Monday, May 7, 2012

Zeiss Ikon Ernostar 110mm f1.9 Projection Lens

Unknown to many, the Ernostar name is quite famous.  Ludwig Bertele created the world's fastest still photography lens with a maximum aperture of f2, and used by the Dr. Erich Solomon.  Dr. Solomon captured some of the world's most engaging and unforgettable photos, often without the subject knowing that he was photographing them.

Ernostar was derived from the equally famous Triplet design, and in turn, the Sonnar design was derived from Ernostar.  The Canon EF 135mm f2L lens that I and many love, is a derivative of the Ernostar.  With this history, I had high expectations when I tried out the Ernostar 110mm f1.9 projection lens.

B&L Cinephor 120mm f1.9 on the left, Zeiss Ikon Ernostar 110mm f1.9 on the right.

The Ernostar 110mm f1.9 has nice multi-coating.

This is a very large lens, similar to size and weight as the B&L Super Cinephor.  It has very beautiful multi-coating, which is quite unusual for old projection lenses.  However, the very short flange focal distance makes it hard to focus to infinity even on the Sony NEX-5N.  I had to use a very short 12-17mm focus helicoid.  In actual use, the lens performed better than the newer B&L 120mm f1.9.  Purple fringing is surprisingly well controlled.  It's almost as good as modern lenses.

Green -- NEX-5N & Zeiss Ikon Ernostar 110mm f1.9. Click for larger.

The lens is sharp with very good contrast.  I would rate it excellent at its working aperture.  If only I could stop it down a tiny bit, I am sure the sharpness will be even better. As is, it's completely usable but the thin depth of field makes it hard to focus.  Again, the EVF helps a great deal here.

Bokeh -- NEX-5N & Zeiss Ikon Ernostar 110mm f1.9. Click for larger.

I promise this will be the last of the weird alt lenses that I will post with regularity.  I know lately I have been overly enthusiastic on these kind of lenses, which I am sure very few people actually would use, or find it useful, but I enjoy making them usable and using them to take pictures.

Next time we will look at a couple of 55mm f1.4 lenses: Mamiya Sekor 55mm f1.4 and Auto Chinon 55mm f1.4 M42 mount lenses.


  1. Dear Yu-Lin Chan,

    Very interesting article! Yesterday I was lucky to get a very nice Zeiss Ikon Ernostar 1:1,8 / 100 mm.

    Now I am very curious: what is the brand of the 12-17mm focus helicoid you used.

    And how were you able to attach it to the Ernostar? My lens seems to have the same build as yours. Mine doesn't have any screwrings at the side that has to be mounted to the helicoid. It has a diameter of 60mm at that side.

    For fun I also placed it in front of my digital Leica M8 (both in my hands). When I kept ±5mm space between the camera body-lensmount and the back of the Enrostar it focused. Do you have any idea if a focus helicoid exists that could do this job?

    Best regards,

    Ernst (from Amsterdam)

  2. Hi Ernst,

    Congrats on the Ernostar 100/1.8! The Ernostars are great lenses.

    The helicoid I used was a no name brand. If you search on eBay for a 12-17mm focusing helicoid, you will see many of them sold by different vendors, but they are the same helicoid. I would not buy one of these again. It is badly made. Do a search for a Yeenon helicoid. I have been using one and very happy. More pricey but worth it. I want to buy another thinner one, but at the moment, can't afford it :(

    To connect the lens to the helicoid, you need to get a 62mm to 52mm stepdown ring. I glued the step-down ring on the lens, and screw the lens onto the helicoiod, which as a 52mm opening. One thing I am not sure, is the focus flange of the 100mm f1.8 lens. It might be even shorter than the one I have, in which case it might be difficult to achieve infinity focus. You should measure the distance before buying the adapter to make sure you can use it. It's not cheap (but alot cheaper than when I bought mine). If you are going to use it on the M8, it might be very hard to get infinity focus, as the M-mount is like 25mm flange, whereas the NEX is 18mm, and the 12-17mm helicoid just fits, but it would be too long on your M8. If you can't, perhaps you can mount the lens without helicoid but fix it to infinity. I know it's not practical but I don't know of anything other way around it.

    Good luck!


  3. Hi Yu-Lin,

    Thank you for the additional info. Thats' very helpfull!

    At first I was atrackted to this Ernostar just because of it's name, since my name is Ernst. And for being a Zeiss. Then when I found out the optical importance of it in lens history I decided I want to use it! Just like I use a Carl Zeiss Jena Biotar 1,5/75mm Exakta mount on my Canon 5D mkIII !

    I realize that this Ernostar is a projector lens, without aperture, so it will never function as a normal lens, but it just fun to pick up a lens for 15,- euro, with this optical quality, and make it work!