Revisited and reviewed: The Zeiss ZF.2 2/100 Makro-Planar T*

_7065244 copy

I’ve actually owned two of these lenses. My first experience was in mid 2010, with the D700 and after discovering the joys of Zeiss microcontrast; I found it stonkingly sharp, very contrasty, yet capable of delivering images with a rich saturation and three-dimensional pop. In other words, very much in line with the rest of the Zeiss ZF lineup.

_8016610 copy
A study of apples, 1. Inspired by the lighting of the old Dutch Masters. Nikon D800E, Zeiss ZF2 2/100

This lens is my second one – now revisited because I feel the need to find lenses capable of making the most of the D800’s incredible resolving power. Between watches and food, I shoot a lot of macro work. This also means that I’ve got some specific requirements that can only be addressed by a mixture of several lenses; a tilt-shift for increasing depth of field in one plane, or moving the camera out of reflections; something short for use with extension tubes to produce high magnification; something longer to produce better separation/ isolation; and finally, something in a normal focal length that can focus a bit nearer if required.

_8016607 copy
A study of apples, 2. Nikon D800E, Zeiss ZF2 2/100

I’ve had everything in each category so far until the something longer. The Nikon 105/2.8 VR was my previous choice of all-round macro, but it did have some fairly annoying CA issues that wouldn’t be remedied until stopped down by quite a bit; and the working distance at high magnification was actually pretty short because the non-extending internal focus design necessitated shortening the focal length at nearer distances. I replaced it with the 60/2.8 AFS, which I’ve always felt was a little better optically.

_8016614 copy
Two-tone pears. Nikon D800E, Zeiss ZF2 2/100

Enter the Zeiss ZF.2 2/100 Makro-Planar T* (hereafter the 100MP). It’s a full stop faster than the Nikon at f2, which it impressively maintains throughout the focus range; it also doesn’t shorten the focal length as it focuses closer, which maintains working distance, as well as minimizes focus breathing (especially important for videographers). The downside, of course, is that a huge amount of extension is required to deliver only 1:2 magnification (extension for a given magnification is proportional to the focal length). 1:1 would have been nice, but I honestly don’t know where they’d pack that extra helicoid. Near focus limit is 44m at 1:2 magnification, with a clear 20+cm of working distance in front of the lens barrel (less if you choose to use the hood).

_7065251 copy
This is not a small lens when fully extended at maximum magnification with the hood on.

What does amaze me about the 100MP is its ability to cut an image into very clear planes; at every aperture there’s an abrupt transition between in focus and out of focus; in this regard, it reminds me a lot of the Leica 50/1.4 ASPH-M which has a similar ability. This impression is further reinforced by a complete lack of ghosting or fringing of any sort around the focal point, even at maximum aperture. The lens also produces excellent bokeh; out of focus areas are rendered as walls of blur, with no harsh edges or double imaging. The sole exception to this is the occasional cats’-eye-shaped highlight from very bright off-center sources. The iris is placed in the center of the lens’ optical elements, and made up of 9 blades with rounded edges. (The only perfect circle you get is at f2).

_7014686 copy
Bokeh. Note odd ellipses from off-center. Nikon D700, Zeiss ZF2 2/100

It’s a moderately complex 9/8 optical design, which doesn’t use any aspherical elements (as is traditional for Zeiss) – relying instead on different types of glass and the excellent T* coating to keep optical aberrations at bay.

_7011389 copy
Flames. Bokeh from the 100MP mostly looks like this. Nikon D700, Zeiss ZF2 2/100

Once again, the coating does its job admirably – flare is very minor, and in fact, almost nil when you use the supplied deep hood; contrast is always excellent, and the microcontrast rendition is superb – very much three dimensional and ‘like a Zeiss’. Color is warm and fully saturated; the lens’ spectral transmission matches that of its siblings, but will probably require some correction if you’re going to use it with those from another manufacturer. And needless to say, as a macro lens, it delivers an almost completely flat plane of focus.

