Monday, November 16, 2009

CARL ZEISS 100mm F/2 REVIEW
(aka. Carl Zeiss Makro-Planar T* 2/100 ZF)



SPECIFICATIONS (shamelessly copied from Zeiss website)

Name: Carl Zeiss Makro-Planar T* 2/100 ZF
Focal length: 100 mm
Aperture range: f/2.0 – f/22 (1/2 steps)
Focusing range: 0.44 m – infinity
Number of elements/groups: 9 elements, 8 groups
Image ratio at close range: 1:2
Filter thread: M 67 x 0.75 Dimensions (with caps) ø 76 mm, length 113 mm
Weight: 680 g
Camera mounts: F Mount (ZF) & K Mount (ZK)
Official Website for Lens: http://www.zeiss.com/photo


DISCLAIMER
Please read this first before proceeding any further

First and foremost, this review is merely my humble opinion, so please take it with a tablespoon of sea salt, Tabasco, or whatever you usually take to digest biased review.

Secondly, the tests are by no means strictly controlled tests; there will be errors, and my methods are not the most optimized to begin with, because:

- I shoot with Fuji S5Pro – now to some people that’s a flaw already (haha…) due to its limited pixel. sidenote - I love the camera to death though.
- I shoot JPG (blasphemy! I know I know…)
- I use in-camera SRGB (what!? I know I know…)
- At this stage you probably wonder, can it get any worse…? Yes it can. My JPG is set to F1C, now that is not the most accurate colour mode I can tell you that, but heck, does it look nice and so film like… that’s why I am using it.
- And just to top it up, the S5’s sharpening is set to lowest. That’s because I like to sharpen things by myself, but then it means my untouched sample pictures won’t be as sharp as other people’s pictures using different cameras and settings.
- Some sample pictures were taken at higher ISO handheld (sometimes while I was under the influence of alcohol too….)

If you wonder why am I allowing all these “flaws” for an equipment review? That’s because I am trying to share my opinions based from my everyday real life usage, and I am sure many people are just like me - they don’t always have the most optimum, perfect setup every single time they go out to take picture. So at least this review will provide a bit more real life expectation of what you can get from this lens.

This brings us to third point – I don’t get paid for writing this and I also didn’t receive this lens as a review material. So you may find that I might be slacking off at times.

With those out of the way, you most definitely will get better quality pictures out of this lens if you are shooting FX with RAW, and if you’re a little bit more sober.




FOREWORD

Before I got this lens, I was extremely content using my Nikon 85mm f/1.4 Ais as my main portrait lens and for general purpose walkaround lens. But then I started seeing a few samples here and there from this Zeiss 100mm f/2 posted by members from various forums.

Then I said to myself, as good as my 85mm is, there are just some situations that I honestly think that I can not do that with my 85mm straight from camera. First of all, the sharpness is definitely superior than my 85mm, but sharpness is not the most important thing for me.
I feel that the Zeiss has this special colour and feel to it that I can’t really get out of my other lenses. Mind you, I felt this way before I actually acquired the lens, so it’s not owner’s bias.

So I looked up for more info on this lens, and saw a few more samples, and the more I saw it, the more I wanted the lens. Then based on the recommendation from fellow Australian member, I got mine from a shop in New Jersey that specializes in cinematography equipments, and the lens arrived safely here in Sydney in less than a week (isn’t the internet beautiful?)

THE PACKAGING – WHAT’S IN THE BOX?

I must say that Zeiss is not big in flashy presentation box, which I actually prefer, or else the cost would be even more expensive. The lens comes in a rather understated thin carton box with the Zeiss holographic sticker in the middle of the box.
Can be seen from the picture below:
(Note - from this point onwards, please click on the picture to view it on larger size because this website auto minimizes all pictures to thumbnail sizes. Also, depending on your screen resolution, after you click the image and it appears in new window, you might still need to click the image one more time to fully expand the image - if not, the picture will be in much lower quality because it's compressed)



I learned since I was a kid that anything that comes with a holographic sticker must be super awesome. This is also the case with Zeiss lenses – it is super awesome indeed.
I think the sticker itself already worth the asking money.



Upon opening the box, you will find on top of the Styrofoam inner box some paperwork which consist of: Warranty card, Lens specification paper, Lens manual, and QC-passed Certificate.

I am impressed because the certificate has your unique Zeiss lens serial number printed on it with all the check boxes that lets you know what had passed the inspection. All the boxes were ticked by hand with the person’s initial signed on it.
I just wish whoever that person was, he/she really checked my lens instead of just tick-tick-tick it while eating potato chips and watching Seinfeld.




