Contax/Zeiss 28mm f2.8 Y/C. A Nice Lens for Mobile Methods of Photography.


In my little world there are two kinds of photography I practice. One is the "no holds barred" commercial method in which I select the cameras, lenses and lights not by how little they weigh or how many I can carry before inducing hernia but rather by their ability to do the business impelled projects in a way that makes paying clients happy and ensures more work in the future. Nearly all these kinds of jobs, for me, consist of packing up cases of gear, loading the cases in the car, taking them into a client location on a cart and then putting the lights on stands and the camera and lens on a tripod. Point being that I'm not usually fighting gravity tooth and nail for hours on end....

In cases like these the size and weight of cameras and lenses is among the least important of considerations. It's more important to be able to light well and to assure that I'm getting the best quality I can while I'm making images which are aimed, mostly,  at moving the client's enterprise forward. Big, fat, Art series lenses from Sigma? No problem. Cast iron Leica SLs? The more the merrier. Because the sandbags will always be heavier.

But when I go out for a long walk on a Sunday afternoon and cavalierly practice my alternate kind of photography, I most certainly won't be dragging around a wheeled cart; or a cart of any kind. I will have to carry whatever I bring for at least a couple of miles and, on a good and compulsive day, maybe five or six miles. There are no assistants on walks and no gear lockers along the way into which I can store burdensome gear and pick it up again later.

In those situations I like to lessen my burden by choosing lenses and cameras that are less hefty. I might opt to use a familiar camera body like the SL, which is weighty, but I'll cut down on lens bulk whenever I can. The reality is that most walks take place in the middle hours of the day and on routes with ample daylight. I never need to work at f1.4 and prefer the relative imaging convenience of f5.6 or f8.0. If a lens is wide enough I might not even have to focus; if I've made the right choices. 

Yesterday I took a walk in downtown and it was hopping everywhere. There were hundreds and hundreds of high school and college aged people and, since it was a warm day, many of the guys were shirtless, a large number of the women were in swim wear and they were all either trying to figure out which bars might bend the rules and let underage people in or they were of legal age and scoping out the bars to see which might have the cheapest drinks. They were loud, rowdy and sloppy. And they were jammed together, maskless, in and out of the bars, like land-based sardines. Tossing a bit of gasoline on the pandemic fires again! You can thank our awesome governor for  that!

But my goal here is to write about an old, used, but still worthwhile lens. The Contax/Zeiss Y/C 28mm f2.8 lens is an older, manual focusing lens that was made for the Yashica Contax system which featured the Contax RTS (1-3) SLR cameras (and a slew of other cameras)  and the system was introduced to the market back in the 1980s. The lens is small and discrete in the manner of most 50mm nifty-fifties of the time period but it is built entirely out of metal and glass so it still has density to it. The lens I have was purchase for $175 from Precision Camera and I mated it to the Leica SL body with an Urth Y/C to L-mount adapter which set me back about $20. Since there is no communication between the body and the lens it operates only in the "A" and the "M" modes but the camera seems entirely capable of divining the perfect exposure in the "A" mode about 95% of the time. 

The lens is in great condition, the glass is clean, the focusing and aperture rings work very smoothly and, cosmetically, the lens looks as though it's always been well cared for. 

On my first few forays out with the lens I was a bit sloppy with my focusing technique and therefore disappointed with the results. I can only blame myself. This time around I was much quicker to take advantage of the camera's ability to "punch in" to a super tight crop in order to focus with great accuracy through the EVF. Now that I've slapped myself on the wrist and tidied up my focusing technique I'm finding the lens to be a very decent optical tool. I've been shooting around f5.6 and sometimes at f8.0 and the lens delivers modern, sharp results. I have tried a number of images at f2.8 and they are fine. It's what you'd expect, the center is pretty sharp and then sharpness falls off a bit as you head towards the corner of the frame. I'd use it wide open if it meant getting a shot but on a nice walk the middle apertures seem to be all I really need. 

The color from the lens is nicely neutral and the contrast at f5.6 is nice with well defined edges. I looked at a Leica SL 28mm lens which is a stop faster but it's also five thousand+ US dollars more. I think, for the way I use 28mm lenses, that this one will be just fine. If you see one of these out in the wild you might want to snag it; especially if the selling price (in good condition) is under $200. There are adapters available for Sony E as well as L mounts and there are probably adapters out there for Nikon Z and Canon RF as well. 

It's a nice little package and I'm glad to have it. 

If you look at the edges of the frame you'll see that there's very little distortion.
At least not for a lens with this angle of view. Also, vignetting is 
nicely controlled and by f5.6 is mostly absent. 

I don't mind using it wide open. 
A stop down would make this shot a bit crisper but 
then again I'd have to drop down to ISO 12,500.....

Compromises everywhere.