Ziss Zeiss ist no gut!

They do say you should never meet your idols as you risk bitter disappointment, and so it was for me this morning.

Before I proceed I should state that I don’t do equipment reviews, and in the purest sense of reviews, this isn’t one. What it is is a rushed, cursory look at a lens I’ve fancied for a while.

There are no colour or distortion charts for you to geek over, no tests at all f-stops and all focusing distances, just a couple of random snaps as I only had about 10 minutes with the lens in rather dull light this morning.

So maybe this is unfair, but some issues cropped up that I wouldn’t normally expect, and now I’m gutted that my “idol” lens, the Zeiss Distagon T* 35mm f2, isn’t the T-star I’d expected.

I’ve posted up some fairly high-res images for you to look at to illustrate my points, but suffice to say I think in this case the price reflects the name, not the quality.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lovely lens to handle once you get used to the quite heavily-damped focus ring (no autofocus of course), and it looks the dog’s vegetables with it’s sexy black alloy barrel and all, but at around £880-£920 I’d expect far better optical performance.

I was using this one on a 5D MKII, and maybe the lens performs much better on a cropped sensor camera, but then at f2 you could get a cheaper 35mm lens from Canon and just do away with the pose value and probably get better image quality, which is what really matters.

Maybe I’ve misunderstood the Zeiss concept, and as I’ve already hinted this is a deeply flawed “review”, but having tried this lens even briefly, I think I’ll just be saving a bit longer to get the Canon 35mm f1.4 lens instead. Not that I’ve tried it yet. At just over £1,000, I bet it’s dreadful.

Zeiss 35mm lens test image

A photo of nothing in particular, but I was looking at close focus and wide-ish aperture (f4.5). Read on…

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9 comments

  • Valerie Close Evans August 30, 2011   Reply →

    Ouch, especially on the colour fringing (pet hate).

    • Glass Eye August 30, 2011   Reply →

      I know! If I wanted colourful edges on everything, I’d use my G11 😉

  • Ken of London August 30, 2011   Reply →

    I guess to be fair the lens is made for Zeiss cameras, that said do they make digital cameras?

    If I have secret wetdream camera it is that Leica bad boy S2 or whatever its called, and a R8 film with the built in flash meter.

    Built in flash meter – damn I need a cigarette, a tissue and some time alone ………. what sorry professional camera talk what have you team ……. f stop …. parallex error …… astigmatically corrected ……… blah blah ……….

    However yes, the Canon f1.4 seems to get the Canon crowd all fired up and sweaty, so maybe don’t go on hoildays to your brothers next year 😉

    • Glass Eye August 30, 2011   Reply →

      Well this is a series made for DSLRs – Canon, Nikon etc. And no, they don’t make SLRs. There used to be the tie in between Zeiss and Contax, but Yashika owned Contax and kind of went belly-up (someone can correct me on the details). So apart from making lenses for other camera makers, I don’t think Zeiss have any close links with body manufacturers.

      Take a cold shower! ….bokeh…

      I think my holiday would have paid for the lens cap, just about.

  • Do you have a UV or other filter on?
    Also what are you using to crunch your RAWs? Lightroom 3 (allegedly) is smarter at killing some of that chromatic aberration?

    • Glass Eye August 31, 2011   Reply →

      Hi Alistair, thanks for commenting.

      No filters, just a naked lens. Direct conversions from RAW through LR2. I take your point some converters are better than others, but it seems perverse to spend over £800 on a lens only to have to correct its weaknesses in software afterwards. The CA problem is one I’d not expected, and not something I have to deal with on the 16-35 f2.8, which while a great lens in some ways has some definite flaws in others (such as shooting at f2.8 producing woefully soft results). But that’s a zoom lens, so might be forgiven. For such CA in a prime seems poor. Maybe the 5D MKII is to blame for being far too high-res. I’d have been happy with something not much higher in pixels than the 5D.

      Maybe the quality I’m looking for only exists in medium format or M-series Leicas!

  • Martin Beddall August 31, 2011   Reply →

    I bought the 21mm Zeiss to fit on a 5D MKII – fantastic. Almost a 3D look to the images compared to any wide angle Canon lens. But it does vignette. No CA that I’ve noticed – sharp into the corners.

    I think Zeiss lenses vary as much as Canon or Nikon.

    PS: Got the Canon 35mm 1.4 – don’t blink, buy it!

    • Glass Eye September 1, 2011   Reply →

      Hi Matin! How’s it going?

      The 21mm sounds interesting. I don’t suppose I mind the vignette as much as the CA, and the vignette disappears by f4 – f5.6. And in low-light situations it’s probably going to be less noticeable anyway. What did surprise me was that another frame I shot on the 35mm at f14 still had pretty chronic CA.

      I don’t think my Canon 50mm f1.4 was ever the best. Might have been a Friday job at the Canon factory.

      Oh, OK. Will do! I’ll keep saving for that then.

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