Zeiss (<i>Olympia</i>) Sonnar 180mm f/2.8 & Nikkor-P 180mm f/2.8

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by jdm_von_weinberg, Mar 22, 2013.

  1. Zeiss (Olympia) Sonnar 180mm f/2.8
    Kadlubeks Objejektiv-Katalog CZP0100
    Nikkor-P 180mm f/2.8
    Kadlubeks Objejektiv-Katalog NIK3090


    The glorious history of the Carl Zeiss Olympia Sonnar made for the infamous 1936 Olympic Games is well known, or should be ( e.g., http://www.cameraquest.com/oly180.htm ).

    "The Zeiss Olympia Sonnar 180mm f/2.8 for the Contax II (both 1936, Germany) is a classic, if not mythic, example." it says in the Wikipedia article on lens design. Examples at http://www.mir.com.my/rb/photography/companies/nikon/nikkoresources/RF-Nikkor/Contax_RF/ContaxRF180mmf28OlymSnar.htm , other links: http://forum.photozone.de/index.php?/topic/2434-legendary-carl-zeiss-jena-olympia-sonnar-t-180mm-f28-lens/ , http://www.photo.net/classic-cameras-forum/00MjXJ )

    As the images at the Cameraquest page linked to above show, the size of the 1936 Sonnar is surprisingly comparable to the Pentacon 6-mount lens that I am discussing and comparing here. That same article also claims that the post-war Western Zeiss longer Contax lenses were actually made in Jena. We can simply say that the 'break' was gradual and related to the increasing control and then ownership by the state in the East. (also see http://www.cameraquest.com/olymp180.htm )
    I earlier posted a couple of pictures taken with my P6-mount version of the Zeiss Sonnar 180mm f/2.8 on my Pentacon 6TL ( http://www.photo.net/classic-cameras-forum/00Pqzu ). In some later discussion, someone chimed in that their Olympia Sonnar was made by Nikon. So I was a little curious about that Nikon Nikkor-P 180mm f/2.8.

    Below is the original formula for the Olympia Sonnar on the left, with the Nikkor-P design on the right.
  2. These are clearly in the same family, and I am also not sure whether the post-war Sonnar may have been modified from the original form.

    I finally got a non-AI Nikkor-P 180mm f/2.8 lens, so it is now time (better late than never?) to take a quick look at them.

    The Zeiss lens is a post WWII lens from the German Democratic Republic with the 'zebra" finish. This would place it sometime around the 1970s. The Nikkor-P (non-AI) was made between 1970-74, so the two lenses are approximately contemporaries in manufacture. Here are the two lenses side by side:
  3. Comparisons

    First, here is the image from the Zeiss 180mm at f/2.8. [NB the Zeiss being about 1.6kg in mass, the Zeiss shots were done with a monopod support. The Nikkor-P only masses some 830g, and these were hand-held. On both, the ISOs were set so that the shutter speed was 1/6400. Even coughing, I don't thing I shook too fast for that!]

    The Cameraquest article indulges in a little hyperbole on the Zeiss:

    One of the nicest features is the Olympic's amazing light weight. Weighing in at a petite 3 lbs. 10 oz, the photographer could carry the Olympic for hours barely aware that it was pulling them down to the level of the invertebrates, since most photogs start hallucinating under the weight after about 45 minutes. The rumor that the Zeiss designers responsible for this monster also designed optical systems on German Battleships is unsubstantiated at this time. [;)]
    My flu is still lingering, so these are more of my fabulously arty series called "From the end of my driveway". Eat your heart out, Robert Frank!

  4. and here is the same shot, but with the Nikkor-P 180mm, also at f/2.8. [The Nikkor-P only masses some 830g, and these were hand-held but at high shutter speeds.]
  5. and another pair, first the Zeiss again (all shots here are wide-open at f/2.8):

  6. The Nikkor-P watertower :
  7. More telling, here side by side are 100% crops straight from the RAW (confession: I shot these on a Canon EOS 5D mark ii).

    The house down the street:
  8. and in turn, the water tower from both at 100%
  9. Remember now. These are all shot at the widest aperture, f/2.8. No stopping down. Interestingly both lenses go down to f/32.

    I did shoot the Nikkor at a full range of apertures, but honestly there were few differences among them and nothing that would show up in 700 pixel displays, or 100% crops for that matter.


    Such variations as there are in the shots have more to do with eye, movement (even at 1/6400), and air perturbations than with demonstrable optical differences. Of course, this is not a bench-test nor does it claim such a level of precision.

    That's it folks.
    However, I think the results show how remarkable both lenses are. Clearly I'm likely to use the Nikkor-P more often, given its much smaller size.

