Long term review: The Carl Zeiss ZF.2 2/28 Distagon T*

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A cinematic lens needs a cinematic product shot.

I’ve been lucky enough to own and use a lot of lenses in my time. And some of them pretty exceptional – off the top of my head, there’s the Nikon 200/2; the Leica 50/0.95 Noctilux-M ASPH; the Leica 21/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH; the Leica 35/1.4 ASPH FLE (you can probably see where this is going); the Leica 50/2 APO; the Nikon 85/1.4 G; the Zeiss ZF 2/100 Makro Planar; the Nikon 85/2.8 PCE…suffice to say, it would be difficult to pick one as an outright favorite. But I think if there ever was a contender, then it’d be the Zeiss ZF.2 2/28 Distagon T*.

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Firstly, it’s not a technically perfect lens by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, it tends to score quite lowly on common testing metrics – especially in the corners – because its defining signature is highly pronounced field curvature. Imagine a ball around the camera; the plane of focus for this lens follows the surface of that sphere. It lends a very unique rendition to subjects shot with it because it has the property of emphasizing the out of focus areas by making them effectively further away from the camera. This, in turn, results in greater separation between the subject and background – it’s not always obvious, but if you shoot the same scene with a relatively flat-field lens like the Nikon 24/1.4, you can instantly see the difference.

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Proper DOF scales, but they’re too short.

This property makes for great bokeh and a very cinematic rendering. In fact, the earlier Contax/ Yashica mount version of the lens is known as the ‘Hollywood Distagon’ for its huge popularity amongst filmmakers for use in indoor scenes; I wouldn’t be surprised if the majority of these lenses landed up being converted to some cinema mount. As far as I can tell from their block diagrams, the ZF and ZF.2 versions are almost (if not exactly) identical optically, with some minor updates to coatings and the like – as well as a different mount, of course.

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Dessert. Nikon D700, ZF2 2/28

On axis, there’s plenty of sharpness at every aperture. You cannot focus and recompose with this lens; use either live view or AF assist to focus edge subjects, else they will be out of focus. f4 seems to be the optimal aperture, but frankly there’s not a lot of difference from wide open. However, you’ll need at least f5.6 on full frame before your depth of field covers the effects of field curvature completely. Similarly, the lens vignettes noticeably at f2 – perhaps 1-1.5 stops in the corners – which almost disappears by f5.6. All of this adds to the flavor.

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Fire. Nikon D700, ZF2 2/28

The one optical quality that isn’t so hot is a propensity for purple fringing on bright contrast edges, especially noticeable around in-focus backlit subjects; it goes away with stopping down. It doesn’t look like CA, which makes me suspect that it’s an odd interaction of the older lens design with digital sensors. For most subjects, it’s fairly easy to correct by masking out the affected area and desaturating the magenta channel. There is some slight CA in the corners, but it’s almost completely gone by f4. Thanks to the excellent coating, flare is almost entirely absent – point the lens into any light source you wish, just watch your eyes. It’s a great lens for shooting contra-jour; what little flare does show (if the angle is just right) is mild and cinematic.

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That’s the most flare I’ve ever been able to get out of this lens. Nikon D700, ZF2 2/28

The ZF 28 has a rounded-polygon aperture with 9 blades; it isn’t perfectly circular, but I can’t complain about the bokeh – it’s absolutely beautiful, and renders even complex backgrounds in a pleasingly melted fashion. There are very slight highlight fringes on out of focus point sources, but the transition is fairly gentle so it’s not at all distracting.

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All about the bokeh. Nikon D700, ZF2 2/28

I find that the Zeiss ZF lenses seem to fall into two camps – there’s those with a very ‘crisp’ rendition, like the 2.8/21 Distagon, the 2/50 Makro-Planar and the 2/100 Makro-Planar, and those with a softer rendition, like the 1.4/50 Planar and 1.5/85 Planar. The 2/28 seems to straddle those two camps – it has higher contrast than the latter group, but not quite as much punch as the former. I personally find it very pleasing.

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Waiting. The 28 Distagon’s excellent tonal separation makes for great B&W conversions, too. Nikon D700, ZF2 2/28

Like all Zeiss lenses, microcontrast is excellent thanks to the T* coating. Speaking of coatings, the first few elements of the lens actually seem to disappear when you look into the front – this speaks volumes about little light loss there is going on inside the optics. This translates into excellent light transmission – T2.1, in fact. (It’s the same lens optically as the Zeiss CP.2 T2.1/28, but with different focus gearing and a much smaller price tag.)

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Kitchen portrait. Nikon D700, ZF2 2/28

Being a manual focus lens, you’re probably wondering how practical it is for regular photography – the answer is that it’s not too bad, but you’ll definitely see the benefit in having a split prism or similar screen installed. All modern DSLRs have focusing screens with a narrow scatter angle that are optimized for brightness with slow zooms rather than focusing snap; in fact, it’s a slow change that’s been ongoing since the beginnings of autofocus.