_7013324 copy
Golf course dawn – shot into the sun. Note complete lack of flare. Nikon D700, Zeiss ZF2 2/100

However, there’s no such thing as a perfect lens – although some manufacturers might claim there is – but the 100MP comes pretty close, in my opinion. Its one sole flaw is longitudinal chromatic aberration caused by uncorrected spherochromatism – in plain text, it’s colored fringes on out of focus highlights (‘bokeh fringing’). It’s especially noticeable front-back on a high contrast subject. The only way to avoid it is by stopping down to f4 or smaller, or some handy Photoshop work with the sponge tool in post processing.

_7010940 copy
That fruit I can never pronounce. No bokeh fringing because of the relatively low contrast subject. Nikon D700, Zeiss ZF2 2/100

I just want to touch on one last optical property before talking about build quality and some general observations/ conclusions – and that’s diffraction. Although the primary driver of exactly when diffraction kicks in is down to the pixel density of the sensor, I can’t help but notice that there is also definitely some effect caused by the lens used – perhaps this is related to focal length shortening and effective apertures at different magnifications; I’m not absolutely sure. All I know is that if I compare this lens at f22 and the Nikon 60/2.8 G at an indicated f22, the Zeiss does seem a fraction softer – I’d continue the comparison at smaller apertures, but there aren’t any more on the Zeiss.

_7011153 copy
Sinn 756 S UTC. Nikon D700, Zeiss ZF2 2/100

Moving on to the physical qualities of the lens – like all the ZF/ZE optics, it’s a superb thing to use. The lens is all metal, with a buttery smooth focusing action, and incredibly solid feel. The felt-lined hood locks on to the end of the lens by means of a bayonet mount (in chrome). Let’s just say the lenses feel like instruments, rather than disposable plastic toys. Actually, I do have some criticisms to do with both the cosmetics and the construction, though. Firstly, the red distance markings for feet are too dark and nearly impossible to read unless it’s fairly bright; this holds true for all Zeiss lenses.

_8016759 copy
Hommage a Monet. Nikon D800E, Zeiss ZF2 2/100

The flocked hood is great at reducing stray light, but it’s also great at picking up lint, and the front edge is easily dentable – if only they would put a small rubber lip on it. I know it’s a macro lens, and the feel is superb, but the focus throw is just much too long – half a turn should be more than enough; the Nikons do this and get to 1:1; there’s no need to have a whole turn of rotation. It makes things slower to use than they have to be. Oh, and despite this huge distance turned…infinity to three meters is probably less than about 10 degrees of rotation.

_7014252 copy
Mount Yotei Dawn. Nikon D700, Zeiss ZF2 2/100

Finally, it’s a macro lens: for photographing objects, with the lens in close proximity, which may or may not be reflective. The chrome hood bayonet looks magnificent, but it’s also the cause of a huge hotspot (hot ring?) in many shiny objects. The hood helps to some degree, but you can still see the inside of it a little. And that brings me to the nameplate on the lens: white lettering on the black front rim – guess what, this reflects off your subjects too, and has to be retouched out. Again, it’s not as bad when the hood is used (and much, much worse on the 2/50 Makro Planar because of the even shorter working distance of that lens) – but it should be black, or put somewhere else. Better yet, include with the lens a plain matte black blanking ring that covers both the chrome hood bayonet and the nameplate ring when the lens is used specifically for macro work.

_7011976bw copy
Lips. Nikon D700, Zeiss ZF2 2/100

This is perhaps one of the easiest lens reviews I’ve written: the optics are stunningly good, and there are no complaints here. Within it’s optimal working range – it’s fantastic, and longitudinal chromatic aberration aside, can’t be beaten. That said, the LoCA we see here is no worse than any of the other 100/105mm lenses on the market. It’s not only a great macro lens, but it also does very well at longer distances too – I actually like to use it for landscapes, because its tonal rendition really makes scenes pop. You can use it for portraits, but your subjects had better have perfect skin…at least bokeh will be beautiful, though.

