Zunow Teikoku Kogaku Japan 50mm f1.1 – The First Ultra Fast Lens

Zunow Teikoku Kogaku Japan 50mm f1.1 - The First Ultra Fast Lens

Lens Review

Zunow Teikoku Kogaku Japan 50mm f1.1 – The First Ultra Fast Lens

Thanks to SH Cameras letting me try this precious lens to try and do some testing with it. I am always curiously trying out different Japanese fast lenses in the 50s or 60s since I own Canon 50mm f/0.95 and have always been a fan of the Canon 50mm f/1.2 LTM. But most of them are super rare to find. It will be interesting to try out these lenses which Japanese company very ambitiously designed them but production and capital problems resulted in low production.

Zunow with Leica MP

History of Zunow

Zunow probably refers to the Japanese word zuno meaning “brain”. The development of ZUNOW 5cm f/1.1 started in 1943 during World War II. Japanese Navy requires a high-speed lens which uses for aviation searches and recons. This lens first appeared in 1953, developed by Mr. HAMANO, Michisaburo, who had come to Nippon Kogaku K.K. from the navy and would later move on to Teikoku Optical Industries and completed after 10 years of time. The ZUNOW 5cm f/1.1 has 5 groups and 9 elements, with a Sonnar-type design. It was produced in Contax rangefinder, Nikon rangefinder and Leica thread mounts.

@f1.1 (Leica M10-P)

Size and Construction

The size of the lens is very compact considering it is a f/1.1 lens with a filter thread size of 54.5mm, the size is very similar to MS optical 50mm f/1.1 Sonnetar. Personally, I like the design of the aperture ring and the design and details of the lens are very different from other Japanese lenses where focusing scallop is generally bold.

Lens coating colour

Lens Character of the Zunow 50mm f1.1

Glow and soft are probably the best two words to describe this lens. At F/1.1 wide open everything looks like applying a layer of vaseline in front of the lens same as the Canon 50mm f0.95 and Leica Summilux 35mm f1.4 Pre-ASPH Canada. But surprisingly and also the most attractive f-stop to me is F2.8. The sharpness gradually gained and the subject stands out really well.

If you like to capture moody images or picking moments on the street, this lens can do some magic if you get the right lighting and background, sometimes it is not that easy to get the image quality that I want and a bit hard to control. Also, I think it’s because of the curvation of the focal plane even at F/8 the image isn’t as sharp as I thought around the edge.

@f1.1 (Ilford Pan 400)
@f1.1 Focusing the foreground (Ilford Pan 400)
@f1.1 Focusing at the back (Ilford Pan 400)
@f8 (Leica M10-P)
@f8 (Leica M10-P)
@f8 (Kodak Vision 3 250D)

Bokeh - Sonnar Type

Radial kind of out of focus area, which sometimes look like fireworks to me and the most common lens with this design will be the Carl Zeiss Sonnar-C 50mm f1.5 ZM which has a similar rendition. Overall, the form of the bokeh is busy and disturbing the subject unless your background is cleaner.

@f1.1 (Leica M10-P)
@f1.1 (Kodak Vision 3 250D)
@f1.1 (Leica M10-P)
@f1.1 (Leica M10-P)

Comparing Other Ultra Fast lenses

I have tried many ultra-fast lenses such as Noctilux, Nikkor 50/1.1, Canon 50/0.95. And after trying this lens I suspect the MS Optical 50mm f1.1 Sonnar copied exactly this Zunow lens in terms of bokeh, glow…etc. Also, the MS Optics 50mm f1.0 ISM is a great lens if you would like something similar but in a fraction of the price.

@f1.1 (Ilford Pan 400)

Digital and Film Performance

I think this lens performance is quite consistent on digital M body and film. I have tried them on Leica M10-P, Kodak Vision 3 250D and Ilford Pan 400. The amount of softness is the same and sharpness of course sharper on digital sensors.

@f1.1 (Leica M10-P)
@f1.1 (Leica M10-P)
@f1.1 (Leica M10-P)

My Experience with Zunow

It is too expensive for me to own a copy but the black version looks sexy. The main problem is too rare to find. If you could afford and are interested to collect lenses based on the history and craftsmanship of premium Japanese technology in that era. This is one of the lenses that I would love to collect, including Fujinon 50mm f1.2 and Nikkor 50mm f1.1. At last, I got myself both Nikkor 50/1.1 internal and external mount. Maybe in the future, if I can find a good copy I would like to try this lens again and it is such a nice compact lens to carry around everyday.

@f1.1 (Kodak Vision 3 250D)
@f1.1 (Ilford Pan 400)

More Sample Photos

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