Lens review: The Zeiss Otus 1.4/55 APO Distagon, part II

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Continued from Part One

Clearly, no expense was spared in the making of this lens. Unfortunately, this is also reflected in the price and size: a rather steep US$4,000, and a kerb weight (it actually sometimes feels like you’re aiming a tracked weapon) of around a kilo. It’s the size of a 24-70/2.8 from any of the big brands, and somewhat fatter, too. What you get for that money – aside from the outstanding optics – is a smooth, curved, all-metal housing and hood that mates flush with the front of the lens; rock-solid build, and quite possibly the best focusing ring I’ve ever used. This is of course very important for a manual focus lens, but it really is something else in terms of feel, feedback and haptics. Throw distance it’s perfect; it has enough resistance to stay put, but turns smoothly and has zero backlash – you can adjust focus with a fingertip. It also has a pleasingly tactile and grippy rubber ring, which is duplicated for the aperture setting ring. The mechanical aperture ring is of course only present on Nikon mount versions, which means that it’s also back-compatible with other mounts via adaptors – though you’d need a pretty darn good adaptor not to interfere with the planarity of the optics. Both Canon and Nikon mount versions have full electronic communication with the camera.

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Truck geometry. Note lack of color bleeding, and resolving power that still stays at f16 – way past the D800E’s diffraction limits; there is some loss of microcontrast, but this is still an impressive performance. 100% crop here.

Just because I have waxed lyrical about everything thus far doesn’t mean the Otus is a perfect lens; there are a number of things I don’t like about it (aside from the size, weight and price). Number one is that it’s very, very difficult to nail focus accurately and consistently with today’s DSLR focusing screens; the lack of an appropriate focusing screen really holds this lens back – especially wide open; I’ve got a couple of replacement ones on order. A lack of resolution is almost certainly due to user error. On my F2 Titan and F6 (with Type A screen), focusing is significantly easier than the D800E, and it’s nearly impossible to do it precisely with the D600. The focusing dot is useless too – it stays lit for too much travel of the focusing ring. Zeiss should really think about making a decent focusing screen so people can make the most of their lenses; I bet they’d sell boatloads.

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Things on a stick

There are a couple of performance issues, but I think only one (noticeable wide open vignetting) is the fault of the lens. The other is that I’m seeing some red/purple fringing overruns of a pixel or so on very high contrast areas – specifically in focus and very overexposed hard edged highlights. I’m told that the focal plane is so thin that what we’re seeing is a bit of residual second order CA; in practice, it disappears if we meter for the highlights, or stop down a little. To put things into context: my Noct-Nikkor (and 2/50 Macro-Planar) both do the same thing at f2, but with several pixels worth. It’s effectively not very noticeable in practice.

However, it is worth taking some time to consider an accurate definition of what the ‘APO’ designation actually means from a lens design standpoint. I quote Dr. Nasse at Zeiss:

The word ‘apochromatic’ has been originally used for the first time by Prof. Ernst Abbe related to his new type of microscope lenses which were much improved with respect to chromatic correction and appeared on the market during the 1880’s. He defined that lenses should match two conditions to be called Apo:

  1. Have three identical focus positions for three colors within the visible spectrum, or in more mathematical terms, the longitudinal chromatic aberration curve should have three zero crossings in the visible spectrum. From this follows, that then between these special points the focus deviation can only be small, resulting in a very soft secondary spectrum, so just small fringing occurs.
  2. In addition the spherical correction should be corrected for two colors within the visible spectrum instead of one in ordinary lenses. This means that condition 1) is not sufficient (especially in high speed lenses like the microscope lens with f/0.5 and more); not only the focus position is important but also the focus quality. In ordinary lenses also in the best focus e.g. of blue light the image is less sharp than for green or yellow light.

This definition is in the literature and in the minds of many people. However, condition 1) is nearly never fulfilled in photographic lenses. The basic reason is that they have much larger field angles than microscope lenses. In most photographic Apo-lenses the LCA curve is much more flat, but has just two coincident focus positions in the visible spectrum. Thus when one moves into the IR-range the focus deviation will increase so that a focus correction is necessary with a fast lens. Low chromatic aberrations with visible light do not mean that focus is constant also for extremely distant ‘color’. Zero dispersion exists with mirrors only.

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The finish is my other bugbear: though it looks fantastic, like the regular ZF.2 lenses, it’s far too easily dinged and scratched, and impossible to keep clean. The front of the lens and front of the hood really needs a rubber bumper to stop it from getting nicked. I’ve taped up these high-risk edges with electrical tape so I can put the camera down without fear. The rubber focusing and aperture rings concern me in the long term: though they feel great, I have no idea how durable they’re going to be. Mine already shows some scuff marks from where it rubbed against other things in my bag – the camera strap’s hardware, for instance. I suspect you’re going to be able to tell how much a second hand Otus was used by the state of its rubber rings (if you find a second hand one at all, that is). The fluorescent yellow markings (all engraved and filled, including the hood) are a personal preference – I like them, but I know many who do not. Visibility under all light conditions is excellent. I’d really like to see weather sealing, though; especially around the little cutout where the distance and depth of field scales show: I’m really quite afraid that water is going to get in through what appears to be an open hole. It seems a shame that the lens is so ridiculously overbuilt on one hand, but a little vulnerable on another. And I’d like to use it under the same conditions which my camera would survive, of course.

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The price and specifications of the Otus draw natural comparisons to its nearest rivals: the new Nikon AFS 58/1.4 G, and perhaps also the classic AI-S 58/1.2 Noct-Nikkor. The Leica 2/50 APO-Summicron-M ASPH is also mentioned, but it’s a stop slower, only available in a different mount, and nearly twice the price. I’ve shot extensively with the latter two lenses, and tested several samples of the 58/1.4; the Otus is still the best of the bunch. It doesn’t have the flare problem of the APO-Summicron, and focuses closer. I’m sure somebody will have tested both the APO-Summicron and Otus on a Sony A7r body and come to the wrong conclusion due to irregular adaptors; they’re designed for very different uses, which I feel makes it an unfair comparison.

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The 58/1.4 G is not very sharp wide open – it suffers from some coma and flare – and never really gets perfect in the corners; I think the AFS 50/1.8 is actually slightly sharper. Both lenses lack the microcontrast and bite of the Otus; they also suffer from both lateral and longitudinal CA until stopped down. The Noct-Nikkor is spectacular past f2.8, excellent at f2, and merely good in the center at f1.2 (and a disaster in the corners). It was a remarkable achievement for the day, and still has a very pleasing painterly rendering quality, but it is no match for the Otus, even at its optimum aperture it never quite delivers the same level of microcontrast. I believe the new 58/1.4 G was designed to deliver similar pictorial qualities to the Noct-Nikkor; and in that it succeeds. Both 58s would make excellent portrait lenses, but I’d be very, very careful whom I turn the Otus on. I don’t have enough experience to say for certain, but the look and rendering style of the Otus is as close as you’re going to get to the look of the Zeiss Master Primes used in cinema – right down to the lack of any visible focus breathing. This is not a coincidence: the same team who designed those Master Primes also designed the Otus.

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This has turned into the longest lens review I’ve ever written; so long I had to break it up into two parts to make it readable. It wasn’t by design; there’s simply been a lot to say. The Otus is a benchmark lens in many ways: it is really the first lens designed from scratch to make the most of the D800E’s sensor at any aperture and thus extend the creative envelope; the next lens in the line will be a 1.4/85, with a wide and possibly macro to follow soon after. I am personally hoping for a 21mm tilt shift or 1.4/28, but that’s almost certainly not going to happen. At any rate, the current ZF.2 2.8/21 Distagon is an excellent performer on the D800E, if not quite up to the standards of the Otus. It is a lens that is currently without peer for many reasons, and in many ways. I can only hope that a substantial portion of the price goes towards quality control; other brands are capable of outstanding designs, but sample variation kills resolution in practice. However, the consistency of responses amongst those who have tested and seriously put the Otus through its paces makes me think that this is not the case with Zeiss, and my personal experience with 20+ lenses in different mounts and of different vintages further supports this.

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Did you know this building has a fine tile facade? Neither did I, until I examined the file at 100% – see here. Yes, it has such high resolving power that it will induce moire. This is about as bad as it gets, actually; I haven’t done anything to correct it.

I think it’s pretty obvious that I really, really love this lens; not just because its resolving power enables me to step up a level in my fine art printmaking, but because of the transparency in the way it renders. It really is quite possibly the best lens I have ever used, for any format. Comparing the three days of intensive shooting in Taipei to excursions with previous equipment, I’ve never quite produced as many images that I’ve felt really captured what I saw; I don’t know if it’s the lens closing that gap or something else, but I feel that level of clarity over other lenses is definitely noticeable on-screen, and really jumps out at you in a large print.

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If you have the means and opportunity to own one, do it. Learning the shot discipline to extract its full potential can come later. Yes, it’s not a cheap lens, but then again, when you compare it to its nearest competition performance-wise – the Leica 50/2 APO ($7,350) and to a lesser extent, the Leica 50/1.4 ASPH ($4,000) – it’s actually not that bad. No other brand has anything that comes close, especially on the 36MP+ cameras; that said, you really do need to have outstanding shot discipline, good eyesight and a D800E or better to appreciate the full difference. But if you do, I think you’ll find it’s so outstandingly good that you too will feel a small pang of disappointment when you have to use anything else. I am fairly confident that it will be remembered as being a modern legend. Who’d have thought I’d fall in love with a normal-angle lens? MT

The Zeiss Otus 1.4/55 APO Distagon is available in Nikon and Canon mounts here from B&H.


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  1. jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Clearly Zeiss has listened. and you got your wish – they HAVE produced the 1.4/28mm for you. Bit much asking them for a tilt shift, though – try Canon’s.

  2. Ming,

    First off, great review (as always). Now for a question. I use a Canon 6D with the precision matte focusing screen and thus far have used Canon AF lenses (35/2 IS, 24-105/4 L, 85/1.8) and was looking for something more. I recently bought the 35/1.4 Distagon ZE and fell in love (after adding the aforementioned focusing screen) and then added the 135/2 APO Sonnar, which is even better (much better) than the 35.

    Ca the 6D with its 20MP sensor really benefit from the Otus compared to something like the 50/1.2 L or the new 50/1.4 Milvus? I enjoy manual focus and have an opportunity to buy a gently used Otus 55 for just over half the retail price, which is still twice the price of the Milvus. I can afford it and prefer the slightly longer focal length, and obviously the Otus will be more future-proof against higher resolution cameras, but for now I plan on sticking with the 6D.

    I also own the Leica 50/1.4 ASPH and use it on an M-E and CCD M Monochrom. I know the Otus is a better lens that the Lux, but is the Milvus also better?

