Vintage Lens Jeopardy #9: Pentacon 4/200 early version (orange)

Introduction

Welcome to part 9 of Vintage Lens Jeopardy. This time we look the the most common East German telephoto lens. The Pentacon 4/200. This one is surely a beautiful looking lens. Because I already covered a Pentacon lens I will skip the first part and suggest you read about the Pentacon company in this article.

The Pentacon 4/200 lens

This lens covers the most common focal lenght for a telephoto lens. It is an absolut classic 200mm at f4. While the other common 135mm lenses are more designed for portraits and bokeh 200mm is a versatile focal length for any subject you can’t get close to. Like animals, architectural details, athletes or trains. You can still handhold this lens but it already produces a lot of image compression and bokeh although it is “only” f4.

The lens itself shows the typical construction of East German lenses. All metal, no rubber or leather and no dampening. The focus ring is easy to grip, smooth and rotates about 350 degrees which allows for fine focus control. The markings are filled engravings and the distance scale features meters and feets with orange accents. A metal lens hood is built-in but can be screwed off when using filters or for better stowage. There is not tripod mount or collar.

The minimum focus distance is 2.5m from the markings but this always differs from adapter to adapter anyway. It is unremarkable for a lens of this era. This is not a lens for close-up telephoto shots. Get something in the 75-105mm range for that. The aperture is clickless which I usually dislike and has markings for half stops. I think I am too much trained to think in discrete f-stops to ever take a liking to clickless apertures. The aperture ring is well separated from the focus ring and it has quite a bit of turning radius so you are not accidentally changing the aperture too much. Still clickless apertures always make me recheck the setting whenever I pull the camera to my eye.

The lens itself is 146mm long (with hood) and weighs around 620g. Together with an adapter it is pretty heavy on a Fuji X-T3. It is surely less cumbersome than the Jupiter 21M but I still do not like to carry this lens. The reason is pretty simple. I could just carry a short and lighter 135mm lens and use a dumb adapter yielding an equivalent field of view on an APS-C camera which would also negate much of the corner softness and field curvature effects. Of course I could use the Pentacon 4/200 with a dumb adapter as well but handholding an equivalent of 300mm becomes a bit of a challenge and as there is no tripod mount the whole assembly becomes very top heavy when mounted.

My copy was in terrible condition. I bought it without much description on ebay from someone who just sold off the belongings of a departed family member. I thought 20€ would be a risk I am willing to take. Unfortunuately my lens smelled like basement and was full of fungus, dust and haze. The holy trifecta. It was in working condition though. I felt kind of bad for the seller because I requested a refund. Saying “I don’t know much about lenses” when selling one on ebay is no excuse to not at least take decent pictures or to describe the apparent condition fully. Dirty glass and a weird smell are things even someone without knowledge about lenses should be able to check and describe.

The seller promptly refunded me and did not even requested the lens back. Having a free lens I thought I might just try to fix it. The lens was very easy to open I was able to remove every element for cleaning. I got rid of all the fungus but the lens still shows some purple reflexions. Maybe damaged coating (although a lens from this era should not have much coating anyway) or my guess are cleaning marks. Nevertheless I think it still takes great pictures. Compared to a newer version of this lens my copy is a bit softer. It could be residual damage on the elements but it could also be that the newer version is simply sharper.

Image Quality and Samples

A short disclaimer before we look at the samples. I am using this lens on a camera with an APS-C sensor which is 1/3 smaller than the 35mm film that this lens was designed for. The sensor would only record the center portion of the lens. Therefore I am using a focal length reducer which collects the light from the full width of the lens and focuses it onto the smaller sensor. It is not perfect but works well with most lenses.

The Lens Turbo II I am using reduces the focal length by a factor of 0.73 which is less than the 0.67 needed to replicate the 35mm film size. This can reduce some corner softness and vignetting (if present in a lens) though. Due to the additional optical elements the image quality may be slightly degraded (especially from field curvature) compared to using it on a full frame sensor. The actual field of view approximates a 219 mm equivalent lens and the aperture is technically about 9% smaller. Details that are interesting but for most practical purposes not much relevant.

