The Carl Zeiss Jena Prakticar 35mm f2.4 ‘Flektogon’ is a vintage manual focus lens manufactured in East Germany (or the former ‘German Democratic Republic’ aka the DDR). The Flektogon design was originally copied by Carl Zeiss in West Germany, and it is this design which is still used to this day for the Distagon lenses.
Produced in both the M42 and Praktica PB mount, the 35mm f2.4 Flektogon is highly regarded; known for its sharpness, very short minimum focussing distance, and pleasant out of focus areas. It has six aperture blades, a filter thread of 49mm, and focusses as close as about 20cm (!). All of the f2.4 lenses are multi-coated, and since 35mm technically counts as a wide angle lens, that explains where the ‘Flektogon’ title comes from (as the name given by Zeiss to their wide angles). On a cosmetic note, the PB mount lenses do not have this name printed on the barrel, and tend to have green distance markers, as opposed to the purely red and white colour scheme found on the M42 lenses.
There are different versions of the Flektogon series available, the most obvious difference visible in the maximum aperture: f2.4 versus f2.8 for the newer models. For the purposes of this post, I am specifically going to look at the 35mm f2.4 version with the PB mount.
The lens itself has a mostly metal construction, but is somehow still quite light. It feels fairly reliable, however do note some of the internals are plastic rather than metal – and this can cause issues with the aperture mechanism if the lens is handled roughly, or dropped – with the parts more likely to wear or break. This is something that I unfortunately discovered first hand.
The Flektogon is known as an especially sharp lens, but I didn’t quite expect it to be as sharp as it turned out to be. The clarity and definition was evident even from the first few shots.
One of the coolest features of the Flektogon is its minimum focussing distance, which lets you get extremely close to the subject – far closer than most other non dedicated macro lenses.
The out of focus areas render really nicely with the Flektogon, and there is a rather surprisingly shallow depth of field when shot open, even though the lens is ‘only’ f2.4.
The bokeh isn’t in yer face like with some other lenses, but is just the right amount to give an added bit of character.
The MC version of the Flektogon is extremely resistant to flare, even when shot directly into (or at an angle to) the sun. I tried pretty hard to make it happen and only got minimal results, as you can see below.
Whether or not this is a plus will be down to your own preference. I personally like lots of flare when shooting with vintage manual focus lenses, but not everybody does. So… if you shoot outdoors a lot and want to find an M42 lens which won’t flare constantly, this is a solid option. If you want more flare, then you might want to consider the later f2.8 model, as this is single rather than multi-coated – though I personally haven’t tested this out for myself.
Purely from an aesthetic perspective, the Flektogon is fairly unremarkable. It is pretty plain looking (the PB version especially) and with the Sony adaptor it ends up feeling far ‘longer’ than a 35mm lens should. For this reason, I found it difficult to get all that excited about – at least in comparison to some of the other vintage manual focus lenses in my collection. That might seem trivial, but the experience of shooting with old lenses is important, and is something that often dictates how much it will end up on your camera.
All of that said… even though it may look ordinary and feel a bit awkward, the Flektogon has really grown on me, and it’s now the one lens that always ends up in my bag for portrait shoots. I love the images I get, and they have an undeniable technical quality to them; sharp, with colours and contrast that seem to really pop. I don’t have any technical data to back this up, but they also always seem to respond well to post-processing. Long story short, this is a pretty sweet lens. I never thought that one of my favourite vintage lens would end up being a 35mm f2.4, but there you have it. I only wish that its physical appearance had a bit more character.
The bottom line is that the Flektogon is a solid, consistent performer which is a superb all rounder, and I default to using it in many situations for that reason alone.
Cost and availability
Prices for the Flektogon have been increasing lately, and are hovering around the £140 mark. While that’s still pretty good value for money given what you are getting, they don’t appear to be losing value – so keep an eye on that. The lens is mostly available in M42 and PB mounts, but you’ll pay a bit more for the M42 version. If you are using the lens on a digital body like the A7, you will need an adaptor either way. In my case, I paid £70 for a PB mount version a few years ago, with an adaptor costing an extra £17.
The below were shot with the Carl Zeiss Jena Prakticar 35mm f2.4 on a Sony A7.
Disclaimer: As usual, this article isn’t intended to be a comprehensive, pixel-peeping review. Rather, it’s highly subjective, and reflects my research and experience as someone who has shot with a lot of different cameras and lenses over the years. No aperture comparison charts here. Any flaws in the images are almost certainly down to me rather than the lens.