_7013712bw copy
Spot the mosquito (hint: click on the image, and look near the ear). Nikon D700, Zeiss ZF2 2/100

If you do any sort of macro work, or are an aficionado of great optics, I can’t recommend this lens enough. It’s one of the few lenses that can keep up with the resolution of the Nikon D800E even at maximum aperture, and versatile enough to serve both as a macro, a portrait lens, and a short telephoto. I’m now off to tape up the front of mine to go shoot some watches. MT

The Zeiss 2/100 Makro-Planar is available here from B&H and Amazon, in Nikon or Canon mounts.

____________

Visit our Teaching Store to up your photographic game – including Photoshop Workflow DVDs and customized Email School of Photography; or go mobile with the Photography Compendium for iPad. You can also get your gear from B&H and Amazon. Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!

Don’t forget to like us on Facebook and join the reader Flickr group!

appstorebadge

Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved

_7013736 copy
Spring. Nikon D700, Zeiss ZF2 2/100

_8016636 copy
Home. Nikon D800E, Zeiss ZF2 2/100

_8016650 copy
The ZF2 2/100 and D800E produces wonderfully natural color….

_8016861 copy
…but can also be used as a very painterly tool thanks to its drawing style (D800E, ZF2 2/100).

_7012680bw copy
Waiting for the train in rural Japan. Nikon D700, Zeiss ZF2 2/100

Comments

  1. Hi Ming,

    Always been a big fan of your photos – especially the watch photos, as I’m a WIS as well. =)
    I’ve been using a EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM on a Canon 5d2 – I’ve only just heard of this Zeiss lens, and it seems like the lens is a great lens that can be used for many occassions (instead of just macro photos, or watches, for me). If I were to focus just on the macro watch photos, would you still recommend paying the big bucks for the 2/100 or 2/50 (and I’d love to know the practical differences between the two)? I know the Canon is 1:1 where as the Zeiss lens seem to be 1:2 – wanted to know if that made a big impact on what you can do with watch macro photos.

    Finally, would love to know if you had a preference between 2/100 or 2/50 – if I were to consider one of them as an all rounder (mostly some scenes, people, and watch macro photos). Sorry if I seem to be rambling – photography is not my forte and would love to get some insight. =)

  2. Billy Walker says:

    I’ve seen where you cover lenses you feel are among the better lenses out there for the Nikon D800E. I would appreciate your opinion on the following. I do portraiture both studio and outdoor although primarily studio. I am looking to get involved with shooting food as well. I want to add a new lens for the D800E and I have arrived at 2 choices, one being a Nikon PCE 85/2.8 Micro and the other being the Zeiss ZF.2 2/100 Makro-Planar T. At this point in time can only afford to invest in one of those lenses. Would appreciate your comments and opinion on which one to run with.

    Thank you in advance.

    • I’d probably go with the Zeiss since it’s better for portraits; the 85 has quite a stiff focusing ring and short throw at longer distances, which makes it tricky to use at anything other than macro distances.

  3. Sergey Landesman says:

    Hello Ming! What adapter would you recommend to use on Leica M for this 100 Macro-Planar?

    Regards,

    Sergey

  4. Excellent and concise review, Ming. I have recently discovered this lens, and am highly interested in it to possibly replace both my 105mm f/1.8 AI-s and 105mm f/2.8 AI-s Micro. Thanks to those T* coatings it seems to really shine even wide-open, especially compared to my 105mm f/1.8. You wrote this review back in July last year, so a question or two: are you still using this lens, and how do you find its use in your macro/portrait photography? Also, do you happen to use Nikon’s PN-11 extension tube with this lens to achieve 1:1 reproduction? Thanks!

  5. Sithu Win says:

    Hi Ming, thanks for all your excellent articles! Based on this review, I just purchased the Zeiss 2/100 ZF.2 and will be taking it on vacation soon- can’t wait! Later this year, I might get 2 more Zeiss primes if I can learn to love manual focus. I’m an advanced amateur at best, so would like to get the most versatility while avoiding overlap. I’m thinking of either:
    2.8/15mm + 2.0/35mm or
    2.0/25mm + 2.0/50 makro

    I currently have a D800 and these nikkors 14-24, 24-70, 70-200 and the 85/1.4G which i’ll prob sell if I like the 2/100. If I end up getting the Zeiss 2.8/15, I may sell the 14-24 nikkor as well.

