A few weeks ago I bought an Exakta Varex IIa 35mm slr which came with a Carl Zeiss Jena Pancolar 50mm f/2 lens in Exakta mount. While I’m cleaning and servicing the Exakta camera, I decided to try the lens out on my Fuji X-T1 mirrorless to see how it performs.
The CZJ Pancolar has a reputation for being an excellent lens and I wondered if this is a well deserved reputation which applies to every example, or if it is actually just a run of the mill lens with a few particularly good copies?
To use the lens on the X-T1 I needed to adapt the lens, and I did this with a simple and cheap adapter purchased from Amazon for only a few pounds. I never see any reason to pay too much for mirrorless lens adapters because they are basically only a hollow tube, so as long as the tolerances are good enough that the lens fits the adapter and the adapter fits the camera they basically can’t go wrong. However, that said, I do make sure I thoroughly clean the adapter before I use it to make sure there are no metal shards or anything similar which could get on to the sensor.
The lens itself has a couple of problems which I will need to fix before I use it on my Exatka. First, the aperture is a bit sluggish to stop down when the auto stop down function is used. This probably means there is grease on the aperture blades and they will need to be cleaned. The other problem is with the focus control which has a couple of of spots where the control tightens up and becomes stiff. This is absolutely typical of lenses of this age and indicates that the grease in the focus helicoid has turned waxy and needs to be cleaned out and replaced with a modern lithium based grease. Both these problems are relatively easy to fix and can be sorted out with a couple of hours work.
To use the Pancolar on my X-T1 I set the aperture to manual mode, which is done by pushing in the release button on the lens and turning it anti-clockwise. When set like this, the aperture blades respond directly to the aperture ring and stop down as soon as the ring is turned.
With the lens attached to the camera, I then use the camera in aperture priority mode by setting the shutter speed to auto, the ISO to auto and (obviously) the focus to manual. The X-T1 then has all the brilliant focus assist options in the viewfinder which help when using this manual focus lens.
The crop factor of the X-T1 means that the lens acts as a 75mm focal length, portrait length lens when attached to the camera, which gives a slightly more cropped picture than when fitted to the Exakta Varex IIa it was bought with. Although I would prefer a wider angle lens to shoot with, the longer length coupled with a widest aperture of f/2 gives the opportunity to create some nice background defocus.
The pictures above are some I took with the Pancolar 50mm on the X-T1 in raw mode, imported into Lightroom and then after a few minor tweaks, exports as jpeg files. How did the lens perform? Well what do you think? I think it has done rather well with good colour definition and pretty good fine detail, but I’d be interested in hearing your opinion. Let me know in the comments section below.