Home Cameras/Lenses The M Files (15): Contax Planar lenses by Zeiss, converted for M...

The M Files (15): Contax Planar lenses by Zeiss, converted for M Mount

86
12
technical illustration of Contax Planar 50/1.4 (ex Y/C Mount, left, conversion by Skyllaney), Contax Planar 45/2 (ex G Mount, right, conversion by Funleader)
Two former Contax lenses that were masterly converted for Leica M Mount: Planar 50/1.4 from the Contax/Yashica SLR range and Planar 45/2 from the Contax G rangefinder system.

Leica and Contax: This was no love story. From the 1920s to the 1960s and again in the 1990s and early 2000s, the two brands were fierce rivals in the rangefinder world. Decades later, Contax lenses are available for M Mount. Not due to any reconciliation but as the effect of conversions. Let’s look at the Planar 50/1.4, which was originally made for the Contax RTS SLR series, and at the Planar 45/2, which was produced for the Contax G Series rangefinder cameras.

It was, and for many still is, one of the grand names in the photographic field: Contax. The long history of this brand is marked by many pioneering achievements. They made the first camera with a combined rangefinder (Contax II, 1936), they produced a class-leading SLR system (beginning with the Contax S from East Germany, 1949), they had the first full-frame digital camera (Contax N Digital, 2002), and they launched a completely new and thoroughly modern rangefinder system (Contax G, 1994).

Contax: From an active brand to photographic history

To this day, Contax is much more than a brand name of Carl Zeiss. However, it was not always Zeiss who actually invented or made Contax products. To the best of my knowledge, they still own the brand name, but several Contax products were made by Yashica (and, consequently, Kyocera) — first the SLR cameras and later also most of the lenses. “Made in Germany” became rare on Contax products.

Often, it was Contax, not Leica, that innovated

The history of Contax would fill a small series of articles on its own, so it may suffice to say that Contax was an interesting brand all through its active years from 1932 until 2005. And they were quite a thorn in Leica’s side. Several times, Contax was ahead of Leica in terms of innovation, and even Leica’s domain of optical excellence was challenged. In this respect, it is almost ironic that it was conservative Leica who survived the upheaval of the camera market triggered by the digital revolution and not the more progressive Contax.

The Contax G is so much more modern than the M6

What has remained are many Contax products that were top-notch in their day. This is true for many components of their second SLR system, with the Contax RTS cameras as their flagship bodies and the Contax/Yashica (C/Y) mount lenses. And this is even more true for their G system of rangefinder lenses and cameras with a fast metal-blade shutter, autofocus, automatic exposure and a rangefinder that zoomed. 

Contax G1
It was an attempt to come back to the rangefinder market: Yashica/Kyocera launched the G1 camera and several lenses in 1994 and an improved G2 two years later – only to discontinue it just nine years (and a digital revolution) later (image by John Shingleton).

More and more, Contax Planar and other lenses are becoming orphans

Unfortunately, repair for the electronically advanced Contax G cameras is becoming increasingly difficult, and the number of working Contax G cameras is diminishing. Read here what John Shingleton wrote about this topic on Macfilos back in 2017. The same is, to a lesser extent, true for SLR bodies with C/Y mount. What remains is orphaned lenses. While the SLR lenses can be used on pretty much all modern mirrorless cameras via a Novoflex or another adapter, the G lenses are a special case because they have no manual focus control on the lens (this was done electronically with a focus-by-wire system in the camera body where the motor for the AF was also located).

Two Contax Planar lenses are now fitted with rangefinder coupling

This is how we come to meet two converted lenses in this episode of The M Files. They were both fully adapted to rangefinder use; that is, they have a manual focus ring and rangefinder coupling. While the SLR-rooted Planar 50/1.4 can be easily adapted for a camera with an electronic viewfinder (think of an M240, M10 or M11 with live view or EVF, or any SL. Nikon Z, Sony, Canon R etc.), the Planar 45/2 stems from the G system and needs a more complex device of connection. As a result, the 50/1.4 is more or less an adapted lens, while the 45/2 is mechanically an all-new lens that uses only the optical cell of its donor lens.

Both Contax Planars are a nice fit for other mirrorless bodies, too

As the rangefinder conversion is the unique feature of both lenses, I mainly used them on rangefinder cameras – in this case, the M10 – and I am showing some images from these combinations. I am sure that both lenses will do a wonderful job on a Leica SL or so, and in this event, you will naturally not have to worry about correct rangefinder coupling and accuracy of frame lines. With focal lengths of 45 and 50 millimetres, a slightly thicker glass on the sensor will not impact image quality too heavily, but as always when it comes to rendering of non-purpose-made lenses on modern mirrorless cameras: The thinner the stack, the better. 

