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Old 30th July 2012   #1
Jack
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Nikon/Zeiss ZF lens review, first impressions

My friend Uwe Steinmuller got a set of Zeiss ZF lenses to demo for a few days, so he graciously invited me to tag along and try them out too! He didn't have them but for a few days, so we we decided to meet in San Juan Bautista and shoot together for a few hours one morning.

I'm not going to get overly flowery in my descriptions since I really didn't spend a lot of quality time with them, but I will share my initial overview impressions. Note that I had decided just a few days prior to this to purchase the Zeiss ZF18 for my own kit bag, and find it a great addition for me.

Here are my initial impressions:

ZF15 is a very large, massive lens, but offers excellent performance for a hyper wide. Shows a little bit of CA, some curvature of field and relatively easy-to-correct barrel distortion;

ZF18 is a relatively compact lens by Zeiss standards. It's performance is not quite as good as the 15, but still very good. Shows a bit more CA, some curvature of field and harder to correct wave-distortion;

ZF21 is about the same net IQ as the 18, just less FOV, perhaps even more pronounced wave distortion than the 18. It is a physically longer, larger lens than the 18;

Nikon 24 PC is very, very good. Slight barrel distortion, slight CA. Shifted it remains very good to about 8mm, and fully shifted nets a little wider than the 15 by itself, about as good at the corners, but more CA at max shift edges.

Nikon 35/1.4g: Excellent centrally, even wide open, but edges are soft at wide apertures. Edges get good around f4, and best at f5.6/8, but never match the center performance.

ZF35: Horrible resolution and excessive CA at 1.4 and 2 across the image, totallyt unusable at these apertures by anybody's standards. Fortunately edges clean up at f2.8 to about where they're as good as the Nikon edges get at any aperture, but the center is still pretty bad, what I would consider barely usable. But at f4 it all of a sudden gets very good a the center to excellent at edges -- very weird behavior... At 5.6 and 8 it is sharper at its now excellent edges than its very good center -- and clearly sharper than the Nikon at the edges -- but the Nikon remains sharper centrally.

PS: Uwe had his 17-35 Nikkor Zoom there, so we did a quick comparison with it too: For a zoom, this is a very good lens! Has soft extreme edges at all focals, but centers are excellent. Image starts to fall off about 2/3rds out, but still quite usable all the way to the extreme edge. Also has pretty heavy CA at edges, but that is easy to fix. Probably the biggest issue is distortion which is heavy at all focals, but we expect that with a wide zoom and it is correctable. Wider at 17 than the ZF18, but I suspect after corrections they will be about equal. The zoom is sharper at the extreme edges at 17mm than the ZF18, they're about equal and very good centrally, but the ZF holds its center sharpness further toward the edges until it hits its wall at the extreme edges. Bottom line if I owned this zoom, I probably would not buy a ZF18, or a ZF21, or even a ZF35! But then it's a bigger lens than the 18, and with the 24-120, I doubt I'd ever carry it for a wide only.
~~~

Conclusions:

If it weren't so big and over twice the price of the 18, the 15 would be nice to own -- but then I rarely shoot that wide and have the 24 I can shift for essentially that same FoV if/when I need it. For travel, I like the smaller size of the ZF18, which is one main reason I bought it. With the 21 and 18 performance being so close, and the 18 being both smaller and wider, the 21 holds no interest for me personally.

The real surprise for me here is the 24 PC -- they get a bad rap, but this copy of mine shows pretty well I think. Especially shifted -- very good to about 8mm of shift, which basically allows me to mimic the 15 FOV with a shift-stitch if I ever need it.
~~~

Images:

Links to nef raws for each of these lenses. Note we aren't offering test shots per se, just shots from the same tripod location so you can evaluate the FoV, distortion and basic IQ. Also, it was a partly cloudy day so clouds were moving in and out of the Sun, hence lighting changes between most of these shots -- for this reason I also used matrix Av metering for all frames and let the camera do its thing. All were at f5.6 unless otherwise noted:

ZF15: https://dl.dropbox.com/u/8029401/D8A_0703.NEF
ZF18: https://dl.dropbox.com/u/8029401/D8A_0708.NEF
ZF21: https://dl.dropbox.com/u/8029401/D8A_0713.NEF
ZF35: https://dl.dropbox.com/u/8029401/D8A_0746.NEF
ZF35 at f2.8 just for comparison (the f1.4 and f2 are significantly worse): https://dl.dropbox.com/u/8029401/D8A_0744.NEF
Added for reference ZF35 at f1.4: https://dl.dropbox.com/u/8029401/D8A_0742.NEF

Nikkor 35/1.4 g: https://dl.dropbox.com/u/8029401/D8A_0732.NEF

Nikkor 24 PC-E -- 3 images here, center plus full left and right shifts:
https://dl.dropbox.com/u/8029401/D8A_0719.NEF
https://dl.dropbox.com/u/8029401/D8A_0720.NEF
https://dl.dropbox.com/u/8029401/D8A_0721.NEF
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Old 30th July 2012   #2
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Re: Nikon/Zeiss ZF lens review, first impressions

We shot the images on two cards so that I have the same images on my machine.

I think Jack used C1 while I inspected them in Lightroom 4.1. I share his observations. Although I would likely opt for the 21mm instead of the 18mm. I used the 21mm on a D3x at Fort Point and still love those images.

15mm is a great lens if you really need that wide. If size would not matter the Nikon 14-24mm would be a great alternative though.

18mm nice but as said I could get more out of the 21mm.

The PC lens was a surprise.

