25 Oct 2019

Zeiss ‘Contax’ Planar 50mm f/1.7, a fast, lightweight & low cost, quality prime lens

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Craig Marshall continues his series on classic Contax stills lenses that make for great video on modern cameras. This time it's the turn of the Zeiss ‘Contax’ Planar 50mm f/1.7.

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Read parts 1, 2, and 3 of this series.

With full-frame video cameras becoming more affordable, click here for our introduction to this evaluation series of the classic Carl Zeiss Contax full-frame lenses for the digital video age.

My next Zeiss Contax lens review is our first prime lens and my very first Contax lens purchase. This is a very common lens as it was a ‘kit’ lens with many SLR cameras of the era but be aware there is a highly coveted f/1.4 version of the Planar 50mm. You’ll pay a premium for the f/1.4 but, if like me, you can use a Speed Booster to adapt Contax C/Y mount lenses to your camera, you’re well in front because the f/1.4 version is just a tad soft wide open. Not so with this Planar f/1.7 version as the images here show. Make sure you download the gradable DNG images and see how they polish up with your favourite CC software!

Main Features:

  • Construction: 7 elements in 6 groups
  • Weight: 195g
  • Filter thread: 55mm
  • Angle of View (full-frame) 47 (degrees)
  • Why would I want one?
  • legendary Zeiss T* coating
  • the only Contax lens with some plastic components to ensure a very lightweight lens
  • Minimal ‘breathing’
  • Easily found second-hand and at relatively low cost!
  • Image quality compares well to the more expensive Planar 50mm f/1.4
  • You’ll get f/0.9 on your S35 sensor with a Speed Booster!

Planar 50mm-3.jpg

The Carl Zeiss ‘Contax’ Planar 50mm is your entry-level prime lens. Remarkably, for such a ‘low cost’ prime, you can use it wide open at f/1.7 where it really shines compared to the much more expensive f/1.4 version of this lens. Video camera owners with S35 or MFT sensors can reap the rewards of using a focal reducer to restore the original FF angle of view and add that extra stop without needing to resort to the much more expensive f/1.4 version.

The iris can easily be de-clicked as with all Contax lenses and the relatively small barrel extension allows use with a matte box. C/Y adapters are readily available and permanent EF mounts are also very popular for this fast, low-cost prime.

Click here to download the set of original uncompressed 3:2 format DNG files as reproduced in this review. As always, images were captured with the lens’ iris wide open at maximum aperture and at 0dB Gain (ISO 200) on the camera so you can expect even better performance when stopped down. Expect to pay around 150-250 USD for a good second-hand example of this lightweight prime lens.

Full Lens Data Sheet PDF download here.

FF vs S35 Angle of View with the Zeiss Contax Planar 50mm wide open at f/1.7

50mm alt 1_1-3-1.jpg

Image typical of those produced by the Contax Planar 50mm f/1.7

50mm alt 2_1-4-1.jpg

Image typical of those produced by the Contax Planar 50mm f/1.

Craig Marshall

Retired freelance TV commercial and documentory producer/director/camera/editor

Website: www.HDvideo4K.com

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