I recommend maximizing your browser window so when you click on the sample images they are enlarged for best viewing.
Some clarification and thoughts about this review.
The other day I received my evaluation copy of the new Otus 85mm 1.4 from Zeiss with the intention of writing a review and letting you know how it performs. I will not be discussing how well this lens stacks up against the others based on MTF charts or any other technical specifications which are solely based on quantitative data presented. There are plenty of other web sites and bloggers out there that will do this and have done so already. I will attempt to present a realistic report of how this lens performs and handles from a photographer and viewer point of view. Let’s face it, when you show your photographs you typically don’t have a tag with MTF data or other technical details attached to the photo. The picture sells itself based on its ability to capture your attention with its beauty and appeal. For the most part we are judging a book by its cover. And if we are to use the 55mm Otus as a base line for comparison, we can pretty much assume this lens will be king.
I originally titled this review “Beauty and the Beast” based on two very obvious characteristics of the lens. On the surface, it is as gorgeous as imagined and very desirable. On the other hand, it is beastly in size. Large in diameter, length and weighing in at 1140 grams for the ZF.2 version, it’s not a featherweight lens. After some consideration, I changed the title to be more descriptive and search engine friendly.
As a previous owner of a 55 Otus, I can clearly relate to this lens and understand its strengths and weaknesses. Having used the 55 for some time and seeing the results it delivers, I was excited to hear about the 85 and even more so when Zeiss shipped one to me for evaluation. Imagine a short telephoto lens which can perform in low light and have resolving power similar or better than the 55 Otus. Knowing that you can shoot wide open in low light conditions and be assured that the results will be consistently sharp (If you focused properly) from edge to edge is hard to believe. But, in this case good things do come in big packages rather than small and the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
It is clear that this lens is intended for high resolution cameras like the D800 or A7R. In fact, Zeiss has confirmed the target audience as:
- The former medium format shooters who need to get the most out of their full frame DSLR
- Anyone who owns a camera with a 36 Mpix+ sensor
- Portrait, fashion & lifestyle shooters
- All others who simply want the best short tele available
Fortunately for me and my wallet, I do not fit into any of these categories. I pretty much am an all around user of cameras and enjoy people photography and non studio work. This does not mean I won’t eventually own one. Just not at this time.
Moving on …
For my pleasure, I chose to play with the 85 Otus on a Sony A7S. Since I won’t be showing you prints online that require 36Mpix, I thought it would only be fair to pair what will inevitably be crowned the King 85mm lens of low light with the Queen of low light full frame cameras. The A7S and 85 Otus is a match made in heaven. Well, not really. It’s actually somewhat of a visual abomination when you see the two paired together. Regardless of how perfect the two cooperate with each other, some things just don’t look right. Kind of like a Doberwawa.
Here are a few images to help you gauge the size of the lens. Oh and don’t let this discourage you. Its really surprisingly comfortable to work with. You can hold it in one hand and eat a french fry with the other.
As stated before this is a huge lens but at the same time does not feel that big. Mounted on my A7S with an adapter you can clearly see in the photo above how large it is. However, with big come some advantages. I am 6’2” and have fairly large hands. When holding the lens in my left hand and the camera with my right hand, the lens is cradled nicely in the palm of my hand and feels very comfortable. My hand and fingers do not feel cramped due to working within the tight confinements of a small lens like those really small M lenses for rangefinder cameras.
Focus is as easy as taking candy from a baby. In fact, due to the ultra-smooth focusing of this lens and its large diameter, I can easily fine focus the lens by just using my thumb. It’s that easy and effortlessly done. Just a slight nudge up or down with the thumb gets you in focus. There is just enough resistance to hold your focus while offering super smooth rotation of the lens barrel. If you ever shot with the 55, you will know exactly how the 85 will feel. They are very comparable to each other. Throw in the focus peak feature and EVF of the Sony Alpha cameras like the A7S and you are golden on the intended focus area. A little side note. Amazing lens and camera! By the time Nikon or Canon start using mirror less technology like Sony or Fuji, they will have been left in the shadows. One cannot deny that the future is in this technology and EVF’s. Sony is on a steam roller.
