Comparing an assortment of CONTAX Zeiss lenses at minimum focus distance

For this test I wanted to see how my current collection of CONTAX Zeiss lenses compared at minimum focus distance. This will give you a sense of the focal lengths, lens compression, bokeh, and other characteristics while choosing a CONTAX Zeiss lens. No images have been corrected or modified in any way.

For this test I have sheepy in front of a miniature Christmas tree. He never moved for the test.

First up is the 28mm f2.8

CONTAX Zeiss 28mm f2.8 at MFD & f2.8

Followed by the 50mm f1.4

CONTAX Zeiss 50mm f1.4 at MFD & f1.4

Followed by the 28-85mm f3.3-4

CONTAX Zeiss 28-85mm at 28mm & MFD & wide open.
CONTAX Zeiss 28-85mm at 85mm & MFD & wide open.

Followed by the 100mm f3.5

CONTAX Zeiss 100mm f3.5 at MFD & f3.5

Followed by the 135mm f2.8

CONTAX Zeiss 135mm f2.8 at MFD & f2.8

Followed by the 80-200mm f4

CONTAX Zeiss 80-200mm f4 at 80mm & MFD & f4
CONTAX Zeiss 80-200mm f4 at 200mm & MFD & f4

Followed by the 180mm f2.8

CONTAX Zeiss 180mm f2.8 @ MFD & f2.8

Followed by the 300mm f4

CONTAX Zeiss 300mm f4 @ MFD & f4.

What conclusions can I make from this?

For starters, the 50mm f1.4 seems to give a very pleasing rendering, which is able to capture enough of the sheep, while also melting away the background. The zoomable 28-85mm f3.3-4 has a fairly poor minimum focus distance at 28mm, meaning I couldn’t isolate the sheep, and ended up getting much of the couch in the photo; however, it does a more pleasing job at 85mm.

Surprisingly, the 80-200mm f4 can get closer at 80mm than it can at 200mm, and our winner in the tight crop department has to be the 180mm f2.8, I could only get the head in the frame at MFD. The 300mm f4 has the most compression, no surprise there, but it’s not able to blur the backgrounds like the 180mm f2.8 or the 50mm f1.4.

Let me know your thoughts below!

Contax Zeiss 100mm f3.5 Resolution

Contax Zeiss 100mm f3.5 @f8

I often find that I grab the 100mm f3.5 because of its light weight, small size, and outstanding image quality. The lens is amazing wide open. I stopped down here because I still had enough light to do so and wanted to get all of the water from the fountain in focus. If you click on the image above you’ll notice the amount of detail this lens resolves. The image is downscaled for the web. I’m going to do some night street photography with the lens to show how f3.5 isn’t as bad as you would think in the dark if you’re able to manage your lighting appropriately, and use flash where necessary.

I’m always astounded by the resolving capabilities of this small lens. Sure it’s rather slow by modern prime standards but I’ll take f3.5 for its small size. It’s the kind of lens you can just keep in your camera bag for whenever you need it. If I was shooting serious portraits I may opt for a 1.4 lens but I wouldn’t keep a behemoth of a lens like the sigma 105mm f1.4 art in my bag all of the time, and I like the bokeh of these Contax lenses more anyway. There has been this push to always blow out the background of portraits instead of using proper lighting to isolate the subject. It’s kind of a lazy way of going about photography. I’d rather manage my backgrounds, manage my lighting, and shoot with these vintage lenses.

Contax Zeiss 100mm f3.5 For Macro Photography

I’m not sure how many extension tubes I’d have to add to actually get the lens to 1:1 for true macro photography; nonetheless, you can definitely add an extension tube and come out with some great results. Here is a flower shot I took with an 18mm extension tube attached to the lens.

Contax Zeiss 100mm f3.5 @ f8 with an 18mm extension tube. Unedited.

Below is a crop of the stamen:

Contax Zeiss 100mm f3.5 @ f8 with an 18mm extension tube. Unedited. Cropped.

The colors are excellent, typical Zeiss straight out of the camera. The black areas are deep and specular highlights have no chromatic aberration. Excellent detail. I’d be happy using this combination anytime I need to get a bit closer to the subject. Without the 18mm extension tube the lens has a minimum focusing distance of 3ft. With the 18mm extension tube it brings it down to roughly 21 inches, a little less than half the distance.

My makeshift MFD measurement:

XQD card holder next to tape measurer at minimum focusing distance.

I used ImageJ to make a new MFD calculation. I knew the XQD card that fits in the card holder has a long edge of 38.5mm. Using the inside edges of the plastic I was able to set the pixel to mm ratio in ImageJ and obtain a cross sectional measurement of the full image, and then divided by 35mm. That puts the MFD of this lens with an 18mm extension tube at 1:3.98. Basically 1:4. Certainly not macro. If someone would like to download my image and check my math that would be great. I may make another post actually getting the lens to 1:1 with enough extension tubes but I’m not sure how usable the images would be.

All-in-all, I definitely will be using extension tubes with this lens because the images produced are outstanding. They’re not macro but they’re a lot closer than the 1m (3f) native MFD of the lens.

Update: I added another extension tube (11mm) for a total of 29mm, and a new MFD of 1:3. I’d like to get even closer but my other extension tubes are for Nikon F-mount so I have no more to stack. The image is still nice and sharp since extension tubes don’t really add aberrations. They will decrease the amount of light hitting the sensor by a good amount depending how many you use, but that’s math for another day.

CONTAX 100mm f3.5 with 29mm of extension tubes.