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Over the last year or so, I’ve been building a set of lenses for my work as a DoP. For a number of reasons, I arrived on the classic Zeiss/Contax still lenses as my prime set of choice. I rent them out here (at quite a reasonable rate), and use them often for my film & video production work in Northwest Arkansas. A good example would be this piece for CIY, shot on the Sony FS100 with my Contax primes.

I want to spend a few minutes exploring why I chose these particular type of lenses, all the considerations that went into it. Obviously cost is a major factor in any gear decision, but performance certainly has to be a part of that discussion. This will be a short series of blog posts, and in this Part I article, I’ll talk about cost and feasability considerations, and will offer some tips on how to shop for a set of your own Zeiss Contax lenses, if you are so inclined. In my Part II article we’ll discuss resolution charts and my notes on how they perform at given apertures. I’ll also talk about the handling and aesthetic reasons why I chose to build my lens set around Contax. Part III will be a discussion on the look of the lens, the aesthetic it lends to the image, including practical examples of bokeh and flare characteristics at common apertures. So read on, and enjoy…

For the last few years, my client projects and budgets tend to call for DSLRs like the Canon 7D, the 5D Mark II (and now 5D Mark III), or small cameras like the FS100 (and now FS700). Sometimes it’s uncontrolled docu-style coverage requiring a zoom lens, but oftentimes these shoots are cine-style in the sense that things are produced and scripted, and we have crew and time to move carefully and with intent. And of course I’m always shooting talking heads and sit-down interview type footage to provide a narrative backbone for promos and such. For docu-style shoots, we generally work with Canon L-Series zoom lenses on the DSLRs, lenses like the f/2.8 16-35mm, the f/2.8 24-70mm, f/2.8 70-200mm IS, or the f/4 24-105 IS (a great walk-around lens). Budget and the need for portability generally determines if we get to use any cine zooms like the Angenieux DP Rouge series (which can be Canon-mounted, or used on the Sony e-mount with adapters). Rarely do we use PL-mount zooms on these small cameras, due to weight and rental cost. We’ve also rented Zeiss ZF2’s, and the Zeiss CP.2s for projects that required cine-housed primes at an affordable budget.

Somewhere along this evolution of my career as a cinematographer, I saw a real need to own a basic set of prime lenses that offered the following criteria:

Requirement #1. Relatively affordable with good optics.
Generally speaking, the projects that would use these lenses are tight budgets. The lenses would need to be affordable to own, so that I can rent them affordably (and therefore be able to pay them off in a reasonable time period). They needed to be at least on par with the performance of Canon still lenses, as that quality-level of optics was was acceptable for most of my projects.

Requirement #2. Common lens mount
I wanted to invest in a set of lenses that would be broadly useful across a wide range of camera systems. For larger cameras, PL mount would be that choice. In this smaller camera world of DSLRs and their large-sensor camcorder siblings, it’s been a bit wild and wooly for a few years. You’ve got Micro 4/3, Nikon, Canon, and Sony e-mount to name a few. I needed lenses in a mount that would be able to serve a variety of camera systems; it turns out that the Canon mount is a pretty good universal choice. You can use Canon-mount lenses directly on Canon DSLRs, RED Epic and Scarlet (with RED’s Canon mount), and the Canon C300. And with adapters you can use Canon-mount lenses on Sony e-mount and Micro 4/3 mount cameras. That’s a pretty broad range of camera systems, so I settled on Canon mount being a requirement for my lens set.

Requirement #3. Fully manual, solid metal construction.
Canon has some great low-cost primes with solid optics, but their construction and mechanics is simply not built for cinema use. You can put lens gears on them, you can add common fronts, etc, but in the end you’re always still dealing with a very short focus throw and (in many cases) a plastic lens body. It’s usable, but not ideal. In addition to good optics, I wanted a set of lenses with a long focus throw, and metal construction. Making matters worse, until recently, there were not many options for using Canon electronic lenses on the FS100 Sony e-mount. Now that Metabones is beginning to ship in quantity, we do have a viable option for that. I also was thinking forward, knowing that a set of fully-manual lenses offers less potential problems on set with a variety of camera systems. Manual Just Works. There is value in that, and particularly when you’re a DP like me who doesn’t know what camera he’ll be shooting on next week. These things change on a dime these days based on the project and current cameras, and if I was going to invest in glass, I wanted something that would not be unusable in a few years. Manual adapters can be found for almost every mount system, electronic adapters are more expensive and tend to be specialized for a given camera system. Manual was a must.

