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Old May 20th, 2010, 01:47 PM
John_Nevill John_Nevill is offline
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Default Zeiss glass on Canon dSLRs

Hi Asher etal, it's been a while since I've posted on OPF!

Not for the fear of wanting, but rather a very hectic lifestyle I've been leading with two full time jobs!

Anyhow, I had some free time last weekend and decided to put this short scribbling together. Hopefully, some may find it of interest.

Iíve have recently become a bit of a Zeiss fanatic and have sold all my Canon and Sigma lenses bar the EF500 & EF70-200. I guess some may say ďmore bloody money than senseĒ, others will question why Iíve gone over to manual focus lensesÖso hereís my take on three bits of Zeiss glass that have recently found their way into my travel/landscape camera bag.


Zeiss Distagon T* ZE 21mm f/2.8
Ė a weighty bit of glass (720g) with a front filter of 82mm (still waiting for the B&W filter to arrive after 9 weeks) and a retro satin black finish.

Man, this thing is sharp at f/2.8 (corner to corner). IMO, nothing in the Canon or 3rd party line at this focal length even gets close to it for the money!. Yes, itís costly at £1500 and it only focuses if you rotate a solid chunk of metal (I did remember how!), but coupled with the dSLR focus confirmation LED, this has to be the best wide angle for FF Canon dSLRs period. I reckon it toasts the EF16-35 II and maybe other Canon primes.

In use, the Zeiss 21mm is a joy, I didnít even have to think about the lack of AF (do you really need it at 21mm?).

When using a wide angle lens of this focal length, I tend to work with markings and everything just falls into place. Wide open at f/2.8 on a 5DII, thereís some corner fall off (about 1.6EV), although this is all gone by f/5.6.

Sharpness also peaks at ~f/5.6 and possibly outresolves the 5DII sensor (a good investment for the next wave or two of cameras?).

The focus helical throw is ~120 degrees, smooth and very precise. At first it may seem stiff (if you have only ever been use to FTM focus on a Canon lens) but you soon realise that the Zeiss helical has no slop and will hold its position faultlessly. Furthermore, like all other Zeiss lenses it stops turning at close and infinity marks.

Flare is extremely well controlled for a lens with such a big front element, while CA is negligible. If I were to nitpick, the only real negative is the slight moustache style of distortion it exhibits.

This is barely noticeable on a crop body, but FF shows it all too well. However, it can easily be corrected in CS5/LR3, while other RCs will only correct the barrel component. If you shoot buildings or flat field subjects, you may find this annoying. For landscape work, itís pretty much irrelevant and easily (if only partially) corrected.

Compared to Canon L glass, all Zeiss lenses show a slight warm colour balance. You either like or correct it. I guess the T* (transparent) coatings play their part here.

Before getting hooked on the Zeiss drug, I was intrigued to know why so many people describe their images as having a 3D look. So what is this 3D look? The simple answer is an ever present clarity slider set at +20. Zeiss lenses render images with a level of micro contrast that I have only ever seen on a EF300 L f/2.8. However, thereís a downside to this (more on this later).

Finally, build quality is what you are paying for. All metal (brass and alloy) construction machined to perfection, engraved (and painted) markings, no plastic and an all metal hood.

Oh and I must not forget to mention the unbelievable close focus capability (8″).

So to sum up the Zeiss 21mm, if you are looking for (probably) the best landscape lens on a Canon system and donít mind manual focus, the Zeiss 21mm is a must have!

Here's a shot of Confucius Temple in Taipei (showing that little moustache effect):



EXIF-Data
Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 21mm, 1/500s, F/5.6, ISO200, Aperture priority, Pattern Metering, 0EV, Thu Apr 01, 2010


Zeiss Distagon T* ZE 35 f/2 Ė Another sizeable piece of glass (530g) for a 35mm lens. Again itís sharp wide open and gets even better up to ~f/8. Price wise itís actually cheaper (~£800) when compared to the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4 (~£1200).

OK its a stop slower, but its sharper at f/2 than the Canon is at f/2. I spent quite sometime comparing the output from these two lenses and went for the Zeiss for sharpness, build quality, zeiss colour and bokeh. The Canon EF 35L has an awful lot of plastic in its construction for a >£1k lens. Anyhow, I digress.

The Zeiss 35mm (like all Zeiss lenses) is solid metal (brass and alloy), no rubber, no plastic and no weather sealing. It has a helical throw of ~100 degrees and operates just as smooth and precise as the Zeiss 21mm. Again, an all metal lens hood is included.

The Zeiss 35mm does suffer from pronounced vignetting at f/2 on a FF camera (~2EV) and (obviously) less so on a crop camera. Donít be put off by this, it may be darker at the edges but it resolves detail / contrast extremely well (better than the Canon 35L). Some may find this an artsy feature, while others would correct it. I personally correct it, although itís all but gone by f/2.8.