Contax, Zeiss, Planar: Three grand names

We are dealing with three well-known names in this article. As to Contax, we have seen that this once was an important brand. Zeiss still is, notwithstanding the fact that they do not manufacture all the lenses with the Zeiss name and label on them (in fact, the far biggest part is made by contract manufacturers or by way of licensing). Planar, finally, refers to a special design: Designed as early as 1897 by Paul Rudolph for Zeiss (and still owned by them as a trademark), it stands for a more or less symmetrical design of the double Gauss type of lens. In this essay (English) H. H. Nasse from Zeiss gives an excellent overview of this lens design through history. So maybe it’s enough to say here that the Planar is a very mature lens approach for standard lenses, that there are 6- and 7-element designs, and that the Leica Summicron 50 (pre-APO) is basically also a Planar design.


Carl Zeiss Planar converted to M Mount 1,4/50 T* for Contax/Yashica, conversion by Skyllaney

The Carl Zeiss Planar 50/1.4 lens for Contax/Yashica is an interesting iteration of the Planar design. The objective to combine the fast f/1.4 aperture with excellent rendering might have been the reason for adding the seventh lens. The Planar was launched in 1975, according to the lens-db website, so its design is about 50 years old. In this respect, this Planar is another shining example of the prodigious decade of SLR and SLR lens progress between the late 1960s and the late 1970s. The Planar was discontinued after 2000 when the whole RTS system with the C/Y mount was replaced by the (tragically failed) Contax N system.

Contax Planar 50/1.4: Technical data, scope of delivery, price and availability

The Zeiss-branded Contax Planar 50/1.4 is not a particularly small or lightweight lens. In fact, it is bigger than most rangefinder lenses with a length of 59mm (from mount to front, a total of 68mm) and a diameter of 63mm – all measures are given for the Skyllaney conversion. Because of the used adapter and the rangefinder coupling, the conversion is bigger and heavier than the original SLR lens. The lens came from Skyllaney in Scotland with the original, nice Contax front cap and a new, all-metal M-mount rear cap. Weight with both caps is 427 grams (25g less with a standard plastic rear cap). The lens was sold without a lens hood. I added, thanks to the advice of the incredibly kind and helpful Skyllaney owner Christopher Andreyo, a cheap third-party screw-in vented hood. 

The lens is no longer available new, and there is little chance of finding old new stock. But you might be lucky on the second-hand market from €300 upward. As the lens was made in large quantities, and there will still be many of them around. Allow another £800 for the conversion in Scotland (not necessary, however, if you do not need rangefinder coupling –  a good €150 Novoflex adapter will do) plus possible import duties if you order from the EU. So, all in all, this vintage lens is definitely no bargain.

Contax Planar 50/1.4: Optics and rendering

Lens design: The Contax Planar 50/1.4 is a straightforward design but, at the same time, represents a deviation from the standard Planar because it comprises seven lenses (instead of six; three are in the front part and four in the rear part), you can access the technical documentation from Zeiss here. Two lenses are a cemented doublet. It is, all in all, a pretty symmetrical layout and gets by without floating elements and aspheres (remember, it was introduced in 1975 and thus developed in the early 70s). The Planar has a 47-degree angle of view and is similar to many contemporary fast standard lenses. In its design, it reminds me very much of my Olympus OM Zuiko 50/1.4; unfortunately, I had no opportunity yet for a direct comparison. 

Colour drift and vignetting: With colour drift, I mean the phenomenon that parts of your digital image, normally the margins, show more or less colour cast, typically magenta or green. It mainly occurs when rays of light reach the sensor at a very sharp angle (and therefore cannot fully access the pixel wells). With a moderate angle of view, a more or less telecentric design and a reasonable distance from the back of the lens to the sensor, the Contax Planar 50/1.4 causes absolutely no trouble in this area. More notable is vignetting wide open, but it almost vanishes at f/2.8. I personally have little problems with vignetting, and if it annoys me, I correct it in Lightroom within a second. But your mileage may vary.

Chromatic aberration: The Planar draws nicely in all lighting situations, and even in tricky settings, I have so far not noticed lateral chromatic aberration. The notorious branches against the sky are in saturated black, and specular lights have no colour fringes in and out of focus. Even if you count in that the 50mm focal length has been very well studied over the decades and that 50mm is not all too complicated to design without CA, you might send a nod of approval to Carl Zeiss. They did a good job with this lens.

Sharpness: Here, we can see the design age of this lens. The Contax Planar 50/1.4 is not super sharp at maximum aperture. Fully open, it is quite good in the centre, but not great off-axis. This is a result of a general lack of contrast until f/2.8 or so, caused by spherical aberration. Resolution seems good, however, so you can use this lens from wide open at infinity as long as ultimate crispness is not required. More caveats apply at short distances. Close-up performance at 0.45 metres is not great right until you stopped down to f/5.6 in my eyes. I have the impression that my lens performs a bit better on the M10 than the one which was used for this interesting review on a Sony body.

