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  1. #1
    ted_smith's Avatar
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    Are 35mm compatbile Carl Zeiss lenses as good as they claim to be?

    As a multi-format shooter (MF Hasselblad, 35mm Nikon F5) this question is aimed at the 35mm range, not medium format.

    I own two Carl Zeiss lenses for my Hasselblad - really pleased with them etc. However, my Nikon body has Nikon lenses only. I've read on the web and watched on YouTube lots about Carl Zeiss lenses that fit Nikon bodies. An extreme and expensive example is the 55mm Distagon with 12 lens elements that costs about £3K I gather. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8mEj...fuveOA&index=2

    Anyway, my question is whether the more 'normal' Carl Zeiss lenses are really as good as they claim to be (I can't afford that 55mm one so not even interested in that!)? It's obvious that they must be better than your standard Nikon lenses, but are they so much better to justify the cost? I've never used one and never seen a non-biased side-by-side comparison of a shot taken with, for example, the 50mm 1.8 Nikon or even the 1.4 pitted against a comparable CZ lens? Curious to know if it's worth spending about twice as much?

    (and, out of interest, are those side-by-side comparisons in the video linked above accurate, or exaggerated marketting tricks?)
    Ted Smith Photography
    Hasselblad 501CM...my 2nd love.

  2. #2
    brucemuir's Avatar
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    Yes.

  3. #3
    Richard Sintchak (rich815)'s Avatar
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    Are 35mm compatbile Carl Zeiss lenses as good as they claim to be?

    They are great. Will you get better results because of them? Probably not. I have full sets of Contax 35mm SLR gear with Zeiss lenses and Nikon SLR and lenses too. Both are great. If you got the $, get some if not don't sweat it.
    -----------------------

    "Well, my photos are actually much better than they look..."

    Richard S.
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  4. #4
    chriscrawfordphoto's Avatar
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    I do not have any of the Zeiss lenses for Nikon, but I have two of the Zeiss ZM lenses for Leica M. They're incredibly sharp lenses that fully equal Leica. I have a Leica 50mm Summicron too. The only downside to the ZM lenses is build quality, which is not up to Leica standards. Current Nikon lenses are plastic garbage, so the Zeiss lenses will exceed them in build quality by a long shot.
    Chris Crawford
    Fine Art Photography of Indiana and other places no one else photographs.

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  5. #5

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    There's one thing these lenses aren't so good at:
    autofocus.
    That's pretty much a deal killer for me, at least as far as 35mm goes.

  6. #6
    Kevin Kehler's Avatar
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    While I have never owned the 35mm Zeiss lenses, back when I worked at the camera store (4-years ago), we had several professionals who swore by them. I initially thought it was a bit of professional arrogance (e.g., "I don't use amateur lenses") until I saw several photos that one of the professionals had taken for a job, some taken by him with a Zeiss 35 f/2 and some by his wife (also a professional photographer) with a Nikon 35 f/1.4, both on separate Nikon D3's which were set up identically. Neither was shot wide-open (it was a large wedding).

    The Zeiss colours were cleaner, more contrast, with less chromatic aberrations. This is in no way to say the Nikon lens was not excellent but once you saw the two together, the Zeiss was much better.

    But! This is like drinking a 50-year old scotch and then having a 25-year old scotch - the 25-year old will be terrible. On the other hand, if you had a cheap blended malt beverage and switched to the 25-year old scotch, you would think it was wonderful. Putting the two pictures together, I could see the difference (two other employees in the store could not see the difference at all, neither could his wife who thought it was an expensive toy) but if you just stuck one picture in front of me today and asked which lens was used, I couldn't tell you; the difference could only be seen in direct comparisons.

    If you never used one, you will never miss it; if you use one, expect that 90% of photographers (and 99% of non-photographers) will never be able to tell the difference. If, as an artist, you can see the difference and that difference is important in your art, then it would be worth it. As a B&W photographer, the increase in contrast would be nice (since the colour and CA does not affect my photos) but not for triple the price.
    Once a photographer is convinced that the camera can lie and that, strictly speaking, the vast majority of photographs are "camera lies," inasmuch as they tell only part of a story or tell it in a distorted form, half the battle is won. Once he has conceded that photography is not a "naturalistic" medium of rendition and that striving for "naturalism" in a photograph is futile, he can turn his attention to using a camera to make more effective pictures.

    Andreas Feininger

  7. #7
    ic-racer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ted_smith View Post
    Anyway, my question is whether the more 'normal' Carl Zeiss lenses are really as good as they claim to be
    How good do they claim to be? I have about 12 or so Zeiss lenses for 35mm SLRs. They are fine lenses, but in the end you are still left with a 35mm negative when it comes time for printing.

  8. #8
    polyglot's Avatar
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    The Zeiss-for-Alpha (ZA, with autofocus) lenses are great. I've used the 85/1.4 and 135/1.8 and they are both fantastic. If you really want to try some Zeiss glass, buy one of those (or the 24/2) and a $100 Minolta body to stick it on.

    Your compositional skills matter significantly more, but you knew that

  9. #9

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    I regularly use a ZF.2 50mm f/1.4 Planar on my F3 and F (FTn Finder). My Main Camera is a Contax 645 with the 80mm Zeiss. Color and mechanics will be better than the Nikon stuff, but sharpness and bokeh will be pretty similar. Color is identical between the Zeiss 80 f/ Contax and the Zeiss 50 f/ Nikon.

    This is Portra 160 with that 50mm and my F3 wide open, at f/1.4:



    It's not the sharpest combination wide open, but stopped down it's perfect and the color is just out-of-this-world. My personal favorites are the 50 1.4 Planar, 25 f/2 Distagon, and the 100 f/2 Makro-Planar. The 35mm 1.4 is really nice, but a bit big on an ungripped F3 ;p

  10. #10

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    I've come to prefer the look of the Carl Zeiss lenses over anything else. I still have fun with other cameras, but I always return to the Zeiss glass.

    My favorites are the Planar and Sonnar, regardless of the focal length.

    All from the 50mm Planar:











    And why settle for someone else's knockoff when you can pay a few extra bucks and get the real thing?

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