellows Lens for Contarex

With the lens now on a bellows, mounted in reverse, the focusing ring again has very little effect. All adjustments are through the bellows. Control is not as easy as if normal mounting.

Maximum Magnification:
Roughly 2:1 with my current set-up. Not calculated yet.

Infinity-Focus on Nikon: 5
No, not with my current setup, but I can focus out to over 5'... very tight headshot size. This lens is intended for macro work so it really could score a bit higher with a 5 foot reach.

Adaptability: 2
The Contarex Mount is the most difficult lens I have ever adapted for use on another camera and commercial adapters are not available. It could be mounted to a view camera much easier but probably wouldn't fill the frame. One of the difficulties with adapting this lens is that if you take it apart and can't get it back together, there are almost no resources for reference that I can find.

Adapter: 2
Adapters are not available for converting Contarex lenses to anything other than a few small sensor cameras that I know of... a true shame. Several mounts are available that will permit using other lenses an a Contarex camera.

Lens Mount: NR
My sample is a Contarex mount as seen below. Other mounted samples I've seen are Nikon F, Leica, Contax  and Rollei SL66 mounts, although I believe the Rollei version was a different lens design. All of these may have been conversions except the Contax mount, which Zeiss produced.

Lens Mount - Carl Zeiss Tessar 115mm f/3.5 Pre-set Bellows Lens for Contarex

Filter Size: NR
Contarex has a filter and hood mounting system, which is of a "bayonet" type, 56mm, however, some of the Contarex lenses do have a filter thread for conventional screw-in type
filters. The Carl Zeiss Tessar 115mm f/3.5 has threads for a 49mm filter and/or hood.

Front View - Carl Zeiss Tessar 115mm f/3.5 Pre-set Bellows Lens for Contarex

Dimensions: NR
Length min. -  3 11/16"  -  94mm
Length max. -  4 17/16"  -  127mm
Width -  2 3/4 - 70mm

Fully Compressed View - Carl Zeiss Tessar 115mm f/3.5 Pre-set Bellows Lens for Contarex

Fully Extended View - Carl Zeiss Tessar 115mm f/3.5 Pre-set Bellows Lens for Contarex

Weight: NR
1 lb. 2 oz.  -  490 gm.
All metal & glass!!!


    The initial shots look great.
    The initial shots with the lens reversed look disappointing comparatively.
    *Testing setup needs refining before determining results.

  • Center Sharpness: NYR
    With the little testing I have done on this lens, and only my experience to go by, It looks as though it will score very high.

  • Edge Sharpness: NYR
    Not yet tested.

  • SCENE or Overall Apparent Sharpness: NYR
    Normal: The initial shots look great.
    The initial shots look promising.
    Testing with the lens reverse mounted has been halted due to poor performance. This MAY be controllable with good light baffling. I don't think hoods are enough. The magnification is doubled by reversing but expect poor performance.

    You be the Judge: NR
    Test shots for examination. These shots are exemplary of all test shots I have taken with this lens.
    Special thanks to "the little guy" for being such a patient model.

    Test shot - Full Scene - Carl Zeiss Tessar 115mm f/3.5 Close-up Lens
    Full Scene f/8 4sec








    As you can see, the results for f/5.6 & f/8 are very nice with f/11 just seeing the tiniest bit of diffraction. This is with 187mm of extension and the effective f-stop is higher than I am stating. This lens, used on a Contarex camera, should be absolutely stunning with minimal extension. I'd stay clear of f/3.5, f/4 and f/22. f/16 should be very useful at lesser magnifications. f/8 looks to be the ideal Sweet Spot.

    Penny - Carl Zeiss Tessar 115mm f/3.5

    These images show the full frame at a about 2:1 magnification (f/8) with a blowup of the mouth area from the shot at about 400%.
    I need more extension!!! f/8

    Focus Curvature: NR
    Not yet tested.

    Bokeh: NYR

    Color Saturation: NYR

    Overall Color Accuracy: NYR

    Contrast: 10
    The contrast is Superb, not to much, not to little. N
    ot to be outdone for Black & White photography. The contrast of the few Carl Zeiss lenses that I've used have all had this quality, great at revealing detail where higher and lower contrast lenses loose it. Just about as perfect as they get. Similar to Nikon's ED Glass.

