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  1. #1

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    Thinking about selling some Zeiss ZFs...

    I'm posting this here as it is not a classified ad (well, yet at least) but looking for opinions/thoughts.

    Thinking they would be far better than the my AF-D Nikkor 35mm/2D, AF-D Nikkor 24mm/2.8D and AF-D Nikkor 50mm/1.4, I bought the Zeiss 25mm, 50mm 1.4 and 35mm 2.0. These are ZFs, not ZF.2, which makes no optical difference. Anyhow aside from being reportedly sharper in the center (based on test reports, not my own data), and having slightly better flare control (T* is still the best), performance is not what I had hoped for.

    I only really shoot at relatively small apertures, so better wide open performance does not matter to me. I want sharpness across the frame at middle apertures and smaller, and in this respect the Zeiss lenses do not appear to be anything spectacular. They really seem to be optimized at the center - perhaps Zeiss assumes most people will use them on DX sensors.

    Distortion correction is disappointing. The 50mm 1.4 ZF has virtually the same, unimpressive amount of barrel distortion as the AF-D 50mm 1.4 Nikkor, and the 35mm 2.0 ZF has more barrel distortion than the AF-D 35mm Nikkor. While the 25mm ZF has less a little less distortion than the AF-D 24mm Nikkor, it is still not as well corrected as it should be in my opinion.

    Of course the build quality of the ZF lenses is excellent and they are a joy to hold and use, but I want my dollars going to optics first, beauty second.

    The Other ZF I own is the 21mm Distagon. This one is another story. Excellent, and better than anything else I could get in that focal length for an SLR.

    I am quite disappointed in how the manufacturers (at least Nikon and Zeiss) are designing their premium and/or prime lenses these days, seemingly putting all their attention into "bokeh" and speed (and for very high prices I might add). I am concerned with neither, and I'm being left out in the cold. I can't even get a damn aperture ring on Nikon's new lenses $2,000 plus.

  2. #2

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    Why not try some vintage glass? You can get Manual Focus adapters for nothing these days on Ebay. Get a Nikon->M42 adapter and a 50mm Pentax SMC Takumar 1.4 (Screw mount). My bet is it will be competitive with the Zeiss in every way (and it has an aperture ring). Much cheaper too.

  3. #3
    jp498's Avatar
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    It's not too tough to get a lens that works well at middle apertures. Including vintage glass will get your aperture ring and other things.

    Wide open and big apertures is where the lenses can easily differentiate. I like the bokeh and speed options on the market now. I've got the Nikkor 50/1.8d, 50/1.4d, Voigtlander 40/2 SLII (which is a really nice manual/chipped lens), and Nikon 105/2dc for fast Nikon primes.

    I like to go on flickr and see how lenses render certain scenes. When I bought my 40/sl2 I also check the zeiss options, and I didnt like the bokeh/ out of focus backgrounds were rendered with the Zeiss stuff. Creamy backgrounds is sort of what I like about using tessars on MF and LF gear and it's not just because of thinner DOF.

  4. #4
    Rol_Lei Nut's Avatar
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    Decent lenses of around "normal" focal length should all be pretty sharp at around f/8.0, especially in the center.

    What makes the difference between a decent and great lens is:
    1) How it behaves at full aperture
    2) How it behaves in the corners (esp. at wider apertures)
    3) How vignetting and distortion are handled.
    4) How it deals with flare.
    5) More esoteric things like 3-d effects, bokeh, rendering and so on...

    I've used older (non-AF) versions of most of the lenses you've mentionrd and have a definite preference for the Zeiss lenses.
    YMMV and if you can find no real or practical difference, then going for the less expensive option is wholly justified.
    M6, SL, SL2, R5, P6x7, SL3003, SL35-E, F, F2, FM, FE-2, Varex IIa

  5. #5
    Diapositivo's Avatar
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    You should try cheaper lenses. A 50/1.4 is the result, just like any piece of optics, of several compromises and is subject to cost constraints. One normally buys a 50/1.4 because he somehow needs the extreme aperture (either as an aid to focusing with an SLR, or to take pictures).

