Review: Contax Zeiss Distagon 2.0/28 T* AEG (C/Y)

DSC01741The “Hollywood-Distagon” 2/28 is one of the few lenses with a nickname. It is an adapted cinematic lens design for the Contax SLR cameras, but does it’s performance live up to the cool nickname?

Sample Images

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Sony a7II | Distagon 2/28 | f/2 | full resolution
DSC09424
Sony a7II | Distagon 2/28 | f/2 | full resolution
DSC09441
Sony a7II | Distagon 2/28 | f/8 | full resolution

Specifications

    • Diameter: 62.5mm
    • Length:  76mm
    • Weight: 530g
    • Filter Diameter: 55mm
    • Number of Aperture Blades: 6
    • Elements/Groups: 9/8
    • Close Focusing Distance: 25cm
    • Mount: Zeiss C/Y

More information in Zeiss’ official data sheet (german).

The Carl Zeiss Distagon 2.0/28 usually sells for around $800-1000 at Ebay.com (affiliate link). 
In Germany you can buy it for 800-1000€ at Ebay.de (affiliate link). 

The younger MM version usually sells for a little bit more than the older AE version.

Versions

There are two versions of the Zeiss Distagon 2.0/28 T* for Contax.

The older AEG-version introduced in the mid 70’s  won’t allow program and shutter-priority with film cameras.   The younger MM-version can be identified by the green color of the f/22 marking.

This review is about the AEG-version of the lens which was made in Germany. Unlike some other Contax lenses, the 2/28 only has Ninja-star shaped aperture blades at f/2.8. The other stops are not affected and don’t show Ninja-star shaped aperture blades.

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Some people claim that the coatings and the optical design have been improved when the MM version was introduced but I couldn’t find any reliable source to back it up. Zeiss still services the MM version but not the AEG version.

One largely unknown version of this lens is the Pentax branded clone SMC Pentax 2/28 for the Pentax K-Mount, a result of an only 12 month lasting partnership between Zeiss and Pentax.

The later Zeiss Z-Series Distagon T* 2/28 for DSLR-cameras is based on this lens. The differences are discussed at the FM Forum.

Build Quality

Build quality is superb and the lens feels amazingly solid. All Contax Zeiss lenses have top notch build quality, among the best of all legacy lenses.

DSC01671

The barrel is made of metal with very tight tolerances. Both focus and aperture ring are rubberized and easy to grip. All markings are engraved.

Size, Weight and Handling

The Zeiss Distagon 2.0/28 is pretty long but thin for a 28mm lens and reminds me of slow tele lenses like the Sonnar 3.5/100. It is a bit front heavy on the Sony A7II. The weight of this lens is 530g which is nearly twice the weight of the Distagon 2.8/28. Compared to it’s smaller brother, the Distagon 2.0/28 is also 26mm longer. Both lenses share the same diameter.

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The focusing ring travels about 100 degrees from 0.25m to infinity. The transmission is reasonable, but a bit steeper than the transmission of the 2.8/28. Focusing was a joy at every distance. The focusing feels very precise.

The aperture ring has full stops from f/2.0 to f/22. It is possible to select half-stops between the clicks. In my opinion, the Zeiss C/Y aperture Rings  are the nicest aperture rings for photographers. Resistance is just right and every stop very distinctive.

Despite the weight and the length with an adapter, the handling of the Distagon 2.0/28 is flawless.

Lens Hood

I don’t own a hood for the Distagon 2.0/28 but according to mir.com there were two different hoods: The Metal Lens Hood No.1 and the Soft Lens Shade 55mm G-12. 

Filters

The 55mm filter thread is made from metal. The front of the lens does not rotate so polarizers are easy to use.

Image Quality

Vignetting

Vignetting wide open is very pronounced. At f/2.0 it is 2.7 EV. Stopped down to f/5.6, the vignetting is reduced to a value of 0.9 EV.

Contax_28_Vignette

Distortion

The Distagon 2/28 shows a small amount of barrel distortion, a setting of +4 corrects it very well in Lightroom.

DSC01784

Sharpness

Infinity

Blendenreihe_28mm_II

I took this aperture series with the Sony A7R.

f/2: Good contrast and sharpness in the center. The mid-zones show a visible dip in sharpness, the corners suffer from astigmatism and spherical aberrations.

f/2.8: Contrast and sharpness in the center are excellent, the rest of the image is slightly improved.

f/4: The midrame improves dramatically, the corner contrast is improved.

f/5.6: Excellent in the center and in the midframe region with very good contrast. The corners show good sharpness.

f/8: Excellent sharpness in the center and in the midframe region. Very good contrast across the frame. The corners show very good sharpness

f/11: A little softer and less contrasty across the frame due to diffraction.

I’d prefer f/8 for landscape photography. Great contrast and sharpness across the frame.

Close Up

Contax_28_Close_Up

f/2: Good resolution but low contrast

f/2.8-f/5.6: Excellent sharpness and contrast in the center.

