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Wednesday, 25 June 2008


f/3.5 and it weighs a full pound?!

Cmon zeiss make them in an EOS mount!!! Arggh!

These Zeiss lenses really make me hope all the D700 FX rumors are true.

steve e miller,
I'm afraid that will never happen. Canon doesn't share its mount specifications with 3rd-party lensmakers. The independent companies that make EOS-mount lenses have to "back engineer" their products to work by taking apart Canon products and copying them. Since they're only copying the features they can see and that they need, their products sometimes won't work with new Canon cameras, in at least one documented case necessitating expensive rounds of "repair" for products that aren't actually broken. Zeiss has made it its own official policy that it will not back-engineer mounts that it can't get original specifications for. The upshot is that there will not be any Zeiss lenses in a Canon mount--at least not until one of the two companies changes its policy, which is unlikely.

(Off the record, the scuttlebutt is that Zeiss made overtures to Canon to make these lenses available in Canon *FD* mount and Canon wouldn't even allow that. That is purely rumor, so please don't quote me.)

The stranger omission is that these lenses are not available in ZA mount (for Sony DSLRs). Given Zeiss's close relationship with Sony you'd think they would be. The official reason is that, unlike the F and K mount specifications, the ZA mount doesn't allow for mechanical aperture stopdown, and the ZF/ZK lenses would have to be re-engineered to an unacceptable extent to make them compatible.

Mike J.

I have the 25mm ZF. I can't do more than say these lenses are an absolute joy to use. Sharpest lens I have. Other superlatives are perfect color, fun to use, built like a tank, and close focus/near macro capability. If the 18mm is anything like the lens I have, its gonna be hard to avoid. I consider the 25mm my ultimate travel lens already. Now if cosina would only reintroduce the voigtlander 125 lanthar II for f-mount, I could see that being a couple hundred less than the zeiss 100 ZF, which is also hard to avoid once you see pictures. Pentax may have pancakes, but Nikon/Fuji have these wonderful zeisses, which almost makes up for it.

I have a feeling its gonna be $1500 though, when it finally hits US shores.

This joins another of the Zeiss lenses that make wonder why I would buy a camera that can autofocus and then put a manual focus lens on the front of it.

It is not as though the Nikon offerings cannot do manual focus.

If it were a shift or tilt lens I could see it, and I can see how one might want to use it on a manual Nikon film camera.

If it were a better lens than the 12-24mm Nikkor and if the differences showed in digital, I might see it. Is digital capable of seeing any of the improvement that might be obtainable using this lens?

Can someone give a view on that? Perhaps someone who has used one of the Zeiss lenses?

My all time favorite Nikon is the 105mm f2 DC. That is my standard of what a good lens can pull out. Are the Zeiss lenses way better than that?

Not having the lens available in EOS mount is no big deal. With a PK>EOS or Nikon>EOS adaptor ($30 on eBay) lenses for Pentax and Nikon can easily be fitted to Canon bodies.

Canon's choice when creating EOS in the 1980s to use a short flange focal distance has proven to be an unbelievable gift for Canon users who want to fit other brands of lenses to their cameras. In fact, given a choice, I'd take a "closed" system - like Canon or Macintosh - that works well over an "open" one that just works OK, especially if the closed system plays well with others, as both Canon and Mac do.

Even the usual concerns of back-engineered lens adaptors are muted with such a wide-angle lens: No autoexposure? Just chimp if you're unsure. No autofocus? It's an 18mm f/3.5! You can just guess focus and most of the time you'll be right....

Every new lens in this line-up is welcome confirmation that there is still healthy interest in manual focus lenses with metal (rather than plastic) construction.
Yes, it is shockingly big & heavy and will cost even more if you think you need filters but presumably that's Zeiss unwilling to compromise on quality.
When I had a Pentax *ist D I got a similar FOV with a tiny Pentax 20mm f4 but the image quality, while not horrible, was nowhere near Zeiss standard.

Cheers, Robin

I take Mike's point (and thanks, Mike for that insider's view). I should note that because of the distance in the EOS mount from lens-flange to film-plane, many non-Canon lenses will work fine in manual stop-down mode with a mechanical adapter from Novoflex or the like. I use Nikon, Pentax screw-mount, and Leica lenses on a Canon 5D with no problem. A word of warning: lenses that protrude deeply into the body cavity of a camera (I am thinking of the Pentax 24mm screw-mount lens) may block the return mirror. Hard to tell from the picture above whether that would be an issue with the Zeiss 18. Zone-focusing anyone?

Ben Marks

Mike, I find your comment more interesting than the announcement itself. I was wondering why these weren't manufactured in Canon mount, and now I now (it's snobbishness and greed, right?). Thanks!

I'd love to get my hands on an 85/1.4...

Several of the Zeiss SLR lenses are made in ZS (M42 screwmount) which can be adapted for EOS albeit with adapter and stop-down metering. This one does not appear to be available in ZS yet.

Hi Mike,

I have a question about using Zeiss Z[ ] lenses. Isn’t it true that certain camera functions are “crippled” when using a Zeiss lens? For example, when you are using a ZF lens the only mode you have available (other that M) is aperture priority. I think you have a broader range of choices in a K mount. Please clarify as I’d love to own one of these beauties.



Chris, it depends on the camera:


My understanding is that Nikon isn't any more coooperative than Canon when it comes to sharing specs with 3rd parties; but the patent for the original F-Mount has expired, which is why Zeiss only makes manual focus ZF lenses - features such as AF and VR would have to be reverse engineered.

