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Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* 180mm f/2.8

Introduction

Sonnar T* 180mm f/2.8 is a relatively new design in Carl Zeiss' SLR lineup. Relatively speaking obviously, since the first Sonnar 180/2.8 was introduced for the Berlin Olympics in 1936. However, this was a rangefinder lens and an SLR version was not introduced until after post WWII split of Carl Zeiss into Western and Eastern companies. Carl Zeiss Jena continued to manufacture Sonnar 180mmm f/2.8 for M42, Exakta and Pentacon mounts all the way until the reintegration of Zeiss in early 1990s. Carl Zeiss West Germany however did not introduce a Sonnar 180mm f/2.8 design until 80s, although it kept marketing East German version in its catalogs between 1950s and 1970s. So in a sense, Contax Sonnar T* 180mm f/2.8 was a new design, derived from the famed Olympia Sonnar. The lens sort-of filled in the hole between Sonnar 135mm f/2.8 and Tessar 200mm f/4, the latter always being considered as somewhat of a weakling. The lens was initially manufactured as an AE version and later was replaced by an MM version. After Contax series of lenses and cameras were discontinued in 2005, Carl Zeiss shelved the design, but there is hope that the company will bring it eventually back, now that it has restarted manufacturing a series of SLR lenses for Nikon, Pentax and Canon mounts. The old Contax copies of Sonnar T* 180mm f/2.8 are more or less commonly available on eBay these days, going for ~US$400 (as of June 2009).

Like all Contax series lenses, Sonnar T* 180mm f/2.8 sports superb build quality, with metal barrel and rubberized focusing and aperture rings. The lens has a collapsable metal lens hood, although a dedicated metal lens hood can also be attached using a 72/86mm step up ring. The optical construction of the lens consists of 6 elements in 5 groups with a floating element designed to correct aberration at close range. This is somewhat unusual as floating elements are more commonly present in wide angles, not telephotos. The lens is moderately heavy, weighing 815g (1.8lb) and measuring 78 x 131mm (3.07 x 5.15in) and feels quite sturdy, with no wobbling inside or out. The minimum focusing distance of the lens is 1.4m (5ft). The lens accepts 72mm screw-in type filters.

Contax series of lenses were designed for traditional 35mm cameras and as such when used on APS-C type digital bodies with 1.6x crop factor the field of view of the lens will resemble that of a 288mm lens on full frame body, turning Sonnar 180mm into a long range telephoto. Like most Contax lenses, Sonnar T* 180mm f/2.8 can be easily adapted to a number of alternative mount cameras, including Canon EF/EF-S systems and Four Thirds systems, using readily available adapters. Within the scope of this review, the lens was tested on full frame and APS-C type Canon digital cameras.

 

Summary
Lens Composition 6 elements in 5 groups
Angular Field 14 degrees
Minimum Focus 1.4m/5ft
Focusing Action MF
stop Scale f/2.8-f/22, manual
Filter Size 72mm
Lens Hood Built-in
Weight 815g/1.8oz
Dimensions 78X131mm/3X5.3"
Lens Case No.5 (included)