Oberkochen/Germany | 29 October 2020 | ZEISS Consumer Products | Background article
It is common knowledge that ZEISS was founded in 1846 as an optical workshop and has been building excellent camera lenses since 1890. Only die-hard photography enthusiasts know, however, that ZEISS subsidiaries have also been manufacturing high-quality cameras since the turn of the century. Read more about the company's long tradition, which has yielded countless innovations in the field of photography and whose influence has had a major impact on the development of the German camera industry. Famous names and legendary cameras are tightly intertwined with the name ZEISS.
The daguerreotype, the first truly viable photography method, was presented to the French Academy of Sciences on August 19, 1839 and was subsequently available to everyone to use for free and however they wished. A few weeks later, a veritable camera boom swept through Germany. Numerous cabinetmakers manufactured their first cameras as individual pieces and sold them directly to customers or through dealers. The invention of the bromide silver gelatin dry plate by English physician Dr. Richard Leach Maddox in 1871 was what ultimately paved the way for industrial camera production. Countless manufacturers tried to establish themselves in this new market, and lens specialist ZEISS also wanted to enter this burgeoning industry.
In 1899, Paul Rudolph, optical engineer at ZEISS and father of the famous Planar lens, established a camera production facility under the name Palmos AG in Jena together with Curt Bentzin from Görlitz. A few years later, the company was renamed Carl Zeiss Palmos AG, Jena. The Palmos cameras built by the company between 1902 and 1909 used the newly developed Tessar lens by Rudolph, among others. This would go on to become a worldwide success itself – the first ZEISS company logo was even inspired by the Tessar design. The 6x9 roll film camera from Palmos, whose rapid winder simultaneously transported the film and tensioned the focal-plane shutter, is regarded as a forerunner of the 35 mm camera.
Although Palmos ceased production in 1909, ZEISS was far from being done with the camera market. At the initiative of the Carl Zeiss Foundation, a number of renowned camera manufacturers joined forces under the umbrella of the “International Camera Actiengesellschaft”, in short ICA AG, on October 7, 1909.
In addition to Carl Zeiss Palmos AG, this included R. Hüttig AG, which had already built the first studio cameras in 1862 and was the largest camera manufacturer in Europe around the year 1900.
Another manufacturer in the ICA AG network was E. Wünsche from Dresden. With models such as the Gnom skirt pocket camera introduced in 1899, the company had earned the reputation of building the smallest and lightest plate camera in the world. Meanwhile, the manufacturer Dr. R. Krügener produced innovative models such as the first pocketbook camera or the Delta – a magazine camera with a sliding mechanism that held two dozen plates waiting to be exposed. In 1912, the Swiss company G. Zulauf also joined ICA AG.
This association of well-known manufacturers proved profitable for all involved – after its founding, ICA AG soon reached an annual production output of 100,000 units.
Driven by the difficult economic situation after World War I, ICA AG and Contessa-Nettel AG from Stuttgart formed a partnership in 1920, which Optische Anstalt C.P. Goerz AG also joined in 1925. With its "Goerz-Anschütz-Momentapparat," it had created a camera that could also capture moving objects at shutter speeds of up to 1/1000 of a second – its photos of jumping horses and flying storks are world famous. Ernemann AG and finally ZEISS as a lens supplier were the next to join the partnership.
Under the leadership of ZEISS and with the company holding a majority stake, all of the partners of ICA AG joined the newly founded Zeiss Ikon AG, Dresden, on September 15, 1926. Thousands of camera patents held by the individual companies were transferred to this new photography group. Zeiss Ikon AG also employed the most renowned designers of the time and went on to produce some of the world's most famous camera models.
With its Contax model, released in 1932, Zeiss Ikon entered the 35mm market. The twin-lens Contaflex followed in 1935. Roll film cameras like Nettar, Ikonta, and Super Ikonta became best sellers.
World War II proved to be a major turning point for the new camera company. Its civilian production had to be put on hold in order to produce goods that were needed for the war effort. This affected newly developed models such as the Tenax 24x24 mm, which had already been patented in 1935, as well as the Contax II and Contax III, which the company was now only allowed to issue to official authorities. After the end of World War II, Germany was divided into occupied zones and ZEISS was also divided into an East German and West German part.
The Zeiss Ikon factories in Dresden were largely dismantled. 274 employees were forcibly relocated to establish a camera factory in the USSR. At the end of 1945, the Soviet Army demanded that Carl Zeiss once again begin production of the Contax camera that had previously been manufactured at Zeiss Ikon in Dresden. After expropriation, the now state-owned company VEB-Zeiss Ikon Dresden started producing the Contax S, the new edition of the 6x9 Ikonta under the name Ercona, and the Taxona, a derivative of the Tenax, in 1948.
Meanwhile, in June of 1945, the US Army relocated a total of 84 important design engineers and the acting board of the Carl Zeiss Foundation from Jena to Heidenheim. In 1946, this led to the founding of Opton Optische Werke Oberkochen GmbH, whose name was changed back to Carl Zeiss just a few months later. Meanwhile, Stuttgart became the new home of Zeiss Ikon AG. Here the company resumed production from the old Contessa factory and once again manufactured cameras for the civilian population. During this time, the improved Contax IIa/IIIa were developed in the West. Later, the company sold almost 800,000 single-lens Contaflex SLR cameras.
