Speeking of the ZF-lenses only, I think the answer isn't that easy. Some of their lenses are outstanding but others aren't any better than comparable MF-Nikkors. Examples of the less impressive ones are 2,8/25mm, 1,4/50mm and 1,4/85mm. Incidently, all of them inherited their optics from Yashica/Contax lenses from the seventies. The younger lenses are generally better if not outstanding.
I think Ted the question you should be asking is, will Zeiss lenses make have any significant improvement to outcome of my photography considering their extra cost over other leading marque lens manufacturers optics ?, I believe the answer is no.
Like any "is lens A better than lens B" question, you'll get a lot of different answers, some useful, some not so useful.
First of all, the 55 Zeiss that you mention isn't for sale yet. They claim is is the first of a new generation of Zeiss optics for 35mm (probably not "new" in the new-to-earth meaning--I bet they are just designs from their motion picture gear--highly regarded--or scientific optics, repurposed to still photography).
I *do* own a number of the Zeiss-for-Nikon lenses and I do like them. I'm not a pixel peeper and don't do "lens testing" (quotes intentional) but the images do seem sharper, more contrasty, and just a nicer look than other lenses. I've tried a variety of Nikkors but not Sigmas or Tamrons, or any of the more obscure off brands, though I hear in many cases they are quite good.
i suspect that Zeiss's quality control process is more rigorous than Nikon's. That is to say, I've had lenses from Nikon that other's have praised that I have not had as much luck with--especially zooms--while each of my Zeiss's has been excellent. So part of what you may be paying for is simply the extra cost of more thorough testing, etc. The guy at Lens Rentals is the only one who has seen enough samples to really know...
You are also, in my experience, paying for outstanding customer service. I've had two problems with my Zeiss lenses. Both were taken care of immediately (as in, days). In one case I was sent a new lens, despite the problem being one that could easily have been repaired.
A big advantage of the Zeiss line is that they are manual focus. AF is great for many purposes but no so great for others. You'll notice that on the same focal length, the barrel of an AF lens only has to turn a little bit to go from it's minimum focus distance to infinity--I guess that makes it focus faster--less lens to turn. (As a side note, I've always wondered if that also caused more focus errors--a very slight miss would be a significant distance change for the plane of focus...) That also makes them problematic to focus in manual mode for many uses. Too hard to hit your target. Much easier to be precise with a manual focus lens (Nikkor or Zeiss) at the sacrifice of speed. The focus stays put, too. On AF lenses in MF mode I find the AF far too easy to bump. Try shooting astro images in the dark with one without taping the focus ring and you'll know what I mean. Or stitching a 24-image stitch. Whoops. Must have bumped the focus ring around image 8. Oh well. Uggh. Been there, done that.
On the other hand, I have had in some cases outstanding luck with Nikkors. I had a 28-300 Nikkor that seemed better than the average, based on what I saw on the web. Its focus (or the camera's focus) wasn't always spot on all the way out--quite frustrating--but when it was on it was surprisingly good at 300. I also have a new 300 f/4 Nikkor that is simply stunning. I read they were very good on all the forums but the one I received seems extraordinary (shooting on a D800e).
But they are a different breed. No zoom. No AF. Expensive. If those aspects don't bother you--or, indeed, if they attract you--buy one used or rent one. Renting is inexpensive, buying used is often free as you can sell it at about the same price if you buy it right.
This is my conclusion too. see my thread http://www.apug.org/forums/forum45/1...teresting.html where I did a little test. OK, a fairly grainy film/developer combination and yes, all at 250 F8 so stopped down, not wide open, but I half expected the 50mm MIJ Zuiko 1.8 to be the "best" (as it's a lens that has an excellent reputation), and in fact it was indistnguishable from the Schneider on the Retina and the Jupiter 8 Sonnar clone on the Kiev. the resolution disappeared into the film grain, and I don't believe any lens would have given a different result.Quote:
I rented a bunch of premium lenses a while ago, Zeiss included, and maybe I'm crazy but I didn't notice any difference between them and mid-range lenses except maybe wide open or at extreme enlargement. The build quality was much better for the premium lenses, but the size of a 35mm negative seemed to set the image quality limit, not the lens.
Well obviously. If you shoot at f/8 on grainy film, there's no point buying anything more than a consumer f/5.6 zoom. You're only going to get the benefit of these lenses on ultra-sharp films, e.g. TMX, and near wide-open. Any other case is either diffraction- or grain-limited.
It's interesting to reflect that the majority the great photographers we all admire used equipment to become legends that most rank amateurs these days wouldn't give house room. :)
Okay, so I have and (more or less) regularly use the ZF.2 50/1.4, AF-D 50/1.4, and Ai 50/2. Among them, I like the ZF the most, and the AF-D the worst. Actually, my copy of the AF-D suffers from some "blue dot" phenomenon, where under certain (outdoor) lighting conditions and apertures a blueish circular haze can be seen in the image center. This is most noticeable on digital sensors, but can sometimes also be seen on color film. This makes this lens pretty much useless for me, except for indoors use.
In a side-by-side comparison at infinity, the ZF clearly beats the AF-D at all apertures up to f/8. The image borders and corners are noticeably worse on the AF-D until f/2.8. However, the ZF shows some "haze" due to residual spherical aberration, i.e. the sharp image is overlaid with some hazy shine. This is gone by f/2.8.
In the same comparison, the Ai 50/2 is about on par with the ZF from f/2.8 on, and sharpness wise slightly better at f/2 due to the lower amount of spherical aberration.
However, where the ZF.2 really shines is the range f/2.8-f/5.6 at medium distances, where you'll get a beautiful "popping" rendering emphasizing the subject's 3-dimensional structure. Here, the Nikkors just cannot compete IMHO. And, this is not an artifact of digitally emphasizing image sharpness - it works on Rollei Retro 100 with Rodinal as well (or maybe even better). On the other hand, the ZF.2 is not a good available-light lens for wide open night time use - lots of coma make it practically impossible to correctly render point-light sources wide open.
The ZF.2 50/1.4 is my only Zeiss lens for 35mm. I got it, since the performance of the AF-D was so much hampered by the blue dot. If I hadn't lots of good choices in other focal lengths, I'd probably add one or two more ZF lenses at other focal lengths, however, given their price point, it's hard to justify adding one that's redundant to my other glass, as long as that performs "good enough".
So, yes, I think the ZFs are significantly different from the Nikkors, but whether they're better depends on ones usage.
As for the ZFs being MF only, yeah, that's a pity to some extend - most modern focusing screens (post-AF era) don't allow for proper manual focusing. On the F5 it's no problem to change the screen against an A type, for example, but on the digital bodies proper manual focusing is pretty difficult. I'm still thinking of filling my 85mm-portrait-lens-gap with a ZF.2 85/1.4, but the difficulty to properly MF this on some of my bodies makes this decision pretty difficult...