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Untitled, Nikon D3100, ZF2 2/28

You’ll probably find it nearly impossible to focus with an entry level APS-C DSLR; their focusing screens don’t have anywhere near enough magnification or ‘snap’ to make life easy. Although you can use the focusing aids – the green dot and arrows for Nikon users, or the beep for Canon shooters – depth of field with the 28 Distagon is shallow enough that you need to take care, because there’s a bit of range in the focus ring position for which the dot will stay lit or the beep will sound. And the extreme ends of that range will be clearly out of focus if the lens is shot wide open. You could stop down and use the DOF scales, of course, but the focus ring throw is a bit too short and the DOF scales too incomplete for that.

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Coffee time. Nikon D700, ZF2 2/28

One nice feature is that the lens focuses very close indeed – 25cm from the sensor plane – for some interesting closeup angles. Optical performance remains consistently excellent even at this focusing distance.

You’ll notice I haven’t said much about construction – that’s a good thing. Use any of the ZF or ZE lenses (optics are of course the same) and you’re in for a treat. They’re solid, fully metal (anodized aluminum barrels, I believe) with chromed brass mounts and buttery smooth focus throws; just enough resistance not to move or be nudged, but with a really nice tactile feel that reminds me of a well-damped heavy piston moving through oil, or something similar. For want of a better analogy, the lenses feel like scientific instruments. On the ZF.2 versions, there’s an aperture ring that locks at f22 for electronic control on modern Nikons. The ZF version has ‘rabbit ears’ for coupling with earlier cameras’ metering pins. And the ZE version is fully electronic with no aperture ring at all.

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Stair #173. Nikon D700, Zeiss ZF2 2/28

There are a few areas for improvement, though – while the hood bayonet mechanism is beautifully made and locks with a nice positive detent, the hood itself is easily dinged and scratched on the rim if bumped into something. A rubber lip would be nice. And the velvet flocking on the inside of the hood might be great at preventing stray light and flare, but it’s also very good at picking up dirt (especially light-colored dirt) and seems to peel off the metal quite easily. To be honest, I land up not using mine a lot of they time because I’m particular enough to like to keep my equipment pristine. Finally, the lens caps need help – there’s not enough thread on the edges to keep them securely gripping the filter ring; the springs aren’t strong enough to keep the caps from moving if bumped; and they’re impossible to remove if the hood is attached. I’ve replaced all of my Zeiss caps with Nikon ones.

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Mt. Yotei wears a hat. Nikon D700, ZF2 2/28

If you think I’m gushing about this lens, it’s solely because of the pictorial results I get from it justify it. To my eyes, they have a special quality that I rarely see, and just makes images that pop – with saturated, slightly warm colors, great microcontrast separation, and a very three-dimensional rendering. And the enjoyable tactility of the thing as an object doesn’t do any harm, either. Frankly, if they did an M-mount version with thes same optical formula – size be damned – this would be permanently welded to my M9-P.

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Perbadanan Putrajaya. (Vignetting added). Nikon D700, ZF2 2/28

How does it compare to the other 28s or 28 equivalents I’ve used? This is an interesting question, because the new Nikon AFS 28/1.8 G (which I recently reviewed here) seems to actually have a lot of the same optical properties as the Zeiss – field curvature, great central sharpness, smooth bokeh, high transmission – and most usefully, autofocus. Honestly, I think the Nikon comes very close; however, the one missing ingredient is microcontrast – it just doesn’t pop in the same way as the Zeiss. Color saturation is a little lower, too. I’ve come to the conclusion that if I’m running and gunning, I’ll take the Nikon, but if I’ve got time to craft the image, then it’s the Zeiss all the way. I don’t think any of the other Nikon mount 28s are in the running, even the legendary f1.4; admittedly, it’s been a long time since I’ve used one. Both lenses have some distortion, which would probably render them unsuitable for architectural work without correction; I think they make much better contextual documentary lenses anyway.

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Train driver. Nikon D700, ZF2 2/28

I admit I’m a bit of a 28mm FOV junkie, so I’ve tried many lenses on different mounts and formats; in my mind, the two interesting competitors are the Leica 21/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH and Zeiss ZM 2.8/21 Biogon, both on the 1.3x crop Leica M8 rangefinder. The former is the only wide I’ve ever used that gives the same sort of subject separation as a telephoto; the latter has similar 3D qualities to the ZF 2/28, and in fact reminds me quite a bit of the ZF 2.8/21 Distagon, too. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to evaluate the Leica 28/2 Summilux ASPH in any great detail, and the Leica 28/2.8 ASPH is very sharp, but a little characterless. The ZM 2.8/28 is a very competent lens, but missing that little something I can’t quite put my finger on.

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Riding the big yellow snake. Nikon D700, ZF2 2/28

I don’t say this lightly, but despite its optical imperfections, the ZF.2 2/28 Distagon joins my personal pantheon of great lenses – if you’re a fan of cinematic rendering and the 28mm FOV, then this is the lens for you. It positively shines on full frame, but will do well on APS-C cameras too – if you can focus it reliably. Now, if only they’d make an autofocus version…MT

Note: some of you may be wondering why none of the images from this review were shot with the D800E; the honest answer is because I haven’t had a chance yet. However, my initial testing shows that the lens continues to perform as expected and without issue on the higher-resolution sensor.

