Thread: CONTAX ZEISS: LIKE SUPERSPEEDS

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  1. #1 CONTAX ZEISS: LIKE SUPERSPEEDS 
    Senior Member Nick Morrison's Avatar
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    Stumbled on this interesting old post from Mitch Gross in 2005, where he compares Contax glass super favorably to Super Speeds. It looks like he owned a set once, though I think he's since sold it:

    I have a set of Contax Zeiss lenses that ARE the same as the SuperSpeeds. 35mm, 50mm &85mm all at T 1.4 and a 135mm at T2.1. I'm out of town at the moment but I will try to remember to check these lenses when I get home to give you more details.
    And here's another post from Bryan Drysdale, where he mentions that Aaton mounted Contax glass was often used alongside S16 Zeiss primes. Pretty cool:

    The Zeiss Contax lenses are extremely good and are pretty similar look wise to Zeiss cine lenses. They were modified to Aaton mount for shooting Super 16, often used in combination with the 16mm Super Speed Distagons.
    I've come to recognize the unique look of Contax glass, the way they flare, and definetly noticed a similar look in Moonrise Kingdom, which was shot on S16mm Zeiss SuperSpeeds.

    Good to know this isn't all in my mind. These old lenses, some of them made as far back as the 70s, have a unique charm that I'm growing very fond of. The AE's in particular, made from the mid 70's until 1984, really have this look. They flare great.

    (The MM's (from 1984 to 2005) color match with the AE's, but resist flare a bit more, and trend a wee bit more modern, with a tad bit more contrast, but it depends on the lens too. You'd have to pixel peep to notice the difference sometimes. The MM's also don't have the famous ninja-star. Generally only the AE's do. Also, when the MM's flare, you are more likely to get a purple Zeissian "splotch". Whereas the AE's tend to flare, almost bloom, very white and evenly. Looks great.)

    In my mind I'm almost visualizing the AE's as "Mark 1s", and the MM's as "Mark 2's/3s".

    Modern glass is awesome too, don't get me wrong, but I think I'm digging what Mark Toia would call "crap" lenses. 30 year old "poo" indeed!
    Last edited by Nick Morrison; 08-30-2012 at 08:32 PM.
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  2. #2  
    Senior Member Stephen Williams's Avatar
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    They are pretty much the same, however there are more lenses in the Contax line up than SS

    Quote Originally Posted by Nick Morrison View Post
    Stumbled on this interesting old post from Mitch Gross in 2005, where he compares Contax glass super favorably to Super Speeds. It looks like he owned a set once, though I think he's since sold it:



    And here's another post from Bryan Drysdale, where he mentions that Aaton mounted Contax glass was often used alongside S16 Zeiss primes. Pretty cool:



    I've come to recognize the unique look of Contax glass, the way they flare, and definetly noticed a similar look in Moonrise Kingdom, which was shot on S16mm Zeiss SuperSpeeds.

    Good to know this isn't all in my mind. These old lenses, some of them made as far back as the 70s, have a unique charm that I'm growing very fond of. The AE's in particular, made from the mid 70's until 1984, really have this look. They flare great.

    (The MM's (from 1984 to 2005) color match with the AE's, but resist flare a bit more, and trend a wee bit more modern, with a tad bit more contrast, but it depends on the lens too. You'd have to pixel peep to notice the difference sometimes. The MM's also don't have the famous ninja-star. Generally only the AE's do. Also, when the MM's flare, you are more likely to get a purple Zeissian "splotch". Whereas the AE's tend to flare, almost bloom, very white and evenly. Looks great.)

    In my mind I'm almost visualizing the AE's as "Mark 1s", and the MM's as "Mark 3s".

    Modern glass is awesome too, don't get me wrong, but I think I'm digging what Mark Toia would call "crap" lenses. 30 year old "poo" indeed!
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  3. #3  
    Senior Member Nick Morrison's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stephen Williams View Post
    They are pretty much the same, however there are more lenses in the Contax line up than SS
    Hey Stephen, your're absolutely right! It's one of my fave things about the Contax line. There are so many lenses to choose from. They made tons. There are lots of odd balls.

    The Sonnar 100 3.5 comes to mind. Many still lens enthusiasts consider it possibly the sharpest Contax prime of the lot. At 3.5 and f4 it is supposed to even smoke the venerated 100 f2 Planar.