But seriously, this shows that Zeiss lines have tighter QC compared to your usual Nikon/Canon lenses (which sort of reflects on the price too I guess), and they must have much lower production volumes too in order to be able to do this sort of QC.

So back to “What’s in the Box”, inside the Styrofoam box is the lens and the hood wrapped in clear plastic. There’s no leather pouch like some lenses from other brands (eg. Sony Alpha mount-Zeiss). Nothing fancy and it’s very straight forward packaging, really.




EXTERIOR

Albeit without fanciness and wow factor in the packaging, the moment you pick up the lens I can guarantee you that you will understand why this lens is expensive. Imagine a cold, heavy, all-metal lens in your hands, with a focus ring that is so smooth to turn.... If you hold it and it doesn’t move you into feeling like taking pictures with it, you’re not a photographer.

It is a very handsome looking lens. But, (I know it’s trivial) I don’t think the look goes very well with Nikon cameras. Nikon bodies tend to have this rugged look, whereas the Zeiss has this very slick and stylish look. If you ask me personally, I think this lens will look better attached to something like a new Phase One or Leica S2 body. Anyway, let’s talk about the body itself in more details.




Focus Ring & Barrel Extension

I think you are well aware that the focus ring for this lens turns almost a full 360 degree. Most probably because of the macro feature of this lens, with most portion of the focus rotation is for fine tuning from 1:4 (approximately 60cm) magnification onwards to full 1:2 (approximately 44cm) – which of course makes very much sense because around that range you really need to extra fine tune it since the depth of field is very shallow.

It doesn’t mean that it only leaves very little focus rotation for mid-distance to infinity though. Since the ring is so ridiculously smooth, you can very easily fine tune your focus when doing something like portrait works. Some people mentioned that the focus ring is stiff, but I don’t find it stiff at all. I think they might be just too accustomed to this so called “manual focus” ring from current AF lenses.

The rotation feels solid, but at the same time it is very smooth. It doesn’t feel “slidy”, jumpy, or gritty like when you use manual focus from AF cameras. I rate the focus ring to be in the same league (or even better) than my Nikon 85mm 1.4 Ais or 50mm 1.2 Ais (and those two have very smooth focus rings, so that says a lot).

Aperture wise, it clicks every half step, so that means it starts from f/2, one click will position it in between f/2 and f/2.8, one more click will switch it to f/2.8, and so on. I don’t particularly shoot in in-between apertures, but I guess it might be useful for some people (eg. When you just wanna quick-fine tune your exposure).

The barrel for this lens is rather long just like all semi-tele macro lenses, and when it’s fully extended (doing 1:2), it is even longer. When you turn the barrel all the way out, you can hear this metal sounding “ding” from the barrel parts colliding and reaches the maximum extension - sounds nice.

When the hood is attached in reverse position, you can still manual focus the lens. A bit difficult because the hood will cover most of the lens, but doable in case you need to focus something fast or too lazy to re-attach the hood.
The picture below shows you how long the lens is when it’s fully retracted, extended, and extended with the hood on.




Overall Look of the Barrel

Just like Nikon’s Ais lenses, it has the “rabbit ears”. Not sure how relevant it is when used with today’s DSLR though.



Front markings are engraved, including the serial number.



Not sure about the side markings though. They don’t look recessed, but the markings look very well etched on the barrel.



The rear mount is also very pretty:



Hood and Caps

The hood is made from metal, just like old times. I am so glad that in this plastic fantastic age, someone still cares enough to make solid metal equipments.



Since the front element itself is rather recessed already, I think on casual shooting day you can survive without carrying the hood. With the hood attached, I usually won’t bother with attaching the lens cap when I’m walking around because it will provide enough cover from dust and prevents you from accidentally touching the element (I don’t use filters).
The only thing that I don’t like with the hood on is it makes the lens look much larger than it is – attracting curious attention.

Now lens caps. The rear cap is alright, just like any other Nikon rear caps. The front cap is different story though. I hate the front cap. It’s a pity that built-wise, everything is perfectly super solid, but then comes this crappy lens cap. I wish it was also from metal (or part metal) but it’s just plain plastic cap.

My concern is not it being plastic though. The cap is rather badly designed and it’s difficult to pinch the cap (either from outer side or centre pinch). You have to be careful with the cap because it doesn’t provide generous grip unlike Nikon lens cap. It can easily snap out of your grip when you are trying to remove the cap.
Well I guess you can always get a third party or Nikon cap to replace this crappy cap.
I personally think it looks rather ugly too and doesn’t go with the nice looking lens itself. They should at least make the Zeiss logo from metal or something.