Water water everywhere, but not a drop to drink:
So whither do I go from here? There are some great old Nikon lenses that have a decent focus throw, but they all focus backwards from standard cine focus rotation. That can be really confusing as an operator or for your AC, and particularly when you’re hopping between different types of lenses. For that reason alone, Nikon wasn’t a great choice for me. That means that I couldn’t go for the relatively affordable Zeiss ZF2 lenses, which are fully manual Nikon mount lenses with respected optics, a long focus throw, and solid metal construction. Canon has some nice old still lenses as well, with a decent amount of focus throw, and these focus the proper direction. So that was an option. A better option would be the Zeiss ZE lenses (which are the Canon-mount versions of the ZF series), they have a long focus throw, metal construction, and are relatively affordable. However, they are not fully manual…the aperture is controlled electronically, which is a major bummer. An even better option would be the Zeiss CP.2 lenses…with interchangeable mounts and a PL option, these are gorgeous lenses and the mount swap option makes them future-proof. They are also nearly $20,000 for a complete set. Leica R is another option…a line of classic stills lenses with highly-respected optics and performance. Leica’s aren’t always easy to find in good condition, however, and the good ones tend to be rather pricey. Another option? Contax C/Y.

Why Contax is the best-kept secret in affordable lenses:
I started researching Zeiss/Contax lenses a few years ago. These are older classic still lenses that Carl Zeiss built with T* (T-Star) anti-reflective coatings and a Contax mount. They are essentially earlier versions of the Zeiss ZF, ZE, and CP.2 lenses. That is not to say they are the same lens, but the optics share a lot of similarities. Zeiss/Contax are fully manual lenses, both iris and focus, and the focus pull is quite long for a still lens…around 180-degrees on some of the lenses. Best of all, the Contax mount is short enough that they can be adapted to just about every other camera mount. For instance, you can purchase a $30 adapter ring from Fotodiox that clicks onto the lens mount, and allows you to use it directly on a Canon mount. This is a usable solution, but it’s not 100% solid, and occasionally these cheap little adapter rings don’t mount properly. I also worried that this would affect the backfocus and sharpness of the lens as the adapters wear over time. But it is certainly a viable budget option. The best solution…a company called Leitax sells a replacement mount kit for Contax lenses, which allows you to adapt them directly to a permanent Canon mount. This was my answer.

Contax lens optics are well-respected, and there are a number of lenses in the Contax line that are virtually unmatched in terms of sharpness performance (21/2.8 is legendary, as is the 35/1.4, and the 100/2.0). Best of all, if you’re careful with your shopping, you can build a complete set of stock Zeiss Contax lenses for around $5,000. This was right at the price point that I could justify, and with that, I decided that Contax lenses were the right choice for me.

Where to buy:
Contax lenses are not made any more, so the used market is your only option. The first place I’d recommend looking is KEH. They sell used cameras and lenses, and they have an EXTENSIVE inventory. At any given time, you can find a pretty good selection of Contax lenses in the KEH catalog. The best part about KEH is that lenses are rated on condition…the rating scale is specific, accurate, and pricing is adjusted for the condition of the lenses. So if you’re ok with an optically good, but cosmetically beat up lenses, you can pick them up cheaper. KEH tends to carry the more common Contax lenses…the 28/2.8, 50/1.4, 85/1.4, and 135/2.8 are all pretty common. Occasionally you can also find the 25/2.8, and the 100/2.0 and 100/2.8 Makro. I purchased two of my lenses at KEH, the 28mm and the 85mm. I also picked up a Contax 2x Mutar extender at KEH.

