When it comes to the Rolleiflex TLR, I can't recall ever seeing any Zeiss-Opton Planars, though it's possible that there were some Zeiss-Opton Planars on Rolleiflexes. I mean lenses marked Zeiss-Opton Planar.
And it's correct that other lenses in addition to the Tessar were marked Zeiss-Opton, including those for the SL66, the Contax RF, medium format folders and others.
First of all, assuming we are talking about lenses on Rolleiflex twin-lens cameras:
After the war, "Operation Paperclip" by the US forces literally forced a number of Carl Zeiss staff members from Jena to the American zone (along with substantial equipment) so as to establish a new Carl Zeiss operation there, knowing that Jena would have to be handed over to Soviet administration. At first this new firm could not use the Carl Zeiss name when the right of use was still very much up in the air, so all its products were marked Zeiss-Opton, until 1954.
I have a 1951 model Rolleiflex with a Zeiss-Opton Tessar, and found it to be quite unuseable at first; after examining its construction, and communications with fellow collectors, it seemed obvious that, at least for some of the lenses supplied to Rollei and the new Zeiss Ikon in Stuttgart (formerly Contessa-Nettel), the lens cells by Zeiss-Opton were badly designed to the point of being appalling, to the point that, after a few decades, the lens can deteriate to the point of not being able to produce an image.
The Tessar design consists of four elements in three groups, two air-spaced single elements before the diaphragm (in this case, shutter as well) and a cemented doublet behind it. Like any lens cell, the groups have to be held securely, and Jena, no matter pre or post war, did a good job. But the Zeiss-Opton version of this lens, the groups were not even mechanically supported and spaced correctly.
The rear group should really be dropped into a cell, and its edge either turned to lock it in position, or a locking ring screwed in to secure it. But in this case, the rear group was dropped in and glue was squirted around it. After a period the glue moved, and the inner element, while still attached to the outer element, slipped out of alignment, causing severe decentration of the whole system, and at the same time, the whole group also slipped out of its cell.
At the front, the normal way is to have the two elements spun into its own cells and then screwed together, or the inner element spun into the end of a longer cell "tub", the larger front element dropped in, and then a locking ring screwed in from the front. But in this case, while the front element was held in position by a locking ring (which makes it looks very secure) the inner element was again held by glue which moved after a number of years, completely upsetting the optical configuration.
It took me a fair while and some extensive work to get the lens back into working order again, the cost was not insubstantial; so in that sense it put me off Zeiss-Opton!
But back to the original question:
Generally speaking, pre-war Rollei twin-lens cameras use four-element Tessar and three-element Triotar lenses; after the war it switched supplier to the new Zeiss firm in Oberkochen who supplied Tessars which are optically good but likely to be mechanically inferior than pre-war ones, until about 1954. For the Automat and the T-series, Rollei used four-element lenses of f/3.5 maximum aperture, and for the more advanced models, five-element lenses of either f/3.5 or f/2.8 maximum apertures, and those are Planars and Schneider Xenotars. The first 2.8 (model A) used a very stretched Zeiss-Opton four-element Tessar and it was not satisfactory, so for the model B Rollei returned to Jena to get its Biometar which is, in design and construction, the same as the Xenotar. It was only from the model C onwards that Rollei used either Planar and Xenotar f/2.8, depending on whether Zeiss or Schneider had them ex-stock ready for delivery on the day.
Being the "junior model", the Rolleicord first use three-element Triotars but after the war it matured dramatically and upgraded to using Schneider Xenar four-element lens, which is also a worthy performer.
Rolleiflex large prints
I've owned a few Rollei cameras and I make up to 20x20 black and white prints and I found my Rollei 3.5 F with a 6 element Planar has done the best job I've ever used in MF. Of course the camera is in great shape and I've had Harry Fleenor make any repairs including a Maxwell screen and focus adjustment. I was quire surprised to get these results having shot 4x5 for many years. I found best performance at F 5.6 or 8. I did own a fine 2.8 F but actually preferred that look of the 3.5.
