Carl Zeiss Sonnar 85mm f2.8 is a beautiful Carl Zeiss lens made in West Germany. It’s a sharp lens with a rare optical design – it only has four elements in 4 groups. Compared to some of today’s lenses, four element designs are unique – Zeiss Batis 85/1.8 has 11 elements in 8 groups.

Element count alone does not determine the quality of the lens – there are some excellent lenses with high element counts. However, there is a tendency for small element count lenses to produce some very appealing results due to uncorrected aberrations, which add to the character of the image.

The low number of glass-to-air surfaces ensures minimal internal reflections and allows the lens to capture images with great micro-contrast and ‘3D’ look.

I was lucky to buy mine on eBay for £80 (€90 / $100) in 2019. Auctions are cheaper, fixed prices much more expensive.

Zeiss 85mm f2.8 Optical Design Diagram
Zeiss 85mm f2.8 Optical Design Diagram

 

Mechanical

Carl Zeiss Sonnar 85mm f2.8 is just finely machined glass and metal. The focusing ring is smooth and easy to use. The more I use these manual focus lenses, the more I enjoy focusing manually.

Manual focus on Canon EOS R with focus peaking is delightful – I can fix the focus point exactly where I want it to be. Focusing was way more complicated with Canon EOS 6D, and I consistently failed to focus when using manual lenses. I genuinely enjoy my manual lenses now.

You will need QBM to EOS RF (EOS R) adapter to mount this lens on Canon EOS R. I bought a Roxsen adapter on eBay and paid $23 for it.

The lens feels well balanced on Canon EOS R and is light enough to become a perfect travel photography lens.

Image Quality

The image quality is better than expected for the price. Images are sharp and contrasty. There is a bit of softness wide open, but not as much as with Mamiya Sekor 55mm f1.8 M42. Once stopped down a little, it produces incredibly sharp results. The lens is excellent for portraits and nature photography. I particularly like the way it renders images – they have the perception of depth and the “film” look.

Sample Images

Grass with Dew - f2.8 ISO100 1/400s - Hand Held
Grass with Dew – f2.8 ISO100 1/400s – Hand Held
Roses - f2.8 ISO100 1/400s
Roses – f2.8 ISO100 1/400s
Canon EOS R - f2.8 ISO500 1/125
Canon EOS R – f2.8 ISO500 1/125
Field - F4 ISO100 1/250s
Field – F4 ISO100 1/250s
Max with EOS R at F4 ISO100
Max with EOS R at F4 ISO100

Specifications

Focal Length: 85mm
Optical Design: 4 Elements / 4 Groups
Minimum Aperture: f2.8
Maximum Aperture: f22
Aperture Blades: 6
Minimum Focus: 1 m
Radioactive: No
Manual Focus
Weight: 195g
Years produced: 1970-1981
Made by Carl Zeiss in Oberkochen, West Germany

Conclusion

I enjoy having this excellent value for money lens and will keep shooting it. It is not a popular well-documented lens, and that made it interesting for me. The results speak for themselves, and I am happy that I have bought it.

I would rate it 5 out of 5.

I hope this small review helped you. Do you have one? Is your experience similar to mine? Leave a comment below.

5 Replies to “Carl Zeiss Sonnar 85mm f2.8 QBM Lens Review”

    1. Hi Mike, thank you! It’s a really good lens, I’m sure you will like the results. Although prices are creeping up for these too, good luck finding one at a reasonable price.

    2. Hi Mike,Voigtländer also designed a similar one (Color-Dynarex). Their factory was totally closed down in 1972. In the years just before that date, some lenses were already built in Japan (Cosina, Mamiya, others?). It is difficult to make out which. But the construction quality is high (I’ve got one). After they were taken over by Rollei (also a Zeiss-affiliated company), in 1974, the very same formula was used for Rolleinar 85 mm. These are said to have been produced by Mamiya (1977 till the end of production, probably as late as 1996).
      You may want to buy one (got my Color-Dyn’ from a French vendor in July last year, 80 €). These lenses are ergonomically fine (built-in retractable hood as well) and are very sharp, with good color rendition. You cannot miss one shot. They come with a QBM mount, for which you find adapters to most camera systems. The shorter focal lengths (eg 35 mm Distagon or 50 mm Planar) sometimes conflict with the available space (for example, with a Fotodiox Nikon adapter), but the 85 mm is fine (and the 135 mm or 200 mm as well). In MFT, they all work very well. I have (as yet) no personal experience on Sony, but friends don’t have any problem.
      The only problem is: no fun ( a little bit like the Nikkor 85 mm AF, which of course has the advantage of an auto-focus when you need one). The pictures come out “as expected”. If you shoot for the sake of getting “perfect” photographs, they are fine. If you want more (and some junk or the faulty photographs that come with it as well, of course), you’ll prefer the Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 85 mm (very cheap and baroque), the Jupiter-9 ( a delight to use but more expensive) or the fantastic Hexanon AR (heavy, though).

  1. Mantas. I don’t possess this one, but I do have the Voigtländer Color-Dynarex 85 mm of identical formula. It is an excellent lens, albeit a bit “boring”. Every shot comes out fine, without any surprise. And the escamotable lens-hood comes in handy, maybe a bit short in length to be fully effective. But as the coating is efficient … For the same token, you derive much more pleasure from Jupiter-9, which also has a Sonnar design, but with many more optical elements and 15 diaphragm blades, built out of very “old” glass (mine dates back to 1965, the silvery version) ==> advantages & drawbacks alike.

  2. I had the Contax RTS version of this lens in the film period. It was outstanding. I’d love to see what that same lens would do on high-resolution digital today.

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