Addendum: If you’re a Canon shooter, I actually recommend buying the Nikon (ZF/ZF.2) versions if you have a mirrorless cameras as well – you can then use this lens on the CSC with an adaptor, and retain full aperture control. This isn’t possible with the Canon version as the diaphragm is activated electronically.

Both versions of the lens are available here from B&H or Amazon.


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

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Roots. Nikon D700, ZF2 2/28


  1. Hi Ming! After reading this blog post, it made me look for the ZF mount (as you suggested) for my EOS RP. Unfortunately, I only found a ZE version in my local camera store, which I don’t mind. Long story short, I’m in awe how well it paints beautifully.

    • 🙂 I admit I’ve not really tried it on the higher resolution bodies, so I have no idea how it holds up…

      • Regrettably, it doesn’t hold up well, at least not on high res Sony body. (Maybe Nikon’s coverglass makes a difference.) It fringes in such amounts that even removing the color can’t repair the image: you’re left with large, outlined, formerly purple/blue visual blocks around high contrast edges. The corners smear and have a color cast as well. It still has that magical rendering, so I still use it for environmental portraits on my A7R III, but it has to be used with great care.

        Unfortunately Nikon seems to be the only major manufacturer that doesn’t treat 28mm like a boutique focal length, so there are few alternatives for us Sony shooters. I find myself trying to come to terms with the idea of the gargantuan new Sigma 28 Art.

        • Darn – that’s a shame. If it holds up on a D850 it should be fine on the Z7 (in theory) since they use a similar thickness coverglass and would share identical flange distance with the adaptor, but I guess this isn’t the case. Thanks for letting us know!

          Nikon does the 28/1.8G (characterless, but cheap and light) and an equally gargantuan 28/1.4 (excellent, imbalanced, bankruptingly expensive) – neither of which are great options. I am living with the zoom for now, but really miss my fast 28…

          • I’m holding out hope that Voigtlander will come up with something. Their recent E-mount lenses are reasonably-sized and optically excellent (the new 21/1.4 has all the image quality of the Sigma 20/1.4 at half the size and weight), and what’s more the feel of the lenses is first rate–better than anything Zeiss is making nowadays, I’d argue. They already make two 21’s (there’s a tiny 3.5), a 65, a 100, and so forth, so if anyone will take up an orphaned focal length, I think it’s them. I imagine they’ll adapt nicely to a Z series, too, so they’re worth keeping an eye on, if you aren’t already.

            • They haven’t historical done fast 28s though. And when I tried the 21/2.4 on the Z7, results were less than stellar, especially in the corners. Somehow Voigtlander lenses feel classical in their optical compromises/targets and lack the ‘bite’ and micro contrast of the better modern glass…

              • True enough! Perhaps it’s a fugitive hope. Shame about it on the Z7. On Sony it’s as sharp as the Loxia, and that’s not just my experience speaking. I’m not particularly knowledgeable about the technicalities of cover glass, but I suppose that could explain it (I’m sure you ruled out adapter tolerance). Yes, I think “classical” is a good way to describe Voigtlander’s house rendering style, especially at wide apertures, though I think the new 21 is a departure in that regard. Of course, if it doesn’t work on a Z7 that does you no good.

                • Thicker = less tolerant of non-telecentric optics. Wherever light goes through glass at an angle, it causes dispersion which in turn results in color fringing. Ideally, you want cover glass over the sensor to be thin, but thinner glass also reduces UVIR cut properties (which in turn affects color accuracy). Thick cover glass is usually computed as part of the optical formula of a system. e.g. M4/3 has nearly 5mm thick cover glass, vs ~1mm or so on Leica M – the difference being all lenses for the former being computed with the cover glass in mind and a large mount and thus telecentricity; the latter has a lot of legacy glass that obviously can’t be back-computed…

      • Hello:) seriously considering grtting one but comments have me worried. Will this lens perform well with D810, D850 ?

  2. Thuan Ngee Tan says:

    Hi Ming,

    What focusing screen do you recommend for the Zeiss ZF/ZF2 lenses?
    I’m using a Nikon D750 and plan to get the 21/2.8, 28/2, 50/2 Makro, 100/2 and 135/2.

    Also, do you shoot with the Pentax K1?
    I have the ZK 35/2, 50/1.4 and 50/2 Makro Planar, and advice on a focusing screen for Pentax would be much appreciated too!

  3. Hi Ming,
    I must admit that I have fallen in love with the 28mm F2 since I have gotten it.
    It excels in all the areas your review explained and I am very happy with it.
    Here is a sample pic taken with it.
    This was shot on my Sony A7II at F22 where the lens is still sharp!
    The sunstars are exceptional on this lens.

  4. Dear Ming Thein, I bought this lens after your review.. I have to say that I love the rendering and the pop it exhibits, and I observe myself that I mostly used this lens after I got it!.. Now I am moving to Leica system.. Can I get the same rendering and pop with the Zeiss Biogon T* 2,8/21mm ZM? Or, which lenses do you recommend from the Leica lenses for this type of rendering? Thank you very much for your helpful reviews once again.

