Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar 50 mm f/2.8

Introduction

In this post I want to share my experience with the Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar 50 mm f/2.8 lens. The lens was made for 35mm SLR cameras in Exacta mount, and it was introduced in 1951. Because of its success, different modifications of this lens were produced until 1990. A very prominent version is the so-called Zebra Version. The copy I am using here was produced sometimes in the years 1961 or 1962, which can be seen from the serial number. I use the lens on a micro four thirds camera: Olympus OM-D E-M10. With in-body image stabilization and focus peaking it is really easy to use old manual lenses on this camera. This is not a sophisticated technical review. It is more about fun using old lenses on modern cameras. And I want to show how amazing results are possible with such an old lens.

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Built Quality

Is great. The lens is made of metal with a silver finish, which looks like aluminum to me, but I am not 100% sure if this is really aluminum. The lens is very compact and looks tiny compared to modern lenses. It is hard to believe that this is actually a “full frame” lens. It is even smaller than M4/3 lenses, e.g. M.Zuiko 25mm f/1.8. Nevertheless the lens is very solid and appears serious. The focus ring rotates very smooth and perfectly damped. From closest focusing distance to infinity it makes a 270° turn, which makes focusing very precise. The front element doesn’t rotate while focusing. The aperture ring has stops and clicks. In the table below I summarized the most important technical details.

Focal length 50 mm
Elements / Groups 4 / 3
Closest focusing distance 0.6 m
Maximum aperture f/2.8
Minimum aperture f/22
Diaphragm blades 8
Filter size 35 mm
Weight 93 g
Length 4 cm

Optical Quality

The optical quality is not bad, but I would not say, that it is so great to go crazy for it. The lens has good sides but also downsides. Depending on what you want to do, it can be good or bad. One thing to keep in mind when using the lens on cameras with M4/3 sensors is, that the angle of view is already equivalent to a telephoto lens. Even with in-body image stabilizer, I had in some situations problems with camera shake. Not so obvious when I took the shot, but later on the computer screen it was visible.

Sensor size Angle of view 35mm equivalent
35mm full frame 46.8° 50 mm
APS-C 31.6° 77 mm
M4/3 24.4° 100 mm

Sharpness of the lens is good, but not for all apertures a constant sharpness across the frame can be achieved. Center sharpness is not good at widest aperture of f/2.8. The images are noticeably soft. It improves strongly when stopped down and for aperture from f/4 to f/11 the center is sharp. Stopped further down to f/16 and f/22 the images become softer again, but not as strong as for f/2.8.

Sharpness in the center (click image for larger view)

The sharpness in the corners is, from a technical and purist point of view, not great. But from a creative point of view, this gives images a special appearance and something to play with. Wide open at f/2.8 the corners are not sharp and very soft. Even stopped down to f/4 or f/5.6 the corners are still soft, not as bad as wide open, but still noticeable. At f/8 the corners getting sharper and at f/11 till minimum aperture of f/22 the corners are sharp.

sharpness in the corner (click image for larger view)

To get images that are sharp across the entire frame, there is only one useful aperture, and this is at f/11. On the other side, the unsharp corners at wide open apertures, can create a nice look on the images and drag the focus towards the center.

Bokeh of the lens is okay, but not my favorite one. In my opinion it is a harsh and can be disturbing in the background. Chromatic aberration is not visible. At least I could not notice it. Is a bit surprising to me that a lens without coatings has no problems with this. Probably this might be a result of the simple lens construction with only 4 elements. Flare seems to be not an issue here. In all my tests I could not see any problem with it. Also distortion of the lens is very low and not visible. A big plus of the lens are the colors. They are saturated, contrast rich and well-balanced.

Examples

Below are example photos which I took with this lens. All photos are slightly post-processed, which includes adjustment of white balance, exposure compensation, adjustment of shadows or highlights. No distortion correction was applied as well as no manipulation of the colors. All photos were scaled down for this webpage.

The following photos were taken during bright sunshine:20150611_012.jpg

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The next two photos are night shots:

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And here are a couple of photos showing the bokeh of this lens:

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And now a few miscellaneous photos taken at different conditions:

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Conclusions

The Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar 50 mm f/2.8 lens is a pretty good one. It is obviously an old lens. The optical properties cannot compete with modern lenses. Good results can be obtained, but it requires some time to get used to the lens, and to learn its strength and weakness. The photos have a look, that is hard to get with modern lenses. It is a lens for experienced users, which know what and how to do. For me it is great fun to use this lens. One reason is that it is compact and light, and with a nicer lens mount adapter, it would look really stylish on the E-M10. I also like the focal length and the results are great, but it requires patience and some work to get the shot right. It is not a lens for quick shooting. Especially focusing and setting the right aperture can be a challenge.

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4 thoughts on “Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar 50 mm f/2.8

  1. very cool review! I just bought the lens and it’s not yet arrived.
    I couldn’t find any lens review as good as yours!

    Thanks 😀

    Ps: the second last picture, of the building upwards, at what settings have you taken the shot?
    If I would guess, I’d say F11 1/1000 sec?

    Like

    1. Thanks a lot. I really appreciate your comment.
      The second last picture of Taipei 101 upwards was shot at 1/250 sec at ISO 200. I don’t remember the aperture setting, but it was probably something around f/8 or f/11.

      Like

    1. This particular lens is in Exa or Exacta mount. There are also M42 mount versions available. But I haven’t heard of a M39 mount version.

      Like

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