But overall, the lens itself is very solid. Unlike those super solid and heavy Russian Jupiter lenses, you can’t murder people with this lens; but it is very well made. I am sure it will live longer than you as long as you don’t abuse it. It also looks very smoothly made. No cost-cutting evidence, everything looks refined. Sort of what you expect to see when you pay $1500 for a manual prime (I wish it has better front cap though….)




OPTICS

Coating

Not sure how many layers there are or what sort of coating they use, but it does look rather different compared to my other lenses. Indoor, it has this rather strong pink hue reflection, quite pretty and I find it stronger than my other lenses’ coating. It’s much easier to see in real life though, not easy to capture the hue. I tried to make the hue more noticeable in the picture, but too lazy to do a proper one. Hopefully you get the idea from the picture below.




Distortion, Flaring, and Vignetting

I can’t see these in real life shooting, so I won’t bother talking about distortion or vignetting. On FX, I haven’t heard much of people complaining about it too. Unless you shoot brick walls or white walls for a living, don’t worry about it.
Flaring wise, again, I don’t see any problem. I took it shooting under harsh noon light, shooting up tree branches when the sun was on top of me and all that, didn’t encounter any stray flaring at all. It will show if you do it in purpose, but under actual shooting I doubt you will get flaring.

Chromatic aberration

Now let’s get the bad thing out of the way first. This is the only weakness that I can think of the lens (apart from the damned front lens cap). But as in fast lenses, this is something you pretty much have to tolerate. Also fringing is not always entirely your lens’ fault – I think the amount of fringing also depends on the camera itself too (at least that’s what I read).

This lens is definitely more resistant to fringing than my 85mm 1.4. With 85mm 1.4, you can have pretty wild purple fringing when shooting wide open on bright daylight. What’s funny with Zeiss 100mm is, sometimes I find fringing in a scene that I don’t expect it to be that obvious, but sometimes when the light is so harsh, I don’t even see that much of fringing.

Have a look at some of the sample pictures below - this next picture illustrates the absence of fringing even when the lens was used under harsh light.



On the next picture, you can see a bit of fringing, but I am very impressed considering how harsh the light was.



I was also expecting fringing when I shot this, but I found none!



Now these are when I find fringing unexpectedly.



This is rather bad one:



Fringing can be pretty bad on patterned object as shown below. But I also took some other similar looking shots, and some of them are not that obvious compared to this one. Maybe different angle, different lighting, etc… I don’t know.



If any, I notice that fringing is more often found on darker objects compared to bright/white objects.
Stopping down to f/2.8 significantly improves the fringing, and by f/4 fringing is almost completely gone. Have a look at the sample below. Please don’t be scared of the amount of fringing on the first one, this shot was done in purpose to expose the most fringing and it’s a 100% crop.



In relation to fringing, it will sometime quite noticeable in point of lights too. But usually it’s not always obvious, and generally you won’t notice it unless you have fringing in mind and specifically look for it. The beauty of the image taken with this lens will distract you from this flaw - very cheeky indeed.

The shot below shows a pretty bad case of fringing found in point of lights. My 85mm f/1.4 and Tamron 90mm f/2.8 also showed this fringing when I shot the same object. I guess that means it’s pretty normal.



I read a post of this one guy who was considering getting the lens but changed his mind after he saw some samples of purple fringing. What a shame, he just missed one really great lens - it’s not like it’s going to appear in every single picture you take. A few fringing here and there is expected – if you have very fast lenses you are most likely familiar with this.

So should you worry about this? Well, I guess you should know about the fringing before purchasing the lens, but I really won’t view this as a deal breaker because it’s a common weakness found in lenses, and not so obvious one. The good points of the lens far outweigh this single weakness.


Colour and Contrast

The colour and contrast is obviously excellent. But how much am I seeing the full potential considering how undisciplined I am? I am not sure, but I guess I will find out when I get myself an FX camera in the future.

But can I still see the famous Zeiss colour and contrast everyone’s been talking about? Yes. Indoor under artificial lighting, the Zeiss has a slight edge over my Nikon when I compare the image closely. However, outdoor, the Zeiss is easily superior.

Through my eyes I see the real potential of the Zeiss when used outdoor under natural light. It might be due to coating or maybe the lens design, I am not sure. But having used my 85mm and numerous other lenses for several years already, I am certain that the Zeiss produces nicer colour tones compared to my Nikon especially outdoor. Even when the light is so harsh, it still manages to bring out a nice colour and contrast straight from the camera.