    • No, they’re not the same lens at all – a Biogon and a Distagon have completely different optical formulae (symmetric, spherical vs asymmetric, telecentric). No lenses that I’m aware of from Leica deliver the same kind of rendering. The 2/28 is unique for a reason…

      • Agreed Ming I have the ZM Biogon 21mm & 25mm + Summicron-M 28 f2 ASPH to name a few and I have not seen results like you get with the Distagon. I use mostly Leica-M mount lenses but the Distagon does tempt me to use on a FM/F4/F5 for film. I find the D800 sensor a little un-exciting hence my move to Leica. Thanks for the great post (revisited)

  5. Ming,

    I just ordered the Zeiss 28mm F2 based on your review and many others.
    I am very excited.
    Can you please clarify how the field curvature is on this lens?
    From the perspective of looking through the camera:
    1. Is the center portion further away and the sides closer?
    2. Is the center portion closer and the sides further away?

  6. Ming,

    How does this Zeiss 28mm Distagon F2 compare to the C/Y 28mm F2.8?

    BTW, I am a huge fan of the 28-30mm focal length.
    What I have found is that 30mm most perfectly represents the field of view of my eyes. I came more and more to understand this.
    I would look at a composition and pull up my camera to frame it and be surprised that 30mm was that exact composition.
    I did not have to back up or move forward. What I saw from where I stood was exactly what the lens saw. Additionally the 30mm focal length performs an important artistic function. It renders the “scale of a composition” with the drama the eye sees it.
    If a skyscraper seems huge, at 30mm it looks huge, but at 21mm it looks smaller, less dwarfing. Again, 30mm is capturing the scale as my eye sees the scale. In another sense you might say the 30mm focal length is a large scale portrait lens. A large scale object is rendered correctly at 30mm in the same way that a 50mm or 85mm lens renders a human face in correct scale.
    I coined the term “Large Scale Portraiture” to describe this effect.
    I currently use the 15mm Heliar III on Micro Four Thirds which gives me that 30mm equivalent scale.
    I am currently considering moving to Full Frame but need a lens of the same caliber as the Heliar.
    The Zeiss 28mm Distagon F2 is renown for its cinematic rendering and technical abilities.
    There are few truly amazing 28mm lenses and the Zeiss 28mm Distagon F2 is on my short list.

    Here are some samples of my style taken at 30mm using the Heliar: https://500px.com/stevennorquist

    • Not tried the CY28/2.8, sorry. It doesn’t convert well to F mount…

      • I am asking in terms of A7II or A7RII not DSLR. I have the C/Y 28mm F2.8 and it works incredibly well on Mirrorless.
        I have tried it on the A7II and it performed very well.
        I meant how does it compare in terms of rendering to the ZF.2 2/28 Distagon on the A7II.
        On paper, center sharpness is a little greater than the ZF.2 2/28 Distagon but the ZF.2 2/28 Distagon has better edge sharpness and the ZF.2 2/28 Distagon has 7 blades and produces nice sun stars while the C/Y 28mm F2.8 only has 6 blades and makes pretty crappy sun stars.

  7. Thanks for an excellent article. I just only recently got a used/mint copy for a good deal that I use on my D7100. (I made my decision after I first read your article. So I guess you are to thank/blame for my purchase? LOL!)

    I wish I had a full frame, like a D810, but for now that is all I can afford. While I am still in the early stages of testing for usage in street photography, I must say I am very impressed with this lens. So far, I am shooting mostly at f/8 and sometimes f/11, in manual mode, with shutter at 1/500 and floating the ISO from 100 to 3200. (As a sidebar note, the D7100 handles ISOs out to some 1600 or so pretty well. Moreover, I am a user of DXO Optics Pro where their noise reduction algorithm is the best I have found.)

    For f/8, as an example, I see that the calculated hyperfocal distance for my D7100 is 17.2 feet. So, if I focus on an object at about 17′ away, the near focus is at 8.5′, and the far is 1,530′. Hence, my strategy is to try to keep my photo subject at between 8 to 9 feet from me and try to focus on some object behind it at 17′. In other words, at f/8 focus on something, if I can, that is double the distance of the subject. Outdoors in reasonable light, I have found I can focus fairly well through the viewfinder and the confirmation dot Nikon deploys on the D7100, and/or the distance scale on the lens. If that is not working for me, I use live view. I take my time, devoting a lot of time to finding a good place for me to “park” that offers good composition possibilities. You know, golden rectangle, diagonals, and the like. Then I wait.

    After this rather short testing period to date, I do find that there is something that makes photos pop on this lens. Contrast/microcontrast is great. Reminds of my Leica 50mm Summicron-R f2 that I converted using a Leitax adapter changeout. Another lens that reminds me of this one goes back to my Pentax days where I had their 31mm f1.8 lens. That lens is probably the best Pentax has ever made and in my opinion, can hang in there with any of the vaunted lenses out there.

    In closing, I once again thank you for your article. Well done.