Bokeh and flare: The Contax Planar 50/1.4 excels in flare control, even by today’s standards. The excellent T* coating of all glass-air surfaces is one of Zeiss’ best assets, and it shows all its glory in the Planar. The Planar’s contrast is hardly reduced by stray light, and — within the limitations of what was said above — the images are quite crisp even in difficult situations. The rendering of out-of-focus areas is pleasant to my eyes with a smooth and even bokeh: Here, the lower contrast at wider f-stops is, in fact, advantageous. Bright spots are evenly lit, and the “onion ring” phenomenon is almost non-existent. However, bokeh is very much a question of taste. For me, the combination of nice bokeh and great flare control makes this lens a very good choice for portraits where I do not want excessive sharpness (the people I photographed did not want to see their images published, which I have to respect). 

My verdict, optics: The Contax Planar 50/1.4 from Carl Zeiss with Contax/Yashica mount is a remarkable lens. It renders in a pretty unique way: with some softness wide open and on short distance on the one side, and crisp sharpness stopped down on the other. Insofar, it reminds me, while generally being a far better lens overall, of the Voigtländer Nokton 35/1.4 that I reviewed in Part 2 of The M Files. This double character makes the Planar a good all-rounder and obviously an interesting choice.

  • Image taken with Carl Zeiss branded Contax Planar 50/1.4 converted from C/Y to M Mount
  • Image taken with Carl Zeiss branded Contax Planar 50/1.4 converted from C/Y to M Mount
  • Image taken with Carl Zeiss branded Contax Planar 50/1.4 converted from C/Y to M Mount
  • Image taken with Carl Zeiss branded Contax Planar 50/1.4 converted from C/Y to M Mount
  • Image taken with Carl Zeiss branded Contax Planar 50/1.4 converted from C/Y to M Mount
  • Image taken with Carl Zeiss branded Contax Planar 50/1.4 converted from C/Y to M Mount
  • Image taken with Carl Zeiss branded Contax Planar 50/1.4 converted from C/Y to M Mount

Contax Planar 50/1.4: Mechanics and handling

Overall appearance: The Contax Zeiss Planar 50/1.4 cannot deny its roots as an SLR lens. It was obviously not designed to be very small. Also, the position of the aperture ring near the mount is unusual for a rangefinder lens (they have the aperture ring normally towards the front). Both rings are equipped with a rubber surface to improve grip. The lens has a standard 55-mm filter thread. More remarkable: The Skyllaney adapter for M mount includes the rangefinder coupling, and it is permanently linked to the Contax lens. In this combination, the whole adapted lens looks very coherent. 

Build quality: The lens was once built to very high standards, and as Contax was used by discerning amateurs in the main, many of the lenses were spared the hard everyday life of the professional photographer. So you have a good chance of finding a copy in very good condition. Add to this the immaculate build quality of the Skyllaney adapter, and you hold a lens in your hands that oozes quality. There is no reason to think that a converted Contax Zeiss Planar 50/1.4 with as good a lens as its basis will not last for decades.

Focusing: The Contax Zeiss Planar 50/1.4 has a large focusing ring over its whole diameter without a tab or other marking. It has an exceptionally long throw of 225 degrees, so you can adjust it very precisely (and the rangefinder coupling supports these finest adjustments). The rangefinder coupling of my copy is super precise, and Christopher told me that they check each and every converted lens thoroughly at Skyllaney. They are doing a great job here, and you probably want to keep this in mind when contemplating the price for such a conversion. As frequent in non-genuine M-Mount rangefinder lenses, the close focus limit is far under 0.7 metres. With live view or an EVF, you can focus down to 0.45m which results in a maximum magnification of around 1:6.7.

technical illustration Contax Planar 50/1.4technical illustration Contax Planar 50/1.4
Be prepared to incur quite some viewfinder blockage with the massive Planar 50/1.4, here with the accessory vented hood, left at infinity, right at close focus (with parallax compensation).

Viewfinder: Being quite long and massive in diameter, the Contax Zeiss Planar 50/1.4 has a considerable amount of viewfinder blockage, even despite not using large parts of your Leica M viewfinder due to its narrow-ish 47 degrees angle of view (diagonal). Be prepared not to see everything in the bottom right corner of your image. It’s worse in the close focusing range because the lens is longer when set to, say, 0.7 metres. The design has internal focus, so the front ring will not rotate. That’s very good if you are using an accessory vented hood or a polarizing filter.

technical illustration Contax Planar 50/1.4technical illustration Contax Planar 50/1.4
It is better without a hood, but viewfinder blockage is a problem also with the naked Planar 50/1.4, here at close focus.