    VERY Noticeable Problems: 9+
    Even with the recessed lens it is susceptible to flaring from direct light hitting the lens, so you'll want a hood or shade. I use a Zeiss Ikon Contarex mount slide copy attachment for this and it works fantastic, allowing me to block maximum stray light. It also mates up with the Contarex filter bayonet mount.

    So far flaring is the only problem I have noticed. I am using a controlled environment so results for other problems may not be as noticeable as in field conditions. It seems to be completely void of color fringes (chromatic aberrations) but I have tested it little.

    With the lens reverse mounted flaring and ghosting problems are increased. Will re-shoot with lens mounted normally with same setup to verify... After returning the lens to a normal mounting position the ghosts and flares disappeared. My Conclusion - don't use this lens in reverse without appropriate light control and probably not at all. The added magnification does not justify the expected results. Longer bellows with normal mounting a much better solution.

    Availability: 2
    Very scarce. Less than 1,600 produced and rarely for sale. Especially in mint condition, although most samples I've seen have been in good to excellent condition. These were probably not often used as a field lens.

    Serviceability: 2
    There are almost no parts available for anything "Contarex" and repairs are costly with rumors floating of poor repairs being done and at very high prices.

    No matter how well you take care of your gear, lubricants in camera systems deteriorate over time, including lenses, and will need servicing. Research the person you are hiring to service your Contarex items before shipping them off or you may be very disappointed.

    Repairability: 1
    Attempts at repairing or altering Contarex system lenses and cameras should only be done by qualified, reputable individuals. They are built with many very tricky parts and if you get it apart you'll pay plenty to have someone put it back together, if they even can... and don't even think of repairing a Contarex camera on your own... it's like a spring loaded trap! And TINY... one mounting spring I removed was as small as a human hair... maybe smaller. (might have to post a picture) I certainly don't look forward to the task of getting it back in place.

    Cost When New: NR
    No longer produced.

    Used Cost or Estimated Market Value: NR
    As of September 2012 I have seen sales of under $1000.00 but they are swooped up fast at that price and may have problems. As a serious collectors item a mint condition Carl Zeiss Tessar 115mm f/3.5 Macro/Close-up lens with original caps and original leather case/pouch (Zeiss Ikon 23.1202) could run a LOT more, a lot, lot more, due to growing popularity, limited production, age (all over 40 years old now), damaged or destroyed samples, lack of replacement parts, legendary status, positive reviews, and the overall condition of the lens. The original leather lens case/pouch is also rare in any condition and could someday be worth more than the lens itself due to being made of leather which can be easily damaged. The case/pouch was also sold for use with the Contarex 135mm f/4 and f/2.8 model Carl Zeiss Sonnar lenses. The Carl Zeiss Tessar 115mm f/3.5 Macro/Close-up Lens only works with extension so I'd highly recommend getting the Zeiss Ikon CONTAREX Mount Bellows along with it.

    Carl Zeiss Tessar 115mm f/3.5 Pre-set Bellows Lens for Contarex With Original Lens Caps and Leather Case

    Overall Rating: NYR
    This rating is subject to change!!! Rating is on a curve of the lenses tested here. There may be superior lenses tested which could lower lesser lenses ratings. These ratings will not be posted until I have several reviews to compare.

    Critical Rating: NYR
    Same as overall

    This lens has so many great attributes it makes this category redundant.

  • Price - bargains are still available.

  • Nicest lens ever produced... well, ok, one of the nicest.

  • Weight

  • Cons:
    Some of the Cons listed are not much of an issue when using lenses for macro. These Cons are used for overall rating purposes.

  • Adaptability

  • Availability

  • Reparability

  • Serviceability

  • Price

  • Weight - although this can also be a desired character.

  • No automatic diaphragm.

  • Manual Focus Only - I turn off auto-focus on lenses for macro work but it is available on some lenses and an advantage in some categories, so those lenses that don't have it loose points. Those that don't have AF will usually have higher build quality ratings.

  • Limited focusing range. (even though that's what the tests are for)

  • Quite susceptible to lens flare. (USE HOOD)

  • Buy Rating:
    10 - for anyone who might want to reverse engineer this work of art to fit current DSLR's and take over as the number 1 lens producer.
    10 - for all current optical glass producers to see how old recipes are sometimes best kept.
    10 - for Fanatics.
    10 - for Collectors.
    10 - for Investors.
    10 - for those demanding perfection.
    0 - for anyone not in a group above my advise is don't buy this lens.

