The Carl Zeiss Planar 50mm f/1.7 is one of those lenses that has become very popular with users of Sony E, Fuji X, Micro-Four-Thirds and to a lesser extent; Canon EF cameras. There are a number of reasons for this: it is inexpensive (around £100 on Ebay), it is small and light (more plastic than the 1.4 version) and most of all; it is a very sharp lens with a very distinctive character – especially on film. Overall, I have preferred it to the more expensive Planar 1.4 – but then, I have had a couple of real bad examples of the larger lens.
The 1.7 Planar is not as sharp as the Canon FD 50mm f/1.4 at f/2, but by f/5.6 it has caught-up the FD lens. The Planar’s colour rendition is totally different to the Canon and it delivers a little extra contrast and bite. Performance of the Zeiss is very similar to the Yashica ML 50mm f/1.7 with the Yashica delivering a much cooler range of tones than the Zeiss.
As with the vast majority of legacy lenses from the 1970s, don’t expect the same level of performance wide-open as you would achieve with modern, plastic, auto-focus lenses. It’s just not going to happen. Stick to f/5.6 and f/8 and you won’t be disappointed.
Resolution and Sharpness
Let’s see how good this lens is, how much details can it resolve and how clearly defined in that detail. Here’s one of my favourite scenes; a view of Tower Bridge taken from the jetty at ?. The width of the original, digitised image is 8,566 pixels.
This is a very good performance. Not only has the Planar captured an awful lot of detail, the detail that has been has captured in clear and distinct. There is no fuzziness or halo around the “citycrusies” text and vertical beams on the bridge are incredibly clear.
The Bottom Line
This is a must have manual-focus, nifty-fifty for any camera with an electronic viewfinder and focus-peaking. I wouldn’t bother putting one of these, or indeed any legacy lens on a Canon DLSR (hard to focus, inaccurate exposure etc). But really, where this lens truly belongs though; is on the front of a Contax 139, 159 or Aria.