So yes, I am a Zeiss colour believer. But is this a snake oil? Placebo effect? Well, I hope not. Interesting that my partner who is photographically-challenged also said that the colour is very nice. If that comes from the mouth of an average Joe (or Jane in this case), so I guess it must be noticeably different afterall...

But anyway, I am going to show a few shots to give you an idea of what I am seeing when shooting with the lens with my current equipment.

This first sample was taken under very bright light – when I came home and looked at the picture through my monitor, I was impressed that this shot that I took when the light was harsh looks like a shot that I took under mellow afternoon light - the colour and the tones are still very well maintained (the highlight on the picture tells you that it is very bright indeed)



Now I took this second picture to show the red colour from Zeiss. Remember I am using SRGB so technically speaking, my colour gamut is limited, but it still turns out really nice. The red reminds me of Leica red....

This is pretty much why I don’t really bother with Adobe RGB. Of course I can get even better colour but getting out the full potential of SRGB is not as simple as just shooting with SRGB, you have to have the right monitor, the right calibration, etc etc... I'll probably do Adobe RGB once in awhile, but not for every image I have.
But anyway, those of you who shoot Adobe RGB can rejoice because (theoretically speaking) you will see even richer colour than this one (make sure to get yourself an EIZO monitor though).



Now the next picture is a picture of a duck (well, duh…) Even the ducks seemed happier when I shot them with Zeiss lens.



This one was taken at Circular Quay, under strong afternoon light. There are two random dudes in the picture. Again, as from previous samples, you can see that the colours straight from camera are very nice already. I didn't even do any post processing... (although a little bit of credit should go to my Fuji S5 too... haha..)



I chose this last example because I just love the contrast and colour tone straight from the camera.



So basically, you can see that the red, the blue, and the green are very rich and beautiful ---- hey, aren't those the primary colours? so what does it mean to the rest of the colours? ** hint hint**



Sharpness

Too bad you need to only take my words on this – it is bloody sharp across the egdes wide open. Unfortunately my S5’s resolution and my shooting habit won’t fully utilise the sharpness capability of this lens but this lens is a badass indeed.

Its wide open f/2 is easily sharper than my 85mm 1.4 stopped down to @f/2. But then again, I’ve never heard of soft macro lens.
I admit I am too lazy to do controlled sharpness test. You know how hard it is to do a REALLY proper sharpness test? Need to align to perfect angle, I need to even be careful at wind blowing my tripod. It’s not as simple as shooting a darn brick wall and start mumbling about how sharp your lens is.

In saying that, I will first admit that this is not a perfect sharpness test because there are plenty of room for errors, but this is just to give you an idea of what you can expect from the lens in less than optimum situation (aka. real life situation)
And you should expect more sharpness if you think you are more disciplined shooter than me or if you have a better DSLR or if you bother to use tripod unlike me.

This is the scenario – The image below, I took it casually when I was having a cold beer with my partner on a pub across the road on second floor (Sydneysiders will probably know which Pub I was at from the picture).
Distance? Not sure, but it’s rather far all the way across the road. With my eyes I could only see people trying to cross the road.
No tripod, shot with S5 JPG and sharpness set to lowest, ISO was 400, straight from camera…. Lots of variables, so this is by no means the sharpest the lens can provide, but it captures lots of details even in this (very) less than optimum scenario.
This is the resized, unprocessed shot: (ISO was 400, so details were slightly sacrificed to begin with)



Below is the unprocessed 100% crop of the picture:



One more sample, but this time I took this wide open at f/2, focus was infinity. I guess many people wonder how sharp the lens is wide open. ISO is better this time – ISO 100 (awesome!)
But I was still shooting Jpeg with lowest sharpness, image was saved as “save for the web jpg”, yada yada and handheld. So again, less than optimum situation.

This time the subject is very far away, obviously. I shot this when I was at Harbour Bridge. I thoughtfully did a 100% crops from all edges and divided them into sharpened and unsharpened sides. It takes time and annoying. You see how nice I am?




The Chart

I know some of you guys like to read charts and graphs - Owning the lens and using it in day to day shooting just won’t cut if for you. You need to read the charts so they can tell you it has the most awesome sharpness wide open and 0.009% distortion.

I am terrible at maths, so naturally I don’t like charts and graphs, also, when I look at those fancy lens charts and graphs, I have no idea what those mean...
But nonetheless I’ll show you chart and graph for all you chart huggers and graphs humpers out there. I made this chart based on my personal findings after acquiring the lens, so result may vary.






The infamous, almost obligatory brick wall test

I live in a cardboard box, so no brick wall test for you. Okay, okay, no more kidding around. Let’s talk about its 1:2 macro feature instead.



