Review of Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 135mm/3.5 Zebra

A Zeiss-lens, extension-rings and shipping for about 25$? No it’s not a fairytale, I actually got this bargain from swedish ebay Tradera. It all started when I saw an ad with unknown lens marked “aus Jena”…

Carl Zeiss Jena S 135mm/3.5

Carl Zeiss Jena S 135mm/3.5

My purchase
I could not believe my luck. Was I the only one connecting the mark “aus Jena” to Carl Zeiss? Actually, someone else competed with me about the final bid, but I still got this 135mm lens for only 140 swedish kronor (about 20$). When it arrived in the mail, I put it to good use immediately!

Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 135mm/3.5 Zebra, the lens
The mount on this lens is M42 screwmount (could be version with other mounts too). That means you need a adapter to make your modern DSLR take M42-lenses. These adapters are often sold cheap on ebay and well-stocked camerashops.

CZJ Sonnar 135mm/3.5 from the side

CZJ Sonnar 135mm/3.5 from the side

The focal length when this lens is mounted on my Canon EOS 350D is 215mm. The image is incredible clear and sharp, which makes it easy to focus. Manual focusing is fast and easy, specially compared to my Pentacon Electric 135mm/2.8 where you have to turn, turn, turn the focusring for ages (that slow focus can also come in handy some times though).

The extensionrings included in the purchase

The extensionrings included in the purchase

 

This version of the lens is called “zebra” because of it’s striped rings. It is a singlecoated lens that was manufactured 1967-70 according to serial number (see links at the end of article for sources). The purpose of coating is to reduce reflections from lenses surface. Old lenses are often singlecoated, in the 70′s multicoating came in use. However, there is nothing that says a singlecoated in different situations can be better then a multicoated one. So don’t make the assumption multicoat-lenses are better (even if that often is true).

asu Jena S 135mm/3,5 m42 from the back

asu Jena S 135mm/3,5 m42 from the back

The lens has an aperturepin that’s probably for some autofunction. It comes with a external button to use in conjunction with the pin. You need to press the pin or button to make the aperture close (otherwise it’s wideopen all the time). If your adapter or camera doesn’t press on the pin, it takes som training to manually press the external button, while your focusing and pressing the exposurebutton on the camera. When you get the hang of it, it’s actually a good function that makes focusing easier.

Aperture pin and button

Aperture pin and button

Images
As you might have noticed from my previous reviews, I don’t do the kind of test where you make aperture diagrams and big images, 100% crops etc. I simply use the lens a while, in real life. I see no reason to test lenses in another way then I would use it in real work – thats where they have to prove themselfs. Images has been processed from RAW, scaled and sharpened.

These images was shot on different occasions form midsummer to present date (july 2008). The motifs are nature around swedish city of Örebro, some cityshots and a portrait of my sister-in-law when visiting the train station.

Portrait of my sister in law

Portrait of my sister in law

Butterflies

Butterflies

Public art with clothes

Public art with clothes

Morning at the river with boat

Morning at the river with boat

 

My opinion on this lens
You might already have guessed – I really like this lens! It has become my favorite since I bought it. Colours, sharpness, feel – all good.

Pros

  • Sharp
  • Good colours
  • Nice bokeh
  • Fast and easy manual focusing with clear image.
  • Just feels like magic.

Cons

  • The aperturepin/button, but the more I use it the more I think its a usable feature.
  • Single coating. It ain’t that bad actually, this lens has been said to outgun the multicoated version.

History
The company Zeiss is alive today, in two parts created after the war. If you want to know more about them you can read up on their homepage or on the WikiPedia article. Lenses from Carl Zeiss are pretty much always of good quality.

Links

29 Responses in “Review of Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 135mm/3.5 Zebra”

  1. Attila says:

    This is AUS JENA export version,quality control was more careful than on other lenses. I found these lenses are good as 2.8/135mm Carl Zeiss Contax lenses !

  2. Mattias says:

    I really like this one. Will take it on a spin tomorrow :)

  3. Mr Jenner says:

    I wish you wouldn’t use the term: ‘Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar’ when there is no such thing! What you mean is a ‘Carl Zeiss Jena’ based on the Sonnar design. Carl Zeiss lenses came from what used to be East Germany whereas ‘Zeiss’ optics came from West Germany and were much more expensive. Optical designs may be similar, but quality control was obviously far better (you get what you pay for!). East German, DDDR, Carl Zeiss 135mm lenses never carried the title ‘Sonnar’which their West German counterpart did!

  4. Mr Jenner says:

    Just noticed an error in my script: for ‘DDDR’ read ‘DDR’. Sorry! Would also like to say that in my experience, you’re right these often are very good lenses indeed. Sometimes, as I did once, you can get one that’s so good, people viewing your pictures would you’d used Leica or Contax! Never assume that they’re all like that though,when buying secondhand!

  5. Mattias says:

    Mr Jenner: I thought the big “S” on the front of the lens meant “Sonnar” (like the “T” for “Tessar”)?

  6. jfdupuis says:

    I just got today the single coated DDR Sonnar today in a flea market for 50dkk. I didn’t know what I was buying. But for a Zeiss at that price, the risk was not big. I’m just looking forward to mount it on my EOS. I thus need to order the adapter. Do you have any recommandation for a good one ?