35mm: The Nikon lens is fine and the Zeiss stopped down. Looking for some 35mm that is slower and great.
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Old 30th July 2012   #3
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Re: Nikon/Zeiss ZF lens review, first impressions

Thanks Guys good work..!!
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Old 30th July 2012   #4
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Re: Nikon/Zeiss ZF lens review, first impressions

Thanks guys, really useful info. I still want to try the zeiss 25mm f2, have yet to hear anyone who has used it on a d800. But good to hear that these others are not as prone to bad LoCas as the 100 makro planar seems to be!
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Old 30th July 2012   #5
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Re: Nikon/Zeiss ZF lens review, first impressions

Thanks Guys, I appreciate all your testing, writing and sharing!
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Old 31st July 2012   #6
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Re: Nikon/Zeiss ZF lens review, first impressions

Thanks for this review.

Although I am a bit surprised with your findings about the 1.4/35, as my copy performs really well even wide open. Yes there is CA, but much less compared to the Nikon 1.4/35G. Plus the Zeiss does some magic to pictures, whereas the Nikon IMHO is really sterilely and produces kind of "boring" results.
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Old 31st July 2012   #7
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Re: Nikon/Zeiss ZF lens review, first impressions

I own the Zeiss ZF25, last week I used it for the first time at infinity focus on a D800 (I use it normally for interior shots) and I could not get one sharp photo. Yesterday I sended it back to Zeiss for calibration.
For close distance (2-8meters) this is simply the best lens that I own.
Its sharper then every 24mm lens use to work with (24PC-E, 17-35, 24-70 and 14-24) In my opinion there are 3 really good ZF lenses: 2/25, 2/50 and 2/100.

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Old 31st July 2012   #8
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Re: Nikon/Zeiss ZF lens review, first impressions

Quote:
Originally Posted by ustein View Post
Looking for some 35mm that is slower and great.
I suggest trying the Zeiss 35/2 Uwe (and Jack). I had the chance with a monopod this weekend, it's extremely good......Peter

Last edited by innerimager; 31st July 2012 at 07:26.
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Old 31st July 2012   #9
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Re: Nikon/Zeiss ZF lens review, first impressions

Quote:
Originally Posted by ptomsu View Post
Thanks for this review.

Although I am a bit surprised with your findings about the 1.4/35, as my copy performs really well even wide open. Yes there is CA, but much less compared to the Nikon 1.4/35G. Plus the Zeiss does some magic to pictures, whereas the Nikon IMHO is really sterilely and produces kind of "boring" results.
This scene had some very contrasty edges. Maybe it performs better with other scenes.
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Old 31st July 2012   #10
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full size illustrations are alpha and omega


Thank you for the links to the RAW files.

Links to full size illustrations (it be RAW files or processed jpegs) are alpha and omega when we are exchanging views on optical performance, imo.
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Old 31st July 2012   #11
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Re: Nikon/Zeiss ZF lens review, first impressions

Quote:
Originally Posted by ustein View Post
This scene had some very contrasty edges. Maybe it performs better with other scenes.
Did you test ZF or ZF.2?

Mine is a ZF.2
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Old 31st July 2012   #12
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Nikon/Zeiss ZF lens review, first impressions


Peter, I think the fast 35mm f/1.4 Zeiss ZF lens is so new that it only exists in the current ZF.2 version with CPU coupling.

The 35mm f/1.4 was announced in September 2010 and released in summer 2011.

The new ZF.2 system with CPU coupling was announced already in November 2009.

By the way I don't think there's any optical difference between ZF and ZF.2 versions, only the CPU coupling makes the difference, afaik.
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Old 31st July 2012   #13
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Re: Nikon/Zeiss ZF lens review, first impressions

Over the past two years I tried hard to make a set of Zeiss Zf lenses perform on my D3x . I used the 18,21,28,35/2,50/2 ,85,100. One very nice aspect was that these lenses work very well as a set (probably due to the objective of also serving as cinema lenses) . So the color and contrast were similar . I found resolution at least in the center 1/3 to be exceptional on every lens and in practical use saw little difference . Performance of course was always best around f5.6 and I did not expect high resolution in the corners at f stops more open than this .

Where the lenses differed was in (1) the correction of distortion and aberrations such as CA and (2) in size and handling . None of the Zeiss lenses were as well corrected as Leica glass and CA could be a problem . Shooting around the water in Florida was a good test and I lost some shots I wanted to CA that was beyond what I know how to correct . I shot a lot on a tripod and did many seascapes in the winter . But I also did some street work with the lenses and here the handling made a big difference .

Here are a few insights I gained into the kit :

1. Both the 18 and 21 are excellent wide angles and considering that I would use them stopped down close enough . The 21 is the best wide angle I have found on DSLR and I could see the difference in shots taken with the 18 . I did not find the wave distortion an issue with either lens ..but your results may vary . I was shooting a pier out into the ocean with the tall clouds . I used the 18 to shoot the interior of my home in Florida and found few issues if any with distortion . Handling I do not consider either lens great for walking around as they have an 82mm front filter . I sold the 18 and kept the 21.

2. Both the 28/2 and the 35/2 are excellent travel lenses . They are small ,fast and a joy to work with. Neither have great resolution wide open and I am sure the corners are soft ....I didn t care because normally when I am shooting at F2 ...its a street or reportage situation . The 35 at f5.6 is stunning when you can use adequate care on a tripod . The issue with these lenses is they aren t AF and with the 24/35 G lenses available ...I prefer the higher hit ratio of in focus .