Macro Feature

Although the name says Makro Planar, but I don’t think I Plan to use this as Makro lens at all (get it? plan? haha? I am terrible am I...)
But I seriously don't look at this lens as macro lens. I personally consider this lens as a portrait/general outdoor semi-tele lens first, and macro second (the macro for me is just like bonus feature from the lens).

Anyway if you are thinking to buy this lens as a macro lens and having doubts because it’s “only” 1:2, don’t be. First of all, because you can get an adapter to make it 1:1 and besides, 1:2 can get you very small too unless you are shooting very very tiny objects.

Since I also have Tamron 90mm diMacro f/2.8 (awesome lens by the way) which is 1:1, I can give you a comparison shot of how small is 1:2 compared to 1:1. Look at the picture below. Note that my Tamron at closest distance can only operate at f/5.6, whereas the Zeiss at closest distance can still be used at f/2. Not sure how useful it is though since f/2 will give you very little DOF when you are that close.

But manual focusing wise (eg. critically fine tuning the focus), the Zeiss obviously has much superior manual focus and as mentioned earlier, it has very generous focus throw in close distance, allowing you to easily fine tune your macro.


I know this particular picture below does not really resemble the beauty of the lens' macro feature, but I just need to include this because I spent bloody half an hour under the strong sun just to take a moderately decent picture of this little bugger on flight. So considering all the hardwork, at least I should just whack it in the review...




Bokeh

Ah bokeh… my favourite yet so subjective subject. I am sorry that it’s not objective object (??)
I briefly mentioned about bokeh earlier. Compared to 85mm 1.4, I think the Zeiss has more polite bokeh, but it’s by no means clinical or sterile looking.
It is not as polite looking as Tamron 90mm – can be bad or good depending on your taste.

I haven’t used older Zeiss lenses before, but I’ve read that Zeiss as good as they are, tend to make lenses with sterile looking bokeh in the past (precision is their main concern), but they seem to break the trend with this new 100mm. It has very good bokeh with lots of character.

Let’s talk about point of lights first, and then we’ll talk about bokeh as in background blur and blur transition later on.
Below is the point of light sample that I took at different apertures. Stopping it down to f/2.8 will still result in pretty acceptable round bokeh. But if bokeh is your main obsession, I suggest you to look at Kinoptik 100mm f/2, now that is my idea of perfect bokeh. It has this crazy swirly bokeh, but to be honest I can’t bring myself to part with that much money just for bokeh. Here is the Zeiss bokeh:



And this is bokeh in foliage – probably where you will find most of your bokeh from, so I am attaching a sample of it.




Bokeh in Background Blur and Blur Transition

It’s all good. (man, you have to wonder about the credibility of a reviewer that says “it’s all good” for the impression…)
Anyway, I found that the transition is “it’s all good”.
Very smoothly transition. I included two different set of samples here, one is in macro range, the other one is in more normal range.

These are from closer range ones – pictures are not as sharp as they could be because I didn’t process the images.




This one is from “normal” range. The letter boxes are very nicely blurred



And this one is blur transition from more pointy objects:



On to the background blur itself, Zeiss renders this very nicely. You should be noticing this already by now.

The next picture shows how Zeiss renders the out of focus background.

Well actually my partner took this one below. I am sure that her intention was to create a sharp picture but since she is not really good at taking picture, she accidentally misfocused it and turning the whole picture into a background blur instead (haha…).
But amazingly it turned out to be one beautiful picture (maybe I shouldn’t have laughed so early…. meh… beginner’s luck…). Anyway, have a look at the picture that she took – the way Zeiss renders the background is very good and by no means sterile or boring.



This is another sample; I took this one, not her. But hers is still nicer...goddarn it...



Combined this with Zeiss’ sharpness and colour, you get yourself a killer portrait lens. I have a lot of very beautiful portrait made from this lens, but I am not able to post this on public because it’s private photos.
But Imagine a nicely focused portrait, with pleasing colour that reminds you of film, smooth blur transition, and creamy but yet detailed background, that’s what you’ll get from Zeiss 100mm f/2.

Speaking of background and portrait, you must have heard the infamous “Zeiss 3D look”. Well, any fast semi-tele will be able to create 3D look, although many people report that this lens has the “special” Zeiss 3D look.

I think this look is actually a combination of many things. Firstly, the aperture and focal length (obviously), combined with its sharpness wide open which is impressive, and also from the tonality of the colour. The lens provides very good contrast too. I apologise again for talking so much about portrait without providing one single portrait shot. I am not comfortable to ask strangers for portrait.

