Review: Contax Vario-Sonnar 28-85mm f/3.3-4


Today we take a look at one of the very best Contax Zeiss lenses.

The Contax-Yashica 28-85mm Vario-Sonnar is one of the more “modern” Contax lenses. It is quite big and fairly heavy, at more than 700 grams. But it is not unwieldy in usage, and it is definitely a similar size of modern mid-range professional zooms of the same aperture. I won’t bore you out of your mind listing all the specs, should you want to you can get them at the following link:

Even used on a Sony A7r with an adapter it is reasonably well balanced, especially if you get into the old habit of carrying into your hands more the lens than the camera.


Sharpness-wise the 28-85 is really great. And it’s not just my impression! Even according to Zeiss own MTF charts (which, by the way, are not merely computed like the ones of almost all the others manufacturers, but measured on an actual lens…) this piece of glass is as sharp or sharper, at corresponding apertures, as the other Contax fixed focal lengths.


At the wide end the very extreme corners are not exceptional, not even stopped down, but just decent. And you might encounter some chromatic aberration shooting in high contrast lighting conditions (tree branches against a white sky are the typical scenario). Here is where it’s probably showing the most its age.


On the plus side though the rendering at 85mm is plain gorgeous; after all it sports, as its name implies, a Sonnar optical scheme, so this shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Colors, microcontrast and general contrast are all typical Zeiss, meaning: whoa!


The light has to be really horrid and flat for this lens not to deliver.

Personally, I prefer its rendering in color more than in black and white, but mostly because once you see in what lovely hues it paints the landscape you will be hard pressed to discard them in favor or simple shades of gray.



In my opinion, the only two lenses still better than this one in the Contax lineup are the 50mm f/1.7 Planar and the 100-300 f/4-5.6 Vario-Sonnar.

Mind you, I haven’t had the chance to try neither the 35mm f/1.4 nor its “twin”, the 85mm f/1.4, but considering they are fast lenses designed a while ago I doubt they will be as good or better. And in any case the kind of use you should buy them for is different.




Luckily the price is still fairly reasonable for the Contax 28-85, at least on the usual auction sites, so you can try it for yourself and, should you not like it – very unlikely, but hey! You never know… – you will be able to re-sell it for pretty much what you paid for.

Rating: ★★★★☆ @28mm
Rating: ★★★★½ @50mm
Rating: ★★★★★ @85mm