Camera Geekery: A Tale of Two Lenses

By Don Zeitz

Don Zeitz tells us a tale of two lenses. Two very special lenses that he has made it a personal mission to rescue. Read on.

Tale of Two Lenses

In about 2017 Bellamy listed two rare high speed mirror lenses in the Cameras for Sale section of his website. They were the Canon 800mm f3.8 TV lens and the Carl Zeiss (West Germany) 1000mm f5.6 Mirotar lens. Bellamy indicated to me that both lenses were on consignment from an Austrian seller and that the lenses were not in Japan at that time. As a result he did not see them personally. The asking prices were in the $50,000 range. This camera geekery traces the history of the lenses subsequent to Bellamy’s listings, summarizes their conditions as sold, and documents their current state.


After the Japan Camera Hunter listing, the lenses appeared at the Westlicht Photographica Camera Auction No. 33, 24 November 2018. The Canon lens was Lot 263 with an estimated price of 30,000 to 35,000 euros; it did not sell. The Zeiss lens was Lot 387 with an estimated price of 30,000 to 35,000 euros; it also did not sell.
The lenses next appeared at the Leitz Photographica Auction (renamed Westlicht Auction) No. 35, 23 November 2019. The Canon lens was Lot 265 with an estimated price of 20,000 to 24,000 euros; it sold for 19,200 euros including buyer’s premium. The Zeiss lens was Lot 350 with an estimated price of 24,000 to 26,000 euros; it sold for 14,400 euros including buyer’s premium.

The lenses next were listed for sale by Jo Geier at his Mint and Rare store in Vienna. The prices were in the range of $20,000. I bought the lenses at negotiated prices that caused equal pain for the seller and the buyer.

Canon 800mm f3.8 Lens

Canon 800mm f3.8 Lens sn 10030 – This lens is rare. Total production is unknown outside of Canon’s vaults. The first reference I have found in print is a “What’s New in Photo Products” page in the Camerart magazine dated May-June 1965, page 78. The description states “an 800mm telephoto lens with the unusually high speed of f/3.8 has been completed in prototype version by Canon Camera Co.” The lens is shown on a Canon RM camera. The 800mm f3.8 lens is the shortest focal length of a three lens series that includes 2000mm f11.0 and 5200mm f14.0 mirror lenses.

Fortunately there are several useful websites with information for these lenses:
– The Canon Rumors website has the instructions for these lenses. These instructions are an irreplaceable source of information.

– The website has useful summaries of details concerning the lenses. Web pages are and

  • –  Ernst Thiel, the noted Canon collector, added some further information at
  • –  Finally, the only picture I found of the right side of the lens is at The lens is mounted and focused with a bellows, designated Bellows 800, for Canon SLRs using the Canonflex breech mount. The lens is rigidly mounted to TV cameras and focused by moving the orthicon tube in the camera. Mounts for RCA and Pye TV cameras were available. (The 2000mm lens is focused by selecting a focusing range by first turning the front collector plate and then by adjusting the bellows, designated Bellows 2000, for an SLR, or by moving the orthicon tube for a TV camera. The 5200mm seems to be only for SLRs and focuses with a bellows, designated Bellows 5200.) The Canon instructions say that the 800mm f3.8 lens weights 15 kg (33 lbs). The actual weight without hood is 22 kg (49 lbs). The instructions show the lens with a Canon FX camera.

Missing parts

As received Canon 800mm f3.8 lens sn 10030 was missing parts. The aiming sights on the right side of the lens, the lens hood and a case for the lens hood were all missing. In addition the front upright and the bellows material for the Bellows 800 were broken during shipping. The damage occurred because the rear support in the case is not strong enough to prevent the massive weight of the lens from shifting. The rear lens support collapsed, and the bellows struck the end of the case.

But the oddest discovery was that the original Canonflex mount on the bellows had been removed and a T-mount adapter glued in its place! Why? The Canonflex mount parts on the Bellows 800 are exactly the same as on a Bellows R. If the original mount was damaged, parts would be readily available for repair. My only speculation is that it was an attempt to reduce the amount of play in the bellows.
Depth of field is not a term that can be used with this lens. Any play that allowed the focal plane to depart from absolute perpendicularity to the lens axis would cause the image to be out of focus with respect to the center. The more rigid T-mount may have been an attempt to remove play.

