Zeiss 35mm F1.4 Distagon ZF/ZE Review

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With all the new 35’s in the past year or so, I thought I would bring back to life an old review I wrote of the 35mm 1.4 Distagon in ZF and ZE mount.

Keep in mind, this is an unscientific,unbiased and personal review of this meteorite from the far reaches of the galaxy. Don’t expect pixel peeping, charts and scientific mumbo jumbo. This review is simply from a users point of view and from a picture viewers point of view.

First impressions:

Before you take your first picture you actually hold the lens as you pull it out of the box. Having said that, I have been involved with photography for over 30 years. I have seen all sorts of equipment from cheap to high end. So, I have seen a lot to compare against. The Zeiss 35mm 1.4 ZF/ZE is like no other. It is the best built, best feeling, sexiest and best looking lens I have ever seen or held in my hands. It is simply in a league of it’s own! Sorry Leica, Canon, Nikon and all others. They may have good lenses but if you were to judge a lens just by its build and looks, this lens would claim the first prize. Simply put, this lens is porn and should be featured in a full spread center fold. All this comes at a cost. It is heavy!

Ease of use:

As a tool (for pros and prosumers) or a toy (for those like me) this lens is a joy to use. It yields a really bright picture in your viewfinder which is a really nice benefit of the 1.4 aperture.

Focusing will require getting use to. At first, my photos did not look as sharp as I expected. I was a little shocked to see this. But, I was determined not to discredit this masterpiece of mechanical jewelry crafted by the Gods of Lenses and handed down to us so quickly. My perseverance and faith in Zeus, oh, I’m sorry, Zeiss paid off. For those of you jumping on this lens, keep this in mind. You will need to practice and get the hang of using the lens. However, once you do, the payoff is well worth it. Guaranteed entry into Valhalla.

The operation of the lens matches it’s build quality. The focus is probably the smoothest and tightest I have felt. And when I say tightest, I don’t mean difficult to turn. I mean it is firm and not loose. It is simply perfect.

Being able to focus up close to subjects is another great benefit form this lens. It lets you get right up to the subject and produce some stunning work. Keep in mind, focusing this lens takes getting use to.

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Some final and new thoughts

As I expected, the image quality is everything I hoped for out of this lens. Keep in mind this is what I like and not necessarily what you would prefer. So I will detail my preferences so you know where I am coming from. Most of my pictures with this lens have been taken with a 12MP Nikon D3S which as you know, was probably the best sensor at the time. However, with today’s high MP count, I cannot tell you how this lens would stack up against the new Sony Zeiss or Loxia.

Contrast and color Strong contrast yields vivid colors that just shout at you. Good color separation in shade, clearly defined colors in bright areas and natural looking colors makes me love this lens even more.

Sharpness After you master focusing with this lens, the images are razor sharp! No let down there. Even shooting wide open, your focus point is right where you wanted it to be.

Bokeh is dreamy and creamy. When shooting wide open and even at f2 and f2.8, the out of focus areas are just gorgeous and place your subject against a wonderful backdrop when composed properly.

This lens is 99% perfect from a users point of view.  However, it does exhibit a good amount of CA against bright contrast areas of the frame and is it’s weight is pretty substantial. Paired with a D3S, it makes for a heavy camera and lens to travel with. However, don’t be a wimp. It is what it is and the results are well worth it.

Update

It’s been a while since I wrote this article and I no longer own this lens. This is a heavy lens that feels right in your hands and I suspect with  an adapter, this lens would be a perfect fit on a Sony A7 series camera.  Although, I would probably choose the new Sony/Zeiss 35mm 1.4 over this lens for various reasons including auto focus and rendering.  The advantage of this lens is that you can use it on both Nikon and Sony if you are still tied to two different cameras.

Below are some sample images which show a variety of themes so you can get an idea of how the lens performs. I like doing people picture mainly and found that keeping focus with moving subjects can be difficult. However judge for yourself how the lens renders from landscape to close ups. Heck there are even a few pictures taken with a Nikon F6 using film :)

Additionally you can find more samples at ZeissImages.com

Make sure to click on the images to view a larger version.

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Some shots on film

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