Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar 50mm 2.8
The Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar 50mm 2.8 is a classic example of a vintage prime lens. The Tessar construction dates back to 1902 and was computed by the German physicist Paul Rudolph.The Tessar lens construction was one of the most widely used lens construction. It was used for for large format cameras, enlargers, compact cameras, twin lens reflex as well as SLRs.
Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar 50mm 2.8 is often referred to as “Adlerauge” (Eagle’s eye) due to its’ outstanding image quality and sharpness. Light and compact it can deliver very sharp images paired with good ergonomics. The Tessar lens is often available at an unbeatable low price and offers a lot of bang for the buck.
The Carl Zeiss Tessar is the classic 50mm prime lens
- one of the least expensive M42 lenses
- very light and compact
- reasonably sharp when stopped down
- solid metal construction
- short focusing distance
Very compact and light, the Tessar is a nice “all purpose lens”. With only lens elements it is one of the simplest lens construction but it does its’ job well. From landscape to artistic to portraiture photography – the Tessar is able to deliver good results.
Some people argue that it is sharper than the Carl Zeiss Pancolar 1.8 50mm lens. It is true that the Tessar is a good performer when it comes to sharpness, especially when shot above f5.6.
With its minimum focusing distance of only 35cm, it is also a nice lens to use for macro shots. The bokeh has a slight twirl to it (not as much as the 80mm Biometar), which can be very appealing for portraiture. These lenses go for about 50 dollars on Ebay and at this price it is a bargain deal.
- at f2.8 it is among the slowest 50mm lenses
- not the prettiest bokeh
- needs to be stopped down to f5.6 or above to be sharp
- soft at f4 and below
Outdoors the Tessar will perform great but indoors, when the lighting conditions are not excellent, you might get into trouble with that slow F2.8. I would rather use the Carl Zeiss Pancolar 1.8 50mm because I think that its’ bokeh is more appealing and the extra F stop does give you an advantage when you need it. Also, the build quality is not on the same level.
Carl Zeiss Tessar 50 2.8 images on full-frame camera:
Carl Zeiss Tessar 50 2.8 T on Panasonic G1 cropped sensor camera:
(images kindly provided by Robert Ryan – all rights reserved)
Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar 50mm 2.8 Versions
The Tessar lens was was first designed in 1902 and presents itself in all different shapes and sizes. It is one of the most produced lenses ever and is available with different mounts such as Praktina, M42 / Pentax Mount, EXA / Exakta mount and Icarex BM mount. Due to its’ extremely long production run as a the standard 50mm prime lens of Carl Zeiss, there are a lot of different versions of this classic lens.
As with most other Carl Zeiss lenses, the Tessar lens is available both with and without any coating. Lenses with coating are either marked “Multi Coating” or “MC” for east German production lenses. Early production lenses that were produced with a coating are either marked “T” (east Germany) or “V” (West Germany) and are more expensive.
Early f2.8 Version
The first 5cm Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar lens with f2.8 was released in February 1951 (the previous model being a f3.5). The new formula was calculated by Dr. Harry Zöllner in 1947. These lenses were manufactured for the early Contax D cameras as well as Exa cameras. The early versions are both available with a M42 as well as Exa/exakta mount. When coated they are marked with a red T. The early version is probably one of the smallest and lightest 50mm prime lenses around, weighing only 114 grams. Unfortunately the early version does not work on most adapters.
Silver “Vorwahlspringblende” Tessar
Following the early version, the Tessar lens with a “Vorwahlspringblende” was introduced. That means that the aperture is set by pressing down the aperture ring and then turning it. If you just turn the aperture ring the aperture blades will reset to the initial position. It was an all aluminium construction (silver). These older versions tend to have a longer focusing distance of approx. 50cm. At 181 grams it is also much bulkier and heavier.
The “Zebra” version is probably the most sought after Tessar version (along with the first Version). In terms of easy of use this is probably the version of the Tessar that you should look out for, along with the following all black version. It has black and silver stripes and uses “normal” aperture settings. The Zebra version is available both in M42 and EXA mount.
Late “black” Version
Some lenses are marked Carl Zeiss Tessar while others, which were meant for export, are simply marked with aus Jena T DDR. Either way, they are both the exact same lens. The only difference is that at the time of production Carl Zeiss Jena (East Germany) did not own the copyright to the name Tessar which was also being produced in West Germany by Carl Zeiss Oberkochen among others. This tends the less expensive version.
Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar 50mm 2.8 Video
Here is another short example video shot using a full frame Canon at f2.8. Note that everything is a bit blurry / dreamy with the lens wide open.