Vario Sonnar T 45-90mm f/4.5 Lens
Beauty In Zooming For The Contax 645

Vario-Sonnar T*

Everybody knows that a zoom lens is best when it comes to compositional options. The lens allowed me to play with a close-up of this colorful chair, and then turn to the side and zoom back to get the porch. Every slat, every tile, and every straw on the chair seat came out sharp and crisp.
Photos © 2003, George Schaub, All Rights Reserved

At a street price of just under $3000 the Vario-Sonnar T* 45-90mm f/4.5 lens is not to be trifled with. It is a serious optical instrument for those who require zoom lens flexibility for their Contax 645. But those in the wedding, location, industrial, corporate, and travel stock business who understand what this lens can do for them will see their investment pay off in startlingly sharp images and a newfound flexibility in their work. Weighing in at 2.6 lbs and measuring 4.5" long, with a filter diameter of 95mm, the lens does add considerable weight to the Contax body. But considering that the lens offers a fairly wide to normal range (equivalent to about 28-60mm 35mm format view), a constant f/4.5 aperture throughout the zoom range, and a minimum focusing distance of about 1.6 ft (0.5 meter) throughout the zoom range there's a lot to be said for making this the standard lens rather than the stock 80mm lens (over $1500 street) that ordinarily comes as part of the Contax 645 kit.

Zeiss lenses are world renowned for their clarity and lack of distortion, and the maker's claim is that this lens matches fixed focal length quality at virtually every point within the focal length range. Of course, there is always a "sweet spot" for every lens, and that's usually when working with the middle aperture (this lens offers half-stop clicks from the maximum f/4.5 to minimum f/32 apertures) and at the longer focal length settings. But one thing that people always brag about with their Zeiss lenses is the "3D" look it yields. Some folks call that "Bokeh." Basically it's the natural look of out of focus backgrounds in an image. For others, the clarity and color richness of the Zeiss optics just can't be beat.

The 1.6 foot minimum focusing distance throughout the focal length range only adds to this versatile lens' versatility. This lintel and street number sign is covered with some sort of plant, and zooming in with the 90mm focal length ensured that no shadow would fall in the frame.

But does this zoom lens live up to the reputation? Photographers we know rave about the 45mm f/2.8 and 80mm f/2 lenses for this camera. When you go to the zoom you yield some of the speed, with its maximum aperture of f/4.5. And zooms still carry the "curse" of their forebearers, being the oft-repeated claim that no zoom can match the quality of their single focal length brethren. Most importantly, can this one lens actually carry the quality of two? For inexpensive zooms this is not much of a debate, and most folks understand that they get what they pay for. This 45-90mm Vario-Sonnar certainly does deliver the goods, and although not the lightest lens we've worked with it seems to be the perfect companion for the Contax 645.

The lens itself delivers the equivalent of 28-55mm in 35mm format, wide enough for great scenics while the 2x zoom does leave room for compositional tweaking. The 2.6 lbs in weight is a bit of a burden, it must be admitted, and the 4.5" length does take up some room in your kit bag. But the ability to tweak focus manually even while in AF mode, and the sharp, contrast rich images the lens delivers more than makes up for the bulk. The folks at Contax tout this one as a great choice for wedding photographers, but we found it's also a great choice for travel, stock, and street work.

For more information, visit Contax's web site,

Technical Specifications
Lens Construction: 12 elements, 10 groups
Focal Length Range: 45.9-87.5mm
Mount: Contax 645
Minimum Focusing Distance: 0.5 meters (1.6 ft)
Minimum Aperture: f/32
Filter: 95mm screw-in
Weight: 2.6 lbs
Size: 4x4.5"
Price: Street, $2900