Carl-Zeiss Tessar 50mm f2.8: zebra moods

This time I am after something classy: the Carl-Zeiss Tessar 50mm f2.8. One of the oldest ones as a construction, the 4 lenses design has been invented in the first decade of the 20th century, and since has remained as one of the most popular types of glasses. It is also one of the cheapest of the Carl-Zeiss’ hardware. The Tessar exists in 3 versions known to me: the first one was silver, a preset type of lenses, and was the one which the Russian pancake Industar was modeled after. The second one is probably one of the most sought after of the whole line: the zebra design one, that was a semi-automatic M42 mount, and manually the aperture is closed through a dedicated lever on the side of the lenses body. The third one is an automatic M42 one, a wholly black design body that has lost its distinct zebra character. All of them are much cheaper and easy to find than the Biotar f2, that provided the design to be used by the Russians in their legendary now Helios.

I happened to obtain the zebra Tessar that simply rocks as a look and feel in the hands of the photographer. I can understand that an f2.8 for a 50mm prime does not sound quite attractive if a person is allured to wide apertures. At the same time, in the age of the thousands of ISO sensitivity of cameras, the f2.8 should not constitute an issue at all. The focusing ring revolves around a two-thirds of a full circle, which is something I love about manual focus lenses. The aperture is set at half-clicks from 2.8 to 22. The colours are very pleasant, as well as the bokeh. Although the ‘middle’ Tessar series had a 5 blades aperture, the bokeh is dense and smooth, of the type I like. For a piece of lenses produced late 60s of the 20th century, it feels absolutely amazing. Very sharp, in case you succeed to nail focus down manually. A very fascinating feature is the close focusing distance, around 30cm from the front of the lenses, which accept a 49mm filter thread. Among the negative sides I’d note the following: contrast against light might be an issue (but hey, that is the age before the SMC Pentax coating), flare does not appear as one. The most annoying thing for me is the manual aperture operation lever that needs to be closed manually each and every time you want to stop the lenses down. Given that you have a limited amount of fingers to manually focus, close the lever, measure light through lens stopped down in Pentax cameras, and only then shoot, one feels like an octopus. Some people have found a workaround: sticking a small wedge of something in the lever gap, so that it always stays pressed, and then aperture is manually stopped down without reverting back to the wide f2.8. I find that distasteful.

All photos have been shot on a Pentax K5 camera, f2.8 wide open, with ISO between 100 and 800.