    Would appreciate your thoughts on this! Thanks

    • Enjoy the 2/100. No bad choices here – I’d actually go with 2/50 and 2.8/21 personally; the 15 is a bit extreme for general use. You could also replace the 50 with a 35 or the 21 with the 28, there really are no bad choices here (the 1.4s excepted – they just don’t seem to do very well in the D800E wide open, and if you’re not going to shoot them wide open, you might as well buy the f2.0s.)

      • Sithu Win says:

        Thanks for the quick reply Ming. I just walked around with my 14-24 to compare 15mm and 21mm, and i’m not sure I can live without the extra 6, as I do a lot of indoor shots. Gonna be a tough decision, they all look like great options and i’m not really good at shooting with primes- I have a hard time committing to one focal length! The 24-70 has been my favorite. I think I mostly shoot on the wider end between 24-35, and a few at 70/2.8 for a medium telephoto.

  6. Excellent review Ming and wonderful images to back it up. Could you possibly expand slightly on its use for landscape photography and in particular distances over, say, 30 metres? Is there any optical degradation at these distances?I know it’s primarily a macro lens but at this price it will have to multi task. Fantastic website too, btw. Many thanks

    • Thanks Paul. The lens does pretty well at all distances – no optical degradation that I can see – but the tough part is focusing it accurately without stopping down as the distance scale close to infinity is very closely bunched together. It’s not so much of an issue in practice because you’re not going to be shooting close to infinity wide open anyway.

      • Paul Lloyd-Roach says:

        Thanks for the reply, Ming. I fully understand what you are saying about the short throw to infinity and as you say it’s unlikely to be used wide open at this distance. It looks like a win, win lens.

  7. Hello Ming, inspiring images. PROBLEM WITH D800E and Zeiss ZF2 100mm. I hope you have not covered this before but I own a Nikon D800E and a second-hand Zeiss ZF.2 100mm, but I am having major problems with back focus. I do not want to get another lens as I love everything about the ZF2 100mm. I like to shoot wide open, but if I focus using the viewfinder, either using my own visual sense, OR using the focus dot and arrows, the lens has always back focused when I review the enlarged image later. At a subject distance of around 5m the actual focus point in the reviewed image is around 30cm behind the apparent focus point shown in the viewfinder. However, if I focus using LiveView the focus is always spot on. I get a sense of what the problem is from reading yours and other blogs, but I do not know how to fix it. Is the camera or the lens dud (or both)? Or do I need to send them in for calibration (if so, what does this involve and will this affect every other lens I use on the body after calibration)? I would be very grateful if you could point me in the right direction. PS I have uploaded the latest firmware from Nikon, including the left-side focus problem (although this should not have any effect as the lens is, of course, manual focus). Many thanks.

    • It’s a pretty simple problem: your mirror is out of alignment. It affects the VF image but not the LV image or AF system. MF cameras had carefully calibrated mirrors because that was the only way to focus; modern SLR screens lack the snap to focus precisely, so the finder system is really just there for framing. You need to send it back to Nikon and tell them exactly what you described – it’s a fairly simple fix but I do not recommend doing it yourself.

  8. Stunning pictures as usual. Your blog has become part of my morning reading. Keep up the good work!
    Plus watches & cameras? That’s a perfect combo :)

    • Thank you – cameras are a requirement for photography, though I admit I enjoy the tactility and experience of using a well-designed and high image quality machine…

  9. Great review supported by some astounding images. Ming, how does the IQ compare between this Zeiss and the Nikon 85 1.4? Also, how easy (or difficult) is the Zeiss to focus for handheld photography – could you use it for street for instance? Many thanks, Tony

    • Thank you. The D or G? The 100MP has higher resolving power than the D, especially in the edges, but it’s a close fight with the G (surprisingly).

