I've had my Zeiss lenses for the Contax system for about eight years and have come to love their look. The negatives from the 50mm f1.4 Planar and 28mm f2.8 Distagon just seem to have a sparkle about them and I've often imagined that I can pick them out just by that look alone.
So it was natural that I should do a few test shots with the Planar to show how much better it is than other 35mm system lenses I have such as the Zuikos and, in particular, the famed 50mm f2 Macro. Bad idea.
The fact is that the Zeiss negatives didn't really look any different when directly compared with those from the Zuikos. I was keen to get some high res scans done to prove to myself that this weird anomaly was just an aberration.
Well, having found that there's very little noticeable difference between the Zuikos whether they cost £10 or £350, I now know that it's the same thing for the Zeiss glass. All my illusions are slowly being stripped away one by one and this is another. How can you have favourite lenses when they're just the same as the others or, whisper this quietly, not quite as good?
Proof of the Pudding
Here's the proof. In Part One, I showed crops from the various Zuiko and Takumar lenses wide open and at f8 and a third showing the bokeh. This time round the crops for the Planar are at f1.4 and f2 and the same again for the two Zeiss bokeh shots. I have to say that the Planar wide open and at f2 looks the poorest of the lot. Bummer! I know that the Planar produces very sharp, crisp prints but when really blown up it's not as sharp at the edges as any of the Zuikos or the late 1950s Takumar.
Although this isn't something I'd notice in real life as I'd never dream of making 20x30 inch prints from a 35mm neg - that's what you get medium format for - it's still a bit of a blow. Or is it?
These are the Zeiss crops, all from 3200 dpi scans of Firstcall 400S film rated at 40 ISO and developed in Spur's HRX.
|50mm Planar f1.4|
|50mm Planar f2|
|50mm Planar f1.4|
|50mm Planar f2|
And those from the 50mm f2 Zuiko:
The bokeh of the Planar is quite nice, pretty much on a par with the Takumar. It's better at f2 than at f1.4 which isn't unusual for fast lenses. But, sharpness-wise, the Planar can't quite keep up with the Zuiko macro.
My initial reaction to this wasn't great. But then I thought a little more and realised that it's not a bad thing that my cheap lenses, such as the Zuiko 50mm f1.8, are just as good as my dearer ones like the macro and Planar. I could simply sell all the expensive equipment and put the cash to better use!
When deciding which camera and lens to take with me when heading out the door, I've sometimes looked at the OM2n and 50mm f1.8 Zuiko and then picked up a Contax and the Planar instead in the belief that I'd be getting better quality. I might have to reconsider that approach in future.
It's important to bear a couple of things in mind here. One is sample variation and it's possible my Planar isn't the best example on the planet. Maybe it's spent many hours in a glovebox being shoogled to within an inch of its life. The other is my venerable old Epson 3200 Photo flatbed scanner which is hardly state-of-the-art. It has to be said, though, that the Epson seemed good enough to show that the Planar wasn't quite as good as the Zuikos.
So how come I'd always considered the Zeiss negs to exhibit a certain sparkle? I think that must be what they call self-delusion. And what's the best cure for that? A mighty collision with reality. :)
You might also like:Why Do We Talk Such Rubbish About Lenses? Part One.
Firstcall 400S in Rodinal
There's Something Special About Zeiss