Thanks Oren. If you go up to http://www.zeiss.com/c12567a8003b58b9/Contents-Frame/90a1b4054f3696a1c125743600416478 and look at the K mount you will see that all four modes are available. One more reason to get that K20D Mike and Carl have been writing about.


Riddle me this, Batman: why is it that the Nikkor 20/2.8 takes 62mm filters, and the Nikkor 18/2.8 (which by all accounts I've read is a turd) takes 77mm filters, but this lens, only f/3.5, takes 82mm filters?

As tempting as the Zeiss lenses are, I can't justify their prices when I can get good old-school Nikkors for a fraction of the price on eBay. Another turnoff is that they all appear to have different filter threads, few if any of which correspond to the classic Nikon 52-62-77 sizes. And Zeiss seems pretty conservative with maximum apertures, aside from the 100/2 macro.

What the Zeiss lenses do most is remind me what's missing from Nikon's lineup: a really good fixed 18, 24, 28, 35, 50, 105...

"Given Zeiss's close relationship with Sony you'd think they would be. The official reason is that, unlike the F and K mount specifications, the ZA mount doesn't allow for mechanical aperture stopdown, and the ZF/ZK lenses would have to be re-engineered to an unacceptable extent to make them compatible."

Canon EF mount doesn't allow for mechanical aperture stopdown either. It's all electronic. This fact may have as much to do with Zeiss' refusal to offer EF mount lenses as the other factors you mentioned.

Since Zeiss is supposed to be coming out with an ultra wide zoom for the Sony A mount some time this year, I'll have to make do. :(

Dear Riddl,ummmm, Eric,

I may have an answer to your question.

If you think purely in terms of aperture, why should a wide-angle lens have a big front element at all? Consider that 18mm divided by f/3.5 is only 5 mm. So, should not the diameter of the lens be miniscule?

The problem is entrance and exit pupils and vignetting. If you hold a typical lens up to your eye and rotate it sideways so you're looking thru it off-axis, at some point you'll usually start to see the rim of the front element. Instead of seeing a circle of light, you start to see a gibbous moon. You get excessive light falloff.

To prevent vignetting at larger apertures, the front element has to get very wide (because the field of view of the lens is very wide). Many lens manufacturers allow vignetting wide open. It may not be fully controlled until you get two stops down. I suspect the Zeiss lens exhibits little or no vignetting.

BTW, the design problem gets even worse with digital lenses because the exit pupil of the lens needs to be unusually large as well. Otherwise the microlenses on most sensors don't work as well, and light falloff towards the edges of the field is amplified.

pax / The Darkroom Knight

Ctein, isn't another reason that wide-angle lenses are retrofocal on SLRs - you basically have a short, wide lens at the front mated with a long lens at the back to give it enough distance to get clear of the mirror? The actual wide-angle lens needs to project a wide image, and wider the shorter the lens (since the reversed tele components at the back need to compensate further).

Dear Janne,

Yup. Makes the problem even more severe.

pax / Ctein

wow! i like the photo of the lens

ZA mount does indeed use mechanical aperture stopdown, it's effectively identical to Nikon's G and Pentax's FA J & DA lenses in function (no aperture ring, electronic meter coupling, mechanical aperture stopdown, screwdriver or lens-motor AF).

I suspect the deal with Sony precludes Zeiss selling ZA lenses not assembled or distributed by Sony and the ZF/ZK/ZS line are built by Cosina.

@Eric: Zeiss uses Zeiss standard filter sizes (a long-set standard on Contax lenses) and they also use more complex optical designs than the Nikon lenses you compare them to, thus the larger front element and larger thread. Note the two Nikon lenses you mention are noted as being poor (18mm) and average(20mm) performers, where the Zeiss designs in that range have been class-leaders, especially the 21mm Distagon (which also shares the new 18mm's 82mm filter size).

Since the Zeiss line is generally better performers than the Nikkor equivalents (the 85 being the exception), I'm quite happy with its existence. Of course I'm also quite happy shooting with AI glass on my DSLR in general, most of my lenses are manual focus.

A Zeiss with a Canon FD mount- how ridiculous! They haven’t made an FD mount camera over 25 years. I want one!
Two years ago I bought one of the last new Nikon FM3A’s (ok refurbished) and got a new Zeiss 50mm to go on the front. I’d got the camera out of frustration with modern SLRs, wanting a classic 70s SLR, but in the end it was the lens that blew me away. There was that magic Zeiss/Leica lens thing everyone wrote about. I got a Zeiss 25mm a short while later.
This year I picked up a pristine Canon New F-1 on e-bay. It cost less than the Nikon but, no disrespect to the FM3A, is a much better camera. Built like a tank with optional partial or spot metering. I’ve got a few lenses to go with it, all single focal length and all excellent (some older than the camera- 1981). However, the thought couldn’t help crossing my mind- if only Zeiss would make an FD version of their new lenses. I assumed it was a pipe dream, but……

Just 2 comments:

1. Any reason why Zeiss don't put CPUs in their lenses? Voigtlander has done it with their premium Nikon-mount MF lenses.

2. It would be nice if they continued to make them for Contax/Yashica mount - second hand C/Y Zeiss lenses are almost priced the same as new ones!

@Kelvin L: Unlike the mount itself, the electronic interface for F mount is still protected. Cosina, like most other 3rd party manufacturers, has reverse engineered it. Zeiss chooses not to use reverse-engineered protocols.

And as nice as it would be to see new C/Y mount lenses, there's essentially no market for it. Most users of C/Y mount glass today are adapting those lenses to Canon cameras, and they'll just buy the F mount versions and adapt those instead. The value of C/Y glass is due to its extreme popularity for use on high-resolution Canon DSLR's.

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