Hopefully I can redeem myself with the sample below – I framed a shot that resembles a portrait scenario, so just imagine yourself that there is someone in the picture, then you will have an idea of how the portrait looks like. Oh well, I put a picture there to help you improvise. Geez... looks like I have to do everything in this review...



Well I do have some shots of random people, but they were all made in a hurry, so you won’t see the best of the lens can offer. But I’ll post an image anyway. If you are one of the people in the picture, sorry I didn’t get a signed release form off you beforehand.

I colour corrected the picture below because my S5 confused the WB on this picture.
The two girls shouldn’t be in perfect focus because I focused on the guy in the middle.




Object Isolation & Making Ordinary Objects Not So Ordinary (aka. OI&MOONSO)

Some of you may also wonder how much Depth of Field are you missing out on this lens compared to f/1.4 lenses since the Zeiss is only f/2?
With comparison to my 85mm 1.4, if you do the DOF calculation, the DOF you get from 85mm f/1.4 at f/1.4 is almost identical to 100mm f/2 lens at f/2, so you can still get that very shallow DOF just like when you use 85mm 1.4.
For example, if the object is 3m in front of you, with 85mm at f/1.4 you’ll get around 6.85cm total focused area. With 100mm at f/2, similar object distance, you’ll get around 6.96cm total focused area.



Because of that, it also has the ability to make ordinary objects look special, just like your fast 50mm or 85mm lenses. The next three pictures conclude my observation of this lens from optical point of view.









THE ASKING PRICE & FINAL THOUGHTS

At the time I am writing this, the price for the lens is roughly around US$1,500. With roughly a mere $250 extra you can get top of the range Nikon zooms like 14-24mm f/2.8 or Nikon 24-70mm 2.8 which undoubtedly will provide much more convenience and more focused shots too.

If you don’t understand the lens well, you will probably think this lens is not a good value for money. I too was thinking maybe this Zeiss is a bit overpriced considering it’s “only” a manual focus lens. I purchased it just from image quality only, but after I actually held one in my hands and started using it, now I understand better why the lens is not cheap.

People (especially those who never used it and those who are not too keen on MF lenses) tend to be too hung up on weighing the value of a lens from image quality and fancy features only.
And also, because what they do is just viewing the samples from the web, comparing Zeiss samples with the very well-processed shots from other lenses, they will probably think, “meh, it's not that much better than my Nikon/Canon plus MF is a hassle.”

I must say that these days we are getting more and more spoiled with all those VR and high ISO to the point that some of us start asking for a VR on wide angle. Of course it’s nice to have a very high-tech lens, but getting back to basic has its own value too.

Having said all those little rants above, what exactly are you buying from this lens?
Naturally, Zeiss being a much smaller company will need to have higher margin than companies like Nikon or Canon because like it or not, this Zeiss is a niche lens.
But I don’t think it is overpriced at all. If I had to start all over again, I’d buy the lens again.

To understant the price of the lens, you have to have the notion that the manual focus of the lens is actually a feature, not a drawback. Sure, you can get a new Nikon 85mm 1.4 with less money and it gives you an AF. Or you can even get the beautiful 105mm DC.
But no way those lenses have the build and feel of this Zeiss 100mm especially when it comes to manual focus. So you buy this lens if you actually want a very well made manual focus lens, not you buy it but you have this feeling that you need to 'tolerate' the manual focus.


I will describe the experience of using this lens like this:

You go walking around, and then you see something nice that catches your attention. After having a rough idea of how you want to take that picture, you look through the viewfinder of your camera and then you start fine tuning the composition that you have in mind.
Then you start turning that smooth, cold metal barrel, carefully watching how the object slowly forms to focus in your viewfinder. You relax your breath, exhale, making sure you ground yourself well, waiting for the perfect moment, and then you press the shutter button of your camera. Once.

Of course, often your result will be slightly unfocused, or you make a slight camera shake resulting in not so sharp picture, but when everything is right and you perfectly NAIL that picture, it will give you a very very beautiful picture and you will have this very satisfying experience and you are going to be very proud of that picture.

This experience will take you to the root of photography itself, really connected with both your subject and your equipment. That is what I call photography as a hobby. Going out and randomly started shooting at 10fps filling 8GB memory card every 1/2 hour is not my idea of photography as a hobby.

It’s a similar experience like fishing - it’s not always about the fish. If it’s all about the fish, you might as well just hire a trailer with a net and just scoop the fish out - easy.
The experience of the fish hooked on the rod and reeling the rod will mean a lot, and if you finally able to land the fish, you will feel accomplished and proud.
Manual focus with a nice lens somewhat feels like that. However you really need to get a nice MF lens for this experience (at least those Nikon Ais lenses, not manual focusing a Nikon 18-55mm kit lens, haha..)

