50mm Lens comparison II – Overview

10 thoughts on “50mm Lens comparison II – Overview”

  1. I’m excited about this test. I also own some of them: the Tessar, Pancolar (newer black version without thoriatium and yellow tint), Planar (though f/1.7) and Helios. I use them on a Sony A6000 for portraits. Yet, I don’t know which to keep. I only tested the Tessar extensively and it’s very good in the fields, although my model produces heavy haze on bright surfaces wide open to f/4. Maybe I should get a different copy. With the Helios one really need an eye on the bokeh to avoid distraction there. I’ll continue my testing during the holidays.

    Merry Christmas

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    1. If you like clean performance, the Planar is a keeper. I really love the character the Helios brings along though, so I will keep mine.

      The Tessar was bad in all my tests so far..


      1. I used all lenses a little bit more over the holidays and it’s still very difficult to decide. All produce very good images but there’re also very little differences in every-day usage (eg. general rendering, colors). When it comes to edge-cases, there you see differences. But there’s not on single superior lens but every one has its own strengths and lows.

        For example, the Planar is super sharp wide open, which makes it very easy to focus (I open the aperture, focus manually with magnification and close aperture to the desired DOF). But OOF backgrounds can be very busy. The Helios is a great lens for portraiture with unsharp corners and nice bokeh rendering (due to the 8 blade aperture). But you always have to keep an eye on your background. It’s also not very sharp wide open, prone to veiling haze and flares a lot. However, the glare (low contrast in backlight) is quite nice. And it’s not a general purpose lens because of the poor corner performance and build quality is also nowhere near the Zeiss lenses. The Pancolar sits somewhere in-between them: not as near as sharp as the Planar wide open but doesn’t get too busy in the background and is significant larger than the others. In comparison with the others, it lacks a little bit purpose. The Tessar however has a very nice rendering, unobtrusive OOF areas, quite resistant against flare, has nice glare, nice color rendering in low light … but slow and (at least my copy) has strong veiling haze up to f/4-5.6.

        So we have the clean sharpness-king, a portraiture specialist, a character lens and a jack of all trades but master of none – for now. I have to do some side-by-side comparisons to get a more concrete feeling about colors, rendering, edge cases and stuff.

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      2. Your findings don’t overlap with mine that much. Although I agree about the bokeh rendering on the Planar, the Pancolar and Voigtländer both beat my 1.4 wide open. But I’ve heard a lot of good things about the 50/1.7 so I’d probably keep that one.

        On the other hand, my Pancolar is very compact and so far the most fun lens to use.

        My Helios is really sharp wide open, and stopped down delivers stunning landscapes, but sample variation was extreme.. And my Tessar.. Well, never mind that one.

        I’ll get two more Helioses (silver with 13 blades and a new 44-2 version) and will do a comparison of these.


      3. Yes, sample variation is an issue with these old lenses. I read, you have troubles with some of yours as well. Maybe/surely that affects the image as well.

        And the F/1,7 Planar is completely different to the F/1,4 and the Voigtlander 1.8. I bought it intentionally instead of the F/1,4. Maybe it’s also a future candidate for your list.

        I’m exited about the other Helios’ and interested to read about the differences. I just bought any copy, didn’t even know the version from memory now, and didn’t read much about different renderings of each version. Let’s see.

        I found a 13-blade Tessar the other day on eBay but very old. I also think the heavy haze on my Tessar copy is not normal (otherwise its nickname “Eagle eye” would be a joke). But I didn’t managed to figure out a proper copy (Early or later versions? Export version?). I even contacted a Carl Zeiss Jena specialized dealer on eBay but he couldn’t answer my questions too. Maybe I’m just a little bit more picky about haze, CA and flare as I don’t find it easy to remove, and am not a fan of super-thin DOF, bokeh for bokeh-reason and use them on APS-C as a short telephoto lens. For me, character and depth is much more important. Do you plan a dedicated test on depth/volume/3D-pop rendering? IMO that’s the part where the wheat separates from the chaff.

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  2. Hello. A very interesting blog. I, too, have more than a dozen normal lenses in 50, 55, and 58mm focal lengths. I very much like the Takumar 55’s especially the f2 and the f2.2 because of their special color palette. They are also very sharp. My most recent acquisition is a CZJ Tessar 50mm f2.8, a silver copy with 12 aperture blades and a 43mm filter size made between 1955 and 1958. I am very impressed by this lens, its sharpness, color and contrast, so much so that I bought a zebra copy made between 1970 and 1975 for comparison. Only five aperture blades apparently but a 49mm filter thread, and a significantly shorter minimum focus distance. All that being said, I’m writing because I have a question. You mentioned that you bought a Helios 44 and found that it had an m39 thread. My question is: can it focus at infinity? I bought a Mir 1 with an m39 thread and find it very unsatisfactory/unsharp at infinity. I am wondering if there is a different registration distance for the m39 versions of early lenses. Thank you.

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    1. Hey

      Thanks for the feedback. Would love to have a usable Tessar..
      Afaik, the registration distance should be identical for m39 and m42 (obviously LTM 39mm is much shorter) but my zebra Helios also couldn’t reach infinity.. have never tried this with the silver version, but I’ll check if I get a chance.

      If I remember correctly, there’s a way to adjust this on the lens barrel, but I’m not sure.


      1. Thanks for the reply. There are many Tessars on eBay. I would recommend the one I have with the twelve blades if you can find a clean copy. It has just a simple coating but it seems enough. I’ve only had it for a week, but it’s a favorite. (Photos on Flickr, “William Bolton – Andrew Oid”)
        My favorite lens of all time I think was an uncoated Tessar on a fixed lens Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK made in the early 60’s. It rendered light and color beautifully especially when used with a Skylight filter. If you find or remember anything more about infinity focus with the m39 lenses, please let me know and thanks.
        I have to add that while it’s easy to separate the qualities of a lens and compare them, it is the aggregate of the qualities that determines how good the shot is.
        All the best.

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  3. I just discovered that my silver Tessar has a 40.5mm filter size. (For anyone who might want to get one.) Surprisingly, a short time ago one of the Chinese eBay vendors of Tianya filters sent me a 40.5mm CPL filter instead of the 67mm filter I’d ordered. At the time, I thought, who can use this?

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