Skyllaney have just announced the MKII version of the Skyllaney 50mm f/1.4 Planar M-mount lens. These lenses are based on the very popular C/Y mount Zeiss 50mm f/1.4, are stripped, meticulously cleaned, adjusted and permanently rebuilt into rangefinder coupled m-mounts. I’ve been playing with one for a few days in the run up to the announcement.
If you follow my Instagram, you might know that I have recently fallen off a bit of a Contax SLR cliff. It started with an opportunity to buy 3 Contax Zeiss lenses that I couldn’t really refuse, and has since resulted in me picking up two fairly fancy Contax SLRs. That’s a story for another day really, but for saying that after what feels like many years of doing my best to avoid Zeiss C/Y lenses, not only do I now have a small collection of them, but I also – at least temporarily – have in my possession one that can be mounted to my M-mount cameras.
I’ve been avoiding these lenses for two key reasons. The first is that they are SLR lenses, and up until about a year ago I was a lot happier with rangefinder cameras. The second is that I know very well that were I to step into the world of Contax SLRs and their Zeiss lenses, it could be a very deep hole of GAS for me. I am already a massive Zeiss lens fan, and I’ve long-suspected that the 70s-90s era lenses might actually suit me the best of all.
Bearing in mind those two factors, you can probably imagine how interesting I find a m-mount rangefinder coupled version of the Zeiss 50mm 1.4 Planar…? In short, had I not spent a fortune on the three lenses and two cameras I’ve just bought, I think I would digging around in the back of the sofa for the pennies required to purchase this Skyllaney 50mm f/1.4 Planar. As it stands though, I must resist. As much as Chris has got very close to tempting me into buying one. I have – at least for the time being – parked the idea so as to concentrate on shooting these lenses on their native mount cameras.
The Skyllaney 50mm f/1.4 Planar I have here is something of a final prototype loaned to me for review. As such, whilst it looks very nice, Chris has asked me to mention that it doesn’t have a little dot on it for lining up the lens to mount, and it’s not the final finish of paintwork in the mount part of the conversion. He has also 6-bit coded it to the pre-asph Summilux, which according to Chris has a very similar vignetting profile.
The final “production” versions are being painted to an even higher standard by CameraKote, and whilst the indentations for the 6-bit coding will be included, they won’t be painted in by Chris. This allows the end user to choose to code the lens if they wish. That aside, what you see here is a very functioning, and very polished feeling Skyllaney 50mm f/1.4 Planar!
The Conversion Process
To convert these lenses, Chris from Skyllaney first strips them down completely to clean all of the optics and all of the components that will be used in the final rebuild. All the components are ultrasonic-cleaned and restored to as close to factory-condition as possible.
From that point he then slightly adjusts the focal length of the lenses from the 51.8mm they are as standard to the 51.6mm standard the that the Leica rangefinder system expects. This allows him to attach a brass focusing cam to the rear of the optical block for perfect rangefinder coupling. He then rebuilds the lens using a combination of bespoke parts he has made in the UK and a modified C/Y -> M lens adapter that is permanently affixed to the back of the original lens housing.
In the process of rebuilding the Skyllaney 50mm f/1.4 Planar, he also modifies the internal parts of the lens to slightly uprate them from the original design. By using some o-rings to help secure some of the elements he makes them less susceptible to coming loose if knocked, as well as helping to seal them from the environment. Chris tells me that this should help prevent fungus longer term – something that he has over the years noticed that these lenses are otherwise susceptible to.
The Finished Feel
The feel of the finished Skyllaney 50mm f/1.4 Planar is frankly excellent. The focusing I have on the version I have here is incredibly smooth and very well damped. I have, as I have said, a 50mm f/1.4 in the original C/Y mount – in fact I have two here at the moment. These Contax lenses are very nice as standard and seem to age very well in terms of their mechanics, but Chris’s fettled one certainly has the feel of a lens that has recently been serviced to a very high standard. It is nothing short of buttery, if you’ll excuse the cliche. The aperture clicks feel smooth between clicks and well indented, again like the native mount ones do. The optics are also perfect – there’s very little sign that this lens isn’t new – short of a few very fine specs of dust that even brand new lenses get within weeks of use.
