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Carl Zeiss Tessar 50mm f/2.8 Vintage Review : Performance

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Carl Zeiss Tessar 50mm f/2.8 Performance

First looking at sharpness, at f/2.8 the image is soft centrally. It reaches a good standard at f/4, but really becomes crisp and very good between f/5.6 and the minimum aperture of f/16. The edges are soft at f/2.8, good at f/4, very good from f/5.6 to f/11 and still good at f/16. Edge to edge consistency is excellent.


Carl Zeiss Tessar 50mm f/2.8 MTF Charts

How to read our MTF charts

The blue column represents readings from the centre of the picture frame at the various apertures and the green is from the edges.

The scale on the left side is an indication of actual image resolution as LW/PH and is described in detail above. The taller the column, the better the lens performance.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Canon EOS 5DS R using Imatest.


CA (Chromatic Aberration) is close to zero centrally, a superb result. The edges show a fair amount of CA at f/2.8 and f/4, reducing significantly thereafter. Depending upon subject matter, this may be no bad thing as the overall effect at wide apertures may be enhanced by the technical shortcomings; the classic “look” of the Tessar design.


Carl Zeiss Tessar 50mm f/2.8 Chromatic Aberration Charts

How to read our CA charts

Chromatic aberration (CA) is the lens' inability to focus on the sensor or film all colours of visible light at the same point. Severe chromatic aberration gives a noticeable fringing or a halo effect around sharp edges within the picture. It can be cured in software.

Apochromatic lenses have special lens elements (aspheric, extra-low dispersion etc) to minimize the problem, hence they usually cost more.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Canon EOS 5DS R using Imatest.


We expect some barrel distortion from 50mm lenses of this era, and here that measures at -0.88%, a good result that will likely cause no issues whatsoever.

Bokeh is not getting any help from just 5 blades in the diaphragm, but the lens aberrations may help to mitigate this. In fact, the bokeh of the lens is quite attractive, especially at f/2.8 and f/4, where the sharpness has not really kicked in.

Flare was one of the real difficulties in early complex lenses. Even a simple four-element lens if uncoated can reflect around 35% of the light hitting it, causing scatter and loss of contrast. However, coating the four element optic would reduce the reflection and scatter to around 5% and multi-coating perhaps to more like 1% or less. Then highly complex lenses do become a possibility. This lens is a fairly simple construction, with few elements to scatter light. Coupled with the deeply recessed front element, this protects against flare quite effectively and increases contrast. In the worst case, shooting right into the light with the sun at the frame edge, there is haze and a loss of contrast, but nothing in the way of created artefacts.

Vignetting starts off at -1.4 stops at f/2.8, settling thereafter to about two-thirds of a stop of corner darkening. A little vignetting can often enhance subjects, concentrating our eyes on the centre of the frame.

Carl Zeiss Tessar 50mm f/2.8 Sample Photos


Carl Zeiss Tessar 50mm f/2.8 Aperture range

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