Out of the selection of lenses I mentioned in the first part of this journey, my wild card (completely screwed) Carl Zeiss 50mm f/1.5 definitely makes for the most logical place to start. Until recently, I hadn’t shot this lens in a quite a while, but in the path to finding my perfect classic Sonnar it definitely deserves looking at. Not least because I think it was possibly one of the key exponents in my path to eventually buying my ZM Sonnar… which as I have mentioned as nauseam on this blog is my favourite lens.
This isn’t the only reason I want to touch on it though. One of the biggest motivations I have for writing about it is the fact that it’s actually the least perfect lens I own – and since I have quite strong feeling about the idea that imperfection in lenses can be key to perfection in photography (more thoughts on that subject here) – it would be remiss not to give it a fair chance. Especially since – despite the fact that it’s basically a write off – it still manages to exhibit a certain unquestionable charm. It’s also fair to say that the images it produces are fairly, if not entirely unique!
What makes this lens especially interesting is that at least in terms of its mechanical and external physical condition, there’s no issues with it in use. Since the focusing helicoid is part of the camera in the function these lenses there’s only the aperture to go wrong, but there are no issues there. The rest of the lens is also in quite clean condition too.
Internally, on the other hand it’s completely screwed. There’s coating damage to the front element, it’s a little dusty, and it has series delamination problems. In the lens group closet to the front of the lens there’s some quite pronounced rainbow coloured blotches that have made their way from the edge of the lens.
It’s quite reasonable to assume that these alone will be having some impact on the images, but it’s the rear element group where the problems really lie. I assume this is still the effects of delamination…? It comes from the edges in almost bubble shapes like the rainbow bits in the other group do. In this case though the balsam(?) has gone black.
Primarily I guess this reduces the lenses light transmission, but beyond that the most notable impact is to the bokeh this lens produces. Wide open these lenses tend to have a slightly edged bokeh with quite circular spectral highlights. In this lens, they are very much not circular and have uneven edging. Have a look at some of the highlights lower right of the frame of this shot:
Despite this, and the fact that I had to boost the contrast up in Lightroom with these black & white images, I do think the final results were really nice. These shots are actually from a few years ago – I hadn’t realised how long it had been since I’d use this lens until I saw how young Connie was in them…
We have this next image in a frame on our mantelpiece
You’re going to have to have a little imagination when it comes to these next colour results. They were taken on Fuji 400 xtra and processed/scanned by a high street lab prior to me sending my rolls of to AG photo lab. As such, they aren’t all that great really. What they do show though is that even this old tatty Sonnar is capable of giving results with a touch of the Sonnar feel that I like. Overall contrast might be low, but that sense of three dimensionality is still there.
Finally, to round off this post I thought I’d share a few images I’ve recently taken with this lens mounted on my M9. Interestingly, the adapter I have used to mount it on my M9 back focuses when shot with the other two Contax mount 50mm f/1.5 lenses I currently have access to. With this lens it focuses nigh on perfectly even at close distances at f/1.5. I think this might be down to both the adapter and lens being out of whack, but it’s quite nice that the combination works!
As mentioned at the beginning of the post, it was actually this lens that got me thinking quite strongly about the idea of buying the ZM. I figured modern flawless coatings with the 3D look would suit me well. I was right, the ZM lens went on to be the favourite. And as mentioned in the previous part in this journey, it is also the reason I am now looking back at older Sonnar lenses for a similar, but slightly less modern feel.
So is this my perfect Classic Sonnar? Well, I’m not going to rule it out. I have some testing of a pair of much cleaner coated Zeiss Sonnars to do, and I am expecting objectively better results. I’m just not sure yet by what objective merits I am going to end up favouring in an older lens. This lens is completely shot, but it still takes a wonderful photo, it’s not riddled with fungus, and mechanically works fine. As such – since I am yet to make comparisons with any other lenses at all – I suppose technically it’s currently the front runner in this process. So far it’s the winning lens… all be it in a race of one…
My next task is to compare the two much cleaner coated Contax mount Sonnars I have. One of them is on loan and is very clean, and one belongs to me and is a little dusty. I just need to order a new Contax-M adapter that will focus them properly…
Cheers for reading