Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Sonnar 4/300. Review from Rodion Eshmakov

Overview of the Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Sonnar 4/300 lens specifically for Radozhiva prepared Rodion Eshmakov.

Sonnar 4/300 on the Zenith-12SD camera connected via the P6-M42 adapter.

Sonnar 4/300 on the Zenith-12SD camera connected via an adapter Pentacon Six -> M42. increase.

Class 300/4 lenses are popular with a large number of photographers and amateur photographers; they can be useful for reporting, portrait photography, photography hunting and astrophotography. Modern solutions have a high price, because often the eye of a amateur photographer falls on the manual optics of the last century, among which you can find 300/4 (Meyer-Optik / Pentacon, Asahi Takumar and others), as well as more affordable and widespread 300 / 4.5 (Tair -3, Tair-33, Nikkor, etc.) lenses. This review presents one of the 300/4 televisions, Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 4/300, designed for Pentacon Six medium format SLR cameras.


Optical design - 6 elements in 5 groups, "Sonnar";
Focal length - 300 mm;
Relative hole - F / 4;
Aperture - 7 blades, F / 4-F / 32;
The minimum focusing distance is 4 m;
Thread for filters - 86 mm;
Diameter for smooth nozzles - 90 mm;
Frame format (estimated) - 6 * 6 cm;
Mount - Pentacon Six.

Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Sonnar 4 / 300

Optical design Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Sonnar 4/300

Historical background

Source. The calculation of the first Sonnar 4/300 was performed in August 1938, apparently by the father of this optical scheme Ludwig Berthele - the creator of all Ernostar and Sonnar until 1945. The first versions in a chrome housing were developed for use on Contax rangefinder cameras with a mirror attachment, just like Olympia sonnar. This version had an aperture preset mechanism that allowed focusing at full aperture.

After the 1940 Spring Fair, the Sonnar 4/300 was recounted. This version of the lens was produced in a black case until the mid-1960s.

Black Sonnar 4/300 on the Contax camera. Photo from the source.

Black Sonnar 4/300 on the Contax camera. Photo from the source.

In 1963-64, the lens in the GDR was redesigned for use with Praktisix cameras, the new version received a jumping aperture mechanism. The lenses were available in a case with a distinctive design called the Zebra.

The new lenses differed from the previous ones primarily in their optical design: while the old Sonnar had the traditional 3 groups of lenses, the new one had a split second component and a plane-parallel plate installed after the diaphragm. Thus, the “zebra” -Sonnar 4/300 had two correction parameters more than the old version, which allowed to improve its optical quality. The glass plate was introduced into the optical circuit in order to prevent clogging of the mechanism of the jumping diaphragm, which was usually not very reliable with GDR lenses; it is not an obligatory component of the circuit. Consequently, the lens block of the lens may not even include structurally the mechanism of the diaphragm, which is here the lens.

The lens gap in the second component is extremely thin. For its installation, three aluminum alignment pads were used, set at an angle of 120 ° - just like it is usually done in refractor telescopes. Thus, the lens requires assembly with great precision and care.

Sonnar 4/300: old black version

Sonnar 4/300: old black version

The Zebra of the 1960s

Sonnar 4/300 Zebra 1960s

Sonnar lenses are expensive to manufacture because they use thick lenses with a large curvature, and the 300/4 Sonnar was almost the most expensive due to the large diameter of the lenses. Difficulties in manufacturing optical components, a large percentage of rejects in production led to the calculation in 1974 of the new MC Sonnar 4/300 lens, which, however, has nothing to do with the Sonnars at all, but rather is close to the Meyer Orestegor 4/300 .

Optical design of MC Sonnar 4/300.

Optical design of MC Sonnar 4/300.

The Sonnar 4/300 MC weighed much less than its predecessor, since it used thin lenses and was a typical telephoto lens. However, its optical quality is noticeably inferior to "zebra" -Sonnar.

Thus, the mid-format version of Sonnar 4/300 is the pinnacle of development of this lens. Absorbing the spirit of Bertele's original designs and complemented by recent improvements, the zebra-Sonnar 4/300 has become one of the highest quality lenses in its class.

