Carl Zeiss 45mm F/2 Planar in Contax G Mount Review – an Almost Perfect Legacy Lens

Carl Zeiss 45mm F/2 Planar in Contax G Mount Review – an Almost Perfect Legacy Lens

4000 2250 James Tocchio

The Carl Zeiss Contax G Mount Planar 45mm F/2 prime lens is, without bluster, amazing. It’s helped me make some of my favorite images in years. It’s also irritating. Never before have I used such a dichotomous lens. Yet this split isn’t so much a reflection on the lens itself, rather a product of the times we live in, and if we can overcome or sidestep the one failing of the G 45/2 we’ll be shooting one of the best legacy lenses ever made.

Super quick history lesson – the 45mm F/2 G Planar debuted alongside the original Kyocera-made Contax G1 autofocus rangefinder camera back in 1994, and though we were all fairly distracted by Orenthal James’ speeding Bronco and figure skaters being clubbed with crowbars, people noticed. The lens was unanimously heralded as a marvel by the photographic press; a miraculously sharp lens comfortably in the conversation for best resolving power of any standard lens ever brought to market. Production of the lens continued unaltered when Contax released the G2 in 1996, and up until 2005 (when Kyocera stopped production of the G series) the 45mm Planar would remain that camera’s standard kit lens.

But if you’re conflating this kit lens with the kit lenses of today, stop it; this thing is nothing like the plastic zooms commonly packaged with many of today’s digital cameras. It harkens back to the days of full-metal construction and concise design; just what we’d expect from a lens with the Zeiss name on the nameplate. The barrel, mount, filter threads, and aperture ring are all metal (painted in Titanium finish or black), and at 190 grams, it’s a dense, weighty piece. Knurling throughout the lens is precise, oozes with quality, and provides excellent grip-ability on all surfaces and moving parts. Engravings for aperture and other markings are of the highest quality in a legacy lens. The accessory filters and lens hood are similarly dripping with class.

Practical use is a mix of effortless, and somewhat frustrating. Most second-hand G series cameras come with the 45 firmly mounted, and on these film rangefinders its functionality is as masterful as ever. Point, shoot, make an amazing shot. Where it begins to stumble is when we adapt the lens to today’s crop of modern mirror-less cameras (a practice that factors into most legacy lens shooters calculations). Due to the physical design of the G lens, a design which makes no allowance for on-lens manual focusing (this is done via a focus-by-wire system on the G series cameras), shooting a G lens on a digital camera requires the use of special adapters. These incorporate focusing mechanisms into the adapters themselves, which raises the price of the adapter and typically results in a less-than-ideal focus methodology. It’s a real bummer.

But while G mount lenses aren’t as seamlessly integrable with today’s mirror-less machines as some other legacy lenses, they’re still entirely usable if we’re willing to make it work. The Metabones adapter does the best job at creating a seamless setup. Its large diameter focusing ring works better than its less expensive counterparts from Fotasy and Fotodiox at transferring our manual input to the lens’ autofocus screw. In the world of manual focus G lens adapters, the Metabones is the one to own.

There also exists adapters that allow autofocus. These are loud, slow, expensive, and imprecise. But they’re automatic. Is the trade worth it? In my experience, no. The manual adapters work well enough, practice makes perfect, and the AF adapter will miss as many shots on its own as we’ll miss shooting manually. If AF is the only way you’ll shoot, shoot this lens on a G camera with a super-fine grain film like Kodak Ektar, and your digital scans will render much the same as shots from your mirror-less camera.

The takeaway is that there are options for people who want to use this lens on a digital camera. Are any of them as elegant as adapting a manual focus Nikkor or Summicron? No. But this is one of the few lenses able to shoot on both a G series machine and a modern digital camera, and when push comes to shove, the images the 45mm Planar can help us make are worth any amount of ergonomic compromise in the digital arena.

And make no mistake- image quality is this lens’ bread and butter. In a word, it’s perfect. Sharpness is beyond comparison. Shot wide open, subjects pop, especially when centered in the frame. The outer edges of the frame are naturally a bit soft, but I suspect most of us won’t be shooting flat, brick walls that occupy the entirety of the image area, so this isn’t much of a practical problem. Stopping down to F/2.8 and F/4 increases our depth-of-field and allows for nearly flawless rendition of subjects at any distance. And no other lens I’ve used facilitates the practice of “F/8 and be there” more easily. Street photographers, who typically prize depth-of-field in their context-heavy images, will love this lens, especially if shot on a G series camera with the focus switch locked on Auto.