Another good place to look for quality Contax lenses is the B&H Used Dept. They don’t carry a very big selection of Contax lenses, but if you watch the Contax used catalog for a few weeks, you can generally see them come through. B&H also has a solid rating system that lets you know what you’re getting. I purchased my 50/1.4 and my 135/2.8 from B&H at a very fair price.

The third place I’ve found Contax lenses was on eBay. Let me be clear, I think that eBay absolutely sucks these days, and their feedback and protection policies are skewed against sellers badly. However, if you are careful about who you purchase from, and use safe forms of payment, it’s still a viable option. I purchased two lenses from eBay, the amazingly sharp and quite rare 21/2.8, and the 100/2.8 Makro. The 21mm was the most expensive lens in the set, and it was somewhat difficult to find at a good price. I paid a little more than $2,100 for my 21mm, that was the best deal I could find after looking for weeks. I often see that lens going for upwards of $2600.

Please note that I am NOT talking about “Contax G” lenses. You don’t want those, you want “regular” Contax lenses. The lenses I’m talking about are black in color, not silver like the G-series.

I purchased my Contax lenses over the course of about six weeks, shopping the deals and doing my best to keep the cost down. I ended up with a set that consisted of the 21/2.8, 28/2.8, 50/1.4, 85/1.4, 100/2.8 macro, 135/2.8, and the 2x Mutar extender. I picked up Fotodiox Canon adapters for each of the lenses, and mounted on some WOC zip-tie lens gears. Boom, budget lens set complete. Total cost with el-cheapo Fotodiox Contax-to-Canon mount adapters, zip-tie lens gears, and a Pelican 1510 hard case was around $5,500. You could probably build a similar set slightly cheaper if you purchased cosmetically beat up lenses, or just happened to find better deals. And of course, if time is a more important consideration to you, I’m sure that shooters (like myself) are also willing to part with full Contax lens sets of lenses at a premium price point.

Duclos Cine-Mod and Leitax Canon Mounts:
If you’re so inclined, Duclos Lenses offers an affordable Cine-mod for Contax that de-clicks the iris, adds common 80mm fronts and caps, and mounts a seamless industry standard focus gear on the lens. The aperture is smooth and dampened, and the focus gear is a significant upgrade from DIY lens gears. For those (like myself) who are a little afraid to crack open their glass, Duclos can install those Leitax Canon mounts for you. They’ll also cine-mod the Leica R lenses I mentioned above, as well as ZF.2 lenses. I knew that I would want to cine-mod my Contax set. There are other shops that can do similar lens service, but in the end I chose Duclos based on recommendations from friends.

Leitax is a small company that makes obscure adapter mounts for a wide variety of lenses. One of those offered is Canon mounts for the Contax line of lenses. The product is a high-quality machined mount that completely replaces your stock Contax mount. The mount preserves proper lens backfocus and is a permanent, 100% solid way to make your Contax lenses work directly on Canon mounts.

With a little care, you can install them yourself. I chose to have them installed professionally by Duclos, at the same time that they were getting Cine-modded. Duclos doesn’t stock the Leitax mounts, because there are three different types of mount, to accomodate the differences in Contax lenses. You’ll need to read the Leitax instructions that identify the type of lenses you have, and then order the appropriate mount for each. They take about 10-12 days to ship overseas, so plan accordingly.

Another consideration is that not all Contax lenses can be modded with Leitax mounts. For instance, the 100mm f/2.8 Makro cannot take a Leitax mount. I learned this after the fact, and have since sold that lens. I believe the 100mm f/2.0 (non-macro) can be Leitaxed. I also believe that some variations of the 85mm and 50mm lenses are also not Leitax-compatible, but I know that my f/1.4 models are are fine. Again, you’ll want to consult the Leitax website for lens compatibility notes. One of the Leitax-compatible lenses that’s on my list to buy is the legendary 35mm f/1.4, it is incredibly sharp, and that’s a nice medium focal length I’d like to have in a fast lens. That one commonly goes for upwards of $2,000.

