The Online Photographer

Check out our new site at!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Zeiss ZF Lenses: It's Official

After tedious weeks of teasers, the word is finally official: Carl Zeiss will provide some of its 35mm lenses in Nikon F-mount. It will also commence distributing them itself.

'Kay. Good.

I'm a bit underwhelmed by the big rollout, though. We've been promised a mere two lenses, the 50mm ƒ/1.4 and the 85mm ƒ/1.4 Planars, due by summer. These are the same lenses that were long available for the Contax/Yashica system, and the same two were among those that Zeiss ported to Contax's short-lived AF line. The 85mm is a great lens, and justly famous, but on a Nikon DSLR the angle of view will be closest to that of a 135mm lens. Do Nikon photographers really need a very fast manual-focusing 135mm for their DSLRs? The 50mm has very high resolution at infinity, but is let down for general shooting by uneven out-of-focus behavior at closer distances and wider apertures. Leica, Canon, and Pentax make better 50mm ƒ/1.4s.

Anyway, unless I'm mistaken, these lenses date from the days of the Zeiss Contarex (you're dating yourself if you've ever heard of that)...or at least from the announcement of the Zeiss-Yashica cooperation in 1972. Cosina will be building the lenses in Japan; unlike some xenophobic photographers, I have no problem with that part—there's no magic to lenses built in Oberkochen by German speakers. A good lens is a good lens. It does seem to me, however, that if Zeiss is going to make such a big wanking deal about its design and QC expertise, maybe it ought to buckle down and design a few new lenses for the APS-C sensor size Nikon is committed to. I'd suggest set of a 14mm, 16mm, 20mm, and 26mm ƒ/2's. Now those would be useful, and provide an extra dimension of advantage to getting into the F-mount in the digital era.

More ZF lenses are promised for Photokina in September—a "handful," quote-unquote. Is that good, as in "a whole handful," or bad, as in "no more than a handful"? Let's hope they're not all re-warmed Contax primes—it's a new age, after all. Put those lens designers to work, CZ.



Blogger DonovanCO said...

Cosina (Voigtlander) already makes a line of manual focus lenses for Nikon and others (CameraQuest web site). I bet that Zeiss' lens (made by Cosina) will be much much more expensive. I keep wondering when and if Cosina will design and produce their own lenses for the APS-C sensor DSLRs. The lenses for Leica and Bessa are excellent.

3:43 PM  
Blogger Composed Man said...

Hi Mike,

Firstly congrats on the site. A1+ Plenty of great reading! As my first post I'd like to pick up on a couple of the threads from the last while - primarily on the ZF lenses, but a short preamble:

I had a modest interest in photography through the 90's, using the very popular Canon 500n for a few years. Then in 2000 whilst living in Toulouse, south of France, I spotted a Contax Aria with matching 28-70 Zeiss lens in a shop window (I'd never heard of Contax or Zeiss at that stage). After 2 minutes, I was sold on the ergonomics and (relative to the Canon) the build quality.

Anyway, my interest in good photography and good gear snowballed from there. Eventually, I understood about fast and slow lens and primes vs zooms etc. You may have heard this bit before: nine months ago all the Contax and Zeiss gear was sold to make way for a D200 and set of Nikon/Sigma AFD primes (& a couple of zooms).
No question, the Nikon is a fabulous camera and the lenses are very good, but I noticed two things. Firstly the shots I was taking were rubbish - really poor! (this is a lesson in that fact that with digital, great pictures are still illusive). Secondly I wasn't as inclined to pick up just enjoy clicking. I missed my Contax bodies and those silky Zeiss lenses. I'm not anti-digital by any stretch but I yearned for the "best-friend" relationship I’d just given up with the bodies (especially the RXII) and the contrasty alive feeling I'd had with the Zeiss lenses.

Sorry for the long preamble but when I saw the Zeiss ZF range, it felt like nirvana, getting that silky manual focus on a D200 body plus backward integration to an FM2n body for travelling, etc. (yip I know the old Nikon MF lenses would have done the job). The 50 f1.4 and 25 f2.8 arrived (along with the bargain FM2n body) and I'm back to where I was before my transition began - a happy photographer! It’s not that the AF lenses were horrible to use or produced bad results – just that the process and results seem much more appealing with the new set up.

My point? Having read around the web - Why do (quite a few) Nikonians feel so bitterly about Zeiss producing a ZF series? You'd swear CZ was attempting a crime against humanity. Getting your pulse above 170 in defence of an old Nikon lens or a Leica M8 body seems surreal to me. The same happened to the Hexar rangefinder. Is it just me? I'm also into music and hi-fi and I thought that audiophiles could be a bit loony, but some camera guys are on a different planet. I've always thought that photography should put you in good mood, not bad! Lastly to pick up on a point you make continuously, it's the photograph which matters and photographers take photographs, not cameras.

By the way, the lenses are great on the D200 and the snick of the FM2n is also a hoot.
Apologies for the ramble – I’ll contribute in a more constructive way in the future.

Btw, my website address – any feedback welcome!

(need to update my intro).


10:31 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home