Pekka Buttler, 09/2022
The table below summarizes the lens’ key specifications (measurements are based on the sample pictured above):
|Carl Zeiss Jena
|M42, (Praktica B, Exakta RTL)
|Subfamily (if applicable)
|Filter ring diameter
|Lens element count
|Lens group count
|Aperture blades (S/R/C)5
|Minimum focusing distance
|Has manual aperture ring
|Has Manual focus ring
• Pancolar is the ‘family name’ of Carl Zeiss Jena’s post-1960 double-Gauss / Planar type lenses (But when offered in Praktica B mount the name Prakticar was used)
• The initial 50 mm f/1.8 Pancolar was a 6 elements in 4 groups design, but since a redesign in 1967 the aft doublet was split into two separate lenses (resulting in a 6 elements in 5 groups design).
• While this lens’ predecessor (the Pancolar 50 mm f/2), was offered both for the m42 and Exakta mounts, the f/1.8 version was mainly targeted at the m42 mount. That said, the 50/1.8 Pancolar also had a 3-year production run in Praktica B mount, and there are some copies in the wild that were made for the (short-lived) Exakta RTL).
• The Pancolar was offered in M42 mount both as a regular auto aperture variant as well as in an M42 electric variant (see more about the electric variant of the M42 mount here)
• There comparatively short MFD of 35 centimetres is produced by a significant close focus extension (see below for illustration).
History of Carl Zeiss Jena
There are few names in camera optics more illustrious than that of Carl Zeiss. The company was founded in the German town of Jena in 1846 by Carl Zeiß (hence: ‘Carl Zeiss Jena‘). During 1846–1945 there are few major developments in lens optics that the company was not involved in. Names that are even today well-known in optics – such as Planar (1896), Tessar (1902), Sonnar (1929), and Biotar (1939) (as well as many names that only optics-buffs know) – were the product of Zeiss’ first century of technological innovation.
After the Second World War Germany was divided into a Soviet zone (subsequently: East Germany) and the west-allied zones (subsequently: West Germany). While the Zeiss works resided in Jena (optics and glasses) and Dresden (cameras), which were in the Soviet sector, a contingent of Zeiss managers decided to move west and ended up setiting up shop in the small town of Oberkochen in the American sector under the name of Opton Optische Werke Oberkochen GmbH. As the relations between the former allied deteriorated and the split into East and West Germany became all the more real, the Oberkochen works changed their name first to Zeiss-Opton and later to Carl Zeiss.
What ensued was a lengthy international trademark dispute with both Zeiss’ (Jena and Oberkochen) laying claim to the name ‘Carl Zeiss’. The resulting stalemate – emblematic of the Cold War in its entirety – resulted in that Carl Zeiss Opton was allowed to use the name Carl Zeiss in the West, but had to use the Opton brand in the East bloc, whereas Carl Zeiss Jena was the only real Carl Zeiss as far as the east bloc was concerned, but could – mostly – not use the Carl Zeiss -name for exports to the West6. The fact remains however, that – starting in 1946 from a shared base – Jena and Oberkochen developed as two independent companies for more than 40 years. After German reunification also Zeiss East and Zeiss West were united again, and have since again been at the undoubtable forefront of lens development.
This lens harkens to the time of the cold-war and the East/West split. During the entire Cold War period, VEB Carl Zeiss Jena was seen by the country’s leadership both as a paragon of the East German technology industry and a showcase of the socialist/communist system as well as a major source of exports (and hence, western currencies). Within the centrally directed economy’s hierarchy, Carl Zeiss Jena therefore had a more prestigious role than other East German optics manufacturers (prominently Meyer-Optik Görlitz and, later, Pentacon), meaning that Carl Zeiss Jena received privileged access to tools and materiel (including the first computer in East Germany) and that its products were always considered the premium alternative.
History of the Pancolar
During the 1930s Carl Zeiss Jena had developed the 58 mm f/2 Biotar for use on SLR’s such as the then novel Exakta cameras. This design remained Carl Zeiss Jena’s workhorse in the category of fast, standard SLR lenses well into the 1950s. While the Biotar was far from being a bad design (a fact proven by that it was produced in the countless millions, both as CZJ’s Biotar and as the Soviet Helios-44) the Biotar had the limitation that it – at 58 mm – was on the verge of being a short tele lens. Simultaneously users increasingly wanted something a bit wider. Hence, Carl Zeiss Jena’s engineers started work on a wider, but equally fast standard lens.
That lens, introduced in 1954 was first known as the 50 mm f/2 Biotar, but was renamed once to Flexon, and soon thereafter to Pancolar. After roughly a decade in production, a faster Pancolar was introduced, leading to that Carl Zeiss Jena’s standard lens had reached f/1.8. From 1964 onward, the Pancolar 50/1.8 was Jarl Zeiss Jena’s primary standard lens, and was manufactured in relatively high numbers.
