Review – Contax Zeiss Sonnar 3.5/100 T* (C/Y)

DSC08013

I am currently looking for a capable but small landscape tele lens to complement my travel  kit. Will the Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* 3.5/100 (C/Y) deliver for my purposes?

Sample Images

DSC07778

Sony a7R | Zeiss Sonnar 3,5/100 | f/8

DSC07297

Sony a7R | Zeiss Sonnar 3,5/100 | f/8

DSC06324

Sony a7R | Zeiss Sonnar 3,5/100 | f/11

Specifications

    • Diameter: 62.5mm
    • Length:  61mm
    • Weight: 285g
    • Filter Diameter: 55mm
    • Number of Aperture Blades: 6
    • Elements/Groups: 5/4
    • Close Focusing Distance: 100cm
    • Mount: Zeiss C/Y

More information in Zeiss’ official data sheet.

The Carl Zeiss Sonnar 3.5/100 usually sells for around $300-400 at ebay.com (affiliate link).
In Germany you can buy it for 250-400€ at ebay.de (affiliate link). 

DSC07274

Sony a7R | Zeiss Sonnar 3,5/100 | f/8

Versions

Contax lenses like the Sonnar 3.5/100 usually come in two different versions. The lens was introduced as AEJ-version in 1983. There is also an MMJ-version which was introduced later, although the lens was discontinued before Contax discontinued their RTS-system in 2005.

Both versions were manufactured by Kyocera in Japan. The younger MM-version can be identified by the green color of the f/22 marking and allows program and shutter-priority with film cameras.

Optical differences between the lenses are not documented. The AE-version has Ninja-star shaped bokeh circles at f/4. If the  MM-version behaves e.g. like the MM-version of the 2.8/28, it could have solved that issue but that has to be proven.

Zeiss also produced a Planar 100mm f/3.5 for Hasselblad. This is a medium format lens and has a completely different design.

This review is based on the older AEJ version.

Build Quality

Build quality is superb and the lens feels very solid.

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

The paint and the rubber grip seem to be very robust and durable. Although my lens is probably more than 30 years old, it still looks almost unused.

Size, Weight and Handling

The Zeiss Sonnar 3.5/100 is only about as heavy as your average 1.4/50 although it is longer. It is very well balanced on the Sony a7R.

DSC08002

The size comparison shows, that it is slightly longer and thicker than the Olympus OM 2.8/100 MC. The difference in length between the lenses themselves is even slightly bigger but the Contax/Yashica-Adapter is 0,5mm shorter than the OM-Adapter.

The Zeiss Sonnar 3.5/100 is much smaller in every dimension than the popular Zeiss Makro Planar T* 2/100 which is more than one stop brighter and offers 1:2 magnification.

DSC07940

The focusing ring travels about 210 degrees from 1m to infinity. I think this is a very good transmission, focusing was easy at any distance. The focusing feel is very nice: Precise and smooth in operation.

The aperture ring has only full stops from f/4 to f/22. the only “half stop” is from f/3.5 to f/4. The handling of it is superb. The resistance is just right and every stop very distinctive.

To my taste, the Contax lenses have the best handling of all manual legacy lenses that I have held in my hands so far. It is a joy to use them.

Lens Hood

I don’t own a proprietary hood for the Sonnar 3.5/100 but according to mir.com, the Contax Metal Lens Hood No.5 should be the right one

I use a cheap screw-in Metal Hood with 55mm thread like it can be found on Ebay.com or Ebay.de. It is around 3cm long, does not cause vignetting and looks pretty cool.

DSC08100

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

Vorlage_Contax_100_Vignette

Vignetting is moderate (1EV) at f/3.5, slightly reduced at f/4 and mostly gone at f/5.6.

Distortion

This Zeiss shows a minimal amount of pincushion distortion. In most of the real life situations, this will not be noticeable. To correct it, I suggest -2 distortion correction in Lightroom.

Distortion

Flare

I couldn’t find any ghosting or normal flare, the only issue I found so far is veiling flare against bright light, when the sun is just outside of the image.  This can be reduced by a lens hood.

DSC07571

Sony a7R | Zeiss Sonnar 3,5/100 | f/8

Thanks to effective T*-coatings, overall contrast remains high in situations with the sun in the frame. Directly around the overexposed sun, there is some overcast which leads to a contrast reduction. This phenomenon is limited to a small area around the sun.

DSC07583

Sony a7R | Zeiss Sonnar 3,5/100 | f/8

Sharpness

This lens is sharp across the whole frame wide open, even on the 36 Megapixel sensor. I have the impression, that there is a slight boost in clarity at f/8 but not much to talk about.

