Was this the fastest lens ever?

In the May 1975 issue of Popular Photography, Norman Rothschild talked about this lens [1] – the Zeiss 40mm Super-Q-Gigantar f/0.33 for Contarex cameras. A truly remarkable fast lens. Or was it?

The lens was a complete gag. It was first shown at a press dinner at Photokina 1968, but the lens is nothing more than an aspheric condenser lens, “capable of little else but woozy images” [1]. Rothschild actually carried the lens, mounted on a Contarex, around with him for a number of days at Photokina, with lots of people admiring it. He recalls people whispering excitedly that “It must be some new kind of fisheye lens!”, or a newly designed superspeed lens. But few asked what it was, and fewer still asked to look through the viewfinder.

It was the brainchild of Zeiss Ikon’s manager of Public Relations, Wolf Wehran. At Photokina 1966, many of Zeiss’s competitors had displayed their new light gathering heavyweights with apertures of f/1.2 or faster. Wehran, together with a friend in the lens making department then created a lens so unorthdox it could not be ignored. His point was to illustrate that lens speed was not the most important feature of a lens. The lens was always a physical impossibility – it had a diameter of 125mm, and was a 2-element, 1 group lens. The images produced were similar to that of a normal lens with a Softar soft-focus/diffusion filter attached.

The “Q” stands for “Quatsch,” which translates to “nonsense” in German (derived from quatschen – to talk nonsense). The lens itself went up for auction in 2011 at the famous WestLicht Photographica Auction where it sold for €60,000. Not bad for a lens that does nothing!

  1. Norman Rothschild, “The Super-Q-Gigantar lens – it’s a gag, but some people took it rather seriously”, Popular Photography, 72(5), pp.58,62 (1975)

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