Hasselblad Tessar CB 4.8/160 lens review
The CB line of lenses, which was primarily designed for Hasselblad 500 series camera models and includes Distagon CB 3.5/60, Planar CB 2.8/80 and Tessar CB 4.8/160 lens, was introduced in 1997 and discontinued in 2001. These three lenses were supposed to allow photographers to successfully fulfill at least 90% of all day–to–day assignments.
The "CB" designation means that the lens is equipped with a central leaf shutter ("C") and that it is "basic" ("B"). Probably it is this latter label that gave the lens, or, indeed, the whole CB line, an undeservedly unfavourable reputation.
Before we turn to particularities of the lens' performance let us have a look at how it differs from the current CFE/CFi lenses. Carl Zeiss explain here what corners had to be cut to produce lenses of lower cost (as compared with the older CF—not CFE/CFi—lenses). Note that they emphasise that the cost cutting measures did not undermine the lens' optical performance in any way. The following aspects of the CB 4.8/160 are entirely identical to the CFE/CFi lenses:
Overall design and quality of construction
Range of shutter speeds
Carl Zeiss T* multicoating
The new Prontor central shutter
The new PC–socket with a secure lock
Improved straylight absorption capability
The following is what differentiates the lens from its expensive neighboring counterparts (in other words, this is what the "basic" designation boils down to):
The lens utilises the classic Tessar design that, as suggested by its name, uses only four glass elements. Whereas this design has its shortcomings (for instance, it is prone to aberrations at relatively large apertures and, therefore, is not suitable for fast lenses), it is intrinsically very sharp. For one thing, it has the reputation of being "the eagle eye of your camera", and even Ansel Adams agreed with this assertion. Tessar approach also allows designing light–weight telephoto lenses.
The F–function was left out from the shutter and, due to this, the lens can be used with the 200 series cameras in C mode only.
Only white colour is used for all marks and scales (as opposed to white, orange, and blue colours on the CFE/CFi lenses).
Main spring used in the CB lenses is the same as in the older CF lenses, whereas CFE/CFi lenses boast the new Nivarox main spring.
Aperture Range: f/4.8 to f/32
True Focal Length: 161.1mm
Field Of View: 27°
Focusing Range: Infinity to 1.5m (object to film)
Weight: 650 g (23.2 oz)
Quality of construction and handling
As has already been mentioned above, quality of construction of the lens is on par with that of its CFE/CFi counterparts. Focusing is very silky; operation of the shutter speed and aperture ring as well as the depth–of–field preview button is smooth and substantial. At 650g the lens is relatively light and balances nicely on 500 series cameras. Indeed, it arguably is the best mid–range telephoto lens for hand–held photography. Its light weight also makes it ideal for travel photography. All things considered, the lens is a pleasure to use.
Technically, there is light fall–off; aesthetically, there is no light fall–off. This is to say that unevenness of center–to–corner illumination that the lens shows is mild and gradual; you are unlikely to notice it unless you juxtapose two identical shots of an evenly lit surface taken at f/4.8 and, say, f/11. In other words, light fall–off signature of the lens is gracefully unnoticeable.
For all practical purposes (as opposed to abstractly scrutinising MTF graphs and making metaphysical conclusions based on them) and at magnifications of up to 10X, the lens is adequately sharp corner–to–center and throughout the whole range of aperture settings. This allows me doing the two extreme types of shooting that I favour—namely, shooting wide–open and hand–held to emphasize the main subject, as well as photographing landscapes with great depth of field at f/22 using a tripod (if a strong wind does not spoil the works, that is). At magnifications of over 10X there is a touch of softness at f/4.8 and from f/16 on due to diffraction (keep in mind that we are talking about very large photographs, though).
One, however, would inevitably ask how the lens compares against the neighboring CFi/CFE lenses. Whereas the CB 4.8/160 is a good performer in terms of sharpness, the CFE 4/180 is noticeably sharper at 10X and higher magnifications (the latter is also visibly more contrasty). Whether this is important will obviously depend on how often you make large prints.
It took a perfectly straight line running very closely to and along the full length of an image and a ruler on a light table to uncover a slight pincushion distortion. It is so minor that I feel entirely confident using the lens for architectural applications. In other words, it would take an exceptionally demanding and knowledgeable eye and very specific subjects to be concerned with the distortion that the lens exhibits.
Flare and ghosting
Flare is very well controlled and the images that the lens delivers are very contrasty even with bright sources of light in the frame. Colours are very saturated. This, of course, is not a major surprise, considering the fact that the lens has only four glass elements and boasts the modern Carl Zeiss T* multicoating and improved internal baffling. Ghosts? I am yet to see them (pun unintended but noted).
Bokeh that this lens produces is neutral at f/4.8 and gets better as one stops the lens down. Example shots and a detailed discussion can be found in the article mentioned below.
The Hasselblad Tessar CB 4.8/160 is an excellent lens and "basic" simply means great optical and mechanical performance in a no–frills lens barrel. It is ideal for light travel and hand–held photography; it is also a good compromise for those who are on a budget or cannot decide between the 150 and 180 focal length. However, if your primary concern is absolute sharpness in very large prints, then the CFE 4/180 lens is a better option. Likewise, if beautiful bokeh is of a major importance then the neighboring CFE 4/180 or CFi 4/150 lens would constitute a better choice.