I decided on a 35mm over a 50mm for two reasons, 1) It becomes a 46mm / 56mm f/2.8 (DOF wise) normal view prime on my 1DIII/7D and 2) it has the classic reportage view on a FF camera.

Distortion is similar to other lenses in its class, itís of the linear barrel type and very easiliy corrected. Flare is extremely well controlled although CA can be a problem especially on high contrast areas.

The Zeiss 35mm defintely has the infamous 3D look, itís absolutely superb but with one drawback Ė female portraits. Itís not forgiving! Great for detail and depth, but a little too crisp and contrasty for (letís say) the mature subject. I found I had to back off the contrast and lower the clarity slider big time on more than few outdoor portraits.

If thereís one thing I do like about the Zeiss 35mm is it out of focus rendering, at f/2 you get quite a smooth yet contrasty bokeh. While OOF colour fringing (purple/green effect) is very well controlled.

So to sum up the Zeiss 35mm, very well made, sharp, detailed and punchy with just a few niggles that are easily overshadowed by a £400 price advantage.

Here's a shot of the Cherry Blossom in one of Tokyo's parks (micro contrast at full size is astounding):



EXIF-Data
Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 35mm, 1/200s, F/5.6, ISO640, Aperture priority, Pattern Metering, 2/3EV, Wed Apr 07, 2010


Zeiss Planar ZE 85mm f/1.4
Ė This lens is not for the faint hearted. Itís bright f/1.4 aperture (1/3rd stop less than the Canon EF 85 L II f/1.2) draws some wonderful portraits and landscapes. However, it ainít cheap (£1100) but compared the the Canon 85 L II (£1800), it is good value.

Before even considering one, buyers need to understand its lineage and design. The Planar design dates back to 1896Öyep, thatís 120 years ago! As a consequence of this antiquated design, it suffers from one major flaw (feature?) Ė FOCUS SHIFT. If you Google this, youíll be hit with 100ís of results on how (allegedly crap) the Canon EF 50 f/1.2 is at focussing close up. Well, itís a similar design!

The Planar lens (unlike the Distagon) does not have a floating rear element and is therefore not fully corrected for spherical aberrations at close focus distances (although stunning bokeh). This causes the focus point to shift as the aperture changes. This is the very same problem that the EF 50 L f1.2 suffers from.

To most people this is totally unacceptable, focus on a model's eye at <2m and get the ear pin sharp. However the Planar design draws the best bokeh I've ever seen. Hence, why many people compensate for shift and end up actually loving Planar lenses.

I have already found a consistent workaround to the problem, use your eye and matte screen for focussing at apertures <f/2. While re-calibrate the focus confirmation via micro adjust to f/2.8 and use the green dot for apertures >f/2.8. It works everytime!

Colour balance is Zeiss warm and sharpness is (as expected) excellent from f/2 onwards. At f/1.4 on FF, it does show more than a hint of vignetting (1.2EV) with some hazing/haloing (spherical aberration issues) and inevitable corner softness, but its all gone by f/2.8.

At >f/4 this lens could be considered a landscaperís dream, the 85mm focal length yeilds a slightly flattened perspective, but renders images distortion free, very detailed and razor sharp, with an abundance of micro contrast.

For full / medium length portraits shot at f/2.8 it adds stunning bokeh to backgrounds, while head shots at f/1.4 (if tackled correctly) melt from razor detail to butter in less than an inch.

Build quality is solid Zeiss affair and feels as if it will last for years. The focus helical is long throw at ~270 degrees which enables very precise adjustment.

So to sum up the Zeiss 85mm, fast, quirky, flexible (landscape and potraits), needs careful application, but can be very rewarding.

A grab shot of my youngest lad in natural light wide open (nailing the focus point):



EXIF-Data
Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 85mm, 1/1600s, F/1.4, ISO400, Aperture priority, Pattern Metering, 0EV, Sat May 08, 2010


There you have it, my take on three Zeiss lenses. By no means are they cheap, but neither are L primes (dearer in most cases). Some might question whether the return on investment is as good as L glass. Bear in mind, all Zeiss dSLR lenses are actually made in Japan by Cosina under strict Zeiss quality control. Will this impact on resale values? Who knows? All that I know, is they are built like tanks, are optically stunning, marry my 5DII superbly and will be with me until I can afford a Leica system (maybe at retirement).

If I were to recommend one that really does stand out, then it has to be the 21mm Ė IMO, the best wide angle for FF Canon dSLRs!

I hope some of you find my scribblings useful and by all means feel free to comment, critique or pose a question. I'll keep an eye on the thread and answer accordingly!
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Old May 20th, 2010, 06:20 PM
leonardobarreto.com leonardobarreto.com is offline
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What do you think about the 20 mm / F3,5 Color Skopar SL II?

