aus Jena

A Praktica MTL3 (35mm) SLR with a Carl Zeiss Jena DDR lens.
(Photo: Thomas Altfather Good / TAG Photography)

Carl Zeiss (aus) Jena Lenses

[NOTE: This article was reprinted with the author’s permission. To see the original article and access additional information on the Pentacon Six visit Although the article focuses on the Medium Format Pentacon Six, the lenses described were also produced, at the same two factories, for other Pentacon products, including the Praktica SLR favored by Thomas Altfather Good. — Editor]

I have a chance to buy a lens marked “aus Jena” —
Is it a genuine Carl Zeiss lens?
by Trevor “The Pentacon Six Man

In a word, “YES”.

After the Second World War, the Carl Zeiss factory in Jena recommenced production, making over the next 45 + years many of the wonderful lenses described elsewhere on this website.

When the war ended in 1945, the town of Jena in eastern Germany, home of the Carl Zeiss company, was behind American lines.  However, in accord with the then-secret Yalta agreement between Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin, Jena was to be in the Soviet sector of Germany, so — to the surprise and concern of the local Germans, who particularly feared the Russians — the Americans withdrew to the west, letting the Russians come into the area.

As the Americans moved west, they took (stole) some German technology (they called it “liberating” it) and encouraged or persuaded some highly-qualified Germans to go with them. Some of the Germans concerned needed little encouragement. Some others refused to go.

So it was that some staff from the Carl Zeiss lens factory in Jena moved west with the Americans. They set up a new factory in South West Germany, in a village called Oberkochen.

Oberkochen or Heidenheim?

Some documents concerning Carl Zeiss refer to a post-war move to Heidenheim. The reason for this is that Oberkochen was a small village that most Germans might not have heard of. In 1939 it had a population of 2,002, according to German-language Wikipedia ( Its nearest large town is Heidenheim, which had a population of over 27,000 in 1939 according to the same source ( Oberkochen and Heidenheim are located in the state of Baden-Württemberg, which is in south-west Germany.  The capital of Baden-Württemberg is Stuttgart, a large city that amongst its many attractions includes since the late 1970s a Carl Zeiss Planetarium.  (Data retrieved from Wikipedia on 6 June 2010.)

So, from the late 1940s on there were two Carl Zeiss factories:

  • the original, in Jena, in the part of Germany that became the German Democratic Republic (GDR) — Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR) in German
  • and the new one in the part of Germany that became the Federal Republic of Germany – Bundesrepublik Deutschland (BRD).

Their original intention was to work together, and they assumed that staff would be able to move freely between the two factories.  However,
as the Soviet Union tightened its grip on East Germany, contacts became increasingly difficult and sometimes impossible. The planned-for collaboration became instead competition for market share.

During the 1950s and 60s, Carl Zeiss Oberkochen took Carl Zeiss Jena to court in various countries, to try to stop the original Carl Zeiss factory using the Carl Zeiss name.

The American court case in New York ran from 1967 to 1968, and the judge found in favour of the right of the West German Carl Zeiss Oberkochen firm to use the name “Carl Zeiss” exclusively in the United States.  Thereafter, Carl Zeiss Jena exported its lenses to the USA with the marking “aus Jena”, which just means “from Jena”, on the lens ring, instead of “Carl Zeiss Jena”. For the same reason, Sonnar lenses were labelled “aus Jena S”, instead of the full name.

A similar court case that started in the 1960s in London found in favour of Carl Zeiss Jena (where the judge concerned had studied in the 1920’s!). Various appeals were lodged by Carl Zeiss Oberkochen, and legal proceedings dragged on for years. With severe financial crises affecting West German photographic firms from about 1970/71, the initiation of contacts between East and West Germany, and the costs faced by Carl Zeiss Jena in the trial, the opposing Carl Zeiss companies decided to reach an out-of-court agreement, which was concluded on 26 April 1971.

The agreement divided the world into 3 regions:

  • 1. The communist countries, with the Soviet Union, China and the GDR placed at their head. Here, Carl Zeiss Jena was allowed to use the name Carl Zeiss. In these countries, Carl Zeiss Oberkochen (West Germany) could choose which name they wished to use. They chose the name Opton.
  • 2. A group of western industrialised nations: West Germany, Italy, Greece, Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Austria and the United States. Here, Carl Zeiss Oberkochen was allowed to use the name Carl Zeiss. In these countries, Carl Zeiss Jena (East Germany) could choose which name they wished to use. Mostly the company used the name Jenoptik, with photographic lenses labelled “aus Jena”.  (Bear in mind that both companies had a very wide product range, with lenses for photography being only a small part in some markets.)
  • 3. The rest of the world was viewed as the “coexistence countries”. In particular, the Commonwealth, Japan and South America belonged to this group. Here, both companies were allowed to use the name “Carl Zeiss”, but only with a very clear addition that distinguished between them. In these countries, Carl Zeiss Oberkochen chose to be known as “Carl Zeiss West Germany”, and Carl Zeiss Jena as “Carl Zeiss Jena”.

Thus, apart from the difference on the lens name ring, “aus Jena” lenses are in all other respects identical to the lenses that bear the words “Carl Zeiss Jena DDR”, and they were made by Carl Zeiss Jena.

It is of course nice to have the Carl Zeiss name on the lens, but the image quality is the same, and those who know the history will know that this is a genuine Carl Zeiss lens.

If you buy the lens, I am sure that you will be delighted with the results.

Those who wish to have an in-depth account of the history of the two Carl Zeiss companies between 1945 and about 1991, will — if they read German! — be fascinated by Professor Armin Hermann’s excellent and authoritative book Und trozdem Brüder  Die deutsch-deutsche Geschichte der Firma Carl Zeiss” (unfortunately out of print, but I got mine via

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