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Thread: Zeiss Lenses

  1. #1
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    Zeiss Lenses

    I would like to hear about experiences with and opinions of the Zeiss lenses on Canon bodies. I have been rather discontented with my Canon gear and am about to move into digital medium format. I do niot mean to step on any toes with this but digital capture has never been as satisfying for me as was film, just my perspective, and what I am seeing with medium format looks a lot closer to what I am looking for. Perhaps the Zeiss lenses might make for an easier and far less expensive solution...anyone care to comment??

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    Re: Zeiss Lenses

    This is, really, apples to oranges. 35mm has significant advantages over medium format in terms of flexibility, size, portability, lens selection (fast glass, zooms, specialized macro, tilt shifts, long telephotos, ultra-wides) high ISO, dedicated flash options, video ability and, above all, cost.

    Medium format is, without question, the ultimate in image quality and if that is your sole criteria, that is the way you should go.

    For just the price of a USED medium format back, however, you can acquire and have converted ALL of the Contax "N" lenses for your Canon. I am going to limit my discussion to these because they offer full auto compatibility with Canon bodies once converted by an outfit called Conurus (www.conurus.com).

    Currently, I have the Contax "N" 17-35 2.8, 24-85 3.5-4.5, and 85 1.4 all converted to Canon mount. They offer full autofocus and autoexposure and exif information. The person who does the conversions also includes the ability to microadjust focus at close, medium and far distances (Canon does not even offer that) and the ability to use the manual video controls. Focus speed is moderately slower and noisier than Canon lenses but certainly enough for everything but ultra-sports or similar.

    However, I assume you are interested in the image quality of the glass as the primary factor. I have shot Contax 645 for many years. These lenses have the same "Zeiss look." People sometimes have a hard time explaining this, but, to me, it includes several distinct factors (1) vibrant color rendition showing an huge range of different tones and hues, but with distinct transitions and no bleeding or blurring (2) the best multicoating and flare control I have ever seen and beautiful "star" effects without haziness when point source lights are in the scene, (3) related to the flare control, incredible tonal range capable of showing and differentiating subtle tonal differtiations from dark to bright (4) wonder focus fall-off to a smooth, creamy bokeh (5) excellent correction for linear distortions (for example the 24-85 zeiss is far better than the 24-105L at 24mm and the 17-35 significantly better than the equivalent Canons) (6) outstanding sharpness through their aperture range and especially at prime apertures of f8 to f11 where the detail rendition exceeds my 5D2 sensor (17-35 noticeably sharper than the Canon equivalent).

    People speak of the Zeiss "look" as "3-D" but they ofter don't explain. To me, this means that each element of the scene is distinctly rendered, in its own space, with clear differentiation of color and tones, crispness, and lack of veiling or blurring. This is a product of all the lens attributes put together. This is not an effect of in focus/out of focus transitions, as this "look" is evident even in fully sharp high depth of field scenes. The focus fall-off and bokeh only improve things when that effect is desired. Sure, there are lenses that may outshine the Zeiss in a particular aspect, but I have not seen lenses that, for my eye, put together the entire image "package" in the same way. Some people claim that they don't "see it." I certainly do, and I expect you would, too from your comments.

    I will try to post some images to show what I mean, but don't have time right now.

    By the way, the lenses are solid, hefty and beautifully made as are all Zeiss products. They should last many many years. They are not weather sealed, but I shot my Contax in all sorts of extreme outdoor conditions with no problem if you are even moderately careful.

    I am currently having a 400mm f4 APO converted, and am looking to add the 50mm 1.4 and the 100 2.8 Makro, reputedly one of the finest 35mm macrox ever produced.

    I personally am less inclined to purchase the Contax/Yashica glass just because of stop-down metering, no exif, manual focus only, etc. However, many people put up with these features to get the Zeiss look.

    Also, if you are content with manual focus but otherwise want full compatibility, look at the "ZE" manual focus lenses in native EF mount. By all accounts they are superb and available in a variety of fixed focal lengths if zooms are not your thing.

    I will not tell you that any of this will equal a medium format image in terms of ultimate quality, that's just a consequence of 35mm format. However, rumors abount that the next generation of 35mm might be 30 mp or more--a big jump. I will say that my investment in these lenses has been an amazing benefit. I am extremely content with my digital package for now and concentrate solely on my creatitivity, knowing that the lenses will deliver everything I expect.

