« Open Mike: Who's This Advice For? | Main | A Lytro for Peanuts »

Tuesday, 03 November 2015


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Wait -- am I missing something or is the Zeiss Batis only available for the Sony E-mount?

[Right. Made primarily for all the A7[x] cameras. --Mike]

+1 for the Zeiss 85mm f/2.8 My best 85mm ever, including anything from Nikon and Canon. I know we've talked about this before, but the only problem is the damn thing needed to focus 6 inches closer! One should be aware, and I recently checked this, that a lot of the modern Zeiss offerings in the 85mm range, STILL don't focus as close as their competitors. I believe a popular photography magazine ran a breakdown of short tele's not that long ago, and every single one of the competitors focused 5-6 inches closer, and the Zeiss they were testing focused almost the same distance as the specs of the 70's era C/Y 2.8. Frustrating...

I, for one, do NOT have a quibble with the practice of making f/2.8 lenses (and BTW, f/2.8 is not "slow", it was always considered moderately fast, in an era of wide angles and mild-tele's that might be in the f/3.5-4 range), and pre-digital, (and before the practice of every 'shutterbug' on the planet wanting to shoot everything wide open), there was certainly a need for these lenses.

First of all, many 2.8's in the 24mm to 85mm lens size were no bigger than the normal, hence would not out-weigh the body, and be easy to hold and shoot.

Second, most often, the subject you were shooting needed to have a certain amount of things in focus to be useful to the client, and that meant, a lot of times, shooting at f/5.6-8, so why pay for speed you weren't using. Only newspaper photojournalists would need the speed, and then only for a few lenses.

Third, f/2.8's were generally far sharper at all f/stops than faster lenses.

Fourth, they were far cheaper, easily more affordable, even by today's standards.

Fifth, if you needed something faster, you could easily rent it from a local rental house: much cheaper than buying it for the one high speed, or subjective focus subject you need to do per year.

I shoot M4/3rd's, and Nikon, and I kind of object to the he fact that Nikon's "fast" lens is 1.4, and their "slow" lens is 1.8, it should be 2.8, and then the lens would cost about 400 dollars, and be the size of an old 50 (and have relatively few image QC issues)! I often wonder why a lot of those modern 1.4 and 1.8 prime lenses have such bad marks for chromatic abberations (and need auto-correction), when so many of those cheaper f/2.8's were dead-on pristine?

Mike, presumably while doing this kind of research you find a list of photos displaying the qualities you like. I'm also hoping you equally come across sets of pictures made with other lenses showing qualities you don't like. It would be very educational if you could then share such contrasting lists with us so we could see if we can see the difference. I don't have an eye educated to understand lens characteristics so I'd like to learn.

Can I add that fast short teles are amongst the most beautiful lenses human eyes ever enjoyed? Not too long barrel and big crystals you can let your lust wander into. I used to salivate admiring the beautiful Canon EF 85/1.2, but cannot feel the same to my humble Zeiss Tele-Tessar 85/4 ZM.

Ah, short telephotos... I had a Leica 75mm Summilux that I considered a special effects lens. A bokeh monster I tell you. The rarest lens I ever owned was a Pentax 135mm f1.8. I think there were fewer than 900 of them sold in the US. It also has a well deserved reputation of having an amazing combination of "bite" and softness wide open.

Mike, did you ever get a chance to use the Nikon DC lenses? They made them in both 105 and 135 lengths. You could dial in the amount of spherical aberration to affect how the bokeh looks. I'm not a big fan of Nikon lenses in general but that was a really cool idea.

Slow, slow, slow...

I too have had a love affair with lenses.
My first favorite was the 105 2.5 Pentax (when Honeywell distributed Pentax) and my all time favorite to this day is the Canon 85 1.8.
While I eschewed zooms for the longest time, I find the (permanently attached) 24-105 now my all time all around lens on my EOS 5 DSR.
Mi dos pesos, Mike.