    My bet is that at f/8 a humble 50/2 (and 35/2.8, 28/3.5 etc.) would perform better than an 50/1.4 for most makers. That's because in order to reach bigger apertures manufacturers have to "give up" somewhere on some quality parameters, even when they accept higher manufacturing costs.

    Just to make an example, suppose a simpler scheme can be extremely well corrected for distortion, but suffers from vignetting. That's acceptable for an f/2, but would be unacceptable for an f/1.4 where that optical scheme would produce too much vignetting. So the producer opts for a different scheme, which has less vignetting but introduces other problems (more lenses, flare, chromatic aberration, whatever).

    A "fast" lens is not a "normal" lens with the faster apertures "added". It's a lens which had to be designed anew, to solve a new set of constraints.

    The juice is that a 50/1.4 is typically a different animal than let's say a 50/2, a different project, and it is quite likely that the cheaper lens, being easier to manufacture, is not just cheaper but also overall better at its better apertures.

    (This could be confirmed by some MTF comparative tests that were carried on many years ago by Tutti Fotografi / Progresso Fotografico and which I don't have any more).

    PS If distortion is very important for your work, for instance for architectural work, I would suggest experimenting with enlarger lenses and bellows lenses. Those are optimized for shorter distances (that's not good for architecture) but can sport an extreme degree of correction for distortion as far as I know.
    Fabrizio Ruggeri fine art photography site: http://fabrizio-ruggeri.artistwebsites.com
    Stock images at Imagebroker: http://www.imagebroker.com/#/search/ib_fbr

  6. #6

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    The compromises are always on the characteristics I favor unfortunately. It seems to me many of these new premium "professional" lenses are actually just expensive toys for non-professionals with a lot of money to burn. I'm continuously disappointed by all the "improvements".

  7. #7

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    I wonder if you are experiencing some kind of defect.... I say this because I had a heck of issues with Nikon's 50mm 1.8D lens. I went through 3 or 4 and kept the best. These were all factory fresh new units. Even then, it was awfully soft at wide open. So I sent it back for "repair". Nikon replaced the front element and adjusted auto-focus. It came back very VERY sharp. I also had similar experience with a "pro grade" Tokina zoom. Again, it was very soft at long end of the zoom at wide open. Sent it back and came back as good as high-end Nikons. My Nikon pro-grade zooms are very sharp wide open. No adjustments or repairs were necessary.
    Develop, stop, fix.... wait.... where's my film?

  8. #8

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    Not defects, just characteristics. My findings seem consistent with most of the test results I read. I'm not just talking about lenses I own, but also lenses I would otherwise like to own. For example, the new Nikkor AFS 35mm 1.4. The old 35mm AF-D f2 is not the best lens ever, so hey maybe this is going to be the lens to have. One thing's for sure, it's hugely expensive. Well, it's a stop faster. Useless to me. It's a lot sharper and better corrected wide open. Useless to me. It has more barrel distortion than the lowly AF-D f2. Game over. $2000 later I've gained basically nothing, and lost an aperture ring. Bravo Nikon!

    I guess they design these things only for digital where people can correct simple/symmetric distortion and color fringing with software. All well and good, but then what exactly justifies these extremely expensive lenses if in the end the camera chip or photoshop corrects for residual optical aberations? Seems like a big rip off going on here.

  9. #9

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    Maybe you are on to something there....

    I have a Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G. Nikon's very best mid range zoom. At 24mm there is this HUGE distortion that I can readily see. Many tests also say there is this big chromatic abrasions. (which I have not noticed) It's an incredibly sharp lens. I bet you are right. Anything that can be software corrected becomes second priority and things that can't be corrected moves up to the top. Make sense to me. That's where their money is coming from these days.
    Develop, stop, fix.... wait.... where's my film?

  10. #10

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    Yup... my typing accent strikes again. I meant "chromatic aberrations".
    Develop, stop, fix.... wait.... where's my film?

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