3. The 50 and 100 /2 makro lenses are both amazing lenses ..from a resolution ,micro contrast and color depth ....they are a marvel . Yet handling for travel and street they are just awful. With a Macro mount the focus throw is way to long . I sold the 50 and kept the 100 but it may go at some point . This is very much a shooting style issue IQ is exceptional on both lenses .

4. The 85 is an older formula and handles beautifully . But its not sharp enough in close focus and wide open . Shoot at some distance and its amazing but most expect an 85 to be a great portrait lens and I didn t find it nearly as good as the alternatives .

The Zeiss lenses as a set have a aesthetic that is beautiful (for lack of expression on my part) . They are very consistent much more so than the Nikkors and even Leica lenses . They do require some care in picking the set that fits your requirements and recognizing that they work best with a slower and more deliberate shooting style . THe newer lenses are generally better corrected than the original set .
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Old 31st July 2012   #14
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Nikon/Zeiss ZF lens review, first impressions


Quote:
Originally Posted by glenerrolrd View Post

(...) THe newer lenses are generally better corrected than the original set .

Roger, what do you mean by "the original set" ?

Are saying that a ZF.2 version is of a different optical formula than the ZF version of the same lens model (with the same max aperture) ?
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Old 31st July 2012   #15
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Re: Nikon/Zeiss ZF lens review, first impressions

Quote:
Originally Posted by ptomsu View Post
Did you test ZF or ZF.2?

Mine is a ZF.2
Sorry, ALL of the ZF lenses we tested were ZF.2's -- you can tell this because the aperture exif is in the file . The 35/1.4 was so bad wide open and at f2, I suspect it may be a corrupted sample. Important point here is for buyer to beware.

Just for simplification, I have included the ZF35 f1.4 frame for your review, so you can answer any other questions about it for yourselves: https://dl.dropbox.com/u/8029401/D8A_0742.NEF

PS: My DropBox public folder is getting close to its limit, so I will probably pull these files down in a few weeks.
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Old 31st July 2012   #16
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Re: Nikon/Zeiss ZF lens review, first impressions

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Originally Posted by ustein View Post
35mm: The Nikon lens is fine and the Zeiss stopped down. Looking for some 35mm that is slower and great.
If the ZF35/2 isn't good enough maybe a leitax converted Leica 35/2.8 would be the best option.
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Old 31st July 2012   #17
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Re: Nikon/Zeiss ZF lens review, first impressions

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jack View Post
Sorry, ALL of the ZF lenses we tested were ZF.2's -- you can tell this because the aperture exif is in the file . The 35/1.4 was so bad wide open and at f2, I suspect it may be a corrupted sample. Important point here is for buyer to beware.

Just for simplification, I have included the ZF35 f1.4 frame for your review, so you can answer any other questions about it for yourselves: https://dl.dropbox.com/u/8029401/D8A_0742.NEF

PS: My DropBox public folder is getting close to its limit, so I will probably pull these files down in a few weeks.
Jack,

was just curious, because I did a lot of investigation on the net before I bought into the ZF.2 line. Actually I was reading Digilloid's reviews and what he says about the 1.4 35 ZF.2 is exactly right to the point.

This lens is NOT perfect, neither is a Leica R 1.4/35 (which I owned several years ago and sold because it was not up to my standards) nor is the Nikkor 1.4/35G, which might be superior on paper (in tests) but in real life it is far from great - at least for me!

The 1.4 35 ZF.2 is so wonderfully rendering, even wide open, exactly between 1.4 - 2.0 it is most preferable for what I am using it, which is environmental portraits. I should add that I am shooting in RAW with lens corrections for Zeiss lenses set to always on during import and I also do CA correction during import, so I might not see some of the weakness.

But for me the strong sides of this lens by far outperform the weak sides.

Would be interesting to hear your opinion about the 2.0 25, which is one of my next Zeiss ZF.2 lenses on my buying list.

Thanks

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Old 31st July 2012   #18
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Re: Nikon/Zeiss ZF lens review, first impressions

Quote:
Originally Posted by Steen View Post



Roger, what do you mean by "the original set" ?

Are saying that a ZF.2 version is of a different optical formula than the ZF version of the same lens model (with the same max aperture) ?
The original 5 lenses were I believe the 25/2.8 ,35/2,50/1.4,85/1.4 and the 28/2. They have been around for a while . The two macros were next . The newer lenses are the 25/2,35/1.4,21/2.8 .

My bet is that Jack has a bad copy of the 35/1.4 as this is a brand new design and sells for a lot of $$$ in the cinema mount where I expect they want it for the smooth bokeh wide open .

The ZF and Zf.2 lenses differ only in you ability to control the aperture thru the camera with a Zf.2 lens.

I have read about bad copies getting thru on the ZF/ZE lenses .
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Old 31st July 2012   #19
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Re: Nikon/Zeiss ZF lens review, first impressions

I own three Zeiss lenses, 35/2, 50/2 macro planar and 100/2 macro planar. My 35 acts similarly to the copy of the 1.4 that Jack tested..... can't be shot wide open or even stopped down another stop. BUT.... when f4 is reached it becomes a magical lens and f5.6 is very, very crisp edge to edge. I purchased a Nikon 35mm 1.4 in hopes that it would just be the Zeiss equal for the convenience of auto focus but its going back. A very big disappointment. Even at f8 the edges are soft due to extreme curvature. Not my kind of lens.
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Old 1st August 2012   #20
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Re: Nikon/Zeiss ZF lens review, first impressions

VJ, that's unfortunate indeed. One has to wonder why they bother releasing it as an f1.4 lens...
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Old 2nd August 2012   #21
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Re: Nikon/Zeiss ZF lens review, first impressions

The first copy of the ZF18mm I purchased was really soft at the edges and corners. I knew this was not right because i had used a ZF 18mm on my canon gear for years. I was surprised at the difference between the first and second copies.
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Old 2nd August 2012   #22
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Re: Nikon/Zeiss ZF lens review, first impressions

>and sells for a lot of $$$ in the cinema mount

These cameras have way less resolution.
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Old 2nd August 2012   #23
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Re: Nikon/Zeiss ZF lens review, first impressions

The field curvature of the 1.4 35 is well known and you have to be able to use it to your advantage. If this is not the case and if you are looking for plane field, then this is not the lens for you.

