Carl Zeiss Jena Pancolar 50mm F1.8 “Zebra” | REVIEW

Carl Zeiss Jane Pancolar 50mm F1.8 is a bit of a cult classic. I have one in MC version as part of my “Jena” set and used to have a Zebra version also, but never got around to shooting any proper test footage with it, so I was quite excited to see Chema Mumford post his review on our facebook group. Great footage, useful info, so I knew I had to share it with you guys. We had a little chat about this lens and below is out combined take on the Pancolar 50mm F1.8 “Zebra”.

BUILT QUALITY

Carl Zeiss Jena Zebra lenses look great, but as far as built quality goes, they are not the most solid and yet thanks to their simple, fully metal construction, they will survive bigger abuse than most modern lenses could. There aren’t many things that go wrong with these lenses, although watch out for a stiff focus rings (grease used in these lenses clearly wasn’t the best) and loose springs in the aperture rings (I’ve had to “fix” one of the springs on mine because aperture wouldn’t open/close properly). The positive side of having to open up the lens was the discovery of how incredibly easy it is to de-click it! In short, you just need to remove a few screws at the back, get small ball bearing out and you’ve got de-clicked aperture!

USABILTIY

Apart from the easily de-clickable aperture ring, this lens has some other features that are very useful for video, including the long focus throw, which is about 320°. The closest focusing distance is just 0.35m which is great for any 50mm prime lens and will allow you to get some very nice close-ups with this lens. Pancolar 50mm was made in a few mounts, with M42 being the most common one and I recommend that you buy it in M42 to spare yourself any compatibility/ adapter headache.

IMAGE QUALITY

While Zeiss “Jena” lenses are not as respected as Zeiss “Contax”, these 50mm Pancolar primes are actually very good and very highly regarded amongst the people who have tried them! This lens is usable even wide open and of course get’s better as you stop it down; by F2.8 it’s perfectly sharp! Some of the earlier Pancolar Zebras even had radioactive Thorium elements inside, which were suppose to improve the image quality. Both mine and Chema’s copies were manufactured at the later dates, so we didn’t experience and positive (or negative) effects of Thorium 😀

Zebra & MC primes next to each other

CHARACTER

The “Zebra” Pancolar lenses have a nice and simple single coating, which results in more adventuress vintage character including slightly lower contrast and stronger purple flares as opposed to more vibrant and punchy images produced by the later multi-coated MC version! One interesting characteristic of this lens is the big color shift as you stop the aperture down. There are many factors that can determine the reason for such shift, including the camera and ND+IR filters used in Chema’s main video review. To take the filters out of equation, I asked Chema to shoot another test without filters. The results are below, so you can judge it for yourself.

SPECIFICATIONS

  • Mounts: M42, Exakta, Praktica Bff
  • Filter Thread Size: 49mm
  • Minimum Focus Distance: 0.35m
  • Focus Ring Rotation: 320°
  • Aperture Blades: 6
  • Made in East Germany

PROS

  • Quite sharp
  • Great character
  • Long focus throw

CONS

  • Not the cheapest 50mm F1.8
  • Not the best built quality
  • Single coating characteristics can be undesirable
Jan’s PL mounted 20mm 25mm 35mm 50mm 135mm set
Tim’s beautifully cine-modded 20mm 35mm 50mm 135mm set

CONCLUSION

Carl Zeiss Pancolar 50mm F1.8 is not for everyone, but fans of old-school, low contrast look will love this lens. It’s also a great base for a “Zebra” set, like the cool Jan Czmok‘s and Tim Ursuliak‘s sets (above) as well as Frank Glencairn‘s Medium Format Zeiss Zebra Set. if you are about to start building a vintage lens set, I’d recommend picking this lens up and seeing if this look might be for you! Lastly big thank you to Chema Mumford for providing all the visual content for this review!

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