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.

shoot-567
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.

7 Comments

  1. Zachary
    December 19, 2018
    Reply

    I absolutely love this lens. Do you have the jahre 100 year anniversary edition?

    • Andrew
      December 22, 2018
      Reply

      I just have the standard edition. The jahre 100 is quite a bit more, and my gear tends to be user grade. It gets knocked about a lot. Seat bags, panniers, and the backs of 4Runners tend to be unforgiving. I think collectors would have kittens thinking about the abuses my gear faces.

  2. Bruce Rutter
    July 14, 2021
    Reply

    When I bought my RTS II the only lens I could afford for it was the 45 Tessar and it did a beautiful job. When I later picked up the 50 f1.4 Planar (stellar) I moved the Tessar to my much smaller Yashica FX-7 back-up body and it made for a nice, compact and light package.

    • Andrew
      July 16, 2021
      Reply

      I have no idea why this lens is so undervalued. But I am glad it is.

  3. Kev Chen
    October 2, 2022
    Reply

    I love pancake lenses, specifically the slightly wide standard lenses between 40mm – 45mm, and I have or had almost all known pancake lenses. Of these cute petite lenses, my absolute favorite is the C/Y Tessar 45/2.8 over others, some of which are rather better known… For instance, the very capable and much better regarded Voigtlander Ultron 40/2.0 Aspherical SL II, while wonderful in many ways, renders rather more clinical than the C/Y Tessar, and surprisingly with just a bit less color punch too.
    In terms of physical optical match, the closest competitor is the Nikkor 45mm/2.8P, which is for all intents and purpose a clone to the CY Tessar, the only main differences are the Zeiss features their T* multicoating, while the Nikkor has their own NIC coating treatment, but beyond the physical similarities, they both perform and render differently, with the Zeiss coming ahead nearer the frame edge and corners, meaning it’s correction is rather better.
    Another fan favorite is the Konica Hexar AR 40/1.8, but on modern mirrorless cameras, it’s tonal rendering looks dated compared to the above mentioned candidates.
    Then there are the Pentax K 40/2.8 and the very highly sought after Olympus OM Zuiko 40/2.0… the Pentax pancake did not look competitive to me, and the Olympus, currently the most expensive pancake on the vintage lens market was simply far too over-rated being in no way better nor sharper than the Tessar nor Ultron SL.
    Finally there are two exotic pancake than rivals the CY Tessar for my affections, namely the weird but wonderful Voigtlander VM E Heliar 40/2.8 collapsible lens, and the legendary Rollei Sonnar 40/2.8 LTM.
    The Heliar is as good as the CY Tessar in terms of sharpness, field coverage, and color tonal renditions, but it requires either the rather costly VM E close focusing adapter, or the Techart LM to Sony FE AF adapter, as it comes without any focusing helicoid! It wasn’t until late 2021 the Voigtlander saw it’s folly and finally offers this lens with focusing helicoid in the VM Leica mount. Finally the somewhat rare Rollei Sonnar 40/2.8 in the old Leica LTM 39mm screw thread taken from their famous Rollei 35S super compact camera… This is actually slightly better than the CY Tessar, but it is hard to find, and costly, being made in rather small quantity before Rollei lost interest in production of rangefinder cameras.
    Thus all in all, on balance of optical performance, vs affordability, and built quality, I found the Contax CY Tessar to be my favorite pancake lens!

    • Andrew
      October 2, 2022
      Reply

      Wow. I do not doubt your commitment to sparkle motion.

      Of all of those lenses you mention, I have only also looked at the Ultron and came to the same conclusion. It is very clinical by comparison. The Contax is much more pleasing to the eye. This lens and my L39 Nippon Kogaku W Nikkor 35mm are on the very short list of lenses I will never sell.

  4. April 8, 2023
    Reply

    I own two Contax Carl Zeiss f2.8 / 45mm lenses. One is used on the Sony A7II and the other on the Contax Aria. Needless to say, the pictures this lens produces are outstanding. Sharpness and color rendering is top-notch. A true marvel!

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