    The 45 2.8 pancake tessar is another oddball.

    The 85 2.8 Sonnar is a VERY CLASSIC design that reaches back to the 50s. Very sharp. My West German AE copy probably flares the best of all my set.

    The 16 2.8 fisheye is pretty cool.

    The 500 f8 Mirotar (Mirror Lens) is a riot. Though Yashica made a pretty similar model (that I own) that some say is just as good, or possibly better.

    The 28 2.8 MM --> got upgraded from it's AE cousin, and at 5.6 to f8 is supposed to be untouchable for sharpness, and is well regarded for lansdcapes.

    The 35-70 3.3 zoom --> similarly, is regarded as off the charts sharp stopped down as well. Used for lanscape photography a lot.

    The 50 1.7 Planar --> the poor man's 50 is actually SHARPER then the 1.4 lens wide open. It's rumored that the MM's are sharper, and that in particular the last batch of MM's with serial numbers starting with 8 are the sharpest of the lot. Would have loved to have seen how these performed at the SALT test, as I know the ZE/ZF 50 1.4 was a disappointment wide open. I wonder if the 1.7 would have done better, and better represented?

    The list goes on, and on.
    Last edited by Nick Morrison; 07-11-2012 at 09:51 AM.
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    Forgive my ignorance, but what's "AE" and "MM" (rather, how do you tell the difference)?

    I've been thinking of dipping into f1.4 (it's not t1.4, right) Contax Zeiss glass, but I'm driving blind when it comes to what works and what doesn't... Are all Contax-branded lenses Zeiss (like the G and N series)? Are they all full frame (or at least the ~APS-H of mysterium-x)? I'm assuming they need adapters to work with the EOS/EF mount; are there any that are better than others?

    I've seen Contax Planar T* that I assumed were Zeiss, but they're fairly cheap (~$250) so I wasn't sure. If you're saying visually they look like Super Speeds (although I'm guessing they breathe like crazy and only have a limited focus rotation), that's pretty awesome. I'm looking for lower contrast glass that's more flattering to skin tones than manual Nikkors.
    Last edited by Mike P.; 07-11-2012 at 08:46 PM.
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  5. #5  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mike P. View Post
    Forgive my ignorance, but what's "AE" and "MM" (rather, how do you tell the difference)?

    I've been thinking of dipping into f1.4 (it's not t1.4, right) Contax Zeiss glass, but I'm driving blind when it comes to what works and what doesn't... Are all Contax-branded lenses Zeiss (like the G and N series)? Are they all full frame (or at least the ~APS-H of mysterium-x)? I'm assuming they need adapters to work with the EOS/EF mount; are there any that are better than others?

    I've seen Contax Planar T* that I assumed were Zeiss, but they're fairly cheap (~$250) so I wasn't sure. If you're saying visually they look like Super Speeds (although I'm guessing they breathe like crazy and only have a limited focus rotation), that's pretty awesome. I'm looking for lower contrast glass that's more flattering to skin tones than manual Nikkors.

    Here is a pretty good website that describes the compatibility of most Contax lenses: http://www.pebbleplace.com/Personal/Contax_db.html
    Also here is a link to the best Canon to Contax mounts: http://www.leitax.com/Zeiss-Contax-l...n-cameras.html

    The bulk of the lenses are made for 35mm still film so they will cover full frame, tho you'll want to watch the mounts and definitely avoid the N mounts.

    The AE and MM distinctions basically indicate the age of the lens and where it was constructed. AE is older and made in Germany. MM's were newer and made in Japan...though under very close specs to the originals. By all accounts the AE and MM's perform nearly identical to each other although there are very slight differences in the coatings. The easiest way to tell are the serial numbers (AE's usually start in 5)...and the highest number on the aperture ring (f22 etc) is usually green with the MM's. I have mostly MMJ's (5 lenses) with a sixth being 28mm AE and the construction and imaging are to close to call.

    Lots of options, but generally you'll want the faster lenses of the bunch...especially on the wider end.

    Here are the popular choices:

    18mm F4
    21mm F2.8
    28mm F2
    35mm F1.4
    50mm F1.4
    85mm F1.4
    100mm F2
    135mm F2 or the F2.8

    The wider/faster lenses are more expensive...maybe $900-1500 each in good condition.
    The mounts are about $70 per lens.
    Duclos conversion and lens check is $250 each.