The aperture ring on the ZF.2 version which I used did pose a bit of a challenge for me with an adapter. Since I was not using the lens on a Nikon camera where I would just lock the ring and control aperture with the camera dial, I had to control it manually. Although it’s great that I can manually adjust the aperture and not many new lenses offer this anymore, I found the aperture ring too exposed with the the use of a lens adapter. This should not be a problem when using the lens on a native mount. I found myself accidentally turning it when picking up the camera by the adapter. Steve Jobs would have just told me I was holding the camera wrong. You would need to train yourself to check regularly if shooting the lens with a non-native mount camera just to make sure nothing has changed on your settings. None the less, this was more of a getting use to habit than anything else. Again, the root cause of this inconvenience is use of an adapter which is so large you have a tendency of picking up the lens via the adapter. I am just mentioning this since my review is intended to convey my shooting experience with the lens.
As stated earlier, although the lens is large and heavy, it did not feel too bad on the A7S. In fact, it was a pleasure to use. It is only slightly larger than the Zeiss 135mm 1.8 ZA which I currently own and have no problems with whatsoever on an A7. It feels well balanced and if you don’t need the lens hood, its even more friendly. My only concerns regarding the weight of this lens on the A7S with the adapter were really how secure and solid the adapter was and whether the lens would come off crashing to the ground leaving me with a very expensive bill and ruining the upcoming Christmas shopping season. Let me just say, I use the Fotodiox adapter and am thinking of upgrading to something more substantial. I did find myself holding on to the camera by the lens rather than letting it dangle from my neck on the camera strap as I walked the streets of Portland taking pictures. I think this is a valid concern for people if they throw this on a small body camera. I could be over reacting but better safe than sorry.
Note: Due to the AA filter on the Sony A7S, I applied sharpening to most of these images in the ACR conversion. The degree of masking was relatively high in order to minimize the areas where sharpening was applied. I will be posting some raw images for download later in case you are interested in seeing the difference. However, I did post two images of the Blue Man below so you can see the difference. You will also notice that the sharpening is done tastefully without creating jagged edges which is a clear sign of over doing it.
The first thing I did was to go out and photograph just about anything I could. No plans or schedule and definitely nothing well thought of in advance. I was all giddy like a child at Christmas time with a new toy. However, I eventually came around to actually snapping pictures and a lot of them with the lens wide open. Having said that, I really enjoy shooting at dusk. There is just enough natural light to balance the artificial lighting in a street or café scene. Have a look at this picture. Downtown Oregon City late afternoon. Shot with the A7S wide open. Beautiful colors, crip sharpness while retaining a smooth look to it.
Click image below to enlarge
Just how sharp is this lens wide open? This is a spontaneous shot of my candy eating dog Freya. She is very use to me following her around but just wont sit still so I can focus and take a photo. It must be that language barrier. She speaks dog and I speak English. There is no drop down for this combination in the Google translator. Go figure. Normally this situation would not be a problem. I would stop the lens down to 5.6 or 8 and grab a usable snap shot. However, I have been wanting to see what the lens can do wide open and photographing Freya with a manual focus lens such as the 85 Otus can be a bit challenging. I did managed to grab a photo while my son teased her with a treat.
Here are some flowers shot wide open. As you can see, its pretty impressive considering this was hand held and the wind was blowing. I guess I better stick to shooting cornucopias on the kitchen table.
Now look at the picture below. For this side walk cafe snapshot, I focused on the mans face in the foreground as best I could considering I did not have my glasses. I was surprised to see who much face detail was actually capture with the lens as seen in the 100% crop below it. Even for a blind bat like me, the combination of Otus and focus peak proved to be very useful and reliable.
Stopped down a bit
At f2.8 the performance of this lens is simply amazing. The colors, sharpness and bokeh are just mind blowing. The “Blue Man” from downtown Portland is always a pleasure to work with. He is willing to be photographed and is extremely friendly. His make up, colors, attire, facial features and beard make for a gold mine of pixel peeping opportunities to the highest degree which will put any lens to the test. Below is an example. Not the best one but certainly worth exploring as a pixel peeper.
