Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 54mm f/2 lens for OLYMPUS PEN F

(c) Frank Mechelhoff       (all texts and images are copyright protected)                                                                               NEW 9. August 2009

aslope Frank's warped photog. collectibles (I)
This page will start a small series of  rare and nonstandard photographical stuff warped enough for keeping, showing and write about it. Of course none of the usual "collectibles" like Leica and stuff. Mostly Japanese - this is where the main part of my interest in cameras is for - because I like them most for their aesthetics, I will start this small series with a EAST GERMAN (GDR) lense...

Sonnar Olympus Pen Lens
Found 2009 in an online catalogue of a well-reputated European LEICA dealer - a Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 54mm f/2.0 lens in Olympus Pen F half-frame SLR mount
For the PEN F SLR camera, build from 1963-1972 as stated in my OLYMPUS PEN F SLR Main page, very few (if any) third party lenses were made. This probably  to the following reasons:
  • No other camera company made half frame SLRs than Olympus: Olympus hold a few important  patents for camera details; though not for lens mount and lenses. Production number was relatively small, so there was no big base for business seen
  • Japanese third party lens makers concentrated on making lenses for main standard mounts, in the 1950's German Leica, Exakta, and M42 (Praktica/ Pentax), later on Nikon, Canon and Minolta too
  • The PEN F SLR need lenses to special specs not used in normal SLRs: smaller flange to film distance and smaller circle of image. Lenses developed according to these specs couldn't be used as a base for other camera adaptions
  • Olympus itself made a good range of optics (20-800mm) for the PEN F series - described here - which were excellent in performance - if not to say worldclass for it's day - mechanically not as great, but at least well done according to contemporary standards (i.e. equipped with automatic diaphragm) - plus amazingly low priced, so again there would have been no big base for business

Sonnar lens mounted on a Pen FV
This prototype lens shows that obviously CARL ZEISS JENA  was thinking about doing third-party lenses for the OLYMPUS PEN mount in the 1960's years.
Carl Zeiss Jena had lots of juridical problems with Zeiss Oberkochen (West Germany) in the late 1950's and slowly lost their world leading position in photographical lenses. So they may have looked for new markets. Furthermore, the high value of the US-Dollar for the East German economy let them look after small nieche markets too..

On the first glance this lens looks similar to a Contax Rangefinder remounted Sonnar lens, but it isn't. The lens mount is made in a style similar to Olympus, even including the small red focus point point, but with different details. Focussing is in meters, no feets (one scale). The f/-stop number distances aren't equalized. There are full click-stops.

40mm and 54mm in comparison See difference in lens mount: Carl Zeiss 54mm lens on the left mounted on the black FT, Olympus Zuiko G 40mm/1.4 lens on the chrome FV camera. The German lens shows brass under the black color because of its usage and the black finish isn't very good. It is just painted, not enameled, which is far more durable. The Japanese standard lens however is anodized black light alloy, which was a good standard in the 1960's lenses.
Although Carl Zeiss Jena made light alloy lenses in large volumes too, this couldn't be expected for a prototype or small series lens.

Note also that the lens is very short build. Even if it's focal length is 35% longer than the 40/1.4 the overall length is quite the same. Sonnars were known for small size and short build. This was one reason why they couldn't be adapted to SLR lenses as a standard (50-55mm) lens. So this one is the only SLR standard lens in this focal length range, however 54mm in half frame format translates to 75.6mm in 24x36mm (crop factor ~1.4)

The other difference to the Olympus lens is that there is no spring diaphragm. The f/-stop is to set manually. The ring is made in alloy, similar (but not identically) looking to the aperture rings  made for Contax rangefinder lenses, including the small letters. The distance scale and DOF-scale letters are somewhat bigger, bigger than the Olympus lens as well. There is no Infrared mark.

A 54mm (translating to 75mm in 24x36mm format) was missing in the Olympus lens programm. There were a highspeed 60/1.5 (translates to 85mm) and a 70/2.0 (similar to 100mm) but neither were quite compact, and thus left a nieche in the market for this one. So this could be a good reason why some Carl Zeiss Jena engineers may have thought about adopting the SONNAR lense family for a new bunch of cameras - in particular because after the slow and painfull demise of the Contax Rangefinder cameras in the 1960's when no customers were left for them. On the other hand, the reputation of the Sonnar as a short telephoto kept on high level: Carl Zeiss Oberkochen issued new Sonnar lenses and kept using the traditional 85/2 Sonnar for the Contarex until end of production in 1972. Not to talk of today where we see a great comeback of this lens type due to their great image taking capabilities.

So why it was 54 and not 50mm like the Contax RF Sonnar?

Probably for the same reason why the Contax S SLR camera 1948 was initially shown with a 57mm Sonnar lens (picture here) - Not enough mirror clearance (too short backfocus length) for a 50mm lens.
In the rear view you see the back element - typically small and near to flat like a typical Sonnar lens, and the same bluish-purple colored coating the "T" coated Jena lenses in the postwar era were noted for.
It is also not hard to imaging that the back element isn't far from protruding into the camera's mirror box when mounted

Why this lens has no auto diaphragm?

The back side also shows that the typical small rear group of the Sonnar design left plenty of room to install a automatic diaphragm mechanism if the lens would have been produced in series. The lens mount however of this example wasn't made in respect to that.