    I’m leaning heavily toward buying the Otus, just hoping that the difference is something I can actually see on the 6D as I’m really not ready for the 5Dsr.

    • The Otus will be better, but not by the same degree as with a higher resolution camera.

      Milvus is about on par with the 50 Lux, but it’s impossible do a meaningful A-B comparison because they’re fundamentally different and non-interchangeable.

      • Thank you for the quick reply. Just pulled the trigger on the Otus. I’m sure higher resolution will be in my future, but I am very eager to try this on the 6D which I find vertical easy to focus.

        Hopefully at some point in the future we will get a manual focus-optimized High resolution Canon, perhaps when Canon ultimately introduces a mirrorless option in full-frame.

  3. ” I am personally hoping for a 21mm tilt shift or 1.4/28, but that’s almost certainly not going to happen.”

    You must be happy that you were wrong!
    …. but the weight…..

    • I am happy; this was written before I had any involvement with Zeiss design team. Things change and I might still get my wish on the other one 🙂

  4. Sir Ming,

    I have a general question regarding Zeiss lenses. It seems like the Canon ZE mount Zeiss lenses do not have an aperture ring, although the Nikon ZF.2 mount Zeiss versions do. I have a long history using Olympus Zuiko manual lenses, and I am used to having an aperture ring for fine manual control.

    Do you know of any adapters that mates well with ZF.2 to EF mounts without compromising lens performance, especially with respect to Otus optics? Please forgive me if this seems to be a lazy question, but I would hate to lose any sharpness due to any slackness due to an imperfectly matched adaptor.

    • Haven’t been knighted yet (and probably never will be 🙂 – but thanks for the thought!

      All adaptors will introduce compromises. The Novoflex ones are probably the best you can get, however note that the Canons don’t appear to meter properly when using a lens with an external aperture ring – at least my 5DSR doesn’t, regardless of exposure mode or metering method. Not a problem on a tripod, but not good if you’re having to work fast.

      • Thanks for the Novoflex suggestion. I am planning a system that would start out based on architecture/interiors for real estate photography, and I thought I would based it on the 5DSR and the two Canon EF wide angle lenses—the 24/3.5 and 17/4.0. I also have a strong interest join macro photography, which is why I hope Zeiss renovate the 100MP as an Otus, although I can probably get by with the stock 100MP as is. I do not anticipate buying any AF lenses for the 5DSR—all the rest should be Zeiss lenses.

        Whoever thought manual focusing would become an issue in this day & age? Zeiss REALLY should have offered appropriate focusing screens for the cameras capable of taking best advantage of their Otus optics! Is a plain ground glass screen, preferably with grid lines and a spot-focusing circle, now considered a novelty today?

        I will have to look into alternative focusing screens. I saw your earlier mentions of the Canon Ec-A and Ec-L screens, the ones offered by focusingscreen.com, and the Zacuto Pro and Kinotehnik LCD magnifiers. Many thanks for all of this as they provide fruitful starting points. I grew up with manual focusing so it should be no problem for me to transition back as long as I can find & employ appropriate screens or other focusing aids. I can always add a µ4:3 camera body body with choice zooms and a fisheye to take care of my AF needs.

  5. Josef Mussnig says:

    Thank you for all the information which is very helpfull. With respect to manual focusing, I just wondered about the statement “The focusing dot is useless too – it stays lit for too much travel of the focusing ring”. Well, when I bought my first manual focus lens for my Nikon D800E I just had the same problem. So instead of using the hole range when the dot is lit, I just use the point where the left array jumps to the dot. This permits me to use my Zeiss lenses very accuratly and adjust the camera’s fine-tune for each lens and aperture.
    Best regards,

    • I’ve never found the AF fine tune to work with manual focus lenses – do you see a noticeable difference? Landed up buying the Zacuto LCD magnifier in the end.

      • Well, definitely I do notice the difference and for me it works well. On each lens cap I have a little crib with the correction values, for example +6 at f-stop 2.0 up to -5 for f-stop 11.0 working allways in the A mode. The only inconvenient is that you have to turn off your eye from the subject matter to control the dot, which doesn’t matter if it doesn’t move off course.

  6. Hey Ming, great review there man! I had the Otus for 1 hour or so and I have mixed filling about it or the usage of it. First is about the viewfinder in my D800e witch is not as good as let’s say the one in Canon 1DS mk3 (with the same lens). And the second is that I feel from the little experience with the lens that is not really optimised for close range shooting (witch I do a lot). It will be nice to post some examples of that if you have some, for the part 3 follow up 🙂 Thanks!
    Cheers, Cristian

    • Well, it isn’t a macro lens. But at comparable apertures to such lenses – f2.8 onwards – it’s pretty darn good. An f1.4 macro lens is rather impractical due to DOF limitations anyway.

  7. Ming, thank you very much for this wonderful insight.
    I have one question: I own a D800(e) and also some manual focus lenses. It has been a big disappointment for me.
    I come from a MF film background and I shoot handheld manual focus. I thought I could use the same shooting style with my D800, but it turned out te be impossible. When I manual focus, I never get what I see, the focus is always off.
    How do you manage this with the Otus for instance? Can you even shoot handheld with it, or are you forced to use a tripod and live view? For me, this is a totally different shooting style, and I don’t like it at all.
    You also wrote a great article about shooting with the Hasselblad, not using the screen and with very tight shot discipline because of the unforgiving CCD sensor. This is the closest thing so far I read anywhere on the web what resembles what I am looking in digital shooting. So I am either considering investing in a Otus for the more MF look and quality but if handheld shooting is impossible like with my own lenses, i’ll pass and look for other options. Maybe the new Sigma Art lenses, or sell the D800 altogether and look for a used Pentax 645D maybe.

    • My mirror is calibrated and the focusing screen shimmed and changed for a version that has a micro prism grid in the centre…

      • Thank you for the reply Ming. So it should be possible then after all..
        But how do you calibrate the mirror (should this not be standard when it arrives from the fabric?)
        Do you send it back to Nikon service and let them do it? The same goes for the screen shimming.
        If you could point me and fellow readers in the right direction on how or where this can be done, then I might be back in buisiness with my D800 after all 🙂
        Best regards,

        • You can send it back to Nikon or if you’re brave, DIY. I won’t be providing instructions for that due to liability issues…

          • Thank you Ming. I understand, won’t be doing this myself so I’ll ask Nikon to fix it.

  8. Lawrence Cheong says:

    Hi Ming Thein, im planning to buy the otus but I can’t see the review with Canon Body…is the otus perform well in Canon? I’m using canon 5d mark ii

    • That’s because I don’t shoot Canon. But since it outperforms the D800E with 50% more pixels, it’s fairly safe to say that it does.

      • Lawrence Cheong says:

        Ming,Thanks for your reply….till now I can’t decide whether buy the otus or not because I’m still new in photography and not familiar with manual focus…hahaha

  9. Air Wave says:

    @ all
    After analyzing Dirk De Paepe’s 21 december, 2013 reply to Ming, I honestly think Dirk is suffering from the “Napoleon Syndrom” in trying to compare himself equal to Ming’s technical skills. There is something wrong with the upper case for acting like that…

    • I’m not sure that’s a fair judgement to make. I am certainly not the last word in technical ability, and without seeing Dirk shoot it would be unfair to come to conclusions…

    • Dirk De Paepe says:

      Really? Who are you anyway? Afraid to give us your name?
      I can only conclude one thing: apparently you like to offend people. That’s really not my game. I like to change thoughts, even (and preferrably) with people that have much more skills than I have, like Ming. (I repeatedly mentioned that. So before making statements, first you really need to read well.) It’s by changing thoughts on the cutting edge that we challange ourselves and make the most improvement. Of course this requiers a mature and respectful approach.
      Anyway, I’m not going to react any more to you. So go ahead, do what you seem to like the most: try to offend me. The coast is clear.

      • Okay gentlemen, this has gone on long enough. I will ban both of you if this thread continues. Discussion and disagreement about photography is fine, personal insults are not. Thank you.

  10. Air Wave says:

    @ Dirk De Paepe.
    I ve read several of your comments and I just wanted to say this:
    Instead of writing pages and pages regarding your state of mind concerning this superb website of Ming Thein;
    if you are not happy, well than stop reading it… but please don’t bother us and overload this website with your “philosophic” thoughts…
    If you do not like something about this website for whatever reason; pass your way…

    Ming Thein is far more objective and professional in what he is writng than what you can read on other websites…his view reflects
    professional reality. (instead of another “very well known” reviewer where you can read something on page 3, and something complete
    opposite on page 7 on exactly the same subject)

    I do support Ming Thein in his hard work and after having read one of his subjects; the item I bought behaved exactly like the
    way he described…I just can’t be more happy than that! Thank you Ming for your very useful work!!

    • Dirk De Paepe says:

      Dear Mr Air Wave (or is it Miss?),
      I cannot but admire you for seeing that I write “regarding my state of mind”, even although I myself thought that this was not the case.
      So I’m not going to respond in the same style as your comment, because like this, things can quickly get out of hand, and I think this website was not conceived to offend people.
      But let me be clear about a few things. If you read my comments well, you’d notice that I have nothing but the very highest admiration and appreciation for Ming’s work. I mention this frequently. But this doesn’t mean that I can’t respectfully disagree on some items/details, nor that sometimes I partly have other experiences. How come? Simply because I have a different field of application. How objective Ming may be, and regardless the fact that he writes with the utmost integrity (you’re absolutely right about that), I think it’s only an added value when experiences from a different angle are added. If Ming is in any way offended by this, he has every right to delete my comments. But he doesn’t, so I think he isn’t. And if my comments annoy you in any way, you have every right not to read them. They are really easy to skip, you know. I, from my part, value Ming’s articles and his site’s concept the highest of the internet. Next to all those great articles, his reactions to my comments really put me to the test and are as such a very valuable contribution to my knowledge, and, who knows, even to others that also think about things with a healthy dose of positive criticism.
      BTW, didn’t you notice that my remarks only concern certain details, certain fragments, never the basic or overall opinion? That means that I absolutely agree with the vast majority of Ming’s findings, findings that I even couldn’t have assessed in such a clear way. And indeed, they are about the most reliable ones on the internet. Only, when I experience something different about an aspect, I feel like having to mention this, because I will never be the only one that experiences this. I consider it positive to complement his findings with some, coming from another point of view, another field of experience. Should I be in Ming’s position, doing the same kind of job, I’m sure to come up with the same findings as he does, but living and working in a different way, and looking from another viewpoint, things can sometimes slightly differ. Do you really have a problem with that?

