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Thursday, 02 July 2009


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Am I seeing right? A Zeiss lens "Made in Japan" ?

"Am I seeing right? A Zeiss lens 'Made in Japan'?"

Sure, most of the ZE/ZF/ZK/ZS lenses are made under license by Cosina. Hardly the first time--there have been Leica and Zeiss lenses made in Japan in years past. Some were the worse for it, some the better for it. Many of the Zeiss Contax lenses were made by Kyocera, and even Zeiss stated that the Japanese-made ones were slightly better than the German-made ones because the equipment in Japan was newer. That didn't make them any less Zeiss lenses. Many current Leica lenses are made in North America. For that matter, some Japanese lenses are made in other Asian countries like China and Thailand.

What difference does it make where it was made?


I have the Canon 50mm 1.4 and i really love it. I was expecting the Zeiss 85mm to be much better but it turns out that the design has some trouble with focus shift as pointed out by http://www.the-digital-picture.com/Reviews/Zeiss-85mm-f-1.4-ZE-Planar-Lens-Review.aspx

Can we expect a similar issue with this 50mm?

It's quite a concept, that a lens would "draw" a scene differently. My Pentax Takumar 50/1.4 has been in pretty heavy use rcently on my Canon DSLR recently. It definitely has a look to it as compared to my other lenses, and a heft that can't quite be replicated by the engineered plastics in vogue today.

Ouch - I think you've just cost me quite a lot of money.

Lens quality looks like the next limiting factor, not sensors.

"My Pentax Takumar 50/1.4..."

One of my historical favorites. Love that lens.


I wonder if they knew from the first they were making both versions and this is just the order they got done in, or if they decided on some basis which mount to release first?

There were licensing issues. Zeiss does not reverse-engineer lensmounts, and initially didn't have an agreement with Canon that would have given it permission to produce its lenses in EF mount. Zeiss has confirmed to me that the current ZE lenses are being made with Canon's full cooperation.


I directly compared the Zeiss 50mm f1.4 ZE and the Canon EF 50mm f1.4 on a tripod with mirror lock-up and wireless remote switch. I agree that the Zeiss may be slightly sharper at f1.4 and slightly so at f2. By f2.8 on they are equal in center sharpness with the canon being slightly better at the edges. Both had low contrast until f2.8 with the Zeiss slightly better as well. The sharpness differences were not apparent unless you took the raw images to actual pixels in CS4. I bought the Canon lens because its images exhibited the previously described round softness at f1.4 with its pleasing bokeh -very nice for portraits. The Zeiss lens, wide open, was not nearly as pleasing in this regard with a jagged edge to the images. Basically, it reminded me of the old Leica (slight residual spherical aberration)vs Zeiss (edgy, high contrast)comparisons. I also compared the new Zeiss ZE 85mm f1.4 which was sharper, but still slightly soft with low contrast wide open but was better than either of the 50mm's and improved dramatically at f2. Horses for courses as they say, either lens would give great results depending on the subject matter.

Did you compare color transmission?

I like the Canon lens too. A bigger difference would be manual focusing feel and overall solidity. I've heard pros complain of the Canon lens that they tend to "mash" the focus ring with heavy use.


I confess to being somewhat suprised that Mike "Mr Bokeh" Johnston describes the Zeiss Planar 50/1.4 as a "sweet prime", given that the ZF variant has a reputation for atrocious bokeh. I don't much care for the 50mm focal length so it's not a lens I'd be tempted to buy but when I looked at the out-of-focus samples in Sean Reid's review, I couldn't believe the nervous, unattractive bokeh -- easily the ugliest (to my eyes) bokeh of any lens he has reviewed.

Bjorn Rorslett's reviews of Nikon lenses are highly regarded and his opinon of the 50/1.4's bokeh mirrors my own:

The biggest surprise occurred when I tried to evaluate the bokeh of the ZF lens. Let me summarise this by stating that at f/1.4, the Zeiss exhibited a weird or downright ugly bokeh with pronounced double lines and harsh edges. The transition from sharp to unsharp is abrupt. The Nikkor on the other hand delivered pleasantly soft-looking backgrounds without any harshness to them. Stopping further down the picture tended to change, thus the Nikkor gets harder and harsher and the ZF availed itself of its very circular aperturte to give less harsh backgrounds than the Nikkor. But having heard a lot of hype regarding the alleged superiority of the ZF line in terms of bokeh, I have to admit that the Zeiss lens was a clear disappointment. The reason for having a superfast lens is amongst others to use it set more or less wide open. I quickly stopped using the ZF 50 in that fashion and decided not to keep the lens for myself. I give the ZF 50 due credit for its sharpness qualities, but be warned that its bokeh can give nasty surprises if you shot the lens wide open. At the very least, do try out the lens before you commit to purchasing it.