It looks radicaly compact.

There is a good review here
http://www.echenique.com/index.php/2...r-20mm-review/
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Old May 20th, 2010, 06:43 PM
Asher Kelman Asher Kelman is offline
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Leonardo,

The 5D has live view. I find it to be superior for getting tack sharp focus. So this manual focus lens seems ideal as Ken suggested, it will allow you to put the camera in your jacket pocket. Just the thing to make one's system lightweight.

Asher
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Old May 20th, 2010, 09:06 PM
Asher Kelman Asher Kelman is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by John_Nevill View Post
Hi Asher etal, it's been a while since I've posted on OPF!

Not for the fear of wanting, but rather a very hectic lifestyle I've been leading with two full time jobs!
At long last! I was wondering when you had reached 20% enrichment with you secret projects and would come out of your bunker and break radio silence! Welcome to the world above ground. We all survived by do still need you!

Quote:
Originally Posted by John_Nevill View Post
..............


Zeiss Planar ZE 85mm f/1.4
Ė This lens is not for the faint hearted. Itís bright f/1.4 aperture (1/3rd stop less than the Canon EF 85 L II f/1.2) draws some wonderful portraits and landscapes. However, it ainít cheap (£1100) but compared the the Canon 85 L II (£1800), it is good value.

Before even considering one, buyers need to understand its lineage and design. The Planar design dates back to 1896Öyep, thatís 120 years ago! As a consequence of this antiquated design, it suffers from one major flaw (feature?) Ė FOCUS SHIFT. If you Google this, youíll be hit with 100ís of results on how (allegedly crap) the Canon EF 50 f/1.2 is at focussing close up. Well, itís a similar design!

The Planar lens (unlike the Distagon) does not have a floating rear element and is therefore not fully corrected for spherical aberrations at close focus distances (although stunning bokeh). This causes the focus point to shift as the aperture changes. This is the very same problem that the EF 50 L f1.2 suffers from.

To most people this is totally unacceptable, focus on a model's eye at <2m and get the ear pin sharp. However the Planar design draws the best bokeh I've ever seen. Hence, why many people compensate for shift and end up actually loving Planar lenses.

I have already found a consistent workaround to the problem, use your eye and matte screen for focussing at apertures <f/2. While re-calibrate the focus confirmation via micro adjust to f/2.8 and use the green dot for apertures >f/2.8. It works everytime!
John,

I'd use live view for the focus where possible. With the 24-105 t seems to work well with focusing and then zooming out to take the shot. The movement of the magnified area is not fluid enough for me.

So you would use a matt screen. Which one? Then you see re calibrate focus confirmation via Micro adjust to 2.8. What exactly do you mean by that? What's your procedure? Does that not impact the rest of the AF adjustment too?

Asher
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Our purpose is getting to an impressive photograph. So we encourage browsing and then feedback. Consider a link to your galleries annotated, C&C welcomed. Images posted within OPF are assumed to be for Comment & Critique, unless otherwise designated.
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Old May 20th, 2010, 10:56 PM
Ken Tanaka Ken Tanaka is offline
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Thank you for a nice new owner report on these Zeiss lenses, John. The focal lengths I've personally used have been very good in color, sharpness, and contrast. As I remarked in another unrelated thread, however, the degree to which they genuinely excel above comparable Canon auto-focus lenses is debatable, although not effectively debatable on the Internet.

In terms of construction, yes, these Zeiss primes are built like heavy artillery barrels. But do you really believe that this is genuinely advantageous in any practical terms? Frankly, I much prefer durable, well-engineered, lighter-weight lenses built with engineered resins or aluminum. Good lenses are often heavy enough just from the glass. There is zero value-added by excessive barrel weight.

For most owners of today's digital single-lens reflex cameras, of the 35mm-type design, manual-only focus lenses make little practical sense for two reasons. First, most of these camera owners are very, very casual snappers. They're shooting handheld, often very carelessly and very quickly. They're avocational/occasional shooters who have simply not developed the manual focus skills that such lenses demand. They're going to miss one hell of a lot of shots with a manual lens.

Second, even with the best of previous skills, a digital slr shooter is at a strong disadvantage for manual focusing. Most of today's camera viewfinders are far too dim and offer no assistive facilities (i.e. split prisms) to aid in manual focus. Yes, there's a "live view" in cameras that have video capture. But you now have something of an expensive point-and-shoot, don't you? (And aren't p&s camera owners constantly whining about having no optical viewfinders?)

No, I decided that the Zeiss lenses were not worth the money for me and I returned both the units I purchased. I decided that the much smaller, and much less costly, Voigtlanders were far better choices for manual lenses. Their pancake designs make them fun for casual shooting, although yes they, too, can be just as hard to focus accurately. Their optical properties are very good...typically a bit warmer and more contrasty than the Zeiss lenses.