      • @ Dirk De Paepe
        I completly agree about skipping your comments in the future…they are a waste of time and you are loosing yourself….so
        also, I won’t reply neither on your future comments or remarks. (with all the respect for you and all the respect you may have
        for Ming Thein)

  11. While Zeiss’ Otus line is almost assuredly superior to Zeiss’ Touit line, I have to say I recently tried the Zeiss Touit 32mm f/1.8 on my Fujifilm X-Pro 1, and was left a bit gobsmacked.

    I thought the Fujinon XF35mm f/1.4 R was a stellar optic (and it is), but the Zeiss edged it out, with acuity straight across the frame, along with resolution and depth that just left me wanting to shoot with it more.

    They know a thing or two about optics, these fellas at Zeiss. As much as the boys over at Leitz, I’d wager.

    • Possibly more, because their price points are lower…

      • I wonder how much of the price difference is just the luxury position of the Leica brand. I think both brands have some lenses that beat out the other, but Zeiss is consistently cheaper, and likely less prestigious to those who care about such things.

        On th M mount, the 50 Planar is generally regarded as equal or better to the Leica 50 Summicron (non APO) for about one third the price. The Leica 50 Lux and Noctilux however have no direct Zeiss equivalent (the Sonnar is magnificent, but very different).

        There is also the difference in SLR and RF lenses. I don’t know which are more difficult to design and produce, and whether or not that changes at different speeds and focal lengths. I can imagine that wides are more challenging on an SLR, but you woud know more about that than I would.

        One thing is certain, you are an outstanding photographer and also explain things in a way that is way to understand and apply when making purchase decisions. Thank you.

        • It’s the red dot tax, and the cost of German (vs Japanese) labor.

          SLR lenses are more complex because of retrofocal designs and auto aperture couplings – neither of which are necessary with RF lenses. This in turn affects physical size of glass and then price…

  12. Ming

    Great review on what seems to be a great lens. I had a quick question about the focusing screens you were trying out – what’s your current take on the best options for replacement screens for the D800(e)? I just got a Zeiss 135 and I can see that accurate focusing and getting a sharp image is going to take some work (tripod, LV, MUP and a remote shutter release). I’m still hoping that I can use the VF for handheld, high shutter speed shots – but a different focusing screen is absolutely needed.


    • Ideally, you want a K3 screen with split prism and micro prisms – but there isn’t one to fit the D800E. I’m using a Canon EC-A and EC-L, but those require some fiddling to get your mirror alignment correct so that when you see ‘in focus’ it actually is in focus. I’ve also managed to get a couple of spare D800E original screens; I plan to try making a coarser plain matte to see if that works better…

      • Thanks Ming. Have you seen the models from “focusing screen”? They don’t have a K type, but they have the F6-A type which has a split image center. From what little info there’s out there, installing these screens seems to mess with metering.

        BTW, I hope it’s okay to have a reference to a third party website – I was not sure about the comments etiquette . Please feel free to to edit the reference out if it’s not okay (and I will know for next time).

        • I’ve got a couple of those. They don’t mess with metering but they do require quite a bit of fiddling to fit and align/ shim. Service is so-so which makes them difficult to recommend as a company.

          • Ah okay, I will probably stay out of the search for after market focusing screens then, at least for now 🙂

          • I ordered one for my 6D and wasn’t impressed. It was obviously a 1D series screen shaved to fit the 6D and 5D2, but getting it to line up well was hit and miss. I went back to the Canon precision matte, which lacks the focusing aides, but fits perfectly and is very accurate with care and practice.

  13. I just got mine yesterday. Honestly despite my expectations are high after reading many reviews, it still exceeded my expectations. One thing that surprised me was that I was using it to take a first photo of my cat, focusing on the pupils in a dim light environment (pupils were big given dim light). I checked out the 100% image on my laptop and found out that I was about 1-2mm off-focus. But the pupils look like oil paintings, which looked very pleasing. Among other things, I didn’t really expect this. So happy

  14. Jim Suojanen says:

    What about the OTUS on a film body? The FM3a has a fantastic focusing screen, designed for manual lenses. I realize this makes no sense from your professional viewpoint, but film still holds my amateur interest.

    • It’s easy to focus on my F2, but I have not shot with it. I can only assume that the results will be quite something else – given that the 2/50 Makro-Planar is already outstanding on film, and even that isn’t anywhere near as good as the Otus…

  15. Your comment on the Sony & Olympus partnership is somewhat depressing. Reminds us the Minolta case again. If it does come true, that will be a dreadful day for Olympus users in terms of investment and time. Ah.. the OTUS, a blissful dream that comes with a lottery ticket some day.

  16. Taildraggin says:

    Your 800e/Otus rig is a really fast medium format camera camouflaged as a pretty slow DSLR. Since so few make large prints (or even print for the wall) anymore, this is getting pretty esoteric. It’s good to know that a lens is matching the potential of the camera, and a pro will be able to differentiate themselves inexpensively (for a while). This “all sharp” look will probably define this time…

    Now, can we get back to talking about the A7? 🙂

    • That’s a good way of putting it. However, the gear might be cheap, but the knowledge required to use it isn’t so common.

      No interest in the A7 – not because of the camera, but because of Sony’s abysmal record of populating their lens systems and product ADD leading to lack of future support…

      • Taildraggin says:

        I haven’t seen but a couple of fixed lenses and proposed f4 zooms. There are a lot of good cameras out there, some with lenses.

  17. I think this lens was designed primarily for high end digital SLRS its kind of unfortunate that high digital slrs were not designed to be used with it

    • Only the viewfinders. Fortunately, we have live view, and better yet…hopefully third party focusing screens that work. I should find out soon enough, if the postal services cooperate…

      • Paul Spooner says:

        Hi Ming, did you receive your focusing screens for your D800E? If so, are you happy with them and which ones did you buy?

        • I did; got the Canon Ec-L and Ec-A. They do the job but were fiddly to install because they required shimming, mirror realignment, more adjustment, re-fine tuning of all of my AF lenses because the mirror moved etc…it’s worthwhile if you know you can make it work. If you think it’s a drop-in replacement, you’re in for a not-so-good surprise.

          • plevyadophy says:

            Hi Ming,

            I am curioius, why did you buy the Canon focus screens; do Nikon not have anything to suit in their catalogue? And if not, what is it about these Canon focus screens that floats your boat?

            And how on earth do you shim those things and ensure a perfect square? You are a braver man than I. 🙂

            And did you adjust the reflex mirror yourself, and if so how (how easy is it)?


            • The company didn’t have the modified Nikon ones in stock at the time, and Nikon doesn’t make a cross-type split prism, to my knowledge. Plus, chalk one up to curiosity 🙂

              Shimming: the screens came with shims, I had some spare ones. Turns out they were a bit too thick, so no shims were required. Mirror alignment: err…there are two mirrors to adjust, both of whose zero position affects AF; only the main mirror affects MF. You do the main mirror first, then the sub mirror, then re-do AF fine tune for all of your lenses. It requires some fiddling about inside the mirror box – very carefully, as you don’t want to scratch anything or stick a screwdriver through your shutter curtains. Oh, and did I mention you’ll have to do it several times because this is an iterative process? 🙂

  18. Wonderful review Ming. I have just bought the Zeiss 135mm f2 APO which is amazing and would love to own the 55mm Otus.

    On my Canon 5D3 I calibrate the manual focus light/lens to the point where the light comes on when moving from close focus to infinity. That seems fairly accurate for focussing at f2 and avoids the slop problem when you can change focus slightly and the focus light stays on.

    • It works if you can offset the point at which the light comes on; you can’t do that with the Nikons, so the only thing you can do is to get the mirror calibration right and rely on the optics…

  19. Ming where do you get the focusing screen for the D800?

    it’s a bummer that the scuff/scratch-magnet of the build of an otherwise great lens. if i have the money i’ll probably pick one up anyway. I have the 135 APO and it does not disappoint in performance.

    • One of the online third party sites. Service has not really been stellar, I want to reserve judgement until I see the product before saying where.

  20. Peter Wright says:

    Interesting review. Thanks for your work. I don’t print particularly large (13X19 and down) so I am wondering if this lens will still have a visible effect in my pictures – my current ZF2 lenses do. I have a D800E and like you find that it is hampered by the focus screen. You mentioned two candidates to replace the original. Clearly you haven’t tested them, but do you mind saying what they are?

    • Yes, but it’ll be more to do with rendering style rather than outright resolution. At those sizes, unless you’re printing on a Lambda, the dithering of an inkjet is going to be your limitation on resolution.

      Focusing screens – Canon Ec-A and Ec-L.

      • Tom Hudgins says:

        When you get the time I would also appreciate your comments on which focusing screen works better for you on the D800e with Zeiss lenses, and specifically with the Otus 55mm f/1.4. I find focusing with the Zeiss Distagon T* 21mm F/2.8 to be easier and more accurate than I expected (with the stock screen) but that may be true of wide angle lenses in general.

  21. style1architect says:

    Reblogged this on The Style Hunter.

  22. I guess this part really proves nothing is perfect. Even if this is the lens for me the easy to ding/scratch parts and the rubber rings will concern me. That’s just because I’m picky with things like that and for a $4K lens I expect the body to be tough.

    • Same applies to the Leica lenses; they’re even more expensive and the barrels are no tougher. Actually, the spatter finish paint over metal that Nikon and Canon use on their pro glass and bodies is probably the hardiest.

  23. Ming,
    Perhaps an unfair question since, although I know you’ve used and tested the Leica S/S2 system, you don’t own one:
    How do you think (in simple image quality terms) the combination of the Leica S and 75mm Summarit lens compares to the Otus and the Nikon D800E? I realise one is an f1.4 lens and the other an f2.5 but the sensor size is different and there should be some equalisation because of that.

    • The D800E’s sensor was already very close to matching the S2 at lower ISOs and beating it above 400; what we lacked was glass. I thought the S system glass was amongst the finest ever produced for any system; however the Otus takes that performance and does the same – at two stops faster. There is no question now that the D800E/Otus combo is not just optically better, but also more flexible – no way you’re going to use the S2 at ISO 1600. You can shoot at 500 on the D800E with a cleaner base sensor to begin with.

      • Ming,I own a Leica S and a D800e.. the Leica S has A.F and leaf shutters and a fantastic viewfinder,the glass is amazing,I think the Otus is very good but from what I have seen of it it’s not better then the S glass,perhaps as good and with the benefit of 1.4 which is really useful but its m.f only and as expensive as the S70mm Summarit..