  8. Wonderful review. It prompted me to get the lens and I’m very happy with it.

    One thing has me confused, though. You write, describing the field curvature: “Imagine a ball around the camera; the plane of focus for this lens follows the surface of that sphere. It lends a very unique rendition to subjects shot with it because it has the property of emphasizing the out of focus areas by making them effectively further away from the camera.”

    But it seems from samples here and elsewhere (the beach shot at https://diglloyd.com/articles/ZeissZ/ZeissZ-28f2.html, for example) that the plane of focus curves out and away from the camera, rather than back toward it as if a ball were surrounding the sensor. It does look like this lens has more “bokeh” than it should for something at this focal length and aperture, but I’m not sure how that effect is being achieved.

    So what I’m wondering is (assuming a subject roughly in the center of the image), would it be correct to say that the unique rendition come from:

    (1) the fact that the frontal OOF area extends from the whole foreground to the sides of the subject plane, and correspondingly, that the OOF area of the background is stronger in the center than the sides

    (2) tonal/structural emphasis from aberrations outside the image center and color/microconstrast within the center at wide aperture?

    I’m thinking, for example, of this photo of yours, where the background behind the subject’s hand seems more out of focus than the background all the way to the left: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mingthein/4640561052/in/album-72157623407560782/

    All of which is a long way of saying that I’ve been enjoying this lens very much and I’m curious about how it works its magic.


    • I see what you see: there appears to be more defocus at the edges, which is only possible if a) there are significant spherical aberrations, which is true, and/or b) the background is effectively more distant at that portion of the image (which is true if the focal plane curves forwards at the edges). I believe it’s both, though perhaps I have the terminology back to front.

  9. Bill Walter says:

    While searching for a good deal on a Zeiss ZE 25mm f2, I came across an incredible deal on a Zeiss ZE 28mm f2. Recalling a positive Photozone analysis and your glowing review, I grabbed it. After using it for 2 months, I have to say I’m really impressed. I’ve used it at f8 to f10 for architecture, where I get great microcontrast and excellent edge to edge sharpness. I’ve also made great use of the lens wide open for very close subjects. To my surprise, I’ve found the field curvature to be a blessing. It helps your subject to stand out and really gives a 3D effect. And I’m glad to say I haven’t had much of an issue with focusing on close subjects. Like you, I’m quite fond of the 28mm focal length. Before buying this, my favorites were the Nikon 28mm 2.8 AIS and the Contax Zeiss 28mm 2.8. A test I performed showed that stopped down, the Contax Zeiss version is actually as sharp as the Zeiss 28mm f2, but having f2 makes the Zeiss ZE version far more versatile and fun to use. Thanks for your review Ming. It helped me make the decision to buy this beauty.

  10. Hi Ming, Just found this review and i am really interested in this lens. I currently have a Nikon D700, F100 and FA and a Nikon 28mm f2.8 ais. How would you rate this Nikon 28mm lens pictural qualities against the 28 Distagon?

  11. Hi Ming, just a short question,.
    You once said that you used the Ricoh GR in conundrum with your D810, because that one was lacking adequate 28mm solutions, my question now is, how does the GR compare to this lens, which you called one of you all-time-great lenses?

    Have a great day,

    • Optically, it’s better. Resolution-wise, of course not since the D810 has twice the pixel count. The 2/28 is one of the greats because of its rendering style; that doesn’t mean it’s easy to deploy in practice (if anything, the opposite, because field curvature makes focusing very difficult).

  12. Should I hope a 2/28mm “Hollywood” Loxia appears?! Fingers crossed

  13. Just one point about whether to get the Canon or Nikon version: if your mirror less is a Sony, you might be better off with the Canon version because if you are using an AF adapter for Canon-Sony you get auto aperture, EXIF and control of the aperture by the camera. Whilst I enjoy control of aperture on the lens, using this adapter means that you have the same control method as on your Sony or Zony lenses,

  14. In the last year, I have realized I prefer a fast 28 over a 35 for general photography. I just acquired the ZF.2 version to use on the Sony A99. I changed the lens mount using the leitax conversion so it works great on the A99 (without need for an adapter) and the built in EVF makes accurate focusing a snap. I agree the field curvature is quite pronounced and can make it challenging to predict the dimensions of focus plane and while not the sharpest lens, it is sharp enough. I haven’t had the opportunity to use it much but from a few snaps around the house I am generally pleased with it’s rendering.

  15. Hey, Ming. Great site. I bought the 100 zeiss and it is now my favorite lens. I have zero issues focusing with it with my 800e. It just seems to almost always work when the dot just turns green when coming from infinity. Using any focus point doesn’t seem to change this. When I do miss, it is definitely because of user error (me swaying or the subject moving wide open). Anyway, I really want this lens to compliment the magnificent 100, but I am worried about the field curvature. So if I try to focus with the confirmation dot like I do with the 100 with any of the outer focus points, it is unlikely to be in focus? And if you could direct me to any focus screen sites for the d800e that would be fantastic. I relaly just love the Zeiss. The photos I get are just out of this world. I really don’t have problems with the LOCA. It rarely happens, and I can correct most of it in post any way; especially when I compare it with my 85mm 1.4d (which can have some pretty bad purple fringing).

