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(Probably) the most famous Zeiss lens in the world comes back home

Date Announced: 28 Sep 2022

The ZEISS Planar 0.7/50 mm was made famous by Stanley Kubrick. His executive producer, Jan Harlan, handed over to the ZEISS Museum of Optics on loan.

Pictured, right: One of the rare ZEISS Planar 0.7/50mm film lenses used by Stanley Kubrick for his legendary interior shots without artificial light is now exhibited in the ZEISS Museum.

Oberkochen, Germany -- One of the rare ZEISS Planar 0.7/50mm film lenses that Stanley Kubrick used for his legendary interior shots without artificial light is being presented in a special exhibition at the ZEISS Museum of Optics.

The fastest film lens in history belongs to the Estate of Stanley Kubrick. Jan Harlan, Kubrick’s Executive Producer who played an instrumental part in creating all Kubrick’s films, personally handed it over on loan to the museum. The lens is now exactly 50 years old. Only ten of these were produced, six of them for NASA.

On 15 September 2022, Harlan opened a special exhibition at the ZEISS Museum of Optics dedicated to this extraordinary lens. "In 1972, I was able to pick up the lens here in Oberkochen directly from the developers," Harlan said.

"And now I'm bringing it back home on loan to the museum to honour the heritage of Stanley Kubrick". At the time it was the world's fastest lens, and it was intended to enable the first interior shots without artificial light.

For the candlelight shots shown in the four-time Oscar ®-winning (including “Best cinematography”) film "Barry Lyndon", Stanley Kubrick was therefore able to work without additional light. As an extra exhibit, Jan Harlan brought two of the candles, used for “Barry Lyndon”, to the museum. They have three wicks to make them just a bit brighter than conventional candles.

There is no evidence to support the myth that NASA used the Planar 0.7/50mm for photographing the dark side of the moon. However, ZEISS Biogon lenses were used for the photos of the 1968 and 1969 lunar exploration and landing.

Record holder with a unique history

Jan Harlan recalls how he got this special lens: “Stanley read an article in the ‘American Cinematographer’ reporting about a ZEISS 0.7/50mm lens and got most excited. He asked me to research this. I called ZEISS and spoke to a Dr. Kämmerer who explained that this lens could not be used on a motion picture camera since the rear element is only a little more than 5mm from the film-plane.

"I told this to Stanley, and typical for him, he was not ready to take a ‘no’ for an answer and investigated whether there is a camera with this clearance of 5mm. A reflex camera is clearly not possible since there is no room for a reflecting mirror, but 5mm should still be enough room to allow a rotating disk. To make a long story short: I bought one lens and took it to Ed Di Giulio after Stanley had long talks with him. Ed re-worked the receiving mount of a Mitchel BNC and made it purely dedicated to this lens.

"After the test were successful, I bought two further lenses for potential conversion to other focal lengths. All are installed now in the Stanley Kubrick Exhibition except the one which I held back.”

The exhibition opened 2004 in Frankfurt/Main and has since toured the word on all continents. 1.6 million visitors have seen the exhibition and the next opening is Istanbul and then 2023 in Athens. 

The unusual light intensity with which the ZEISS Planar 0.7/50mm made it into the Guinness Book of Records corresponds to about four times the amount of light compared to an initial aperture of 1.4. Light intensity levels played a role in the exploration of the dark side of the moon (1966) and the “space lenses” formed the basis for ZEISS to enter the semiconductor lithography industry more than 50 years ago. 

Light intensity was also decisive in the choice of the ZEISS Planar 0.7/50mm for Kubrick's films. Used in the filming of "Barry Lyndon", the outstanding light intensity then as now is based on a combination of lens design factors. These include optical design, lens material, high-performance anti-reflection technology for higher light transmission and prevention of unwanted light effects, as well as careful matching of the lens with the camera. 

The history of the "Planar" goes back to the 19th century. Also nowadays, "Planar" still forms a base design for modern lenses used for film, photography, and mobile imaging. Paul Rudolph (1858-1935) developed iconic lenses for photography starting in 1896. His "Planar" (1896) of six lenses was particularly designed for distortion-free, "even" images (plan=even).

ZEISS cine lenses still in use

Today, films are shot worldwide in Hollywood and Bollywood for both cinema and streaming with modern ZEISS cine lenses. Optics and shooting techniques are much more advanced in the digital age, and light intensity even in low light is no longer a challenge. The Planar from 1972 would not be suitable for digital cameras – the distance between the rear lens and the film was just over 5mm, far too little for modern imaging sensors which are used instead of celluloid. 

Cine lenses from ZEISS with digital features and technology for visual effects and post-production help master the challenges of difficult lighting situations in film. "The film business is very close to our hearts," says Jörg Schmitz, Head of ZEISS Consumer Products.

"Because with innovation and outstanding products for cinematography, ZEISS helps millions of people to experience emotional moments, to educate and inform themselves and to be excellently entertained in the cinema, on TV and when streaming. We thank Jan Harlan from the bottom of our hearts that we can now show a legendary piece of film and lens history at the ZEISS Museum of Optics. Thousands of visitors will be delighted to learn more about the amazing history of innovation in cinema."

The ZEISS Museum of Optics in Oberkochen offers a fascinating and interactive insight into 800 years of optics history and more than 175 years of ZEISS. It is open on weekdays from 
9.00-17.00. Admission is free.


73447 Oberkochen
Tel. +49 800 934 77 33
ZEISS Consumer Markets
Joachim Kuss
Tel: +49 151 42 11 22 88

ZEISS Consumer Products
Tatjana Schuerholz
Tel: +49 7364 20-16797

E-mail: joachim.kuss@zeiss.com

Web Site: www.zeiss.com

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