But if you know the "weakness" which IMHO is not a weakness and I am usually not taking images of brick wall and the likes but of natural environment, where you have a foreground usually at the edges, then this field curvature starts suddenly getting a big advantage.

BTW if you read Digilloyd's tests, hen he describes the same. I knew that and bought the 1.4 35 intentionally because of that and BANG, it is perfect for me.

Why cannot everybody act similar instead of complaining afterwards?
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Old 3rd August 2012   #24
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Re: Nikon/Zeiss ZF lens review, first impressions

The field curvature of the Nikon 35mm 1.4 is not so well known but I do agree that it can be used to advantage in certain landscape instances. However that lens cannot be used for any type of architectural/cityscape type of images. The curvature is just too extreme, at least in the sample I had. The lens was sharp where it was in focus and it was easy to follow the focus line to see the curve line. A lot of money for limited use.

The Zeiss 35mm f2 is much more planar and as sharp/sharper and for those reasons is a better choice for me.

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Old 4th August 2012   #25
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Re: Nikon/Zeiss ZF lens review, first impressions

For my D800/E kit I am using the Zeiss 25/2.8, Zeiss 35/2, Zeiss 50/2, Voigtlander 90/3. SLII, a great lens since I could not afford the Zeiss 100/2 and I also have a Nikon 200/4 micro. ,
I shoot all the lens at F5.6-8, LV always for accurate focus and I am quite happy.
I am still very surprised to hear about the Nikon 24mm PC/E, I owned this lens back when I had a D3X and thought not to highly of it, I even sent it in to Nikon for repair, still no change. Go figure.

From what I understand is all of these "fast" lenses are not designed for infinity focus, and most of the emphasis is placed in the center 2/3rds of the frame.

Don't laugh at me but for a super wa lens I think I may try the 14mm Samyang for $429.00 I have read good things about it..

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Old 4th August 2012   #26
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Re: Nikon/Zeiss ZF lens review, first impressions

>I think I may try the 14mm Samyang for $429.00 I have read good things about it..


Keep us posted.
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Old 4th August 2012   #27
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Re: Nikon/Zeiss ZF lens review, first impressions

I have the Zeiss 18mm which I actually like the 28f2 was the exact same FOV of my 35 1.4 Nikon why that is I have no idea but on tests the Nikon smoked it on detail and only a very very slight difference on color. So I sold it and frankly I'm not that impressed with zeiss over some of the nikon counterparts . There are a couple maybe worth getting like the new 15 and 18 if you don't want the Nikon counterparts and the 21 is legendary but after that Nikon does really well and much better than in the past. Maybe the 100 macro in Zeiss might be nice to have but I would rather have the Nikon 85 pc lens. My 200 is untouchable . What I would like to try us a Leica 19mm rear shroud shaved and the leitex mount for it.
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Old 4th August 2012   #28
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Re: Nikon/Zeiss ZF lens review, first impressions

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Don't laugh at me but for a super wa lens I think I may try the 14mm Samyang for $429.00 I have read good things about it..

Steven
Out a curisosity not all that long ago, I shot (tested) the samyang 14mm...since Nikon's 14mm on full frame is of a very old design and is sorely lacking in performance.

In terms of actual resolution, especially in the central part of the frame, the Samyang has near incredable sharpness. How they partially achieved this was to sacrifice controlling distortion and therefore the lens comes close to emulating a mild full frame fisheye....lots of curvature.

Nikon in some respects did the same thing with their 16-35mm zoom at the wide end.....they extracted very good shapness at 16mm but then had to relinquish considerable correction for distortion.

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Old 5th August 2012   #29
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Re: Nikon/Zeiss ZF lens review, first impressions

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In terms of actual resolution, especially in the central part of the frame, the Samyang has near incredable sharpness. How they partially achieved this was to sacrifice controlling distortion and therefore the lens comes close to emulating a mild full frame fisheye....lots of curvature.
Lens design is always tradeoff in variables, and that's the common one for uber-wides...
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Old 5th August 2012   #30
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Re: Nikon/Zeiss ZF lens review, first impressions

I've had a look at the samples of the PC-24 and I have to say I'm very underwhelmed. I will be keeping my Canon 5D2 and TS-Lenses for the moment while I use the D800 for work that doesn't require shift.

The PC-24 appears slightly better than the old Canon 24-TSE, but the new 24 one is so much head and shoulders beyond the first one.

Currently my solution is to keep the Canon and the TS lenses as a separate T/S kit as I don't see the 24 and 17 being bettered soon. They are just stellar optics and its worth buy ing a Canon body to use them alone.
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Old 5th August 2012   #31
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Re: Nikon/Zeiss ZF lens review, first impressions

I purchased a ZF2 25/2, 35/2&100/2. I also purchased a Nikon 16-35, 24-70, 70-200vr II and the 28 1.8 & 85 1.8. Almost forgot i also picked up a 24 P and 85 pc. for use on my D800. First off I am a commercial an documentare photographer and need both stopped down performance and wide open performance. I purchased the ZF lenses hoping they would come up to the quality of my Zeiss / Leica M and Hasselblad V glass.

