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Are the German-made lens better than Japan-made ones?

By Jungsoo

Well,... as many of zeiss lenses nowadays are made by Cosina in Japan, this may not be a major topic of discussion nowadays. But the comparison between German/Japan used to be quite in vogue especially for the lenses of Contax which had exactly same type of lenses made in these two different countries.

Even though Zeiss officially announced that there's no difference in these two, German-made lenses were generally considered to be superior to the other, and this seems to be reflected in the second-hand market price easily seen from Ebay.

As an enthusiast for Carl Zeiss lenses - to be more precise - an enthusiast for Contax and Hasseblad lenses, I had many occasions that these two different types make quite remarkable differences, but I would admit that this can be quite subjective depending on the person.

There are still some recent lenses made in Germany, just as Planar 1,4/85 ZM and Distagon 2,8/15 ZM, and I think the outstanding price of these lenses reflected something that can be only found in German-made lenses, even though they may deny the "something".

I just want to know what you guys think about these German made lenses of recent versions, if you think these will have such difference still today, or if you might have witnessed something from them.

Replies

Reply from Robert Andrews on 06-17-17 9:56 AM
The big overlooked difference is that German Zeiss lenses utilize Schott glass. It contains lead and is a proprietary formula which is closely guarded. Recent environmental restrictions threaten continued use of lead in optical glass and elsewhere. As far as I know, Zeiss Japan get their glass blanks from Japanese sources. Glass is relatively heavy to ship and I believe import duties are high to protect the Japanese optical industry. The clue here may be that, as others have observed, Japanese Zeiss-branded lenses tend to be warmer in color cast. I have six of them and a couple German ones and note this subtle difference. When Zeiss says there is no difference in Zeiss lenses of Japanese or German origin perhaps they are referring to formula, not substance.
Reply from Dino Brusco on 07-28-13 2:46 AM
I have a different approach here. I won't question how good/skilled Cosina technicians are compared to Germans. Probably on a short run, the ones would be as good as the others and maybe more because of the higher number of lenses handled in their life.
I think it's more a matter of time and working philosophy - yes, philosophy. Let me explain.
Consider Cosina specialists in their plants. They work mostly on lenses and designs that others made. No doubt by the years they acquired an excellent competence on it. However, they are still working in a nearly "production series": Zeiss asked Cosina to made the "simplest" of their lenses because they were the easier to sell and big numbers are expected from standard designs within a certain range.
However, for some lenses, which require a very particular machinery and specific skill, Zeiss is probably retaining such competence within its group in Germany. Both because of the effetive difficulty to make, the exiguous number and (probably) also the negative will to share things and competences that might be dangerous, the best thing is making them themselves. This, however, reflects also on the "quality" of the lenses. One thing is making 1000 lenses a day, check them all - probably randomly - and sell them. One thing is making 10 lenses a day and have a whole more lot of time to spend on them and apply the utmost care on them. It's as if it was one of our hobbies. When we have time we like to practise the "zen" in what we're skilled, right? So I think it's for Zeiss guys compared to Cosina guys. The latter have probably more handling skill in daily work, however the former have more TIME. TIME and SPACE are something that always lacks nowadays. I work for one of the most famous IT companies in the world and one of the things I've always noticed in what I service is "If we had more room to put our hands and fingers, maintenance might be much quicker and ultimately less expensive for everyone". So, yes, it's likely German lenses are "somehow" better than Japanese, but this is because of the more time and resources invested on them, not because of Cosina unskilled guys.
Reply from Wolf Rainer Schmalfuss on 07-27-13 1:12 AM
I guess that the times of cheaper production at Japan is over, since Japan has reached almost the same industry cost levels, as in Germany! Many Japanese companies producing now in China, Thailand, Korea etc. etc.
Reply from Wolf Rainer Schmalfuss on 07-21-13 2:34 AM
By the way, production at Japan compared to Germany, there is not much difference anymore! You can see it since a while, that premium camera producer's lenses, like Nikon, are made in Thailand!
Reply from Wojciech Zielinski on 01-6-13 12:29 PM
Greetings,
I wish to share two facts with You:
1) I believe that German made lenses are more expensive, because they are much more difficult to produce and cost of man-hour is greater in Germany than in Japan :) I believe also in Rainer's information that all lenses meet the same standards at factory's output, but some of them are easier to manufacture and some of them not.
2) There wasn't such lens like Planar 1.4/85 to ZM mount, what was mentioned by isajah :) Fastest ZM mount lens with focal length of 85mm is legendary Sonnar 2/85 (it is redesigned version of pre-war Sonnar 2/85). It has been sadly discontinued for few years but it still posses unmatched performance at f/2. Like Distagon 2.8/15 ZM and Hologon 8/16 CG, it was manufactured only at Germany.
Best regards, WZ.
Reply from Wolf Rainer Schmalfuss on 01-6-13 12:09 AM
What I've seen at the Photokina from the prototype lens of the brand new APO DISTAGON T* 1,4/55mm, wide open with f/stop 1,4, compared with other top notch standard lenses of other top manufacturer, this glass is beating them ALL, I repeat ALL other standard lenses, which are presently offered on the marekt!

