The Century Precision Optics Tele-Athenar 1000mm f/5.6
You may recall I found this lens a few weeks back via an ambiguous, local Craigslist ad. This lens is huge. Measuring 38" from the tip of the hood to the camera mount, the lens weighs over 15 lbs. (Some of that weight can be attributed to the heavy metal brackets on which this lens was originally mounted.). Although I didn't initially know anything about the lens and had no idea if I could do anything with it, as Rick from Pawn Stars often enthusiastically declares, "I wanted it!" A couple text messages and less than an hour after discovering the ad, I was driving home with this thing in my backseat! I took the gamble and now I needed to know 3 main things:
- Some History - Where did this lens come from? What was it used for?
- Optical Capabilities - How can I adapt this for use with my DSLR? Is it possible?
- How to Mount - If use with a DSLR is optically possible, I need a means to mount this lens on a tripod.
The Search for Info on Century Tele-Athenar Lenses
I contacted Schneider Optics, the company who purchased Century Precision Optics and asked them for some information on this lens. Schneider was surprisingly prompt in responding (A stark contrast to my attempts at getting info from the Tokina corporation) however, they had very little info to give. Even what the rep did have to tell me seemed more like speculation than fact. I also asked around on the Manual Focus Lenses Forum and one user, cooltouch (Michael), seemed to have more info and be much more confident than the rep from Schneider.
The rep basically said:
The Century Tele-Athenar 1000/5.6 was most likely contracted by the military and probably about 10-15 years old putting it around 1995-2000. Originally it probably sold for more than $4k and was a special order lens.
That's it. Despite my numerous questions, that's all I got.
Michael on the other hand had quite a bit more to help me out. He says:
"If the lens is white, it was military-contracted. If it's black, it probably wasn't. But it probably was used in the movie industry. CPO sold most of their optics to the movie industry and the military. Back in the 60s, photographers got wind of their optics and began requesting a line for 35mm still photography. CPO came out with the Tele-Athenar II line for still photographers. The main difference is the TA II's barrel does not rotate when the focusing ring is turned. The lens should also say it's a TA II if it is indeed one.
As far as its age, 10- 15 years ago is probably too young. I got the impression from talking to Bill Turner that, even though they still showed the TA lines in their catalog, they rarely sold one anymore, and this was the early 90s. So it's possible, but not all that likely that your lens is that young.
Anyway, according to my records, the 1000mm f/5.6 is a Tele Athenar and not a Tele Athenar II. It was made for movie work primarily and not specifically for 35mm photography. However, I don't see why it wouldn't work. I imagine it will take killer photos of the moon, for one thing."
Thanks Michael! Essentially this is good news! This lens can be used on modern DSLRs since they were used for cinema, a similar application. I have heard stories about some of these old large lenses being discovered but turning out to be very special purpose lenses. One user from MFL, nemesis101, was telling me of a lens he found long ago that turned out to be for aerial spotting duties with a minimum focusing distance of 3 miles!
As always, I will keep this section updated as more information surfaces.
Adapting The Lens For Use With A DSLR
Optically it's possible to use the lens. Now I need to figure out what parts are necessary for that adaptation. The lens was handed off to me with a rear mount that looked like this:
A seemingly arbitrary sized thread and an empty filter slot. In contacting Schneider, I found out this thread is a proprietary mount that was utilized by CPO on their Tele-Athenar lenses. Fortunately, the mount is still used today on some of their newer products! So the company had the parts for me to order. To use this lens on a DSLR, you need the following part:
0TM-00TC-00 (those are zeros) - Century Interchangeable to T-mount Adapter
Then you just need the correct T-mount for the camera with which you want to use this lens. They even had the 2"x 2" filter tray.
Issue #2 down. At this point I was leaning the lens on a deck post, while awkwardly attempting to support the back end and focus at the same time with an extremely narrow field of view. I think I'm going to need a tripod mount...
Mounting the Century 1000/5.6
The lens originally had two large metal brackets attached this to whatever rig it had been designed for. Structurally, it seems to me, it makes the most sense to start from these for a sturdy tripod mount. I began by gluing several 8" x 12" PVC boards together.
Next, I trimmed the boards to an even block.
Then the shaping began.
The process was pretty much just a lot of cutting, drilling, and sanding. Eventually I hope to really smooth everything out and paint it black. For now though, I was too anxious to use it. There's no sense in taking it to the final product if it doesn't work so I had to test it!
Objective 3 complete. Finally time for testing!
Focal length: 1000mm
Angle of view: 2.1º
Max. aperture: f/5.6
Min. aperture: f/45
Dimensions: 38" L
Aperture blades: 20
Click here for the performance review of this lens: Century Tele-Athenar Part II!
A Second 1000/5.6 Found! John Maycock shares his experience with this behemoth.