Professional editorial and fashion photographer Jake Hicks explores the merits of using a 50mm lens for classic portrait photography. Learn from his extensive experience about how you can harness the...
Based on the classic 1896 P. Rudolph design from Zeiss Stiftung, the Planar
50mm lens is a very fast, affordably priced standard lens in the Contax/Yashica
SLR mount capable of taking some really great pictures. At 275 g. (9.7 oz.), it
can easily be the lightweight default lens on your camera.
Construction is metal, glass, and the standard rubberized focusing grip. The
aperture ring (f/1.4-f/16) has full aperture detents although there are
half-aperture settings. The focusing scale is marked in both feet (American) and
meters (the rest of the world) and has a red infrared focusing compensation mark
and depth-of-field scale (even though all Contax SLRs have depth-of-field
preview). The only plastic material is the front and rear lens caps (which I
With a 55mm screw-in filter size, you probably won't whine about buying an
entire set of filters if this is not your first Contax SLR lens. Lens flare is
not a problem; I've tossed two Tiffen ND graduated filters (Cokin "P" mount) in
front and still got excellent results when shooting sunsets.
My Planar 50/1.4 was made in Japan and Zeiss claims that it is every bit as
good as older German made lenses. The MM-type diaphragm allows for program AE,
shutter-priority AE (Tv), aperture-priority AE (Av) and manual mode. The older
AE-type diaphragm on certain currently produced Zeiss lenses only supports the Av
and manual metering modes; this is solely a function of the diaphragm action and
has nothing to do with optical quality.
Like all Zeiss lenses, the Planar 50mm comes with a technical data sheet
written in English, German, French, and Spanish. There are four sets of curves:
two MTF diagrams (f/2.8 and f/5.6), relative illuminance at f/1.4 and f/5.6, and
distortion. Specifications (number of elements and groups, exact focal length -
51.8mm for this lens, etc.) are also mentioned.
Oh yeah, this lens takes some really nice, contrasty pictures. The fast f/1.4
aperture allows for good low-light flashless photography or strong depth-of-field
effects. Partially stopped down, this lens is really stellar.
I doubt if I could tell the difference between pictures taken from this lens
and those taken from a Leica/equipment/canon/Nikon, etc., but heck, since the
main reason for my owning a Contax SLR was to have lenses that said Zeiss, what
do I care?
It is one of the least expensive lenses in the Zeiss product line. If you're
building a Contax/Zeiss SLR system, this is definitely a great way to get started
in Carl Zeiss optics.