All images have been taken with the camera set to neutral (Provia film sim, no curve adjustment) and sharpness set to +2. I think these older lenses do well with a bit of in camera sharpening. Some images use different film simulations which I have noted below.

paper lantern
Paper Lantern (2021) Fujifilm X-T3 + Lens Turbo II + Pentacon 4/200

I think the center sharpness is pretty decent for such an old lens. The bokeh is very smooth and creamy thanks to the almost round aperture. I feel there is slight lack of contrast though. It might be from the repair or residual fungus damage.

children's shoes
Something is missing (2021) Fujifilm X-T3 + Lens Turbo II + Pentacon 4/200

A bunch of shoes at the local playground. They have constructed the ground from something that looks like concrete but feels like rubber. A strange material but as it is very bouncy the kids love to jump around without shoes. Again it seems there is some “pop” missing in the colors. Something that could be fixed in post processing I am sure.

prussian castle
Room with a view (2021) Fujifilm X-T3 + Lens Turbo II + Pentacon 4/200 Ektachrome 100 film recipe

What it is the point of this little tower? Is this an actual room and why? There is neither a door nor a balcony. Maybe it is purely ornamental like so many of these old buildings around here. This film recipe cranks up the color saturation which makes the image much more vibrant. The lens has very little in the way of distortion.

nude statue
Just leaning (2021) Fujifilm X-T3 + Lens Turbo II + Pentacon 4/200 Ektachrome 100 film recipe

I have no problems posting nudity on this website. I mean it is a statue. But I read about Instagram deleting naked classical statues because the algorithm saw breasts. People are so afraid of algorithms and AI but those are still just so stupid and limited. I am much more afraid of people abdicating their personal responsibility and instead relying on those algorithms.

You can see from the uniform sky that the lens elements seem to be clear. There are no smudges or anything. Also vigetting is well controlled.

flower
First Color (2021) Fujifilm X-T3 + Lens Turbo II + Pentacon 4/200 Ektachrome 100 film recipe

Such a dreamy look. The first flowers this spring made me hopeful that times will be better soon. Well I did not consider how crazy our government really became. At the time of this writing (Augst 2021) we still need to wear masks indoors and politicians began to blame unvaacinated people.

duck
Comfy (2021) Fujifilm X-T3 + Lens Turbo II + Pentacon 4/200 Ektachrome 100 film recipe

My kid loves ducks (honestly which toddler does not?) Getting bird shots is what these telephoto lenses are made for. I do not care much for birding so this is the best I could do. The duck was pretty slow so focusing was easy. Nevertheless a nice sharp bird for a 52 years old lens.

Verdict

The Pentacon 4/200 is decent telephoto lens. It is weighty and solid which makes it a joy to use maybe not to carry though. The clickless aperture could make this lens attractive to video shooters. Sharpness is decent, vignetting well controlled and the controls work well. The focus throw is smooth and precise. Also the lens is very easy to dismantle and clean. The later versions have cemented elements but this early one still uses retaining rings for every element. Really there is nothing to dislike about this lens. If you want a vintage 200mm f4 lens you can’t really go wrong with the Pentacon 4/200. Of course Japanese brand name lenses are probably better but this lens here goes usually for 50€ in decent condition. So if you do not need critical sharpness this is a good lens. Maybe a bit bulky.

Will I keep this lens? No. Not that there is anything wrong with it I just do not need such a focal lenght for what I usually shoot. So I cleaned it up and I will sell for a fair price on ebay to someone who gets more use out of it. Circle of life I guess 🙂

Pros:
– solid sharpness
– little vignetting
– good focus throw
– easy to service
– looks good (subjective but I think it does)

Cons:
– lack of contrast or “color pop”
– average speed (f4)
– build quality lacks finesse
– (top) heavy

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