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Thursday, 08 August 2013


That lens hood better be included.


I have to wonder if this new line of "no compromises" optics will cause people who previously idolized the existing Zeiss lenses to wonder if they're really not all they're cracked up to be. When you're dream lens suddenly becomes "second tier" do you stop saving your pennies and just get Sigma's latest wonder ?

A few years ago I was having some BBQ with a friend who has a portrait studio. He does the shooting and his wife does the image ediing.
She had just told him to lay off the 12MP head shots as she was getting tired of having to add diffusion to most of their portraits.
Apparently we have been too sharp for our own good for a while. Used Imagon anyone?

If it's actually sharp wide open, edge to edge without significant vignetting, then you have my attention.... otherwise it's just more slick marketing.

I think that Zeiss is trying to cater to the old medium format market.

For all the tired jokes about dentists with Hasselblads, every medium format shooter that I knew was either a hard-working professional, or else a dedicated, but not necessarily rich, amateur.

Wish someone would do a comparison test between this 55mm monster and the 40mm Ultron f/2 pancake, if only for laughs. Be interesting to see just how superior the Zeiss is in terms of optical (and build) quality that would justify the astronomical exorbitance of it pricing, as well as the morbid obesity of its size. No, not exactly the same focal length or aperture, but a helluva lot closer than the difference that you'd feel in your back, and wallet.

In a way, I already like this lens: websites going all over which lens is sharpest will now have their ultimate choice. No need to talk about the alternatives; the Zeiss will most likely be the best. Can't afford it? Well then, better look at something that has a decent price tag and makes good looking images, sharpness isn't everything y'know. I admit I'm being a hopeless optimist in that pointless sharpness debates will vanish, but one can dream...

OTOH as a user, I have mixed feelings. Initially I was excited, since it could fix those tiny little issues of my Makro-Planar 50 and would be fast to boot. But then reality crept in: too big to haul around, expensive and, most importantly, how will I focus the darn thing to realize its potential? It's not like I use a tripod when shooting at f1.4 and at f5.6 it will be incredibly hard to convince myself that it really is worth the extra over the Makro-Planar. So I applaud the lens, but I really don't see that buying it will improve my photographs in a noticeable manner.

Then there is this Zeiss monster

Dear Mike,

I'm going to go way out on a limb here, but looking at the size of that lens, I don't think the primary goal is greater sharpness. Sure, they made reference to 36 megapixel cameras, but that's really “only” equivalent to Kodachrome 25 in resolution. Not that that's anything to complain about, but a quarter-century ago there were many prime lenses in the “normal” focal length range that could max out Kodachrome.

The trick is to hold up the image quality over the whole field of view. Especially at large apertures. To minimize vignetting and maximize paraxialism, you need huge front and rear elements. That's why I think the lens is so wide.

Finessing image quality out to the corners, especially if you want to do so at larger apertures without compromising the smaller ones, can require really refining the component elements of the lens, frequently splitting them into two or even three sub-elements that you can individually fine tune. It also helps if you can keep surface curvatures relatively low; extreme curvatures introduce their own problems that have to be corrected for. That, I think, explains why the lens is so long.

It will be amusing to see if I'm remotely right about any of this when the lens design is finally published and the real optical experts have had a chance to dissect and analyze it.

Anyways, I'll be surprised if this lens is markedly sharper on 24-36 megapixel cameras than existing lenses; I just expect that it will hold its image quality over larger areas and wider apertures.

When the 50-60 megapixel cameras come down the pike, it may be a whole different situation, with this lens being notably sharper, period.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Most of us, and I guess 99% of their actual owners, do not need 24+ megapixel DSLRs either. Yet they sell quite well. Zeiss is targeting that group of people. Some of them do big size advertising, which used to be shot on large format. Some landscape shooters would also be potential customers who can actually make use of all those well defined megapixels by printing big enough, again something that was done on LF. Still, it is a bit sad that most of those cameras and lenses are probably owned by people who don't print at all but compare images side by side at 100% to see the difference. A bit like a hifi enthusiast listening to 20Hz sine wave to prove that his equipment can go low enough.