My Contax lens set is complete at this point. It consists of the 21mm f/2.8, 28mm f/2.8, 50mm f/1.4, 85mm f/1.4, and the 135mm f/2.8. Every lens has a permanent Canon mount, de-clicked aperture ring, cine lens gear, and common 80mm front (with a 77mm internal filter thread). They’ll go right onto any Canon-mount or EOS camera system, and the set includes a solid MTF Equipment Canon-to-Sony NEX adapter for use on the FS100/FS700. I’m very happy with the set, my only additions in the future may include the 35/1.5, the 60/Makro, and perhaps the 180/2.8 or the 300/4.0.

After using my Zeiss Contax lenses for quite a while on a wide variety of shoots, I’ve been really pleased with them. They are not perfect, but for the price point and features, they’re an amazing value in my opinion. They’re quite sharp, which I’ll show with resolution charts in Part II, and they appear to have a nice slightly lowered-contrast look to them that “feels” nice, arguably slightly more organic than the look of some modern Canon glass. This low-contrast look is enhanced beautifully when they flare from the sun or back-light, which I’ll show with some real-world examples in Part III of this series.

Contax C/Y and Leica R were two of the only lens options that met my personal criteria for a glass investment, and I’m delighted that I was able to build a fully cinemized set of Contax lenses for around $6800 total investment. I can use these lenses on a wide variety of camera systems, and most importantly, I can AFFORD to own them. If you’re looking for a set of lenses and have similar requirements, I encourage you to look into these two lens options. Perhaps they’ll be right for you as well. Happy shopping!

Update: Part II posted here.

28 Responses to “Zeiss Contax Lenses – Part I: Why Contax?”  

  1. 1 Jason Prisk

    What are your rental rates for full set and then per lens? Will you ship?

  2. 2 Matthew Jeppsen

    I do ship them, Jason. I don’t do pre-lens rentals, it goes as a set. Current rates can be found at

  3. 3 Joel Mielle

    How did you mount those solid focus gears, they don’t look like Zip ties?

  4. 4 Matthew Jeppsen

    Joel, the lens gears shown on the lenses are the permanent ones installed by Duclos.

  5. 5 Olphus

    Do they breathe?

  6. 6 Matthew Jeppsen

    Yes. I don’t know of any still-lenses that don’t breathe to some degree.

  7. 7 sebasti

    I just sold mine 35/50/85 f1.4 lenses and got new ZEs instead. The problem with these lenses is that they are.. well.. old (made in west germany (newer ones are in japan but they still have 20+ years on them)). Although when I bought them the irises were perfect, one of them got elliptical and one of them became saw-edged when opened up wide which is big problem because that’s when you see the bokeh the clearest. Then I found out one of the lenses had dust in it which I had not seen when I bought it… i don’t know if it got there later which is not good either. Also I felt that the image although in focus, still at some parts where it was suppose to be in focus, wasn’t… it was like some areas were unfocusable.. not much but slightly of to make it feel soft. I guess I could have gotten them fixed and cleaned, but I don’t know how long they would have worked properly after developing problems again. As it feels to me that those irises had been fixed by the shop that sold them, but after little bit of usage they were off again. Anyways, they are solid build lenses that feel like real lenses. But it can be bit like buying a lottery ticket.. hopefully you won’t discover any problems later on them. For me the price difference is not that big between old C/Ys and new ZEs at least here in China… so if I could take it all back I would have gone with ZEs to begin with. One reason that got me to go ZEs now is that in local expo I saw a company who cinemods ZEs to look like CP2s, they even build a manual aperture ring from scratch and after modification all the lenses will have the focus and aperture rings in the same location… just perfect.

  8. 8 Matthew Jeppsen

    I’ve examined a few Contax lens sets from friends, and haven’t noticed any dust issues. It sounds like you had a bum lens with the softness issue. Sorry to hear that.

    The sawblade aperture when wide open is an odd issue…Contax lenses ALL show sawblade shapes at certain apertures, that’s simply the way they are designed. However, from my experience they are all round when wide open. The sawblade shape appears at certain apertures when you stop down.

