REVIEW - CONTAX 135mm F2.8 SONNAR   

Contax Carl Zeiss T* 135mm F2.8 Sonnar Lens & Canon 1Ds Mark II

 
 

OVERVIEW

The Contax 135mm F2.8 Sonnar is a popular choice because of its smaller size, built-in sliding hood, good optical performance and low price. In contrast the Contax 135mm F2.0 Planar is a very expensive (usually ~$1500 US) and there is much debate whether or not its performance justifies the price tag. In regards to the Contax 135mm F2 Planar, most photographers opt for the Canon 135mm L F2 (review here). I purchased the Contax 135mm Sonnar to see if it would be a better travel option than the Contax 100mm F2.0 Planar.

LENS PERFORMANCE

The Contax 135mm Sonnar has beautiful bokeh (background blur) when shot wide open - very “Zeiss”. The 135mm Sonnar delivers nice micro-contrast which helps in rendering rich foliage and textures, and the lens is when shot wide open. Overall, considering the bargain price I cannot fault the 135mm Sonnar. The built-in hood (slides in and out) is nice; I wish Contax had included a built-in hood on more of their lenses.


My hope was the Contax 135mm Sonnar could be a compact travel lens, but the lens turned out to be longer than expected and felt somewhat unbalanced (nose heavy) on the Canon 1Ds Mark II. In late day sun (golden hour) it was difficult finding enough light for acceptable shutter speeds. With only five elements in its optical design, light loss should not be an issue. Whatever the case may be, I felt the 135mm Sonnar was inefficient in gathering light. The viewfinder struck as being dim as well. With newer dSLRs the ISO problem will be less of an issue because most dSLRs are quite capable of a use ISO 1600 or better.

The dipping shutter speeds were compounded with mixed success from the focus confirmation adapter. I get the best results from the HappyPageHK adapters when the EXIF is coded to match the lens’ focal length.  In this case the adapter was coded to 50mm and F2. I suspect the keeper rate would have been higher if I had an adapter coded for 135mm. (November 2011 Update - adapters have come a long way since this review over 4 years ago. If in need of an adapter, check out www.leitax.com - they make wonder products. A review of their Leica-R to Canon EF adapter is here.

I do not want to label the Contax 135mm Sonnar as a poor performer, because that is not the case. The lens just did not match my shooting style or offer any beyond what my current lenses already do. It is easy to suggest alternatives which cost more, but trying to stay within the $300 budget range the options are limited. I have not tried comparable Olympus, Pentax or Leica lenses, so those lenses could be good value-priced alternatives too.

CONCLUSION

I did not see anything unique or distinctive enough to say “this is a lens I must own”. My goal is finding lenses with their own unique fingerprint which sets them apart from crowd. The Contax 135mm Sonnar - good? Yes. Unique? No. Contax’s own description sounds pretty flat - “Outstanding for landscape photography, flora and fauna studies, portraits and others where a telephoto effect is desired without the undesirable flattening of perspective prevalent with longer focal lengths.” Contax’s description is fair enough. When it comes to 135mm at F2.8, I am quite happy to let a zoom lens cover that range and aperture. The Canon 70-200mm F2.8 L IS Mark II is shockingly good (review here) and the Canon 70-300mm F4-5.6 L IS is a great travel option (review here).

 

CONTAX CARL ZEISS T* 135MM F2.8 SONNAR TELEPHOTO

Lens Composition

Angular Field of View

Minimum Focus

Diaphragm Action

F-Stop Scale

Filter Size

Filter Connection

Lens Cap

Metal Lens Hood

Metal Cap for Hood

Rubber Hood

Lens Pouch

Weight

Lens Size

Data Sheet & MTF Chart

5 Elements / 4 Groups

18 Degrees @ 30 Feet

1.6 Meter / 5.5 Feet

MM & AE - Fully Automatic

F2.8 to F22 in 1 Stop Increments

55mm

Screw-in

K-51 55mm Snap-type Plastic Cap

55-86 Ring + No. 5 Metal Hood

K-84 89mm Metal Cap

N/A

No. 3

585 Grams / 1.29 Pounds

78mm x 131m / 3.06 in. x 5.19 in.

Contax 135mm MTF