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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Zeiss Super Tele

Apparently commissioned as a one-of-a-kind for a private client, Zeiss Optics has built a 21X, STL T* 1700mm ƒ/4 Super Tele lens. The client wanted a lens to use for wildlife photography with a Hasselblad 203FE camera (shown mounted at the right) that would provide the "highest imaginable image quality." Which it probably provides...if you can move it. It weighs more than two very stout fellows or three merely burly ones, 560lbs (256kg).

My rough guess is that the client probably paid at least $300,000 for the lens, although it was more likely a half million or even more. If you want to see it for yourself it will be on display at the Zeiss Booth at Photokina (Hall 2.1, Booth B010). If you want one yourself, my advice would be: get a hold of yourself.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON, thanks to Jason

Featured Comment by Jason Greenberg Motamedi: Did you notice that the other side is written in Arabic: "Al-'Adsah Al-Qawiyyah Al-Maqribah," "The Strong Telephoto Lens." I can't make out the icon, but imagine it would provide a good clue who commissioned this.

Here's the image:

Featured Comment by Dibutil Ftalat: About 20 years ago when I was working for the Institute of Nuclear Physics in Novosibirsk, Russia, one of my fellow lab assistants showed me his secret treasure: Zeiss 500mm f=2.0 made in fifties for geodesic purposes. No diaphragm, several mounts for 35mm film cameras. 80kg weight. I do not remember the serial number but remember a discussion that there were no more than five such lenses made.

I was not let to try it unfortunately... ;-)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sure the guys at DPReview forums will obsess over its chromatic aberrations and lack of sharpness with a 2x teleconverter

1:56 PM  
Blogger PatrickPerez said...

Wow! On my Olympus E1, that would be the equivalent of a 3400mm f4!!!! ;-)

2:25 PM  
Blogger Peter Hovmand said...

Well, this lens will be perfect if you need to take pictures of the different colours in leopard eyes! Otherwise it is just crazy. Another example of some rich people needing to demonstrate their financial success ... Just too bad it is not about the size of the lens ... But about how close you get to the goal :)

2:56 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

Correct me if I'm doing the mental arithmetic incompetently, but I think this Super Tele has less reach than a 400mm lens on a Nikon D2Xs in high-speed crop mode. If anybody wants to figure it out more rigorously than that, please be my guest...


P.S. My friend John Gossage used to claim that no significant body of photographic artwork had ever been done with a long telephoto lens. He tried (in book called "Here and Gone," if memory serves, but I don't think he succeeded either. Can anybody think of an exception?

3:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The late (and great) Andreas Feininger made a wonderful series of extreme tele shots of New York harbour with the 'tiny' Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary in their berths at the bottom of the shots....

3:14 PM  
Blogger Max said...

At that point, thinking of photography as a way of making graphic representation of a scene, you start thinking if it wouldn't be cheaper to buy a life size replica of whatever you're shooting, landscape included, or maybe even the real thing.

3:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why do I get the impression that we'll be seeing some unusually high quality work on the cover the National Enquirer in the near future.

Critter photography... yeah right. I think we're looking at a new era in paparazzi work.

3:41 PM  
Blogger Richard Sintchak said...

Is this the promised major product announcement you were speaking of? Cool.

I wonder how much more it would have been for a "fast" version at f/2.8?

Either way, I'm going to wait until it's on eBay for about half it's cost new....

3:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

1 - Well, looking at the lens, a question popped up in my mind: may we see the tripod the owner will use (I think we can rule out a monopod...)
2- 'My friend John Gossage used to claim that no significant body of photographic artwork had ever been done with a long telephoto lens.'

Maybe Francisco Hidalgo in the 1980's with his series of books on cities, shot with large format and long lenses?

3:58 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

"Is this the promised major product announcement you were speaking of? Cool."

No. Tomorrow. By the way, there's nothing exclusive about our announcement. I'm sure it will be all over the internet.

"I wonder how much more it would have been for a "fast" version at f/2.8?"

About another 500 kg?

"Either way, I'm going to wait until it's on eBay for about half it's cost new...."

...And that could be a long wait!


3:58 PM  
Blogger David A. Goldfarb said...

Significant body of artwork? Long teles are more for sports, wildlife, and celebrities, and those seem like fair enough applications.

So by my calculation, this lens will have a 2.86 degree angle of view on the diagonal on 6x6, which makes it kind of like an 800mm lens or a bit longer on 35mm, which is an unwieldy beast but not unmanagable.