The Zeiss wide open is terrible and after three weeks of shooting real world subjects with bOth the ZF and Nikon glass I've concluded they're no better than my new Nikon glass if as good. Stopped down to f5.6/8 the 100mm becomes stellar as are the centers of the 25 and 35. The 35 at 8 is great in the center but outer third and especially the corners just wasn't up to my expectations. The 25 never really got to acceptable in the outer third and the corners were terrible even at 8. I'm sad to say they are going back to the dealer tomorrow.

The Nikon lenses with the exception of the 28 are all very good. At 2.8 they have their issues but in my shooting perform as well or better than the Zeiss. Stopped down they are better than the 25&35 ZF.

I shot the 28 Nikon for a week and returned it to the dealer due to poor construction and severe curvature of field. The 85 1.8 is superb even at 1.8. The sample of the 24 pc that I have is excellent in all respects. May be I got a very good sample but it is a superb performer. I bought a used 85 pc not the E and so far I'm impressed.

Even if the Zeiss had been half the price or even one forth I would have sent them back. They simply do not work at wide apertures and the 25 f2 is marginal at f8 in my opinion.

I shot Rollei 3003's back in the mid 80's an into the early 90's. I had a full set of Zeiss glass, 15, 16 fisheye, 18, 25 2.8, 35 1.4, 50 1.4, 60 macro, 85 1.4 and a couple other longer lenses. The 35 was a dog intil f4-5.6 which defeats the purpose of fast glass. The 85 was so so until stopped down too. The other lenses ranged from very good to fantastic.

I wonder if the ZF lenses aren't older designs that pre date digital and have never been updated for a flat digital sensor vs a non flat piece of film.
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Old 6th August 2012   #32
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Re: Nikon/Zeiss ZF lens review, first impressions

DD,

I think most all lenses we "enjoyed" back in film days would probably not fare so well over contemporary digital sensors. What looked great then even at a 20x film enlargement would probably not hold up under our pixel-level scrutiny of today...
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Old 6th August 2012   #33
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Re: Nikon/Zeiss ZF lens review, first impressions

Have to agree with Jack here and certainly noticed this with older Mamiya lenses with use on my digital backs. Again here is where I believe the new G lenses from Nikon are shining. In the past Nikon had good lenses but the newer ones have become really good. All my G glass performs extremely well on the D800 , today my D800e comes so looking to see how they hold up. I'm actually quite impressed with Nikon these days and I come from using them off and on for 36 years and they finally are producing the best they ever have in glass. I have done enough tests against my tech cam with the IQ 140 and IQ 160 to call it damn freaking good to MF. Still has some to get there but as far as the Zeiss glass the comparisons to Nikons G glass is underwhelming its not a big gap anymore. The wides to me are the only real advantage simple because Nikon has nothing wider than 24mm that are G glass. If there is a weakness in Nikon today this is it. Hopefully in a few weeks Nikon may announce something to handle this. Personally I'm only interested in Zeiss wider than 24mm at this time. The color variance between them or look in some cases can be done in post. And IMHO the difference are too small to measure in reality.
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Old 6th August 2012   #34
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Re: Nikon/Zeiss ZF lens review, first impressions

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Originally Posted by Guy Mancuso View Post
Have to agree with Jack here and certainly noticed this with older Mamiya lenses with use on my digital backs. Again here is where I believe the new G lenses from Nikon are shining. In the past Nikon had good lenses but the newer ones have become really good. All my G glass performs extremely well on the D800 , today my D800e comes so looking to see how they hold up. I'm actually quite impressed with Nikon these days and I come from using them off and on for 36 years and they finally are producing the best they ever have in glass. I have done enough tests against my tech cam with the IQ 140 and IQ 160 to call it damn freaking good to MF. Still has some to get there but as far as the Zeiss glass the comparisons to Nikons G glass is underwhelming its not a big gap anymore. The wides to me are the only real advantage simple because Nikon has nothing wider than 24mm that are G glass. If there is a weakness in Nikon today this is it. Hopefully in a few weeks Nikon may announce something to handle this. Personally I'm only interested in Zeiss wider than 24mm at this time. The color variance between them or look in some cases can be done in post. And IMHO the difference are too small to measure in reality.
Just some observations and comments:

Although I completely agree with Jack's and Guy's comments regarding older film era-designed glass when used on current sensor based digital cameras, I am sometimes surprised by certain lenses that do hold up well, even on the current crop of high resolution DSLR's and even on some ~40MP MF cameras. Of course they might have to be stopped down a bit more and may not have quite the acuity/clarity of the latest modern designed glass, but more than eminantly useable. Some Leica M/R glass designed in the film era also come to mind as does some of the Pentax 645 lens when used on the 645D, although the body though has a cropped sensor. Some older Nikon glass can often perform well.

Still the efforts (for example) of Nikon and its fairly recent develpment of G glass/lenses is certainly noted and has raised the bar considerably and from what I have observed (too), has given Zeiss glass a run for its money.

Guy is correct, the wide/ultra wide end in single focal length lenses is where Nikon needs some compeitive offerings, such as in the 15mm to 21mm range and until they do so, Zeiss I believe is the prefered choice. In other focal lengths, it sometimes becomes subjective and may often depend if one places emphasis primarily on sharpness across the frame or is interested in a particular look they are hoping to achieve in their images.

As guy expressed, the D800/E with current Nikon G glass often gets close to MF...but closing that gap may be more a function of the physics of differences in sensor/pixel size and no matter how much improvement there is in future glass offerings from Nikon & Canon, it many be near impossible to close the gap completely...especially if the medium formant manufacturers also up the ante in lens design and performance. Lots of superb choices these days, thats for sure.

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Old 6th August 2012   #35
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Re: Nikon/Zeiss ZF lens review, first impressions

As guy expressed, the D800/E with current Nikon G glass often gets close to MF...but closing that gap may be more a function of the physics of differences in sensor/pixel size and no matter how much imporvement there is in future glass offerings from Nikon & Canon, it many be near impossible to close the gap completely...especially if the medium formant manufacturers also up the ante in lens design and performance. Lots of superb choices these days, thats for sure.


Dave I believe this is the case no matter how much better they can make a Nikon/Zeiss/Leica lens the physics of MF just outplay 35 and frankly it should be like that and in reality it is fair given the costs of these items . MF should be better but I do like the fact we can get damn close and that will improve too and I welcome that with open arms. It's a great time to be in digital as a shooter we get plenty of good options and costs run the gamut and it can fit more people in it given whatever budget they have or want to spend. I will always support MF as I think it is the best going but I do like my Nikons too. I like this choice of options. I welcome it.

But I do think we need even better glass in 35mm to get the max. Resolution from the 36mpx sensor. There is still lens room to improve here.
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Old 6th August 2012   #36
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Re: Nikon/Zeiss ZF lens review, first impressions

Two aspects of this comparison maybe worth considering ..it depends on your requirements . The Zeiss,Leica R and Nikon lenses all have distinctive signatures (as do individual lenses within the set ) .

Collections ....if you work requires showing a group of photographs ...mixing signatures can be distracting . Say you want to produce a web gallery of 12-24 images (similar to the NYT Lens Blog) or Burn for example . Particularly in overall contrast (which you can adjust ) , micro contrast/tone separation (you can improve it but it will look different ) and color saturation (which is impact by any color brought in by the lens ) . Its my experience that is substantially easier to achieve pleasing color than matching renderings . I am not a cinema guy but mixing frames that render differently seems limiting . Likewise if you produce books ...consistent rendering can be important . (look at Salgado s Africa ..can you pick out the MF images and do they disrupt the flow? )

Light ....I don t know anything about studio light ....but I do get to shoot a lot of available light . Using a lens that produces image contrast that exceeds the DR of the D800 seems counter productive yet that same lens in on a dull overcast day can produce a brilliance that can t be beat . The Zeiss glass has easily seen contrast and color saturation..the images are brilliant . This is fantastic at dawn or dusk or on a overcast day ....but its hard to control in bright sunlight . The Leica R glass has a beautiful balance and is hard to fault (based on IQ only).(pretty slow to use a non automatic lens so its limited utility for my work ). The new Nikon G glass is lower in contrast and has less micro contrast than either the ZF or the R .....but it has closed the gap . It is noticeably better than the Nikkors of even a few years ago. Maybe a subjective observation will clarify my comments ....when I see the Nikkor G s I see the rendering of fine detail similar and sometimes better than the Zeiss or Leica R glass ....but the aesthetic isn t as nice .

My conclusion was to use the G Nikkors because they are great lenses ,produce matched renderings ,have plenty of resolution and exploit the advantages of a DSLR being fast AF and AE . They handle perfectly for my use . My challenge is get my post processing improved enough to capture all I can get in brilliance,micro contrast and color fidelity .

If you have different requirements you might pick other lenses and of course each set has lenses that suffer from distortion,aberrations and handle like bricks ...this affects various subject matter differently ..so one photographers unacceptable may not impact anthers work . But picking a lens from each set for small differences in resolution seems counter productive ......even though we all like to do it.
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Old 6th August 2012   #37
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Re: Nikon/Zeiss ZF lens review, first impressions

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But I do think we need even better glass in 35mm to get the max. Resolution from the 36mpx sensor. There is still lens room to improve here.
No doubt! Looking at the Lecia S optics, which are also used on a similar resolution sensor as the D800/e (abeit the sensor is larger on the S2), Leica most definitely raised the bar when designing their optics. Same could be said for the newly annouced 50mm Cron Asph, in terms of resolution. The issue though from what I see is how high a company such as Nikon can price their optics and not loose their their core group of higher end users and/or reduce the # of "unit's" (lenses) sold compared to say the current crop of G lenses. I think it's a balancing act. The technology for them to improve on their current G lenses may be there, but are they willing to then price their lenses at costs possibly approching Leica's price structure and still attract the legion of fans who currently purchase their higher end lenses in the numbers they purchase? That's a question I'm not qualified to answer and is something I'm sure the marketing department at Nikon often ponders.

Guy is right though, cameras like the D800 I'm fairly certain could benefit from higher performing lenses and it would be interesting simply from a test point of view, to be able to mount some Leica S lenses to a D800/e, simply to see how they perform and how marked a difference it makes. Of course there are other factors to the image equation that impact performance, but to simply start with better optics and see how much performance can be extracted from a D800/e (for example). I think one area which needs to be addressed sooner than later, is edge/corner performance in focal lengths 24mm and wider when used on the D800/e and then subsequently tackle performance across the entire frame when these lenses and others are used wide open on the same bodies.