Design features

I got the lens with a step-mount lens (instead of it, a shank from Vega-12B) and a diaphragm mechanism requiring revision. Not all is well with the enlightenment of the rear lens. However, the lens design, despite these nuances, remained unchanged (except for disabling the mechanism of the jumping diaphragm).

Sonnar 4/300 is made in the typical Carl Zeiss Jena of the 1960s body design, which is called a zebra for the striped focus rings and aperture. A traditional dial set, IR shift mark is available. The distance is indicated in feet and meters. On the case there is a tripod foot under the old 3/8 ”thread.

View of the Sonnar 4/300 body when focusing on infinity.

View of the Sonnar 4/300 body when focusing on infinity.

The center of gravity of the lens is strongly biased forward, and the focus ring is located almost in the middle of the lens and has a very large diameter. Therefore, it is difficult to catch sharpness with this lens, although the easy movement of the ring still does not translate this task into the category of impossible ones. The minimum focusing distance is as much as 4 meters, which is quite a lot even for a 300 mm lens - for comparison, the MDF Tair-3A is only 2.2 meters. Apparently, reducing the stroke of the helicoid was beneficial to simplify the design and lighten the lens.

Sonnar 4/300 when focusing on MDF.

Sonnar 4/300 when focusing on MDF.

Even closer to the shank is a striped aperture control ring. It moves with clicks, while the minimum relative aperture is F / 32. Perhaps it would be useful when using the lens on medium format cameras, but on modern cameras, aperture further than F / 8-F / 11 is usually not justified due to the increasing influence of diffraction.

The aperture of the lens is separate from the lens block and has 7 non-blacked petals. When closing the aperture, the entrance pupil of the lens takes the form of an irregular heptagon.

The entrance pupil of the iris lens.

The entrance pupil of the iris lens.

Since for me the task of servicing the diaphragm assembly is not impossible, and the skipping mechanism is disabled, the protective glass installed after the diaphragm completely disappears. As you know, each glass-air interface scatters light and leads to a decrease in image contrast. Glass can be easily removed with a long key for slotted nuts.

Lens view from the bayonet side. Safety glass removed from the lens.

Lens view from the bayonet side. Safety glass removed from the lens.

View of the Sonnar 4/300 diaphragm from the bayonet side with the protective glass removed.

View of the Sonnar 4/300 diaphragm from the bayonet side with the protective glass removed.

All Sonnar 4/300 optics (including protective glass) have a single layer of amber color. Apparently, it compensates for the color of the optical glass and, in general, the light transmission of the lens is almost undistorted.

View of the Sonnar 4/300 from the front of the lens.

View of the Sonnar 4/300 from the front of the lens.

View of Sonnar 4/300 in the light.

View of Sonnar 4/300 in the light.

Due to the structural independence of the lens block from the rest of the lens elements, the Sonnar 4/300 is quite easy to disassemble. Without a special tool, you can twist the entire nose of the lens and then unscrew the entire lens block. You can find an individual serial number on it. The lens block, however, is not recommended to be disassembled, since a high-precision and accurate assembly is required.

Sonnar 4/300 in a disassembled form.

Sonnar 4/300 in a disassembled form.

Sonnar 4/300 in a disassembled form.

Sonnar 4/300 in a disassembled form.

The Sonnar 4/300 is fairly uncomplicated and easy to maintain. This lens cannot be called convenient: when shooting it requires strong hands due to 2,5 kg of weight, imbalance and large diameter controls on the body. The seven-petal brilliant aperture of the lens, a large MDF and a strange protective glass, which most likely interferes with shooting, introducing additional scattering, do not add joy. In a word, I can’t say that I was satisfied with the device of this lens.