I know, this is a strong tobacco, but I've personally seen it!
Reply from Wolf Rainer Schmalfuss on 09-12-10 10:57 AM
Sharpness is just one part of a good lens, long standing experiences in designing and costructing outstanding good lenses is only given to a few manufacturers. Carl Zeiss is one of them!
Reply from Nunya on 09-11-10 3:45 PM
I don't think they are better. The Japanese made Carl Zeiss lenses for the Contax G system are the best I've used in small format photography, along with, of course, the Japanese made Yashinon on the Yashica Electro.

Then again. I find the Fuji EBC lenses on the Fuji rangefinders to be every bit as sharp as any Zeiss lens I have used. I generally prefer the Zeiss lenses for their particular signature, not for the sharpness.
Reply from Clifford on 09-11-10 4:52 AM
Yes, I recall various urban myths along this line...the glass formulas were different and etc. But I think z-enthusiast makes a reasonable point about scientific measurement. I use Hasselblad, Linhof, and Contax. When I shot with Leica, some of my gear was "Made in Portugal" and "Made in Canada" as I recall...results looked fine to me.
Reply from Wolf Rainer Schmalfuss on 09-11-10 12:56 AM
It doesn't matter where the Zeiss glasses are produced, they are ALL controlled with an Zeiss K-8 MTF-Meter, and each lens gets an control certificate. Zeiss glass remains Zeiss glass regardless where they are produced.

Don't worry enjoy photography with your Zeiss glasses!

Cheers
Reply from Steve Watson on 09-10-10 4:20 PM
I would not get too hung up over where the lens is made, it is how you use the lens that is ten times more important. From a manufacturing point of view (and a scientific one), it will be impossible to make 100% identical lenses. There will be strict tolerances, but identical lenses, probably not. If you take 100 lenses off the shelf, it will be possible to measure "differences", the significance, nil. Just enjoy your photography. Stephen
Reply from Ben on 09-10-10 3:29 PM
"It is said that current lenses are different from those in the older designs. This is entirely true since computer re-evaluation of lenses often improves the design. Minute improvements are continually being made to each lens. "Improvement is as important as fundamentals,"
This is a quote from Dr. Gerhard Hohberg, General Manager, Development of Photo-lens at Carl Zeiss Oberkochen written in the magnificent book "Only Zeiss" Carl Zeiss T* lens printed in 1994.
So in theory the newer the lens the better it should be.
There should be no difference in build or optical quality between lenses made in Germany or Japan, except improvements, because Zeiss had and has a very strict quality control, German technicians lived in Japan to ensure these high standards. Told to me by Leo Stejskal PR managing Director Yashica Kyocera Germany at several occasions I met him at Photo-kina in Cologne.
regards
Reply from Jorge Torralba on 09-10-10 11:28 AM
I know they do fetch more money on the used market than the ones made in Japan.
Reply from Piotr on 09-10-10 2:52 AM
The only difference I've spot is that some German made lenses for Contax have a cooler colour shift whereas Japan made tend to be warmer.Also AE lenses are generally cooler than MM.
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