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Zeiss C/Y Lenses

In the mid-1970s, Carl Zeiss (West Germany) formed an alliance with Japan-based Yashica to launch a new line of Contax SLR cameras, starting with the RTS of 1975. The cooperation involved the creation of a new bayonet mount, the CONTAX/Yashica or C/Y mount, which replaced the M42 screw mount that had been used on earlier Contax-branded reflex cameras. The C/Y mount features three claws and is relatively wide, with a diameter of 48mm and a flange-focal distance of 45.5mm. It was used both for the premium CONTAX line of cameras, as well as the lower end Yashica series. In 1983, Kyocera acquired Yashica and continued production of both CONTAX and Yashica branded cameras until 2005 when the company discontinued all its photographic equipment manufacturing.

The CONTAX cameras made good use of state-of-the-art electronics, while an extensive lineup of high quality lenses from Carl Zeiss further added to the appeal and success of the system. Zeiss optics served the need of both ordinary and special-purpose applications, and covered a range from the 16mm fisheye to the huge 1000mm mirror lens. All Carl Zeiss lenses for the C/Y mount are manual focus and most feature the proprietary T* lens coating to reduce flare.

Distagon 35mm
Zeiss Distagon 35mm f/1.4 on Sony A7s[Chuck Jones]

Over time the C/Y system evolved. Early Carl Zeiss lenses in the C/Y mount were of the AE-variety and could support aperture priority and manual. With the Contax 159 MM of 1984, Carl Zeiss introduced the MM ("multi mode") variety of its C/Y lenses, which had an additional pin that allowed the camera to change the aperture and made it possible to operate in shutter priority and program mode also. Apart from the mount, there is a small visual difference between the varieties: On MM lenses, the highest f-stop number (normally f/16 or f/22) is colored in green instead of white. Optically, there were generally no differences between the AE and the MM versions. The exceptions are the Distagon 2.8/25mm, Distagon 2.8/28mm, and the Sonnar 2.8/135, which according to Zeiss were optically improved in the MM-version. Also, the coatings on MM lenses were changed and provide for higher contrast and a different color rendering (MMs flare purple instead of green).

Ninja Star
Ninja Star bokeh[reduser.net]

Another difference between AE and MM lenses is in the shape of the aperture blades. When closing AE lenses down by 2 to 3 aperture stops, the aperture blades do no longer form a circle, but generate a Ninja-Star. This irregular shape of the aperture creates a characteristic, busy bokeh in out-of-focus areas. Some photographers find the Ninja-stars charming, others regard them as annoying. The MM-variety of the Zeiss lenses do not have this particularity and show "regular" bokeh.

As the production shifted over time from the Zeiss factory in Oberkochen/Germany to the company's facility in Oume/Japan, there are lenses marked as "Made in West Germany" and others labeled "Made in Japan". Both production locations adhered to the same demanding quality control standards and the optical quality of the lenses is the same. However, the production location is often included in lens descriptions, and the letters "G" or "J" are amended to the lens variety to distinguish four types of CONTAX Carl Zeiss lenses: AEG, AEJ, MMG, and MMJ. The German-made optics often command a price-premium among collectors.

The tables below list the specifications of virtually all Carl Zeiss lenses for the C/Y mount. In addition, Zeiss produced some lenses, about which little is known: some extremely rare optics (a night-vision 210mm f/5.6 N-Mirotar; a Tele-Apotessar 600mm f/4), some macro lenses for use on bellows (S-Planar 60mm f/2.8 and S-Planar 100mm f/4), and some lens prototypes (Tele-Apotessar 500mm f/5.6, Tele-Apotessar 800mm f/8). All CONTAX lenses can be used on Canon EOS and mirrorless cameras with the help of suitable adapters, but the lenses have to be operated in stop-down mode due to the lack of aperture coupling. Since there is no aperture control via the camera in this case, the additional aperture functionality of MM lenses is of no consequence.

