Pentacon CZ Jena Lenses


The VEB Pentacon factory in East Germany many years ago managed to produce what are now somehow some of my absolute favourite lenses and cameras. All lenses are M42 mount and marked Carl Zeiss Jena. After the 1960s, none of these cameras or lenses were regarded as the best of the best even in their own day-the Japanese were usually one if not two steps ahead of the game once the Nikon F started appearing. Nonetheless these cameras and the family of lenses that came with them are the ones I now have perhaps the most affection for, own more of than any other, and they all seem to have a certain character of their own. I should add that none of the lenses in my own collection and reviewed here sell for megabucks either (those would be the CZJ Flektagons, 80mm Biometars or Sonnars)-they are instead the ‘normal’ basic consumer-level products of their day. That adds to my affection for them!

First up-the 50mm f2.8 Tessar. Some people online get sniffy about the Tessar as primitive or an unsharp lens. I haven’t found the one I have to be so. It has six blades and a focus length from 0.35 to infinity, which is great for macro work, whilst colour rendition is usually nothing less than great. The bokeh might be slightly lacking something, but is far from awful. It also really likes B&W, providing pretty snappy contrast.

Credits: alex34

Next-the slightly faster but generic f/1.8 50mm prime lens that came as standard with almost every Praktica camera out the Pentacon factory, developed from an earlier Meyer-Oreston lens. This again has huge macro ability, focussing down to 0.33. Again, one can find some sniffy comments about it online when shooting wide open, and about how it will give portraits a certain ‘glow’. The reality however is that I have generally always found this lens to be sharp as Hell, and incredibly usable. It has its own Flickr site, so clearly it has a following!

Credits: alex34

Third-the six bladed f/2.8 29mm wide angle lens. To be honest, I haven’t really made up my mind about this lens yet, I’m shooting the Exa 1c with Ferrania film with it on at the moment. There are again arguments online about the ‘awfulness’ of its colour cast, aberration, or a lack of corner sharpness, and there certainly seem to be some bad examples out there from some of the photos I’ve seen posted. I first used it on a rather overcast day, so have not yet fully assessed the capability of this lens in good light or with extreme contrast. At the moment though, based on my own so-far limited experience and results, it could perhaps be described as functional but perhaps not really outstanding, i.e. just ‘ok’. But as I say this is a test in progress. I certainly do appreciate having a cheap wide angle as an option in my collection anyway.

Credits: alex34

I’ve just ordered the CZJ 135mm online, so will update and add to this blog entry as I both get around to testing that lens and/or if my opinions change. As I say, I wouldn’t flag any of these lenses as the greatest lenses ever made-but I’ve found them to be pretty solid, reliable, and definitely characterful, with the result that I do really like them.

written by alex34 on 2012-04-18


  1. mapix
    mapix ·

    thanks for the review! fully agree with your opinion about east german lenses. worked myself with a Zeiss Tessar 2,8 / 50… and a brilliant Zeiss Prakticar 1,4 / 50… - really love them!

  2. ibkc
    ibkc ·

    You know I love my 2.8/50 Tessar. It's one of the better lenses in my arsenal. Perhaps that says something about the quality of my lens collection ;). But I actually really love the swirly bokeh effects, and it really is quite sharp in the focused areas.