My verdict, handling: If you have no problems with a somewhat bigger and heavier lens and if you can live with some viewfinder blockage (not entirely unusual for an experienced rangefinder user, but uncommon for a 50mm lens), the Contax Zeiss Planar 50/1.4 is a joy to use. It radiates high precision and can be used intuitively. A very well-made donor lens and an outstanding conversion combine to form a real gem.

  • Image taken with Carl Zeiss branded Contax Planar 50/1.4 converted from C/Y to M Mount
  • Image taken with Carl Zeiss branded Contax Planar 50/1.4 converted from C/Y to M Mount
  • Image taken with Carl Zeiss branded Contax Planar 50/1.4 converted from C/Y to M Mount

Contax Planar converted to M Mount 50/1.4: Alternatives

When speaking of a 50/1.4, the immortal 50mm Summilux will surely come to mind. Leica’s take on the fast fifty has set milestones for decades, and the latest iteration is still one of the most amazing lenses the company ever made. I remember Leica’s chief optical designer Peter Karbe once calling it one of his favourites ever. It has aspheres, floating elements and all the bells and whistles – and it is a significant step beyond the Double Gauss (aka Planar) design. 

But there are some more options. Voigtländer offers a modern 50/1.5 with aspherical technology that is very compact and quite affordable. Zeiss has the 50/1.5 Sonnar in their ZM lens line-up. It will be reviewed later in The M Files series, but I can tell already that it is a lens with strong character, to say the least. Another 50/1.4 is the one from TTArtisan about which I can not say anything yet. 

Contax Planar converted to M Mount 50/1.4: The bottom line 

The Contax/Zeiss/Yashica Planar 50/1.4 lens is far from being a boring standard lens. I fully agree with Hamish Gill and not only on this point. This Planar combines good (and, stopped down, excellent) sharpness with a unique rendering. I find the bokeh very pleasing and superior to the later Planar designs. Flare resistance is remarkable for a lens of this age. At Skyllaney, they obviously know why this very nice vintage lens is a conversion candidate for them so often, and they perform the adaption to M Mount in a truly outstanding way. If it weren’t for the size of this lens and the resulting finder blockage, I would rate the Planar 50/1.4 in the Skyllaney conversion ideal for all lovers of classic lenses, which at the same time still deliver to today’s standards. You rarely get this mixture of vintage rendering and optical excellence. 


Carl Zeiss Planar 45/2 T* for Contax G, converted by Funleader

The original Carl Zeiss Planar 2/45 T* to call it by the name engraved in the front ring for once, was the standard lens for Yashica/Kyocera’s new Contax G system and launched with the G1 camera in 1994. According to the system philosophy, it was an auto-focus lens, and the manual setting was done by wire on the camera body. So, it had no focus ring but at least had a manual aperture ring. It is a six-lens design and new formula compared to earlier Planar lenses. It was available until the sudden death of the Contax G system in 2005, when Kyocera stopped all their photography-related activities.

Contax Planar 45/2: Technical data, scope of delivery, price and availability

The Contax Zeiss Planar 45/2 T* from the G system is clearly a rangefinder lens. It was small in its original outfit and is still, even after the Funleader conversion. As I understood, these Chinese technicians bought 300 new old stock G lenses and converted them. However, they also offer the housing with the focusing helicoid and rangefinder coupling alone ($539) just in case you already have such a Planar 45 and want to do the conversion by yourself. Judging from Funleader’s manual, this is no job for the faint-hearted. In the end, in any event, you will have a “Contax G 45mm/f2.0”, as the new front ring says.

The converted lens is 41mm long (with the rear part that protrudes into the camera body 48mm) and has a diameter of 56mm. It weighs 355g as in my bag (that is, with original caps, the front one being a beautiful and somewhat heavy slip lid from machined metal, the rear one a non-branded copy of the standard Leica rear caps). The lens comes without a hood, but a third-party screw-in 46mm vented hood might do the job (I saw no need to buy one). 

The lens is available in black — and sometimes also in a beautifully looking silver finish – for $1,199 online directly from Funleader. Bad news if your home currency is (as of writing) the weak Euro, and you will have to add 6.7 per cent EU import duties and finally VAT (in Germany 19$, but it varies in other countries), so you will end up at around €1,500. And don’t assume your parcel with go through customs unnoticed; this is unlikely. Again, also this Planar is everything else than a bargain. 