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CONTAX Lenses
#  Lens
Designation
Focus
System
(type)
Lens
Construction
(elmts/groups)
Close
Focus
(m)
Filter
Type
(size)
Lens
Dimensions
(dia x len)
Lens
Weight
(net)
Used
Price
(USD)
Current
Offers
(USD)
1
 
Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 15mm f/3.5MF13 / 120.16built-in84 x 94 mm875 g1,500-2,500i
2
 
Carl Zeiss F-Distagon T* 16mm f/2.8MF8 / 70.30built-in70 x 62 mm460 g800-1,200i
3
 
Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 18mm f/4MF10 / 90.308670 x 52 mm350 g500-1,000i
4
 
Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 21mm f/2.8MF15 / 130.228285 x 91 mm515 g2,000-3,000i
5
 
Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 25mm f/2.8MF8 / 70.255563 x 56 mm360 g400-700i
6
 
Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 28mm f/2MF9 / 80.245563 x 75 mm531 g1,000-2,000i
7
 
Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 28mm f/2.8MF7 / 70.255563 x 50 mm280 g200-600i
8
 
Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* 28-70mm f/3.5-4.5MF9 / 80.506769 x 71 mm327 g300-600i
9
 
Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* 28-85mm f/3.3-4MF16 / 130.608285 x 98 mm735 g200-500i
10
 
Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 35mm f/1.4MF9 / 80.306770 x 76 mm600 g1,500-2,500i
11
 
Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 35mm f/2.8MF6 / 60.405563 x 46 mm245 g250-400i
12
 
Carl Zeiss PC Distagon T* 35mm f/2.8MF9 / 90.308670 x 86 mm740 g1,300-1,800i
13
 
Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* 35-70mm f/3.4MF10 / 100.706770 x 81 mm475 g200-500i
14
 
Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* 35-135mm f/3.3-4.5MF16 / 151.208285 x 107 mm735 g500-800i
15
 
Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* 40-80mm f/3.5MF13 / 91.205567 x 86 mm660 g200-300i
16
 
Carl Zeiss Tessar T* 45mm f/2.8MF4 / 30.604960 x 18 mm90 g300-800i
17
 
Carl Zeiss Planar T* 50mm f/1.4MF7 / 60.455563 x 41 mm275 g300-1,000i
18
 
Carl Zeiss Planar T* 50mm f/1.7MF7 / 60.605561 x 37 mm190 g200-300i
19
 
Carl Zeiss Planar T* 55mm f/1.2MF8 / 70.607780 x 60 mm500 g6,000-8,000i
20
 
Carl Zeiss Makro-Planar T* 60mm C f/2.8MF6 / 40.275566 x 51 mm260 g400-500i
21
 
Carl Zeiss Makro-Planar T* 60mm f/2.8MF6 / 40.246776 x 74 mm570 g500-600i
22
 
Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* 70-210mm f/3.5MF15 / 120.306777 x 186 mm1,145 g500-1,000i
23
 
Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* 80-200mm f/4MF13 / 101.005567 x 161 mm680 g150-300i
24
 
Carl Zeiss Planar T* 85mm f/1.2MF8 / 71.007780 x 73 mm874 g2,500-3,500i
25
 
Carl Zeiss Planar T* 85mm f/1.4MF6 / 51.006770 x 64 mm595 g400-900i
26
 
Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* 85mm f/2.8MF5 / 41.005561 x 47 mm230 g200-600i
27
 
Carl Zeiss Planar T* 100mm f/2MF6 / 51.006770 x 84 mm670 g700-1,000i
28
 
Carl Zeiss Makro-Planar T* 100mm f/2.8MF7 / 70.416776 x 87 mm740 g400-800i
29
 
Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* 100mm f/3.5MF5 / 41.005562 x 62 mm285 g250-500i
30
 
Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* 100-300mm f/4.5-5.6MF12 / 71.506771 x 143 mm925 g400-800i
31
 
Carl Zeiss Planar T* 135mm f/2MF5 / 51.507275 x 101 mm790 g700-2,000i
32
 
Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* 135mm f/2.8MF5 / 41.605569 x 93 mm585 g200-400i
33
 
Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* 180mm f/2.8MF6 / 51.407278 x 131 mm815 g200-600i
34
 
Carl Zeiss Aposonnar T* 200mm f/2MF10 / 81.80rear123 x 182 mm2,600 g4,000-6,000i
35
 