What’s most stunning, and what sets this glass apart from much of the competition, is the way the lens renders color and contrast. And though I hate vagaries and unquantifiable analyses, I can’t avoid them here. There’s just a certain quality and depth to the images this lens makes. Lock it at F/4 and fire away for photos that have gorgeous subject isolation and that infamous Zeiss Pop. It’s there. I hate to admit it, but it’s there.

Zeiss’ famous T* coating helps the six-elements in four-groups design bolster this signature look. It promotes vibrant images, and mitigates flares and ghosting to a near-perfect degree of nonexistence. In normal shooting situations you’ll never notice any flares, ghosts, or even the slightest drop in contrast. Even when shot directly into the sun, image contrast is only incrementally hampered. Chromatic aberration is completely absent. For someone like me, who considers optical aberrations to be the worst offense a lens can make, this thing is flawless.

Vignetting, or light fall-off, is about what we’d expect from a standard lens at F/2. The corners of the frame are slightly darker than the center when shooting wide open. Use this to emphasize your subject, or correct the problem in post-processing with a simple nudge of the slider. Because of the simplicity of the fix (whether you’re shooting film or digital) I’m not sure why we still mention light fall-off in 2017 in any but the most severe cases, but there it is.

The bokeh characteristics of the Planar may be a bit polarizing. It’s a bit harsh, even shot wide open with a far distant background. Stopped down to F/2.8 we see the hexagonal shape produced by its six-bladed diaphragm, and highlight bokeh shows edging that most people would describe as having too much definition. But I prefer this type of bokeh to the overly-blended blur that most people seem to appreciate. The out-of-focus rendering from the Planar gives images character. There’s a depth to it that most lenses fail to produce, and I appreciate that the backgrounds in my images remain somewhat contextual even as they fade dynamically into the distance. But as is always the case with bokeh, this purely subjective characteristic will need to be personally assessed by the shooter.

Whether or not the 45mm F/2 Planar will find its way into your bag will depend on how you plan to use it, or more specifically, what machines you plan to mount it on. If you’re an owner of a G series film camera, this lens is easy to recommend. It becomes even more of an obvious buy if you’re shooting both a G camera and a mirror-less camera. It’ll make amazing images on each format with varying degrees of simplicity. Where the lens becomes harder to recommend is in cases where the shooter only shoots with a digital camera. The nature of the lens’ design frustrates manual focusing setups, and while it’s possible to overcome this frustration with practice, there are undeniably easier lenses for digital-only photographers.

But does easier automatically mean better? It’s hard to deny the excellence of images this lens makes, and now that I’ve seen what it can produce, I’ll shoot this lens on my mirror-less camera long after my G machine succumbs to the big, long nap. Had this lens a traditional manual focus ring, it would be the ultimate legacy lens; the lens I’d automatically tell every legacy shooter to own. As it is, I can only recommend it to G series owners and those digital-only shooters who are willing to work for their (unquestionably outstanding) photos.

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop

All stories by:James Tocchio
  • Beautiful review and photos.

  • Happy to be corrected but, clicking on the photo of the deer, is that not chromatic aberration along the right hand side of its neck?

  • Sweet shots! I just wish Contax made a manual focus version of this lens and camera. A G3 If you will.

  • The easy way to use the excellent 45mm Planar on a digital, is to buy the very similar 50mm ZM Planar, in Leica M mount, were everyone and his donkey make adapters for every conceivable mirrorless. Alternatively you can do the proper thing and use it on an M240 or M10. This is a truly excellent lens, which some professional reviewers have compared with the Leica APO 50 Summicron at around 6 times the price. I use mine for digitising film on a Leica BEOON copying stand with a Leica M240 or SL. It is better than the normal 50mm Series 5 50 Summicron, higher resolution with a noticeably flatter focus field. This is very important for slide copying even when stopping down to f8. My only criticism of both the 45 and 50 RF Planar lenses is that their OOF can be odd in certain lighting conditions. This is even more noticeable in the 35mm version of the Planar G, which seems to have a particularly sharp focus plateau. It is a great pity that the relationship with Kyocera all ended in tears. A digital full frame GD, which was in early development, with I think a Philips/Dalsa micro lensed sensor, would have been way ahead of its time.


