Green Microscope

great world of small things

ZEISS OPTON W – Let’s make things better

Posted by janvangelderen on March 19, 2007


Working a lifetime (I’m 67 now) with microscopes of different brands and types I have learned the strong and weak points of many microscopes. Every microscope has weak points, even those instruments you can trade for a new sports-car. Generally spoken the worst instruments are those which are designed by the marketing department of the firm, being Wetzlar, Jena or Tokyo based. Now I have come to an instrument which comes near to perfect, was to expensive for the market and for that reason was brought in its early youth to the churchyard.

I have fallen in love with the Zeiss Opton Stativ W.


The W is one of the first postwar instruments, and designed from scrap by refugees.  In 1945 about sixty Zeiss people fled from Jena to Oberkochen in the free world because they did not want to be send to Russia or elsewhere in the communistic world to develop ‘communistic’ instruments. They were not that welcome in the Zeiss family and after difficult negotiations they started there own  factory, the Opton Optische Werke Oberkochen. Zeiss owned 95% of the company of brave technicians. While Kurt Mitchel was developing his Zeiss L and Standard they went other ways. The result was an uncompromised instrument, made from the best materials, of highest precision and with some very unknown features. For instance you would not find a substage on this stand. The condensers fit with a clever designed bayonet in the subtable. On the condensor a level permits lifting the condenser for 0,8 millimeter. This only for correcting for the thickness of the glass of the slide. The bayonet centers the condenser and I was able to get a sharp projected image of the field diaphragm in all specimens. Mind you: sixty years after the W left the factory!


The substage stageholder blocks the stage in use with one knob. So changing is easy, tolerances are zero.


Fit of the round sliding stage.


Sliding stage with its immersion plate. It works great if you use the right grease to slow down its movements.


The square stage turns around 270 degrees. Again a charm, for you can navigate through your specimen by turning table and knob. This picture has been made to show you a real Carl Zeiss logos.

The Opton designers (this article is a tribute to them) followed the sound L-armdesign of the prewar Zeiss L-stands and changed, like Kurt Mitchel, to one axis focusing on the table. There ends the analogy with the Zeiss Standard and the L and for good reason for the indecent love in those Mitchel-instruments for round curves has a lot of drawbacks in terms of stability and making room for accessories.

 The Opton is not blessed with a great range of accessoires. You have to do it with a fixed revolver for four objectives, interchangeable condensers (darkfield to), an enlargement changer with a Bertrand lens for phase plates alignment and some accessory camera equipment, a filterslot on the illuminator. It is clear: the genial designers wanted a microscope for brightfield and phase contrast and if you want epi, fluorescence or differential interference contrast go to our StepMother.

dsc_8067.jpg Universal condensor 1.30 with three phase plates and slider for oblique illumination.

dsc_8068.jpg dsc_8069.jpg Brightfield condensor 0.90.


If this is a sound idea for the small factory had no means to build more or because a limited arsenal of build-on things leads to more precision in the basic instrument I don’t know. I tend to think simplicity works. Fact is that this microscope is of the highest precision I ever saw and for instance the drawbacks in precision and ease of use in the Leitz Ortholux and Orthoplan are to trace back to the box of building blocks it is.

And the W shows tolerances zero. I had two on my desk (they say only five sold in the Netherlands) and was flubbergasted noticing that on the one a given point in a specimen was after copying the vernierscales on the other exactly X. Hold your breath.

dsc_8065.jpg dsc_8064.jpg Binocular tube of unusual design.

Mat hatter

First thing you notice is the most unusual design of the binocular tube. This ‘top hat’,  as the thing was quickly nicknamed, maintains under all circumstances the mechanical 160 mm tubelength. The design of this tube seems to exclude a photoport, but for making pictures they provided a beamsplitter with a laterally offset tube. There is also a straight monotube to mount a camera. A third tube on the top hat would have asked for a most complicated design of sliding prisms and swing out/in relaylenses, etc. So I think the designers did not even think about building it. Besides that Zeiss West produced already a great focusing telescope system on which could be mounted different types of camera’s. That one could be mounted on the supplied Orton monotube, so why introduce a thing that brings in risks for the imagequality. And certainly should not be bought by anybody. I had not a chance to test the beamsplitter.

The binocular tube has a remarkeble feature I discovered lately. On turning the right pipe for adjusting your personal pupil-to-pupil distance both pipes are out of their horizontal line. To correct this one can turn the whole upperplate of the binocular tube. Doing this I discovered another thing and that was that both my eyes are not in an exact horizontal line.  Conquering the deviation with the tube I believe this services tireless observation. Great for the analyst who had to observe hundreds of say bloodsmears on a day and great for me sitting besides my pond and observing for long periods all little things.

