The Contax Tessar 45mm f2.8 lens-

Good morning everyone, if we can get started, I’ll go first. My name is Andrew, and I am a Tessar addict.


SS Hercules. Love that Ektar red

I own more Tessars than any other type of lens. I could rattle on about this or that aspect of the lens type that I find superior, but it’s really the totality of the look they produce that makes me love them. They are among my favorite tools.

When I found my Contax RTS II body on the cheap, I went looking for Zeiss glass to put on it. Unsurprisingly, the first lens I bought for it is this Zeiss Tessar 45mm/f2.8.

The Tessar was invented 112 years ago and while it’s not cutting edge, its’ strengths are undeniable. It’s a simple, inexpensive lens design that produces an excellent result, and this Contax version follows that formula well.

First test shot I took with it. HP5+

First test shot I took with it. HP5+

This little pancake lens packs a wallop for it’s size and price. It has the T* anti-reflection coating that Zeiss is well-known for. It can produce images  with excellent contrast and sharpness. And that sharpness is well maintained from edge to edge. Since I bought it, it hasn’t been removed from the front of my RTS II.

Ruby Canyon From the California Zephyr

Ruby Canyon from the California Zephyr

This is the first pancake lens I’ve owned, and I like what it does to the handling of an SLR. When I put this lens on the RTS II and take off the winder, I get a compact, capable camera that can swing to the eye and shoot with rapid ease. It allows me to get the image I want and not give up much space in my backpack or camera bag, which is perfection in my world.

Wide open portrait HP 5+

Wide open portrait. HP 5+

On the bottom of the lens, there are the words “Lens made in Japan” and those words elicit a strong response from some people. They say those words mean the lens, and the camera it is attached to, are not really Contax products. True, the camera and lens were made by Yashica/Kyocera in the 1980s, but as a non-purist, this does not bother me. On the contrary, the rejection of these cameras by the purist Contax community has a great side effect. It keeps them cheap and accessible. As a result, I paid about $100 for the camera body, and picked up the lens for $170. I will say the purists are right on one thing, this lens doesn’t quite have the build quality of the older German Zeiss lenses. However, the build quality of this lens isn’t shabby by any means, and it’s kind of nit-picking to say it.

So if you want to join me in a chapter of Tessar-holics Anonymous, I can highly recommend this lens.

A blank spot on the map

“Of what avail are forty freedoms without a blank spot on the map?” Aldo Leopold, 1922

I love those blank spots on maps. If you look at them on Google maps, they’re green areas with few roads that terminate in trail heads and no towns. Big blank spots that hide the best part of living in the west.

shoot-563I’ll sit and look at those nice green swathes and think about what they hold. If I’m curious enough, I’ll go get the topographic version and trace the dotted lines denoting trails with my finger. If something catches my eye, a pen will come out. It will tap on the table for a bit. If it gets serious, a Moleskine or Field Notes will come out and there will be scribbling. Scribbling is a good sign.

Sometimes, there may be an afternoon walk after that. A stroll down Cherry Creek to the REI store. I won’t always buy something, although often I do. But I will wander over to the ORIC. The Outdoor Recreation Information Center. I’ll go over to the huge tabletop map of Colorado and find that section I was interested in, and then I’ll ask questions. What about this green, blank spot? What about this trail leading in to it? How are the trail conditions? Are the bears behaving themselves? A water resistant topo of the area will be purchased and slipped in to a thigh pocket for the walk back home. The walk will be accompanied with a smile.

shoot-561Soon after, gear will go in to backpacks, film will go in to cameras, gas will go in to the 4Runner, and we will go on our way. Aimed squarely at that blank spot.