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Planar

dudler

Time for an update: I still use film, though. Not vast quantities, but I have a darkroom, and I'm not afraid to use it.

I enjoy every image I take: I hope you'll enjoy looking at them.
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Planar

7 Apr 2020 10:05AM   Views : 278 Unique : 149

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It took a few minutes’ thought to decide on my photographic ‘P’ – but in the end, it was a no-brainer. P is for Planar. One of the great loves of my photographic life. The lead image is Alaria, photographed on Delta 3200 with my Planar 85mm f/1.4 on a Contax RTS (which is the other great photogrpahic love). For once, my Ilford Manual let me down, and I had to scour Ken Rockwell’s informative site, as well as Wikipedia and the Zeiss pages.

Planar is a name that’s been in the Zeiss catalogue for 125 years, and belongs to the Double Gauss family of lenses, which make use of two. A Gauss lens uses a positive meniscus lens and a negative meniscus lens to control chromatic aberration, and a Double Gauss lens has two Gauss lenses back-to-back, and in the Planar each Gauss set consisted of three elements.

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This wasn’t without problems in the days of uncoated lenses – the original Planars had four of the elements cemented together in pairs, but this still left eight air-to-glass surfaces, and that meant that a Planar was likely to suffer from flare – degradation of the image by light bouncing around inside the lens, and leading to highlights spreading across the frame. Earlier in the long life of the Planar, this meant that photographers preferred the smaller aperture and less complete correction of aberrations of the Tessar design.

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This shot - at full aperture, with the lens mounted on an Alpha 7r III, shows lots of imperfections - and also rather lovely Bokeh.

Lens coatings, introduced from the late 1930, helped, and most people who’ve met a Planar will have seen it with the term ‘T*’ on it – Zeiss’s version of multicoating. Current Planar designs sometimes exploit the availability of excellent coating and flare control to have six separate elements, and twelve air-to-glass surfaces.

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Corner detail - at very nearly full aperture - see the full frame below.
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Zeiss claim that it’s the most successful, and most-copied lens design of all time, and you may well find that your Canon or Nikon wide-aperture lens owes a lot to Zeiss. The latest generation of wide-aperture lenses involve many more elements (the Canon 85/1.4 has 14, including one aspherical lens, and the Sony G-Master 11), but, like all of us these days, they’re standing on the shoulders of giants.

The Planar has a very special place in my affections, as my first Contax lens was a 50mm f/1.4 example, in 1976 – and the great lens love of my life was (and is) the 85mm that I bought less than a year later.

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A cheap adaptor allows me to use the Planar on a modern camera.

For several years, my digital go-to lens was the Sony Alpha mount version of the same lens, until I opted for the Sony 85 f/1.8 which makes full use of the autofocus on my Alpha 7R bodies, rather than operating through an AF adaptor. It’s smaller, lighter, and focusses faster than any f/1.4 lens – and I still have the Planars when I want the maximum differential focus. And, while the f/1.8 lens with its nine elements, is even sharper than the 1977-vintage Planar, don’t take the older lens lightly: it’s still capable of superlative results, and after more than 40 years of use and abuse, it’s mechanically delightful to use.

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Sony AF incarnation of the Planar, and two of my favourite models, Nee Naa (left) and Joceline, being slightly silly

A really top-class manual focus lens makes taking a picture a sensual and sensuous experience, with silk-smooth focussing ring and a precision feel that AF optics struggle to emulate, because there’s a conflict between the need for the focus mechanism to be light and easy to move, and the perfect resistance (but without mechanical backlash) that makes a lens feel ‘right’ – though coupling the focus ring electronically allows a decent emulation.

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Stopped down to f/5.6 for (porbably) optimal performance.

Comments


mistere Plus
6 6 3 England
7 Apr 2020 11:33AM
Sometimes you need the right tool for the job, the one you know will give you exactly what you want. I have a very old hand plane that belonged to my father,
he loved it and so do I. There are some things that were made, just right. Like a favourite pair of shoes, or an old jumper. That album or that book.
Things that fit perfectly into your life and you wouldn't want to be without. I suppose we all have something like that.

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dudler Plus
16 1.1k 1645 England
7 Apr 2020 1:12PM
Thanks, Dave. I know you get it.

You need to do a still life of the plane, along with something your Dad made with it, and maybe something you have used it on.

I reckon, anyway.

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