Sonnar Summer (The rise and fall of the sun king) Pt. 3

Chapter II.- The Sun goes down only to rise again.

Part 3.- Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone                                                                                          (The struggle of the 35mm standard length and the positioning of the fast telephoto)

Technical and cost factors marked the decadence of standard focal length Sonnar lenses.

In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s with the advent of the SRL revolution the popularity of the rangefinder cameras declined and companies such as Leica and Zeiss Ikon favored to adventure in the new system in detriment of their rangefinders. Other companies that had used the Sonnar design in the lenses for their rangefinder cameras such as Canon and Nikon were now taking the lead of the SLR market and by the end of the decade had completely abandoned the rangefinder system.

At the end of the Rangefinder era, the standard focal range Sonnar’s struggled to make the transition into the new SRL system. The 50mm Sonnars had a short back-focus length which provided an advantage in the Rangefinder cameras but made them incompatible with most SLR cameras due to the space required by their moving mirror, consequently the standard focal range in 35mm photography was now dominated by lenses following the Planar optical design, while only telephoto Sonnars made the transition into the SLR system.

The advancement in the coating techniques allowed to arrange glass elements isolated without getting objectionable reflections and stray light, without needing to combine elements into a group; moreover the fabrication of cemented triplets was more expensive than the fabrication of isolated elements.

In 1961 Zeiss Ikon ceased the production of the Contax IIa/IIIa cameras and with them the reign of the once revolutionary Sonnar came to an end.

And everything under the sun is in tune, But the sun is eclipsed by the moon

The Sonnar design is still today the basis for compact high-performance medium telephoto lenses with speeds up to f/2,8. A key point of characteristics of the Sonnar lens is its power arrangement which is of a telephoto type. The construction of the lens does not allow a large angle of view, but a fast lens of a relatively small size is viable.

The Gauss design lens realizes a higher performance than the Sonnar desing lens. But, it is inevitable that an employment of the Gauss design leads to a larger lens size. The Sonnar lens offers short barrel lengths and less saggital coma flare than Gaussian lenses, plus very elaborate correction of lens errors and very even corner – to corner illumination. The difference between designs is evidence that “A basic lens character is determined by a lens type”. The Sonnar lens has a characteristic that aberration fluctuation at a close range is large. Namely, the closer the lens is focused to the closest focus distance, the softer the subject image becomes and flare is increasing. It can be said that the characteristic of this seemingly shortcoming is well suited for portraiture or photography of a fixed still subject and the lens delivers an exquisite imaging characteristics.


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