  7. Mattias says:

    Hello! The one I got is from a swedish store http://www.kaffebrus.com, but with m42 you have a lot to choose from since it’s a common adapter. Pick one that has good buildquality and af-confirm chip on it. Heres a thread on mflenses.com with some tips: http://forum.mflenses.com/confirm-adapters-t6415,highlight,seller+adapter.html

  8. Georg says:

    Hi Mattias,
    excellent site, I will link your stuff on the forums for detailled reference, if you don’t mind.
    I love my ‘Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar’. And yes you’re right, the ‘S’ means Sonnar and the ‘T’ spells Tessar.
    I’m afraid Mr Jenner mixed things up a little, but the history of Carl Zeiss’ company is a good read for sure. It starts 162 years ago in Jena.
    All the best, Georg

  9. Mattias says:

    Thanks :) I should use this lens more. Now it’s not ver inspiring weather here though.

  10. mayapple says:

    I am sure that sonnar is printed in the lens front of my zebra jena, The name disappear after around lens made 197x, and DDR does not appear before that, at that time Germany mean East Germany, The Zeiss in West Germany printed West Germany on the box.

  11. bruce says:

    hi
    I’m a pro and have been for 30years
    still using old prime lens on film and digital
    STILL can’t be beaten bye bruce
    p.s nice site

  12. Eugen Mezei says:

    Mr. Jenner: You are missinformed. Exactly the opposite is true. The CZJ Sonnar is the original design and the CZ-West (Oberkochen) is a recalculated formula, they intended to improve the Sonnar.

    Carl Zeiss Jena never stopped labeling their lenses Sonnar (and Tessar, etc.) on markets where it wasn’t forbidden for them. Stating such a thing as CZJ Sonnar never existed just demonstrates your perspective is very limited. (What I’ve never seen can inpossibly exist, right?)

  13. Iain Dawson says:

    I have in front of me a lens on which is inscribed “Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Sonnar 3,5/135″. It does exist. I agree that its a bargain priced super-sharp lens.

  14. Bob Miller says:

    Canon produced several 135mm/3.5 lenses with essentially the same “sonnar” optical design as this Jena lens. These included M39 (“Leica”) screw mount lenses for rangefinder cameras, and the R, FL and earliest FD breech-lock mount lenses for Canon SLR cameras. Data and photos for these may be found at the Canon Museum web site.

    In addition, there were T-mount preset-aperture lenses of this design, made by Tokina and maybe others and sold under many brand names (I have one that is badged as “Tele-Astranar”). I bought mine dirt cheap in the 1970′s and it’s great.

  15. Hello…Just wondering..u said that in the end , u put a link that can track lens age by serial number of aus jena. can i know what serial number is that?

    mine is 8136846.

    Tq

  16. sorry, i don’t get u…

    at the ned? what is that :(

  17. end? ned?
    if you dont have a link dont just simply say next time :-)

  18. Mattias says:

    What? It’s at the end of the article under the header “LINKS”.

  19. Sorry..sorry.my bad..tqvm

  20. Örebro-Emil says:

    Hej! Jag fick tag på en Carl Zeiss Jena DDR, dessutom märkt sonnar 135/3,5 (zebraversion) igår på en antikaffär i Hjo. Den var i fint skick och jag fick den för 150 kr. Jag undrar om du använder adapter med af-confirm när du använder dina manuella objektiv?

    Mvh Emil

  21. FlowHufman says:

    just have a short question: i just received my version for about 30€. the problem is, that i cannot turn the fokus ring from infinity fully back to 1m if the aperture is set to 3.5 If i change the aperture to 4 or 5.6 complete fokussing is no problem. Do you have the same problem or is it only mine. Thank you ;)

  22. Great items from you, man. I’ve be aware your stuff previous to and you are simply too excellent. I actually like what you’ve received right here, really like what you are saying and the way in which through which you assert it. You are making it enjoyable and you continue to care for to stay it smart. I cant wait to read far more from you. That is actually a wonderful web site.

  23. joe says:

    recently purchased 135czj unfortunately there is alot of fungus inside can anyone direct me to a site with a detailed description to strip down and reasemble the lensit is an exact copy of the one in this article thanks

  24. I purchased a Zebra lens mounted on a Asahi Pentax Spotmatic – Lens Zebra Aus JENA Pancolar 1.8/50.
    I didn’t test it yet, but after reading your words, sure, I will buy some rolls of film and shot. Amazing pictures you got here! Best wishes from Brazil!

  25. Jung says:

    Hi I am a newbie here, I just purchased a CZJ sonnar 135mm/f3.5 (zebra). I am not sure whether or not my lens has all the glass optics in it. I haven’t got the mount for the camera yet, but when I looked through the lens (looking from the rear end)with naked eye (as if I am using a telescope) I could see objects in front of the lens clearly, as if there is no lenses inside that will cause the objects to be completely out of focus. I know that the rear and front glass optics are there, but can’t tell whether there are other glass optics in between. I also own a nikkor 135mm manual lens, everything is blurry when used in the same manner as mentioned above, but worked well when used on camera.

    I need confirmation from those with the same lens, whether or not object should be viewable at all with naked eyes.

    Please let me know if I am not clear enough, and any response will be appreciated.

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