Photography Blog

Initial Impressions of the CONTAX Zeiss 35-70mm f3.4

CONTAX Zeiss 35-70mm f3.4

When thinking of a standard zoom from CONTAX, it’s usually the 35-70mm f3.4 that people rave about. I’ve always shot with the 28-85mm and never really understood the lure of the 35-70mm. After shooting with it for a few days I’ve come to learn a few possible reasons for its highly regarded reputation. The first is the lack of corner light falloff, or vignetting. Take a look at the top corners of the image below shot at 35mm:

Contax Zeiss 35-70mm f3.4 @35mm & f3.4

Notice the complete lack of light falloff? Now take a look at the top corners of the 28-85mm f3.4-4:

CONTAX Zeiss 28-85mm f3.4-4 @ 28mm & f3.4.

As you can see, the 28-85mm has a great deal of light falloff in the corners. At 35mm the differences are less noticeable. Personally, I’d rather have the extra on the wide end and just correct in post.

As I continue to review this lens I’ll do some comparisons to figure out if one lens is sharper than the other. The 35-70mm f3.4 is definitely smaller and lighter. It’s the lens I would walk around with all day, while the 28-85mm is starting to exceed the size of what is comfortable for a day hike.

Left: 28-85mm f3.3-4. Right: 35-70mm f3.4

I enjoy the extra zoom range of the 28-85mm but the extra weight of it has me often going for the lighter 35-70mm f3.4.

Here’s another shot from the 35-70mm f3.4:

CONTAX Zeiss 35-70mm f3.4

Typically Zeiss colors and contrast, although the above image is getting a bit dark towards sunset. This is another issue to consider when adapting a vintage lens to your mirrorless camera, metering may not always be perfect, and if you stop down the lens, the lens is stopped down right away, thus allowing less light for the camera to figure out the proper metering. None of this is a problem if you shoot in manual mode, and even in aperture priority the cameras usually does a good job at properly metering the scene.


One interesting aspect of this lens that sets it apart from the 28-85mm is the macro section of the zoom ring. If you’re zoomed out to 35mm and turn the focus to minimum, you’ll be able to go further than minimum and into the macro range. This adds the additional versatility of not only having focal lengths from 35mm to 70mm, but also macro capability. Below is shot at minimum focus distance while in macro mode:

CONTAX Zeiss 35-70mm f3.4 at Minimum Focus Distance. 35mm @f8.

The colors and detail at macro distances are outstanding.

CONTAX Zeiss 35-70mm f3.4 at Minimum Focus Distance. 35mm @f3.4

Check back for the full review coming shortly. As of now, this is turning out to be an outstanding vintage lens.

Micro Contrast of CONTAX Lenses

Micro Contrast, or microcontrast, or tonal range, measures the ability of a lens to resolve shade variations. There has always been a debate whether micro contrast actually matters, or even exists at all. These debates typically also involve discussions of “3D pop” and “Zeiss rendering”. Over the years I’ve come to realize that some people perceive micro contrast and color differently than others. I can clearly see differences in micro contrast between lenses, while many cannot. Many do not realize that when they argue for, or against, micro contrast, what they are really arguing about is people’s ability to distinguish shades of color, which varies person to person. That being said, let’s talk a bit about the micro contrast of CONTAX Zeiss lenses.

I’ve always found something special about Zeiss glass. Whether it’s the coatings Zeiss uses, the optical design, the number of elements, or the end goal set upon by the lens designers, Zeiss glass, at least for me, has always outperformed competitor lenses. Even Zeiss Glass going back to the 1950’s. So why is this?

Take a look at this piece of driftwood I recently shot with the CONTAX Zeiss 100mm Makro Planar:

Shot with CONTAX Zeiss 100mm Makro Planar and Nikon z6 with adapter.

While there’s nothing special about the composition of this photo, it shows the level of micro contrast capable with the 100mm f2. For some elusive reason, there’s that “3D pop” to the image.

Over the past 20 years or so, there has been a push towards sharper and sharper lenses, and the removal of any and all chromatic aberration. While this may be great for MTF charts, it can end up having negative effects on the more indescribable aspects of a good image. This could be caused by the increased number of elements in modern lenses, and lens manufactures choosing sharpness above all other aspects of a lens.

Lack of vignetting – CONTAX Zeiss 100mm f2 Makro Planar

Unedited. Shot with the CONTAX Zeiss 100mm f2 Makro Planar on Nikon Z6

I’ve been using the 100mm f2 for the past few days and have been blown away by its performance. The image above is a test shot to assess any corner vignette. As you can see, there really isn’t any. Some of the zoom lenses from CONTAX will vignette quite heavily, the 28-85 comes to mind, but certainly not this prime. The images from this lens are as close to perfect as I’ve ever seen.