    • No, if your AF array works fine, then you should be okay. But it won’t appear in perfectly sharp focus on the focusing screen though, and this won’t change with third party screens because that’s a limitation of optics more than anything else.

  16. Pratyush Pandya says:

    After reading the comments above, I get the feeling I would have a difficult time manual focusing with my D800. How is it that you were able to do it so successfully on your D700, an older camera?
    Great review, by the way. A big fan of 28 when I had the ZE version on my 5DII. I was hoping I could make the ZF2 version work consistently now that I use Nikon.
    Thanks in advance.

  17. Hey Ming, so what 28mm (or equivalent focal length) would you recommend for the m mount? Ive been looking at the Zeiss 28mm f/2.8 ZM though I read somewhere that you didnt think that lens had much going for it.

  18. Hi Ming,

    Older post, I know….

    Wondering if you (or any readers) have anything to say regarding the Zeiss 35mm 2.0 in terms of how it compares technically and aesthetically to the 28mm? I got my hands on a veeery well priced (but still alot for me really) 35mm for my D600 and am just wondering what an articulate and knowledgeable bloke like yourself has to say on the matter?

    I guess I mean does the huge praise for the 28mm and its ‘Hollywood-ness’ so to speak, carry over to the 35mm?

    • Both are excellent lenses, but the 35 is a bit more ‘conventional’ in rendering – not so much field curvature, a little sharper, still good but missing a bit of the magic. I had one and sold it – partially because I didn’t get along with the 35mm FOV, partially because I prefer the 28’s rendering style.

      • Thank you kindly for your prompt reply mate.

        On a related note – do you have a post anywhere regarding what you have done to setup your Nikon FX bodies for MF glass? I have seen references to the pains you have gone through for this and would love to know more, as my real interested is in MF glass.


        • No, because people would follow it, break something, and hold me liable. Sadly we live in a very litigious and incompetent society.

    • They are so different. The 35 is not a stellar lens. I had 2 different copies 4 years apart and they were both snores. At least the old 50 1.4 had speed going for it. The Zeiss 35 is no better than the newer 35f2 IS. The 28 renders more like a makro planar, without the straight rectilinear qualities. Crisp and saturated with smooth contrast and depth rendering. it’s amazing up close. Think of what boring image you’d take with a 35, out on a Zeiss or Voigtlander 28, rake 2 steps in and one to the side. That’s Hollywood.

      • Sorry, but this is not correct. The makro-planars are flat field lenses corrected for lose distance. The 2/28 is not and exhibits very strong field curvature. I can’t speak for your experience with the 35, however. It worked well for me.

        • I thought I qualified my “near m-planar” comparison with an exception for field flatness. Of course the 28 is wavey, but that’s part of the effect, I believe. I meant only that rendering, although not equal, is at least from nearly the same camp. I just haven’t been a 35mm prime shooter in a decade, but the previous 25 certainly saw a number of Nikon and Leica M and R 35mm lenses. Maybe I just haven’t found the right one yet, and for me, the 35 ZE didn’t do anything well.

          At any rate, I like Mings reviews and blog photos. It’s nice to read another 28mm-shooters thoughts.

          • Let me relativise my statement: the 2/35 is a good lens, but not the best of the bunch. I think it is better than the 2/28, though – far less violet fringing…

  19. Hi, this is a great review and it pushes me to buy one. Would you still recommend this lens on D800. Or should I go for Nikon version?

  20. Loving the results from this lens. Upsettingly I found the review search for ZM 28/2.8 results. I got very excited until I saw it was a ZF 😦 I use a M9 + D800 so like you enjoy nice lenses. My fav D800 lenses are the 200/2 and 50/1.2 for sure. Plenty of examples on my blog if interested. I’m now almost 2 feet in the Leica camp so just go the 50/1.4 Lux ASPH + 50/2 Cron to compare to my Voigtlander and Zeiss glass. I’m looking for a 28mm with rendering as you found with the ZF to maybe replace my 28/2 Ultron.

    Nice post, cheers

    • I had the 2.8/28 ZM, didn’t like it very much. Reasonably sharp, but lacking ‘bite’ and 3D feel – couldn’t put my finger on exactly why, though. All I know is that I didn’t use it much and sold it shortly thereafter.

  21. What’s wrong about focusing and recomposing with *this* lens? I have it and find it precisely possible to do *because* of field curvature, because all points equidistant to the camera are in focus, so it’s possible to focus and recompose. It’s *not* possible to focus and recompose with a Planar lens …

  22. Sergey Landesman says:

    Hi Ming!
    Can one use this lens on Micro 4/3d cameras with an adapter?

  23. Great review and pics as always Ming. Tell me, is the M-mount version of this lens very inferior, as I was considering this lens or the 21mm zeiss (haven’t quite decided which is my preferred fov and I can’t get both) over the leica lens options.

    • Completely different optical design – the SLR mount versions are telecentric Distagons, the M mount is a symmetric Biogon – and actually, the M mount version is even better…I used to shoot it a lot when I had an M8.