On May 18, 1956, the Carl Zeiss Foundation Heidenheim acquired a majority stake in Voigtländer AG, which had previously belonged to the pharmaceutical company Schering AG. The Braunschweig-based company with a long tradition was not merged with Zeiss Ikon AG, but instead became a sister company. In addition to its Vito series of viewfinder cameras, Voigtländer also tried to enter the market for SLR cameras.
The two companies did not begin truly working together closely until 1965, when the Zeiss Ikon-Voigtländer Vertriebsgesellschaft mbH was founded to respond to pressure from Asian camera manufacturers. In early 1970, Voigtländer AG was merged into Zeiss Ikon AG. Its SL 706 SLR camera model failed to prevent production and was discontinued within the same year. In 1971, production at the Braunschweig factory was also finally shut down.
In a bid to rescue the company, ZEISS in Oberkochen, Rollei-Werke Franke & Heidecke, and the German state of Lower Saxony's Bank für Gemeinwirtschaft founded Optische Werke Voigtländer GmbH, Braunschweig in 1972. The partners planned to implement projects with the Japanese company Asahi-Optical Company Ltd. Tokyo, among others, but things did not work out. The factories were closed down in 1974
In 1997, ZEISS in Oberkochen entered into a partnership with the Japanese Kyocera Corporation, which revived the old Contax name. ZEISS licensed its production and supplied the lenses. Some RTS models were manufactured under the old name as well as the Contax G models, before Kyocera completely ceased producing cameras in 2005.
ZEISS had already entered talks with the Japanese company Cosina, however, and in the same year introduced a new analog viewfinder camera under the old Zeiss Ikon name. The Zeiss Ikon Super Wide model followed in 2006. These were sold directly via the ZEISS dealer network until 2012.
Even though the company had stopped manufacturing cameras, ZEISS has always remained true to its love of photography and focused on lenses for discerning amateur and professional photographers. With lens families like ZEISS Touit, Loxia, and Batis, ZEISS appeals to users of the Sony Alpha and Fuji X series. ZEISS Milvus and the high-quality ZEISS Otus lenses were developed specifically for DSLR cameras. For the growing field of smartphone photography and filmography, ZEISS is collaborating with HMD on premium smartphones under the Nokia brand and with Sony on the Xperia series. This constantly advancing expertise in the field of digital photography played a key role in ZEISS presenting the ZEISS ZX1 in 2020 as a statement for photography in the digital age.
The ZEISS ZX1 is the company’s first full-frame digital camera.With this concept, everything from lens to sensor, from design to ergonomics, from user interface to touch screen, is designed to provide a pleasant, smooth workflow for discerning photographers.They can take advantage of both smart technology and the benefits of digital on-camera image processing, including the ability to upload data to the cloud. Equipped with an intuitive user interface familiar to smartphone users, the ZEISS ZX1 features the superior imaging performance of a full-frame camera. This camera is designed for photographers who are at home in the digital world and want to combine the best of both in an unparalleled camera that has already won design awards – shoot, edit, share.
ZEISS ZX1 is available in the United States and Germany. More information at: www.zeiss.com/zx1.
Bernd K. Otto has comprehensively documented the fascinating history of the camera models from ZEISS and all of its subsidiaries in a monumental work – the Carl Zeiss Kamera-Register 1902-2012 (published by Rudolf Hillebrand, Neuss, 2012) is over 1,300 pages long and weighs 3.5 kilograms.
Every camera model manufactured by the companies Zeiss Ikon and Zeiss Ikon/Voigtländer, for example, is listed in a neatly organized table – a total of around 220 cameras and more than 4600 model variations up to the Zeiss Ikon, which was sold until 2012. It also contains a comprehensive introduction to the history and a flow chart that provides a comprehensive overview of all the subsidiaries. Learn more about the author and his passion for ZEISS here: https://lenspire.zeiss.com/photo/en/article/a-compendium-of-the-history-of-zeiss-cameras
ZEISS is an internationally leading technology enterprise operating in the fields of optics and optoelectronics. In the previous fiscal year, the ZEISS Group generated annual revenue totaling more than 6.4 billion euros in its four segments Semiconductor Manufacturing Technology, Industrial Quality & Research, Medical Technology and Consumer Markets (status: 30 September 2019).
For its customers, ZEISS develops, produces and distributes highly innovative solutions for industrial metrology and quality assurance, microscopy solutions for the life sciences and materials research, and medical technology solutions for diagnostics and treatment in ophthalmology and microsurgery. The name ZEISS is also synonymous with the world's leading lithography optics, which are used by the chip industry to manufacture semiconductor components. There is global demand for trendsetting ZEISS brand products such as eyeglass lenses, camera lenses and binoculars.
With a portfolio aligned with future growth areas like digitalization, healthcare and Smart Production and a strong brand, ZEISS is shaping the future of technology and constantly advancing the world of optics and related fields with its solutions. The company's significant, sustainable investments in research and development lay the foundation for the success and continued expansion of ZEISS' technology and market leadership.
With over 31,000 employees, ZEISS is active globally in almost 50 countries with around 60 sales and service companies, 30 production sites and 25 development sites. Founded in 1846 in Jena, the company is headquartered in Oberkochen, Germany. The Carl Zeiss Foundation, one of the largest foundations in Germany committed to the promotion of science, is the sole owner of the holding company, Carl Zeiss AG.
Further information at www.zeiss.com
ZEISS Consumer Products combines the company's business with camera and cine lenses, binoculars, spotting scopes and hunting optics. The unit is allocated to the Consumer Markets segment and is based in Oberkochen and represented across the globe.