CONTAX Carl Zeiss 100mm f2 Makro Planar Wide Open

CONTAX 100mm f2 Makro Planar shot wide open at f2. Rowing team on a lake in Massachusetts.

I believe this lens to be pretty close to optically perfect. Colors and contrast are outstanding, even wide open. This image is scaled down for the web. The only edits were converting from RAW to JPG and downsizing. This is just a test shot, review to come shortly. I’m very impressed with this vintage lens so far.

CONTAX Zeiss 100mm f2 Makro Planar

Today I acquired the CONTAX Zeiss 100mm f2 Makro Planar and adapted it to the Nikon Z6 using the KIPON C/Y to N/Z adapter. Review to come shortly.

There is always healthy debate online as to which focal length is best for portrait photography. I’ve used the newer Zeiss 135mm f2 APO for portraits and find it to be outstanding. I’m curious to see how this 100mm f2 stacks up against the newer Zeiss glass. I tend to use 50mm and 85mm for portrait work for a stronger 3D feel and less subject compression. I’m curious to see if I can learn to love the 100mm focal length. Obviously this lens can handle much more than just portraiture.

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 50mm f1.4 vs Nikon 55mm f1.2

This is a quick comparison showing the minimum focus distance of the CONTAX Zeiss 50mm f1.2 to Nikon’s 55mm f1.2. The vintage 55mm from Nikon has been my go-to “Nifty 50” for quite some time. I’d really like to see how it stacks up against the 50mm from CONTAX.

Minimum Focus Distance of CONTAX 50mm f1.4

I’m really impressed with the close focus distance of the CONTAX lens. Here it is at MFD wide open at f1.4:

CONTAX Zeiss 50mm f1.4 @f1.4 and minimum focus distance.

Minimum Focus Distance of Nikon 55mm f1.2

Nikon 55mm f1.2 @1.2 and minimum focus distance.

I’m really impressed with the CONTAX 50mm f1.4. I would have assumed that my Nikkor lens had a better ability of blurring the backgrounds as an f1.2 lens, but the ability of the CONTAX lens to get closer to the subject actually gives it more background blur. Here are the two images side-by-side:

Nikon 55mm f1.2
CONTAX Zeiss 50mm f1.4

The Nikkor lens appears warmer in this example but that’s not typical from what I’ve seen. It may just be the light through the window changing.

First Snow of the Year. CONTAX 28mm f2.8

Contax Zeiss 28mm f2.8 @f11 ISO 100 1/250s

January 7th and this is the first real snow of the year in Northern Maryland, and just a few inches. I’ve been using the 28mm f2.8 a lot for landscapes lately. Contrast and color is great. The lens will flare if pointed directly towards the sun. I managed to get this photo without any flare.

Shooting Landscapes with the Contax 28mm f2.8

I’ve been walking around with the Contax Zeiss 28mm f2.8 for a little over a month. I can easily say this has become my go-to landscape hiking lens. It’s small enough to not be bothersome on long hikes, and the image quality is superb.

A landscape image shot with the Contax Zeiss 28mm f2.8 lens.
Contax Zeiss 28mm f2.8 @ f11.

The image above is from conservation land in my town. I chose f11 because of the depth of this scene and wanting to have most of it in focus. The lens exhibits typical Zeiss colors. I did find the image much warmer at f11 than at f2.8. The image below is wide open at f2.8:

Contax Zeiss 28mm f2.8 @f2.8

The above images were shot within seconds of each other. Notice how much cooler the second image is at f2.8. I shot a few images at both f-stops to confirm this effect. ISO for both images was 100. The f11 image was shot at 1/1600s and the f2.8 image was shot at 1/125s. My guess is that the sensor of my Nikon Z6 chose interprets scenes differently based on the amount of light entering the lens. Keep in mind that with no mechanical or electronic connection to the camera, this lens was at f11 during metering, instead of stopping down after metering, the way a modern lens would. The warmer colors of the f11 image is how I saw the scene while taking the photos.

Corner sharpness isn’t great at f2.8. See image below:

Contax Zeiss 28mm f2.8 Corner Sharpness @f2.8

Center sharpness is great. These corners aren’t looking great at f2.8. They’re also out of focus so not the best test.

Below is an image at f8:

Contax Zeiss 28mm f2.8 @f8

While corner sharpness isn’t great at f2.8, I’m not really in the habit of shooting landscapes at f2.8, and much prefer f8 and higher, and that’s where this lens shines for landscapes.