Contax Planar 45/2: Optics and rendering

Lens design: The Contax Planar 45/2 is a true Planar design with six lenses in four groups. It is quite symmetrical, with three elements in front of the diaphragm and the other three behind. The inner lenses are joined to doublets to reduce the number of glass-air surfaces. Neither a floating element nor aspherical technology is used. The design of the Contax Planar 45/2 is very similar to that of the current Carl Zeiss Planar 50/2 from their ZM range. However, the 45  offers a slightly wider angle of view with 51.3 degrees (Planar 50 ZM: 47 degrees). We will come back to this kinship in a minute. For technical details, you can refer to Zeiss’ data sheet here.

Colour drift and vignetting: Despite its origin as a rangefinder lens which is not restricted to the constraint of an SLR with a big mirror, the Zeiss engineers designed the Contax Planar 45/2 without a rear lens that is very close to the film. This is an advantage now in digital use. The rays of light reach the pixel wells at more or less a right angle over the whole image surface. So, there is no problem with colour drift (see the paragraph in the review of the Contax Planar 50/1.4 above if you are not familiar with colour drift). Vignetting is visible wide open but never annoying. Stopped down, it vanishes.

Chromatic aberration: I didn’t see much. In very high-contrast situations, I would expect some visible but not annoying CA. The 20 years older and a full stop faster 50/1.4 was already so good at this that I would not worry about chromatic aberrations. However, the younger ZM Planar 50/2 does show some CA, as you can see in Part 5 of The M Files.

Sharpness: This is where the Contax Planar 45/2 excels. It has excellent contrast and resolution. Thanks to this combination, the lens will give you very sharp images that are rich in detail. If you want, you can see a special kind of three-dimensionality. Claus Sassenberg reviewed the 45/2 in the Funleader conversion of Messsucherwelt with some quite scientific testing, and he also comes to a very favourable conclusion. I did not encounter field curvature issues as they are described in this review, but this may be caused by differences between the converted Funleader lens on an M camera and the adapter solution on a Sony body. I would say the Contax Planar 45/2 comes close to the almost biting sharpness of the ZM Planar from f/4 or so and is very good from wide open. Impressive!

Bokeh and flare: Flare, to start with, is extremely well controlled in this lens. I think this is the merit of the T* coating. The optically quite similar Leica Summicron 50 Version 4 and 5 is more susceptible to flare. Ghost images and veiling I was not able to produce. So good is this lens in terms of contre-jour and stray light abilities that it never crossed my mind that I should use a lens hood (you would need a third-party product). On the other hand, bokeh is not great in images taken with this lens. The super high contrast and maybe even over-correction leads to very busy bokeh where the out-of-focus areas are by no means smooth or unobtrusive – quite the contrary, the unsharp areas can be distracting. 

My verdict, optics: The Contax Planar 45/2 is a modern lens with outstanding sharpness and great overall and micro contrast. It renders with great precision and is almost free from optical failures. It is a very good choice, especially for landscape and architecture photography, where excellent resolution and great flare control are essential. For other fields of photography, above all portraiture, it is not optimal due to very busy bokeh and almost aggressive sharpness. 

  • Image taken with Carl Zeiss branded Contax Planar 45/2 converted from Contax G to M Mount
  • Image taken with Carl Zeiss branded Contax Planar 45/2 converted from Contax G to M Mount
  • Image taken with Carl Zeiss branded Contax Planar 45/2 converted from Contax G to M Mount
  • Image taken with Carl Zeiss branded Contax Planar 45/2 converted from Contax G to M Mount
  • Image taken with Carl Zeiss branded Contax Planar 45/2 converted from Contax G to M Mount
  • Image taken with Carl Zeiss branded Contax Planar 45/2 converted from Contax G to M Mount

Contax Planar 45/2: Mechanics and handling

Overall appearance: The Contax Zeiss Planar 45/2, originally made for the G system, is a beautiful lens, to say the least. It is kind of delicate, and you feel that the optical cell was designed to be small (it’s a genuine rangefinder lens, after all). The focusing ring is designed with the scalloped pattern we all know from older Leica lenses (and from the current Summilux 50 in a special edition). The focus ring has a very small amount of play before it starts to move the lenses. The aperture ring is a bit narrow, especially for big hands, but otherwise very nice. It travels very smoothly; the clicks are not very prominent. The lens has a 46mm filter thread which, practically, is a standard for many Leica lenses.

Build quality: The Contax G lenses had a good reputation for mechanical quality, but it is hard to assess how much of this made its way into the converted lens (the optical cell is original but, of course, entirely re-housed). The new casing of the lens, however, is beautifully crafted by Funleader. It is an all-metal design that seems to reach the highest standards you are used to in rangefinder lenses. Also, the labelling of the aperture and focus rings and depth-of-field scale is very precise (the red figures for imperial measures are a bit dark and not so easy to read in low light).

