Konica 90/2.8

Ernostar Reborn

1920s Ermanox

Ernostar Lens Design

Once upon a time in Dresden, Germany, a young designer under the tutelage of Heinrich Ernemann developed what would become the Ernostar lens. Originally marketed in 1924 as the "Ermanox," and after 1926 as the Zeiss Ikon Ermanox, the 85/1.8, 100/2 and 165/1.8 revolutionized the high-speed long lenses. The young Ludwig Bertele continued to tinker with the Ernostar, paving the way for the famous 1933 Zeiss 50/1.5 and 85/2 Sonnars, which in turn created the blueprint for a number of famous lenses of the 1950s and 1960s (50/1.4 Nikkor S.C., 50/1.5 Canon, 85/2 Nikkor, to name a few). Although very effective lenses for the time, the advent of lens coatings in the 1950s resurrected the old 1890s Planar design. By the early 1960s, the Sonnar was essentially dead.

Although the Hexanon lens strongly resembles the modern Leica Elmarit 90/2.8 externally, they are completely different in terms of barrel construction and internal optical design.

The most immediate model for the 90 is neither Konica's old (and fantastic) Planar SLR 85/1.8 nor the Leica 90 design, but the Contax G 90/2.8 "Sonnar." The "Sonnar" is somewhat of a misnomer since the 90/2.8 Contax is actually closer to an Ernostar internally. Both the "Sonnar" and the Hexanon share the 4 group, 5 element construction, but the Ernostar has some airspace between the second and third element whereas the Sonnar has thicker cemented second group. This lens design similarity seems to give some legitimacy to lingering suspicions that Contax may have had a hand in the creation of the Hexar RF lineup.

1926 Ernostar

1930s Sonnar

Contax G 90/2.8

Konica Hex 90/2.8

(Lens designs from here)

Unlike the 1-1-1-1 90/2.8 Elmarit design, The Ernostar is characterized by two large pieces of glass cemented at the front of the lens and a lens group in the back. In this way, there are fewer glass-to-air surfaces that permit less aberration even at wide apertures and close distances. The Sonnar lens design was limited to having a barrel length being at least equal to its focal length. At wide apertures, Sonnars tended to be soft yet super-sharp when stopped down. Modern Ernostar lenses have much better lens coatings, are better corrected for chromatic aberrations, and have probably much more pleasant "bokeh" than older Sonnar lenses while at the same time being able to be more compact.

Grip: Like most of the new Hexanon lens lineup, what can you say? With fully multicoated elements, the Hexanon's aluminum barrel is just as solid as the Leica Elmarit, has comparable performance to the Leica optic, and is half the price.

What is most noticeable about the modern 90s compared to the gamme of 85/90s built in the 1950s and 1960s is the quick focus action. With the old brass Sonnar copies, one had to twist the barrel and slowly focus. In some ways, this led to much more accurate focusing, but at the same time not fast enough to catch fleeting moments. Although not the most ideal telephoto set up at .58 magnification, the Konica Hexar RF with the 90 is a still great arrangement. My brother prefers his 90 with the M3, a rather ideal marriage of VF/image composition.


90/2.8 Elmarit

90/2.8 Hexanon

90/3.5 Apolanthar

4 groups, 4 elements
4 groups, 5 elements
5 groups, 6 elements
27 degrees of view
27 degrees view
27 degrees of view
1.00m to Infinity
1.00m to Infinity
1.20m to Infinity
f/2.8-f/22 in click stops
f/2.8-f/22 click stops
f/3.5-f/22 click stops
10 blades
10 blades
46mm filter
46mm filter
39mm filter
476mm length
69mm length
90mm length
410g (bl) 560g (ch)
Built-in lens hood
Built-in lens hood
Accessory hood
Black or Chrome
Black only
Black or Chrome
M Mount
M Mount
M39 Screw Mount

@$1295 New

@$500 New

@$420 New



(charts from photodo)

Bottom Line

These three lenses are perhaps the best telephoto lenses on the new or used market for Leica M. Although the Elmarit is a legendary optic, the Hexanon is smaller, lighter, and significantly less expensive. The MTF charts don't seem to suggest any real-world differences in lines/mm outside of perhaps super-critical work, but of course there is certainly much more to lens performance than resolution.

The Hexanon remains significantly more compact and better-made than the Voigtlander Apolanthar, yet at around the same price. There is a certain price-to-quality aspect that Cosina lenses tend to offer, but for the same price, the Hexanon seems to be a more durable and classic option.


Dante's Test Shots with 90/2.8

Grant Heffernan's 90/2.8 Impressions