Medium Format Lenses with the Pentacon Six Mount
A comparative test
by TRA



There are various way to achieve this focal length:
500mm f/5.6 MC Pentacon
250mm f/3.5 Arsenal Jupiter-36B + Arsenal 2× converter
250mm f/5.6 Joseph Schneider MC Tele-Xenar + Schneider 2× converter

And, in the Hasselblad mount: 250mm f/5.6 Carl Zeiss Oberkochen Sonnar + Vivitar 2× converter

[C308-9: From left to right: 250mm f/5.6 Joseph Schneider MC Tele-Xenar + Schneider 2× converter, 250mm f/3.5 Arsenal Jupiter-36B + Arsenal 2× converter, 500mm f/5.6 MC Pentacon and 250mm f/5.6 Carl Zeiss Oberkochen Sonnar + Vivitar 2× converter in Hasselblad mount]

Arsenal also make a 500mm APO lens that has received very positive reviews, although it is quite expensive (approx US$1,500, I believe).

Shooting images with lenses of between 500 and 1000mm was a real test for my tripods, and I would say that they (the tripods!) did not reliably pass the test! In these lighting conditions, using an aperture of f/11 with 160 ISO film required an exposure of 1/30 sec, where prudence would have led to a 1/500 or a 1/1000. If sometimes the image at f/11 did not appear to be as sharp at the image at maximum aperture, it was in part an indication of the high quality of the lens at maximum aperture, and in part a demonstration that the tripod failed to hold the camera still enough.

[C308-34: The Hasselblad 500C with the Carl Zeiss Oberkochen Sonnar and Vivitar 2× converter.
The camera is here fitted with the Arsenal TTL prism supplied with the Kiev 88.]

Letís not waste any time: the Carl Zeiss Oberkochen Sonnar + Vivitar 2× converter came out on top, although the fact that the lab printed these particular shots darker does help them to appear sharper, especially in the areas of highlight detail.  As this Sonnar lens was not the top-performer amongst the 250mm lenses, this is down to the superb quality delivered by the Vivitar converter.

[C302-7: 500mm Pentacon at f/11  1/60 sec]

The 500mm Pentacon is very close to it, even at maximum aperture!  At f/11 there is a further slight increase in sharpness.  (It can only be slight, with such excellent results at f/5.6!)  If the lab had printed the pictures darker, they would probably have matched the resolving power of the Sonnar + Vivitar, both at full aperture and stopped down to f/11.  The Pentacon lens has the advantage of being an f/5.6 lens.  Using the CZO Sonnar or Schneider 250mm lenses fully open with a 2× converter results in an effective maximum aperture of f/11!

[C306-7: The 500mm Pentacon lens mounted on a Pentacon Six]

At maximum aperture, the Schneider 250mm Tele-Xenar + Schneider 2× converter combination is visibly behind the outstanding performance of the CZO Sonnar/Vivitar, in both contrast and sharpness, which is surprising as on its own the Schneider lens beat the Zeiss.  At f/11, the Schneider combination is significantly sharper, but still behind the Sonnar/Vivitar.  I shot this twice, and one shot was spoilt by camera movement, even though I was using a tripod.  Again, if the lab had matched the print density with those they produced for the Sonnar/Vivitar, the difference would have been harder to see.

[C308-35: The Schneider Tele-Xenar 250mm lens with Schneider 2× converter, mounted on an Exakta 66]

Using the Arsenal 250mm Jupiter + Arsenal 2× converter resulted in two very satisfactory shots.  Even at maximum aperture, the image is pleasingly sharp, quite remarkable, considering that this is an f/3.5 lens.  Stopping down to f/11 does sharpen up some detail slightly, but it is difficult to see.  This is where I begin to wonder about the rigidity of the tripod: the full aperture shot was exposed at 1/500 (!) (under-exposing the negative deliberately by half a stop), while the f/11 shot was exposed at a mere 1/30 (with Mirror Lock Up on the Pentacon Six).

[C306-11: The Arsenal Jupiter 250mm lens with Arsenal 2× converter, mounted on a Kiev 60]

How would I rank these four lenses?  As I said at the start, the CZO Sonnar/Vivitar comes out top.  Who is second?  Itís not easy to say, but the Pentacon is just ahead of the other two.  Then comes the Schneider combination, then the Arsenal lens + converter.


Marrying the 140-280mm Schneider Variogon with the Schneider 2× converter yields the longest focal length designed by Schneider for the Exakta 66.  At full aperture (f/5.6), the results are excellent: sharp, contrasty and detailed, right across the frame.  The fact that my f/11 shot shows no improvement is both a testament to the sharpness of the lens at full aperture and no doubt an indication that the tripod was not up to the challenge of holding such a long lens totally still with a very slow exposure (1/30 sec at f/11, as opposed to 1/125 with the maximum-aperture shot).  The moral of the story: with this degree of magnification of the subject, a remarkably sturdy tripod (I thought mine was good!) and high-speed film are needed.  It also helps to work slowly.

[C306- 10: The 140-280mm Variogon with Schneider 2× converter on the Exakta 66]

[C302-13: 140-280mm f/5.6 Joseph Schneider MC Variogon at 280mm + Schneider 2× converter f/11 1/30 sec]

To read a report on a sturdier tripod for these longer lenses, click here.

To go on to the next section, click below.
Next section (600mm)

To go back to the beginning of the lens tests, click below and then choose the focal length that you want to read about.
Back to beginning of lens tests


© TRA January 2002, January 2012