Current Status

This is the lens set’s current status. The T-mount was removed from the Bellows 800 by scraping away the glue, and the original mount was restored using parts from a Bellows R. The bellows from a Bellows R was used after cutting it to the correct length. The Bellows 800 has shorter movement than a Bellows R. Replacements for the aiming sights, the front bellows standard and the lens hood were manufactured by SK Grimes in Woonsocket, RI, USA. fbid=1081740905926606&set=pcb.1081740965926600 What remains is to make a case for the lens hood. I am gathering rivet bucking tools, rivets and embossed aluminum and scavengering hinges, edges, corners, handles and latches from an Ishikawa trunk case. A close reproduction of the case will result.

There actually are two Bellows 800 variants. The first variant is shown in most of the pictures of the lens. This variant can be characterized as a shortened and modified Bellows R. The second variant is strengthened Bellows 800, seemingly to remove some free-play and perhaps to improve close focus. I modified a Bellows R to make a reproduction of the first variant.

The photo shows the two Bellows 800 side by side along with the mounting adapter. The adapter is reminiscent of the Canon S-Set / R-Set lens head to lens supporter connection, but it has a totally different diameter and thread. The four screws are reminiscent of the connection othe Canon 800mm f8.0 lens for the mid-1950’s to its reflex housing.

This lens is a beast to use not only because the lens is huge but because it requires an equally massive tripod to hold it still.

Carl Zeiss 1000mm f5.6 Mirotar

Carl Zeiss 1000mm f5.6 Mirotar Lens sn 4954789 – The 1000mm f5.6 Mirotar is more straightforward. Hartmut Theile in his book “Deutsche Photooptik von A – Z” states that 23 lenses were made, all for Contarex. The price in 1968 was $3990 which escalates to about $33,000 today.
One of these lenses, modified for Nikon, was listed for sale by Roberts Imaging in Indianapolis, IN, USA, for $30,000 in February of 2016. The only example of this lens I had seen was on display at the California Museum of Photography in Riverside, CA, USA, donated by Mead Kibbey, the noted Zeiss Ikon collector.


There is an anomaly. The Westlicht Auction / Leitz Photographica Auction listings shows that this lens has a Canon FL mount. The listing says “professionally adapted to FL mount (probably modification made to order by Zeiss, incl. original Contarex mounting ring)”. This was not the case.
As with the Canon 800mm, the Zeiss 1000mm had a Canon T-mount glued to the back of the lens after the parts of the Contarex mount were removed. There were even some glue drippings on the side of the lens.
The T-mount was not perfectly centered. Interestingly identical T-mounts were used on both the Canon lens and the Zeiss lens verifying that both lenses were modified by the same person. The original Contarex mounting ring was incomplete consisting of only two of the four parts that make up a Contarex mount.

This is the lens’ current state. The Canon T-mount was removed and the glued cleaned off.

New Parts

Before ordering new parts to be made, I checked other Contarex lenses and found that Contarex manual diaphragm lenses used the same parts for the mount. I located a very used Contarex 250mm f4.0 Sonnar to be the parts donor. The lens is now back in its as-manufactured condition.

This lens is not quite as hard to use as the Canon 800mm because it only weights 15 kg (33 lbs).

History before 2017 – One of the characteristics of auctions is that the identities of the the seller and buyer are protected. I have not been able to identify the seller to inquire who previously owned and modified the lenses.

The lenses were heavily used. The photographer did not buy them as collector items. Whoever modified them really wanted to use them on a Canon SLR. There are two facts that lead to wild speculation on my part.

        • Lennart Nilsson, the famous Swedish technical photographer, used a Canonflex R2000.
        • Lennart Nilsson is known to have had a Canon 800mm f8.0 rangefinder lens modified for Canonflex.
        • Lennart Nilsson died 28 January 2017.

      I continue to try to establish the provenance of the lens and its modifications. Perhaps one of Bellamy’s Camera Geeks knew of them before 2017. If anyone has any information they are willing to share about these lenses then please get in touch.

      Many thanks to Don Zeitz for the tale of two lenses.