GEAR REVIEW - Meyer-Optik Gorlitz Primotar 180mm f/3.5
If you're somewhat of a conneseur of photographic equipment, then you will no doubt recognise the name, Meyer-Optik Gorlitz. The company has a long pedigree, originally being formed in 1896 by optician Hugo Meyer in the town of Gorlitz, Germany. It also had a turbulent history but somehow managed to survive two world wars, before merging into the Pentacon and Zeiss stables in the 1960's. Its eventual demise happened in 1991, after a failed attempt to attract investment in the company.
Some of its lenses (like the Primoplan 58mm and Trioplan 100mm) achieved cult status and are still greatly sought after today, commanding very high prices due to their unique character. Not bad for lenses that are well over 50 years old! However, this is not the end of the story, as the Meyer-Optik name has risen once again like a phoenix from the ashes to produce high quality lenses.
Here I will be putting the Primotar 180mm through its paces. This was produced between 1961 and 1965 and is testament to the meticulous engineering that the Germans are synonmous with. A solid metal body houses 4 glass elements arranged in 3 groups, together with a spectacular 15 blade aperture. This is quite a fast lens for the focal length, with an aperture range of f/3.5 to f/22. Like most of their lenses at the time, the Primotar is a preset lens. This means that you have to manually stop the lens down prior to taking a photo. Compared to Nikon lenses of the time, this is somewhat primative, as even the old Nippon-Kogaku 58mm f/1.4 is an auto aperture lens.
The lens comes in M42 mount, which is adaptable to all modern DSLRs. On Nikon it won't infinity focus but, I'd estimate that you have at least 30-35m to play with, which is more than enough for portraiture and still life. Of course you can use an adapter with a correcting element, although I tend to avoid these due to the signficant decrease in image quality.
At 800g the Primotar isn't exactly lightweight but with everything being metal and glass, it's to be expected. Thankfully there is an in-built collar so you don't have to hand hold the camera if you don't want to. It's always a good idea to tripod mount telephoto lenses to help avoid blur, particularly if you have no stabilization technology either in-lens or on the camera sensor. Being a manual focus it also makes it easier to get your images sharp.
Critical focus is surprisingly easy to achieve, largely in part to the very slow gearing of the lens. Close focus to infinity takes around 330º degrees rotation of the barrel, which is a lot. This lens was clearly designed with static subjects in mind and the large amount of focus thread means fine tuning is much simpler. Near focus is 2.2 meters, so shooting indoors in a confined space, may be a problem at times.
Considering the age of the lens, the Primotar sharpness is quite good. Wide open it has some softness but stopped down to f/5.6 the contrast improves nicely. You probably wouldn't use this lens for gritty/edgy fashion work but, for softer, more dream-like portraiture softness is often a desired attribute.
Bokeh is probably the Primotar's greatest asset. It produces very similar bokeh "bubbles" to the highly prized 100mm Trioplan. If you don't have the money to drop on one of those, the Primotar is definitely a fantastic substitue.
Minium focusing distance is 2.2 meters, which isn't particularly close.