Blendenreihe_100mm_V2

Close Up Sharpness

This lens doesn’t feature floating elements, that’s why I didn’t expect much in that regard. The sample below was shot at minimum focus distance (1m) wide open at f/3.5. It is still possible to see the fine structure in the branch in the 100%-Crop. Close up performance is better than expected.

Close Up

So let’s take a closer look. The sample below shows the dust on my NAS in the central region of the image. It was taken with the A6000, the camera with the highest pixel pitch that I have. The difference is still surprisingly small although there is a noticeable boost in sharpness, especially when the image is viewed in 2:1 magnification. I would not hesitate to use it wide open near the close focusing distance.

Contax_100_Close_Up

Field Curvature

Not noticeable, very flat field even at f/3.5.

Chromatic Aberrations

Lateral CA

Most of the image is always free from lateral chromatic aberrations. The outer edges (last 15% of the image) show some lateral chromatic aberrations at all apertures. The lateral chromatic aberrations are easily correctable. The sample below shows the outer edge of the frame, which is the worst case:

LaCA

Longitudinal CA

Longitudinal is visible, especially in high contrast situations. It is nowhere as bad as with the Makro Planar T* 2/100 for example, but it is definitely no apochromatic lens.

LoCA

Sony a7R | Zeiss Sonnar 3,5/100 | f/3.5

Bokeh

To be honest, I didn’t examine that until I started this review. In my landscape and architecture use, the lens is nearly always stopped down.

Maybe I did the lens wrong with that. The shot above (LoCA-Sample) shows, that the lens can deliver very smooth backgrounds, especially in close-up situations. The maximum aperture is just right to for close up work like flowers.

As bokeh is always a subjective thing, I will write my own opinion down and let you judge by the samples.

The shot below shows very clean bokeh balls in the background. You can also see the mild cat’s eye effect towards the corners.

DSC07558

Sony a7R | Zeiss Sonnar 3,5/100 | f/3.5

Two more close-up bokeh samples. Very smooth background, looks excellent.

DSC07532

Sony a7R | Zeiss Sonnar 3,5/100 | f/3.5

DSC07519

Sony a7R | Zeiss Sonnar 3,5/100 | f/3.5

Even at medium distance and with lots of structure in the background, the bokeh looks pretty calm.

DSC07969

Sony a7R | Zeiss Sonnar 3,5/100 | f/3.5

There is one downside about the bokeh, that I could encounter so far: The 6 non-rounded aperture blades turn the bokeh balls to hexagons, when the lens is stopped down. Here at f/5.6:

DSC07556

Sony a7R | Zeiss Sonnar 3,5/100 | f/5.6

Sun Stars

Sun stars are a little odd with this lens, especially compared with sun star marvels like the Loxia lenses. Corresponding with the aperture blades, they have six rays which look blurry and not clearly defined.

DSC07289

Sony a7R | Zeiss Sonnar 3,5/100 | f/8

Astro Use

Sorry, no astro use for me with that lens 😉 If you really want that to get tested, please let me know. I dont’t plan to use it for night sky shots.

Conclusion

good

  • very good and very even sharpness across the frame
  • lovely bokeh
  • low distortion
  • flare behavior
  • weight
  • build quality
  • very flat field
average

    • chromatic aberrations
    • length
    • minimum focusing distance
    • close up performance
not good

  • sun stars
  • price

Initially, I was hoping to find a capable but small landscape tele lens. With that goal in mind, I was excluding all the super bright spec monsters and tele zooms and finally bought a lens in a category, that many people probably overlook today.

Once fitted to my A7R, the size and weight of the lens just felt perfect to me. The build quality and operation is up to highest standards.

The maximum aperture of this lens is far away from being spectacular but the simpistic 5 lens design provides a very balanced performance. Resolution is very high at every aperture and every section of the image. Distortion, Flare, and Field Curvature are nothing to worry about. The lens surprised me with a lovely bokeh, although the amount of unsharpness is limited by the slow maximum aperture and the average minimum close focusing distance.

The age of the lens shows up in some categories like chromatic aberrations, close up performance, macro contrast and veiling flare where modern high quality lenses have significantly improved. If I could make a wish for a future tele Loxia lens, it would look pretty much like this lens. Just improve it with modern coatings and provide better CA control.

The price of this lens is 2-4 times as high as the average 2.8/100 from other legacy lens systems. This seems to be a bit steep, but the lens is worth it in my opinion.