After Pentacon’s 1978 launch of the Praktica B series of cameras, the Pancolar was also manufactured for equipped with a Praktica B mount for two years (1979–1981). These lenses are named Carl Zeiss Jena Prakticar 1:1,8 f=50 mm, and with these lenses there is a significant risk of mistaken identity7.
The 50 mm f/1.8 Pancolar was produced
• As a Zebra lens, in two optically and cosmetically different variants. The first variant is the 6 elements in 4 groups design, while the latter uses the 6 elements in 5 groups design. The first variant was offered only in m42 auto, while the later was available both in M42 auto, M42 electric and M42 Pentacon Super8 variants.
• As an all-black lens, with (at least) three slightly different barrel designs, both in M42 electric as well as M42 auto variants. The picture below shows the second all-black version with M42 electric mount.
This lens cannot be used natively on any current SLR or dSLRs. To use it in its native environment, you will need a M42-mount film body. Luckily there are a lot of those still available.
Thanks to being a fully manual lens (manual aperture, manual focus), the lens can be adapted to all mirrorless cameras using a suitable ‘dumb adapter’. Moreover, due to the popularity of the M42 mount, special adapters (helicoid adapters, tilt/shift adapters) are readily available. Alternatively, one can choose to daisy-chain adapters (e.g. M42->Canon EF; Canon EF –> mirrorless) which also opens up a wide range of speed boosters for those photographers that use smaller than full-frame sensors.
Using m42 lenses on dSLRs can also be an easy option, depending on the marque of dSLR.
• Canon EF, Minolta A/Sony A and Pentax K dSLRs are able to mount M42 lenses perfectly using a simple adapter ring. At infinity, the lens also protrudes a bit into the mount, which may limit adaptability on dSLR’s.
• Nikon F dSLRs have a long flange focal distance, meaning that adapting M42 lenses necessitates an adapter that uses corrective optics to allow anything close to infinity focus.
One final note about some variants of the Pancolar in M42 mount: Some of the variants of the Pancolar manufactured in M42 mount are auto-only lenses, which means that for the lens’ aperture to stop down when adapted, the adapter should depress the lens’ aperture stop-down pin.
1 Focal length is (unless stated otherwise) given in absolute terms, and not in Full-frame equivalent. For an understanding of whether the lens is wide/tele, see ‘Angle-of-view’.
2 Picture angle is given in degrees (based on manufacturers’ specs) and concerns the diagonal picture angle. Rule of thumb:
> 90 ° ==> Ultra-wide-angle
70–90 ° ==> Wide-angle
50–70 ° ==> Moderate wide-angle
40–50 ° ==> ‘Standard’ or ‘normal’ lens
20–40 ° ==> Short tele lens
10-20 ° ==> Tele lens
5-10 ° ==> Long tele lens
< 5 ° ==> Ultra-tele lens
3 Length is given from the mount flange to the front of lens at infinity.
4 Diameter excludes protrusions such as rabbit ears or stop-down levers.
5 S=straight; R=rounded; C=(almost)circular at all apertures.
6 Online one can find many lengthy and heated disputes stating that only Jena/Oberkochen is the true Carl Zeiss. While many of these discussions are riddled with misconceptions and a poor grasp of facts and timings, they largely also tend to be tainted by ideologies. Those discussions that focus on claims of one or the other Zeiss not really having rights to using designs developed at pre-war Zeiss are especially ludicrous because after the war practically the entire patent catalogue of pre-war German patents was given freely to everyone (the allied saw this as a form of reparations), hence also kickstarting the Japanese optics industry’s ascendancy (the Japanese optics companies were the most avid users of German optics patents).
7 This case of mistaken identity is caused by that the cheaper and more pedestrian Pentacon Prakticar 1:1,8 f=50 mm was also sold under the name Carl Zeiss Jena Prakticar 1:1,8 f=50 mm (especially after the merger of the VEB Pentacon and VEB Carl Zeiss Jena combinates, and even then only in some markets, most notable of which was the UK). In fact, the only sure way to separate a Pancolar- based Carl Zeiss Jena Prakticar 1:1,8 f=50 mm from a Pentacon-based Carl Zeiss Jena Prakticar 1:1,8 f=50 mm is that (looking at the DOF preview scale of the lens),
• the Pancolar-variant indicates IR focus with the right-hand f/4 value being painted in red, while
• the Pentacon-variant indicates IR focus using a red dot under the right-hand f/4 value (that is in white).
8 The Pentacon Super was Pentacon’s late and ill-fated attempt to launch a Pro-level system SLR to challenge the likes of the Nikon F. To enable the Pentacon Super body to read the lens’ aperture value, a specific extension to the mechanical M42 auto mount was designed, that used a second pin to communicate aperture informations to the body. For more information on the Pentacon Super, see here.