Years ago I bought this beast of a lens on Ebay (225€) because I wanted to have an old fast tele lens on a budget. I had tried several old glasses before, and some where fine but others not. My all time favorite lens is the Nikon NIKKOR-S.C Auto 1:1.4 f=50mm. It is cheap, very sharp, stopped down to 2.8 and has a gorgeous swirly bokeh.
Speaking of Bokeh – in my opinion it is a very important factor when it comes to tele lenses and stopping them down. So my choice was the Carl Zeiss “Olympia” f2.8/180mm Sonnar with its 18 aperture blades, giving you creamy bokeh stopped all the way down.
It was possibly the most exclusive and expensive lens of that time. This lens had been developed by Carl Zeiss for the Olympic Games 1936 for a 35mm rangefinder camera and Contax CRM mount.
Leni Riefenstahl was filming and taking photos of the games with this lens, and her recordings enjoy a unique status and worldwide viewing to date. After World War II a big amount of those lenses was shipped to the Soviet Union as reparations and then became the base for a large number of variations from different brands.
The original Carl Zeiss “Olympia” f2.8/180mm Sonnar is very rare, just about 800 pieces have ever been manufactured.
Sure, it was developed as sports lens, but nowadays it is a “perfect” portrait lens, due to the not so perfect glass and coating, giving your images an interesting character. The bokeh you get out of old glass is something you just can not reproduce with modern lenses!
It wasn’t easy to get a rock solid way to adapt this lens to a modern camera, in my case a Canon 650D (APS-C) with a Pixco Exakta-EF Adpater and focus confirm-chip. Adapters without that chip are way cheaper, but on such a long lens I want to be sure to nail the focus, especially on a crop-camera, like the 650D.
To be honest – it never was the perfect solution. The chip worked very well, but almost every time I tried to pull the focus ring, the clamps on the adapter got loose, and in some cases I was holding the lens in one and the body on the other hand. So I had to be very carefull and could never rely on that
lens-adapter-combination. For that reason I never used that lens very often.
Last year I bought a Canon 6D – and wanted to know how that lens performed on fullframe. Originally the Carl Zeiss “Olympia” f2.8/180mm Sonnar has been developed for 35mm format cameras and was later adapted to 6×6 medium format cameras like the Pentacon 6. So it was no problem to use it on fullframe. I again got excited to use this lens, but wanted to find a better adapter solution.
I researched on several websites until I found a company from Leipzig named Kurt-Dieter Huffziger. Back in the 60ies he developed an adapter especially for that lens to put it on Pentacon 6 (Kiev 66) cameras. So I went on eBay and voila! there was one of those original adapters. Lucky me I got it for 23€.
After that I never saw one of those adapters again – pheww!
But now I needed an adapter from Penatacon 6 to EF and I still wanted the confirm chip. There is just one manufacturer in the world selling those. It is “Fotodiox” from Illinois, USA. Thanks to them I can finally mount my 180mm Sonnar to the Canon 6D.
What I got is a rock-solid and also lighter version of my Carl Zeiss “Olympia” f2.8/180mm Sonnar. It is very pleasing to the hand and because of the huge focus ring you can gently pull and nail focus. The aperture ring with the option to predefine the maximum aperture is pretty neat in the field. The “Fotodiox” – adapter with its confirm chip does also a verg good job, but to be honest its not always perfect. So I trustet my eye to get perfectly sharp images and the focus peek is more like a helper.
I am very impressed by the sharpness, color contrast and overall image quality this lens can produce. In difficult conditions and wide open at f2.8 you get a slightly soft image, but stopping down to f4 increases the quality much. The example images where shoot at f8.
Most of the time I am taking pictures of architecture and cityscapes, especially from my hometown Leipzig. I love the compression a tele lens can produce. Sometimes it is worth switching from ultrawide to tele for picking just a detail of the scene.
To demonstrate the nice bokeh I will shoot a portrait series soon.