If a beginner asks me what could be the first tele lens to buy in the future, I will wholeheartedly recommend the Sonnar 3.5/100 if it suits the budget. The lens has no real weaknesses but many strengths. It is very easy to produce high quality images (from a technical standpoint) with it and it forgives technical weaknesses with its flat field and high resolution at all apertures.

During the review, the lens truly surprised me. I have found a superb landscape and architecture tele lens and furthermore a decent occasional portrait and close up lens.

Sample Images

 

DSC07991

Sony a7R | Zeiss Sonnar 3,5/100 | f/5.6 |Full Size Sample

DSC07983

Sony a7R | Zeiss Sonnar 3,5/100 | f/3.5 | Full Size Sample

DSC07165

Sony a7R | Zeiss Sonnar 3,5/100 | f/8 | Full Size Sample

DSC07295

Sony a7R | Zeiss Sonnar 3,5/100 | f/11 |Full Size Sample

DSC07744

Sony a7R | Zeiss Sonnar 3,5/100 | f/3.5 | Full Size Sample

The following two tabs change content below.

Jannik Peters

37 thoughts on “Review – Contax Zeiss Sonnar 3.5/100 T* (C/Y)”

  1. Excellent review, and so timely…Have you tried the Contax G 90 F2.8? It has the same zeiss t* coating, 5/4 optics, 8 blade F2.8 aperture, and is a bit more compact…but uses either a funky manual focus adapter or pricey autofocus adapter. I’d love to hear if you’ve considered it and compare thoughts w this 100mm c/y version.

    I think we are in the same boat for landscape lens choices. I’m hoping to have a 2 lens hiking kit with the FE 28 F2 and a medium Tele that is small, light, sharp, with solid coatings. So far, I’ve gone through minolta 100 F3.5 Auto Rokkor QE (the smaller version of your tested version), Minolta 135 F 3.5, and Sony A-mount 100-200 F4.5.
    Thanks again for your great work!

    1. Hi Jordan,

      I’m glad to hear that you liked the review. Of course, I have considered the Contax G 2.8/90 and was about to pull the trigger. The choice between bad manual focus and bad autofocus was not the right deal for me, therefore I chose the good manual focus with the C/Y lens instead of the G. Nevertheless, the G 2.8/90 can be found cheaper and more often.

      I plan to use it in a landscape kit with the 2.8/21mm, sometimes 28mm and the Vario-Sonnar 3.4/35-70. I am pretty sure that it would be an upgrade to your existing tele lenses.

      I think, that Phillip played around with the 2.8/90 so I hope he can share his experiences with the lens.

      Greetings,
      Jannik

      1. Jannik,

        Sorry I referred to you as Phillip – I missed that it was you in the byline! I guess great minds think alike and you write like eachother!

        I didn’t fully explain in the last comment – I just purchased the Contax G 90 F2.8, for my hiking setup, but haven’t had a great chance to test it. However, I’d still be interested in any insights between the two from Phillip (or your other followers!)

        1. Hi Jordan,

          glad that you approve my choice of authors ;).
          I have been using the G90 for a few weeks but no systematic testing so far. I think it is a bit weaker in the corners but otherwise quite similar to the 3.5/100

          1. I have the g90 and techart v3 autofocus adapter w/latest firmware on the A7rii and get fairly good autofocus, similar to the sony 70-400g on laea4 adapter but the contax is louder since it is a screw drive. From what I have read autofocus is not so good on other camera bodies so bear in mind my experience is specific to the A7rii.

            Price of the g90 and autofocus adapter is around $550, and the real prize is the g45 for another $450 – two small, light, zeiss primes with autofocus for about a grand. IQ of both lenses exceeds my ability to nit pick the images. Spend 2 to 3 times as much on latest zeiss and I expect a lab test will show the new lenses are better, but for my amateur use the g lenses leave me with no complaint.

            Unfortunate that the g35 is said to be only ok, and the wides (21, 28) don’t play nice with digital sensors, so adapter cost is only spread over two lenses.

            The one odd thing about the autofocus adapter is that it very slowly drains battery even with the camera turned off, I think due to the bluetooth radio it uses for firmware updates. Other than that I’ve been pretty happy with autofocus as compared to the manual focus adapter I had been using.

  2. Have you tried the Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 135mm F/3.5 for M42? Very small, light, great build, sharp even wide open … pretty similar to this lens, but with MC instead of T* coatings. Thus no flare but nice glare. It’s larger (9 cm but still very compact) and heavier (400g but still very light) but more reach (135mm), thinner (49mm) and much cheaper (<100 €). I like it very much, but I'm not the standard guy. That's why I was looking for a compact and affordable medium tele option.