The S/N of the lens
The 3,876,000 range of the lens fells well into the 1954 year according to a post war S/N list for Carl Zeiss Jena published by Rick Olseson in 2004. Even this is no "official" list it seems reasonable to my own limited experience from other SLR lenses of the 1950's.
Back view of the 54mm lens

Sonnar 54mm f/2.0 on a Pen FT
However, 1954 isn't even close to the Olympus Pen F production period. This suggests that either there was no strict timeline S/N sequence, leaving room for S/N batches for special purposes i.e. experimental  or prototype lenses, or that the optical unit was  produced earlier and eventually remounted. Then this remounting was done in a very professional way of a large optical company. Usually the S/N comes last to a lens before finishing, with the "beauty ring", according to the production run list. Seldomly a S/N of a certain lens is known in production circle before that step. If optical workers need to label parts or groups to keep them together, they mostly use other signs. But of course, the opposite happens also.

The Sonnar 54/2 lens make pictures

The Sonnar lens mounts and dismounts easily to any Olympus PEN F series camera like genuine lens and is a joy to use even without auto diagphragm. At f/2.0 the viewing image is reasonable bright. The aperture ring is easy going and clicks nicely to the f/-stops, leaving a perfect iris circle at any stop. The focussing ring is somewhat damped, as for heavier lenses. The focussing thread is long and takes nearly the full 360° to the close distance stop beyond the 0.6m mark, probably at 0.54m, which allows a similar small image size as the 0.38m of the 38/1.8 or 40/1.4 Olympus standard lenses.
Using this lens on a PEN FT with the TTL meter, you don't miss the aperture numbers because you can measure at working aperture with zeroing the meter needle. Of course, this isn't a very precise measuring and you would't use slide film this way. A lens between 50 and 85mm is always a joy to use at least for me, because it's neither too long nor too short

The results are very pleasing. Typical "softer" Sonnar look with great out-of-focus rendering (Bokeh), warmer color than the genuine Olympus lenses, but notably good contrast and excellent sharpness even in the outer zones - one level with the (still today excellent) genuine Olympus lenses, if not better. Taking color films you need Kodak Ektar 100 or a similar fine-grain film to see the full potential. It shows quite no color fringing at all - at least better than the Olympus 40/1.4 (notably an oustanding performer when stopped down to f/4-5.6)

Picture examples (100% frames) with the SONNAR 54/2.0 on film (Kodak Ektar 100) scanned with Nikon Coolscan V, taken at ~ f/2.8-4

(pictures taken in Idstein)

Idstein Altstadt 2

Idstein Altstadt 3

Crop of the edge part (note details and twigs show virtually no color fringing, unlike even most current lenses)

Evaluating finds like this
First thing is to avoid fakesHere is my older, but still valid page about Carl Zeiss Jena wartime lens fakes, one of the most cited pages of my website. The faking business is anything in between cheap and goony (i.e. faked beauty rings) and expensive  and clever. And it lives from an old saying: Each day a dullard rises and will pay a lot of money while hunting for "bargains"...
So I had to check at first for Russian or other cheap lenses which can be modified with manageable effort looking like the piece of interest. Buy what you know quite well, do not buy in areas you are unfamiliar with. Know the important details. You may ask for advice on the web but don't give too much on it. Books can be wrong in important aspects as well, because they are written by humans. Worse, most are written by collectors, some by engineers. Authors who have own (sometimes monetary) interests and are, or have been involved in stuff they write about. More often than not, they are not objective.
Most fakers however are inspired by what they find in collectors books because most lack creative phantasy. They may know more about S/N ranges than collectors.
Compare the pictures carefully. Trustable dealers don't hide anything, are friendly to questions, show detailed pictures and don' t bore you telling that they sell something "super-rare" when it can be found for small money at the next corner. The dealer in my case was focussed to Leica. Obviously he didn't know much about "cheapo postwar Jena GDR stuff"...

I had taken Contax Sonnar and Carl Zeiss Jena lenses of the 1950's off the shelves for cross-checking before buying.
It's even harder to evaluate whether a lens is "genuine factory made" or "contemporary modified" (which is quite different from "faking"). Of course, I can't assure you that it was Carl Zeiss Jena optical factory who build the lens mounting of the lens in question because I have no 100% proof for it. It's just a very small, less important piece of photographic history, and as mostly in history we don't have 100% proofs. It could have been made by someone else with a good mechanical and optical machine park who wasn't proud enough on the result to sign with his name. I have made pictures with the lens, and I would have been proud of it when I would have been that man who made the adaption. If you prefer to believe that, it's up to you. But I can assure you, it didn't came from Olympus because it looks different in many small details. In fact, one reason why I publish this story is the vague hope some reader knows a little about it.
At least with buyings like this, evaluate your risk. If you can effort the price without pain, you may give it a try. Sometimes you won't know before you have it in your hands. This was the case for me with this lens. It wasn't mentioned in any book, but at least it was warped... Anyway I like Sonnar lenses a lot. And not many people ever have used one in ~ 50mm and SLR mount...

Frank.Mechelhoff "at"

(back to OLYMPUS PEN F)
(Other OLYMPUS PEN F SLR lenses)
(Cameras Main Page)

Your comment to my page ???