Years Manufactured: NR
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.
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
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
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.
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...
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.
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
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Blades: 10
Prime Aperture Range: NYR
f/5.6 - f/8 are indistinguishable. Use f/8 for the added DOF in
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
Distance to object at 1:1 & Extension Required:
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 &
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
reversed this lens and an interesting and unexpected thing happened.
With a 49mm revering ring mounted to the lens and camera alone, (no
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Length min. - 3 11/16" - 94mm
Length max. - 4 17/16" - 127mm
2 3/4 - 70mm
1 lb. 2 oz. - 490 gm.
All metal & glass!!!
SCENE or Overall Apparent Sharpness:
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
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
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.
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.
Color Saturation: NYR
Color Accuracy: NYR
The contrast is Superb, not to much, not to
little. Not 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+
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.
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.
almost no parts available for anything "Contarex" and repairs are
costly with rumors floating of poor repairs being done and at very
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.
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
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.
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.
This lens has so
many great attributes it makes this category redundant.
Some of the Cons
listed are not much of an issue when using lenses for macro.
These Cons are used for overall rating purposes.
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
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.
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
Do not confuse this lens;
Carl Zeiss Tessar 115mm f/3.5
Carl Zeiss Pro-Tessar 115mm f/4
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!!!
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!!!
Slideshow with extra images.
Zeiss Tessar 115mm f/3.5 - MyBokeh.com
Best macro lens for Nikons
- Matthew Richards
LeicaShop for MIR - 115mm f/3.5
July 2000 Christies.com auction of Carl Zeiss Tessar 115mm f/3,5