      Not easy to focus at longer distances because of the spacing of the manual focus ring. I wouldn’t use it for street – 5m to infinity is covered in about five degrees of rotation.

      • …I use the 100 as a street photographer would, focus just pops in. Of all the Zeiss for street, this is the easiest to focus and I do it while they or I am moving and usually work between f2-f4. Have the pictures to prove it too. oneant.com.au. Great review but its a great street lens.

  10. Wayne S says:

    Very nice set of images and nice review.
    I like my R 100/2.8 APO with ELPRO 1:2 to 1:1 converter for macro which I will now Leitax convert for my Nikon 800E but can also use with adapter on my Canon 1ds3. I also like my Contax 100/2 for non macro longer distance shooting which is sharp too like 100MP but renders a less contrasty bokeh. than 100MP. But will probably have to get 100MPH for D800E.
    For porttraits I like my Contax N 85/1,4 Conurus converted for Canon EF but of course can’t use it on D800E.
    Excellent combination of Zeiss color, microcontrast, sharpness even wide open and smooth bokeh.
    Better than ZF 85/1.4.
    My favorite images of the set are the Japanese train station shot and the1st apples shot.

    • Thank you. Interested to hear how your 100 APO does on the D800. I prefer the Nikon 84/1.4G to the ZF, and the 85/1.8G to the 1.4G on the D800E.

      • Sure, I will let you know after I get my Leica-Nikon Leitax adapter.
        I am expecting it to work just fine as it is a very sharp lens with little to none CA and LoCA.
        The DOF will be less with the 36MP D800E vs. my 21MP 1ds3.

      • Jorge Balarin says:

        Curious that your Nikon 85/1.4 G is inferior than the Nikon 85/1.8 G, mounted on the D800E. Do you think is it a problem of your sample, or a problem of the lens design ? Greetings, Jorge.

        • I think it’s the lens design. I’ve tried three 85/1.4Gs from different batches on four different D800s/D800Es and they all look the same. The same lenses look great on the D700/ D3x though.

  11. How were the pictures of the fruit lit? Just window light? Thx.

  12. Just Curious, why did you cover the “D800″ and only leave the “E” showing on the image of the D800e?

    • Easy – so I can tell which body is which. I cover over the lettering to avoid reflections (hard to retouch) in the reflective objects I photography (watches).

  13. Thank you for the concise review, supported perfectly by the beautiful images.

  14. Ming, have you tried a leica apo elmarit-r 100/2,8? Stupendous image quality on a d3x, and with minimal longitudinal CA, but does require the elpro for 1:1 reproduction. I noticed leicas R lenses were absent from your excellent “camerapaedia”(Many Thanks), and was wondering why?

  15. Thank you very much for this blogpost! You are taking amazing pictures! I learn a lot just reading your blog and looking at your pictures.

  16. I’ve just put my little toe in Zeiss waters with a ZF 35 F2 that arrived 2 days ago :-)
    What I’m looking at is whether or not the Zeiss lenses can improve image quality over Nikon lenses with my D90 and how much MP count in this regards (IRO image sharpness ex lens rather than ex camera MP).
    As you have tried the 100 with both the D700 and D800 can you provide any comparisons (at normal print sizes)?
    Thanks for the review. Excellent as always.

    • There’s a definite improvement, but only if you can focus it accurately – it’s not resolution so much as microcontrast and the way the image is rendered. Try it next to a Nikon 35/2 – especially wide open – and you’ll see what I mean.

  17. Hi,
    Have you tried the Leica R 100 F2.8 APO MACRO ? I am thinking about getting one used.
    thanks !
    Sue

  18. Yup, this lens is on my shopping list. I love the fruit still life images, as I have commented before, very painterly – the dragonfly also – beautiful. “Lips” is a fantastic image…well they all are. I think “painterly” is the style I find myself most drawn to, and the D800 & 100/2 combination seems to have it in spades.