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Old 6th August 2012   #38
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Re: Nikon/Zeiss ZF lens review, first impressions

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Two aspects of this comparison maybe worth considering ..it depends on your requirements . The Zeiss,Leica R and Nikon lenses all have distinctive signatures (as do individual lenses within the set ) .

Collections ....if you work requires showing a group of photographs ...mixing signatures can be distracting . Say you want to produce a web gallery of 12-24 images (similar to the NYT Lens Blog) or Burn for example . Particularly in overall contrast (which you can adjust ) , micro contrast/tone separation (you can improve it but it will look different ) and color saturation (which is impact by any color brought in by the lens ) . Its my experience that is substantially easier to achieve pleasing color than matching renderings . I am not a cinema guy but mixing frames that render differently seems limiting . Likewise if you produce books ...consistent rendering can be important . (look at Salgado s Africa ..can you pick out the MF images and do they disrupt the flow? )

Light ....I don t know anything about studio light ....but I do get to shoot a lot of available light . Using a lens that produces image contrast that exceeds the DR of the D800 seems counter productive yet that same lens in on a dull overcast day can produce a brilliance that can t be beat . The Zeiss glass has easily seen contrast and color saturation..the images are brilliant . This is fantastic at dawn or dusk or on a overcast day ....but its hard to control in bright sunlight . The Leica R glass has a beautiful balance and is hard to fault (based on IQ only).(pretty slow to use a non automatic lens so its limited utility for my work ). The new Nikon G glass is lower in contrast and has less micro contrast than either the ZF or the R .....but it has closed the gap . It is noticeably better than the Nikkors of even a few years ago. Maybe a subjective observation will clarify my comments ....when I see the Nikkor G s I see the rendering of fine detail similar and sometimes better than the Zeiss or Leica R glass ....but the aesthetic isn t as nice .

My conclusion was to use the G Nikkors because they are great lenses ,produce matched renderings ,have plenty of resolution and exploit the advantages of a DSLR being fast AF and AE . They handle perfectly for my use . My challenge is get my post processing improved enough to capture all I can get in brilliance,micro contrast and color fidelity .

If you have different requirements you might pick other lenses and of course each set has lenses that suffer from distortion,aberrations and handle like bricks ...this affects various subject matter differently ..so one photographers unacceptable may not impact anthers work . But picking a lens from each set for small differences in resolution seems counter productive ......even though we all like to do it.
I guess in the end what I am getting at compared to maybe a couple years ago the differences in brand Nikon/Leica/Zeiss is not as clear cut as it used to be. Sure there are signature differences and such and a lot can be made up in post but here the gap is not so wide as it once was. From my Canon days the leica/Zeiss/ Cannon difference was a much bigger gap in quality and Leica / Zeiss pretty much smoking a lot of cannon glass. I know they have improved as well but I am finding it interesting some of these reviews spewing the use of Zeiss over Nikon compared to what i am seeing it is a helluva a lot closer than whats being said and a lot of Nikon glass exceeding the Zeiss as well. Hype seems to be overcoming reality. My suggestion just because it says Zeiss on the lens dont assume its better. The build quality is hard to beat no doubt they make great lenses but optically test against each other and make sure. Ask me this question even 2 years ago and i would have said Zeiss today well its a harder answer to make. Just dont write anything off until you try these yourself. Also many small lens aberrations are easily fixed in post as well, so a good lens overall with a small problem may not be so bad after all too. Lets not also forget functionality, AF and things of this nature and depending your type of shooting you may really need AF lenses on board.
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Old 6th August 2012   #39
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Re: Nikon/Zeiss ZF lens review, first impressions

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I guess in the end what I am getting at compared to maybe a couple years ago the differences in brand Nikon/Leica/Zeiss is not as clear cut as it used to be. Sure there are signature differences and such and a lot can be made up in post but here the gap is not so wide as it once was. From my Canon days the leica/Zeiss/ Cannon difference was a much bigger gap in quality and Leica / Zeiss pretty much smoking a lot of cannon glass. I know they have improved as well but I am finding it interesting some of these reviews spewing the use of Zeiss over Nikon compared to what i am seeing it is a helluva a lot closer than whats being said and a lot of Nikon glass exceeding the Zeiss as well. Hype seems to be overcoming reality. My suggestion just because it says Zeiss on the lens dont assume its better. The build quality is hard to beat no doubt they make great lenses but optically test against each other and make sure. Ask me this question even 2 years ago and i would have said Zeiss today well its a harder answer to make. Just dont write anything off until you try these yourself. Also many small lens aberrations are easily fixed in post as well, so a good lens overall with a small problem may not be so bad after all too. Lets not also forget functionality, AF and things of this nature and depending your type of shooting you may really need AF lenses on board.
Agree with all of this ..but there is a “aesthetic" consideration. The zeiss ,leica R and Nikon lenses all render differently and each produces a signature “aesthetic” or look . It also depends on your most used focal lengths and preferred subjects . If you want extremely fine rendering of detail in the extreme wide angles and intend to shoot landscape at dawn and dusk ...not sure you can beat the 15,18,21 ZF wide angles for the brilliance and rich color . However if you are shooting events ,weddings , family outings etc ...how can you compare anything else with the handling of the 24/35/50/85 G lenses. These are fast lenses designed for reportage and yes they have curvature of the field and aren t so great on the edges at wide apertures. (not exactly sure what people are shooting wide open where the edge sharpness is critical ).

I used the 28/2 zf you mentioned for a wedding as a 2nd body on a D700 a few years back and I thought it was fabulous . Could shoot at ISO1600 and f2 using fill flash for a late afternoon wedding . The “look” was fantastic . But I tested that lens against the newer Nikkor 24/1.4 G and it wasn t close ..the Nikon has better resolution and micro contrast . Now that the G primes are available I would never consider going back to ZF for any event type work .