    The ZE’s are a great choice, and wonderful value for the money. However, I personally won’t invest in them, as I’ve explained in my post above that they focus “backwards” from the normal cine lens focusing direction (CORRECTION: I misspoke, meant ZF’s). This is a big deal for anyone who has developed muscle memory focusing lenses.


  9. 9 sebasti

    Matthew, I was just researching today and found people telling that this saw-edgeg “ninja star” aperture would be a “feature” in AE lenses. It’s saw edgeg when wide open and few stops down from there, and then it gets normal. People seem to say all the AE lenses do that, but from mine, only one did it and i’m quite sure it didn’t do that in the beginning. So unless someone can confirm all the AE lenses did that back when they were built and sold as a new lenses, I’m thinking it is more of a problem of the age of the lenses. I’ve also heard claims that 35, 50, 85 f1.4 Zeiss Contax lenses were actually rehoused Zeiss superspeeds … if that is true and the ninja star aperture is a feature, then old Zeiss superspeeds cine lenses would also suffer from that… and has someone actually seen ninja-star bokeh on old movies???

    One more VERY IMPORTANT thing that you got wrong just now. Zeiss ZEs don’t focus backwards, they focus exactly the same direction with cine lenses such as CP2s. Zeiss ZF Nikon mount lenses are backwards because that’s what Nikon chose in their system when they created it. People tend to buy with Zeiss ZFs to get manual aperture but they loose the proper focusing direction in turn. With Zeiss ZE you loose the manual aperture, but get the proper focusing direction. So you win some, you loose some… until now that I found that rehousing shop that does cine rehousing to ZE lenses (and ZE lenses only, sorry ZF owners, you are out of luck) with quite a reasonable price. I can have Zeiss ZE optics quality, correct focusing direction, and best yet the manual aperture ring that they built from scratch. Believe, it works and is de-clicked and smooth. The cine housing even looks like real cine lens. The focus extension will happen inside the rehousing so they remain constant in length. 21, 50, 85 are about same is size when rehoused, 35 is bit longer. I’m yet waiting to know if the new 15mm 2.8 could be cinemodded. Problem there is that undetachable lens hood on top and bottom part of the lens, but I guess they could saw it off or simply leave it there. Macro lenses can’t be rehoused due different internal design… that’s a bummer… i would have loved to have 100/2 rehoused.

    Matthew, if you wanna hear more about this, you can email me (which you can probably see as a side administrator.)

  10. 10 Matthew Jeppsen

    Whoops, you are correct. I misspoke on the ZE’s, I was thinking about the ZF lenses (nikon mount) which focus backwards. And yes, with ZE’s, you get proper focus direction, but lose that all-important manual aperture. I’d be interested to know what the cine mod you had done costs per lens.

    I’ve heard some folks say the claim that Contax lenses are essentially rehoused SuperSpeeds, and I have yet to hear any concrete evidence to that claim. Maybe they are, but that doesn’t mean that the aperture was built the same way. For instance, Zeiss ZF/ZE glass is in the Compact Primes, but the CP.2’s have many more aperture blades for smoother bokeh. Every Contax lens I’ve ever handled had sawblade bokeh characteristics at certain apertures. If they weren’t built like that from the factory, then a surprising number of them are degrading in the exact same manner. I find that hard to accept.


  11. 11 sebasti

    I didn’t do the modification myself yet, but I tested some modified lenses. It costs about 3000-4000 RMB per lens depending how many you do, which is guess comes to something like 600 dollars, but I would also guess the \international\ price being higher than for those who can simply walk in and drop the lens for mods. Mod is permanent so if you later want to go back, you just need to buy new lenses. I guess repairing something inside a lens later could also be a problem.