        1. Yes, a very interisting and cheap lens. I enjoyed the 1.8/85 in the past, very good for portraits and very sharp slightly stopped down. I am lusting for the 2/100, a very small brick of glass 😉

          I currently have a FD 1.2/85mm Aspherical and a nFD 2/135 although I am not sure if and when I’ll do a review about them.

    1. Hi soso,

      I didn’t try it out yet, thanks for the recommendation. I think we all are not the standard guys, that’s why we love playing around with manual lenses 😉

      Greetings,
      Jannik

    2. I like the MC 135 3,5 very much too, well did when I had an A-mount camera, not so fond of the m42 adapter for snoutish lenses on E-mount. The thing with the Aus Jena 135 3,5 is of course the build quality..return policies are nice for I think rather a lot of the current examples have A problems with the aperture or B problems with the focus ring. Mine was a B but I dismantled it and regreased it..tried Tri-flow first, a bicycle grease, which was too heavy. Tried a kind of oil with PTFE later which was too light, but works. (Cleaning out the bicycle grease was super fun)

  3. Jannik, thanks for the review! I’ve noticed that you use the a7r Do you have any plans on doing an a7r review? I’d be interested to see what your thoughts are on this camera and it’s usefulness for you!

    Love the reviews, keep them up Phillip and Jannik!!
    Eric

    1. Hi Eric,

      thanks for reading, glad you enjoy our work. I just sold my A7R because it tricked me a few times with its shutter shock when I made aperture series (although the Sonnar 3.5/100 is shock-free 😉 ). On top, there is that wobbly plastic bayonet, that caused problems with any lenses > ~500g and the missing EFSC. I didn’t really need the resolution too. Finally, I felt limited by the camera and missed my original A7 a little bit.

      Finally, the sensor reflections and the wobbly mount prevented me from buying a A7 again and I bought the A7II. The big advantage is, that Phillip’s and my aperture series will be directly comparable due to equal sensor and resolution. That is especially useful when I shoot comparable lenses like the Contax 2/28 and the Canon FD 2/35. (Phillip reviewed the 2.8 versions).

      Greetings,
      Jannik

  4. Great review Jannick. Just one observation. Not all the AE lenses have the Ninja star at f4.
    I have three AE lenses, a 100mm 3.5, an 85mm 2.8 and a 28mm 2.8. Only the 28 has the Ninja stars. I have just double checked to make sure!

    Regards

    Peter

    1. Hi, Peter…

      I have the AE Sonnar 85mm/2.8 here, as well as Contax G 90mm; and I was wondering what you feel the AE Sonnar 100mm brings to the party which justifies keeping both? Thank you for your advice.

  5. Very interesting and timely review… I am considering the Contax N 100 2.8 macro lens now that I have the Fringer adapter but can find little information on how it behaves for landscape imaging. It has super reviews for product and portrate purposes… Any insight greatfully appreciated.

    All best

    1. Hi Roger,

      I don’t know the Contax Makro-Sonnar, but it is a very interisting lens. I don’t have any experiences with the lens, I only own the Makro-Planar 2/100.
      If you get the lens, let me know how you like it.

      Greetings,
      Jannik

  6. Good review Jannik. I have just managed to re-acquire another copy of this lens (MM) for my A7. (I sold the first in favour of the ZE 100/2 on my 5DII, now both sold.)
    One thing confuses me though, what is the picture with the green glowing oblongs (What is NAS?) taken with the A600… I know it’s something to do with close-up quality?

    1. Hi Tim,

      thanks a lot! The picture with the green glowing oblongs to my “NAS” (Network Attached Storage, Syology DS215j) which is just my network HDD to store and backup my photos. It is showing the performance at minimum focusing distance, the higher pixel pitch of the A6000 shows impressively how good the Sonnar performs here.

      Greetings, Jannik

  7. Great review Jannik, it definitely lives up to Phillip’s high standards. I also am always on the lookout for a nice travel mid-tele lens, but still haven’t found anything to beat out the value and size of the SMC Pentax M 135/3.5: great images for <$50, 272g , 66mm long. Any plans to take a look at that lens in more depth?

    In the article, you mentioned, "The difference in length between the lenses themselves is even bigger but the Contax-Adapter is shorter than the OM-Adapter."

    I have adapter confusion…isn't the flange distance for Contax CY 45.5mm, and Olympus OM 46mm? Adapters should only be 0.5mm different in length, correct?

