Using Zeiss Medium Format Lenses on Modern Cameras

It’s great to see that there are a lot of like-minded filmmakers out there who also see the benefits of vintage glass and happily use it on their professional productions. Among these is a cinematographer Frank Glencairn, who a lot of you probably already know. But if you, don’t make sure to check out his blog & twitter where he shares loads of his knowledge and informative reviews that will benefit any aspiring cinematographer. I while ago Frank wrote an amazing article about use of Carl Zeiss lenses on modern cameras, in his Medium Format ones. I wasn’t aware of this article until a few days ago when he posted some screen grabs (below) from the scenes he recently shot with his vintage Zeiss glass mounted on a BMCC.



I never even thought of using these large ( and not particularly fast?) lenses on a modern camera like DSLRs or Large Chip Camcorder, but Frank’s blog post opened my eye to a brand new level, so if you want to learn about zeiss lenses and benefits of Medium Format lenses, I highly recommend that you read what he has to say right until the very end.

So here is what Frank has to say about vintage Zeiss glass?

What I really like on those vintage Zeisses is, they got character.
Light passes modern glass and they barely leave a trace. When light passes those vintage primes, they leave a distinct signature. Not what everyone wants, but I love it.
I use them religiously on the HVX200/Letus adapter combo and now on the 5D (he now uses them on his BMCC).

They have an amazing cinema focus throw, almost no breathing and a extremely cinematic look and bokeh.



So what Zeiss Jena glass should you buy?

After World War II, the Zeiss lens factory in Jena setup up a new factory in Oberkochen, and that factory now produces Zeiss optics for high-end cameras, among many other things.

Zeiss Jena optics were called “Carl Zeiss Jena” back then and used their traditional lens designations, including Sonnar, Biometar and Flektogon. In the west, it depended on the country. In the U.S., Zeiss Jena was not allowed to call themselves “Zeiss”, and the products exported to the U.S. were labelled Jenoptik (in the case of binoculars) and “aus Jena” in the case of camera lenses.

Zeiss Oberkochen had also been given rights to the lens family names, so the Zeiss Jena lenses were marked “s” for Sonnar, “Bm” for Biometar, and “f” for Flektogon. In England and parts of Europe, they were allowed to use “Carl Zeiss Jena”, but still used the abbreviated family names. In still other places, they labelled them just like they did in the Communist world. (Where Zeiss Oberkochen was not allowed to use “Zeiss”, which was everywhere at first, they used “Opton”. Thus, you’ll see late 40′s Rolleiflexes with Opton lenses on them.)

So, a Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar might be called a “Carl Zeiss Jena s” or an “aus Jena s” and be exactly the same lens. There is no quality difference in the different labels and it should not enter the buying decision.

The Zeiss Jena Sonnar is the same formula as the Zeiss Oberkochen Sonnar and exhibits the same qualities. The Flektogon is similar to the Distagon, and the Biometar is a modified Planar formula just like nearly every double-gauss normal lens made since the demise of the Tessar.

The Zeiss Jena lenses were made in four basic finishes. The first has all shiny aluminum, often with a leather band grip on the focus ring. These were made from about 1956 to 1963, and were all single coated. The second was black with a hard plastic focus ring that has raised ovals on it, made from ’61 to ’63, and single coated.

The third type is called the “Zebra” and was made from 1963 to 1967 in large quantities. They are black with alternating bands of bright aluminum on the control rings. The “Zebra” medium format is the type you want.  They are huge and heavy and build like a tank.

“Blackmagic Pocket on Steroids” with 180mm Biometar

The fourth type is all black, either painted or anodized . They were made from 1967 to 1978 with single coatings, and from 1978 to about 1990 with multicoating. The multicoated Zeiss Jena lenses are marked “MC” with very, very few exceptions.

Thou they are multicoated the quality of the glass is not as good as the “Zebra” cause of supply problems in the Communist DDR.

Zeiss Jena built lenses primarily in two mounts M42 and Pentacon Six. The Pentacon Six was a medium format camera and those are the lenses you are looking for.

flektogon 50mm
50mm F/4 Flektogon
Biometar 80
80mm F/2.8 Biometar








biometar 120
120mm F/2.8 Biometar
biometar 180
180mm F/2.8 Biometar








When you look at the numbers, they don´t seem to be real fast, but don´t be fooled.
Because of the huge diameter of those beasts they are almost twice as fast as the numbers suggest.

Here is a comparsion between the 50mm/4 Flektogon and a 50mm 1.4 Nikon (both at wide open).

zeiss 50
50mm/4 Flektogon wide open (click to enlarge)
50mm 1.4 Nikon wide open (click to enlarge)

It is quite easy to get adapters to go on Canon EF-mount cameras or Nikon.

One word of caution. When you buy a 50/4 Flektagon, make sure it looks like this.


