Or another monthly equipment challenge to spark my photographic creativity
I’m lucky to have a nice collection of cameras, especially film cameras. Since coming back to film photography in 2018 I’ve pared down my digital cameras to just two, and while somehow the film cameras and systems have multiplied like rabbits!
One thing that’s remained constant is a love for good lenses. I’d rather have a simple, mechanical body without a lot of bells and whistles matched with a great lens. In fact very few of my cameras have autofocus as I still like the slower, more deliberate pace that manual focusing and metering creates.
Once I finished my “medium format March” I was trying to think about what angle I could apply next. As you can see from the title I’m going to move from limiting myself by format to exploring the systems that natively use Carl Zeiss lenses. April to Zeiss, see? (I know it’s a bad pun but I’m trying to be creative photographer, not writer.)
For those of you who don’t know the name, Carl Zeiss AG is a German company started in the mid 1800’s that has been a leader in optical design ever since. The company is named for its founder and many of the lens designs and optical formulas that have been developed over the last 150 years by the company are still in use.
Photography is only part of the Zeiss business but over the years they have manufactured lenses for and licensed the designs to lens makers at Sony, Kyocera (Contax/Yashica), Nokia, and Hasselblad. They continue to make lenses under their own brand for Fujifilm, Sony and Nikon mounts. It was a Zeiss lens on a Hasselblad camera that accompanied the Apollo astronauts to the moon and took what may be one of the most famous photographs of all time.
I’ve always loved their lenses and when given the chance, gone with the Zeiss option. Most of the Zeiss lenses have little distortion and great sharpness, even wide open. Even though my Leica cameras and lenses are my first love, the Zeiss equivalents are often just as good while often smaller and lighter. Still if you want to start a fight among photographers just ask which lenses are “better” or “sharper”, Leica or Carl Zeiss. I’m lucky enough to shoot with both and avoid the debate altogether.
When I was deep into the Sony A-mount and E-mount worlds I had a series of great Zeiss lenses including their Loxia series of manual focus Sony-compatible lenses. I bought some native Zeiss ZF.2 manual focus (again) lenses for my Nikon cameras. In fact it was the heavy construction of the attached Zeiss lens that cracked the FM2 body I dropped last year. The “tank” of a lens wasn’t damaged at all, another vote of confidence for how well Zeiss lenses are made. They are built to last. However I’ve sold all the Sony and Nikon Zeiss lenses, as I’m using native Nikkor autofocus lenses on my F4 and Df, the last interchangeable lens digital SLR I own.
Still my love of old cameras and Zeiss lenses continues. Recently I’ve jumped back into Contax/Yashica film cameras including a T3 point and shoot, Contax RX, Yashica FX-3 and FX-7 SLRs and the Contax G1 autofocus rangefinder. All those use Zeiss lenses, as does my medium format Hasselblad 500 C/M — despite my lack of moon shots. My usual setup no matter what the lens mount is at least one wide prime (25 to 28), a standard lens (45 to 50) or short macro (60), one short telephoto (80 to 100) and a short zoom (35 to 70). Even my Sony RX100 compact point and shoot comes with a Zeiss lens built-in. That gives me a lot of options!
“Limiting” myself to Zeiss lenses means I’ve got everything to shoot with this month from pocket cameras and a rangefinder to small, light SLRs, all with range from zooms to tack sharp primes. There’s a digital camera in the mix, 35mm and if I want to keep it up from March the 120 format Hasselblad. With the trees blossoming and the weather improving, it just seems like the perfect time to break out of my monochrome winter mood. I’ll be catching the crisp sunshine of a Seattle spring with color film and digital shots using some lenses that make me want to make photos worthy of their capabilities.