Camera Lenses : German Better Than Japanese?

I am making the shift from film to digital phtograpy…however, I love my Yashica film camera, because it has Zeiss T* lens! This lens is greta…I can make huge enlargements of my photos, and the sharpness across the field is the best. Unfortunately, most of the digital cameras come with japanese lenses…although a higher-end Kodak has a Shneider-Keuznach lens (which is pretty good).
German lenses are good…but why are they so damn expensive? I would imagine that lens making is highly automated-surely there isn’t too much direct labor in making lenese these days?

The Sony DSC-W1 and DSC-T1 both use Carl Zeiss lenses.

If the lenses have higher quality (and there are many Japanese made lenses that are equal in quality) they are likely to cost more to make. If they cost the same, everyone would make the highest quality lens. Automation does not equal lowest cost. After all, there’s a lot of automation in automobile manufacturing, but you still pay more for a Mercedes than a Hyundai.

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Better glass, better coatings, tighter design tolerances, and better quality control all add up to a costlier product. As Telemark said, automation doesn’t render all products equivalent.

Besides, I hope you realize that many Zeiss lenses are made in Japan.

If you’re purchasing lenses for a digital SLR, one thing to keep in mind is the size of the sensor.

For example, the sensor on the Canon EOS 10D is only 22.7mm by 15.1 mm. This is about 2/3 the size of standard 35mm negative. Which means that the 35mm-equivalent focal length is equal to approximately 1.6 times the marked focal length on the lens. One of the advantages of this, though, is that lenses that are fuzzy or show some distortion at the edges of the frame on a 35mm film camera can look very, very sharp all the way across the picture on a 10D. The small sensor essentially crops out the parts of the frame most prone to distortions.

The disadvantage, of course, is that it’s essentially impossible to get certain ultra-wide-angle shots with this camera.

But you get really good telephoto lenses out of the deal. My 300mm lens becomes a 450mm lens, which is great for wildlife shots.

Very true, Telemark.

Now that I’ve gone digital, I’ve started using my good, old 50mm f/1.4 lens as my standard portrait lens. I used to lust after that Canon L-series 85mm f/1.2. But mounted on the 10D, my 50mm lens is almost as fast, just a little shorter (equivalent to an 80mm on film), and, best of all, it’s paid for.

I almost feel like I paid for the digital SLR body by not having to buy that 85mm lens. :slight_smile:

At this point, most name brand lenses will be very very good. Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Zeiss etc are all very good. Depending on what you own, you may be able to use lenses you already have. In 35mm, I’ve always used Canon cameras and Canon FD lenses. Since I moved up to large format, I am partial to Schneiders and Commercial Ektars. But back to 35mm and digital, any lens from the “big guys” is probably going to be very very sharp. Just be leary about off brand or low-end lenses. Some are outstanding, but you can’t always be sure.

Well if you price binoculars (German vs Japanese) you are in for a shock…a Zeiss pair of binoculars will be easily 4-6 times the price of a Nikon pair. This is a huge difference…surely it is more than the relative wage differences between the two countries? I’ve also lookd at Chinese-made binoculars…some of them are truly horrible quality (color distortion, lens abberations, etc.), yet some are suprisingly good!

This is misleading. Only the Contax line of optics is made in Japan. This interesting Zeiss Historica Society page has links to detailed histories of different parts of the Zeiss optics lines. (( It is not a typo on my part, the name really is “Historica” )

I am a huge fan of Zeiss Superspeed motion picture lenses. Far above Panavision Primos, the Zeiss Speeds deliver a certain look I find appealing. The Cooke Primes are not far behind. The Zeiss Superspeeds are made in Germany.

As far as the OP, here goes. The only way to truly tell how any lens is going to perform is to do two critical tests. One can be done by yourself, before you buy the lens. The other one takes some effort.

  1. Shoot at least one roll of film. Shoot the lens at all possible options. If the lens is say, an f 1.8 and closes down to f. 22, then shoot images in each iris setting in the range. Similarly, shoot at minimum, a bracket of distances, and maximum focus.

  2. Have the lens tested for collumation, AND on a lens projector. All lenses have aberrations. The zoom lenses moreso, because they typically have more glass elements in them- hence greater chance of having an aberration show up. I stood more than once in DuArt’s famous Lens Projector Room, and saw a focus chart slide projected through a lens up to a huge image on the wall. You can walk up to it, and examine the image minutely. Sometimes along the eges it goes soft. Sometimes in one place, the image is distorted. You zoom, and suddenly the image goes soft all over then comes back sharp. And, so on. Checking image purity on a lens projector is the best final method I’ve ever seen of finding out what the flaws are in a specific physical lens. Not a model or storeful, but ONE specific lens. Nothing is so revealing.

As far as the brand name game, the story about Carl Zeiss farming out the Contex line to Japan is telling. Just because you are buying a brand name, doesn’t mean much any more. If you are particularly concerned, find out who is really MAKING those lenses. Find out how long they have been made by that facility. For example, ( and I have two ), my old Singer sewing machine was built in Poland, NOT by the Singer factory here. Apparently there were quality issues. My son plays a Gemeinhardt silver flute. Apparently, the factory shifted years ago. The flutes made at the old place are recognized as being superior to the newer flutes of identical branding and size and “quality”. ( i.e., student, college, professional grades ).

To me it is completely irrelevant whether you are shooting digital or film. A lens is a lens is a lens. Find one that is high quality, and get to shoot a test roll.

I use only Nikkor Multi-Coated lenses, by Nikon. However…I am sitting here looking at a Zeiss Ikon " Box-Tengor", made roughly in 1920 in Germany. Used to shoot photos of my Dad and his sister and his Mom as they came across on the boat during WWII. Tiny thing. Just a vertical small box. Lens is a little disk of glass. Real Zeiss ground glass…but not removable. It’s priceless. :slight_smile:

In Previewing this post, I realize that I have never seen a Lens Projector for SLR lenses. Probably because there are too many aberrations in commercially manufactured lenses, and it’d not serve the makers interests to make them up. Any good old slide projector, and a serious machinist, could convert the mount to accept different lenses. It’d be pricey, but man…what a service it would be. Run tests on any lens made out there, and provide images to prove just WHERE the aberrations are in the lens you want to buy. Hmmm… :dubious:


Well, that’s interesting. I have in front of me a box that says “Carl Zeiss Triotar T* Lupe 5x” and “Made in Japan” on one of its panels. Nowhere on the box, on the loupe itself, or in the manual does it mention Contax, though I know that several retailers do refer to it as a Contax product. So the distinction between Contax and Zeiss or where the products originate from are murky to the consumer, it appears. And regarding the OP’s camera, I think it would be reasonable to assume that it uses Japanese lenses (hey ralph, would you mind checking?) since Kyocera is the parent company to both the Yashica and Contax lines.

Now, regarding binoculars, we need to make sure that we’re comparing equivalent products. Without digging through the entire Nikon and Zeiss lines, IIRC Nikons binoculars mostly use the porro prism design, and Zeisses are roof prism binocs. For each equivalent magnification, roof prisms result in more compact binoculars, but are way more expennsive to make well.