Contax Carl Zeiss 85mm 1.4 - fleckintosh

Contax Carl Zeiss 85mm 1.4

Tech Specs

Carl Zeiss Planar T* 85mm f/1.4 is a classical manual focus lens for the now defunct Contax/Yashica mount. The lens origins date back to 60s, with the first mass-produced version of the lens manufactured for Rollei SL35 mount. The lens remained quite popular among photographers who wanted a fast, but reasonably priced medium telephoto. Planar T* 85mm f/1.4 was not really the fastest (there were, and actually still are, a couple of even faster 85mm primes, including the anniversary edition of 85mm Planar, Contax Planar 85mm f/1.2, which these days costs a few thousand dollars, as well as equally expensive and fast Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L), nor the cheapest. However Zeiss struck a balance with this lens by pricing it within the reach of advanced amateurs and obviously professionals. The continued popularity of the design contributed to the deciding factor when Zeiss resurrected its line of SLR lenses for Nikon, Pentax and now Canon mounts - Planar T* 85mm f/1.4 is alive and well these days, and is available for purchase at most photography retailers near you.

Like most of its other C/Y lenses, Carl Zeiss used to manufacture the 85mm Planar in AE and MM variants. The lens was initially manufactured in both West Germany, at the original Zeiss factory in Oberkochen, as well as in Japan, first by Yashica and later by Kyocera, which acquired Yashica. However, while it is relatively easy to find an AE version of the lens that was manufactured either in Germany or Japan, majority of MM versions of the lens that are being sold these days on used markets were made in Japan. It's not even clear to me whether any MM versions of this lens were ever manufactured in Germany. Since the lens is pretty common on used markets, its price remains more or less reasonable, with good quality MM copies of the lens selling for ~US$500 / 500€ on eBay. 

The optical construction of the lens consists of 6 elements in 5 groups - this simple by modern standards design has not changed since the first introduction of the lens. The build quality is superb - like most of Carl Zeiss lenses of that period, the barrel is made from metal, with rubberized focus and aperture rings. The lens feels rock solid, like a tank. The focusing ring is pretty smooth and the aperture ring snaps into position with ease. The minimum focusing distance is 1m (3.5ft) and the minimum supported aperture is f/16 (with the aperture ring moving in one full f-stop increments). The lens is not the lightest 85mm lens on the block (partially thanks to its large maximum aperture which requires a pretty large front glass element), weighing 595g (1.3lb) but the weight actually adds to the overall impression of sturdiness. The lens measures 7 x 6.4 cm (2.75 x 2.5in), but the barrel extends slightly when the lens is focused towards the closeup. Filter diameter is 67mm.

Field Test

When I say field test, i mean it. I went outdoors on a field in my neighborhood. Here I found a good scene to capture on camera, to show some characteristics of my vintage lenses. Highlights and shadows, much details and a real world scene. I really hate test charts! 

So click thru my slideshow, which shows all relevant aperture stops or even feel free to download the full resolution images. 

Below you find some crops of the center and the border of the image above, showing all relevant aperture stops.

Center Sharpness

Border Sharpness


If you go for a fast 85mm Lens, you do it because of the bokeh. The Planar doesn't disappoint here. You can easily separate your subject from the background. So you like to use this lens for all kind of portrait stuff to shoot. 

At f1.4, the maximum relative aperture, you have a very smooth and blurry background. The bokeh balls are pretty even, round and show just a little amount of an outer ring. But your subject, here an old Voigtländer camera, is also very soft. The depth of field is very small. 

At f2.0 sharpness and contrast slightly increase. The outer ring of the bokeh balls disappear, but on the other side you can see the shape of the aperture blades, showing a stop sign. The blades are sadly not very rounded. Luckily I have the MM Version of the lens, which shows not the "Ninja-Star-Bokeh" of its predecessor, the AE Version. So the Bokeh is much smoother.

At f2.8 Things get even sharper and contrasty. But also the stopsign-shape increases.

At f4.0 you have the best mix of sharpness, color and contrast, but the bokeh starts to get too busy. 

At 5.6 you find the sweet spot of sharpness. Contrast doesn't improve further, which is a little weakness comparing to the Canon nFD 85mm 1.8, which shows much more contrast and a deeper black across all aperture stops. This can be a good thing or not, depending on your personal taste. Bokeh gets even busier here. 

At f8.0 things get even worse. Sharpness starts to decrease, Bokeh is very harsh. Contrast also starts to decrease, i have no real blacks across the image. 

My favorite aperture stop is f2.8. Here I find a good mix of depth of field and blurry background. With smaller aperture stops I have a more blurry background but the depth of field is to little to capture both eyes in focus during portrait shots.

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