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Carl Zeiss F-Distagon 16mm f/2.8

 

 

 

Introduction

Contax F-Distagon T* 16mm f/2.8 was the only fish-eye Carl Zeiss ever produced for the Contax SLR system (the F in F-Distagon actually stands for 'fish-eye'). The design was first introduced for the Rollei SL35 system in early 70s, but with the demise of Rollei SLR system, the company migrated the lens to its Contax series, with no known changes in optical formula. The only change, to the best of my knowledge, was the new T* coating (vs the old HFT one used on Rollei lenses). The lens was exclusively manufactured in West Germany at Zeiss factories, and was only available as AE variant. Unfortunately, the design did not survive for long in the Contax mount either, as the system was discontinued after Kyocera, which leased the brand name from Zeiss, pulled out of the camera market all-together in 2005. But the hope is alive since Carl Zeiss has recently re-introduced a number of its SLR lenses for Nikon, Pentax and even Canon mounts. Hopefully, Zeiss will eventually bring back the F-Distagon lens as well.

The F-Distagon was never the most popular lens, even during its 'mass-production'. Has something to do with being a 'fish-eye' - not that many users can utilize a lens with the angular field of 180 degrees in their day-to-day photography. These days, a limited number of samples can be regularly found on eBay, with prices ranging from US$1,000 to US$1,500, depending on the condition.

The lens is a great example of German optical engineering at its best (pretty much like with most Contax lenses of that era). The lens is solidly built, with metal barrel and rubberized focusing and aperture rings that are well damped. The aperture ring moves from f/2.8 through f/22 in one full f-stop increments - there is a little bit of resistance as you click from one aperture setting to the other, which adds to the feeling of quality. For a super-wide angle lens, F-Distagon T* 16mm f/2.8 is pretty compact and light, measuring 70 x 61mm (2.75 x 2.4in) and weighing 460g (1lb). The lens focuses down to 30cm (1ft).

The optical formula of the lens consists of 8 elements in 7 groups. Because fish-eye lens designs are not corrected for distortion, manufacturers can achieve staggering fields of view with such designs. 180 degrees for most fish-eyes including the F-Distagon, but that is not the limit and there are lenses with even wider fields of view. 6mm and 220 degrees anyone (Nikkor)? But the fish-eye design has its drawbacks - the primary of which is, guess what? it's massive field of view. With 180 degrees, you cannot practically attach any 'meaningful' lens hood to the lens. Hence the F-Distagon has a built-in, shallow 'horns' instead of a lens hood. These are more useful for attaching a slip-on lens cap then protecting the lens from strey light. You also will not be able to attach any filter to the lens - even the thinnest filter will end up in your frame and cause vignetting in the end. Hence some fish-eyes (as well as ultra-wide rectlinears) have built-in filters in the turret, which is the case for the F-Distagon as well - the lens has UV, Or57, Y50 and B11 fitlers. To switch the filters, you need to push the dedicated filter ring away from the camera and rotate it to the desired filter.

Like most Contax lenses, F-Distagon T* 16mm f/2.8 can be used on a number of modern SLR cameras, including Canon's EF/EF-S bodies as well as Four Thirds systems, using readily available adapters.

 

Summary
Lens Composition 8 elements in 7 groups
Angular Field 180 degrees
Minimum Focus 30cm/0.98ft
Focusing Action MF
f-stop Scale f/2.8-f/22, manual
Filter Size Built-in UV, Or57, Y50, B11
Lens Hood Built-in fixed-type
Weight 460g/1lb
Dimensions 70x61.5mm/2.7x2.6"
Lens Case No 2 (included)