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    Re: Zeiss Lenses

    Guy,
    Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I have shot medium format for a very long time and only returned to the world of DSLRs' when it seemed to be the wave of the future. I am well acquainted with the Contax 645 ( see image below ) and have successfully used it in environments and conditions that I am certain would send shivers down most peoples spine...simply said, it is a great system.
    I am well aware of the "apples to oranges " nature of my question; the drive speed and high iso capability, I have a D III and DsIII, along with faster glass ( 15mm to 500 IS, all L save the 15) have left me wanting something different, if not necessarily better, especially after looking at my C 645 and RZ transparencies. So, yes, I am more than well aware of the differences in the systems and formats and must admit that I find CCD sensors, the absence of AA filters, and 12+ stops of dynamic range more appealing than the speed and "convenience" capabilities of DSLRs'. What I am asking here is how close can one reasonably expect to come to bridging the gap with German lenses on Canon bodies. I am very ( dangerously!) close to offering all of my Canon gear for sale but just have a few lingering trepidations, for lack of a better term, and am perhaps merely venting but I would appreciate your thoughts and hope to hear those of others.
    Last edited by pesto; 31st October 2013 at 07:09.

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    Re: Zeiss Lenses

    If I were you, I would contact the absolutely great folks at Capture Integration and arrange a rental of a back for your Contax 645. There are no presets to fiddle with for picture appearance, so, shooting, it is seamless, very much like shooting film, but with the advantage that you can verify the shot afterward on the (very crappy) LCD. The work is on the back end with opening the RAW files in Capture One. You will be blown away by the image quality, but you also should ask, will I be happy and creative shooting ONLY this system?

    For me, that's the rub. I am saving for a digital back, but I have no intention of abandoning my 35mm system because it allows a level of convenience and creativity that MF does not. I love my extreme out of focus bokeh macros with one tiny detail sharp, my 1.4 portraits with an impressionistic background, the ultra-wide 17mm with infinite depth of field, the lack of "falling over" trees with my TS lenses, the convenience of zooms, and shooting wildlife which, despite your great shot above, just isn't happening with medium format.

    In fact, I decided to upgrade the 35mm first because that was at least do-able cost wise, whereas saving $15-20K for a back is a real long-term proposition.

    Within the limits of 35mm, I will venture to say that the Zeiss glass will give you the medium format "look" that you are used to seeing (primarily because of the rendering of the Zeiss glass as opposed to ultimate resolution and dynamic range). I believe that the Canon/Zeiss combo can deliver a printed quality very close to and maybe equal to the Contax shooting Velvia. The Contax with a digital back will be a whole different level.

    We share a common heritage of the Contax 645 (going on 11 years for me). My shooting: 117F in Tuscon, blowing sand in Death Valley, inside the mist of a waterfall in Canada, -35F in Yellowstone at the Canyon in January, aerials, with a gyro stabilizer on a small boat near a calving glacier, you name it! Never a hitch, never a problem, completely intuitive controls, just nothing better even to this day.

    By contrast the 5D2 is a daunting monster. But, the quality, and the video, are really something (yes, I never thought of video before, but with nature shooting it is such a natural fit--it captures the magic of something like the monarch butterflies at their winter roost in a way still just can't).

    Be careful before trashing your 35mm system. I would never do it.

    I will have the 645 in due time but I am having a blast right now!

  5. #5
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    Re: Zeiss Lenses

    I think that You have captured the photos of the leopard. It was looked like so terrible and also warrior. I think that You have given best effort for captured that photos. I liked it dude.

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    Re: Zeiss Lenses

    Quote Originally Posted by tombanz10 View Post
    I think that You have captured the photos of the leopard. It was looked like so terrible and also warrior. I think that You have given best effort for captured that photos. I liked it dude.
    Thanks for the kind words. Actually the cat pictured is a bobcat, but all you have said applies to them as well.

    D. Benson

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    Re: Zeiss Lenses

    I hear you on Canon. I shoot with it currently and with some exceptions, the Canon glass really doesn't do anything for me. Every time I need to buy an AF lens I do so VERY reluctantly. It's all a personal taste issue of course, but I get a much bigger mental grin when I open shots for processing done with non-Canon glass. In short, I can understand your position.