Thank’s to floating elements, the close up performance of this lens is very good. At f/2.0 the resolutionis decent but the contrast is very low. This gives the images a dreamy look, just look at the whole image under the crops. Contrast and sharpness improve significantly at f/2.8 from where they are on an excellent level.

Field Curvature

The Distagon shows a significant amount of field curvature. The plane of focus is comparable to a sphere around the camera. The extreme corners are focused significantly behind the center which will result in a greater subject isolation towards the edges (in comparison to a lens fith a very flat field of view). The impression of depth of field is more shallow than the f/2 value may suggest. This property of the lens defines it’s character and is great for close-up photography with shallow depth of field since it conveys a three dimensional impression.

Nevertheless, this attribute is challenging when it comes to landscape shots. Careful focusing is needed to achieve even sharpness across the frame stopped down.

Chromatic Aberrations

Lateral CAs are moderate in the extreme corners. 75% of the image is mostly free from lateral CAs. Here is a corner crop:

LaCA
Sony a7II | Distagon 2/28 | f/8

Longitudinal CAs are low for a fast lens like this although it is possible to find some if you do the paper test:

LoCA
Sony a7II | Distagon 2/28 | f/2

In a real life situations, loCAs are not very pronounced. The sample below shows that in a nice way.

LoCa_II
Sony a7II | Distagon 2/28 | f/2

Bokeh

The Distagon 2.0/28 has two faces when it comes to the bokeh. At closer distances it has a creamy and dreamy look, which is outstanding for a lens from that time. Other sample images in this review confirm that impression.

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Sony a7II | Distagon 2/28 | f/2 | full resolution

However, with mid-distance subjects and distant backgrounds, the bokeh suffers a bit. The situation below is exemplary for that:

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Sony a7II | Distagon 2/28 | f/2 | full resolution

The 100%-crop of the bokeh shows more pronounced lines, I would rate it as neutral.

Bokeh_far
Sony a7II | Distagon 2/28 | f/2 | 100% crop from the image above

Although the aperture blades show a ninja star shape at f/2.8, I can’t find an image where that shape is reflected in the bokeh balls. They are very soft and simply not well defined at that aperture. Stopped down, the bokeh balls take on a hexagonal shape.

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Sony a7II | Distagon 2/28 | f/2.8 | 100% crop of a bokeh ball

Sunstars & Flare Resistance

The Zeiss Distagon 2.0/28 only has 6 aperture blades so sunstars only have 6 strokes. Their shape is never very defined although they are quite visible at f/11. The sunstars don’t differ much from the ones that are found in the Distagon 2.8/28.

Thanks to effective T*-coatings, I could not find significant veiling flare. Ghosting is visible, although the size of the artifacts is nice to handle. In general, I would rate the flare resistance as very good.

The following image is exemplary for both phenomenons:

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Sony a7II | Distagon 2/28 | f/11 | full resolution

Coma & Astrophotography

The Zeiss Distagon 2.0/28 shows significant coma at f/2.0 and f/2.8. It is greatly improved at f/4 and mostly gone at f/5.6.

Due to it’s bad coma performance, low corner sharpness wide open and the high vignetting, I don’t recommend this lens for astrophotography.

Contax_28_Coma

Conclusion

good

  • build quality
  • flare resistance
  • close-up performance
  • close-up bokeh
  • sharpness at f/8
  • minimum focusing distance
  • longitudinal CA
average

  • corners are a bit soft until f/4
  • midzone-dip wide open
  • lateral CA in the corners
  • bokeh at longer distances
  • distortion
not good

  • soft extreme corners wide open
  • vignetting wide open
  • price
  • size and weight
  • coma
  • sun stars
  • field curvature

Regarding the optical performance of the “Hollywood”-Distagon 2/28, there are lots of pros and cons.

It’s not a perfect landscape lens due to the significant field curvature, weight, lateral CA and odd sunstars. But since it is quite sharp across the frame and not very susceptible to flare I wouldn’t hesitate to use it for landscape photography when it is in my bag.

The high coma and vignetting limit it’s usefulness for astrophotography although it’s a pretty fastlens.

The build quality is impressive but the lens is also quite long and heavy.

If you ask me whether the Contax Zeiss Distagon 2/28 is so special that it deserves the cool “Hollywood” nickname my answer is yes. Not because it’s perfection but due to it’s imperfections. Many people are asking for “character lenses” these days and the Distagon 2/28 is definitely one of them.

The dreamy bokeh wide open, the field curvature which reduces the depth of field towards the corners, the good close-up performance, the great colors and the good flare resistance make this lens predestined for close-up wideangle photography with shallow depth of field. The Distagon 2/28 is an expert lens for that purpose and can create images with high plasticity and three dimensional rendering. If this is your style of photography, this lens is for you.

The downside of this quality and it’s cool nickname is, that is has many fans which are willing to pay quite a lot for it. Therefore it is quite rare and has got a hefty price tag. It is probably one of the most expensive 28mm legacy lenses, only surpassed by some Leicas.