The adapted mount also almost looks like part of the original lens. There are, of course, some sign that it’s not. There’s a very subtle difference in the black finish – though this is one that Chris has sprayed himself. This won’t be an issue with the final CameraKote painted versions. You can also see the join point where there is a small amount of chrome visible. But really, any criticism of this would be totally unnecessary nitpicking. For a modified lens, it looks absolutely spot on – and a lot better than some of the bodges you see out there.
My only small reservation about the specific Skyllaney 50mm f/1.4 Planar I have here is the (optional) use of leather/leatherette for the grip. It’s not that it looks bad, it just feels like an unusual material to have on a lens – though I’m not even sure why…? There are of course lenses out there that use leather for the grip material, just these ones don’t usually, so it stands out as something different. But I am probably nitpicking, and besides, they can be ordered with the original Zeiss grip material, so it’s fairly moot anyway.
Skyllaney 50mm f/1.4 Planar In use
The first thing you’ll probably think looking at the Skyllaney 50mm f/1.4 Planar is about how big it is. It is definitely bigger than your average 50mm f/1.4 Leica mount lens. That said, in use it doesn’t feel too big. Although I don’t have one to compare, I don’t think it’s much bigger than the 7A 50mm f/1.1. It’s also definitely no heavier than that lens. It balances really nicely on my M10-P.
The Skyllaney 50mm f/1.4 Planar is visible through the viewfinder, and does intrude into the 50mm frame lines, but not in a way that feels too bothersome to me – and certainly won’t bother people used to shooting faster M-mount lenses.
The thing that is noticable more than anything else in use though is the long focus throw. In fact, I don’t think it would feel long if it only focused down to 0.7m, but as the original focuses down to 0.45m, so does this modified version. Of course, no Leica mount rangefinder cameras officially focus below 0.7m, but if you have ever shot a lens that is both RF coupled and focuses closer that 0.7m, you will know that the cam follower in the camera will move outside of the 0.7m-∞ range. In practice, this means that the Skyllaney 50mm f/1.4 Planar lens will in fact focus down to just a bit over 60cm, at least on my M10-P.
Skyllaney 50mm f/1.4 Planar Photos
You will have to excuse the limited range of images in this article. I have been very busy since receiving the Skyllaney 50mm f/1.4 Planar, and for a portion of the time I have had it, I have also been self-isolating. I will at some stage in the future review the 50mm Contax mount version of the lens, at which point I will add a link here. That said, I suspect most people who are interested in this lens will be well aware of its optical properties…? Regardless, here are some of the images I have taken.
If you like Zeiss lenses and you shoot Leica M-Mount cameras the only off the shelf fast lenses that are available to you are Sonnars. Sonnar lenses are wonderful things, but for some people’s money, they are far too characterful. Planar lenses are less charaterful – it is true that these slightly older Planars still have character, but they are much more “reliable” to shoot with than their Sonnar counterparts.
I suspect this is going to be a big part of the attraction to the Skyllaney 50mm f/1.4 Planar. It’s Zeiss, it’s fast, and it’s m-mount coupled. Some will no doubt have reservations about its size, and if I do get Chris to make me one (which I am all the more tempted to now I have finished writing about it), I would definitely opt for the original Contax rubber grip rather than the leather which looks a bit odd to me.
But honestly, outside of those basically moot criticisms, I really can’t fault this conversion. It is, without doubt, done to an exceptionally high standard and says a great deal for Chris’s attention to detail. I am very impressed with the Skyllaney 50mm f/1.4 Planar m-mount modified lens – and now have slightly too much lens-GAS for a Monday afternoon!
The Skyllaney 50mm f/1.4 Planar can be ordered as a complete lens for £1249, or if you have a donor lens it can be converted for £999 more details and options here