So, buy this lens if you honestly enjoy working with a manual focus lens. If you buy it just for image quality only and you think you have to force yourself to put up with the lack of manual focus, I don’t think this lens gives the most value for you. You might be better off with something like 105mm DC which itself is an excellent lens, but you won’t get the same feeling as using this Zeiss (can be either good or bad depending how much you appreciate working manually)

If you like MF, you can also get those Ais lenses which I think offer the best value for money, but then again, you won’t find the Zeiss 100mm f/2 quality from Nikon Ais primes. The Zeiss won’t double the image quality, but it is still significant enough to justify the price.

So back to price talk, I think what justifies the price is, the build, the shooting experience, and of course, superb image quality, and at the beginning of the review you learned that Zeiss has more controlled QC. With that in mind, ask yourself, how many years are you going to keep this photography as a hobby?

If the answer is still many many years, this $1500 you cough up will mean nothing in the long run. If this lens is what you really want but the price is a bit high, try not to settle for lesser lens because this lens will probably last longer than you. So save up for a few more months, do a bit more overtime at work or whatever, but I am sure you much rather lose a few hundreds more now than getting stuck with a second best choice for many years just because you want to save a bit of money.

In a nutshell, should you get this lens? The answer is Yes, if:
- You love MF (this is a must, if not, don't bother with this lens unless money isn’t really a concern of yours)
- You want a versatile lens that you can use for macro, portrait, semi-tele works, and everything else in between
- You don’t shoot fast moving objects most of the time
- You want a lens that excels in sharpness, colour, and contrast
- You don’t have a partner with violent tendency. No matter how nice this lens is, it is not worth your live. It is not funny to be killed by your partner just because you bought a fancy lens.

That concludes this rather long review and I hope you like the review. 6000+ words on this – it’s longer than most of my major essays back when I was still at Uni. Phew.
The rest of the photos below are the ones that I took using the lens, but if you see a picture of the lens itself, that means it was not taken with the lens, obviously.
Sorry that I don’t have striking photos yet, I just got this lens not long ago.

**** I support my growing lens addiction through this review. So if you find this review helpful, you can help me help you help me help you help me to donate some money for me so that I can continue my lens addiction. $5 is good but $10 doubles the joy. $25 will buy me a couple of Dominos Pizza delivered; $799 will buy me a new Zeiss 25mm. Send me a message when you are ready to donate and I will send you my details for you to donate your money. Don’t worry I won’t chop your dolla. Nah... Just kidding. If you like the review, just say thanks or tell other people about it. Oh, hope you liked the review! *******






















32 comments:

Jeroen said...

Nice read about an intriguing lens.

mfbenedict said...

Very delightful reading. Zeiss-like. I've had this lens since August and agree with all you say. The violent partner point is well taken. I will try to find something to donate to you but I'm grappling with my own addiction. That Zeiss 21mm/f2.8 calls to me! Don't get the 25mm yet. I read today Zeiss is completely reworking it and will release it next year, improved.

silverlight said...

Hey thank you for making the effort to post such a comprehensive review.

oneANT said...

Gobsmacked ...a review in perfect balance of technical and emotional, like the best dish from a kitchen.

I bought this lens in place of the so called cream machine, the 85/1.4AF and there is no comparison and no mistake. Besides being the aforementioned Aussie (Oi Oi Oi), I am also a newbie on a D90 and therefore have no metering and besides WB am totally (TOTALLY) manual, my keeper rate is high, around 90% and my images, well they all move, Im a street nut and smitten by this lens ....and how much fun it is to use.

Albert said...

Glad that you guys liked the review... I also found out that for some strange reason, Zeiss lenses are quite addictive. After you get one, you wanna try the other Zeiss too...

OneAnt, I too prefer this over the 85mm 1.4. I know the 85mm 1.4 is easier to use due to higher speed and shorter length, but the Zeiss can probably do 95% of what the 85mm 1.4 can do and exceeds the 85mm in the rest of the areas.

My S5 can't do movie, but have you tried doing nighttime wideopen movie with the Zeiss? (even if just setting a tripod on top of the bridge and recording bokeh from car lights..) I bet it would be awesome!

oneANT said...

I just can't help myself ...I read it again.

Gandalf said...

