What is the best lens?

Having played the analogue game for quite some time now, I’m pretty familiar with the virtues and demerits of a fair variety of lenses. Plastic lenses can be great for certain effects, wide angles can be handy, and triplet lenses are often underrated. If looking back at the twentieth century as a whole however, I think there’s only one consumer level lens by which every other should be judged-the four element 2.8/50 Tessar.

Credits: alex34

My point is this. It’s not that there are not now better, sharper, more contrasty, or more high power lenses out there. But it’s that the Tessar for much of the golden age of analogue was THE lens by which all other SLR and rangefinder lenses were judged. It’s the definitive vintage look. It’s sharp even by modern standards. It’s also the definitive German look. It loves both colour and black & white. It’s got a good case for being the first ‘great’ lens, the formula being invented in 1902 and Zeiss patented. And it was pretty much ubiquitous on a lot of basic consumer cameras-I’ve acquired a small collection during my earlier days of camera buying without even trying. It was top of the range (in one old Praktica catalogue, the Praktica IV with Tessar was top of the line, at £49, whilst the basic came with a Meritar at £39). In the 1950s and 1960s your camera everyman on the street almost everywhere really wanted a Zeiss Tessar, (the Russians made good copies in the form of the Industar series), but at the same time it wasn’t Leica-level expensive. So here’s at least one hurrah for the small hero that is the Tessar.

written by alex34 on 2012-08-28