    For the ninja star aperture… I can tell you 100% certainty that from mine Zeiss C/Y lenses that aperture on 50mm that was made in Japan (it was probably MMJ) was not ninja starred at any point. From my 35 and 85mm lenses (both west germany) only one develop this ninja star iris later (85 if i remember correctly). I’m saying later because while I may have made mistake not checking the aperture wide open on that lens when I bought it, I find that highly unlikely. I spent long time with them at the shop especially checking if the aperture works and looks round. So if someone says ninja star aperture is a feature on all Zeiss C/Y lenses they are mistaken. It’s either a problem that develops over time OR this is a feature of only certain type of ZEISS C/Y (AEG,MMG,AAJ,MMJ) which I also find hard to believe cause both of my W.Germany lenses were same type… it also may be a problem that only develops only in certain type of Zeiss lens over the time. I can’t remember for sure if mine ninja starred lens was AEG or MMG (I would recall AEG but the both lenses were of same type and other one of them never had ninja star). So there are Zeiss C/Y lenses out there that have normal irises at all apertures, that is a fact.

  12. 12 Guilherme

    Isn’t it just simpler to keep the ZFs and use a follow focus with reverse gear, so that you can focus using the ‘right’ direction?

    And you don’t need to pay US$600.00 to mod with the Chinese guys…

  13. 13 sebasti

    It’s not if you focus also without follow focus… and I never had ZFs. I went from C/Ys to ZEs. And with the mod you are not just paying on ability to set aperture and having right direction focusing.. you also get cine housing with focus gear and de-clicked aperture. You’d probably want to add focus gear and de-click the ZFs too which ain’t free either…

  14. 14 NMorrison

    Guys, I own a TON of Contax Zeiss lenses, and I can tell you DEFINITIVELY that ALL AE’s have the Ninja Star. I own the following AE lenses, and ALL of them have it:

    25 2.8
    28 f2
    35 1.4
    45 2.8
    50 1.7
    50 1.4
    85 2.8
    85 1.4
    135 f2
    135 2.8

    ALL OF THESE have the Ninja-Star. ALL OF THEM. The Ninja-Star DOES NOT appear WIDE OPEN. It appears usually ONE f-stop STOPPED DOWN, and sometimes TWO. And THEN…it disappears.

    So, on a 35 1.4…at 1.4 its CLEAR, f2 NINJA, 2.8 NINJA, f4 GONE.

    All my MM’s DO NOT have the Ninja-Star:

    18 f4
    28 2.8
    35 2.8
    50 1.4
    50 1.7
    85 1.4
    135 2.8
    180 2.8
    300 f4

    Hope this clears up the Ninja Star debate.

    – Nick M

  15. 15 NMorrison

    To clarify, Contax Zeiss lenses don’t degenerate over time and suddenly DEVELOP a Ninja-Star. That’s insane. They either have it (if they are AE), or they don’t. There are RARE MM’s (very early, with serial numbers in 67X-XXX and 68X-XXX) that have the Ninja-Star, but they are so rare it’s not worth mentioning.

    If you need to see if your lens is MM or AE, check the APERTURE RING. If the final F-STOP (ie f16, or f22) is colored GREEN, it’s an MM. If it’s colored WHITE, then it’s AE.

    – Nick M

  16. 16 sebasti

    Nick, my 35 1.4 and 85 1.4 were both made in W.Germany and had WHITE f-stop which makes them AE. 35 1.4 never had ninja star at any aperture, not even when I sold it away. 85 1.4 had ninja star on the apertures according to you description… however, when I bought them I checked them (and at that time i didn’t even know about this ninja star being a “feature” on some lenses so seeing that then would have made me not to buy it) and although it is possible i didn’t notice this then, i find it highly unlikely from the time i played with them especially looking at the apertures being round apart from looking for scratches, dust or mold. I shot a movie with them without noticing a ninja star and that’s just amazing if it always was there. Only recently before I sold them I realised that the 85mm had a ninja star so my conclusion was that it had “developed” later similar way as my made in Japan MM 50mm 1.4 that had perfectly round aperture when I bought it, but got elliptical after using it for month or so. I’m just reporting what happened and I can only speak for those lenses that I owned and you shouldn’t go calling that insane, not to mention I offered multiple theories for this phenomenon and clearly stated as a fact only that not all Zeiss C/Y lenses have ninja star which is still correct. Chances are that the 2nd hand shop people (who also repair lenses to get better price out of them) did something to the lenses that didn’t hold up in the use… I don’t know. I only know if the lenses I owned had or didn’t have ninja star when I had them.

