Pekka Buttler, 01/2023
The table below summarizes the lens’ key specifications (measurements based on pictured lens):
|Carl Zeiss Jena
|Triotar 4/135 T
|1938–≈1953 (all variants)
|Contax/Kiev, Exakta, Exakta66,
LTM, m42, Praktina
|Subfamily (if applicable)
|Filter ring diameter
|Lens element count
|Lens group count
|Aperture blades (S/R/C)5
|Minimum focusing distance
|Has manual aperture ring
|Has Manual focus ring
• That Carl Zeiss Jena introduced the 135/4 Triotar in 1938 seems odd (to say the least) as they were already offering similar spec’d (135/4) Sonnar lenses, that were more compact and sported better IQ.
• That said, many deem the 135/4 Triotar to be testament to what skilled designers could achieve with a simple triplet.
History of Carl Zeiss Jena
There are few names in camera optics more illustrious than that of Carl Zeiss. The company was founded in the German town of Jena in 1846 by Carl Zeiß (hence: ‘Carl Zeiss Jena‘). During 1846–1945 there are few major developments in lens optics that the company was not involved in. Names that are even today well-known in optics – such as Planar (1896), Tessar (1902), Sonnar (1929), and Biotar (1939) (as well as many names that only optics-buffs know) – were the product of Zeiss’ first century of technological innovation.
After the Second World War Germany was divided into a Soviet zone (subsequently: East Germany) and the west-allied zones (subsequently: West Germany). While the Zeiss works resided in Jena (optics and glasses) and Dresden (cameras), which were in the Soviet sector, a contingent of Zeiss managers decided to move west and ended up setiting up shop in the small town of Oberkochen in the American sector under the name of Opton Optische Werke Oberkochen GmbH. As the relations between the former allied deteriorated and the split into East and West Germany became all the more real, the Oberkochen works changed their name first to Zeiss-Opton and later to Carl Zeiss.
What ensued was a lengthy international trademark dispute with both Zeiss’ (Jena and Oberkochen) laying claim to the name ‘Carl Zeiss’. The resulting stalemate – emblematic of the Cold War in its entirety – resulted in that Carl Zeiss Opton was allowed to use the name Carl Zeiss in the West, but had to use the Opton brand in the East bloc, whereas Carl Zeiss Jena was the only real Carl Zeiss as far as the east bloc was concerned, but could – mostly – not use the Carl Zeiss -name for exports to the West6. The fact remains however, that – starting in 1946 from a shared base – Jena and Oberkochen developed as two independent companies for more than 40 years. After German reunification also Zeiss East and Zeiss West were united again, and have since again been at the undoubtable forefront of lens development.
This lens sample harkens to the time of the cold-war and the East/West split. During the entire Cold War period, VEB Carl Zeiss Jena was seen by the country’s leadership both as a paragon of the East German technology industry and a showcase of the socialist/communist system as well as a major source of exports (and hence, western currencies). Within the centrally directed economy’s hierarchy, Carl Zeiss Jena therefore had a more prestigious role than other East German optics manufacturers (prominently Meyer-Optik Görlitz and, later, Pentacon), meaning that Carl Zeiss Jena received privileged access to tools and materiel (including the first computer in East Germany) and that its products were always considered the premium alternative.
History of the Triotar designs
In Carl Zeiss Jena parlance, Triotar was simply the name given to Triplet lenses (just as MOG called their triplets Trioplans), and various Triotar designs were offered both for rangefinders (e.g. the 8,5 cm f/4 for Contax and Leica rangefinders) and compacts (such as for the Rollei B 35). Triplet designs were decidedly outdated in the rapidly moving field of SLR lens development, their usage declined rapidly.
Besides being available in a broad range of mounts (see above), there are also (at least) two clearly distinct versions. While I’ve found no rigorous documentation online, the development of the 135/4 can be clearly seen through a search on eBay.
