Pekka Buttler, 09/2022
The table below summarizes the lens’ key specifications (measurements are based on the sample pictured above):
|Carl Zeiss Jena
|Exakta, M42, Praktina
|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.
• Originally the 50/2 Pancolar was intended to be the modernised 50/2 Biotar, but that name was Changed to Flexon and subsequently to Pancolar.
• The 50/2 Pancolar is one of the first mainstream lenses to include an aspherical element.
• The 50/2 Pancolar was available first and foremost in Exakta and Praktina mounts, but some copies also left the factory with an M42 mount.
• While the 50/2 Pancolar’s successor (the 50/1.8 Pancolar) was marketed in 1965, this, slower Pancolar remained in parallel production until 1968.
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 Flexon7, and soon thereafter to Pancolar. The 50/2 Biotar/Flexon/Pancolar is an interesting lens not only because it had more name changes than design changes (there was a optical redesign in 1960), but also because it is one of the first mainstream lenses to use aspherical elements to help combat optical aberrations.
After roughly a decade in production, a faster 50 mm f/1.8 Pancolar was introduced (data sheet here), which remained in production for practically the rest of the lifespan of the East Germany. However, the newer f/1.8 was only ever produced in M42 mount, making the 50/2 Flexon/Pancolar the fastest Carl Zeiss Lens for the Exakta mount.
The 50/2 Flexon/Pancolar was produced in three different cosmetic variants:
• The first variant (mostly for the Praktina) was an otherwise silver lens, with a black, faux-leather band as focusing ring.
• The second variant (mostly for Exakta) combines a rubber focusing ring with diamond knobs, with the UFO-type depth of field indication system (pictured sample).
• The third variant (mostly for Exakta) is a classic German-style Zebra design
(The discussion below will focus on adapting M42 and Exakta variants. For a discussion on adapting Praktina mount variants, see JAPB’s article on the Praktina mount.
This lens cannot be used natively on any current SLR or dSLRs. To use it in its native environment, you will need an Exakta or M42-mount film body. Luckily there are a lot of those (especially in M42 mount) available.
Thanks to being a fully manual lens (manual aperture, manual focus), the lens can be adapted to all mirrorless cameras using a suitable adapter. Moreover, both Exakta and M42 lenses are so uncomplicated that a simple ‘dumb adapter’ will do the job perfectly. Moreover, due to the popularity of both mounts, 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 and Exakta lenses on dSLRs can also be an easy option, depending on which dSLR.
• Canon EF has the shortest flange focal distance among full-frame dSLR’s and Canon’s wide range of dSLRs are able to mount both M42 and Exakta lenses perfectly using a simple adapter ring.
• Minolta / Sony A dSLRs are likewise able to mount M42 lenses using a simple adapter ring, but for Exakta lenses, the difference in flange focal distances is not enough to enable reaching infinity focus without an adapter that uses corrective optics.
• Pentax K dSLRs are likewise able to use M42 lenses using a simple adapter ring, but for Exakta lenses an adapter that uses corrective optics would be needed to allow infinity focus.
• Nikon F dSLRs have a long flange focal distance, meaning that mounting either M42 or Exakta lenses needs an adapter that uses corrective optics to allow anything close to infinity focus.
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 Apparently the reason for the name change away from Biotar was that Carl Zeiss Jena had recently settled its trademark dispute with Carl Zeiss Oberkochen, and would have forced to sell its lenses in the west without reference to the ‘Carl Zeiss’ name, but also without reference to pre-war design names such as Tessar, Sonnar and Biotar. Renaming the Biotar to Flexon neatly circumvented this problem.