But can you aim and focus the 1700mm with anywhere near the speed of the 800mm lens for 35mm? You certainly can't rest it on the sand while you crawl on your belly to sneak up on a sandpiper.

4:54 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

The website mentions servo-controlled aiming and focusing mechanisms, so perhaps you set it up like heavy artillery in a bunker and aim with motorized controls as the celebrities graze and head for the watering holes. (s)


5:01 PM  
Blogger Ken Tanaka said...

It's hard to imagine how truly useful this lens might be. Several years ago I had the opportunity to spend a few moments with Canon's 1200mm lens, another rare, costly monster (that I believe has since been discontinued). I would imagine that such a lens could really only be used a few days each year. Between hazing from ambient humidity and distortions caused by heat waves getting a good image with such lenses hardly seems worth the expense.

I also don't think this is destined to be pointed at some celebrity-of-the-week, certainly not with a Hasselblad mount. No, this has the signature of a trophy item probably paid for with petro-dollars.

As Robert Capa said, "If your images aren't good enough, you're not close enough." In this case, one step might be worth $1,000 or more.

5:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not bad, but I am waiting for the VR version.

6:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is it Image Stabilized?

7:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Only f4? Too slow.

A. Needmore

7:27 PM  
Blogger juze said...

There's an excellent article by Petteri I-can't-spell-Finnish-surnames-for-the-life-of-me called "Telephoto is for cowards". I strongly agree. Well, 100 mm equivalent or so is OK, that's just a very flattering perspective, and from my concert experience, well, unless you can get on the stage you need about 200 mm. To say nothing of sport shooters, of course, but their work is very documentary by nature, which makes it rare for them to produce art.
On the other hand, you have all these "candids", although "papparazing non-celebrities" would perhaps be a more fitting title, perfectly boring shots of animals 100 meters away, and of course portraits at 300 mm to show "How nice the bokeh is on this lense" (oooh, I wish there was a sarcasm tag, I really hate this semi-literate spelling) all shot with monstrous telephoto lenses, such as the notorious Bigma and the like.
It's cowardice, pure and simple. People are so used to being untouchable, for these "photographers" all picked up their doubtful knowledge on measurebating forums, a safe haven of anonymity, where people are recognised not by the style of their work, but rather by the ridiculously long and meticulous list of equipment they own but can't use. So they're all afraid what will happen when they take a shot and their unwitting "model" notices that. And they go and buy a longer lens and stand further back when they take their next shot. Wimps.

7:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re telephoto artwork: I suppose if John Gossage couldn't do it, nobody could. But I think Philip Lorca DiCorcia's book "Heads" is the best effort I've seen. He set up his 8x10 view camera with a very long lens to capture people's faces, with strobe lights, as they crossed a predetermined point on the street.

(Actually, it was Robert Adams who made the quote about no significant body of work with telephoto. Gossage reproduced the quote and took it on as a challenge to him.)

8:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"No significant body of artwork" only holds if you don't see wildlife or astronomy photography as having any artistic value.

I won't say that the John Gossage character is a pretentious nit, but I'm getting awfully close.

As for this lens, it's a long telephoto but not really extremely so for that format. Some very wealthy hobbyist wants to do wildlife on large format and has the means to pursue it. I think you'll see this mounted on a gun-turrent type setup on something seriously off-road - perhaps a Jeep or a (military version) humvee, or something like a Hägglunds tracked ATV ( If you can afford to comission that lens, you can afford the vehicle.

8:58 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

Bad day, Juze? (s)


9:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous said: "'No significant body of artwork' only holds if you don't see wildlife or astronomy photography as having any artistic value."

Maybe I'm a pretentious nit too, but Garry Winogrand's "The Animals" is, to me, the last word on wildlife (uh, captive wildlife).

9:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It reminded me that noone else but Sunday Morning Photographer has written something about what would be photo news in the future. And there was one news about Canon making camera so heavy that noone could lift it. Well it's not a camera and it's not made by Canon, but it doesn't matter. Mike, you're a prophet!

4:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The 1200mm Canon doesn't get you all that close ;) Sure, you can get a better "preview" of the hostess across the hall at Photokina but when you take into account the size and weight it's far easier to just skip the preview and simply walk over to her ;)

But I sure am curious about this zeiss baby. Hall 2.1, Booth B010, here I come...

1:58 PM  
Blogger michael przewrocki said...

zeiss has a 400/2.0 in their museum.

11:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Imagine the possibilities with a reversing ring! ;)

8:55 AM  

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