Mike, it's so nice to have someone point out the difference between true "image quality" and pure sharpness. If one cruises internet forums these days, one finds people who judge lenses strictly on their MTF charts. And when they critique photos, they obsess about sharpness across the frame. I agree completely with your distaste for images that are retina-slicing sharp but otherwise flat and lacking a quality of three dimensional modeling. Of course, we all want lenses that are sharp, but how a lens renders a scene is usually far more important. "Real" photographers understand that there is much more to lens desirability than sharpness alone.

I don't really know what is more baffling, people who obsess about sharpness "right out to the corners" or those who obsess about bokeh (which is highly subjective). Sometimes you want one, sometimes the other, sometimes both. Is it possible to truly have both? I wonder. The Otuses are supposed to have both. I rather assume these desires represent two directions a lens designer can go. Clinical sharpness with well corrected out of focus areas (=poor bokeh) or leave in sufficent aberrations to ensure lots of lovely wacky out of focus areas but with concomitant lack of edge sharpness at or near wide open. But is this true?

The trouble with assessing bokeh is that is varies so much on lighting, background distance, type of background, and chosen aperture. Then of course there is the subjectivity of the viewer. Telling someone it is a Zeiss lens might make them appreciate the image a lot more than being told it is a 1970 Soligor.

I think short teles work particularly well on film. In digital I like a wider lens. Maybe because digital gives an instantaneous likeness. It mimics the human eye and so a human field of view feels natural.

Whereas in film a longer focal length appeals. Reaching - literally and figuratively - for a different perspective.

Yes, this 85mm Batis looks like it has nice chops. Personally, I'd be more interested in its 25mm brother as good wide angles are tougher to find and Zeiss has some well-established skills with wides. The new age of mirrorless cameras seems to have given Zeiss new joie de vivre! (Or is that actually raison d'etre?)

Also personally, I'm in the midst of selling nearly all my Zeiss lenses, keeping only my 18mm Distagon M-mount (nice corners) and my recently-acquired 32mm Touit X-mount lens (which is lovely). They were all fine, well-made, well-designed lenses. But the bottom-lines for me were that none were arguably better M-mount lenses than my Leicas and their lack of AF for Canon EF mounts, plus their ungainly sizes and weights, marginalized their usefulness on Canon cameras for me.

Today, of course, the need for purely optical perfection is waning. Software mediation continues to make progress in making "good" lenses "very good" lenses. I am often stunned to observe just how much profile correction Sony/Zeiss can sometimes apply to eliminate distortions in an image. Purists, of course, decry such practices. But in the final analysis it delivers more affordable high-quality lenses to a much larger market than optical perfection would ever allow.

Speaking of optical perfection...my own eye is on the new-ish Leica APO-Summicron 50mm F2. I only recently picked up a non-APO 'Cron 50 -- a very time-tested deeign -- and it's superb! I'm not at all sure I'm up for that APO version (at around $7,300). But...damn...it's perfect. I'm afraid to rent one.

I'm surprised that you left the excellent and reasonably priced Oly 45mm 1.8 off of the list, particularly given the praise that you and Ctein lavished upon it. Have you had a change of heart?

For me, that conversation is moot now, I traded in all of my m43 gear for a Panny LX100. Best overall camera I've ever used. Bar none.

I'm a huge fan of the short teles, having owned three of the Nikon 85mm lenses. So far.

So you had me all excited about the Batis -- until I dug around online and discovered it's only for the Sony E-mount.

At the Javits Center photo expo last month I bugged the guys in the Sigma booth for a release date on the 85mm Art lens, but all they would do is confirm that one's in the pipeline.

I've got the Sigma Art 24mm f/1.4 (which is a tad better than my old Nikon at about half the price) and the Sigma Art 50mm f/1.4 (which is truly superb but massive), but I do a huge amount of my shooting at 85mm so I'm eager to see how Sigma's stacks up.

