This Old Lens Addendum: Contax G Zeiss Sonnar 90mm f/2.8 Or How Does a ~$250 Or Less Zeiss Portrait Lens Sound To You?

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Preface

Why am I revisiting this lens? Easy. Google ads in my browser. Saw a link to the lens for KEH (Google and KEH are my GAS nemeses.) and clicked it, even though I already have one of these lenses.

Contax G Zeiss Sonnar 90mm f/2.8

What I saw caught me off guard. Not that the lens was reasonably priced (More on this later.), but because there were so many copies in good condition available. More than any lens of its vintage than I have ever seen at once. Even the most expensive sample was under $300. Why is this a big deal?

Welp… Film or digital, no matter the camera, if the lens is no good none of those other things will matter. There will be no spoilers as I like lens. A lot. This lens is great. Some may take issue with it for slow focusing in its native G film form, but this is not my experience. But even if that were an issue for me I still cannot ignore the fact that…

This is a Zeiss portrait lens.

And when you consider:

Asking Price

This is the bargain of the G model line up. The asking price was less than $200 and closer to $160 for a decent silver copy not that long ago when I wrote my initial review post, but they are still a deal at less than $300. Black copies will run you more as with other camera gear of this era. If that is your thing fine, but a color scheme will not produce a better image. I am usually game for unique aesthetics with film gear but this is not one of those times due to the price difference.

Value

For reference, I will compare this Sonnar 90mm f/2.8 to current new FE model manual focus Zeiss Loxia 85mm f/2.4 which currently goes for more than $1,200. Or about $1,000 more than the lens discussed here. In short, this lens offers good value.

Why I Bought It

It is a Zeiss lens.

It is a portrait lens.

That is more than enough reason for me right there. Add in the images this lens can create and it is an easy decision. I have heard some discuss slow focusing with this lens but I got on fine with this lens on both the G2 and the G1 I have currently.

Contax G1 System

As mentioned previously, I had sold this system to fund another purchase but later wanted back in. When I jumped back in I first bought the 28mm

Contax G1

…and this one was the next in line. While it did not get nearly much use as the 28mm and 45mm

Contax G Zeiss Planar 45mm f/2

…every time I used this lens I was impressed. I have my personal reasons also. Of two of my favorite photos of my wife one was taken with a Leica M3/Voigtlander.

Leica M3 w/ Voigtlander Nokton 50mm f/1.5 and Ilford XP2
Leica M3 w/ Voigtlander Nokton 50mm f/1.5 and Ilford XP2

The other was taken with a G1 and this lens.

Rollei RPX400 w/ Contax G1
Contax G1 w/ Zeiss 90mm f/2.8 and Rollei RPX 400

Despite the slow AF grumblings, below are more samples of images I really like taken with this lens. And here is the thing. Many talk about the Contax G2 as if it is the only G mount option. But as I stated in my summary for KEH and in my own post, I find the performance of the Contax G1 just fine and the smaller size and lighter weight to be more to my liking. The G2 is great. But I personally prefer the G1. And then when you add in the fact that a G1 goes for almost $1,000 less than a G2 currently, this is a no-brainer for me. So with that, you can have a film portrait combination for far less than a new MF Zeiss portrait lens alone. I would put these images up against the finest film portraits solutions without hesitation.

Adapting

So why do I mention that Sony FE mount MF Zeiss lens. Because if a G1 or G2 film experience is not your cup of tea it can be used on Sony FE and other digital cameras as well. Digital AF is possible with Nikon and Sony if you wish.

TECHART G Master

But that is optional. When I decided to rejoin Contax G-land I instead picked up a manual focus adapter. The one I picked up was inexpensive and has since garnered awful reviews, but I have not had much issue with my copy. Admittedly it does stick every once in a while and then I remember, $29. If it does bug me in the future I will pick up a more expensive adapter. For now I am fine. Takes a bit of getting used to but works just fine once you get the swing of it.

Contax G Zeiss Sonnar 90mm f/2.8

So for now AF on film and MF on digital. Cool.

Image Quality

<ahem> It is a Zeiss lens.

As I said with the Contax Zeiss 50mm CY mount SLR lens it ticks off every single positive lens attribute box. Brief comments below but I will let the samples talk below, but again it performs very well.

  • Flare
    • Have not witnessed any flare with this lens.
  • Sharpness
    • It is the Zeiss-eist. Wonderfully sharp with film and digital.
  • Colors
    • Zeiss scores again. Wonderfully color rendering. Looks better than the actual scene without looking artificial.
  • Bokeh
    • Another win. Not only in the amount of bokeh available but in the quality. No squirrely distractions like some other lenses. Just creamy backgrounds and foregrounds.

New samples added since my review post.

Samples With Film (Contax G1)

Contax G1 - Zeiss 90mm f/2.8
Contax G1 - Zeiss 90mm f/2.8
Contax G1 - Zeiss 90mm f/2.8
Contax G1 - Zeiss 90mm f/2.8
Contax G1 - Zeiss 90mm f/2.8
Contax G1 - Zeiss 90mm f/2.8
Contax G1 - Zeiss 90mm f/2.8
Contax G1 - Zeiss 90mm f/2.8
Contax G1 - Zeiss 90mm f/2.8 - Kodak Gold 200
Contax G1/90mm f/2.8
Cinestill Df96 / Rollei RPX 400
Rollei RPX 400
Cinestill Df96 / Rollei RPX 400
Rollei RPX 400
Cinestill Df96 / Rollei RPX 400
Rollei RPX 400
Cinestill Df96 / Rollei RPX 400
Rollei RPX 400

With Digital

Contax G Zeiss Sonnar 90mm f/2.8
Contax G Zeiss Sonnar 90mm f/2.8
Contax G Zeiss Sonnar 90mm f/2.8
Contax G Zeiss Sonnar 90mm f/2.8
Techart Contax G to Sony A7 Adapter
Manu at SE Camera, Carrboro
Techart Contax G to Sony A7 Adapter
Wilson at SE Camera, Carrboro

Conclusion

A great value. Other Contax G lenses are so good they are being converted for M mount use currently at a much greater asking price all in. This lens is as good as those in my opinion. Certainly not a necessity. But if you are so inclined and want a little Zeissified portrait lens action I think this lens is a fun choice. Not for everyone, but right up my alley. You could easily spend so much more for a modern mirrorless MF only lens that would not perform any better in my opinion. Purchased at a fair price this is still a stellar lens bargain. I highly recommend it for film and digital.

Contax G1
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