Yes, I intend to equip the illuminator with a led and are breeding on ways to do it without modifying the bulbholder.

dsc_8063.jpg dsc_8061.jpg dsc_8075.jpg 

The illuminator can slide on its foot which is a great way to center the filament.  This slider is metal but in the first instruments made of glass. The bulb is factory precentered.

Köhler is watching you

A sign with glowing capitals HERR DOKTOR KÖHLER IS WATCHING YOU was erected in the atelier I suppose for I never encountered a microscope on which with a light touch of the finger you can achieve total Köhlerlight. That thanks to the precentered 6V bulb, swing in groundglass positioned between collector and bulb (no noise in the image), precentered condensers (only a hammer will decenter them), and a most sophisticated illuminator. Well, it is covered with real leather, but that is not what I mean. The mirror in it is surface coated, no double filament projections.

On the phase condensor are two centering screws for each phase plate. In the original design the pair of centering screws were of different ‘feel’. On ‘my’ condensor they are the same, presumably because this instrument is one of the latest. On both condensers the diaphragms has no lever but a small hoop which is difficult to fiddle. In the big condensor you can obtain oblique illumination. Great.

dsc_8074.jpg dsc_8072.jpg 

The Plan 40x is fitted with a lock which makes (for safety reasons) the objective shorter. Not in the picture and never seen a dry achromatic objective 63x/0.9 with correctioncollar. (Seen it from Zeiss West and it is a most usefull objective for those who hate fiddling with immersion oil.)

This stand deserves the best optics and they are. The plan achromats 2,5x and 40x are even plan combined with widefield eyepieces. The phase 40x and 100x objectives bring the most undisturbed, clean phase images I ever saw, of course in combination with the supplied monochrome filter. I think those objectives surpass Leitz phase achromats of the same epoch. All objectives are of the highest correction and you don’t feel the need for fluorites. In other words, if you don’t intend to make colour pictures those are the things to use. Of course no comments on sharpness, and vivid bright images with not a trace of analogue artefacts.

The table is marked Carl Zeiss as is the binocular tube. That makes me believe this instrument is one of the latest marketed. In 1948 Opton went fully to Zeiss and production of the W gradually finished.  Zeiss West could not claim ‘we make the two best microscopesystems in the world’, but murder in the first degree of the W is a shame for everybody who wants the best. And the W is the best. Working with it is a delight and a honour. The W is the prima ballerina on my desk.


Of course because there are no spare bulbs to find I like to build in a led. Because the W is promoted working horse I feel I  have the right to do that. And it will not be that difficult to replace the bulbholder, saving the original piece of bad plastic. And by the way no more plastic to find in this instrument.

Factory numbers

For those who will be able to tell more of this instrument I give the factorynumbers of the different parts: Carl Zeiss stage 204533, Carl Zeiss tube 201533. Everything else is Zeiss Opton: Plan 2,5x 183011, Plan 40x 226327, achromat 10x 118911, phase 40x  226327, phase 100x 210355, condensor 0.9 218552, universal condensor 1.25 207240. The stand self bears no number and rests on three little cork rounds. A small detail which tells of the love for their trade of the designers.


Thanks to Mike Samworth of Britain, Secretary of the Postal Microscope Society who draw my attention to some literature about the ‘Arbeits- und Forschungs-Mikroskop Stativ W’.


22 Responses to “ZEISS OPTON W – Let’s make things better”

  1. Spike Walker said

    Another so soon!

    Would you please tell me if the serial numbers of your Opton objectives begin with ‘Nr’. My experience is that they all do! I have a database of many hundreds of Zeiss objective serial numbers if you would like it. I am currently trying to make sense of the 5 and 6-figure ones!

    Best wishes,


  2. Dear Spike,
    Thanks for your gesture. This is great and I am very sorry for my delayed answer, due to our movement (and rebuilding a house)to the country. Yes, all the numkbers start with ‘Nr’. Is that imported for dating the objectives?
    Latest news: Found an original transformer 6V, looks on the outside as something you would bury your favorite guineapigg in, but inside shining silver for the contact. Great.

  3. Hello –

    I just found you through a blog search, because I was wondering if anybody else was blogging about microscopy. I just started a blog about this topic (along with macrophotography and mycology), and have just put together an extensive article about Zeiss Jena vs Zeiss Oberköchen.

    I will definitely add you to my blogroll!