Focusing: With a focusing throw of about 90 degrees, the Contax Zeiss Planar 45/2 is still quite precise to focus. I generally prefer a longer throw in a 50 because precision is more important to me than speed. But the Funleader proposition will appeal to many, and rangefinder users will not miss the original minimum focus distance of 0.5 metres of the original Contax G autofocus lens (another advantage of the vanished G system). The rangefinder coupling of my lens is spot-on for all distances, but I noticed that my copy focuses minimally beyond infinity. If you have objects that are some hundred metres away and are shooting wide open, you have to watch out for this.  

Viewfinder: The lens is small enough not to block the viewfinder of a standard 0.72 Leica M at infinity. However, there are no 45-millimetre frame lines, obviously. The lens allows the marking for 50/75mm lenses which is fine for me and certainly more useful than the 35mm frame lines would be. I found a good way of composing my image with this lens: I use the 50mm lines and frame my subject very tightly. The result will be a photo that has a bit of room around what mattered to me.  

Of course, there are no 45mm frame lines in a Leica viewfinder. The 50mm markings (outer frame) will do if you just compose tightly. Viewfinder blockage is no problem; left at infinity and right at close focus.

My verdict, handling: The Contax Zeiss Planar 45/2 in the Funleader conversion is a joy to use. If you get along with the 45mm focal length (51.3 degrees diagonal angle of view), it is wonderful to handle. Compared to the original Contax G lens, it lacks the auto-focus but is saved for decades of manual use on rangefinder and (via adapter) other mirrorless cameras. Its mechanical quality conveys the feeling of a long-time and sustainable investment that will not be challenged by digital rot.

  • Image taken with Carl Zeiss branded Contax Planar 45/2 converted from Contax G to M Mount
  • Image taken with Carl Zeiss branded Contax Planar 45/2 converted from Contax G to M Mount
  • Image taken with Carl Zeiss branded Contax Planar 45/2 converted from Contax G to M Mount

Contax Planar converted to M Mount 45/2: Alternatives

In fact, I know of no other M-Mount lens with exactly the specs of the converted Contax 45 available right now. Too exotic is this focal length. A sound alternative is, however, the Zeiss Planar 50/2 from their ZM series. Its optical design is very similar and so are its virtues. You may want to read more about this superb rangefinder lens in Part 5 of The M Files. I would even go so far as to say that the Planar ZM is the better choice with respect to price and availability. 

If you tend to the wider side, a 40 mm lens might be interesting instead of the 45/2. I can absolutely recommend the tiny and unspectacular Minolta M-Rokkor 40/2. It is similar to the older Leica Summicron 40 that was launched with the analogue Leica CL camera back in the 70s, but the Rokkor has the advantage of a more modern coating. This one was covered in Part 9 of The M Files. Other 40-millimetre lenses are available from Voigtländer, but I never used them. 

If you are in for a go-everywhere lens and look for a true standard (and standard-setting) optic, you might want to consider Leica’s Summicron 50. The two latest pre-APO versions, known as Typ IV and Typ V, have the same optical design from 1979, and they offer great image quality (albeit more prone to flare than the more modern Zeiss/Contax/Funleader 45). Another choice is the Voigtländer 50/2 APO which I reviewed in Part 14 of The M Files.

Contax Planar converted to M Mount 45/2: The bottom line 

The Contax/Zeiss/Funleader Planar 45/2 reminds us of what was sacrificed after the discontinuation of the Contax G line. This was a rangefinder system on a very advanced and technologically super-modern level. The 45-millimetre f/2 standard lens is an optical gem, and it is somewhat comforting that its legacy is continued In the Zeiss Planar 50 ZM (we have to hope this line has a future). If it weren’t for the lack of 45mm frame lines in Leica rangefinder cameras and if obtaining this lens were not somewhat difficult, I would nominate this as the perfect standard lens for a rangefinder camera. It is compact, super sharp, virtually flare resistant, has decent bokeh (albeit probably the only discipline in which it could really be better) – and it has this beautiful angle of view which makes it more versatile than a 50 without imposing the challenges of a 35 on the users. 


Contax Planar lenses by Carl Zeiss: Conclusion

Contax and Leica — a love story at last? No, if you look at the activities of Leica and Zeiss. Leica, of course, have no need to deal with dead systems, but they also show ever-diminishing interest in going the Contax way by developing lenses that bring optical excellence at an attractive price point (did I ever write that I miss the Summarit line?). Well, if their fanbase is big enough to sell 3000 Euro plus lenses exclusively, Leica need not indeed bother. 

Where will Zeiss go with their photography activities?

Zeiss, on the other side, do not seem to put much emphasis on the photo division or at least not on their ZM line (which can be seen as the rightful successor of the G system lenses). Maybe they just feel no need to do something for Leica customers after discontinuing the modern Zeiss Ikon film camera (maybe it would be a good idea to re-enter this market, given the vibrant film renaissance, the hype around an m6 remake and the existence of a great line-up of rangefinder lenses). 