Carl Zeiss Tele-Tessar T* 200mm f/3.5MF6 / 51.806777 x 122 mm780 g150-400i
36
 
Carl Zeiss Tele-Tessar T* 200mm f/4MF6 / 51.505566 x 121 mm540 g200-250i
37
 
Carl Zeiss Tele-Apotessar T* 300mm f/2.8MF8 / 73.50rear120 x 244 mm2,730 g10,000-20,000i
38
 
Carl Zeiss Tele-Tessar T* 300mm f/4MF5 / 53.508288 x 205 mm1,200 g200-500i
39
 
Carl Zeiss Mirotar T* 500mm f/4.5MF5 / 53.50rear151 x 225 mm4,500 g7,000-12,000i
40
 
Carl Zeiss Mirotar T* 500mm f/8MF6 / 43.508288 x 114 mm795 g700-1,400i
41
 
Carl Zeiss Mirotar T* 1000mm f/5.6MF5 / 512.00rear250 x 420 mm16,500 g20,000-40,000i

CONTAX lenses FAQ

Why is CONTAX always written in capital letters?

The capitalized spelling is the way Kyocera defined and used the brand name.

How do the CONTAX lenses relate to the Zeiss ZE and ZF series?

Many of the ZE/ZF lenses seem to be based on CONTAX optical designs. The newer ZE/ZF optics have more modern lens coatings and provide for aperture coupling with today's Canon and Nikon cameras. On the other hand, pre-owned CONTAX lenses will cost only a fraction of their ZE/ZF equivalents.

Are there any special edition lenses for CONTAX?

Yes, there are some lenses that were released to commemorate important dates for Carl Zeiss. In particular, in 1982 the Planar 1.2/85mm was launched, carrying a "50 years" inscription, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Contax brand. Ten years later, a second batch of the 1.2/85 and a limited edition of the Planar 2/135mm were released to mark the brand's 60th year of existence (inscription: "60 years"). Moreover, the Planar 1.2/55mm was issued in 1996 to celebrate the 100 year-anniversary of the development of the optical formula for Planar lenses and carries a "Planar 100 Jahre" inscription. Similarly, the 100th anniversary of the Tessar lens design was celebrated in 2002 by the release of a limited edition of the Tessar 2.8/45mm lens that has a titan-colored finish and bears the inscription "Tessar 100 Jahre".

What is the difference between the Makro-Planar 60mm and the Makro-Planar 60mm C?

The Makro-Planar 60mm C has the same optical formula as the Makro-Planar 60mm, but is packed in a more compact barrel and provides for a maximum magnification of only 1:2 (instead of 1:1 for the Makro-Planar 60mm).

What makes the N-Mirotar 210mm f/5.6 special?

The N-Mirotar is a mirror lens with a built-in image intensifier that makes it possible to use the lens for black and white photography at night. Only about 40 copies of the lens were produced.

Are there any cosmetic differences between AE and MM lenses?

The highest aperture number on MM lenses is colored in green. Moreover, a few MM-varieties have a modified lens barrel. This is notably the case for the Sonnar 180mm and the Tele-Tessar 200mm.

Were any of the Zeiss zoom lenses for CONTAX produced in Germany?

Yes, both the 40-80mm and the 70-210mm zooms were produced by Zeiss in Oberkochen.

What does the Distagon family of lenses have in common?

Distagon is the Zeiss designation for wide-angle lenses that are based on retro-focus design.

What characterizes Planar lenses?

Zeiss uses the Planar designation for fast lenses in the normal to short tele-photo range. In the original Planar optical formula, the front and rear groups are arranged almost symmetrically with the aperture component positioned in between.

What are Tessar lenses?

Tessar lenses were originally composed of only four lens elements, and tend to be very compact.

What are the characteristics of Sonnar lenses?

Zeiss uses the Sonnar designation for some of its tele-photo lenses. The original Sonnar 1.5/50mm of 1932 was a modified Tessar design with seven elements in three groups.

Further Reading

The official UK website for CONTAX cameras and lenses is still online. Additional information on using CONTAX lenses for video can be found in a comprehensive guide put together by Nick Morrison. Moreover, if you are generally interested in adapting legacy lenses to modern cameras, you might also want to check out the Leica R-lens catalog, which contains optics that are comparable in quality to Carl Zeiss and can equally be used with a variety of camera systems.

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