One thing I'm sure of -- it'll be too big and heavy for you, Mike!

Mike, I am deeply in love with my (second time I buy it) Zeiss C/Y 85mm f/2.8 - you're so right, it is exquisite. I can shoot wide open to get an amazing pop, or shoot at 4 or 5.6 to get this definition/microcontrast. The colors are right in Lightroom without any adjustment - something that trips me all the time - I end up picking the "as shot" option. This is not something I can do with my Elmarit 60, or other favorite lenses. Another short tele I completely adore is my Nikkor 105mm Xenotar: can't quite describe what it does, but I like it :-) The other day I mounted it onto my F2A and shot some 200 B&W portraits, developed it (2-bath) and scanned (Coolscan 5000), and well, yummy. I did want to try the Olympus 90 macro, and some of the Leica Apos, but that would be just lens lust. The Zeiss 85 + Canon 6D is better than what I can do currently.

And what is wrong with razor sharp focus??? With film, an "over sharp" neg could be a problem where soft focus was desired, but there were ways to handle some of this in printing. Now, with PShop and other software, selective soft focus is reasonable from a sharp file. And it is still much more effective to "de-sharpen" an image than to sharpen one with soft focus or out of focus elements which need sharpening. Given my options I'll take the sharper image.

I have to echo Hugh Smith - the Canon 85 1.8 is still my favorite lens, ever. I am ignoring this beast, because while in honesty I can't say the price is out of range (I figure a Zeiss is usually priced closer to another brand's one stop faster lens), the A7RII that it would suit so well is rather beyond my reach.

Holding steady with the Planar 85/1.4 ZE at f:8

Nina & Melchi

I believe there is currently only a very small market for f2.8 primes: zooms are on a whole different level than they were back in the day and for people who want primes, there needs to be something extra. One extra thing is speed, another is performance, but performance is for most people sufficient even in average primes or good zooms, so combining speed and performance distinguishes the lens better.

That said, I prefer f2 as you do. Current cameras are capable of excellent low light results and f1.4 is hard to focus, often having too little DOF. It's a specialty tool, no one's shooting Kodachrome 64 anymore.

In reference to the quality of short teles, they are indeed all technically good, but there are differences and varying degrees of performance. For instance, I never seem to be quite happy with the current Nikon 85/1.8, even though it's a very sharp lens; something about the images doesn't click. In contrast, Zeiss has in my experience been very good in balancing different aspects of image quality in their latest designs.

With current sensor ISO speeds, an f/1.8 lens is in my opinion absolutely sufficiently fast. You're only buying shallower DOF, at a high price, going faster than that.

On the other hand, I do have Canon RF 50/1.2 and Pentax-A 50/1.2 lenses. But the Samyang 35/1.4 has zero appeal to me.

Regarding the FE mount 35mm conundrum, there is another player out there who fits the bill perfectly - the Zeiss Loxia 35/2. It has that unmistakeable Zeiss 3D optical quality you speak of and is a joy to use on an Alpha body. And (for some of us anyway) the icing on the cake is it only focuses manually. Manual focus + EVF = a nearly 100% hit rate of accurate focus.

I agree with Mike about f/2 hitting the center of the sweetspot regarding 35mm format lenses in the 35–85mm or so range. The original Zeiss 85/2 Sonnar—Contax & Leica rangefinder mounts—remains my favorite short tele, competing only with the later Nikkor 105/2.5 (a Sonnar in design if not name) and a 1980s Leica 90/2 Summicron. Not tiny, not huge, usually just right.

For compact travel use, though, I do really like the Zeiss Y/C mount 85/2.8 (tried out & then bought back in the day mainly due to Mike's various mentions of it in magazine articles) and am glad to have such a compact yet high quality lens in my toolkit.

Looking forward (any day now) to giving the 85mm Batis a spin.


In this era of very workable super high ISOs, f/2.8 is plenty in most situations. After all, most top line zooms are, in fact, f/2.8 and no one complains about those.

Limited DOF is nice, but you don't give up that much at f/2.8. Throw in far more portability or even pocketability for the small formats, better microcontrast and control of aberrations, lower cost and its a wonder there are not more f/2.8 lenses showing up these days.

I'd love it if the APS-c and the Micro 4/3 camera manufacturers started making a line of small, super high quality f/2.8 primes to go with their small cameras.

Speaking of micro-constrast, how come no one talks about it or bokeh very much nowadays.

Problem is a new classic arrives every few weeks, they are all great and so are the ones from 50 years ago just different, perhaps I will wait for the ultimate classic to arrive in maybe 20 years, oops probably dead by then, will just have to make do with my current fujiziess.

My favourite is the Nikkor 105mm f2.5 on my Nikon F which also works well on my D3200.

Unless you just get a bad sample

Thank you for using the word 'sample'. Many photographers on forums use the word 'copy' which just doesn't sound right to me.

e.g. "I got a bad copy of this lens"

Old portrait lenses were optically excellent, at least the Olympus ones I used with my OM-1, OM-2 etc... up to A7R.

The problem was that you really needed a tripod to get the focus correctly on the eye at larger apertures, AND you needed a model that would bear with you while you focused. And you needed the tripod when you used a ..... normal shutter speed

My Batis has solved these problems, automatic eye focus is reliable and fast and the OSS is efficient.

I am a Sony A7 system user, and the Batis lenses are one of the reasons why I have moved. I just got the Batis 25 f2, the 85 f1.8 is on my list.

I can't think of any other affordable FF system today that offers the same quality, say with the above two lenses, plus the Sony Zeiss 55 f1.8.

P.S. I agree with you ref. the 35mm lenses. Of course there is one Loxia 35 f2, but is manual focus.

P.P.S. The FE 35 f2.8 lens, like the FE 35 f1.4 lenses, are Sony Zeiss lenses, meaning they are made by Sony with some Zeiss QC. They are not "true" Zeiss made lenses.

I miss using my 100 mm/f2.8 Pentax on my old MX. Well, on the Super Program too, for that matter.

Close focusing for 85mm's:

Zeiss Planar (all models) 1 meter / 3.28 ft.

Zeiss Batis/Milvus/Otus .79 meter / 2.62 ft.

Nikon 1.8 .79 meter / 2.62 ft.

Nikon 1.4 .9 meter / 3 ft.

Canon 1.8 .85 meter / 2.79 ft.

Canon 1.2 .95 meter / 3.12 ft.

Based on the experience I had with my beloved C/Y 85mm Planar 2.8, I'd take a pass on any 85mm that couldn't focus closer than 1 meter, and hopefully closer than 3 feet. BTW, Olympus 45mm 1.8 (90mm eq.) .5 meter /1.64 ft.! Wow...

I believe that the Photopic Sky Survey (skysurvey.org) was shot with an array of Zeiss C/Z 85mm/2.8 Sonnars. I'm not sure why that lens is particularly suited to astrophotography but I'd be interested to know.

(BTW I agree with Hugh Smith and Rob L re. the Canon 85/1.8, and very much with Richard Tugwell about the Zuiko 85/2)

I love the Oly 75mm f/1.8. I think it is my favorite lens of all time. The Oly 45mm f/1.8 is no slouch either.

Echoing Rob L, the Canon 85mm f/1.8 was the first and sharpest lens I had on my 5D, although the 24-105 was good.
But Hugh Smith's comment reminded me of the 105 f/2.8 Super Takumar that I still have from my Spotmatic II days, and the m42-m4/3 adaptor I bought to try the Takumars. Bought but not used yet. That lens feels surprisingly heavy compared with the E-M5.