Anyway, we can be content that there are some folks around who help arrange a marriage between the two rivals. Skyllaney and Funleader cannot be sufficiently thanked for bringing Contax and Leica together. They created two unique lenses that are different in many aspects yet similar in the quest for quality and craftsmanship in the conversion itself. The results are two lenses which will easily grow on their users. 

Contax Planar choice: Which is better?

It is very hard to tell which of the two lenses is “better”. Both have their specific signature, which is not the worst you can say about a lens. If I were to decide, I would go for the Contax Planar 50/1.4 because it has more character and because it is a fine addition to my other modern lenses. This, however, does not mean that the Contax Planar 45/2 is an inferior lens. In fact, it is in many aspects closer to technical perfection than the older 50/1.4.

Finally, I must pay tribute to the designers and craftspeople at Skyllaney and Funleader. They had the courage to try something new. Well done, indeed. And just let’s hope they find sufficient donor lenses in good condition to produce conversions in the future. It would make me sad if anyone reading this were denied a great extension to his or her kit only because one of the converted lenses was, even after patient waiting, no longer available. 


The M Files 

The M-Files series reviews cameras and lenses that are equipped with the M bayonet without actually belonging to the Leica M system. Of this ongoing project, all parts so far are available in English exclusively here on www.macfilos.com:

  1. Introduction to the M Files series
  2. Voigtländer Bessa R4M with Voigtländer 35/1.4 and 21/4
  3. Konica Hexar RF with Konica 50/2
  4. Rollei 35 RF with Sonnar 40/2.8
  5. Zeiss Ikon with ZM 25/2.8, 35/2.8 and 50/2
  6. Bessa T with Voigtländer 35/2.5 and 15/4.5
  7. Leica CL with Leica’s compact 40/2 and 90/4
  8. Minolta CLE 40/2, 2,8/28, 90/4 and several 21mm wide-angles
  9. Conclusion: Measuring the rangefinder world
  10. Encore: It does not always have to be Leica – my top lens recommendations
  11. Distagon revisited — the Zeiss ZM 18 and 35-millimetre lenses
  12. Zeiss again: Three more ZM lenses (2,8/21, 2,8/28, 85/4)
  13. Three lenses from Konica – M-Hexanon 28, 90, and the sensational M-Hexanon Dual 21-35
  14. Voigtländer APO: 35/2, 50/2, 90/2.8 – the attack on Leica’s heart
  15. Contax Conversions: Carl Zeiss Planar 50/1.4 (ex SLR) and 45/2 (ex G system) for M Mount (this article)

Die M Files auf Deutsch

Die M-Files sind eine Serie über Kameras und Objektive, die mit dem M-Bajonett ausgestattet sind, ohne direkt zum Leica-M-System zu gehören. Alle Teile der weiter anwachsenden Reihe sind neben der englischen Version auch in deutscher Sprache auf www.messsucherwelt.com erschienen:

  1. Einführung: Worum es in den M-Files geht
  2. Die Weitwinkel-Expertin: Voigtländer Bessa R4M mit Voigtländer Nokton II 35/1.4 und Color-Skopar 21/4
  3. Die moderne Messsucherkamera: Konica Hexar RF mit M-Hexanon 50/2
  4. Ein großer Name: Rollei 35 RF mit Rollei Sonnar 40/2.8
  5. Design trifft auf Tradition: Zeiss Ikon mit Carl Zeiss Biogon 25/2.8, Biogon 35/2.8 und Planar 50/2 ZM
  6. Der Messsucher-Sonderling: Voigtländer Bessa T mit Voigtländer Heliar 15/4.5 und Color-Skopar 35/2
  7. Die andere Leica: Leica CL mit Summicron-C 40/2 und Elmar-C 90/4
  8. Das unterschätzte Innovationspaket: Minolta CLE mit Minolta M-Rokkor 2,8/28, 40/2 and 90/4
  9. Zusammenfassung: Die Vermessung der Messsucherwelt
  10. Zugabe! Gedanken zu Nicht-Leica-M-Objektiven und eine persönliche Top-5-Hitliste
  11. Zeiss Distagon ZM – Liebe auf den ersten und den zweiten Blick
  12. Zeiss ZM zum Dritten: Die Objektive 2,8/21, 2,8/28 und 4/85 für Leica-M-Bajonett
  13. Konica M-Hexanon 28, 90 und das sensationelle 21-35 
  14. Voigtländer APO 35, 50, 90 – Stich in Leicas Herz?
  15. Contax auf Leica: Carl Zeiss Planar 50/1.4 (ex SLR) and 45/2 (ex G-System) für M