    1. Hi Keith,
      great to hear that! Thank you. I have never tried that lens, but there are other interesting mid-tele lenses that I am reviewing in the next time although they are a little bigger 😉
      You are right about the flange distance, there is a difference but it is actually to small to mention. I am going to correct that.
      Greetings, Jannik

  8. Hi Jannik,

    Excellent review. How would you compare this 3.5/100 vs a Leica Elmarit 90/2.8 (old version that flares), or the newer Zeiss 4/85 Tele-Tessar ZM, or the M-Rokkor 90/4, or even the Voigtlander 90/3.5 (via Nikon adapter) on the A7x?

    Would you be reviewing the C/Y 2.8/135? How would it compare to this 3.5/100?

    1. Hi Kai,

      thanks for your answer. I’m sorry to say that I didn’t usse one of these lenses above. Maybe I will review the Olympus 2.8/100 some day but I don’t find it as exciting as the 3.5/100, therefore I am not sure.

      I don’t have the 2.8/135 yet, I have to review 3 other 135mm lenses before and have also some other Contax lenses on hold.

      From what I have seen, the 2.8/135 is a bit more prone to chromatic aberrations and not as sharp across the frame wide open. Apart from that, they should be pretty similar as it’s the same design family (like the 2.8/85 Contax and Sony, Contax G 2.8/90).

  9. I carry four lenses for travel and size matters – a lot. The 100mm f/3.5 Sonnar is my favorite long lens, unless I know I will be taking photos of wildlife. Very good sharpness, great colors and the bokeh is lovely. Thanks for the interesting test.

  10. I got the chance to acquire this lens a few months ago and used this review as input for the decision to buy.
    And I must agree, this lens is an absolute gem. Sharp as anything else at all parts in the image at all apertures with a lovely contrast and rendering. I can actually focus without peaking and MF assist in my A7SII viewfinder with reliable results.
    https://scatteredlightblog.files.wordpress.com/2016/12/dsc08880.jpg
    https://scatteredlightblog.files.wordpress.com/2016/11/dsc07494.jpg

    With this one and the Contax Zeiss 35-70mm I only need an equally good wide-angle (around 21) for landscape work. I’ve got the Sony Zeiss 16-35mm. It’s not a bad lens, but in my opinion not up to the standard of those two lenses. For going really wide a better option is the Sony 10-18mm with can be used on full frame between 12 and 16mm. A lens with a lot of character in a positive way that can be recommended.
    But for that wide but not to wide option I’m still searching. Loxia 21mm or Zeiss Distagon 21mm (Contax or Canon) is of course an option that probably won’t disappoint but the price is also premium. Any suggestion to fill that gap?

    Thanks for a great review

    /Lasse

  11. Hi
    have you ever tried the CV 90 Apo-Lanthar Leica mount?
    It seems that it combines compactness, sharpness, good bokeh (although it is not fast), apochromatic, as well as 10 aperture blades (straight?). There isn’t lots of info on that lens but on paper it looks like a good alternative at a similar price.
    Cheers

    1. I had it once; it indeed handles colour aberrations nicely, and it focusses quite close. But I think it is a touch less sharp and certainly less contrasty than the CV. But a very good choice: which one to get might come down to price, since if it’s an MF short tele you want the Loxia is the best (even though I don’t plan to get one) and you are looking to save $$ by getting the C/Y or the CV.

      1. Thks for your reply David : )
        Do you remember how were the sunstars ? It seems that the leica m version has 10 straight blades (contrary to the dslr one which has 9 rounded). I wonder if they are as good as the other CVs reviewed here.

        1. Hi Adrien
          A typo in mine: i thought the cv a tiny bit less sharp than the c/y…..but similar.

          Don’t recall the sunstars. I had the sir version. Some claim the Leica mount (wasn’t it ltm, not M mount) was a bit less good. The photozone review, I think, suggested that. Could be copy variation. Or coatings updated for later sir version. For sunstars I’d prefer 10 straight. But for portraits I’d prefer 9 rounded. But overall 10 straight. After all wide open it makes no difference, and 10 straight makes a good evnough circle one stop down.

  12. Hi Jannik,
    I must say that this one is a hidden gem. This lens has shown me the character of the 100mm lens, apart from my being a Zeiss CONTAX lover. Its excellent colour rendering is to my cup of tea in portrait/nature/landscape photography. I would have ignored this lens had it not been for this review. Thank you for reviewing this one, which has turned out to tick all the boxes for me in performance, mechanical operation, usability and portability.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *