Apo Distagon, Apo Planar, Apo Sonnar
Coincidence is part of what one may call „spice of life“. A bit more than one year ago I asked a friend to lend me his Zeiss 35mm f2 Distagon z.f2. He was so kind to agree. After a month I returned the lens to him. I had compared it to my 35mm Fujinon XF lens – and liked the Zeiss better than the Fuji. Oh well. It took me a while of considering this and that (and saving the money) and then I asked him if he would sell the lens to me. And he did sell.
Half a year later I wanted to sell a good lens and another friend wanted to trade a 50mm f2 z.f Makro-Planar for that. I agreed – so the second „Zeiss for Nikon“ came to me. Then I started looking for good deals on Zeiss lenses. And after failing in several ebay auctions (how do people manage to bid in the very last second?) I finally managed to lay my hands on a 25mm f2 Distagon z.f2. I was so excited that I wanted to review that lens and so I posted something here.
Tobias at Zeiss liked the posting, so some emails were exchanged and in the first week of August Zeiss sent me 3 lenses to review… but I had asked for just one of them. 😉
With the help of Mehrdad I had asked for the 135mm f2 Apo-Sonnar z.f2 to review since I think that is one of the very best telephoto lenses for 35mm format. I was thinking of buying one myself (after some time of saving the necessary money). Zeiss agreed to send that lens but also sent me two more lenses for a newer review of the two Otus lenses they are offering – the 85mm f1.4 Apo-Planar and the 55mm f1.4 Apo-Distagon. I couldn’t believe it at first but so I tested these lenses, too. Hey, who wouldn’t?!
So coincidence led me into new interesting terrain.
Sure, I was a bit excited about the opportunity, but I was seeing some grain of salt in all that.
- Zeiss would send me some of the best photography lenses to review – so I have to, er, live up to that and try to get some pictures that will really show some of the qualities of these lenses.
- After having used their best lenses for a month, how will you go back to your „normal“ lenses?
- What will I write about 3 super-cool out-of-space apochromatic lenses?
Somehow I didn’t like the thought of getting spoiled by these Apo-lenses. But then UPS knocked at the door…
First impression and thoughts on lens design
Zeiss wants you to know that you bought high quality lenses from the very first moment. While you open the lid of the box your Otus lens is stored in, even the design of the box will guide your thoughts to „high standard“ and the likes. I tried to be professional about it and just took out lens and lens hood, mounted hood on lens and both on the camera. Then I had a look at the combination and, sorry to say, was underwhelmed a bit.
Now Zeiss sports several design lines in their lenses:
There is the „older“ design of the Z.F2 and ZE lines. Metal everything with metal focus rings with a strongly structured surface so your hands know where to grip and turn. I like that design very much. It combines classic look and feel with modern lines and colours.
There is also the „newer“ design of the latest Milvus, Touit, Batis and Otus line. (I leave out the Loxia and ZA because these are designed differently again and do not play a role in this review.) This newer design brings rubber focus rings and a nearly polished brown-to-anthracite surface to the lenses. The Otus line is a bit brownish or „bronze“ – I like the colour. The lens hoods are all conical full rings, no tulip shapes around. The lens hoods are made of metal and also polished.
The polished surface and the huge rubber rings look „off“ on my Nikon Df. The surfaces don’t harmonize. Also you see a lot of your fingerprints on the lens body. Because of having used the Touit lenses before my hands easily found the rubber focus ring, still I am no fan of that. With gloves in winter you will have a hard time. Sure- usually a photographer knows his equipment, so you will get used to that. I still don’t like that rubber and the dust and dirt that settles between rubber and metal.
Also, the Otus lenses are just big and fat. Really. They are lighter than they seem, but they are huge!
And don’t get me started on the yellow lettering… It is okay in combination with the bronzeish colour. But it looks „off“. And it doesn’t help much with zone focussing in the dark. The white lettering of the older Z.F2 design was just right. White on glossy black. I think the Batis way of doing that is the best (not for the battery, but for the user).
But I can see why Zeiss changed the design in that direction. It is more modern. It is (sorry again!) more „apple“. No other brand uses that design. So pros, amateurs and enthusiasts will notice from afar: Oh, a new Zeiss lens! And I can imagine that the surface will look rugged after a year or two. The pro will buy the Zeiss not for their looks.
Anyway: Who cares? I don’t look at my lenses, I look through my lenses.
I like Zeiss lenses because of the so-called „3D-pop“ they can give to your images. The change from „in-focus“ to „out-of-focus“ comes in a way that lets the subject in focus really stand out to th