12 COMMENTS

    • You’re welcome, Richard. I am glad you enjoyed the reading. That’s the intention of the M Files: giving practical advice to the few who are really affected by the issue, and offering some entertainment for all the rest, combined with a few pictures ideally from less known areas as well as bits and pieces of knowledge with very limited utility value but great for nerd talk. JP

  1. Thanks Jörg- Peter for another excellent article. I still own the Planar 50mm f1.7 and the original Contax 55mm P-filter that goes with it. It was not my most used lens with my Contax 139. I tended to use the Sonnar 85 f2.8 and Distagon 35mm f2.8. As for my Contax G equipment I sold my 2 bodies and 28mm Biogon and 35 &45 Planar to finance my M8 and Leica lenses. The 45mm is a stellar lens. I’ve shot hundreds of family portraits with this 45mm. It’s a wonderful all rounder lens. Aesthetically and technically the silver version was the best and sexiest looking lens with its dedicated silver lenshood and cap I’ve ever owned. It’s a pity Contax (Kyocera/Yashica) stopped producing cameras and lenses. They were excellent and sturdy little machines. A Contax G digital camera would have been a success and they already had a good number of lenses that covered most of a photographer’s need with the Biogon 21 mm, the Hologon 16mm and the Sonnar 90mm, the Vario-sonnar 35-70 and the traditional 28,35 and 45 mm lenses.
    Looking forward to the next episode of the M series

    Jean

    • Thanks, Jean,

      for your ever kind feedback. I know you have a Contax past, but I am only reading now that it extends to the SLR system. The Planar 50/1.7 is, as far as I know, a very good choice for mirrorless full frame cameras. If you have no need to sell it I would advise you to keep it.

      And yes, I do understand all the mourning over Contax. The G system could have had a bright future. In 2005, it was already clear that this future would be full frame digital (in fact, Contax/Yashica/Kyocera even had the first full frame digital SLR ever!), and a digital body for the G system arguably would have been easier to develop than a digital M. However, Kyocera literally fled the photographic market, leaving behind disappointed customers. A pity indeed, especially because they already had most of the lenses that would have been needed as you are pointing out.

      The M Files will go one, but at a slower pace. Maybe I manage to write one more big article for this series in this year. But some other stuff is under way, too. So stay tuned!

      Jörg-Peter

  2. Jörg- Peter, you have been busy testing this unusual combination of kit. The results look promising if you have a need for such lenses. For many years I used Carl Zeiss lenses on a Hasselblad system, so I am aware of their excellence. Thank you for your fascinating feature.

    • Dear David, thank you for your feedback. This is now really the niche within then niche within the niche, but I found it fascinating. Glad to read you felt the same. And yes, the Zeiss lenses for Hasselblad are excellent to this day. JP

  3. Great review of the Contax Planar lenses modified to fit the Leica M mount. I bought one of the first 50mm f1.4 Planars that Skyllaney was selling with the rangefinder mount. I love it – sure it’s bigger than an M lens, but I always liked my Contax lenses when I had a Contax RTS way back when they first came out. I plan on keeping it with my M10 for as long as possible. Skyllaney does a great job on the mod.

    • Thanks, Steve, it’s good to hear that there is another enthusiastic user of the Contax/Skyllaney lens. I agree to all you are writing – only that I have no Contax past (apart from a T3 that I foolishly sold), but a very good friend of mine has. I was in the Olympus camp back then. JP

  4. Thanks for the interesting article and its always good to see classic lenses getting a second lease of life. Out of curiosity I looked at Contax G2 prices on eBay and was astounded at the prices. Film photography with something like a Contax G2 is certainly not a low cost option.

    • Hi Tom, I really like the “second lease of life” you mention. There are so many lenses from the 1970s and 1980s around that are far too good to be thrown away. In this respect, the new mirrorless cameras with their adapting abilities are great. As to Contax – there seems to be a collector’s scene by now. Even the Planar 50/1.4 and 50/1.7 lenses for C/Y are quite expensive as compared to Nikon, Canon, Pentax or Olympus lenses. The 50/1.4 is, however, worth the money. JP

  5. Excellent review of both these classic lens formulas. The rendering differences between the two I think you have nailed right on the head also. Its good to read your optical impressions of each lens, as I’ve always felt the two Planars have more of a Summilux to Summicron relationship when put each through their optical paces.

    I cant wait until your 50mm C-Sonnar review, with your observations on how that one compares optically to these two 🙂

    • Thanks, Christopher, not only for this kind feedback but much more so for the terrific job you are doing at Skyllaney. I will continue to use the Planars, and I will certainly have a lot of fun with them. I hope you can continue to make these wonderful conversions for a very long time. As to the C-Sonnar, some patience will be needed however. There are some other episodes of The M Files that come first. But you might like them also. Greetings to Scotland, JP

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.