The very bright f:1.4-1.8 apertures of fast portrait lenses are wonderful for my middle-age eyes, which require more light to compose and focus than they used to. This is probably less of an issue for those synthetic 'finders' on mirrorless cameras, but for the SLR's I use it's great to have an extra stop or two of light. It permits me to exploit the beauty of that genuine, real-world pentaprism view.

I still deeply regret selling the late, lamented Pentax 85 mm f:1.4 lens, one of their last 35 mm format film lenses before the digital Tsunami. Very sharp, lovely rendering and bokeh, and perfect ergonomics with a wide focusing ring and a solid aluminum (?!) lens hood with a rubber rim.

I currently use the oldish Canon 85 mm f:1.8 which is very light and compact, and dirt cheap for the quality, though edges are a bit soft and the close focus limit for my uses is not quite close enough. You can't get a really tightly framed facial portrait without cropping after the fact. I find myself using Canon's beautiful 135 mm f:2 a lot more often, though. That longer reach is a lot more useful to me for candid portraits, and the fall-off of sharpness just looks prettier than the 85 mm when both are used near wide-open. I find it just about perfect for portraits of kids, and it's so much handier than the 80-200 f:2.8 'grenade launcher'.

I also use Sigma's excellent 50 mm f:1.4, the pre-'Art' version, which is considerably lighter than the Art model yet still scary sharp. But I just can't seem to wrap my head around composing people photos at focal lengths wider than 85 mm; there always seems to be something ugly poking into the edges of the frame. A 35 mm f:1.4/1.8 is completely wasted on me.

I recently acquired an excellent copy of the venerable Canon FD 85mm 1.2L for a really good price. Its obviously been in a collectors care forever, since both it and its case are absolutely mint. I bought it from a guy that came across a large collection of glass in a storage auction. The thing is a beauty to behold. Unfortunately I dont yet have the camera for this beauty (and its three fd brethren). Its gonna be a while until I feel I can afford a machine such as the a7R II to go with it. But until then, its just fine as a collectors item..

When I still shot 35mm film two of my favorite lenses were the 50mm 1.4 and 105 2.5 Nikkors. I now shoot DX and see no need to change and in that context these two are even better. If you don't mind focusing yourself (and I don't) these beauties can be had for pocket change.

For many years I used the Tamron SP 90/2.5 Macro as a portrait and macro lens, and that focused very close, being a macro lens, but with the Planar 85/1.4 ZE, I just keep 12 and 25mm extension tubes in the bag. If I'm that close to the subject with an 85mm lens, I'm probably using a tripod as well to focus accurately and keep the camera steady.

One of the problems with trying to learn about lenses from viewing pictures online is that so much of what is out there has been heavily processed, in ways that obscure the character of the lens or the lens-sensor combination. Or at least that what's I suspect: it's often hard to know, and that's part of the problem.

Fortunately, all the stars aligned for my last lens purchase, the Olympus 17mm f/1.8 for m4/3. TOP had a crowdsourced review (with pictures!) And it just so happened that one of my regular online haunts, Carl Weese's Working Pictures, had an ongoing stream of sensitively processed pictures taken with the lens. (One of the things I like best about the style of Working Pictures is that the lens and sensor character are so transparent in the pictures. Or so I fancy.) If only such resources were always available!

My favorite lens for my 35mm cameras was always the Canon FD 85mm f/1.8 breech lock lens. That lens was on my FTb and later my F-1 almost all of the time.

This is all lost on me.

Although I own a Nikkor 85/1.8, an 85/2, a 105/2.5 and a 135/2.8, they hardly see any use—the short teles never really grabbed my affections, and I've got them only for the rare occasion when nothing else will work. I've got to admit though that there's something very appealing about the look and the hand-feel of a wide-aperture short tele.

I've always felt most comfortable in the 20-50mm range. Fortunately, that range is also pretty comfortable to my back, and to the wallet in my back pocket...

Another great quality is transparency. I throughly enjoyed this justification for purchasing a Sony A7s2!

The comments to this entry are closed.



Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 06/2007