Carl Zeiss Jena Pancolar 50mm 1.8

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  • Carlini Fotograf

    Actually you are mistaken. I collect and shoot with Zeiss Zebra lenses. The Zeiss Zebra lenses contain No thorium glass at all. I have several contacts at Zeiss and they put me in touch with the Zeiss museum in Jena as well and it was confirmed to me, the Zeiss Jena factory never used Thorium glass in any of their lenses. Ive also never seen a Zeiss lens yellow, as in the case of the Asahi Pentax Super Takumar lenses. Ive owned several of those too and in those lenses the amount of radioactivity is so minimal that will not hurt you. Also the Zebra lenses are much better made then a lot of the later Jena black barrel versions, due to supply problems in east Germany in the 1970s’/80s. That was also told to me by someone who worked at Zeiss.

    • Hi Carlini,
      Thank you for your feedback. That is exactly the reason I created this blog, there is a lot of conflicting Information regarding vintage lenses and cameras, especially on this topic. So if you have any sources of references please do send them to me so that I can amend the text on the blog accordingly.

      1. Regarding the radioactivity of the lens, this is clearly stated here regarding the 50mm Zebra version (I am not sure if this is due to Thorium, any infos are welcome):

      2. Carl Zeiss lenses with a yellow tint are extremely common. I have about 30 at home with a yellow tint (and I have come accros many more, this is a well document fact among collectors). If you expose these lenses to UV rays for a longer period, the yellow tint disappears.

      3. The Zebra lenses are superb, never mentioned anything else.

      • Carlini Fotograf

        Thanks for getting back to me.. Can you post some photos of Zeiss lenses that have yellowed? Cause in my 30 years collection and shooting with Zeiss Jena lenses.. Ive never seen one. Like I said, I had several people at Zeiss deny to me that Thorium glass was ever used.

        I do see all the time the Asahi Pentax super takumar lenses that have yellowed. Ive owned several of those and all of them when held up to the light would show some small about of yellowing. But when holding the Zeiss Jena lenses up to the light, they are completely clear.

        • Alex

          I have posted it in another forum but I’m re-posting it here to help you 😉

          The first Pancolar 50mm was the Pancolar 50/2 and was identical to the Zeiss Flexon 50/2. The some design of the Flexon (6 elements/ 4 groups…6/4) was also used for the first Pancolar 50/1.8 using Thorium glass up to serial number 8552600 (from 1964 up to 1967). Then a new optical design was calculated and used using a 6/5 design and NOT using radioactive elements. The late m42 zebra Pancolars and MC Pancolars use the same 6/5 design.

          The first Pentacon 50/1.8 that was produced in Jena factories also had the 6/5 design but later produced in Meyer factories owned by CZJ anyway ….later Pentacons (version2&3) had again a 6/4 design based on the Oreston 50/1.8.

          Just to remark that Quality Control in the Jena factories after early 1970s went downhill so that will you will find late 50/1.8 Zebras with better image quality and richer colours than later MC ones 😉
          The 1Q makred ones are better constructed but quality of lens barrel is very weak in relation to Oberkochen Zeiss lenses.

          Here are the Lens optical designs from Koji kawakami site:

          Just to add since I own many Pancolar 50/1.8 that the 6/5 later ones have creamier bokeh that the early 6/4 .
          Also Pancolar >Pentacon>Oreston from my own copies…

          Also the Pancolar 55/1.4 is EVEN more radioactive that the early 50/1.8 but very expensive and rare …. they are characterized from the yellow glass

          Alex(aka Keyser Soze)

          • Carlini Fotograf

            My Zeiss lenses are all Zebra and earlier with black leatherette. I’m just trying to find out where the source of your information is coming from? Because none of them are actually from Zeiss. I also look at camerapedia and they have been inaccurate on some of their pages. That’s why I asked you if you could please post some actual Images of Zeiss lenses that have yellowed? Cause Ive never seen one. I will mention again, Ive had 3 people who currently work at Zeiss and one who is from the Zeiss Museum in Jena, Germany deny to me that Thorium glass was ever used in any Zeiss Jena lenses.

          • Carlini Fotograf

            Here is a copy of one of the emails..

          • Alex

            Don’t know what to tell you about your friend …. just tell him that there is NOT such a thing as a CZJ Pancolar 1.4/50 . A Contax/Yashica one yes !!!

            He obviously means 1.4/55 😉

          • Simon

            I believe the early Pancolar lenses used Lanthanum glass rather than Thorium.

            This radioactive glass only seems to have been used for the early Pancolars with 8 aperture blades.

          • Carlini Fotograf

            Most likely that is what Frau Schwabe meant to say. But regardless this person is the head of the Zeiss Jena museum archives and would know if Thorium was ever used in any of the Zeiss Jena lenses. Unless they are just denying it for some reason. Until you posted that photo, In 30 years…Ive never seen one with yellow glass. Here are mine… no yellow glass here.. 🙂

          • Alex

            Ofcourse there are Thorated lenses in Carl Zeiss Jena family 😀

            Here some examples :




            Lenses of C.Zeiss Jena that are Radiocative :

            Pancolar 55mm f1.4(all mounts)

            Prakticar 50mm f1.4 v1 (all mounts)

            Pancolar 50mm f1.8 “Zebra” v1 (all mounts)

            Biometar 80mm f2.8(P6)

            Flektogon 50mm f4 (P6)

            And many old Hasselblad and Ikon ones…

            I own 100+ lenses and have all Carl Zeiss books(Jena & Oberkochen) 😉

            Example this one :

            Yellow glass is NOT en exclusive indicator of radioactive glass. I own a few radioactive lenses with perfect clear glass but the Geiger meter tells me otherwise 😉 The organic glue(Canada Balsam) used to cement optical elements is the usual victim of radioactivity and prone to yellowing and it was stopped used around mid 70s .