    As for 35mm vs MFDB - all I can say is stunning. Large CCD sensor, no AA filter, big fat light buckets, sharp glass... not great for everyone or for every shooting situation certainly, but damn.... The only SLR images I've seen come close were those from a Canon 1DMk1 (CCD + very weak AA filter), the DMR (CCD, no AA) and the D3x (seems to have a weak AA filter and a secret sauce somewhere).

    Anyway, on Zeiss; I've owned a number of the ZF lenses (35/2 twice, 50/2Macro, 100macro and a number of the older Zeiss T* Contax lenses) shot with adapters on Canon:

    - Universally sharp starting wide open, but other than the 100/2 not exceptionally so vs. some alternatives (e.g. my Leica 60 macro kicked my 50/2M's butt)
    - Typical strong Zeiss contrast and saturated color out of camera (admittedly not my fave rendition)
    - Smooth handling, but my 100/2 Macro's focus was stiff as a stick in cement - had to be returned. Test your copy first, especially if older unit. Was a reasonably common issue when the 100 ZF first came out (lubricant used was too thick).
    - CA control in the Z_ ine is not great. Zeiss seems to have not made CA control a priority.
    - Some units like 35/2 vignette notably and will bloom green/red off reflective surfaces in high contrast situations - especially at frame edges.
    -Spendy for the lack of any APO offerings or ULD glass vs. say comparable Leica, CV or Mamiya M645 APO or ULD units.
    -Some of the wides suffer from field curvature and the 85/1.4 focus shift. In the ZF line the shift isn't a bid deal as can always stop-down, focus and shoot, but ZE line has no aperture ring.

    I eventually left the Zeiss line behind. Though they have a very large and VERY dedicated following, while very sharp I found them over-priced for the lack of CA control and alternatives that were as good or better with better CA control - with no Zeiss OOC 'pop' of course. Admittedly, the latter was of no issue to me as I prefer a sharp but lower-contrast more neutral lens that gives me a cleaner palette to work with in post as I see fit. It's a Velvia vs ___ thing ;> Zeiss glass tends to have more consistent 3D 'pop' on a per lens basis, but I've also got it in spades from many lenses from CV, Leica and Mamiya on Canon, just not as consistently.

    Other options I would suggest would be the CV SL1 and SLIII APO line (see cameraquest.com) that are in Nikon and emerging in EoS. Amazing lenses. Have owned all the SL1 APOs and the SLII 40 and 58 in Nikon mount, loved them and while sold the SL1s (75, 90, 125, 180) as prices peaked at silly levels, am starting to re-acquire them as they emerge in EoS.

    A second option would be a shift to Nikon, say a D3x and acquiring the SL1 APO line (75/2.5 non-APO, 90/3.5 APO, 125/2.5 APO and 180/4 APO) - though be warned the 90 has been re-issued as an SLII and the 125 and 180 are likely to follow - hurting the currently rich used prices for the older and rare SL1 APOs.

    A Nikon would also give you ability to acquire the older Nikon ZF Zeiss glass to try - saving some $$ in process vs. the newer and identical formula, but more digitally-integrated ZF.2 units.

    If you don't mind stop-down for some work, the Mamiya M645 APOs used with a Nikon or Canon adapter and Leica APOs (used on Nikon with a DIY Leitax conversion kit or on Canon with an adapter) are stunning and, IMHO, deliver better value/$$ than the current Zeiss Z_ offerings.

    The older Contax Zeiss lenses are also very nice and IMHO better Zeiss/$$ offerings than Z_ units - but will be stop-down metering. Another statement Zeissphiles will beg to differ with. That said, if you really like the Zeiss T* look out of camera, only Zeiss T* will give you that.

    You WILL get VERY differing opinions on almost all the preceding statements ;>

    A GREAT resource for Zeiss glass on Canon and Nikon is http://diglloyd.com/diglloyd/index.html He loves them, but is also very fair in his analysis of same. Also has in-depth analysis and sample images of Leica and CV lenses on high-end Nikon and Canon bodies as well.

    Good luck.
    Last edited by robmac; 14th June 2010 at 12:17.

  8. #8
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    Re: Zeiss Lenses

    Should also mention that Leitax also now makes conversion kits for using Contaz Zeiss glass on Nikon if a 'lateral' move out of Canon becomes an option.

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