  17. 17 NMorrison

    Sebasti, the apertures are pieces of metal, and don’t “change shape” over time. I just want to clarify that this is impossible. A Contax lens either has the Ninja-Star, or doesn’t. It will never contract one, like a cancer.

    However, your 35 1.4 AE MAY have been a very, very late model AE…and…you may have been lucky and got one w/out a Ninja-Star! If so, then you had a very rare, interesting lens.

    HOWEVER, as a rule of thumb, 95% of AE’s have the Ninja-Star. And 95% of MM’s do not. There was always that TRANSITION period between AE and MM (mid 80’s) where things got muddled, but overal the AE/MM distinction is a good rule of thumb to go by.

    Good luck!

  18. 18 sebasti

    Nick, While I believe what you said is true, I didn’t assume before that the blades would change shape. The blades move in relation to each other to adjust the size of the aperture and together they form a hexagon. What I had theorised is that this hexagon changes shape, not the blades themselves. For aperture to change shape only thing that is required is the blades to move differently than they were meant to… I think this is the reason why some old lenses don’t have round apertures.. at some point the blades started to move differently, maybe one or two of them became little “lazy” and the aperture got elliptical. For example, if you place six matches to the table so that they form a hexagon and then push each of those brown scratch tips of the matches closer to the centre, the hexagon’s shape will be like the ninja star on C/Y lenses… this all happened without me needing to bend or change the shape of any of the matches.

  19. 19 Nick Morrison


    Again, you are ASSUMING a lot about the Ninja Star, without actually KNOWING. The Ninja Star is not a DEFECT that happens with age because some aperture blades stop working. The Nina Star is not a MISTAKE or a DEFECT. The Ninja Star is a KEY PART of the AE lens design. Its believed that Zeiss engineers thought it could help with optical performance at WO apertures. It’s a DESIGN FEATURE. Not a mistake!!!!

    Clearly, Zeiss thought better of the choice, and removed it in the MM models. But trust me, having personally handled over 20 different AE lenses, they ALL have the Ninja Star, and none of these lenses had defects. In fact many of them came straight from Duclos after being cinemodded. I’m sure if some were bust he would have said something.

  20. 20 Nick Morrison

    BTW Sebasti your explanation for why some old lenses don’t have round apertures is also not totally accurate. The shape of the bokeh has nothing todo with age, and all todo with DESIGN. Some older brands like Contax made lenses with SIX aperture blades, so the bokeh is a hexagon. Other legacy brands with the M42 mount often have 14 aperture blades (like Pentacon), resulting in very cinematic ROUND bokeh…even though these lenses are from the 60s/70s, proving that bokeh shape has nothing todo with with AGE, but all todo with DESIGN.

  21. 21 sebasti


    I already said I believe what you said is true about the ninja stars… so please try to understand that I’m NOT ARGUING with you. I explained what I HAD THEORISED BEFORE cause you made it look like I would believe the blades change shape like rubber bands.

    You totally misunderstood what I meant with non-round apertures. I know some lenses have six blades, some eight, some even more. I know more there are blades, rounder the aperture seems to be… and this is not the issue I was presenting. What I meant with “round” aperture is that if you take that polygon, no matter how many sides (blades) it has and draw a circle around it so that it touches each corner of that polygon the result will be a PERFECT ROUND CIRCLE… what I’ve seen with some older lenses is that when blades get “lazy” the sides of that polygon become asymmetrical and when you draw a circle around that shape it will be elliptical or other ways simply not round as it should be. When I bought my set of four Zeiss C/Ys, I tested more than dozen lenses and one of my prime criteria was that the aperture is “round” or should I say perfect hexagon… and I did see many many lenses with apertures that were not and had turned “elliptical”… so age and wear is pretty much an issue with old lenses whether you believe it or not. Strangely, I didn’t saw a single ninja starred lens then.