        The CCD sensor of the S also has superior colour and tonality to the D800 sensor(Which is of course a great sensor),although the D800 is great form low light of faster operation.. horses for course’s

        • There may be changes in the sensor/ processing between S and S2. I haven’t used an S, but the S2 definitely is not better than the D800E. I agree on the whole, S glass is amazing, but the 70mm is not an APO nor is it f1.4. It’s worth noting that the Otus can match the resolution of the S70 at f1.4, on a higher density sensor. In any case, the best camera is whatever works best for you…

          • Ming the S is a far better camera than the S2,try it out if you have a chance,making a 1.4 for the S sensor would be a real challenge,the lens would be monstrous in size ,but an APO 70mm summarit with f2 would be great,I believe they Leica are planning a fast portraiture lens (F2)..

            Doesn’t the higher density sensor raise resolution,we see this in DXO benchmarks where the D800 raise the score against the D3x for example ,it would be very interesting to see an S with sub 5micron pixel sensor(or even sub 4micron)..

            Where I see differences in D800 vs S colour is for example in a shot of a car i took recently for comparison ,a car with deep bordeaux colour metallic paint,the S sensor produced visibly better colour graduation ,maybe the advantage of 16bit vs 14bi,and the Nikon has amazing shadow detail,it seems the S (and hasselblad H4d-50) have better highlights..

            either way they’re all amazing camera’s and if you look back just a decade you can see just how much the tech has progressed,imagine the next decade,, 😉

            • That would explain a lot; too bad there are no S demo cameras here, only S2s – retailers are reluctant to open a $25,000 body for demo use. The S2 had slightly better color, but a bit of tweaking of the D800E file would make up the difference. My Hassy CFV-39 back has much better color than either, though – 16 bit, too. Autumn foliage looks incredible.

              Higher density for a given sensor size raises resolution. But it’s also more demanding of lenses – it’s why for instance a lot of FX lenses that look good on a 12MP D700 are a bit of a disaster on the D800E.

              A decade ago the D70 was pushing the envelope. Arguably, the Sony RX100 compact wipes the floor with it. Now, it’s up to we sacks of meat behind the camera to catch up… 🙂

              • “A decade ago the D70 was pushing the envelope. Arguably, the Sony RX100 compact wipes the floor with it. Now, it’s up to we sacks of meat behind the camera to catch up… 🙂 ” too true.. LoL

                I think the next jump in tech will be CFA free sensors,it’s just a matter of time before they go mainstream in high end cameras,also agree with you about Hasselblad colour ,, I like hasselblad files a lot and still think they have the best skin tones i have seen..

                Lenses are the best asset,camera body tech moves too fast but the right glass holds its value ,I have often used lenses for a few years and sold them for what i paid for them.. the bodies are almost disposable..

                • Well, reality is we have more technical/ potential image quality: but as a whole, I don’t think the images are better. Education is the next step – a CFA-free sensor is great, but garbage in = garbage out 🙂

                  Agreed on Hassy skin tones, and agreed again on lenses. I’m a little weary of buying all-electronic lenses though; first generation USM/SWM lenses frequently have dead motors and very expensive repair bills – or aren’t possible to repair at all. In that sense, I’m pretty confident that my Otus and other ZF2s will always be useful since they’re 100% mechanical.

                  Bodies are only disposable because the manufacturers make them that way; if they didn’t, then they’d probably sell very little especially now we’re past the point of sufficiency for pretty much everybody. Even if the rumored D4x does have 48MP, I dread to think how much of that I can actually use due to focusing accuracy, mount planarity, camera shake etc – these are problems we did not have with 12MP…

                  • Well, reality is we have more technical/ potential image quality: but as a whole, I don’t think the images are better. Education is the next step – a CFA-free sensor is great, but garbage in = garbage out 🙂

                    True,tech does not create art… high iso is handy though,

                    Agreed on Hassy skin tones, and agreed again on lenses. I’m a little weary of buying all-electronic lenses though; first generation USM/SWM lenses frequently have dead motors and very expensive repair bills – or aren’t possible to repair at all. In that sense, I’m pretty confident that my Otus and other ZF2s will always be useful since they’re 100% mechanical.

                    Agree again,And part of the attraction of a system like Hassy V.. keep it simple and reliable..

                    Bodies are only disposable because the manufacturers make them that way; if they didn’t, then they’d probably sell very little especially now we’re past the point of sufficiency for pretty much everybody. Even if the rumored D4x does have 48MP, I dread to think how much of that I can actually use due to focusing accuracy, mount planarity, camera shake etc – these are problems we did not have with 12MP…

                    I think more people are releasing this know,the D800 is as you say,as much as most people will ever need,Canon and Nikon sales are down,we may have reached market saturation,but a special lens like the Otus will always sell to people who want the best,look at the price’s of the Noct Nikkor…

                    • “look at the price’s of the Noct Nikkor…”

                      Beats the stock market as an investment, that’s for sure. I admit I don’t shoot with mine anywhere near as much as I should.

        • stanis riccadonna zolczynski says:

          Just put S70 on Nikon ( there must be adopters for it ) and tell us the result between two bodies.

  24. You’re just full of surprises, Ming! A “normal” lens – finally! The tenor of the review is certainly supported by the work. A very impressive showing to say the least. Having given up the full size DSLR format, I can only hope that my eyes don’t weaken anymore because I continue to be utterly satisfied if not blown away by the Leica 50 1.4 ASPH and the 35 1.4 ASPH FLE. But I it’d be a fun lens to take out for a spin to be sure! Thanks for another great review!

    • Pleasure, Roger. This review pretty much wrote itself. And it’s gotten me carting the D800E – plus grip for balance and easier verticals – regularly. Who’d have thought?

  25. Carlos El Sabio says:

    Magnificent work with a camera that you really don’t like. But an inspiration for those of us who own one. As for the price, it seems a bit odd to me that one would be willing to pay so much for a body, but hesitate on the lens. It would be like getting the best in stereo electronics and skimping on the speakers. Thanks for yet another great article and insight into another facet of your depth of knowledge in both arts and sciences.

    • I suppose the camera is growing on me somewhat 😉

      There are plenty of people whose spending makes no sense. They cheap out on things that are really not a place to cut corners; I’ve seen people put medium format digital on cheap tripods, for instance…

  26. The lack of matte focusing screens for Nikon D800 makes me not to buy this lens. Or any other Zeiss lenses. Too bad. Otus seems to be amazing.

  27. Great review and obviously a fantastic lens that your photos highlight – some of your photos are truly amazing and really showcase this lens. I see the world is now putting Leica down from the lenses to the cameras. I’m a little confused but this however. I still don’t see an alternative for Leica lenses when looking for a small and light package ( the jury is still out on the A7R ). I’ve owned Zeiss lenses, which I’ve always admired, but I still treasure my 35, 50 lux asph lenses and will continue to do so for a long time to come and paired with M240 sometimes produce truly magical results ( and some of your examples are truly magical too ). Reviewers considered the 50 lux asph the best 50mm lens in the world just a few years ago, and now it’s no longer good enough. This 55 lens is marvelous and obviously the best in this focal range given what I’m seeing ( and I respect that professionals like you think it’s the best ever ), but objectively speaking, it cannot fulfill everyones needs given it’s size and weight. I still value my Leica’s for their size and for the creation of a system that works well together as a whole across a wide focal length range and I still see nobody else creating a “small package” sensor and lens system that work for each other as well as the Leica. I may get this lens someday for my D800e, but it doesn’t fulfill the need my leica system does. WRT the 50 apo summ, it’s beyond my purchase ability and the zeiss definitely seems like the better purchase to pair with a sensor like the D800e for maximum results, albeit again at a much larger weight/size ratio. I have owned medium format film cameras before and back then, the SLR was the better all around solution for portability and convenience with the tradeoff of lesser resolution and image quality. I see the same with this lens. I’d keep it as my “medium format” solution when portability isn’t an issue and use other solutions ( Leica for me, but mirror less also fulfills this need obviously ) when it is.

    • No, I think Leica make sense for some things, but for the most part, they’re overpriced and QC is poor. The lenses work well on native M bodies, much less well with adaptors because none of the other cameras have the correct configuration of offset microlenses. Not all of the M lenses work well on the digital bodies; M4/3 has a much better lens-sensor pairing than Leica because all of the lenses were designed for digital. The biggest limitation of RFs is focusing calibration: no point in having an APO Summicron if you can’t focus it consistently and properly. At a recent gathering of photographers, 9/10 of the M8/9/240s there had misaligned rangefinders. I personally have never handled one that was properly aligned to begin with: this is part for the course because every lens is slightly different, and the RF must be adjusted for each one – which of course is impossible. The 50 APO is a lens designed for precision; the RF is not precise enough for consistent and critical focus (mind you, neither is the standard focusing screen on SLRs these days). If you’re using it live view on a tripod, that defeats the point of compactness and portability.

      • That’s a very strong viewpoint. I’ve used 2 film M’s and on my 3rd digital M and I get very satisfactory results and have only had to send one of my film M’s in for alignment after years of usage. In fact, with the 240, I almost never use the EVF since the RF works better for me. I agree on pairing with other bodies ( which was my point above btw of a “system as a whole” – I’ve used leica lenses on sony and fuji and not been happy either ). But I have to respectfully disagree on your point about RF focusing. I don’t have enough sample data to refute your argument on QC however. Pricing I don’t disagree – I do wish they were cheaper and certainly with sensors they are a little behind on the resolution given where competition is at. But for me 24 mp is already enough.

        • Not if you print as large as I do, or have to work with insensitive art directors who crop head shots out of groups of people. And I’ve owned and used enough M bodies to know that most require recalibration for really critical and consistent focus. I had to carry a toolkit with me for field use when I shot M, along with a spare body and focus target.

          • point taken – how large do you print?

            • To me, small is 16×24″. I’m preparing for an exhibition in January that will have 32 images on baryta – the smallest is 36×36″, and the largest 60×90″. Viewing distances matter too – and they will be near. So, the more the better 🙂

          • stanis riccadonna zolczynski says:

            You are so right Ming on RF calibration and I still wonder why Leica hasn`t solved the problem in professional way. It would say built-in possibility to realign RF using LV as reference point. When you`re in far away spot you just can`t count on UPS. That`s why I love my modest GXR m-unit for use with old Noctilux or Tele-Elmar 4/135

            • I don’t think you can: the fact that every lens has a mechanical component interacting with another mechanical component in the RF means that there will always be calibration issues since there will always be slight differences. The higher resolution the camera and shallower DOF the lens, the worse it will become. It’s much easier to do calibration with an M240 because of live view; at least you know what the optimal sharpness should look like. Before it was adjust, shoot and check on PC, then repeat…

  28. Nice write up Ming,personally I would consider this lens a bargain at the price,I have one ordered,hopefully we’ll see a D4X soon which will really bring out the best in this glass..