    My set is near mint and cost me about $7500-8000 all-in including the mounts and conversion. The image quality is excellent and I've used them as a b-set on a couple bigger budget national commercials and a few still shoots already with no issues.

    Another option is Leica R glass...which is excellent and can be had for similar pricing, however it is much more rare and difficult to assemble a set quickly.
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    I wouldn't be able to afford Lieca glass; my rough estimate is that I could get Contax glass converted and EOS mounted for about the same price as just the lieca glass (e.g. $850 for 85mm 1.4, plus $100 Leitax, plus $250 Duclos... which I may not do, since I could probably declick myself and would only use them for personal projects, is $1200.) Tough call...

    What's gives (objectively) better skin tones; Leica or Zeiss? I was under the impression that Zeiss, in general, resolve better and give better gradients in contrast, but the Leica look insanely good right out of the glass (subjectively more beautiful). Being that I'll be colour correcting everything anyway, and shooting to REDlogFilm, I feel like a lot of the Leica-look would be wasted. Also, I kind of prefer having the sharpness in the raw images, as I can always tone it down if it's too sharp looking (filters or even blur)... whereas I'd rather avoid digital sharpening if it's slightly soft...PLUS, I know I'll be shooting wide-open for night exteriors, so theres that to consider too. Since this is stills glass, and not cineglass, I'm thinking even the sharpest stuff won't be "cineglass" sharp anyway.
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    check this video DP shot with Scarlet and Contax lenses. at 0:12 bokeh looks weird to me
    is it same on all contax lenses?
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  8. #8  
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    OH YeAh, ninja star bokeh is a property of, *I think* AE (the older) Contax Zeiss lenses. Don't take my word for it, it could be the other way around. Plus I think it's only specific to certain lenses (wider ones?)
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    Senior Member Nick Morrison's Avatar
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    Hey guys, here are some answers to questions, some gentle corrections, and some general notes. I'm thinking I should write up a "Contax Zeiss: Survival Guide" to give the whole forum a cheat sheet? Answer everyone's questions at once.

    Here's a stab at these first:

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike P. View Post
    Forgive my ignorance, but what's "AE" and "MM" (rather, how do you tell the difference)?
    The AE's are older, made between 1975 and 1984. The MM's were made btw 1984 and 2005. As Paul said, you can spot an MM by the GREEN COLOR of the highest aperture number (f16, f22, etc).


    Quote Originally Posted by Mike P. View Post
    Are all Contax-branded lenses Zeiss (like the G and N series)? Are they all full frame (or at least the ~APS-H of mysterium-x)?
    All Contax branded lenses are ZEISS, yes. However DISREGARD all "G" and "N" lenses. G lenses are rangefinder (think Leica M). And N are a short lived autofocus line that are EXTREMELY EXPENSIVE to convert to EOS ($600 a pop), so they are generally not even worth the effort.

    What you want are the classic CONTAX RTS lenses (1975 to 2005) - their venerated line of SLR glass. They were the direct competitors to Leica R (1976 to 2009)

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike P. View Post
    I'm assuming they need adapters to work with the EOS/EF mount; are there any that are better than others?
    There are many good adapters. Fotodiox are ok ($15). HappyPageHK are considered the best ($90). Leitax makes a permanent mount that is spectacular ($75).


    Quote Originally Posted by Mike P. View Post
    I've seen Contax Planar T* that I assumed were Zeiss, but they're fairly cheap (~$250) so I wasn't sure.
    Contax RTS glass varies in price from $150 (the 50mm 1.7) to $10,000+ (usually, for some very exotic rare mirror lenses and telephotos)


    Quote Originally Posted by Mike P. View Post
    (although I'm guessing they breathe like crazy and only have a limited focus rotation), that's pretty awesome. I'm looking for lower contrast glass that's more flattering to skin tones than manual Nikkors.
    Actually, as Ryan Walters and Mitch Gross have also noted, and I have observed myself, there is minimal breathing. I have a zoom that breathes, which is understandable. But generally speaking most of the primes have limited if any breathing. They also have good focus throws - 180 degrees for some of the smaller lenses, and up to 270 or 360 for the larger pieces of glass.


    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Schneider View Post
    The bulk of the lenses are made for 35mm still film so they will cover full frame
    All Contax RTS lenses cover Full Frame.


