|Contax G-Series Lenses and
by Jim McGee
There are photographers who speak of Zeiss lenses in hushed, reverent tones. They earned their reputation at a time when most mass produced lenses could not be manufactured to this level of quality. Computer aided design and manufacturing have helped the rest of the world catch up but the quality of these lenses is not diminished.
Fit and finish are excellent. The exterior is the same brushed titanium finish as the G2. Lettering and numerals are etched into the body of the lens, and the black letting stands out smartly against the titanium. Grips for aperture rings and the zoom ring on the 35-70mm lens are cut into the ring and provide a comfortable grippy surface. And unlike some cheaper lenses the lens caps snap on so securely that there is little or no chance you'll loose one through casual contact.
Mounting the lenses is a bit unusual at first as the lens rotates while the lens mount stays in place - unlike 35mm lenses where the lens mount and body turn as one to mount to the camera body.
Both lenses have the patented Zeiss T* coatings. The multi-layer T* coating process produces ultra-flat transmission of light of all wavelengths and eliminates internal reflections. In plain language that translates to exact color reproduction, excellent contrast, and the elimination of color fringing in your images.
The 45mm f2 Zeiss Planar T* lens in particular was just a joy to use on the G2. I'm used to using prime lenses on rangefinders so this lens felt right at home. The combination of the 45mm f2 and the G2 produced fast autofocus and great images. With the camera in aperture priority mode a quick spin of the aperture ring was all that was required. The aperture ring will seem a bit overdamped at first if you're coming from a manual SLR or from that "other" rangefinder. But it's silky smooth and each f-stop drops in with an audible click.
The 35-70mm f3.5-5.6 Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* Zoom Lens was a little bit of a different story though. The aperture ring has the same silky feeling as the 45mm. But I found the zoom uncomfortable to use. Zooming out from 35mm to 70mm is very stiff. My preference for a camera of this type would be to cradle my left hand under the body and lens and rotate the zoom ring with my thumb and forefinger. Zooming this way takes two separate twists to get from 35mm to 70mm - or I can pull my hand away from the camera body and give it a good twist. It's even more noticeable when you turn the camera vertically. With my hand under the left side of the camera body I can't get enough leverage to rotate the zoom ring. If I move my hand forward enough to get a good grip on the lens about all I see in the viewfinder is my thumb. Grrr.
Interestingly though, almost no effort is required to zoom back out from 70mm to 35mm. So I adopted the technique of zooming the lens to 70mm as I was bringing the camera up to my eye and then using a soft touch to zoom back out to my final composition before pressing the shutter.
It's not a deal breaker but it IS irksome. To be honest when I'm paying in excess of a thousand dollars for a zoom lens that covers a "normal" zoom range I expect that its operation will be flawless. Zeiss lenses are simply held to a higher standard.
So while the optical performance of this lens was excellent, if it were my thousand or so dollars, I'd be more inclined to purchase the 45mm f2 and 90mm f2.8 lenses which are a joy to use.