Its my opinion that each set of lenses has advantages and disadvantages (and within each set there are “better alternatives “ ) but if you allow me to change the requirements ...I think I can make the case for each of the three lens sets . The Nikon s should not be considered inferior but rather different . You may or may not find them suitable .
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Old 6th August 2012   #40
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Re: Nikon/Zeiss ZF lens review, first impressions

Roger,

I'm a zeiss shooter and so I kind of sat back and bit my tongue here because I absolutely agree with your description of aesthetics vs pure technical accuracy and AF abilities. To be honest I love the 'look' call it what you will, of the Zeiss glass and the tactile superiority over any other Nikon fit lens. I'm no fan of AF so those aspects of G glass versus manual focus are almost irrelevant to me.

I have found the performance of the ZF.2 21/2.8, 25/2, 35/1.4 and 50/1.4 to be exemplary with the D800 with real 3D images. The 50/2 & 100/2 I have yet to try with the D800 but they were stunning on the D3x & D3s.

From the 'aesthetic' point of view it matters little how great the Nikon AFS glass is - the rendering is more important and in my own experience the printed results have a consistent and predictable result across all of the Zeiss glass. Sure, I know I can match the 'look' in post but I for one cant be bothered with that vs out of camera consistency.

Call me a Zeiss Luddite if you will but I know what I like when I use it and see it. As a bonafide pixel peeper with the best of them I've not had problems with even the 35/1.4 that C1 or ACR on particular couldn't fix (CA/Distortion etc).

I think jack must have got a pebble of a 35/1.4. I know my first copy a couple of years ago was almost impossible to focus until I recognized that it was a strongly spherical lens - I returned it and went to a 35/1.4G. My current copy is easy to focus and sharp as a tack with low contrast wide open but rendering sharp all over by f/4 or f/5.6. Beyond that on the d800 it's going to go into defraction anyway. (my D800 is full spectrum with a clear OLPF so I guess d800e++).

Anyway, my biased $0.02
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Old 6th August 2012   #41
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Re: Nikon/Zeiss ZF lens review, first impressions

>the tactile superiority


Yes, it it a pleasure to handle the Zeiss glass. Feel like real lenses :-)
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Old 6th August 2012   #42
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Re: Nikon/Zeiss ZF lens review, first impressions

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>the tactile superiority


Yes, it it a pleasure to handle the Zeiss glass. Feel like real lenses :-)
nothing like it outside of Leica & Zeiss MF glass. No limp handshake AF glass here.
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Old 6th August 2012   #43
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Re: Nikon/Zeiss ZF lens review, first impressions

I have to agree with you on the Zeiss glass. I used the ZF.2 100mm/2 Makro and ZF.2 18mm on my D700 and i cried when I had to send them back. My goal for my D800E is to kit is out with ZF.2 glass (eventually).
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Old 7th August 2012   #44
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Re: Nikon/Zeiss ZF lens review, first impressions

just picked up my ZF.2 21/2.8 for the D800e... wow

I haven't taken it out for a 'real' spin.. but just doing some quick test shots... i'm pretty impressed.. normally, even on good 21mm lenses, the corners will get that sort of soft, distorted look when shot at f2.8. Not this lens... diagonal lines going out to the corners stay straight, contrast of those lines stays the same from center to corner (slight, but barely visible vignette)

i don't know.. this lens may be too optically clean for my work
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Old 7th August 2012   #45
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Re: Nikon/Zeiss ZF lens review, first impressions

Jim,

The 21/2.8 is a stellar lens in my experience. If the perfection bothers you then just add an 82mm UV filter and some Vaseline
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Old 7th August 2012   #46
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Re: Nikon/Zeiss ZF lens review, first impressions

went for my normal walk thru Fall Creek in Felton, up on the Ridge Trail. Late in the day, no clouds to block the sun, so not my normal type of light

it's about a 5 mile loop, and there are spots along the way where i've taken hundreds of shots of the same place.. changing glass, light, cameras..

here's one of the first 'real' test shots from the ZF.2 21/2.8

strong sunlight coming in from the upper left... most lenses will flare in this condition.... this one holds up well


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Old 7th August 2012   #47
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Re: Nikon/Zeiss ZF lens review, first impressions

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Originally Posted by JimCollum View Post
went for my normal walk thru Fall Creek in Felton, up on the Ridge Trail. Late in the day, no clouds to block the sun, so not my normal type of light

it's about a 5 mile loop, and there are spots along the way where i've taken hundreds of shots of the same place.. changing glass, light, cameras..

here's one of the first 'real' test shots from the ZF.2 21/2.8

strong sunlight coming in from the upper left... most lenses will flare in this condition.... this one holds up well
Beautiful shot Jim!
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Old 7th August 2012   #48
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Re: Nikon/Zeiss ZF lens review, first impressions

Same setup as before, this was shot directly into the sun. Pretty sure this is the first lens i've shot here to handle this as well as it did.


Last edited by JimCollum; 7th August 2012 at 22:47.
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Old 8th August 2012   #49
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Re: Nikon/Zeiss ZF lens review, first impressions

These results are simply amazing!!!

Keep the posts going
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Old 8th August 2012   #50
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Re: Nikon/Zeiss ZF lens review, first impressions

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Same setup as before, this was shot directly into the sun. Pretty sure this is the first lens i've shot here to handle this as well as it did.
Ok Jim - now I'm going to have to buy this lens
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