      • Thanks for the feedback Ming. I must have mis-interpreted your review where you said “Frankly, if they did an M-mount version with thes same optical formula – size be damned – this would be permanently welded to my M9-P.” I thought that to mean that it (the M-mount version) was optically or character-wise inferior.
        Ps. How did you find Niseko/surrounds in summer? We were just there for some Spring skiing with a snow covered Mt Yotei! Great location and locals.

        • The M wides are Biogons, the SLR wides are Distagons. Different optics. The 2/28 Distagon has a much nice rendering than the 2.8/28 Biogon; but the 2.8/21 Biogon is a bit better than the 2.8/21 Distagon (though both 21s are outstanding). Niseko is nice in the summer, though very hot/ humid; not a lot to do other than take walks and enjoy the nature and hot springs.

  24. Jorge Balarin says:

    Dear Ming, I would like to buy the Carl Zeiss ZF.2 2.8/21 Distagon, to use it with my D700. Do you think I would have the same manual focus problem that Michael Gannon is having with his D800 and the Zeiss ZF.2 2/28 Distagon ? And if I have the same problem, wich alternatives I would have to solve it ? Thanks and greetings, Jorge.

    • Hard to say, it depends on your camera. My D700 didn’t manual focus well at all for the same reasons; I modified it with a custom-cut focusing screen from an F6 and both shimmed the focusing screen and adjusted the mirror zero position. Fast wides are trickier because the fall off in the focal plane is a lot more gradual than for longer lenses. When I use the 21 on my D800E, I have to rely on the focus confirmation dot or use live view. You do of course have the same option of having the mirror properly calibrated, as well as getting a better focusing screen – the D800 has the largest focusing screen put into any Nikon, which means that you cannot cut down something else to fit – but you can with the D700, and I believe there are some aftermarket options – but I haven’t personally tried them.

  25. Michael Gannon says:

    This is such a fantastic review I took the plunge and bought the ZF.2 2/28 Distagon, my first non AF lens in many years, to put on a D800. Now I find I’m incapable of the amazingly sharp images you show because I can’t focus. Using the confirmation dot in the viewfinder results in blurry shots. A review of postings elsewhere suggests that many people are also having this issue so I was hoping you might have some suggestions. It doesn’t appear that there are focusing screens for the D800 (at least I haven’t found any). Can you recommend a shooting technique?

    • Chances are it isn’t your eyes – the D800’s focusing screen isn’t the snappiest I’ve encountered – it’s probably your mirror alignment being off. Every single AF DSLR I’ve owned has arrived with poor mirror alignment; this means the effective distance from lens flange to sensor isn’t the same as flange to focusing screen, resulting in misfocused shots. The camera makers simply don’t bother with good viewfinders anymore since most people use AF. Try a clean F2 with a J screen and you’ll see exactly what I mean by focusing snap and alignment…the F2T I recently bought still has perfect mirror alignment after 30 years.

      • Michael Gannon says:

        Ming, what’s the solution? Or is there one? I want to try to make it work with this lens but its expensive and I can’t get reliable shots. Can the problem be fixed by fine tuning AF? Any else?

        • AF fine tune has no effect on manual focus or the point at which the dot kicks in. You can have the mirror aligned, but you’ll need to send it in to Nikon and explain what you want done because manual focus is off. Possible to DIY but it can be fiddly, and it’s very easy to scratch or damage the mirror or AF submirror.

          • Ming, I have a Nikon D700. Would i encounter the same problems regarding focussing with this lens or is the mirror/screen so that it would be good to focus. Or also a new screen needed before focussing correctly?

  26. Bought one second hand mint condition recently, will test it once I got my camera back, preliminary testing this lens with D800E, the sharpness improve significantly when shot with live view mode.

    • Absolutely – I use LV whenever I’m in studio now. The only problem is that it previews the shooting exposure, not a visible exposure – utterly useless if you’re exposure is 100% flash – say 1/250s and f16…

  27. Jorge Balarin says:

    Hi Ming, I have a question, do you know why Zeiss is not doing DSRL autofocus lenses ? Greetings. Jorge.

  28. I love this kind of review, one that focuses on real-world image quality and artistic potential rather than a slavish fixation on metrics and test charts. I’m very tempted to get one of these for my OM-D. How much of the magic is retained when used with an adapter on an M43 body? Do you have any samples, by chance?

    • Thanks Kerim. You still get the color and wonderful microcontrast, but not so much of the 3D effect because the central portion of the frame is mostly free of field curvature. I don’t have anything I’d be happy sharing, it’s mostly just informal test shots to determine if the combination was useable or not.

  29. Wayne S says:

    Nice images and review of the zf 28!
    I think you should try the zf 25/2 too.
    I have rented it and shot it on my 1ds3 against my ze 21/2.8 and 24G/1.4.
    I prefer the 21 over the other two for landscapes.
    But for cityscapes and low light I like the 25/2 and 24G/1.4.
    The 25/2 has great color and very low if any CA. It does render extreme corners blurry at infinite focus but this may not bother you.
    Since I already have and love the 24G/1.4 which I like to shoot wide open alot and lime it’s extra ability to isolate subject from background I am not sure if I will want to ever get the 25/2. I also found the 25/2 to be more contrastierror than the 24G which tended to cause the shadows to go much darker if wanted to keep the highlights from clipping when taking low light night street shots.
    Now that I have a D800E, I know have AF capabilities for the 24G if I want.
    Still have to perform the left AF point tests.