Interestingly, the SLRgear review, which you point to above, evaluates shaprness, chromatic aberration, vignetting, distortion, build quality, and handling but doesn't mention bokeh. Even so, it's difficult to read the conclusion as anything more than faint praise:

On its own merits, the Carl Zeiss 50mm ƒ/1.4 is a good lens: sharpness is excellent at ƒ/2.8 and greater, even at ƒ/2 in a portrait application on a sub-frame sensor digital SLR. Chromatic aberration and distortion performance are tolerable, and corner shading isn't problematic. The problem in recommending this lens is that there wasn't anything wrong with existing solutions for Pentax and Nikon, which means the Zeiss would have to be something really special to justify the higher price point and lack of autofocus. I'm not convinced the Zeiss 50mm ƒ/1.4 quite reaches ''that'' level of lens; certain aspects of it are very nice, such as its smooth manual focus control and performance after ƒ/2.8. But to my mind a lens marketed as a fast ƒ/1.4 lens has to perform well at that aperture, rather than showing its best performance at smaller apertures. And at its widest aperture, the 50mm ƒ/1.4 just doesn't perform.

Overall, the consensus about the Zeiss Planar 50/1.4 seems to be: "nice lens, as long as you don't use it wide open".

RE: Pentax Takumar 50/1.4

I don't want to say that I got the lens just because you said it was great... but I may have. You didn't mention the extra work needed to bleach out the lens due to one of the lens elements being mildly radioactive. Two weeks with a high UV output lamp, and a bunch of aluminum foil, if you're wondering how.

Thats interesting about the focus shift with the Zeiss ZE 85mm f1.4 lens. I did not notice it in my tests as I refocused at each aperture (on a tripod in bright light, and I only tested from wide open to f8). I learned to do this (testing lenses) as a result of my experience with a 180mm f4.8 Sonnar lens I use on my Linhof Technika 70. That lens is very good at f4.8, extremely good at f5.6, but then drops off miserably unless you refocus at the stopped-down apertures! Admittedly it was a lens designed to be sharp at open aperture for reportage photography, but turns out to be useful at smaller stops only on the tripod. I wonder if it is peculiar to this particular sample or is it characteristic of this lens? Getting back to the 85mm ZE -does the focus confirmation change when a different aperture is selected or is this another case of the oft mentioned inherent inaccuracy of auto-focus?

@ Mike: "Zeiss does not reverse-engineer lensmounts."

What about the ZM rangefinder mount? ZM was done with the cooperation of Leica?

Which is why, among friends, CZ does not stand for Carl Zeiss but for Cosina Zeiss [no pun intendeded].

However, just a tricky question:
Now that Cosina manufactures three high grade primes, which one to go to?
The Cosina Voigtländer Ultron 40 f2?
The Cosina Voigtländer Nokton 58 f1.4?
The Cosina Zeiss 50 1.4?

On the other hand, one of the biggest and, probably, better lens manufacturers today is Cosina. Specially if you can get one of the previous Voigtlander SL I lenses [the APO 90 is a stellar lens].

If you dig a bit into the K mount history [which, by the way, being the open mount is the reason why most of the third part "obscure" manufacturers choose it as the primary mount, as it is no t subject to licensing], you´ll find some very funny data:

One of the most highly regarded lens in the K mount is a Vivitar Series 1 lens, the 70-210 3.5 Macro zoom. This lens was manufactured by quite some factories, some of them quite well known [Tokina, Olympus, Cosina], some of them unknown and rare [Komine, Kiron].

The most sought after of them all is the constant 2.8-4 zoom made by Kiron [which gets quite pricy], or the constant f3.5 by Tokina and Kiron.

