The Eternal Nourishment of Optical and Mechanical Innovation

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The Eternal Nourishment of Optical and Mechanical Innovation
By Larry Gubas


When I was a reasonably young man, I came across beautifully made cameras from all sorts of manufacturers and I began to seriously contemplate an expensive purchase while I was in the military. Once, I found post-military employment and had a few dollars in my pocket, I began to look into photo magazines more seriously. These were the days of Eaton Lothrup and Jason Schneider’s work in the major photo magazines and Kalton Lahue’s small but complete work on the Retina cameras. Because of this influence and the quality of the older designs, I became hooked on the collection of Photographica of all sorts. Soon, I became enthralled with the incredibly comprehensive line of Zeiss Ikon cameras which were unmatched in range, variety and quality. I started to collect rangefinder cameras of all sorts and types but I always came back to the vast field of the Zeiss Ikon cameras.

It took me a good deal of time to realize that there was a difference between the Zeiss Ikon and Carl Zeiss firms but that there was a close relationship based on a complex legal foundation (Stiftung in German) of a company whose history is truly the hub of most optical history. There is scarcely a element of optical innovation that was not brought forward by the scientific staffs of these two companies. Without going into the whole of this history (which would not fit on this page) Carl Zeiss Jena pioneered the most significant advances in microscopy, measuring devices, geodetic devices, binoculars and telescopes as well as many others. The firm of Carl Zeiss Jena was uniquely constructed so that the head of each major department was a Ph. D. in Physics and conversant with the various universities and manufacturers that would be interested in their products. Innovation was a constant with the byword of incessant improvement of the product. Here, I am carefully not discussing the post World War II era when the firm was split into two based on political realities but remained the model created by the firm’s founders.

When the Zeiss Historica Society was founded, I gleefully became a charter member and contributed to the publication. My first efforts were to document the major lines of different camera families of the Zeiss Ikon firm. This encompassed many different models such as the gorgeous roll film rangefinders of the Super Ikonta family, the variety of the pioneering 35 mm cameras as well as the wide development of the TLR Ikoflexes. However, soon after I became entranced with the Carl Zeiss product lines of photographic lenses, binoculars and telescopes and the original product of the firm, the microscopes.

By 2004, after I had retired, I had a wonderful collection of the firms catalogs and published a book (An Introduction to the Binoculars of Carl Zeiss Jena from 1893 – 1945) on the major models of binoculars which they had brought to market. The goal was to produce a reference work to those interested in the topic that defined each production model with an original page of Zeiss documentation with all of the pertinent details about size, magnification, size of the objective lens, field of view and model number. This book met with a lot of success and, more importantly, criticism where much additional information was sent to me by collectors and I am contemplating an updated to the two printings that this book has already enjoyed. Another element of my collecting was also displayed in this work in the graphic collection of advertising and historical images with regard to the firm. I had met my goals but rarities and exceptions such as prototypes have since been uncovered. Hopefully, I will get back to this subject and prepare a second edition with the information from other authors.


Just this year, I completed another similar project with regard to the microscopes. For this volume, I not only relied on materials from my catalog collection but I also visited the Archives of Carl Zeiss Jena in the state of Thüringen in Eastern Germany and the two museums that were associated with Carl Zeiss microscopes in Jena and Oberkochen. As a result, I was able to acquire print images of Zeiss microscopes from the earliest days of the firm but also discovered a goodly number of additional primary sources such as various Zeiss related yearbooks, scientific reports and early catalogs as well as an internal document of the firm’s commemoration of the 100th anniversary of manufacturing microscopes. The result is the first such compilation of all of the production microscopes of the firm in the form of line drawings from catalogs and supplemented by many color photographs of these microscopes in the wonderful tones of brass and mahogany. This work is the result of 35 years of search and research and, while others may know more about microscopy itself than I do, I have worked hard to attempt to make this work as complete as possible. This book is entitled, "A Survey of Zeiss Microscopes 1846 -1945." It covers history, personalities as well as the instruments.

With this now finally behind me, I will soon begin a third book on the world of photography associated with the Zeiss companies. This is an even wider task as it covers a great number of predecessor companies as well as cooperation with other German optical and manufacturing firms and the division of optics, cameras and accessories which can be quite confusing to people who do not understand the division of science and labor in this regard. I have been collecting images, advertising and data on personalities for a long time to cover the eras from 1890 to the present day. Even today, there is much confusion about the source of innovation for products and firms. Just a listing of the firms and personalities is a subject that is badly misunderstood. I hope to resolve that and display the great accomplishments of the people who managed and developed the cameras and associated products that so many of us have all wanted to have at different stages of our lives.

I look forward to the opportunity to fill this need and picture the greatness of the people involved in these efforts and invite commentary from anyone interested in the subject.


Larry is a native New Yorker who persevered in the business world until 2000 but who had a not so secret passion for photography and especially Zeiss products. After deciding that he could not afford the time or the money to collect every Contax or Super Ikonta accessory and camera, he concentrated on his love of history to explore the origins of the firm and found out that the history is quite complicated with many firms and a way of doing business that was unique. This led to a founding membership in the Zeiss Historica Society some 30 years ago and his first publications about the various families of cameras of the Zeiss Ikon firm. However, the collection of Zeiss organizations manufactured a ot more than camera equipment and he widened his horizon to include the binoculars, telescopes, microscopes as a host of other products including military items.

He began his writing in the Zeiss Historica Journal and through that vehicle met other interested folk whose expertise continued to widen his horizons. After retirement in 2000, he authored a book on Zeiss binoculars in the pre-WWII era which endeavored to chronicle the development by identifying each model. Having finished that effort, he recently attempted to do the same with regard to the centerpiece of the firm’s product history, the microscopes of the pre-war era. Now, he is going through the many images in his collection to begin to layout of a Zeiss history of photography which is a much wider project than he has tackled before. Larry self publishes using desktop software and a local printer.

Larry retired to the state of Nevada a few years ago to leave snow and cold weather behind. He can be reached by inquiry at the Zeiss Historica website:

Larry Gubas and his wife on the Ocean side of Aruba
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