  29. Kristian Wannebo says:

    A century and a half of experience in optics augmented by modern computer simulation…
    In the 1950-60:es f:2 was about the limit for a really sharp (normal) lens.

    Very interesting articles also for an amateur with little experience of lenses.
    If one didn’t already read the magazines’ standardized lens tests with a substantial pinch of salt, one will now have some wellfounded sound scepticism.

    ( Having used oldtimers like Zeiss Tessar, Voigtländer Ultron and (Alpa) Kern Macro Switar helps me understand a little of what’s going on. )

    I do like the two photos with the small crescent moon and the b/w townscape.

    • The moon is particularly remarkable because I could not have done it with any other lens at that exposure – stopped down, perhaps, but then I wouldn’t have gotten the shot as I’d have needed a tripod.

  30. Dirk De Paepe says:

    Loved your review, Ming. Really loved it! I’ve been a Zeiss fan since my first steps in photography, and I’m really very enthousiastic that they come up with this kind of quality for less than half of the Leica price. OK, it’s still a lot of money, and I’ll need to make a special effort for it, but I’m prepared to do it, because for what it offers, it’s very reasonably priced IMO. And I’ll also take its size and weight for granted on those moments that the IQ is paramount. How the rubber will stand the test of time was also for me an immediate consideration. But I believe that perfection on every level is unreal in this world. So I’ll gladly be satisfied with a lens that’s perfect in the domains that matter the most.
    How it’ll perform on my Sony A7r (I can see you frowning the eyebrows now), is something I need to experience. I’ve already bought the Novoflex adapter (those Novoflex adapters that I already have are perfect – so far as I can tell) and I also bought the extra grip which enlarges the body with about 90%. So I hope that the grip will enhance the stability of the body/lens combination in my hands. But I’ll also do a lot more tripod work with the Otus. Bought a carbon fibre one, to keep it as portable as possible.
    Maybe you wonder, why I bought an A7r when making it so much heavier afterwards with lens and accessories. Well, that’s really simple: I also like to take my camera with me, Planar 2/50 ZM on it, with a total weight around 725gr. (My typical travelling bag with 3 batteries and 28, 50, 85, 135mm lenses weighs 1450gr for that matter…)
    Thanks again for your great work.

    • Thanks Dirk. Re. rubber: I can only imagine that if anything happens, Zeiss will take care of it. I’ve had nothing but good experiences in the past.

      As for A7r and Otus: I hope your adaptor has a tripod mount; it will be very, very imbalanced without it. I’d be worried about mount stresses and weight to be honest.

      • Dirk De Paepe says:

        Yes indeed, Ming, I thought of it and also bought the Novoflex “ASTAT-NEX” Tripod Collar with Arca-Swiss type platform, compatible with my Sirui tripod. I’ve tried it with my old Canon FD 200mm tele with 2x-A extender (the collar fits the FD adapter as well), to match the weight and size of the Otus and I can tell it’s very well balanced on the tripod, of course while absolutely sparing the lens mount of the camera. (http://www.novoflex.com/en/products/adapters/adapter-finder/)
        BTW, I wonder if you have your D800E-with-Otus mounted on tripod by camera screwthread, or also with an extra support. I guess without support, because I don’t see where to put it on the lens.
        Now I guess that the A7r’s construction is more robust than the A7’s, since its chassis contains a lot more metal (I believe it’s a magnesium alloy) than the A7’s. So I guess the A7r will be able to carry heavier lenses. Sony has been promoting the use of all kinds of lenses on the A7(r), with even official demo’s with the Otus. So I’m sure that since a long time they were informed of Zeiss, developping the Otus, and probably have provided the “r” with a stronger chassis (and generously proportioned grip), because its sensor is bound to be used with the Otus (and other top IQ DSLR lenses). Like I said, IMO the A7r can be large and very compact with the same body. I think that’s fantastic and a big advantage (for someone like me).

        • Hmm. Doesn’t the size and bulk of that setup somewhat defeat the point of a small body?

          The D800 is mounted via the camera’s built in mount. It’s not a problem because the Otus is no larger/ heavier than the 24-70, which also has no mount.

          Are you sure about the A7/A7r chassis differences? The A7 – not 7r is slightly heavier (by about 10g).

          • Dirk De Paepe says:

            To me the point of the bodysize is that I CAN use it in a very compact setup if I want to (what I mostly do). But with the same body and some accessories (grip, lens support), I can transform it in a larger camera, mount DSLR lenses and use it in a completely different way. So it’s a matter of opportunities, not restrictions. I look upon it as an “open system” and I think Sony did a great job here, pushing the boundaries – not only in size, but particularly in making it possibe to mount almost every lense you can imagine, which as a matter of fact is a result of the size (short flange focal distance). This was of course made possible thanks to the mirrorless concept, which resulted in the devellopment of continuously improving EVFs. And I believe that the A7r EVF will probably already be a better tool to focus than the D800 VF. I’d like to hear your opinion about that. Only in dark circumstances the EVFs IQ degrades somewhat, which results in needing a bit more time to carefully focus (searching for the center point of the “best zone”).
            And yes the chassis is absolutely different, the A7r’s being all metal: stronger, lighter… and more expensive. I think you’re mistaken here, Ming, every source says that the A7r is the lighter one. Look at the bottom of this page http://store.sony.com/gsi/webstore/WFS/SNYNA-SNYUS-Site/en_US/-/USD/ViewProductCompareService-Show?CategoryID=p_EKmUBxLoUAAAFBca8H76lW : 416gr for the A7 and 407gr for the A7r. The magnesium alloy of the r is a bit lighter than the composit of the A7.

            • That makes sense. My biggest concern with the A7/7R is the lack of native lenses. We have two small FE lenses at 35 and 55mm, but that’s not really a whole load of choice; Sony has a bad history of not supporting their systems. It makes people reluctant to invest into something which might land up being a dead end, or impractical in the future – I do like the idea of compact full frame, especially with small primes, but I don’t like the idea of being either tied to only two or three FLs – or having to use adaptors and compromise ergonomics/ size/ optics.

              I have an A7 and A7R here on loan; I don’t have any lenses so I am actually forced to use adaptors. It’s unquestionably easier to focus with than the D800E and standard screen, but the ergonomics are a disaster – it’s physically uncomfortable, though nowhere near as bad as the Df. Stability is a bit of an issue too – I find the E-M1 the easiest to focus by far, because you get IBIS + magnified live view. However, the A7/R makes sense with native mount small prime lenses: the problem is I don’t think we’re going to get many of them, and things are still limited by physics.

              Weight: I was quoting DPReview, so yes, they might well be wrong.

              • Dirk De Paepe says:

                1) I use the E-mount now for about 5 years, with at this moment more than 20 lenses. But I never take more than 5 lenses with me. The set discribed above is sometimes completed by a 20 or 17mm. In this set 4 of 5 are M-mount, the other FD (the widest). Most of the time I can switch lenses while the adapter stays on the camera. Same convenience as with no adapter. And sizewise, even with adapter it’s still smaller than the competition. So really??? What are you referring to? Don’t say you prefer a D800E with Zeiss ZF.2 lenses, because you think the Sony with adapter and M mounts is too big! Even with the Otus on both, the Nikons is still bigger than the Sony with extra grip. No Ming, size can be no matter at all.
                2) With the A7/A7r Sony has come up with a very important system. More people than ever are stepping into it. Zeiss has announced bringing a series of MF lenses in FE mount. This is a serious matter. Sony has not only grown up, they’ve taken the lead, technologically. OK they have been experimenting on different paths. But I believe, that they matured now. This is going to stay. Too many people are wild about it. The camera’s work too well. The IQ is too good to fail. I’m absolutely confident. And so is Zeiss! This must at least ring a bell, no? But more importantly: a lot of pro people and serious enthousiasts are absolutely confident. That’s more than enough to make it work. Too many people have been complaining about classical DSLR systems and have been craving about someting new, without exactly knowing what it had to be. With all my camera’s, I thought: this one is great, but if only… Well, the A7r has it all. It’s everything I always thought about, and more. Of course they can and will further improve. But this is my first digital camera where nothing essential remains to be desired. Lik so many other, I thought: “YES!” Sony is a pretty new name in camera business, I admit. But they have been growing in it fast, with the necessary balls to make bold steps, and at this point, in many domains, they have outpaced the competition. Sony is no ordinary company. For years they have lead the pack in professional audio and video. Let aside their many inventions on so many domains. In photography, their own engineers have been completed by those of Konica Minolta and now they have a partnership with Olympus. Quite serious, isn’t it? And quite a legacy.
                3) Concerning ergonomics, it’s probably different to what you’re used to. And I agree, that can be a problem for you. But in the meanwhile, I believe to have programmed everything in a clever way, assigning all basic parameters to a specific knob, and I can find everything instantly, spontaniously and blindly now. So I disagree. To me the ergonomics are brilliant. But the fact that I only use one body is probably a big help here.
                4) Please don’t refer to the EM-1, that’s no FF camera. So it’s not fair. You might as well compare with the focusing system of a microscope. 🙂
                I’m sure there will be better EVFs in the future, but as far as now, in FF, Sony has the best. And I’ wouldn’t wanna trade it for any OVF. OK, the Olympus EVS tops it if you look at all systems together. Sony is “only” #2. But are you going to chose #3 or 4 or 5… or a worse operating system because Sony is “only” #2? ??? Or are you going to shoot the Otus on the EM-1? There is probably an adapter that would fit it! 😀
                I’m not being very nice now, but sometimes it’s hard for anybody to see things in the right persepctive. I hope you’re not offended with me disagreeing that much. It doesn’t diminish the value of your work a single bit, nor the extent to which I appreciate what you’re doing. But I’m convinced that I have a point here. A few point, as a matter of fact. Probably, concerning analysing, sometimes I benefit from being a few decades older than you. 😉

                • I’m sorry for your Sirui tripod choice, Dirk. I had it directly compared to Gitzo (same size) and went for Gitzo, nevermind the price difference, stability as priority. Different worlds, really.
                  Thank you Ming, the last sentence made it for me 🙂
                  Did you know focusingscreen.com offer F6 based screen for D800?