  4. Hello Janvangelderen, thank you for detailed : “Zeiss Opton W, lets make things better” historic and social developement and end for Zeiss Opton W group and their microscope. I own a “Zetopan, Reichert/Austria trinocular bright field microscope. It’s ‘design and especially it’s substage/ below it’s ‘oil immersion substage condensor’…it’s substage, removable field illuminator is STRIKINGLY NEAR IDENTICAL in design to your illustration of a Zeiss Opton W in your article! Did the SAME PERSON DESIGN BOTH THE ZETOPAN AND THE OPTON W microscopes?!! I can e-mail you images of my Zetopan ‘ Reichert/Austria microscope. All the graceful arc of both scopes arm conectors, the round houseing from which the ocular systems emerge, and that ROUNDISH substage illuminator system, and the Osram ‘square bulb filament’ same bulb, identical designs…same designer/shared design team? Healthy springtime to family and you, charles e guevara

  5. Hello, does anyone in:’GREEN MICROSCOPE’ answer comments and questions that we post here?

    I hope all is well for the writter of this excellent article. charlie guevara NJ,US

  6. Dean Libey said

    I came across a Zeiss Opton Nr 125122 and have no idea what it is. The aforementioned fits into a 12 inch high stand. I can send pictures. I am just curious what it could be.

  7. jeremiyah said


    I just got a Zeiss Opton Nr 125122. It is a refractometer for checking the sugars in plants for a Brix reading.
    Would anyone have a user manual for it?


  8. Nice job as always on a great scope. High praise from someone that has tried most of them over the years.

    I don’t know why I have left a comment before this is 4th or 5th time I have come across this.

    Best Wishes

  9. Thomas said

    Beautiful photographs, but the story that comes with them is way off the historical reality. Kurt Michel (not Mitchel) was one of the 84 Zeiss and Schott employees (plus their families) who were deported to Heidenheim by American (!) troops. The Americans liberated Jena on April 13, 1945. The Russians took over Jena on July 1st, 1945, that is, seven weeks later. The convoi departed Jena on June 24. One of the designated persons to be deported committed suicide and several others were reported to have had great reservations against this deportation. It is true that many remaining Zeiss employees fled, later on, during the Russian occupation, but the initial emplacement of “the brain” of the Zeiss trust, far away from the future iron curtain, in the Swabian province was a (very clever) strategic act of the American Forces.

    The W-Stativ had a considerable accessory range and included a version (designated Wa) with an interchangeable nosepiece. Zeiss-Winkel produced some accessories for this version, like an incident light condensor.

    It is truly a fascinating microscope, and I think it also deserves a “true” historical context.

    Cheers, Thomas

    Armin Hermann (2002): Und trotzdem Brüder – Die deutsch-deutsche Geschichte der Firma Carl Zeiss, Piper, 569 p.
    Armin Hermann (1989): Nur der Name war geblieben – Die abenteuerliche Geschichte der Firma Carl Zeiss, DVA, 368 p.
    Walter David (1954): Die Carl-Zeiss-Stiftung – ihre Vergangenheit und ihre gegenwärtige rechtliche Lage, Carl-Zeiss-Stiftung, 285 p.

  10. If only more people would read this.

  11. Paulo Costa said

    I would like to have a photo adapter for this microscope. Does anibody knows where can i get one?

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  16. Gianni said

    I sell one of this with complete equipment, i can send pictures.

  17. charles e guevara said

    Thanks, Thomas for the #9 historical comments, along with your sources cited. charlie guevara

  18. Would you think this will be something that college and
    universities may take a look at also? Sometimes I believe our academic subjects are so stringent that
    it may not make room for extra ideas like these. What do you think?

  19. Are you currently utilizing any wordpress plug-in with this post?
    Can you kindly share the name of it if you are because maybe I could
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  20. Ron said

    I’m trying to find what model Zeiss I own. I bought it 11 years ago from a doctor’s office. I’ve tried to replace it many times but have not found a modern one that I like better. It looks like a GLF but has a base like an opton. I’ve not seen it pictured anywhere on line. And the people at Zeiss America have no idea as to its’ identity. It’s a fascinating topic (identifying and comparing these beautiful classics). I can send pictures to anyone willing to help me. I need to replace an objective and would like to use original equipment if at all possible. Help!!!! Thanks

  21. Thomas said

    @ Ron: Although a bit late, it may still be of use: if your stand looks like a Carl Zeiss STANDARD GFL (not GLF) and has a base with a big hole in it (like the Zeis-Opton W), then it might be a Zeiss-Winkel STANDARD GF (no “L” here). Zeiss-Winkel was the brand name for Carl Zeiss’ microcopes built in it’s Goettingen branch, until about 1955. The majority of the western Zeiss microcopes were produced there (as opposed to Oberkochen, where the ‘W’ type was manufactured), and still are. After 1955, western Zeiss microscopes were labelled ‘Carl Zeiss’, except for delivery to countries from the Warsaw Pact and… the Commonwealth, where ‘Opton’ was used due to an unsuccessful law suit in the early 1970ies.
    Hope that helps

  22. Hi! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be okay.
    I’m undoubtedly enjoying your blog and look forward to new updates.

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