However, I must say that I do not get the price of those Zeiss lenses, specially compared to the Voigtlander lenses, and then, if you take into the equation the existance of Limited Full Frame lenses [FA Limited] which are AUTOFOCUS lenses, the price of those Cosina Zeiss is out of proportion.

There´s nothing wrong with where a lens is made. Incidentally, and in case of Pentax, it clearly states where the lens was assemblied, and where the lens was manufactured.

Still, the quality of the product is backed by the quality control of the manufacturer, not the country.

And to add insult to injury, and back Mike´s comment, Minolta lenses where bought by Zeiss AND Leica for their ranges. They were that good.

I was thrilled when Zeiss started making lenses for Nikon and Canon. I would have loved a 50mm Planar, but the bokeh from this lens, at least from the Nikon mount version, has been pretty consistently awful. Does the ZE definitely share the exact same optics as the ZF version?

I have the Canon 50/1.4 and always thought it was fantastic. At least, from f2 and smaller. At 1.4, there's a sort of halation effect in any highlight/white areas within the image. Bokeh was very good.

I tried the Canon 50L, but returned three samples. Two just didn't focus accurately wide open and close up (3'). The third DID focus, but still wasn't as sharp as my old 50/1.4. The L's bokeh is really, really great, but i couldn't justify the size/weight and expense of that lens when it didn't outperform my old lens in most situations.

I finally found a nice alternative, though, in the Sigma 50mm 1.4. It's a match in sharpness for the Canon, and has better bokeh than the 50/1.4. It's a big large, but i'm sorta used to it now. I would, though, only recommend it for cameras that have a feature that enables 'per lens focus calibration' like the most recent, higher end Canons. On my 5DMkII, i had to dial it in almost to the end of the calibration range. Haven't tried it with film yet, though.


Lens quality is ALWAYS the limiting factor, remember that during the analog dominance of photography barrel distortion was pretty much unheard of, now its common.
We can be lazy and attempt to correct/fix it in PS, simply because we can. Read some of Geoff Crawley's articles [ AP magazine ] on lenses.

Mike B.

Not so exciting for me as Canon already has a pretty great, reasonably priced 50mm 1.4. Now if they had a nice 24mm 2.8, that would be pretty cool.

Spiny: The patent has run out on the M mount, hence no licensing issues. Same as what Cosina did with both M39 (LTM) and M mount lenses.

Awk! 50mm is my personal favorite focal length. Consequently I've become a bit of a 50-nut, with three versions for my Canon mount bodies and two for my Leica Ms (one of which is the M-mount version of this lens...which is excellent). So my right eyelid began to twitch and my forehead and palms became damp when I saw this. I've taken a mild sedative and believe I'm under control now, at least for the evening.

The SLRgear review is actually not very positive....they compare it to the Nikon 50/1.4 AF-D and conclude it comes up short at all apertures in comparison. And actually the bokeh seems quite nasty judging from the shots I've seen. I really don't think there are any redeeming characteristics. The Zeiss 85/1.4 on the other hand is pure lust...

"Am I seeing right? A Zeiss lens "Made in Japan"?"

The Leica M7 and M8 are mostly made in Portugal. 49% of the assembly is done there. The chassis are then sent to Solms for 51%, and that allows Leica to label them Made In Germany.

A significant number of lens elements are purchased from Panasonic. Since they are assembled in Solms, they also carry the Germany label. Leica also has (had?) a lens assembly plant in Canada. Nikon has a plant in Thailand, Pentax is in the Philippines and Vietnam. My Oly e300 is labled China.

You have to remember that products from Japan were terrible until Deming went there. He is a national hero there, and virtually unknown in the States.

The Zeiss 50/1.4 (I have the ZF version) indeed has awful bokeh wide open but improves significantly by f/2. The 50/2 Makro-Planar, which exhibits smoother bokeh at any aperture, could be the better choice for anyone not needing f/1.4 - at least it is for me, although it is a lot heavier than the f/1.4. Also, I don't know if it is available in ZE mount yet.

I don't know about the ZF/ZK/ZE 50/1.4 but my C/Y 50/1.4 Planar has great bokeh, contrast and colour transmission qualities. The both share the same formula - shouldn't the ZE be similar?

