Archive for February, 2014

The Carl Zeiss Planar 50mm 1.4


Carl Zeiss Planar 50mm f/1.4

Carl Zeiss has been a the superb choice for photographers now entering the second century. These optics are brilliant designs that have stood the test of time and technology. Over the years Zeiss has developed technology to apply to these traditional lens designs including multi-coating. These optics continue to be featured as the lens of choice for premium brand cameras including Hasselblad and Rollei.

I have acquired a Contax Carl Zeiss Planar 50mm F/1.4 lens and have thoroughly enjoyed using this lens on several cameras. I got the lens at the PhotoFair in Newark, CA. I bought it from a guy that brought his gear into the show to sell. The lens I have is a modern Planar 50mm from the 80s or 90s. This lens is not really about some classic bokeh or soft contrast without loss of sharpness or any of the other things we often enjoy by using vintage equipment. This lens is razor-sharp with amazing contrast and brilliant color rendition. It is fairly compact but a little heavy since it is built extremely well.


Muffin the Cat, Canon T2i 125th sec @ F2.8 with in camera flash through the Zeiss Planar 50mm f/1.4

I am not intending to wow you with comparison graphs or sharpness tests or any of that. You can go to a variety of quality sources for that kind of data. Rather, I would like to encourage you to try some of these older lenses if you can swing the cash, this one is a great start.

The photo at right was a snapshot of one of our cats. She was none too thrilled about me or my camera. This shot was with the Zeiss at F/2.8. I did not achieve complete focus but the 2.8 aperture provided just enough depth of field to keep the eyes sharp. the nose is a touch soft but that was my poor focus. The older I get the more I appreciate auto focus 🙂 But these old lens are all manual.

There is just something special about using a lens that is a direct evolution of a piece of photographic history. The Zeiss Planar design has found its way into some of the world’s most legendary cameras. Hasselblad cameras use an 80mm f/2.8 Planar as a standard lens. Rollei’s most sought after Rollieflex models feature the 2.8 Planar as well.

I have owned a Hasselblad and a Rolieflex 2.8 Planar E and I can attest to the value of this very sharp lens design. The modern Zeiss lenses offer the Zeiss T* multi-coating which is one of the best lens coatings ever made. I am absolutely overjoyed that I can once again use lenses I used to own or always wanted to own with our amazing versatile modern digital cameras. I always wanted to own a 50mm 1.4 Planar but I couldn’t adapt the Contax mount to my old Canon FD camera bodies. I had a 50mm f1.2 Canon, but I knew that Zeiss was probably a bit sharper or at least offered better contrast. That is really what this Planar 1.4 has, wonderful contrast and brilliant color rendition. Honestly, I think my Canon EF 50mm F/1.4 USM is just as sharp but it lacks that extra color and contrast that Carl Zeiss can deliver.

Over the years I have been blessed to have owned some very exotic photo equipment and lenses. But often the most fun I had, was dinking around with some old Leica or Canon rangefinder camera. My money gear was Canon L series glass, a Hasseblad and my trusty Linhof Tecknika, but I had a lot of fun with old vintage gear. Now thanks to modern digital cameras we can enjoy that old gear again. I bought a Nikkor 105mm F/2.5 today. I always wanted one of those, that is an awesome lens and I’ll write about that one in another post.

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