  19. I just came back from a short holiday. Look at your blog… and see again: what an incredible photographer you are!!!

  20. What a great lens. Colour is just amazing. (And I love your PK chair :)

  21. Loved the review. Excellent images! Always inspired by your work. Does you find that any of the Nikon lenses in general give you that Zeiss microcontrast and pop that is seen in your Zeiss images?

  22. Paul H. Buch says:

    Great review, Ming. Was a pleasure to read.

  23. Nice review. I’d love you to review the ZF 21/2.8 or the ZF2 25/2 perhaps if you do get your hands on them.

  24. Very nice review, how do you rate between Nikkor AF-S 105mm VR micro f2.8G with this Zeiss 100mm f2 (ZF.2) Makro Planar?

    Do you apply any posting processing on those photos?

  25. I prefer the ZF 100/2’s rendition, but the 105VR is easier to use and does 1:1 natively.

  26. Thanks a lot for the reply, really earn a lot from you.

    Do you think that it is focal length overlap to own both lens? FYI, I already own a Nikkor 105 vr micro.

    Didn’t come across any of your review on one of the Nikon pristine lens for portrait i.e. Nikkor AF135mm DC f2D. What is your comment on this lens?

  27. Sorry for wrong typing error, should be ” …really learn a lot from you”

  28. Different uses – the 105 shortens its real focal length at 1:1 to keep focusing internal. The Zeiss does not. I have the 60 for high magnification purposes as it’s easier to use with extension tubes.

    I don’t own the 135. As with all things, I have to buy them – and since this site isn’t sponsored, nor does it make any money, I only buy things if I think they’ll have a use. 135 is not a useful focal length for me…

  29. Haha… Should be very interesting once you have interest to do some review on those lens, btw, is that you on one of the photos you posted above ( a guy playing with mobile phone)?

  30. Sorry, no interest. And obviously I can’t be in the image if I was the one shooting it…

  31. Jorge Balarin says:

    So you earn a lot from Ming : )

Trackbacks

  1. […] The bokeh, however, is much smoother; it has the character of the ZF.2 1.4/85 Planar and ZF.2 2/100 Makro-Planar, but without the spherochromatism, longitudinal and lateral chromatic aberration. There are tiny […]

  2. […] system – D800E, 24-120/4 VR, 85/1.8, Zeiss 2.8/21 Distagon, Zeiss 2/100 Makro-Planar and a couple of SB900s (you never know when you might need […]

  3. […] this assignment, I packed a range of gear (D800E, D600, Zeiss ZF.2 2.8/21, Zeiss ZF.2 2/28, Zeiss ZF.2 2/100, Nikon AFS 24-120/4 VR, OM-D and Panasonic 100-300, and of course the Gitzo GT5562, geared column […]

  4. […] ZF.2 2/50 Makro Planar** 7/10 – B&H Amazon Zeiss ZF.2 2/100 Makro Planar** 9/10 – review B&H […]

  5. [...] the Zeiss Distagons. I tested the Zeiss ZF.2 2.8/21 and 2/28 Distagons with no issues; the 2/50 and 2/100 Makro-Planars were also excellent performers. Out of curiosity and in the interests of science, I’m pleased [...]

  6. [...] 20/1.7, 100-300/4-5.6 Zeiss ZF.2 2.8/21 Distagon; ZF.2 2/28 Distagon; ZF.2 2/50 Makro-Planar; ZF.2 2/100 Makro-Planar; ZM 2.8/28 Biogon; ZM 2/50 [...]

  7. [...] Thein is back with a new lens review, this time it is the Nikon-electronic-coupled-flavor of the Zeiss 100mm f2 (ZF.2) Makro Planar [...]

  8. [...] Revisited and reviewed: The Zeiss ZF.2 2/100 Makro-Planar T*. I’ve actually owned two of these lenses. My first experience was in mid 2010, with the D700 and after discovering the joys of Zeiss microcontrast; I found it stonkingly sharp, very contrasty, yet capable of delivering images with a rich saturation and three-dimensional pop. In other words, very much in line with the rest of the Zeiss ZF lineup.  [...]

Thoughts? Leave a comment here and I'll get back to you.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 26,123 other followers

%d bloggers like this: