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Nick's Classic Corner - No 40 - Carl Zeiss Jena Praktica lenses

Discussion in 'Classic Models & Marques' started by Benchista, Nov 16, 2013.

  1. Benchista

    Benchista Which Tyler

    As a bit of a departure, I'm going to consider some of the lenses available for Praktica cameras from Carl Zeiss Jena, both in M42 Pentacon screw and Praktica Bayonet. These lenses were the highpoint of using Prakticas - generlly of very high quality, but respectable prices. The second-hand prices of them have gone up significantly over the last 10 years, particularly of the M42 versions, as these are readily fitted to all sorts of DSLRs with a cheap adaptor, but also of the PB variants, which can be used on some systems with an adaptor - I have one myself to allow me to use them on my EOS system.

    One thing they all* have in common is fantastic colour rendition - more to my taste than any other lenses I've ever used - and the contrast.

    *Except the Tessar and Biotar.

    20mm f2.8 Flektogon - one of the most sought-after of them all. I have an MC Electric M42 version, and a PB version. This lens replaced an earlier f4 single-coated lens. It has a sizeable front element, taking 67mm filters, focuses down to 0.19m and has a lovely smooth focusing ring. Aperture range is f2.8-22. In use, it's a bit soft with some vignetting wide open, but stopped down even to f5.6 its prformance is superb, sharp and contrasty. A wonderful lens on film, and great on full frame digital too.

    25mm f4 Flektogon - and now we pass to one of the least-known CZJ lenses, at least in M42 form - it seems a lot more common in Exakta mount. I don't believe this was ever available as a multi-coated version, and mine is certainly the "zebra" type. And quite tatty...
    It's a respectable lens with similar characteristics to the 20mm, but more prone to flare and fairly dear due to rarity.

    35mm f2.4 Flektogon - a real stunner. I've again an MC Electric example and a PB one, and this is just a terrific little lens - fairly fast, close focusing (19cm again). It's as sharp as any 35mm lens I've ever used. Not that long ago, these were as cheap as chips. They're considerably dearer now, but still worth it.

    50mm f2.8 Tessar - I've several of these, from older, single-coated ones to fairly late MC versions, all in M42, of course. Frankly, it's a pretty average lens in general use, and benefits from stopping down to f8 for best performance. However, it does behave well on a bellows and/or reversed for close-up and macro work.

    50mm f1.8 Pancolar - very sharp in the centre even wide open, with the edges catching up by f4, at which point it outperforms any Japanese 50mm lens of the era. I've several M42 copies of this lens, all multicoated, both Electric and standard M42. One of the very best standard lenses I've ever used.

    58mm f2 Biotar - a real old-fashioned lens, but still a reasonable performer - rather soft wide open, but really quite sharp at f8. Mine is in aluminium, with a semi-automatic diaphrahm, is single-coated (marked T on the lens) and is an "Aus Jena" version, i.e. destined for export. It's less contrast than most of the CZJ lenses, but has its uses. This is, of course, the lens famously copied as the 58mm f2 Helios by the Soviets.

    80mm f1.8 Pancolar - another lens I have in both MC Electric form and Praktica Bayonet, and another absolutely cracking little lens. It's perhaps not quite as good as the 85mm f1.4 Zeiss Planar, but it's much more compact, and really not far behind it. And ahead of pretty much everything else.

    135mm f3.5 S(onnar) - the first telephoto lens I ever bought, and still one of the best. This is simply a gorgeous little lens, sharp across the frame and incredibly compact. I've several of these now, a couple in PB fitting, a couple of MC Electrics and my original non-electric MC one. Until a few years ago, these were available for around £20, but go for a fair bit more now.

    180mm f2.8 Sonnar - both this and the next lens are actually native Pentacon 6 lenses, but were supplied with M42 and PB adaptors. This is the development of the Olympia Sonnar, and is a fiendishly big lens for its focal length. It has a tripod mount, and is multicoated - and it's a very decent lens, but the size means it's not the most practial lens to use.

    300mm f4 Sonnar - also multicoated with a tripod mount, and also pretty big, although perhaps it's more reasonable that it should be so. Both it and the 180mm are odd-looking things, but it's very capable.

    So there we have it - lenses that share a look, in terms of sharpness, contrast and colour, and a look I like an awful lot.

    Pick of the bunch - it's easier to say which ones I don't like so much. The older lenses (Tessar and Biotar) have their own look, but they're not my favourites. The two big lenses are great, but too big. The rest all make a compelling case as even at current prices, there's nothing to touch their performance at anything like the cost - they're lenses that can hold their heads up in any company.
  2. PeteE

    PeteE Well-Known Member

    Re: Nick's Classic Corner - No 40 - Carl Zeiss Jena Praktica len

    I bought a 135mm for £1--00 M42 screw fit at my Club's annual Auction some years ago and it is marked 'MC S 1:3.5 f=135 Carl Zeiss Jena DDR' -- is it the same as the 'Sonnar'?
  3. Benchista

    Benchista Which Tyler

    Re: Nick's Classic Corner - No 40 - Carl Zeiss Jena Praktica len

    Yup. The "S" after the "MC" stands for Sonnar. I'll edit that bit in.
  4. PeteE

    PeteE Well-Known Member

    Re: Nick's Classic Corner - No 40 - Carl Zeiss Jena Praktica len

    Thanks -- really enjoying all your write-ups -- best bit of the Forum !

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