Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Carl Zeiss Jena DDR MC Flektogon 4/50 with Tilt Adapter mini review

Not a long ago I bought the lens mentioned in the post title along with Ukrainian tilt adapter. Having used it for several weeks I think it is time for a mini review.

Handling and build
This lens is big (as in 88mm filter diameter or thereabouts) and heavy (as in 800 g). Yet it is surprisingly easy to handle and shoot hand held with the adapter. One would have to attach a battery grip to their camera for balanced handling.

As a matter of fact, I admit I tried but couldn't detach the lens from the adapter. The fellow from Berlin from whom I bought this lens, sent me instructions, but I am not very good in all things mechanical, so there you go.

Closest to the mount is the tilt ring. The tilt range is from 0 to 8 degrees. When the combo is mounted on the camera, it can be rotated as a whole around the lens axis so as to have precise control on the tilt configuration. This adapter has clicks every 15 degrees or so.

Next is the Flektogon itself. As usual, the aperture ring is followed by the focus ring. The focus ring has almost full circle (may be 300 deg if not more) of focus throw. It is silky smooth and very convenient in use. Aperture ring has markings from F4 to F22 with distinct half stop click marks between all full stops.

With no electronic coupling, aperture ring has immediate effect. This is convenient as you can keep your camera in P-mode (my mode of choice) and as it turns out K-5 meter is reliable and accurate in this mode of operation.

With stock focusing screen F4 is sufficiently bright whereas in daylight even F16 is not too dark. So precision manual focusing is possible and actually it is not too difficult to perform.

Image quality
This is where this lens truly shines. I've read on the net opinions of people who maintain that this lens easily rivals Pentax FA Limited lenses. Since I don't do measurements, I couldn't tell for certain. Yet it is very sharp even wide open and has very pleasing OOF rendering. I should also mention that it renders minute details with great accuracy. I think some would say it has excellent micro-contrast. In my limited experience so far, images shot with this lens lend themselves very nicely to B&W conversion. They have this hard to describe look or presence in them.

Given these excellent image quality characteristics it is indeed a good candidate for tilt photography where smooth tonal gradation and smooth transition to OOF seems to be essential.

Although marked MC (Multi Coated, one might believe) this lens is obviously more prone to flare than Pentax SMC lenses. Huge front element is also a contributing factor. Yet, multi coating does work and certain degree of flare resistance is at photographer's disposal.

As for color representation the jury is still out. Most of the times it is accurate and as good as any other lens out there without any color shifting, etc. However, sometimes it would produce this strange somewhat washed out colors similar to those that I remember from old Soviet negative films. I haven't figured out yet when this happens and by what this is triggered.

Last but not least, I haven't yet noticed any issues related to high contrast areas (purple fringing, later chromatic aberrations, etc). Although I admit I don't really look for them as they rarely bother me.

All in all, the image quality of this lens is as good as any modern optic. Add to that the tilt adapter and you get a very interesting combo to work with.

On focusing with tilt
Presently I first set the tilt value and then do the rest. Specifically, with lens tilted one cannot really rely on focusing by the center and then recomposing the image. Stock focusing screen of K-5 happens to be very good for purpose of precision focusing.  

  1. A friend of mine indicated that these lenses are known to have rather weak aperture construction that is prone to disintegration over time. Mine shows no sign of such dreadful behavior.
  2. There is a bit of very fine dust just beneath the front element which as I gather is mostly little pieces of inner surfaces black paint that came off. No ill effects were noticed from this.
  3. Plastic that surrounds the tilt ring is a bit loose. No, it is not going to fall apart, but rather it can go on being rotated past 0 and 8 marks which are tilt range. As a result it could be a good idea to first set the tilt and then take the camera to the eye if shooting hand held.
Excellent lens that I would certain explore further and highly recommend you get yourself one of these two and start playing with it. 

There is more than 1,000 outstanding photos (not mine, of course) shot with this lens after this (flickriver) link.

1 comment:

Marco said...

This is interesting. I have a similar set up (Flektogon and tilt adapter) tha I use all the time on my Canon 5D.
I do also have the same issue, cannot disconnect lens from adapter. You said the fellow you bought it from sent you instructions. Would you mind sharing how too? you can email me at marco@kc.rr.com