    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Schneider View Post
    The AE and MM distinctions basically indicate the age of the lens and where it was constructed. AE is older and made in Germany. MM's were newer and made in Japan...though under very close specs to the originals.
    Actually, both AE's and MM's were made in Japan and Germany. It's not so clear cut. For example, the 50 1.4 and 21 2.8 were ALWAYS made in Japan. However, during the AE era many more lenses were made in Germany than in during the MM era, where more of the production was shifted to Japan. But this cross-global production is what gives us all these designations:

    AEG (AE line made in Germany)
    AEJ (AE line made in Japan)
    MMG (MM line made in Germany)
    MMJ (MM line made in Japan)


    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Schneider View Post
    By all accounts the AE and MM's perform nearly identical to each other although there are very slight differences in the coatings.
    Yes, generally Paul is right. Most of the optical designs were carried over from AE to MM w/out any change. Zeiss has only confirmed that the following lenses were officially "improved": the 25 2.8, 28 2.8, 135 2.8. Also, the 135 f2 was completely redesigned in the MM line as a special $3,500 anniversary optic.

    FYI -the MM line was created to allow for camera control of the aperture. Whereas the older AE line was designed to be completely manual. Otherwise, the AE and MM glass all color match and are extremely interchangeable. Zeiss Contax was a pro photographers line, and it was important for Zeiss to maintain optical continuity between the AE's and MM's.

    However, that being said, there are two small things that changed, visually:

    1) It's widely believed that the coatings changed, which I have certainly noticed. The newer coatings resist flare a bit more, and are a tad contrastier. However all AE and MM lenses color match 100%. I have verified that.

    2) In my experience, all the AE's have a "Ninja-Star" shaped aperture. You ordinarily only notice this shape during the first TWO stops down from wide open (so on a 1.4 lens, you notice it at f2 and 2.8). Wide open the bokeh is CIRCULAR. The next two stops it's NINJA STAR shaped. And from then on down it's HEXAGONAL.

    PS - All Contax RTS glass have six bladed irises.


    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Schneider View Post
    The easiest way to tell are the serial numbers (AE's usually start in 5)...and the highest number on the aperture ring (f22 etc) is usually green with the MM's.
    In my experience, AE's serial numbers go from 5XX-XXX to 67X-XXX. MM's take over from high 6XX-XXX's generally to 8XX-XXX. Although I have a zoom that starts with a 9!


    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Schneider View Post
    I have mostly MMJ's (5 lenses) with a sixth being 28mm AE and the construction and imaging are to close to call.
    Yeah they are designed to color match within themselves.


    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Schneider View Post
    Lots of options, but generally you'll want the faster lenses of the bunch...especially on the wider end.
    Generally true, however even some of the "slower" lenses are very interesting. For example, the 28 2.8 MM is well regarded for being unbeatably sharp between 5.6 to f11. It's well loved by landscape photographers for it's remarkable resolution. The 100 3.5 is considered by many to possibly be the sharpest Contax lens ever made. And the 135 2.8 MM is also incredibly sharp.


    Quote Originally Posted by Mike P. View Post
    What's gives (objectively) better skin tones; Leica or Zeiss?
    This is pretty subjective, it's like asking what's better, a BMW or a Mercedes. However, in my experience the older AE's, because of their softer coating, can be quite flattering on skin.


    Quote Originally Posted by Mike P. View Post
    Since this is stills glass, and not cineglass, I'm thinking even the sharpest stuff won't be "cineglass" sharp anyway.
    Only 10 years ago, Contax and Leica R's were considred some of the best (and sharpest) stills lenses in the world. Stopped down, I'm sure they could hold their own. Contax glass has certainly never been accused of being soft (at least not stopped down).


    Quote Originally Posted by Kemalettin Sert View Post
    check this video DP shot with Scarlet and Contax lenses. at 0:12 bokeh looks weird to me
    is it same on all contax lenses?
    That's the AE ninja star.


    Quote Originally Posted by Mike P. View Post
    OH YeAh, ninja star bokeh is a property of, *I think* AE (the older) Contax Zeiss lenses. Don't take my word for it, it could be the other way around. Plus I think it's only specific to certain lenses (wider ones?)
    All AE's have the ninja star. I have a 25, 28, 35, 50, 60, 85, and two 135's that all have it.
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  10. #10  
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    Well that about sums it up. Thanks Nick!
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