                  • Yes; I’ve ordered a couple of screens several weeks ago and I’m still waiting for them to arrive…

                    As for tripods: the higher the pixel density, the better the tripod you’re going to need. And yes, you can see the difference – especially around the marginal shutter speeds of 1/10s and below…it seems a little silly to spend big money on cameras and glass in the pursuit of ultimate image quality then cheap out on the rest of the system. It’s like buying a Ferrari, putting economy tires on it, and wondering why the handling is off 🙂

                    • Dirk De Paepe says:

                      If that’s truth concerning Sirui, than I’m badly informed. 😦 Have to check that…

                    • Dirk De Paepe says:

                      Well J.F.B., in the meanwhile I have compared the Sirui with my old but heavy Benbo, 50mm Planar ZM on the A7r, and I have to admit: the difference is absolutely visible – as a matter of fact it’s about as big as the difference between Sirui and and an OOH shot! So indeed, it will absolutely be a no-go in combination with the Otus. But since I really didn’t use it yet, the shop is willing to trade… THANKS A LOT for the info!

                    • Tripods make a huge difference. There’s a reason I’m using that enormous 5-series Gitzo and an Arca-Swiss Cube with the D800E/ Hasselblad – it’s not for bragging rights. You really need it to maximize imaging potential.

                • I think it’s a good time for this post from one of my favorite new camera blog sites: http://newcameranews.com/2013/12/19/gelotologist-sensor-size-sense-humor/

                • 1) Lenses via adaptor introduce planarity issues, questionable optical synergy with the sensor, and you lose AF. Of those 20 lenses, most are consumer zooms. Size is not about total system size, but also balance: the smaller bodies make sense with smaller lenses. Bigger bodies with bigger lenses. I could adapt a Hasselblad lens onto my E-M1, but that would be pointless because it just wouldn’t balance (even though it would work). It would be uncomfortable and inconvenient to use, even if it can be done.

                  2) There were supposedly meant to be a lot of Zeiss lenses in Alpha and E mount, too. That said, I agree: Sony are very good at innovating. They are bad at following through and supporting the product. The ‘partnership’ with Olympus isn’t a partnership: they bought them for the very profitable medical business, and to eventually kill the camera division to remove competition (and cut the unprofitable bit). There is no altruism or intention to focus on improving cameras there at all.

                  3) It isn’t the programmability/ configurability that’s the issue; given enough options, you can figure out a combination of settings that pretty much works across multiple cameras. It’s physical comfort of the thing, especially with the larger lenses that are required for good image quality on full frame.

                  4) Why not? It competes on size, and nearly price, too. As for EVFs – Sony might have the best panel, but the optics in front of that are poor. Look at the corners of an A7 finder and an E-M1 finder. I’ve got both on my desk now (well, all three – including the A7R) – the resolution might be the same, but the E-M1’s finder is a lot clearer because the intermediate eyepiece optics are much better. There’s no tearing/ smearing of the corners.

                  I have no intention of using adapted lenses on any camera. I’ve tried it in the past, and it’s clear to me they do not give the best results.

                  As for analyzing and age, I am happy to let my results speak for themselves, regardless of the camera. I think that says more than enough when it comes to objectivity, especially if I’m willing to suffer some serious inconveniences (try shooting with a Hasselblad for instance) to get the right end image.

                  • Ming, I’m a M43 owner (E-M5 and GX7) with lots of lenses that recently acquired a A7r and a single lens, the 35mm FE 2.8 lens. I must tell you that I’m just floored by the image quality I get when everything is in focus and not shaken. I’ve never seen anything like it. Granted that I’ve never experienced a Nikon D800E with the Otus 55mm 1.4, but I’m just grateful that at a more or less affordable price, with the A7r and 35FE, I’ve experienced where image quality can go in 2013 and I’m thrilled.

                    The number of keepers is definitely sub-par compared to my E-M5 because of the lack of stabilisation and relatively slow autofocus, but I’m learning to shoot like a film SLR photographer again, when film processing was expensive. With the E-M5, I just fired away and picked the nicest shot as most were sharp and in focus. With the A7r, I have to be more steady and need to keep the shutter speed up. But when I nail it, I just go Wow!

                    By now you must have read Roger at lensrentals Imatests on the A7r and it seems that the 35 FE 2.8 lens, is comparable in sharpness or exceeds some of the best lenses ever made, even the Otus 55mm. The little lens seems to resolve more than 36MP, even though it weighs just 120g and costs $798. Now it makes sense to me what I have seen with my A7r/35FE, and to me this is incredible and makes the lens an amazing bargain. The A7r is not a system yet, but to me just a single lens has made it all worth it.

                    My M43 kit will stay and will do my macro and birding, where it excels. But all I want to do now is to go shoot and shoot with my A7r with this little amazing lens.

                    • I must tell you that I’m just floored by the image quality I get when everything is in focus and not shaken.

                      I am not surprised. IQ potential is high from the A7/7r, but it doesn’t mean you can consistently achieve it.

                      As for the FE35 – I’ll believe what I see with my own eyes, and not having got any lenses for the cameras yet, I can’t comment. However: it’s certainly possible. A slow-speed compact lens should be easy to design. An f1.4 design that’s as well corrected at f1.4 is not so easy to achieve. However: the system’s main problem is still that Sony hardly releases any worthwhile lenses but plenty of slow and mediocre consumer zooms – that does not make for a complete system. Nor do adaptors make sense, either.

                  • Dirk De Paepe says:

                    Dear Ming, apparently you’re a nice guy, because frankly, I thought, after me being pretty rude, that you wouldn’t answer anymore. But rest assured, I have the highest appreciation for you, amongst all web-publishers. There’s no doubt in my mind that your technical skills reach immensely further than mine, having had a professional education in music and not in photography. Also, I wouldn’t dare to compare my photographic work with yours, that I admire tremendously, as you know. But still I know some things about photography, after 50 years of manual shooting and I always try to think clear. And you know, when I see a black surface, and somebody says it’s white, no matter what his fame is, I’ll stay by my point. But sometimes, the other guy says: it’s really a white surface, but it looks as if it’s black due to the absence of light. If that’s the case, I gladly admit my ignorance and thank the guy for the information. I’m convinced that it’s in disagreeing that we improve. But, to make the comparison complete, when the light is dimmed, but not completely absent, I’ll stay with my point, saying that the surface is at most dark grey, but still not white…
                    That being said (I’ll do it in a “simple” language):
                    1) When you mention planarity issues, I guess it’s about surfaces not being plane. Which surfaces? Obviously those of the adapter. But avoiding planarity issues is something every manufacturer of bodies and lenses has to deal with. Even when manufacturing a camera with fixed lens, everything must be plane for that matter. And, BTW, absolute planarity doesn’t exist. So it’s a matter of staying within acceptable tolerances. And that’s exactly the problem with many (cheap) adapters. Result: planarity issues, due to too large tolerances. Question is: is there NO adapter manufacturer that stays within acceptable tolerances? I say yes there is. Novoflex for one. But these adapters cost about 10 times more than the average other brand. That’s why I tell everybody: don’t economize on the adapter! I agree, wen using an adapter, since there are two couplings, the tolerance doubles. But I’m sure they still stay well within the acceptable tolerances. Anyway, I could never see something wrong in the image. And if there would be an issue, worth mentioning, somebody like you must be able to consistently tell which images are shot with or without adapter (a Novoflex of course, not a cheap one). Can you? I say, when something in an image (and that’s what we do: producing images) can not be observed with the eye (directly or indirectly), one can say it isn’t there – at least it doesn’t matter. This brings me back to my question: can you tell amongst at random images, which one is made with Novoflex adapter and which without (on similar camera’s with similar lenses of course).
                    Concerning balance: I agree, I’ve tried it, a D800E has a better balance with a heavy lens on it, than an A7r. But with the grip on the A7r’s body, IMO the difference becomes pretty small. Should I only want to shoot with heavy lenses, no doubt, I’d buy a heavy DSLR, exactly because of it’s balance still being (somewhat) better. So with my Sony, I need to be a tad more careful when pushing the button. Correct. But personally, I love a challenge from time to time. 🙂 The essence, however, is, that many times, I ABSOLUTELY wanna shoot with a compact system. And I CAN do that with my A7r. And it is simply IMPOSSIBLE with a DSLR. Combine this with the fact that I wanna work with only one body (in full frame!), and you must agree that the A7r is FINALLY the camera that MAKES IT HAPPEN! Why do I wanna do everything with one body? Well, I’m not you. I don’t take hundreds of pictures every day of my life. Photography is not my first occupation. So more bodies is too expensive for me. Second important reason why I need to stay with one body is to still develop the necessary skills to work fluently, regardless the lesser number of pictures I shoot. More bodies would disturb my routines.
                    There’s another, yet more important reason why the use of a Hasselblad lens on an E-M1 is pretty crazy: the difference in sensor surface between medium format and MFT is crazy big. Yes it would work, and on a tripod with lens support, there wouldn’t even be any balance issue. Still it’s absurd, because, due to the enormous difference in format, there is no gain in using Hasselblads on MFT. My conclusion: there is some residual difference in balance (largely reduced when mounting the grip on the Sony body), but don’t compare that with an E-M1 with Hasselblad glass. That’s a caricature, while Zeiss ZF-2 glass on a Sony body plus grip is a very convenient combination and this glass can really yield a benefit (I think of a Makro Planar, or Distagon wide angles or an Otus). And again, I CAN GO VERY COMPACT TOO! (Planar ZM, Tele Tessar ZM, Nokton, Summicron…)
                    2) I have no insight in the secret strategies of Sony concerning Olympus. And I won’t be surprised when they would discontinue the brand. But I’m convinced that they are not that stupid, not to integrate the Olympus know-how in their own products and keep their best engineers employed. Frankly, I don’t really care what name my camera has. As far as I’m concerned, they can call it Konica again, or Zeiss Ikon, or Contax (if they would buy the rights, which I’m pretty sure they won’t). I personally have very dear memories with those last two brands, but I don’t regret now having “Sony” on my camera. Important for a manufacturer is to come up with interesting new products, that build on previously acquired know-how. This has nothing to do with altruism, it’s just business. If the Olympus owners have sold their shares, it’s probably because it was too hard to continue on their own. That means, if they wouldn’t have sold the company, chances are that it would have disappeared anyway. But again, throwing away the Olympus know-how is IMO unimaginable. Integrating it is very likely. But that’s a good thing. It would only make a stronger group, producing even stronger products. That’s my guess, based on simple logic. Again, I’m not a member of the board at Sony’s. So I can only guess and think about what makes sense and what doesn’t. IMO neglecting the Olympus know-how makes no sense. Rebranding it does. There’s no point in being too emotional about a name. Although it maybe would make sense not too loose Olympus as a brand. But still, that’s a business decision, and it’s Sony’s to take, not ours.
                    3) I can only say one thing: I LIKE IT SO MUCH! I’m having the time of my life in photography right now. And I ABSOLUTELY DON’T LIKE SHOOTING A BIG DSLR (most of the time). I have abandoned that concept years ago. On some occasions, I’m OK with it. That’s when I put on the grip and a fat lens. Up till around 1kg, I’m OK (that’s BTW the heaviest lens I own – I didn’t even try anything heavier). But mostly I wanna go compact. And there is only one full frame body in the world that gives me both these opportunities: the A7/A7r. I can tell, there are lot’s of people that experience the same thing. I know you don’t. But a lot do. So what I think doesn’t count for everybody. But neither does what you think! That’s the beauty in life: difference in opinion makes place for everybody. So personally, for our editions, I commission our editors, when they review a product, to think first about the target group, for whom a given product would work (the best), because I’m convinced that one can not measure everything with the same scale. Of course, you have every right to measure with only your own scale. And that’s still very valuable to me, because I know when and where I have to “convert” your findings to my own scale. Only, when the difference is pretty big, I feel the urge to comment, because I know (from our own readers) that not everybody is that versed to make the “necessary conversion” towards the scale that work for them.
                    BTW I wonder what kind of personal issue you have with Sony, since you call the A7/A7r “the thing”. Pretty patronizing.
                    4) I’ll tell you why: because I want a FF camera, not a MFT. So the E-M1 is out of the question for me. And so is a medium format camera or a smartphone camera. Nobody can force me into a kind of system that I don’t want. I want to do all my shooting with one and the same body, and I WANNA SHOOT FULL FRAME. That’s what I’ve been thinking about since my first NEX-5. And YES!, now it’s possible – there is ONE brand that makes such a camera, and it’s Sony, and I think it’s a great camera. It can and it will be further improved. Of course. Regarding the EVF for sure. But I can really do everything what I wanna do with it. I can NOT do that with an OVF, not on a DSLR, not on a RF. Period. Sure, future EVFs will do this job even better. But all the essentials are there now. For the first time! Tell me what’s the alternative at this moment? There is none. Or do you seriously advise me to go for MFT instead of FF, because of the better EVF, while I already love Sony’s EVF and while it does a better job for me than every OVF I ever tried? That’s why, to me and apparently to many many others, the Sony A7/A7r is a groundbreaking device. For some it isn’t. OK. Sadly. Because they don’t feel what I (and all those others) feel: “YES!”