But in general, give me an AF lens with easy, quick change-over to MF, as the mainstay on my dslrs. I've never earned any extra points, recognition, or dollars for manually focusing a shot. So I want the quickness and accuracy that the best AF lenses can offer, but also the option to do it myself when the situation requires it.

It would be interesting to see how many of these lenses you still own in two years and, more particularly, how often you really use them.

BTW, that's a very nice casual portrait of your son, John.
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Old May 21st, 2010, 12:46 AM
John_Nevill John_Nevill is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Asher Kelman View Post
At long last! I was wondering when you had reached 20% enrichment with you secret projects and would come out of your bunker and break radio silence! Welcome to the world above ground. We all survived by do still need you!



John,

I'd use live view for the focus where possible. With the 24-105 t seems to work well with focusing and then zooming out to take the shot. The movement of the magnified area is not fluid enough for me.

So you would use a matt screen. Which one? Then you see re calibrate focus confirmation via Micro adjust to 2.8. What exactly do you mean by that? What's your procedure? Does that not impact the rest of the AF adjustment too?

Asher
Asher, not quite out of the bunker yet, funny you use that term, one of main clients is a MOD supplier, purchasing custom carbon fibre tripods for IED jammimg hardware.

I'm using the E-g-s matte screen and do find it better for focussing by eye, albeit a tad darker.

The focus re-calibration is on a per lens basis (micro adjust) and only for the Zeiss 85. I use a slanted rule and flat target set ~2m with live view to optimise the green dot confirmation for f/2.8.
The Zeiss 85mm is factory set to work with the green dot at f/5.6. I pull this forward by +13, this enables the green dot to confirm ~30mm forward of the factory setting.


Ken, I must put this weight into context, I have been using short canon zooms (16-35 & 24-70) and the individual Zeiss lenses are indeed lighter. However, having three or four in my bag to cover the same focal lengths, I have to agree with you.

As for AF, my eldest lad is an award winning cinematographer, he has totally embraced the new breed of video capable dSLRs for independent film making and finds the MF on most AF lenses to be highly inaccurate, fiddly and somewhat restrictive (helical throw) for his needs.

I know this maybe of little relevence, but i've lost count on how may times I receive "Dad, can I use your Zeiss 35mm"

For my needs, I'm not finding the lack of AF an issue, OK for birding and wildlife, I would be the first to admit that AI-Servo is a must have, but for travel/landscape work, I really dont feel disadvantaged.
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Old May 21st, 2010, 08:13 AM
Ken Tanaka Ken Tanaka is offline
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Ah, yes, the rage of dslr movie-making is exactly what has made these Zeiss manual primes so popular, as AF doesn't exist in this camera mode. The butter-smooth mechanical focusing rings are exactly what a camera operator wants in a lens. So I am not at all surprised that your son wants to use dad's lenses.

But that's a different subject, I suppose.

You do, however, make a notable oblique point regarding the utility of auto-focus. Specifically, that quite a percentage of amateur/casual photography is probably captured at, or near, infinity. In that regard aperture and shutter speed probably have more impact on such photos than focus, particularly at shorter focal lengths.
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Old May 21st, 2010, 06:35 PM
Arun Gaur Arun Gaur is offline
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Ken your comments are quite cogent. I would be delighted if you could also comment on the comparative sharpness of the two brands of lenses briefly.
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Old May 21st, 2010, 08:55 PM
Ken Tanaka Ken Tanaka is offline
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Arun,
In all honesty, no, I couldn't compare them other than offering my less-than-technical remarks. Zeiss lenses are very sharp when focused accurately on a scene that lends itself to sharpness. The Voigtlanders may not be quite as sharp throughout the frame, likely due to compromises required by their pancake design. But, at least for my eyes and purposes, the differences are moot. The only disappointments in sharpness with the Voigts I've experienced is when I've missed focus.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Arun Gaur View Post
Ken your comments are quite cogent. I would be delighted if you could also comment on the comparative sharpness of the two brands of lenses briefly.
Arun Gaur
http://tripolia-indianlandscapeimages.com
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Old May 21st, 2010, 11:53 PM
Daniel Buck Daniel Buck is offline
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I've been using the Zeiss 28mm/2.8 for about 6-7 years now, it's not let me down so far, and is probably my favorite lens, especially on a full-frame "real sized" 35mm camera. decenty wide, plenty sharp enough, and dirt cheap, I think I paid $100 for it, which was alot when I was in college at the time, but for now, I'll pay nearly $100 for a nice bottle of scotch that will be gone in a week or two. $100 for a lens that's going on 7 years, I'm very very happy with it :-)
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