  • I have the 50mm 1.4 T* version of this for my Canon 5D4. There’s a guy in Poland that makes custom mount plates of this and vintage lenses from Leica, Helios, Zeiss, etc for Nikon, Canon, Sony, and some med format cameras. While the Zeiss lens will fit on mirrorless with an adapter from Metabones, it won’t work on DSLR’s, bc the shutter mirror will hit the inside of the lens. The guy who does the mods, CNC’s and adjusts the lens so it clears the mirror and functions normally. Works very well on the 5D, as well as my Eos 1v film camera. Still learning how to manual focus, but you’re right, the colors and depth are different than with other modern lenses. If anyone’s interested you can check out his site and see samples of the lenses he sells.

    Great article that makes me still want to get a G2. i came very close to getting one 2 years ago, but settled on a Ricoh Gr1s, which is a fun pocket camera.

  • I used the Planar 45mm f/2 on a Contax G1 many years ago… A beautiful lens! Thanks to a friendly Kyocera rep (I worked in a camera shop at the time) I got to try a lot of Contax kit including the Hologon 16mm f/8. The only G lens I didn’t get on with was the Sonnar 90mm f/2.8, it never seemed as sharp as the others…

    • I have a feeling that it may have been a focus issue with the 90. The G series were never good at nailing focus with that lens, the AF mechanism was not really up to it.

      • I agree… my copy had already been back to the servicing department once (I bought it as a refurb along with the Biogon 28mm f/2.8… now that was a gorgeous lens!)

  • Awesome looking photos and great review, i think this series of Contax is also one of the best looking cameras of all time. Would love to have one some day.

  • Beautiful images, James. And a great write up.

  • I have the 50mm ZM Planar and it is an absolutely incredible lens. I have never used a lens before that has really floored me in image quality before, Zeiss T lenses are amazing!

  • Great photographs! lovely colors, and certainly that is a very gorgeous camera, is one of those cameras which I am always having joy in seeing the photographs taken by them (twilight and urban night specially) and also the photographs of it as an object (yes, I am guilty to objectify cameras ///n///)

  • I recently acquired a G45 and agree – everything said about this lens is true 🙂

  • This lens is beautiful, just as the Pentax FA 43. I can’t wait for your review and pictures with the FA 43. This one here is amazing, beautiful lens and the Contax camera is simply amazing looking, the lens even more so!

  • I just got this lens with a hawks m mount conversion. Can’t wait to see the results.

  • mount the g lenses on A7c, A9m2 with autofocus adapter, you will be amazed by the autofocus. what a beast! and a beauty.

  • I had several Contax G, many G lens, and of course this one. I have bought all them new in box. I have kept them few years, and sold them for Contax SLR 😉 why? This time I have found this lens too bright. This is probably the film system which excellent scan with excellent film such Ektar of Velvia 50 which is near top full frame digital camera. But, I don’t like digital. I like film touch. Why replaced them for the Contax SLR : lens as good, more choice, easier to deal with that time. Few years ago, a store wanted to exchange my M7 with Zeiss Biogon C 21mm for a case of Contax G black mint with 3 lens and flash, I have kept my M7 despite I hate it!

  • I return in this excellent review, of course.
    The G2 had an incredible magnificent documentation which was very well made and helped me to buy this dreamy camera which was not far the price of a Leica.
    Last time I was happy I havent sold my M7 for this fabulous case of G2 black mint with 3 lens, despite I hate my M7 I do not use. Why ? We can not a G2 working for ever!
    Now I am happy to have more mechanical cameras which are pure joy in the moment and for the future.
    Just here according to the situation now, I will like to thank South Africa to have shared so fast the informations about Omicron Covid, this is serious and great, and I believe we are sad for safety reason to close again borders especially to them, it’s not nice, but I hope all our States we will give rewards to South Africa to her honesty. By the way we can not say the same about WHO who has avoid to greek alphabet letter one more to protect China, despite than continuing to invest in the sources of the virus : there are different kind of people in this world : some who love film photography, they are great people, some who are honest and they are also great people, and many others kind including the worst …
    Respect to South Africa and gratitude and apologies !!! I think now boycotting goods and events from one place is more than a necessity, this is a duty for : lies, bullies, increasing treats, not respecting international rules, increasing nuclear weapons in Indo
    Of course if someone offer me a G2, I will certainly use it, but I am not sure of what it gives more, comparing to a Leica M, a Canon P or 7, a Voigtlander, a Konica, a CL …. a Zeiss Ikon, …

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop

All stories by:James Tocchio