The Canon 50/1.4 EF is all plastic, even the helicoid. It will break easily if abused.

Not that I disbelieve you or want to argue - more like I can't grasp the concept of a lens "drawing".

Would it be possible, as a future project, for you to post a demonstration? Say with some full-frame camera shots using various 50mm lenses of the same subject.

Just a thought.

It's not my concept. It's a term Sean often uses in his reviews. He's explained what he means on his site, so you should look there for further explanation.


"The Canon 50/1.4 EF is all plastic, even the helicoid. It will break easily if abused."

No problems with mine after 15+ years of heavy, full-time use. I also much prefer its smoother look over the old CZ 50/1.4.

But forget the lens talk. How do I get into that "old Russian military hospital" on the Zeiss site? Very cool.

The 50 Planars are interesting lenses. I'm rather fond of them myself. The big thing is the Bokeh of course, they don't produce the buttery-smooth bokeh that so many prefer but rather a more neutral bokeh along with a pronounced transition from in-focus to out of focus that gives the classic 'Zeiss 3D' look.

Some, like myself, prefer this look to the smooth, more Leica-like bokeh of other lenses. Also I find it grants a distinctive signature to a wide-aperture image that can't be achieved with many of the Japanese 50's. It's not hard to tell whether an image was shot with a Zeiss Planar. The Canon and Nikon 50's in particular are rather lacking in anything resembling a disticnt signature.

Since you mentioned the review of the Nikon version, I agree, the review is well written and thus "good". The opinion of the Zeiss lens was not good. They found that the now discontinued Nikon 50/1.4D was better in almost every way. The current Nikon 50/1.4G is better than the discontinued lens in most ways. Unless the Canon 50/1.4 is truly awful, maybe this is not such a "sweet prime."

I liked the Zeiss 50 mm ZF on my girlfriends Nikon but i am on Canon so what to buy? 50 or 85 mm Zeiss?

Mike, I have no way to objectively measure color transmission so its just my subjective opinion that the Zeiss (ZE, ZF, Hasselblad and Linhof-selected) lenses that I've used always blow everything else away for saturated and contrasty colors. The Apo-Summicrons I've tried come close. This was particularly evident with slide film, but now photoshop pretty much changes everything. Just my opinion of the results I get in the bright Colorado and New Mexico sunshine.

> Unless the Canon 50/1.4 is truly awful, maybe this is not such a "sweet prime."

Not the case, the Canon is a really good lens as well.

"Not the case, the Canon is a really good lens as well."

One of the best. I'd personally avoid using it at the widest two apertures except in a pinch, but that's probably true of all fast 50s for me.


Mike B....

"Lens quality is ALWAYS the limiting factor..."

Not really. An average lens on 5x4 beat a good lens on medium format which beat an excellent lens on 35mm.

"my subjective opinion that the Zeiss (ZE, ZF, Hasselblad and Linhof-selected) lenses that I've used always blow everything else away for saturated and contrasty colors."

Right in the nail, Rick. That's exactly my feeling about this lens, too. And Zeiss designed it with this goal.I can shoot longer in the morning and earlier in the evening,beautiful colors!.I've used the Zeiss ZF 50mm in my FM3A and F100. The bokeh,IMHO,it's better at 2.0, but, at 1.4, it beats the Nikon D or any other normal lens I've tried in sharpness. I LOVE this lens.

By the way, Mike, thank you for bringing me back my sanity. Adorama wrote me that Olympus was going to delay the delivery of the EP-1, and I cancelled the order. Let's wait and see.


Is Zeiss' 35mm prime for Canon coming soon? I heard rumors a while ago.

That one I'd like to get, if the optics are as good as the 50mm's.

I am far more interested to see how the zeiss 50/2 macro shapes up. Besides excellent bokeh, the close focus gives an advantage to offset the lack of af. And didn't I read somewhere not to sweat a small difference in max aperture?

In my experience the ef50/1.4 is a very nice lens. It's prone to halation wide open, and doesn't resist flare in general very well, bit if is capable of capturing lot of detail anyway and by f/2 it is excellent.

However, I switched to the 50/1.2 and find it significantly better in both build/usability and optical performance. Really extraordinary.

"That one I'd like to get, if the optics are as good as the 50mm's."



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