I'm a wannabe Zeiss man myself. Whenever I have my heavy Distagon ZM mounted on my GXR, I use a Zeiss comfort strap with a wide "air-cell" neck strap, on which "Carl Zeiss is emblazoned.

The design of this new line of Zeiss premium SLR lenses reminds of pre-SMC Takumar lenses for Pentax screwmount, contemporaries of the C/Y mount lenses. Specifically, the aperture ring at the base and the cut-out zone focus window above the DOF scale. The latter survive in Pentaxes' DA Limited premium lens line which is still in current production. Although these are expensive by Pentax standards, they are a bargain compared to Carl Zeiss' own M42 and K mount lenses which have been discontinued.

Now that Zeiss has made the design fashionable again, the DA Limiteds should continue chugging along indefinitely. More so if Pentax Ricoh comes out finally with a full-frame sensored K-mount camera.

I have a question though in regards older monster lenses. Does "pre-set" (as opposed to auto-aperture) simply means manual aperture control (for focusing/metering wide open then stopping down to the taking aperture)?

"...it's 2013—not 1913."

Yup; and until Zeiss either adds autofocus to their lenses or produces an aftermarket line of proper focusing screens for DSLRs this announcement isn't worth more than a big yawn to me.

I like this post, thanks Mike.

I want to make great photos that aren't *encumbered* by quality issues, so, when the quality issues are not there, I don't need better gear. I would be extremely vain to think that only the very, very best quality gear will 'dis-encumber' me. In fact, I already feel a bit negative about the size and weight of my modest DSLR pack, as I go outdoors to make raw like a rabbit.

I was intrigued to see your hands pic is on m43. I have a close eye on this format. So much pressure is on the amateur DSLR user to go full frame (where the cheapest camera and standard zoom is $3000+), but the packs just get bigger and bigger, and the price of a wide/std/tele/long/macro kit with 2 bodies is just not a joke.

I'm sure I'm not the only bloke who has to purchase only after making careful assessments without gear in hand, suffer with any wrong decisions for 5 years or more due to budgets and Life, think carefully about real needs and real quality requirements, not have duplicate kits for various purposes, pay a premium over the prices that lucky Americans see, and want the right balance of size and weight, quality and price, for me.

Why am I putting this comment on a Zeiss post? Because your perspective on the Zeiss is useful confirmation that I'm not really compromising; I'm optimising.

It's necessary to have an ultra-sharp lens so that you can soften the portrait later in Photoshop.

I've always wanted to be able to afford Zeiss lenses, but since they aren't a business expense, it ain't gonna happen, even used ones. Oh well, the ones I have aren't that bad. I've always wanted the sharpest, widest dynamic range, lowest distortion lens I could get. Its a lot easier to soften an image in the darkroom or in Photoshop than it is to interpolate data that isn't in the negative or file. I make enough mistakes on my own without having "lousy lens" as an excuse. Too bad I didn't win the $400M lottery last night. I might even have been able to buy both of the new Zeiss "superlenses".

This monster optic might be OK for sit still portraits but not candids. The 24-85 Zeiss zoom on my Contax N1 scares anyone it's aimed at. No wonder, it's 82mm wide!

Oh man! Do I have $4500 to splurge?

Related to Ctein's comment, a technical question: do lenses have to have constant curvature? In my basic ignorance, with modern design and manufacturing, could not some of these issues be addressed with variable curvature?

It would be nice to have a post on the technical issues of lens manufacture :)

A lens for portraiture....hmmm. I'm going with the flow here. Spending an hour or two applying selective and layered Gaussian blur to a portrait is not my idea of fun or photography...I've a couple of cheap lenses that'll do that straight out of the box.

But I do like what Zeiss does.

Not sure I agree about the size of the 28-85 - I had the Canon FD 28-85 f/4 and it was every bit as bulky as the Contax. Of course both are small next to a modern pro 24-70. Sigma's 50/1.4 has already done big with it's 77mm filter thread. Seems you can't get small lenses for Canikon DSLRs any more...