    Alternative Choices: NR
    I much prefer Prime Lenses, (those having a single focal length as opposed to a zoom) for shooting whenever possible, ESPECIALLY for macro work. Prime lenses from any one manufacturer are inherently sharper than a zoom lens from the same manufacturer. There are also AF (Auto Focus) Macro lenses available, which is a nice feature, but it's something to break and I almost always turn the AF feature off when using lenses for macro work. Get manual focus prime lenses and save the money for something else.

    This lens is best suited for 1:1 magnification or lower and there are lots of macro lens choices in this range. For higher magnification we should be able to find better choices, not requiring the amount of extension that this lens does.

  • If you have a bellows and some adapters, there are many used, manual focus lenses available for macro work at very reasonable great prices.

  • For a right-from-the-box 1:2 magnification and 1:1 with one extension tube, ready for any Nikon F Mount camera and a current price of about $100.00 (including tube) I'd get a used Nikon Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/3.5. You'll want the AI version for a proper fit on new cameras, but there are tales of the older models performing better at higher magnifications. (Be very careful when mounting older Nikon lenses to newer bodies.) You'll also want something with about 25-30mm extension, like Nikon's M2 or PK-13 extension tubes to reach 1:1 magnification.

  • Nikon's 55mm f/2.8 and 60mm f2.8 Micro-Nikkor's are also relatively inexpensive.

  • If you need a longer working distance Nikon Micro-Nikkor's are available in a 105mm f/4 or f/2.8 version as is a 200mm f/4 but you'll spend quite a bit more more for the advantage, especially if you want the auto-focus versions.

  • Two special PC (Perspective Control) versions are also available, the 45mm PC-E Micro-Nikkor f/2.8 and the 85mm PC/PC-E (which I used for the images of the lens on this page). You'll dig deep, currently about $2,000.00 new, $1000.00 and up used for either of these lenses in good shape.

  • Rumor has it that the NEW Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro Lens is a great tool for a reasonable price of around $500.00. I stay away from 3rd party manufacturers in general since they USUALLY have inferior build qualities, however, my beloved Nikon is producing some lenses far below what I thought their standards would always be. Most newer lenses will be inoperable long before quality built lenses. I do want to test this lens (Sigma) to verify the reports and possibly change my point of view on 3rd party producers, but Be wary of HYPE!!!, especially on new products!!!

  • AGAIN, if you have a bellows and some adapters, there are many used, manual focus lenses available for macro work at great prices.

  • Comments:
    Even though this page is about a Carl Zeiss Lens, it's too bad the Contarex line does not live on as one can only imagine what they would have produced over the years.

    This lens was made to the highest quality in all respects. The Contarex metal focus and aperture rings often look dirty but have a closer look and you'll see they are just reflecting their surroundings.

    Do not confuse this lens;
    Carl Zeiss Tessar 115mm f/3.5
    with the
    Carl Zeiss Pro-Tessar 115mm f/4
    The few Carl Zeiss lenses I am familiar with have all been good performers at least, so any of them SHOULD do you well, but the Carl Zeiss Pro-Tessar 115mm f/4 is completely different than the 115mm f/3.5 and they are quite plentiful. Currently less than $100.00 for one in good condition BUT, most people are selling the f/4 incomplete, or rather as a complete lens, when in fact it is not... the rear lens elements are housed in the body of the Contaflex cameras. These rear elements are required to complete and use the lens properly. It is actually an auxiliary or system lens!!! Easily distinguishable, the macro has a much deeper recessed front element and shows the f/3.5 spec. The f/4 will look quite bulbous comparatively and has a bell shape. Be careful!!!

    Final Comment:
    If you are going to invest in this particular lens get a return agreement to protect yourself from a possible bad deal. If you find a good sample treat it with loving care and enjoy!!!

    Flash Slideshow with extra images.

    Kert Kley

    Related information:
    Zeiss Tessar 115mm f/3.5 -
    Contarex Lenses -
    Best macro lens for Nikons - Matthew Richards
    LeicaShop for MIR - 115mm f/3.5
    July 2000 auction of Carl Zeiss Tessar 115mm f/3,5

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