Why Carl Zeiss lenses for Contax are made in Japan
It was not long after Zeiss Ikon AG of Dresden introduced the Contax – the most ambitious and most exclusive 35 mm precision camera of its day in 1932, when the first Contax club of the world was founded. This memorable event took place not in Dresden, not in Jena nor Berlin, – but in Tokyo! Ever since that time Contax enthusiasm remained fascinatingly strong in Japan.
While post World War II Zeiss Ikon AG in Stuttgart ceased to exist in 1972, and with it, Contarex, Contaflex, Icarex, and Hologon Ultrawide cameras disappeared from dealer's shelves, the strong Contax enthusiasm was still alive in Japan. Talks took place between officials of Carl Zeiss of Oberkochen, owner of former Zeiss Ikon AG, and officials of
the Japanese camera industry about a joint development and production of a modern 35 mm camera, which had already been envisioned by Zeiss Ikon's engineers, equipped with the latest electronic features and with high quality lenses from Carl Zeiss.
These talks led to a cooperation between Yashica, at that time Japan's leading manufacturer of modern cameras with electronic features and Carl Zeiss. The outcome was the Contax Real Time System (RTS). It turned out to be an instant-aneous success, especially in Japan! Soon it became apparent that the majority of Contax RTS products, lenses in particular, were sold in Japan.
In a time, when the cost of maufacturing high
quality optics in Germany was on the rise, but was flat in Japan, lens
price became the limiting factor for the success of the new Contax. To
free the young system of this limit, Carl Zeiss transferred the production
of lenses for the Contax system to the country that was buying most of
them anyway. In favour of this decision was the fact that Japan has, as
well as Germany, a very mature infrastructure regarding
the production of photo optics. Also, Carl Zeiss has had a strong presence
there already. So Carl Zeiss transferred machinery, know-how, and personnel
to Japan and built up a lens production facility that could produce Contax
lenses in accordance with Carl Zeiss quality standards.
In recent years the cost advantage of quality optics production in favour of Japan has decreased. Top quality optics made in Japan are no longer really cheaper than those made in Germany. Today, manufacturing costs alone could not justify the move from Oberkochen to Oume. But the strong demand from the Japanese market for Contax lenses would again lead to the de-cision, to manufacture them where most of the customers are anyway.
Camera Lens News No. 3, winter 1997/1998