Optical properties

Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 4/300 did not disappoint. Already at the open aperture, the lens shows excellent sharpness in the center and across the field of 35 mm of the frame (optimization for the medium format affects), while the chromaticity is unexpectedly small. Lens resolution would be enough for many amateur crop cameras. With aperture up to F / 5.6-F / 8, sharpening is further enhanced by reducing residual spherical aberrations. Sonnar 4/300 has significantly better optical quality than, for example, not only the Soviet Tair-3, but also the Meyer-Optik Orestegonn 4/300 and MC Sonnar 4/300 ( link).

The contrast of the Sonnar 4/300 is very good when shooting under normal lighting conditions. In the backlight, the contrast noticeably drops, a veil appears. From point light sources, the lens catches orange (under the color of enlightenment) glare at certain angles.

The color rendering of the lens has a natural, quite saturated. Sometimes the color is slightly warmed, apparently due to the reflections from the coating of the lenses.
Sonnar 4/300 has an even pleasant blurring of the background, characteristic for lenses made according to this scheme. The brightness in the circles of blur is distributed almost evenly, sometimes you can observe a thin yellow-green edging.

Below are photos from the Sony A7s full-frame camera (RAW shooting, Imaging Edge development).


Although the medium-sized Sonnar 4/300 is large, rather inconvenient and can cause damage to the human musculoskeletal system, it has high optical quality in comparison with single-year lenses. Good old Sonnar 4/300 can serve a good amateur photographer today.

You will find more reviews from readers of Radozhiva here.

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Comments: 19, on the topic: Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Sonnar 4/300. Review from Rodion Eshmakov

  • Oleg

    Great review.

  • Eugen

    I have a Carl Zeiss Tele-Tessar T * 300 mm f / 4 C / Y. We ought to survey him ...

  • Michael

    Offtop: Will there be a vote for the best of Helios or Helios-44?

    • Rodion

      It is unrealistic to classify there. Depends on the build quality of a particular instance, on enlightenment in a particular series, etc.

      • Michael

        Understood = (Thank you.

    • Arkady Shapoval

      There will be no

  • Igor-K

    Great review! Very correctly Rodion remarked that Orestegor and Pentacon were far from this Zonnar. I chose for myself another, very cheap alternative to Vivitar {Tokin} 300 \ 5,6. In terms of plasticity and bokeh, of course, it does not come close to the Sonnar, but it is light and very cheap, with quite normal sharpness, contrast and saturation.
    Arkady and Rodion - Respect!

  • Alexey

    It would be interesting to compare with the Olympus OM Zuiko Auto-T 300 mm f / 4.5, which, according to reviews, is also one of the best in this class - inexpensive and fairly fast telephoto lenses of the recent past.

  • Roman

    The guy poses more artistically than girls :)

  • Victor

    I had the opportunity to work with this "zebra" in the 80s ... He was optically good without any cavils, but very inconvenient in work: in addition to a decent weight, he had a large take-off distance scale and an extremely inconvenient tripod socket. Yes, and, perhaps, had a very inconvenient to carry a large, conical hood.

  • gogen

    Thanks for the detailed review!

  • Onotole

    I heard a lot for nuts in bokeh, lemons in bokeh, even bokeh in the form of bagels.
    But here I see the penises in bokeh for the first time))))

    • Arkady Shapoval

      paraphrasing the classics - everyone sees in bokeh what ...

      • Maria

        Freud Bokeh))))))))))

    • Vladislav

      hahaah I recently did this, I will need to photograph a portrait with such a peculiar bokeh

    • Denis

      You have the ability to see rare footage.

  • Maria

    I don’t know if technology is to blame, whether motherhood at Rhodion is growing, but I liked this review very much. In general, not only the zebra, but in general the composition, the mood of the models, in my opinion, is very lively and natural.

    Lately, I’ve been coming in more and more often to see it isn’t just a review. and on aerial photographs with space and interesting stories.

    So, thanks to the author of the review.

    I realized how missed Moscow, right to tears. I get it. how do you want to come there again)

  • Ganesha-1

    Soviet means EXCELLENT. Buy Jupiter-21M 53 lines/mm

  • Ganesha-1

    Jupiter-21M is easily converted to 24x36 mm digital cameras.

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