    • Mischa Bachmann

      My Pancolar (8-bladed zebra) not only has a strong yellow tint, it also emits strong alpha and beta rays!
      Whereas my (8-bladed) S-M-C Takumar 50/1.4 only comes with a Thorium rear element, my Pancolar has both front and rear elements with Thorium glass.

      How do I know?
      I measured the glass with a Geiger counter and the radiation levels both in front and on the back are the same (around 3’100 cpm at a distance of 10 cm) for the Pancolar but vary alot for the Takumar (3’400 cpm at the rear and only 240 at the front, measured in 10 cm distance)

      Being Alpha and Beta rays, they cannot pass through several glass elements in a row without being absorbed.

      The lens cap reduces radiation by a factor of 5 too and outside my bag the radiation levels are negligible.

      Measured at 3 cm the dose equivalence is almost 30 uSv/h..
      I figure you shouldn’t be using these lenses as a looking glass too often!

      • cyberjunkie

        Are you absolutely sure that it’s Thorium glass, and not Lanthanum glass with Thorium impurities?
        Being a large format lens collector, and having read many contributions about the issue, i know that not so many lenses were made with (relatively) high radiation Thorium glass, and most were aerial lenses used during WWII and Korea wars.
        Russians had plenty of rare earth elements, so the choice of East Germany optical glasses was wider and of better quality than the West Germany ones.
        For a while Oberkhoken was at a competitive disadvantage vs Jena.
        Long ago i’ve read that the yellowing of some Takumar lenses was due to the quality of Lanthanum they used. The Lanthanum coming from a certain mine had Thorium impurities.
        The raw material used by COMECON (East Bloc) countries for the production of optical glass didn’t have the same problem.
        Never saw a russian lens with Lanthanum glass showing the slightest yellowing.
        I didn’t know of any East Germany lens either, but now i learn that one has yellowing both at the front and rear. Uncommon, generally it’s the rear only…
        I’d like to know more about the matter. It’s interesting.

        • Mischa Bachmann

          Afaik, the Lanthanum lenses are only insignificantly radioactive.

          Check out my blog article where I compared my radioactive lenses and measured the activity.

          Since the activity is significantly higher than the one of our uranium ore sample, I would tend towards actual thorium glass.

          The yellowing is caused by so-called color centers in the crystallic structure of thorium dioxide. The fact that you can “cure” the cast with exposition to light makes this quite obvious.

          • John F

            Sorry, just confused after reading lots of contradictory information on this topic… To clarify, you would say Lanthanum lenses are safer than thorium ones? I was looking to buy a CZJ Pancolar 50mm f1.8, though now I’m not sure…

          • Georg Fiedler

            i would not worry about buying a pancolar 50 1.8, as the radioactive versions are obviously very rare. if you want to be 100% sure, just buy a later black one, which never had radioactive elements.

          • Mischa Bachmann

            All these lenses (including the super Takumars and Fujinons) are perfectly safe, as long as you don’t use them as magnifying lenses or sleep with them all the time.
            The radiation doesn’t penetrate the camera body and isn’t measurable through a camera bag either.

        • Mischa Bachmann

          100% sure, yes. The lens emits very high radiation levels.

  • Alex


    Just to remark ….

    You wrote in the review :

    “The older “Zebra” lens does not have any coating”

    All CZ lenses after early 1940s have single coating(T) and of course Zebra ones from 60s. You can find CZ non-coating lenses but those are pre-WWII lenses.

    Just before 1973 you can also find unigue 3 layer coating lenses in some lenses e.x Oberkochen made CZ Planar 1.8/50 for Rollei SL35 (QBM/m42) with a very unigue element design 😉 (Ultron based)

    After that multicoating T*/MC (7+ layers) was the norm ….

    • Thanks for pointing that out Alex. I meant that these early leses are not multi coated. I rectified it in the text. ps: Rollei Planar review coming soon!

  • Alex


    I see you have many white MC Pancolars 1.8/50 and one red MC .

    Do you see any difference between them ?
    Red MC vs White MC vs 8 digit S/N MC vs 4 digit S/N ….

    I read that the red MC is more warm in colour that the white MC but neither of them is neutral but on the warm side.

    Any info will be helpful… thanks in advance !

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  • Richard Pena

    As I understand it the early 8-bladed Pancolar 50/1.8 Zebra used a Lanthanum coating — not Thoriated glass. I have both the CZ Jena and the aus JENA versions of the Zebra Pancolar/1.8 lens and both exhibit a yellowing while the 6-blade non-Lanthanum Zebra does not. Neither of my preset Tessars or Flektogon exhibit this characteristic.

    All-in-all the Pancolar 50/1.8 is a most wonderful lens and the slightly yellowed Lanthanum-based lenses render a lovely warmth to a digital image that is easily removed in post if not to ones liking.

  • peter

    I have an opportunity to purchase a 50mm 1.8 but it does not have pancolar written on the lens. Just says carl zeiss jena ddr 50 1.8 mc. Any idea what version this could be?

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  • Fred Latchaw

    radiant colours … omg…

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