• Earlier versions have only manual aperture, and both aperture and focus rings have a lengthwise ribbed grip. The overall shape of the lens is a straight tube (thickened, in places, by control rings).
• Later versions (such as the pictured sample) have a preset aperture mechanism (dual aperture rings) and the focus ring is has what is typically referred to as a ‘scalloped’ grip. The overall shape of the lens is a tube with a tapered widening, culminating in the scalloped focus ring.
Importantly, the earliest versions predate the widespread use of lens coatings (the red letter ‘T’ on the lens name ring indicates coatings are present).
n.B! The following applies this lens in either Exakta or M42 mount, which seem to be the most usual. Should you have another version, check the JAPB page on the requisite mount (links above).
This lens cannot be used natively on any current SLR or dSLRs. To use it in its native environment, you will need an Exakta or M42-mount film body. Luckily there are a lot of those (especially in M42 mount) available.
Thanks to being a fully manual lens (manual aperture, manual focus), the lens can be adapted to all mirrorless cameras using a suitable adapter. Moreover, both Exakta and M42 lenses are so uncomplicated that a simple ‘dumb adapter’ will do the job perfectly. Moreover, due to the popularity of both mounts, special adapters (helicoid adapters, tilt/shift adapters) are readily available. Alternatively, one can choose to daisy-chain adapters (e.g. M42->Canon EF; Canon EF –> mirrorless) which also opens up a wide range of speed boosters for those photographers that use smaller than full-frame sensors.
Using m42 and Exakta lenses on dSLRs can also be an easy option, depending on which dSLR.
• Canon EF has the shortest flange focal distance among full-frame dSLR’s and Canon’s wide range of dSLRs are able to mount both M42 and Exakta lenses perfectly using a simple adapter ring.
• Minolta / Sony A dSLRs are likewise able to mount M42 lenses using a simple adapter ring, but for Exakta lenses, the difference in flange focal distances is not enough to enable reaching infinity focus without an adapter that uses corrective optics.
• Pentax K dSLRs are likewise able to use M42 lenses using a simple adapter ring, but for Exakta lenses an adapter that uses corrective optics would be needed to allow infinity focus.
• Nikon F dSLRs have a long flange focal distance, meaning that mounting either M42 or Exakta lenses needs an adapter that uses corrective optics to allow anything close to infinity focus.
One final note about some variants of the Flektogon in M42 mount: many of the variants of the Flektogon manufactured in M42 mount are auto-only lenses, which means that for the lens’ aperture to stop down when adapted, the adapter should depress the lens’ aperture stop-down pin.
1 Focal length is (unless stated otherwise) given in absolute terms, and not in Full-frame equivalent. For an understanding of whether the lens is wide/tele, see ‘Angle-of-view’.
2 Picture angle is given in degrees (based on manufacturers’ specs) and concerns the diagonal picture angle. Rule of thumb:
> 90 ° ==> Ultra-wide-angle
70–90 ° ==> Wide-angle
50–70 ° ==> Moderate wide-angle
40–50 ° ==> ‘Standard’ or ‘normal’ lens
20–40 ° ==> Short tele lens
10-20 ° ==> Tele lens
5-10 ° ==> Long tele lens
< 5 ° ==> Ultra-tele lens
3 Length is given from the mount flange to the front of lens at infinity.
4 Diameter excludes protrusions such as rabbit ears or stop-down levers.
5 S=straight; R=rounded; C=(almost)circular at all apertures.
6 Online one can find many lengthy and heated disputes stating that only Jena/Oberkochen is the true Carl Zeiss. While many of these discussions are riddled with misconceptions and a poor grasp of facts and timings, they largely also tend to be tainted by ideologies. Those discussions that focus on claims of one or the other Zeiss not really having rights to using designs developed at pre-war Zeiss are especially ludicrous because after the war practically the entire patent catalogue of pre-war German patents was given freely to everyone (the allied saw this as a form of reparations), hence also kickstarting the Japanese optics industry’s ascendancy (the Japanese optics companies were the most avid users of German optics patents).