Tuesday, June 15, 2021

A super rare lens just sold at auction for $340,000

When you think iconic and famous camera lenses ones that might come to mind would be the Nikon 50mm f1.4 or the Leica 35mm f2 Summicron - each respected and loved by many, granted none of these lenses break the $5,000 dollar mark let alone over $340,000, but one Zeiss lens just did that at the 38th Leitz Photographic auction, whilst still remaining relatively unknown. 
image: www.leitz-auction.com
In the mid 60’s, NASA commissioned Carl Zeiss’s optical facility to develop a ‘super fast’ lens to use on the Apollo missions. For those of you unfamiliar with this terminology, a ‘fast’ lens is one that lets in the most light possible with a wide open aperture

The lens would solve a very specific problem for NASA;  its intended purpose was to counteract the issue of having to take photos of the incredibly dark shadow areas of the moon. It wasn’t as easy as just putting a super high ASA/ISO (light sensitivity) film into the camera, because without enough light passing through to the film, it would just be super grainy blackness even with high sensitivity.  

Zeiss went to extreme lengths to produce the specialised lens for NASA. Zeiss were not unfamiliar with the idea of a lens like this, since 1874 the basic design of the lens (a double-gauss lens) existed. Zeiss themselves began research and development on this type of lens long before WWII but during, they created a lens similar to the one which would be used by NASA for night time weapons guidance.  But they pulled all the stops for NASA (pardon the pun) and they created a lens which would become one of the fastest lenses ever made - the Planar 50mm f0.7. While just looking at the number f0.7 (a measurement of the amount of light passing through the lens) might seem insignificant, to put it in perspective; an f1.4 lens is considered to be a very ‘fast’ lens for night time shooting, the Zeiss 50mm f0.7 lets in an incredible four times the amount of light. Zeiss made 6 lenses for NASA for their Apollo missions, they then made 4 more lenses, one for themself (which can be seen in their museum) and 3 for one of the most prolific filmmakers of the time - Stanley Kubrick. 
image: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BdchffDosvY&ab
In 1974 Stanley Kubrick was facing the same problem that NASA was: he needed more light for the candlelit scenes in ‘Barry Lyndon’, and standard lenses wouldn’t cut it. He researched high and low for the perfect lens; when he discovered that Zeiss had made super fast lenses for NASA, he begged both NASA and Zeiss to let him use the lenses, eventually they budged and sold him three. His problems wouldn’t stop there. Because of the super specialised design of the lens, it needed to be a tiny 4mm away from the film when it was being exposed, which wouldn’t allow any room for the standard rotating shutter mechanism inside the cinema camera. So Kubrick contacted a camera and lens technician to modify the camera to be able to take the lens. They ripped out and redesigned the whole internal shutter mechanism just to fit this specific lens. Without the standard mirror-reflecting shutter for the viewfinder it meant they couldn’t monitor the frame when shooting, so they strapped on a closed circuit tv camera to the cinema camera which would emulate the frame and provide distance measurement for the operators. 
image: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L8_VLXmrgss
Because of how wide the aperture was at f0.7 the depth of field for the image was razor thin and the actors had to deliver all of their scenes moving perfectly parallel to the camera or they wouldn’t be in focus, which was a very daunting task. Even then, after all that, it still wasn’t bright enough. They brought in three wick candles that burnt much brighter than regular ones and then over-developed the film to brighten the image. The end result is one of the most iconic pieces of cinematography not only for its visuals but technical achievement. Barry Lydon won the Academy Award and the BAFTA for cinematography in 1976 and ever since, the Zeiss Planar 50mm f0.7 has become a thing of legend amongst camera enthusiasts and cinema fans.

It's no wonder when one of the ‘holy grails’ of fast lenses was auctioned off on Saturday it stirred up a lot of interest, selling for an astonishing $340,000 AUD. It might seem like a lot, but even newly manufactured ‘fast’ lenses are some of the most expensive lenses on the market for new cameras, with Leica’s Noctilux f0.95 selling for an eye watering $18,300 at their Sydney boutique.
image: https://leica-store.com.au/products/11602
It's obvious Zeiss make fantastic lenses and are regarded highly, far and wide because of that.

*** On today's offer

A 20th anniversary Contax G1 kit which comes with three Zeiss lenses - a 28mm f2.8 Biogon, a 45mm f2 Planar and a 90mm f2.8 Sonnar, all very beautiful lenses. If you are on the fence whether film photography is for you, this set will make you fall in love with how easy and rewarding it can be. When it was originally released this camera earned its reputation as the 'distinguished man's' luxury travel camera, and it's easy to see why. The finish and build quality for such a compact camera will take you back.
K7649 - Contax G1 20th Anniversary Special Edition 

Contax G series - the only Autofocus rangefinder ever made 

Titanium cladded Contax G1 body
35 mm rangefinder camera
Contax G Mount 
Mechanical shutter - up to 1/2000 
Auto exposure assistance
Automatic winding up to 2fps
Zeiss Biogon 28mm F2.8, Zeiss Sonnar 90mm F2.8, Zeiss Planar 45mm F2 with lens hoods and lens caps
Contax TLA140 Flash
Wooden anniversary presentation box

Comes as a set with original wooden 20th anniversary presentation box and instruction manuals.

Overall condition: 9.8/10

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