Originally Posted by jon koss
I've owned a Rollei 2.8C/Xenotar for more than 20 years and have put probably 250 rolls of film through it. It's a wonderfully sharp lens, makes almost bleedingly sharp, contrasty images at f/8. At f/22 it's still sharp and takes on a smoothness I can't easily describe. Having almost never used an aperture wider than f/5.6, I can't attest to lens qualities or "distortions". I can't compare it to a Planar of similar vintage, and I'm sure that the Planar has wonderful qualities of its own. Either way, you can't go wrong. You're choosing between a Mercedes and a BMW.
The chance of meeting another person who knows what "operation paperclip" was is slim enough - seeing it used in reference to photography blew me away! I know this is off topic - but I have to say, APUG is like a good book - no, like a good (and massive!) library! Seriously - the combined knowledge here not only could, but shouldbe compiled into a book!
Thanks for making me less dumb every time I sign on!
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The US took the key staff from the Jena factory to western Germany, but not the plant and tools, or the optical glass the Russians got them.
Originally Posted by Seele
I have owned Rolleiflex cameras with 3.5F Planar, a 2.8F Planar and a 3.5 Tessar. They were all fine but there are differences. All cameras were in like new condition. My favorite is the 3.5F Planar as I love the resolution and contrast from about 4.5 through 16. It's the 6 element version and is about the sharpest lens I've used. The 2.8 Planar lens was about as sharp but at the wider apertures has a softness that can be very beautiful and becomes tack sharp at smaller apertures. You can see the look of the 2.8 in images by Richard Avedon. The 3.5 Tessar was also very sharp but had a slight falloff in the corners at wide apertures. The Planars seem to have finer tonal transitions as well and a flatter field with the 3.5. Anyway, I went with the F with the 3.5 Planar but they are all fine and none would be disappointing. Good luck.
Originally Posted by Dave Wooten
I have a Rolleiflex "T" with a 3.5 Tessar. I usually shoot at f8-f11, and this lens is painfully sharp. When I compare it to my 2.8/80 Biometar, 2.8/80 Xenotar, or 3.5/105 Colour Heliar, I really can't see much difference. All lenses are in excellent condition, so lens condition is not a factor. The "T" has one of the latest formulations of the Tessar design. As mentioned in the above posts, some of the earlier tessars were not as sharp as the later designs.
I have a shot that I took with the Rolleiflex of an old outhouse where the paint is flaking off the wood. People often remark that the 8X10 looks so sharp that it seems you can pick the paint chips off the print with your fingernail.
If price is a consideration for you, the prices for Rolleiflexes with the Planar are significantly higher than models with the Tessar. So long as you don't shoot wide open, a Tessar in good condition will give you outstanding results.
"I'm still developing"
Personally I'm a big fan of Zeiss Tessars, having owned 4 examples (current one bought just a couple of weeks ago). These give a contrasty and therefore sharp-looking image even at full aperture in the center, it takes quite a bit of stopping down for the corner sharpness to become respectable and it never quite matches the center (although I only really noticed this when I made some 24" square prints). Never owned any other Rolleiflex, did have a 2.8C with a Planar to use in one studio, found it had a flatter field, higher resolution but less contrast (another contributor says he likes the contrast of his, the example I was using was not in pristine condition, but I also found the Zeiss lenses of a Hasselblad 500C I used were less contrasty than the Tessars).
I consider a Schneider Xenar to be as good as a Tessar, I've got quite a few LF examples. The thing to watch out for is the way German camera makers worked in the 50s and 60s: First they would at great expense design a great camera (like a Rolleiflex or Leica M3), then they would find this was too expensive, so they would spend even more more cutting a couple of features to make a cheaper version. In the case of the Rolleicord, this meant an uncoupled film wind (not too much of a problem) but also a diabolical shutter release - I ignore the shutter release on my Rolleicord and use a short cable release even for hand-held work. The upside is that Rolleicords, while being capable of excellent work, seem to be very unfashionable at the moment and and cheap to buy.
The Zeiss Planar and Schneider Xenotar are considered equal in quality with some feeling the Xenotar may be slightly better. The Tessar and Xenar are considered decent lenses but not on the same level as the Planar and Xenotar, but close when stopped down to f8-11. Whether you get a f2.8 or f3.5 is really your personal choice and depends on the light levels you will be shooting in if handheld.