NASA-designed lens, used by Stanley Kubrick, on display at Zeiss Muesum

Zeiss Museum
(Image credit: Zeiss)

One of three lenses bought by Stanley Kubrick and used to shoot the film Barry Lyndon is on long-term loan to the Carl Zeiss German Headquarters Museum of Optics. 

The Zeiss Planar 50mm f/0.7 and nine other lenses were developed specifically for NASA’s Apollo program, but it appealed to one of history's greatest film directors as well. Under Kubrick’s direction, Jan Harlan, the executive producer on several Kubrick films including Eyes Wide Shut and The Shining, acquired the lens, which was then used to capture Barry Lyndon's famous candlelit interior scene.

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This incredibly rare lens is significant because only ten were ever made – six of which were especially for NASA, and the remaining lenses were purchased and modified by Kubrick to use in filmmaking. The ultra-fast lens was designed by Dr Erhard Gltazel and Hans Sauer, and incorporated a double-Gauss optical design. At f/0.7 it lets in roughly quadruple the amount of light as an f/1.4 lens, making it ideal for shooting low-light scenes. 

The Zeiss Planar 50mm f/0.7 used in Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon (Image credit: Zeiss)

"In 1972, I was able to pick up the lens here in Oberkochen directly from the developers," Harlan told Zeiss. "And now I'm bringing it back home on loan to the museum to honor the heritage of Stanley Kubrick."

Back in 1975, when Barry Lyndon was released, filmmakers were restricted when it came to low-light scenes by the sensitivity of the film stock, but using a prime lens with such a fast aperture enabled Kubrick to work in incredibly challenging candlelight. In order to make the scene as bright as possible, Jan Harlan revealed that each candle possessed three wicks rather than one, which meant the flames flickered brighter. 

Based in Oberkochen, Germany, the Zeiss Museum put on a special exhibition of the Planar 50m f/0.7 lens in celebration of Mr Harlan’s visit to the home of optical innovation. For more than 175 years, Zeiss has been producing some of the best quality optics for medical, scientific, and photographic use. Taking up over 10,700 square feet, the museum includes some of Zeiss’ most important technological developments as well as a look back at its history. 

Entry to the museum is free and it's open Monday to Friday from 09:00-17:00pm. For more information, visit the museum website.

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Hannah Rooke
Staff Writer

Having studied Journalism and Public Relations at the University of the West of England Hannah developed a love for photography through a module on photojournalism. She specializes in Portrait, Fashion and lifestyle photography but has more recently branched out in the world of stylized product photography. For the last 3 years Hannah has worked at Wex Photo Video as a Senior Sales Assistant using her experience and knowledge of cameras to help people buy the equipment that is right for them. With 5 years experience working with studio lighting, Hannah has run many successful workshops teaching people how to use different lighting setups.