Sometimes air has entered this huge lens and causes the glue to decompose.

All the black gets hundreds of little white dots, that look like a starfield when that happens. Don´t buy them, you get nasty reflections.

So, where to buy and how much are they?

I recommend Ebay Germany.

And here comes the best part: You can score a mint lens between 150 and 250 Euros sometimes less. And don´t buy anything else than mint.

I agree with Frank that there are probably loads of great examples of these lenses coming from German sellers, unfortunately the prices keep rising, but these lenses are still really affordable compared to extremely popular and now very expensive Contax glass.

One of the biggest revelations in Frank’s article is that F-stop indication is not really a fair representation of how fast the lens really is. I kind of knew that already, but chosen to ignore it up to this point. A simple but obvious test above really opened up my eyes and you know what, this will now make choosing lenses even more difficult 🙂

I try my best to make this website a great resource for people interested in vintage lenses for video use, so I hope you’ve enjoyed this & other posts. I sure hope they will help you save some money on your future lens investments too. I’ve joined the ebay affiliate program to help me run this website, fund my tests & lens giveaways, so if you find this content useful and would like to help me produce more similar content, please use the links in this post if you’re planning to buy one of these lenses or bookmark and/or use this link if you want to buy anything else on or this link if you shop on You will not be spending a penny more using these links, while still helping as eBay will pay out a small percentage from any purchase or successful bid, which in turn will support new content on Thank you.


18 Responses to Using Zeiss Medium Format Lenses on Modern Cameras

  1. Great post Alan & thanks for connecting us to Frank. Just to be clear, the zebra Zeiss glass would resolve well on the BMCC m4/3 mount? The adapters I’ve seen for Pentacon 6 to m 4/3 look large and cheap, which makes me a little hesitant to attach these beasts to the other end. Any info would be greatly appreciated.

  2. I’m a bit comfused about the focal length. If you use the 50mm/f4 Pentacon on a full frame sensor is the focal length 32.6mm or remains it 50mm?

  3. Sorry, but this article is riddled with errors and the author clearly only has a passing familiarity with the various types and vintages of CZJ lenses. It is nonsense to say that the zebra lenses have better glass than the later MC lenses. Also, the tiny dots that are found on the Flek 4/50 are nothing to do ‘air entering the lens’ and there is no reason to avoid the copies which display these dots as they don’t affect IQ, the author is simplywrong to say they cause ‘horrible reflections’.

    Bad article, should either be re-written to correct the many errors or withdrawn altogether.

    • Dieter, thank you for your message. This is a guest post from Frank who’s opinion I greatly respect. I understand that some of the things might not be accurate, but this like all the other articles are based on personal research and opinion. It’s explained in more detail in disclaimer, but I’ve copied that section below. I’ll add a little note to the article to clarify that it is based on Franks personal research and option.

      The information you’ll find in this website is for general information purposes only. While I strive to keep the information up to date and correct, I make no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, about the completeness, accuracy, reliability, suitability or availability with respect to the website or the information, products, services, or related graphics contained on the website for any purpose. Any reliance you place on such information is therefore strictly at your own risk.

  4. Awsome post!

    What about the 20mm Flekton?

    Ist is possible to attach a P6 lens over a EOS speedbooster to a NEX Camera?

  5. Hello,
    thanks for reposting Frank’s article, the original lacks certain pictures and is not commentable nor there seems to be a way to ask him questions.
    So I’ll ask my question here…

    I do own all of the above mentioned lenses, and I love them. I usually shoot them wide open (DSLR). Lately, I encountered a strange effect with all of them and also with a Biometar 80mm/2.8 from the “newer” series, the MC-series with better multicaoating. When stopping them down to f8 for example, there is a clearly visible, roundish region in the center of the picture, that is covered with some sort of “haze”, where contrast goes down majorly, colors seem to get desatured or at least changed, blacks are not blacks anymore (it’s like rising the gamma curve a few notches at 0% luminosity) and sharpness seems to go down (or let’s call it some sort of “softness”). The effect is already visible from f4 on and gets worse the more you close the aperture. Corners of the pictures are not affected, they improve in both sharpness and contrast, as it’s supposed to be, when you stop down a lens.
    Some contributors of a german forum provided me with the explanation: it is some sort of “hotspot”, that is created with light being reflected from the sensor-surface back to the rear glass elements of the lens and from there, reflected back to the sensor (and a small portion of the reflection is bounce back and forth, again). Since lenses are curved by nature, the effect of the “hotspot” is created.

    Has nobody of the filmmakers yet seen this effect? Didn’t anyone notice? Or are they all shooting with the aperture wide open?
    btw.: in the thread I posted this, there’s pictures from other older lenses, that even show this behavior when shooting with 35mm film….
    I can provide pictures, that show this issue, if you’re interested and provide me with contact details where to send them

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