If you are just looking for a nice general purpose 28mm lens and don’t do much photography with shallow depth of field, there are other more economic options.

Alternatives

Contax Zeiss Distagon 2.8/28 – This lens has a lot in common with it’s bigger brother. The stopped down corner performance seems to be a tad worse, the close up performance is also worse due to the lack of floating elements and the close up bokeh is not nearly as spectacular. On the other hand, you get the same  contrast/sharpness  across the frame and top notch build quality in a much smaller and lighter package at a fraction of the cost.

Sony FE 2.0/28 – This lens is probably the most obvious and appealing alternative. It has half the size and less than half the weight of the Distagon 2.0/28. It has autofocus and transmits EXIF data. Stopped down, it has great corner perfomance and a nice bokeh wide open at half the price of the Distagon 2.0/28. Obviously, this an easy choice and most users will buy that lens. Nevertheless, when it comes to real images, I must admit that I personally prefer the rendering of the Contax lens. The colors seem to be more vivid, the contrast is higher and the amount of loCA is lower. The images have more plasticity while the Sony lens looks slightly flat to me.

Voigtländer Ultron 2.0/28 – Equally to the Distagon 2.0/28, the Ultron 2.0/28 suffers from field curvature (at least on Sony A7 cameras). The difference is, that the plane of sharpness of that lens bends forward towards the corners which gives a much different look and a less pronounced subject isolation. Apart from that, the Ultron has got nice bokeh, lovely sun stars, comes in a much smaller and lighter package and offers decent sharpness stopped down (although there is a midzone dip, even at f/5.6).

Pentax K SMC 3.5/28 – Unquestioned, the Distagon 2.0/28 is a better alround lens but this could be a better alternative if you look for a landscape lens. It has high contrast, less field curvature, less loCA and great flare resistance.

Sample Images

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Sony a7II | Distagon 2/28 | f/2 | full resolution
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Sony a7II | Distagon 2/28 | f/2 | full resolution

 

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Sony a7II | Distagon 2/28 | f/8 | full resolution
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Sony a7II | Distagon 2/28 | f/8 | full resolution
DSC09192
Sony a7II | Distagon 2/28 | f/2 | full resolution
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Sony a7II | Distagon 2/28 | f/2 | full resolution
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Sony a7II | Distagon 2/28 | f/2 | full resolution
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Jannik Peters

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18 thoughts on “Review: Contax Zeiss Distagon 2.0/28 T* AEG (C/Y)”

  1. Be great to find how similar the Z series 28/2 is. It’s no much more expensive new with warranty where I live…

    1. Hi David, I have linked the FM-discussion in the article for that. They are basically the same although some people claim that it has lost some of its magic (3D) in the Z-Series.

      1. Hi Jannik
        Yeah I read the thread. Didn’t seem to be anyone who had really had real experience of both. The field curvature is much the same on the ZE/F according to various sources, so the 3D (and the need to compromise focus at infinity) should be the same. Certainly the block diagram looks very similar, but there are a lot of details that could be hiding.
        Very tempted to try out the ZE. Only slight hassle is that for enviro portraiture, AF is handy. But then I don’t think anyone will make a modern AF with this much field curvature again (for better and for worse!)

  2. My C/Y Distagon 2/28mm is an AE version “Made in West Germany”, that should mean at Oberkochen Germany, and it should obtain an service there, if required!

    The newer MM Version should be serviced by the TRITEC Service Company, in order from KYOCERA Japan!

  3. For your interest and “Alternatives”, though I haven’t tried either, is the SMC Pentax “K” 28/2, made to the exact same design as the Distagon reviewed here, (though with SMC Coatings, not T* of course), when Zeiss and Pentax briefly “co-operated” before Zeiss “linked” with Yashica.
    A couple of links below:
    http://www.pentaxforums.com/lensreviews/SMC-Pentax-K-28mm-F2-Lens.html
    http://www.pentaxforums.com/lensreviews/SMC-Pentax-K-28mm-F2-Lens.html

    1. He mentioned it in the “Versions” section of the article.

      I just wanted to point out that, since the Ebay link Jannik gave doesn’t distinguish: the Pentax-M and Pentax-A 28/2 lenses do _not_ have the same optical formula, and are not held in such high regard, as the original Pentax “K” 28/2 lens (it was just called “smc Pentax”; the “K” is a convention users came up with after the fact to distinguish from the later M, A, F, FA, DA, and D FA lines).

  4. I’am very surprised when I compare my results with this lens and yours!
    On your streetpictures with f2 for example I miss the strong fieldcurvature, where in case of the sitting man at the busstation the left part of the station would be strongly out of focus compared to the center and that would be visible in the scharpness pattern on the street on the right side: not here however?!
    Further, even at f 11 my corners are not sharp at all, I have to crop 1/8 off the picture to achieve that. And that is what I have seen on some examples on flickr too.
    And how can it be that at some pictures the exifdata give the aperture value?

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