I really love this:

You go walking around, and then you see something nice that catches your attention. After having a rough idea of how you want to take that picture, you look through the viewfinder of your camera and then you start fine tuning the composition that you have in mind.
Then you start turning that smooth, cold metal barrel, carefully watching how the object slowly forms to focus in your viewfinder. You relax your breath, exhale, making sure you ground yourself well, waiting for the perfect moment, and then you press the shutter button of your camera. Once.

oneANT said...

Firstly and not the reason for my comment, but I have directed many to this site and not one has thought it a courtesy to leave a comment ...it seem I visit the ugly forums, sadly no shortage of members in these.

But the reason for writing, one thing I neglected to tell you of your zeiss supplier (zgc) was their pedigree, the owner Les Zellan is the owner of Cooke lenses. Your supplier has 2-3 Academy awards to their credit.

...and (sigh) yes I read your review again.

mfbenedict said...

After I read Albie's Zeiss 21mm review I read all his other reviews again. Ken Rockwell is proudly announcing that he has 6 million readers a month. That probably means 6 million readers are missing all the fun if they're not also reading Albert.

Albie said...

Thanks guys, but if you really want to read the review of certain lens bad enough, I am sure you will find this one, but I have to admit it is harder to find firstly because it's a blog not a stand alone website, and I mentioned that I stupidly titled my blog as "Tokina 11-16mm" so that means every review will look like it's Tokina review...

When I was deciding to get the lens, I pretty much tried all my might to find any extra bit of info regarding Zeiss (which unfortunately not much) so hopefully those potential buyers can still find this one and find it useful especially from real life usage point of view. But if you google it (eg. Zeiss 21mm f/2.8 review), my review wouldn't show up, what a shame.

I wouldn't comment much about Ken Rockwell, but I am sure his figures don't mean he really got 6 million actual people reading the pages every single month. Ken is smart, the way he structured his website is so that every single enquiry made on Google will result in his page being the 1st one showing up. That's why sometimes people find that he actually "review" the lens he hasn't even used, used briefly, or not even released? And sometimes you can see that he tries hard to say at least something about every lens. Because his income is based from per visit, so he has to somehow write something or mention something so that people still visit the website. Speaking about reviewers, I personally find Bjorn Rorslett is the most honest one, I mean yes it's subjective, but his intention is really to share what he think about certain lens, and that's about it. No hidden agenda at all.

Anyway, my main reason to write a review is pretty much because I got some spare time, and I thought it's good to share with people about what I thought of my lens(es) and if they find it useful, that's great. I mean, if I were to buy a lens, I'd be delighted if I could find a review similar to mine. And besides, the two Zeiss lenses I reviewed really deserve all the praise they can get.

Re. ZGC, I sort of knew they are handling bigger business (our Zeiss purchases are small peanuts if you look at some of the cine equipments they sell...) but I have to say that they really do have excellent service considering I am on the other side of the world.

But anyway thank you again guys, hey at least if a few people found my review useful, that's not a waste at all... I'll see if I can write another lens review. But I don't have lens collection as much as Bjorn and I tend to be lazy, haha...

Genn said...

Nice review. Well done.

Phil Bishop said...

Thanks for the extensive review. Along with the Digilloyd website you convinced me to get a 100mm ZF.
I received it yesterday, but unfortunately I will be shipping it back to the dealer. Believe it or not, the aperture diaphragm is not working at all! It is stuck wide open and will not close down-even with the lens off the camera.It looks like the aperture lever that couples to the camera is not connected to the diaphragm.
Hope to learn more after I have sent it back, luckily the dealer has another in stock.

Phil Bishop

Albie said...

Hi Phil, Congrats on the lens!

About your problem, that's funny because each lens is supposed to be inspected before being released from factory(from the person ticking the: "aperture" check box).

I mean for the person to tick the aperture check box, he/she needs to have a look/try the aperture before hand right? Weird... maybe it's just one of those one-off thing. Never heard of anyone having that problem before...

Hopefully you'll receive a working one this time, and don't forget to share what you think of the lens!

Phil Bishop said...

Replacement arrived today and working perfectly.
The dealer thinks it could have been a one off special with fixed aperture that somehow got mixed up with the general production. Its only a theory though.
I know that some lenses, Nikkors Leicas etc have been customised for film and scientific use.
Hope to hear from Zeiss eventually.

Albie said...

Ha! You might have owned a special rare limited edition there!

Al Carlay said...

check out my blog.. 98 percent was shot with ZF 100..

http://alcarlayphotography.blogspot.com

Smridevan said...

I just found this review two years after you wrote it and you have convinced me to give this Zeiss lens a try! Thanks for a refreshing, informative and funny review!

Scott said...

:D I love your blog thank you for creating this.
Awesome.

The pie chart is a great touch, btw.

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