                    Again concerning the use of adapted lenses: so you claim to be able, by looking at pictures, to tell which ones are shot with or without adapted lenses? As a matter of fact, the optics of the Zeiss ZF.2 lenses are the same as those of the ZE lenses. But they are adapted differently to fit the Nikon or Canon mount. However in this case, the adaption is done by Zeiss themselves, and implemented in the construction of the lens. As a matter of fact, adaption means only one thing: neutralizing the difference in FFD. Now this job is often done very poorly by adapter manufacturers, but a company like Novoflex does it in a very responsible way, IMO. I trust their products completely. I work with them very fluently. I say (to translate a Dutch expression): don’t throw away the child with the bathwater. 🙂

                    As for analyzing, I must reformulate what I wrote before. Of course your analyzing skills are extra-ordinary, certainly in photography. Otherwise I wouldn’t regard them in the highest way and always look forward to your publications, the way I do. Otherwise I wouldn’t bother spending time on writing extensive comments. On hindsight, it’s probably a matter of the position from which you write. This is one of a hyper pro. And this is good. It takes a super pro to speak with the necessary authority. The only thing that bothers me is, that your “intonation” regularly suggests (and this is merely my own interpretation), that this is the one and only truth, the one and only correct position. I’m sure many of your readers are enthusiasts, not professionals. IMO they are often better served with a (slightly) other scale than the one of a super pro. And I know that many enthusiasts have great difficulty in converting this scale into their own. I guess this is no different in photography than it is in music. In fact it’s because I often think that not all of what you write is one-on-one correct or working well for me (and many of your readers) that I comment.

                    • 1. Novoflex or OEM, ALL mount surfaces have planarity issues. Two surfaces – the minimum – has less chance of being out of whack than four surfaces (with adaptor). Simple math. Wide angle lenses symmetric lenses do not work well without offset an microlens array correcting telecentricity before the raw sensor. That is a fact of optics. You can go compact, but it will not be good. And that will defeat the point of 36MP.

                      2. You might not, but I do. I don’t say things lightly without a reason. And in a previous life, I’ve spent 10 years buying and selling companies for other people. I know precisely why this deal was done, and it wasn’t to make better cameras. Explaining business is not the purpose of this site, nor do I have time.

                      3. Well, good for you. The best camera is what works for you. I have no personal issues with Sony, other than their lack of commitment to any system. That does not spell a good long term investment for professional gear. It just looks costly; nobody wants to pour money into something that will be obsolete or not supported in a few years.

                      4. Again: good for you. I don’t honestly care what you use, and since you refuse to consider anything else, perhaps you can also understand why other people might not want to listen to you, either.

                      5. Yes, I can tell if you’ve used a FE35 or a ZM35 with adaptor on an A7R. The optical designs are different. One was designed to work with a digital system, one was designed for film. It’s one thing to change the mount (total: two mating surfaces) on a lens that was designed for a certain type of sensor – who made it is irrelevant – and quite another to put an adaptor (four mating surfaces, twice the potential error assuming all mounts were machined to the same tolerances) on a lens/ sensor combination that was designed with a different flange distance. Whatever you ‘feel’ is not justified by the physics.

                      If the readers would like a relative truth from somebody with no experience or ability to even produce a halfway decent image for that matter, there are plenty of other sites out there. They are welcome to go and read those. I continue to publish this site out of my good will and no payment for content whatsoever either from manufacturers or readers, so I’ll write whatever I is empirically justified by my observations and experimentation. I am always open to being proven wrong: but so far, I haven’t seen a single image – aesthetics aside – from you or anybody else that shows that.

                    • Dirk De Paepe says:

                      OK, 10 replies is sufficient. This is gonna be my last one and it will be short(er). 🙂
                      1. I agree with the math. And I absolutely get that for someone like you IQ is by far the most important issue, when choosing gear. But the same math applies, when comparing a body+lens combination (without adapter) with a camera with fixed lens. So why don’t professionals like you want more camera’s with fixed lenses? There’s the same amount of improvement to get there than between body+lens versus body+adapter+lens. I can only think of one reason: convenience (money shouldn’t be an issue). I hope you understand that convenience matters even more to me than it does to you. (And to me, money IS an issue.) I guess that’s why we need different camera’s. Also, as from the moment that one goes for more surfaces (2 or 4 don’t matter), the tollerances play an important role. I think you’ll agree that tollerances are so much lower with one adapter manufacturer than with another. And I understand that you set lower tollerances than I do. As it should. A 36MP sensor demands lower tollerances than lower resolutions. Maybe the 24MP version was sufficient for me. Still I see it as a challenge to get the most out of the r-version. There’s already a lot of satisfaction, learning and improving for me in trying to get the most out of it, by trying to improve all facets that contribute to the IQ, within my scale of priorities. You’ll probably say that planarity is one of those facets. But I have to respond that on my scale, other facets are more important, as long as I use quality adapters – as is on your scale the use of body/lens combinations instead of fixed lens camera’s.
                      2. Can’t argue that. I can only consider that nothing lasts forever. But I truly believe that this FE-system will be around long enough to get everything I want. As a matter of fact that’s already the case. I have ordered the Otus, because I’m truly amazed by it, not because I absolutely need it.
                      3. I understand your distrust. I’m a bit more of a believer though.
                      4. It’s only at this moment that I see no other system do the job for me. The richness in color and ease of work in PP (compared to the NEX-7) that comes with it, tells me I was right all those years in wanting a FF sensor. And BTW, I have considered the Leica M for many years. Only never bought one, because I couldn’t bring myself to paying much too much. After many years of SLR use, I really have abandoned this concept, because for my (personal!) use, I need more convenience. Why? Since photography is not my profession, I tend to leave a heavy system at home, while now I take my camera almost always with me, when I’m out for whatever job (other than photography) I have to do, enjoying shooting a lot more. I’m not refusing to consider other systems, I’m merely concluding that today this is the the first system that completely fullfills the wishlist that I carry with me for so many years. And since it’s the first, it’s also the only one right now. Tomorrow my conclusion can be different, when other players appear on the market with more compact FF systems.
                      BTW, to have people “listen to me” (about photography matters) is really not my ultimate ambition, since photography is not my profession. There can only be a certain amount of people in a position, comparable to mine. I guess some of those will like to hear what I experience, but many won’t be interested or will disagree. That’s normal. That’s good.
                      5. But that’s not what I ment. I use the C Sonnar ZM for quite other reasons than the Planar ZM (which I prefer in most cases), because I too can see a clear difference between them, due to the different optical designs, hence their different character. It’s kind of a hypothetical challenge to compare a system with or without adapter, because there will always be a difference in design. But what I wonder is: how big really is the adapter factor on its own, let away the lens character/design, and is it a visible factor when using one of a good brand. Doesn’t it stay within acceptable tollerances? (I always guessed the difference is more theoretical/calculable but negligibly low.) Another question: do I need to set the same tollerances as you do? (I guess not, since I don’t need to sell large format printed pictures – we play in different leagues.) Anyway, after 30 years of working in publishing, I know I can’t see any flaws strictly due to the adapter that I use. I know you perceive more than I do, but again, it’s normal that you use higher standards. Very very few people work on your level or have your perception. BTW I prefer the ZMs above present FEs because ZMs are typical MF lenses, with focus, aperture ànd DOF scale (!) on the lens. Those are essentials for me, that I don’t wanna work without. But when the announced MF Zeiss FE lenses come on the market, chances are that I will buy some of those (and maybe sell some ZMs), provided that the FEs will feature a good DOF scale (which I expect them to do).
                      I’m convinced you need to continue working the way you do. Absolutely, there’s no doubt in my mind. That’s exactly why the readers come to your site, me included. But I guess it’s OK to comment and interprete your findings from another point of view, with other priorities, with another “scale”. I guess that’s only a further enrichment of the site and I always experience reading other opinions from fellow commentators, sprouted from a different user situation, as an enrichment. It often reshapes or clarifies my own understanding. BTW, on your level, it will be tough for anybody to prove you wrong. That’s my guess.

                  • Ming, your comments about the Sony-Olympus partnership are sobering and depressing, and I can only hope what you say doesn’t come to pass. But it reminds me of the joke about how to pronounce “DaimlerChrysler” when that supposed merger happened: the “Chrysler” is silent.

                    Looking at what Sony did with Minolta, at least they kept the old Minolta lenses around and brought out a few cameras that could use those lenses. I suppose there are worse fates, but it’s a reminder to get out there and shoot with and enjoy what you’ve got instead of worrying about the next über camera.

