Carl Zeiss Planar 2/45 – Contax G
The Carl Zeiss Planar 2/45 was manufactured from 1994 until 2005. It was the kit lens of the illustrious Contax G series of cameras. Known for their sharpness and lack of distortion, all Planar 45mm lenses were manufactured in Contax G mount for the Contax G1 and G2 cameras. Both these cameras were manufactured by Kyocera, who bought the illustrious Contax brand. The Contax G cameras are actually very interesting cameras: high-end auto focus rangefinders in a Titanium body. The Contax G cost over $2000 when equipped with the 45mm Planar.
- Corner-to-corner sharpness
- Flare resistance
- Built quality
- Almost no distortion
The Carl Zeiss Planar 2/45 was the “kit lens” of the Contax G series of cameras. Nowadays, when you say “kit lens” you immediately think about a cheap, plastic 50mm f1.8 feeble little lightweight lens that will satisfy you for its first 24 hours of its existence and will thereafter spend the rest of its life in a shelf before dying a long and painful fungus death. But hold it – this is the Carl Zeiss Planar 2/45 we are talking about here: a lens from another century, made when quality still mattered, and it truly is an excellent lens that really ticks all the boxes. This is no surprise when you consider the noble heriate and lineage this 45mm lens comes from: the Planar formula. For a full in-depth history of the Planar, check out this article.
First of all lets start with the construction: most Carl Zeiss Planar 2/45 have a titanium grey finish. It looks super cool and neat. Aperture settings feel quality and have clicks. The lens is a joy to use and hold. It feels very well made, yet at the same time does not weight a tone. It is actually rather compact and small – which is surprising when you think that it uses an auto-focus. In terms of size and handling it feels closer to a Leica Summicron 35 or 40 than any modern 50mm kit lens. And that, in my book, is a very good thing!
After a few shots, the first thing you will notice is: this is one super sharp puppy, even when shot at f2. I mean the images are just razor sharp and ooze details gallore. This is probably one of the most impressive aspects of the lens. Even wide open it does not show any weaknesses. Open up that aperture on most lenses and things go south quickly. They become mushy, they lack details, images turn out flat and lack contrast. Not so with the Carl Zeiss Planar 45/2. It just stays a very strong performer. I am not only talking about center sharpness here. Corner sharpness is also incredibly good. There is no vignetting, no falloff. This lens was really very well made – or shall I say computed. In terms of sharpness the Carl Zeiss Planar 2/45 is really a top performer. No wonder they did not bother adding a 50mm lens to the lineup – the Planar 45mm really makes this option obsolete.
Which brings me to the next point: the Carl Zeiss Planar 2/45 is super versatile. 45mm is a bit of a weird focal length indeed but it also offers you the option to have a bit of a wider angle of view, yet it still close enough to 50mm so you can use it for portraits without your subjects looking distorted like a helium balloon. Of course the lens feels more at ease with nature, street and landscape shots but a quick portrait is also feasible.
Throw the decent minimum focusing distance of 50mm into the mix and you have one sexy weapon for most of your photographic cravings.
The great overall optical performance is rounded of by the lack of distortion, good contrast and flare resistance. It really is hard to take a horrible looking image with the Carl Zeiss Planar 2/45. If you want a lean lens performing on a consistently high level, something versatile that you can use for a lot of different situations, the Planar 45 is really worth looking into!
- No manual focusing ring
The price for this lens keeps going up my friends! I was lucky enough to get a copy a few years back for around USD100. Nowadays most copies go for around 300 to 500 USD. That is a bit stiff for a “kit lens”.
A part from the pricing there really only are two things I do not love about this lens. And both are not the fault of the Planar 45. First of all: there is NO focusing ring. This does not matter if you use the Carl Zeiss Planar 45 as it was intended to be used: on the native Contax G cameras. There, the camera took care of the focusing for you, and it does it very well. But for those who wish to adapt this lens on another camera it is a rather painful experience. Up until rather recently it was almost impossible to find a suitable and usable adapter, but now various brands offer very competent adapters – both for manual and autofocus on non-native cameras. I use the adapter from Fotodiox and it was very easy to focus quickly and get great shots. You have to get used to using a protruding focusing ring, but after a bit of exercise it goes rahter smoothly. For more information on Contax G adapters and Contax G lenses, check out my review.
Finally, from a vintage lens perspective, this lens really has a modern look. The Contax G series is probably the last camera I would still consider as being vintage (and even that is bending it a bit). The lens is close to perfect, has all the modern coatings and goodies most current lenses also have. If you are looking for that dreaded word: character – 45mm Planar is probably not for you. This also shows in the bokeh: it is not harsh but also not mind-blowing. It does the job well. Separation from the subject works well but there is also nothing that really makes it pop-out. Don’t get me wrong – the Planar 45mm is a great lens and if I have to deliver images for a client I would not hesitate using it. Yet the images turn out a bit too neat and sterile. To me it feels like the end of the classic lens line: the Planar 45mm is a modern lens.
If you are looking for a similar lens – something between a fifty and a wide angle, that is fast, compact, sharp and easier to use – a good alternative is the Leica Summicron-C 40 f2.
Carl Zeiss Planar 2/45 Versions for Contax G
- Made in Japan
- Aperture: 2 – 16
- 6 elements in 4 groups
- Aperture blades: 6
- Weight: around 190 grams
- Minimum focusing distance: 50cm
The lens formula did not change throughout the production run. The short retrofocal space allows for a quasi-perfect symmetrical design without demanding much compromise.
Most lenses have a titanium grey lens barrel with T* coated glass. Some, rather rare lenses with an all black finish also exist (if you have this lens and could share some images, please get in touch). The aperture is set directly on the lens barrel. There is no option to set the focus directly on the lens, as natively this was being taken care of by the Contax G camera.