    • Thanks. I’m trying to get hold of one to review, but I already have the ZF 21 also, so there isn’t much point in bunching the focal lengths so close together. (There will be a review of that lens coming soon too, once I have a chance to write it.)

  30. As always, amazing shots. What I would love to see, is a side by side shots with of the ZF.2 2/28 and the Nikon AFS 28/1.8. I am having a hard time understanding what you mean by micro contrast, and I think a direct comparison with similar subjects would help. Is that something you think you might be able to do? I am definitely in the market for the AFS 28/1.8, but with the D800 I manual focus most of the time when the subject is not trying to get away from me (e.g. nieces and nephews), so would be interested in the direct image comparison.

    • +1, would love to see micro contrast comparison between Distagon and Nikon AF-S 1.8g

    • Thanks Andrew. I could set up A-B test shots of static objects, but it’s not very instructive because that’s not what we use these lenses for in the real world; unfortunately real world reportage subjects tend not to give you enough time to change lenses for a do over.

      I do plan to do an article on microcontrast once I figure out an easy way of explaining it…

  31. Matt in Missouri says:

    Thanks for the review, and the shots. I like them all, but I’m especially fond of the Stair #173 and untitled photograph (clever composition).

    Count me as another fan of the Zeiss ZF.2 2/25. Everything Kristian states above applies to my opinion of that lens. I’m convinced, however, based on your comments that I need to check out the Zeiss 2/28 before settling in on this approximate focal range. (I’ll give the new Nikon 28/1.8 a look, too—hard not to at that price.)

    As much as I love the Zeiss ZF.2 2.8/21, I’m now finally convinced I’m just no good that wide. I sheepishly admit that the difficulty I personally have achieving results at that focal length, at least to the degree that I am approaching something satisfactory, is both a reason to keep plugging away and a reason to call it a day and move on. At the end of the day this woeful novice has decided to move on, if temporarily, to the 25mm-28mm range.

    • I think the difficulty in using wides well is that the perspective just isn’t human-scale – i.e. we can’t relate to it so easily because that isn’t the way our eyes see. I think 28 is ‘wide natural’ for us, and about 85 is ‘wide normal’.

  32. Isn’t the CP.2 a 2.9 version?

  33. I used to own this lens and it draws beautifully. But the biggest problem with it is the fact it’s aperture opening is more like a 2.8. Compared to the Nikkor 28/1.4 at f/2, the Nikkor let in a extra stop of light. That alone turned me away. Now I have the 25/2 and it is a perfect lens, minus the field curvatuire. The 25mm is a proper f/2, is much sharper wide open, has less distortion (compared to other 24mm lenses), is pretty much flare resistant and is more like a 26mm than a 25mm. I can’t stress enough how good this lens is. not sure if you’ve used it Ming but it’s gonna knock your socks off!

    • Oh and I forgot to mention it has virtually zero CA and fringing. The only thing that stops it receiving the praise of the 21mm is the fact that it isn’t a flat field lens, but thats not the purpose of this lens.

    • You sure about that? The CP.2 version is T2.1, and has the same optical formula and coatings. The 25 sounds good but not a focal length that I like that much, to be honest. As for the Nikon 28/1.4 – the one I used some time ago wasn’t that stellar wide open, and they’re impossible to find to boot…

      • I’ve very sure. I’ve never been a 25/24 guys myself but somehow found myself attracted to this lens. The effective focal length feeling closer to a 28mm than a 24mm convinced me. I just tried my friend’s 28/1.4 on my D800E and found it to be sharp enough wide open with beautiful rendering. Previously I wasn’t so convinced myself when I owned it previously. Either way the new 25 has had plenty of time to be perfected, and the 28 is still a great lens if you can overlook the exposure shortcoming wide open.

  34. Wow – love your coffee time shot, and also the one of your dad! Hmmm now if I only could afford a D700 and some of those Zeiss lenses…

  35. Ming, with all the great gear that you review and all the gorgeous images, your blog is like a camera porn site — and I mean that in a good way! LOL. Is that your father “Waiting” in the b&w photo? There’s a resemblance.

  36. Great review. I have this same lens on my Canon 5D MarkII and i count it as the best lens in my arsenal. Makes me want to use the Canon eventhough i take a majority of my photos with a OM-D these days.

    • Thanks. What you need are the ZF versions, they work on Canons too with an adaptor…and because there’s a physical aperture ring, your OM-D, too.


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  4. […] for various reasons – but optical perfection has never been one of them. Zeiss’ own 2/28 Distagon has been a favourite because of the 3-D rendering caused by serious field curvature; however it […]

  5. […] if you read Ming’s review of the Zeiss 28mm ZF you will find mention of artistic advantage brought about by its inherent field curvature. This is […]

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  13. […] for the more telecentric designs such as 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 […]

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