  31. Excellent write up Ming, I enjoyed it thoroughly. I’m in the process of sourcing CFV-39 which is almost impossible here I the UK with the plan to use it on 501 body with 80 and 150 lenses. What would be your opinion when it comes to comparison of CFV+501+80 versus D800E+Otus? I fully understand that I could use CFV on technical camera (later down the road) but there’s also possibility of using TS lenses on D800E. Thank you.

    • Forgot to add that I understand that 16-bit will give you smoother gradients than 14-bit. I just would like to get into high resolution/large size prints with the possibility of architecture side of business in the future for which TS is a must. And am really thinking hard if there is any point to pursue illusive CFV-39 or give up and get D800E and build Nikon system (I used to have long time ago D40 and have only 60mm AF-D macro left which I use on X-Pro1 for ‘scanning’)

    • Tough call: the CFV is still a bit better, I think. Mainly because of color and realism of tonal representation that CCDs seem to excel at, but CMOS has trouble with without doing a lot of PP. I have sent you an email on a potentially available CFV-39…

  32. stanis riccadonna zolczynski says:

    Ming, you mentioned in Part 1 that Otus, due to it`s Distagon design, covers bigger area then 35FF. You know for sure, that there`s one machine that can check its coverage. It`s Alpa 12 FSP and it takes all kind of medium digi backs, up to 80 MP. Would be interesting if somebody could kindly lend you the set to check Otus in this respect. And I´m glad that you mentioned that people behind Otus are the ones that design Master Primes. That should stop people making silly remarks about its the price, size and usefulness. Enough to look at Compact Zoom CZ. 70-200/ 2.9, its size, weight and prize to understand that we are in completely other ball game.

    • The question is whether it will mount with that short a back flange distance. Interesting idea though. I don’t have access to an Alpa (or I might well have bought one) – in fact I don’t even know if there are any in the country.

      I was told by Zeiss that the design team is the same. No reason to doubt it either – the characteristics of the Otus are very similar to the Master Primes (at US$24,000 each) right down to the lack of focus breathing.

      Sadly, there are no shortcuts in optical design, and size and weigh are the price we pay for this level of excellence…

      • stanis riccadonna zolczynski says:

        Alpa 12 FSP takes all SLR lenses due to it`s built in focal shutter. An unique tech camera, with shifts too.

        • stanis riccadonna zolczynski says:

          sorry for wrong abbreviation , it`s ALPA FPS12

          • Oooh. That’s interesting…worth looking into.

            • Hi The ALPA FPS 12 will cost a little more then US$ 9000 . You will also need the ALPA adapter Plate for Nikon Mount. Its is not possible to shift with Canon or Nikon F lenses on the FPS 12 the Flange Back is not enough . To shift with the FPS 12 you need the use the Alpa STC 12 body , this will add 22mm to the FPS body. You can use Hasselblad lenses with the ALPA FPS 12 + the ALPA STC 12 to Shift, the Flange back of Hasselblad lenses is 74,9 mm . The shift will be at max 20mm left and right . ALPA makes Adapter plates for Digital backs Hasselblad V , H , Phase one , Contax . ALPA http://www.alpa.ch .

  33. Very good review. Thanks for posting. You wrote about Nikkor ‘competitors’: “they also suffer from both lateral and longitudinal CA until stopped down”. However, LaCA (differently from LoCA) can’t be cured by stopping down the lens. See http://toothwalker.org/optics/chromatic.html.

    • My understanding is that it depends on the source of the LaCA -first and second order errors behave differently as they have different causes. Sometimes stopping down makes no difference, other times it improves it.

  34. MIng,
    Eventhough I will never own such a lens I find your comments most interesting. Thank you very much indeed!
    Have you ever thought of giving a review on the Nikkor 58/1.4G?

    • Yes, but dismissed it after trying several samples in Japan – it’s honestly not much better than the 50/1.4G, unless bokeh is your priority. Resolution is fairly poor.

  35. Hey Ming, your link to Part one of the review is broken where it says “Continued from Part One”.
    Excellent review by the way. The lens is way out of my price range but your enthusiasm for it is infectious

  36. Zlatko Batistich says:

    Any idea how the image quality of this lens compares to that of a good copy of the 50mm Summilux-M (which is about the same price)?

    • Better, especially in the corners. CA almost completely absent; the Summilux has visible CA at f1.4 especially off center. I’ve owned six of the things…

      • Zlatko Batistich says:

        Thank you!

        • Really hard to compare these two lenses though…..ones for a small form factor RF camera and the other for ultimate performance which would not be used day in day the same way the Lux would. They are different products with similar specs and I think you’ll find used in different ways!!

  37. The third following 85 will be a 24mm 1.4

  38. Ron Scubadiver says:

    Sorry Ming, I can’t warm up to this lens. It is the combination of size, mass and cost that all seem so out of line for a standard lens. Good photo gear is expensive, but this is in a zone by itself.

    • Nor do I expect everybody to. It’s the ultimate tool for those who need/ demand/ want ultimate performance; as I said at the start of part one, it won’t be for everybody.

      Funny thing is though, a lot of people are happy to pay the even sillier money Leica asks for poorer performance…

      • Geez Ming, you a hard working bloke… With reference to Ron with all things one gets what one pays for but I regard some of the Zeiss M lenses as bargains the 15mm and 25mm there is no perceivable distortion. the 25 could be a good street lens although I don’t use it much for that set the ƒstop to 5.6 and there is almost no need to focus! The old Hologon camera is what, 40 years old (?) has zero distortion and it still sells for the original cost and often more. So if you like it consider it an investment at least thats what I tell my Mrs….

      • plevyadophy says:


        That’s because when one buys a Leica, one is buying with nostalgic rose tinted glasses and a sense of snobbery (I remember with amusement on the Leica forum, someone set up a thread in an obvious attempt to debunk the “myth” that most Leica M owners are mostly retired old farts …………….. and erm, when the results of the survery came through what do you think the finding was? ……………. Leica M owners are usually a bunch of oldies!!!!! 🙂 ).

        You buy Leica with your heart, and Zeiss with your head; that’s how I would sum it up.

        Declaration: I might be considered by many as an old fart, and I do fancy a Leica S system as well as having a bit of a thing for Zeiss (my first digital cams (Sonys) had Zeiss branded lenses and they were better than their peers)


        • Simple reason: you need to have money to afford Leica anything (good example: the 50/2 RF lenses are 3x different in price, but I think the Zeiss actually has the edge in performance) and that usually means being older.

          I like Zeiss because of the consistency: I get the same microcontrast and color across all of the systems I use, and that makes my life much easier. Can’t really say to a client ‘sorry, the photos look different because I used different lenses’…

        • Dirk De Paepe says:

          Dear Plevyadophy,
          I don’t know your age, but maybe, if you’d now mine, you’d consider me one of those “oldies”… 🙂
          Anyway, I took my first steps in photography under the age of 10 with my father and his Zeiss Ikon Ikonta 9×6 folder camera. The IQ was phenominal and I always kept the best memories of it. Later I had quite some Zeiss and Contax equipment of my own. And recently, I bought one of those old Ikonta’s again (I pictured it here http://www.flickr.com/photos/keepnitgood/10245915505/) ànd one of the “new” Ikons (http://www.flickr.com/photos/keepnitgood/9443677517/). What I wanna say is: one can really buy Zeiss with the heart. My love for the brand started some 50 years ago and has never stopped. So the fact that Zeiss comes now with such an incredible thing as the Otus really makes my heart beat faster. I simply want one, because is such an incredible “move” from Zeiss and of course also because it’s about the most perfect lens one can own. But it’s NOT because I need it. And of course the fact that the price is (more than) right, helps a lot, although it’s still an awful lot of money.
          To me, in a way, the difference between Leica and Zeiss can be summarized as follows: my heart always wanted to buy both those brands, but my head kept me away from buying Leica, while it encouraged me to buy Zeiss… If only they would make a digital Ikon bodies now… … … …

  39. Frank Rizzello says:

    Mr. Ming
    Your comments on this lens have prompted me to write you because, it seems, you do not see what I see so clearly.
    Zeiss has not accomplished any miracles here I’m afraid. They have given us the modern day “digital version” of their medium format look with which we are all so familiar i.e., superb detail, bokeh, close focusing, no flare, low distortion, etc., etc., accomplished with 12 elements and 36 megapixels. [They have an aversion to aspherical lenses it seems.] This is no great feat, I’m afraid, especially when you consider the sizes of the Nikon body and this Zeiss lens. Ironically I see this more as a landscape/still life/studio camera than a “street camera” because it’s greatest attribute seems to be amazing detail which is almost a prerequisite for those types of photography.
    To me, an almost scientifically “perfect lens” that elicits little or no emotion is not my usual preference for great picture making. Super detail does not a great lens make, rather it is more the gestalt or the holistic result that often is most important.
    The color rendition is typical Zeiss, i.e., often but not always lifeless as is the black and white rendition. I own both Leica and Zeiss and the only reason I bought one Zeiss lens (50mm Planar ZM) was for it’s LESS accurate and pastel like painterly color rendition which reminds me more of (pastel like/ my favorite) paintings than an accurate rendition of reality.
    Leica pictures are alive by comparison. The tones in black and white and all those beautiful grays are a joy to behold. Both Leica color and black and white are in a word ebbullient. The Leica rendition is generally overflowing with fervor and aliveness which serves to elicit a more emotional response in the viewer (me). It is true what some say about having an inner glow. The analogy would be Leica images seem to be as if they are transparencies lit from behind whereas the competition is like a print lit from the front! That may be an extreme exaggeration and therefore, not the best analogy but it kind of explains the differences I’d like to convey. Honestly, and I’ve only seen this in print and not first hand, the Nikon Millennium 50mm f1.4 rangefinder lens seemed to have a similar Leica “glow”.
    I know this all sounds like I work for Leica but I speak for myself and myself only. As an artist/inventor/teacher, I call it as I see it. There are no axes to grind, no brands to blindly favor, and Leica images, with all the faults you can throw at them, are just so much nicer to look at than just about anybody else. And this is easily discernible even on low res http://www.flickr.com and other similar sites.
    I sincerely hope I have not offended anyone as that was in no way my intent.
    One man’s opinion.

  40. Personal preferences, as always. The reverse could also be true: you don’t see what I see. The ‘Leica glow’ is uncorrected spherical aberration mixed with internal flare. I personally don’t like that at all, but others do. Zeiss may not have accomplished anything they haven’t already done – in the Master Primes for cinema, for instance (and certainly NOT equivalent to the Hasselblad V lenses, which I own many of) – but not at this price point or accessibility. Leica glass is also MF but people still use that for street/ reportage. I use the Otus for reportage and street with no issues either, and whether you get every last bit of capability out of it or not depends on your shot discipline…

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