Now click on the image below for a larger version of a crop around his eyes and see what the Otus can do. ( There second image is default ACR without sharpening )
Here is the Pizza Man from Escape from New York Pizza. This time at f2 in dim light.
This 85 produces some of the most beautiful creamy bokeh I have seen. The transition from in focus to out of focus is as smooth and fluid as you could imagine. There is a pleasing calm to viewing it without any harsh distractions in the photo. There are many lenses that deliver good bokeh. But, I can honestly tell you, In my opinion, I have yet to see a lens deliver it like the 85 Otus.
Everyone hates fringing. You photograph a subject against a bright background or the sky only to find the edges have a horrendous purple edge that would even put off a purple people eater. Yes we can correct a lot of it with post processing but you can’t correct it all. The optical formula and design of the 85 Otus virtually eliminates the purple fringing you see in photos taken with inferior mediocre or expensive lenses that do not correct for chromatic aberration. Below are photographs showing a street light against the bright blue sky. You would expect to see fringing around the edges especially at f1.4 but it is not there.
Here is the full frame prior to the crops.
Here is a crop of the lamp at f1.4 without any fringing correction.
And here is a crop at f5.6
As you can see above, its hard to tell if there is any fringing at all wheter it was at f1.4 or f5.6
Is it perfect ?
Well, is there anything wrong with this lens or am I just a fan boy blown away by what is probably the best lens for a DSLR money could buy? Yes. Even better than the 55 Otus. Funny that I should ask myself this question as I write this. I actually have an answer for myself that I will share with you. The lens shows vignetting. You know, those dark corners or tunnel vision you get while under the influence of some illegal substance which you know are really bad for you and your mother told you to stay away from. In any case, you can stay sober to see the problem which can be easily corrected in Lightroom. Have a look below
As you can see, by f4.0 vignetting is gone. Even at f2.8 it is almost completely gone. Since I don’t have a tendency of shooting the sky or white walls at f1.4 in bright daylight, I am not going to let this bother me too much.
It was a pleasure shooting with this lens. It’s build quality exudes the perfection you would expect from German engineering regardless of where it was put together. Although visually intimidating due to it’s size and weight, the lens was really easy and enjoyable to work with. Not once did I think it was too big or heavy except on my little A7S. On the F6 it was perfect!
For those who shoot DSLR’s and are quick to point out its size and weight, remember your 70-200mm and other large lenses are equally big or bigger. However with the Otus you are getting a lens that is capable of delivering where the others fail.
This lens is clearly intended for a targeted audience’ as mentioned above. Studio, portraits etc … If your shooting sports or any type of action work, it won’t cut it. Well, at least not for me. To take advantage of this lens you need good control of the subject. It would be a shame to have such a wonderful lens and defeat it’s purpose by having out of focus shots. In a controlled environment or setting. The lens is undeniably king.
Don’t complain about the price. You get what you pay for. If you make a living with photography and your clients demand the best results then just buy one. I really don’t get the naysayers who say they can do better with their 85mm 1.8 at a fraction of the cost. Yes, their wallets will do better and the occasional snapshot will be good. But the end result will always fall short of what the Otus can deliver. It is what it is and a much better photographer than me can really make this lens shine.
If you want to pre-order, get your copy at www.popflash.com. They have excellent customer service and they carry just about any Zeiss lens you can imagine.
Below is a gallery of pictures for taken for this post with the Otus 85. You can also follow the Otus 85 gallery on Zeissimage.com which I am sure will grow rapidly once the lens is available.
Here is the link you will need. http://zeissimages.com/standardgallery.php?lenstype=575&showall
Thank you for taking the time to read this post.
Zeiss Otus 85mm f/1.4 Gallery
Just for comparison, I have included below a gallery of pictures taken withthe Zeiss 55mm f1.4 Otus. many of which were shot wit a Nikon F6. I thought it would be a good opportunity to share.
Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 Gallery