Carl-Zeiss Pancolar 50mm f1.8 M42 Zebra: a classic never to betray you

Geeks have their fads. The Apple i-Cult. The Thinkpad cult among the laptop crowd. The Lomo hipster addicts. I am afraid Carl-Zeiss zebra acolytes also form a community I am gradually being sucked into. The Tessar 50mm f2.8 obviously allured me to the Carl-Zeiss obsession, so jumping into the first opportunity to lay my hands upon the Pancolar 50mm f1.8 was logical. The price tag was a bargain, around USD 70.

My copy is in a mint condition but had no caps. Rumors have it that some of the copies (reaching somewhere after the 800000 serial No) have been manufactured through usage of radioactive elements, in order to improve light performance; yet mine is above the 87k range, so would not expect to get radiant results. At least in the physical sense. But I am able to date it. That serial number range appears to have been produced between 1967-70. For lenses to exceed the age range of many of my friends around me, look remarkably well. The construction is solid, all metal and black plastic. The aperture blades are 6 (I know that the earliest version has 8), but enough for a circular bokeh – creamy and fantastic! – against the street light in the evenings when wide open. The aperture closes down to 22. A very pleasant feature is graduation of stops between the marks of f1.8 and 2.8: there are two of them, possibly f2 and f2.3. The aperture ring rotates very lightly, which for me, being accustomed to the firm clicks of the Pentax lenses, gives an unusual feeling.

The only defect of my copy is that the aperture blades appear somewhat sticky above f11 and close down relatively slow until f22. Anyway, I rarely shoot above f4, so would not feel the pain of it. The lens have the M42 mount with both automatic and manual options, changed through a switch. Contrary to the Tessar I have, this switch is a slide, which moves from one direction to other and spares the effort of needing to keep it manually pressed all the time, which was one of the main drawbacks of the Tessar. The focus throw is long, my preferred option. One of the most attractive features is the close focus distance: around 35cm, which is not as near as the Exakta 24mm that I have, neither a true 1:1 macro, but makes it very suitable for objects shooting. The colours are mild and natural, not of the top contrast ones. Sharpness at f1.8 is not something that you’d be impressed with, but above that rocks. Ergonomics are superb, a true pleasure to handle, the filter thread takes 49mm diameter ones, which is the standard one of most of the Pentax lenses I have.

If you can find one, grab with no hesitation. Nobody makes such jewels anymore.