Photographica Pages

An online guide to collectable cameras and related stuff

Zunow Lenses for Rangefinder

I will confess to not knowing much about the history of Teikoku Kogaku. It appears their first products were a series of high speed lenses available in Leica thread, Contax and Nikon rangefinder mounts. In the 1950's speed was the feature stressed by lens manufacturers in the competition for the professional market. Nippon Kogaku, maker of the Nikon, had the fastest lens available with the 50/1.4 Nikkor, introduced in December of 1950. Yet in 1953 an unknown company introduced the 50/1.1 Zunow. It would take Nippon Kogaku until February 1956 to match it in speed with the 50/1.1 Nikkor. Zeiss would never top it, Canon took until 1961 with the 50/0.95 and Leitz until 1976 with the 50/1.0 Noctalux. It was first available in chrome, and later in black. It was available in both Leica thread mount and Nikon/Contax rangefinder mount. It appears there are two versions of the chrome lens.

The 50/1.1 Zunow in chrome, with its case and cap.

The 50/1.1 Zunow in chrome, mounted on a Leica, with its square vented shade.

The unusual shade.

A Zunow case for a Canon rangefinder camera.

A boxed Zunow in Nikon rangefinder mount, with boxed shade for Nikon.

A 50/1.1 Zunow on a Nikon S2, with shade.

The 50/1.1 Zunow shares a characteristic of the 50/1.1 Nikkor, a weakness of the aperture blades. Both lenses have a tendency to have the aperture blades break, so if you have a 50/1.1 Zunow (or the Nikkor), be gentle with the aperture ring. It is not uncommon to find them with the blades removed. The optical construction is nine elements in five groups. Accessories for the 1.1 include a vented shade, the typical lens case in brown leather, and a replacement for the top half of your camera case with a larger nose to accommodate the larger 1.1 lens.

A Zunow case for a Canon rangefinder camera.

It should be noted that the 50/1.1 Zunow was not an inexpensive lens. It was priced at $450, compared to $299.50 for the 50/1.1 Nikkor.

Zunow offered a fast wide angle with their 35/1.7 Zunow. It was slightly faster than Nippon Kogaku's 35/1.8 Nikkor, and most likely earlier as the Nikkor did not appear until September 1956. Again, Canon and Leitz did not have a faster 35mm until the early 1960's, the Canon with a 35/1.5, Leitz with their 35/1.4 Summilux, which was only available in M mount. I believe I have seen this lens in both chrome and black finish, but I am unsure if it was available in anything other than screw mount.

They also offered a fast telephoto, a 100/2. Although it was probably the first maker with a 100 this fast, Nippon Kogaku, Canon and Leitz all had 85/1.5 lenses on the market before Teikoku Kogaku was even founded. Canon and Fujinon both later matched this lens in speed. I have only seen this lens in black and in thread mount, although it is likely a chrome version exists, and in Nikon and Contax versions as well.

I have not seen, or found reference to finders for any of the above lenses.

I'm unsure whether they were all introduced at the same time, or were spread out over the course of years. In addition, I have heard mention of a 50/1.5, a 50/1.3 and a 35/1.5. I don't know if any of these lenses were produced or marketed. Apparently they did make a 50/1.9 Zunow in Leica thread mount. I've never seen any information on it, but I have examined it and have the pictures to prove it.

The serial number suggests this may be the 10th lens of it's type produced, most likely out of a very small batch. It's probably based on the 50/1.9 lens they made for the early Miranda T cameras. The lens would have been difficult to market to owners of Leicas or Leica copies. Leica owners tended to buy Leicas because of their optics, and most Leica copies were sold with a lens. It is possible that Zunow built a few of these lenses with the hope of having one of the manufacturers of Leica copies market their cameras with Zunow lenses. Apparently they were unsuccessful.

If anyone out there has any additional information, including sales literature, price lists, or any of the lenses mentioned (or not mentioned), I'd love to hear from you. We would also be very interested in purchasing any Zunow lenses you might have.