    Also remember that the Sonnar in this case is a medium-format lens made for the Pentacon 6TL 6cm camera.
  10. JDM Thanks for the nice pictures. To my old and tired eyes the Zeiss lens seems to have a slightly greater depth in rendering than the Nikkor, going by the top 2 pictures. Of course, as you said, one cannot tell much with the 700 pixel pictures. Enjoyed the comparison. SP.
  11. Well, that may be a matter of time of day, ambient light, the monopod on the Zeiss pictures, and variations in focus by my "old and tired eyes". Or it may simply be the case that the Zeiss has its strengths.
    The original Olympia Sonnar 180mm f/2.8 was designed for the Contax II or III body with a reflex housing. I don't know how much or if the Praktisix/Pentacon 6TL lens was scaled up to fit the larger format, but it surely has a nice "sweet spot" when used on smaller format cameras.
    Here is what that looked like (from The Zeiss Compendium, by Barringer and Small, 1995).
  12. Thanks for posting this comparison JDM. The 180/2.8 Nikkor has long been on my wish list, but it's closeness in focal length and only one stop faster compared to my 200/4 have kept me from buying one. The Nikkor seems to have a good bit more CA wide open (typical of most Nikkors of that era) than the Zeiss, making it seem less sharp in the crop of the house pics, but it seems considerably sharper in the water tower pictures (particularly looking at the seam in the metal). Not that anyone would be able to tell the difference in most real-world situations.
  13. JDM,<br>I'm curious why you say that they clearly are of the same design family.<br>The Sonnar shows the for a Sonnar design typical (though atypically subdivided, presenting more vertices) very thick lens element, while the Nikon does not, and bears more resemblance to a Zeiss Tele-Tessar design.<br><br>Good write up, good comparison. Based on your results, i would prefer the Nikon.
  14. Interesting write up JDM, and I have just acquired the 180mm 2.8 for my Pentacon Six, it's massive! I haven't taken any shots with it yet but the viewfinder image looks great. The original Nikkor P 105mm is also the classic Sonnar design and I prefer it to the later (I think Gauss) design 105mm.
    I have the 180mm 2.8 AF Nikkor with ED glass, and I presume that this is a different design?
  15. Well-presented comparison between two notable lenses, JDM . While the Nikon bears strong similarities to the Sonnar, I'm not sure that it's close enough to be "family"... Anyway, there's certainly not much to choose between the results you've illustrated, in practical terms. Thanks for another interesting post.
  16. The Nikkor is an Ernostar-type design. Even Zeiss themselves have been selling Ernostars as "Sonnars" for decades.
  17. The Sonnar shows the for a Sonnar design typical (though atypically subdivided, presenting more vertices) very thick lens element, while the Nikon does not, and bears more resemblance to a Zeiss Tele-Tessar design.​
    For sure, QG and Rick, but I saw the fourth element from the front as being of 'similar' form in both, although far thinner and separated in the Nikon. And of course, one gets suspicious, rightly or wrongly, of 'familial history' when the specs (e.g, 180mm f/2.8, etc.) are so similar. ;).
    Also I was somewhat disposed to the idea of connection by somebody having previously commented on their shooting with their "Nikon Sonnar" when I was talking about the Pentacon lens way back. When I actually found the lens diagrams (not as easy as you might think) I was surprised to see how different they were. As I also said, I really don't know if Jena made any changes to the layout in bringing it to the Praktisix, et al.
    I am simply amazed by how good a medium format lens like my Sonnar does on the smaller formats, but there's no question that hooking it up and toting it around for more than a few test shots is a real challenge. That's one reason I was glad to finally get the Nikkor-P. I'm quite sure that's the one I'll be using. It's easily handheld and with the quality it provides wide open even modest ISOs in the 200-400 range produce very fast shutter speeds to damp down shooter shake.
    Thanks everybody. I'm feeling almost human again, and will try to get out with my Soviet MTO lens sometime this next week.
  18. JDM,
    Very interesting set of lenses. I did find a test of sorts on a series of Pentacon Six lenses in a May, 1969 issue of BJP.
    Here is page 1.
  19. Here is page 2.
  20. Here is page 3.
  21. Here is a test of the Nikkor-P 180mm f/2.8 from the Nov. 1972 issue of Modern Photography.
  22. As always, Marc. Thanks. I think these kinds of documents add a lot.
    The lens diagram also shows essentially the same make-up as in the pre-war version.
  23. Fabulous and interesting write up. Being the owner of the GDR lens i would concede that the 50% weight reduction is a
    major attraction. Checking the resolution of the images though, i think the GDR optic has the edge, possibly due to better
    designed glass? Anyway, thanks for the informative write up.
  24. Like Ralf.. I also gave the edge to to the GDR glass. The rendering was darker amd to my taste more appealing. I also take it all very subjectively and if one has a predisposition..well Like JDM also states; non-laboratory conditions etc . I agree that Marc B's excellent library of tests is always a welcome addition. I recently went reading in Wikipedia thanks to JDM's last post on just this subject.. Sonnars and Biotar/Planars. I think they are conceptually both Sonnars. IF not the exact formula... "family" seems appropriate to me! Bertele was as much a genius as Paul Rudolph! Bertele a long and storied career.
  25. Chuck,<br>I'm not sure what you are saying, but the Sonnar is definitely not "family" of the Planar or Biotar. Not only are the basic formulae of Sonnars and Double-Gauss types like the Planar and Biotar different, they are grown from different roots, have a different background. A different "family".<br>The Olympia Sonnar and the Nikon... I stil think the Nikon looks more like a member of the (Tele-) Tessar family. Distantly related to the Sonnar. More so, at least, than the Planar and Biotar.
  26. I'm mending ever more rapidly, but I am going stir-crazy, so I got into my sources, spurred by QG and Rick. I started to do something to add here, but it quickly grew all out of proportion and probably relevancy, as well.
    So I, naturally, as one of the more "frequent posters," started yet another thread*. Its title is Triplets, Tessars, Sonnars, Optical Innovation, and the Nikkor-P link
    *YADT, sort of like the "another d. cat picture" on No Words
  27. By the way, the latter linked to discussion, turned out to be even more contentious than this one.
    Who'd a thunk it?
    Lens- and national-chauvinism lives and rules!

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