  22. 22 NMorrison

    Sebasti, by lens standards, these Contax aren’t even that old. Many are 10, 20 or 30 years old, if that. I’ve never noticed a sagging aperture, but then again, I wasn’t looking for it. Either way, enjoy your Contax lenses! I know I am! Have a great weekend.

  23. 23 rajat ghosh

    wow , so I was readign and your gear cost 5500 and a new set will cost 6 100 at BH

    so I am curious how does the brokeh translate that’s the only thing that will matter in the cine world of mine

    Look forward to your feedback.


  24. 24 bjoern

    Hi Matthew
    thx for the detailed review! Apart from the reversed focus through. Would you say that the Nikkor Ai/Ais lenses are equal in terms of overall quality with Contax? I’m more a oneman show…
    And with a followfocus from “” I could simply reverse the focus.
    Problem is that the nikkors as a complet set 20,24,35,50,85,135 with most of them f1,4 some f2
    I cost just 3000USD declicked with focusgear.

  25. 25 bjoern

    just wanted to add… I’m not fulltime behind the camera….so I don’t care about a focus reverse.
    just want to know if nikkors Ai/Ais are quality same as the Contax or maybe just 90% close.
    which would be enough for me considering the price…

  26. 26 Matthew Jeppsen

    I haven’t tested them specifically against each other, but I’d guess they’re probably reasonably close, and certainly a good option for the price point.


  27. 27 robert shuster

    My question is much simpler. All I need is to take 3 or 4 of my CONTAX blacks and have them pertinently PL’ed. Right now I have the 18, 28, 35, 50, 85, 100 (2 versions), 135, 200, 28-70, 40-80 and 80-200. They are quite superior in quality though not always the fastest. I particularly have interest in re-housing the 28mm and 35mm to supplement my PL collection. I’ve talked to my Zeiss rep and he indicates the CONTAX line were built in the same facility as the super-speeds and have inhereted may of their characteristics. My envy goes out to those with the 21mm. Excellent toy. Thing is, I won’t pay Duclos $4000 to re-house a Contax. Rather buy a used car. Looking for options. Please advise………….

  28. 28 eric öhman

    Maybe I’m not adding much, rather adding strength to the discussion.

    If the smallest aperture 16 or 22 is marked green, then it’s an MM lens. If that lens has a text “Made in West Germany” it is an MMG, if it says “Made in Japan” it is an MMJ. If the smallest aperture is NOT green, but white, then it is an AE lens, or, should I say AEG or AEJ depending on where it was made.

    As said, AE lenses = ninja stars one or two stops down
    MM lenses = 6 rounded aperture blades, hexagon

    Asymmetric shape of the aperture when stopped down is quite common on all lenses in my opinion. I don’t know if it happens over time or if blades can be a little off right off the factory.

    Many of the Nikkors I own has this “problem”. Especially at f/16 or smaller, you could see some blades sits a little bit too far to the center, or too far away from the center. Don’t know if it would cause any problem though, never bothered.

    Contax use 6 aperture blades, Nikkors use 7 aperture blades. If you shoot directly in a bright lamp or the sun with a Contax lens, you will get 6 light streaks, if you do the same with a Nikkor, you’ll get 14 light streaks. That’s something I like about the Nikkors. Odd number of aperture blade will give you double that number of light streaks. so

    6 blades = 6 streaks
    7 blades = 14 streaks
    8 blades = 8 blades
    9 blades = 18 streaks

    Ken Rockwell’s website taught me that ;)

    As for Nikkor, I’m not too amazed by the Nikkor 1,4/50, the 1,8/50 is a better choice in my opinion. As for the Contax 1,4/50, I don’t know how it compares to the Contax 1,7/50. In fact, I have a tab in my browser for my bank, just paid for a used Contax 1,7/50. I will compare them as soon as I get the 1,7, btw, that was an AE lens, the 1,4 I have is an MM.

    Best regards, and good luck with your Contax lenses everyone :)
    // Eric

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