From the press release:
We want the “unboxing experience” to be something that is really special and representative about this unique product

Which tells us more than anything else about this lens.

The Zeiss has my attention because this is the focal length I use the most. It is supposed to take high resolution cameras to a new level. It may take prices to an even higher level also. No price officially announced but I've heard between $3500-$4500. That's a chunk of change.
Let's see if testing backs up Zeiss's claim.

Why would some use DA*55 for portraiture?
Well, yes, but no. It is sharp as you say, and I think that is an excellent lens for landscapes and social documentary.
Which reminds me, now, of many fine landscape photographs by Ansel Adams, executed with a 105mm lens, or thereabouts in equivalent 135 format terms.
I think same could apply for this Zeiss lens too. As noticed in your post of several days ago, prescribed recipes are, in the end, bad for photography.

[It's possible the 55mm would not be used for portraiture. However, Zeiss says in its article, "In interviews with selected customers, the product managers asked about areas and situations in which conscientious, manual picture-taking plays out its strengths. After analyzing the answers, it was decided to focus on portraits, landscapes and still lifes." That's what I'm referring to by discussing lenses for portraiture. --Mike]

It has always seemed to me that lenses come in 3 grades: $150-200, $500-600 and $1000+. I have always stayed away from the low end (with the exception of the Sigma 19 and 30mm e lenses for Nex which I picked up at $150 each) and I have never been able to afford the top end, though I have lusted after them. And since the largest print I've ever made is 13 x 19 and my visual acuity is poor I can't say the the top-end make any kind of economic sense for the non-pro.

So it is a gloomy prospect if, as you suggest, the middle is disappearing in favor of the extremes - rather like what seems to have happened to American politics, leaving things, as Yeats famously said, so that:
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Isn't it ironic that some people demand the sharpest lens wide open, corner to corner, then go out and shoot portraits wide-open to get the blurriest backgrounds?

Nice shape for a coffee mug, I reckon...

Toto makes such a good point, above. The 55mm is generally not the ideal focal length for portraits--maybe for environmental portraiture, but not for medium to close headshots. Even on cropped sensor it simply not long enough. The subject's nose will be distorted (or whatever is closest to the camera) by the shorter focal lengths. 85m to 135mm is a much better range. Ask any woman if they would like a portrait that shows their noses elongated, while, at the same time, showing every pore?

I think Bernard is spot on. Now that Zeiss isn't a player in the medium format market, this is Zeiss trying to attract current medium format shooters. So with this new 55mm lens, they are aiming to match the performance of a top-notch f/2.8 medium format standard lens at f/1.4, with all the attendant difficulties that faster aperture brings with it.

Looked at in that light, the value proposition offered by Zeiss may be pretty good: a D800e plus a few of these new Zeiss lenses may be less expensive and more versatile than what the medium format systems offer.

I'm generally not a pixel peeper, but I would love to read a thorough comparison of this lens attached to a D800e vs the Leica 70mm f/2.5 attached to a Leica S.

Dear Martin,

That's what aspheric surfaces are all about, and it'd be amazing if this lens doesn't make use of them.

pax / Ctein

Almost every lens is sharp when stopped down,but not every lens offers low distortion,excellent color correction,flare resistance and high contrast wide open and thats what this lens is designed to do. I would still prefer medium format glass for it;s A.F and leaf shutters.. Leica S glass in particular but this new Zeiss lens is very attractive..

> But the Pentax lens is already too expensive, in my
> humble opinion, at $800,

Having been shooting with a DA*55/1.4 for just over four years, I humbly disagree. Lightroom stats show that 25% of all of my shots were taken with it. It's worth every penny.

> and—most importantly of all—it is just too,
> too blisteringly sharp for portraits.

Easily fixed in a few seconds with a good portrait plugin like Imagenomics Portraiture. I'd rather have a sharp, general purpose lens and have to flatter portraits in software than do it optically with an expensive specific-purpose lens that's useless for most everything else.

The smart deal is that this is a 55mm, not a 50 mm, so the APS-C people finally get a 83mm portrait lens, and not a 75mm not- a- portrait lens!

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