Considering a Zeiss 50mm ZF for D200

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by mike_lockwood, Nov 6, 2008.

  1. Someone left my Nikon 50mm manual lens on the roof of my car and then drove off, only to watch it bounce down
    the road into a ditch at about 50mph (I won't say who that was). So, I need a replacement for it. The body is heavily
    damaged making focusing a bit difficult, though the glass is perfect and it still takes sharp images. I'm not interested
    in an auto-focus lens, I only use older manual stuff from when I shot with F3's, so I figured I'd just hover around the
    used case until I found a suitable replacement.

    Then someone turned me onto Zeiss ZF lenses. I'm looking at a Planar T* 1,4/50 lens, very expensive, but supposed
    to be superb build and top shelf glass. So I ask, is the quality of one of these worth the cost? I do not do any indoor
    photography, FWIW, and I should mention I'm shooting with a D200 and planning on getting a D300 in the near (I
    wish) future.


  2. If I could afford it, all my glass would be Zeiss.
  3. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    I am excelty the opposite, as I never understand the fascination with German lenses. I have been shooting Nikon for
    31 years, but I had bought my first (and only) Leica a few years before my first Nikon, and I have a Contax 645 with
    Zeiss lenses. I never see what the big deal about those lenses is all about. I still own both my Leica and Contax, but
    all I shoot is Nikon in the last couple of years.

    If you have the money, I would get the up-coming 50mm/f1.4 AF-S. Even though you choose to focus manually, the
    electronic contact between body and lens is still very convenient. However, that is a G lens and is no good on any manual-focus film Nikon SLR.
  4. The 50/1.4 ZF is one of my favorite lenses. I shoot indoor environmental portraits with it at around f/2.8. The
    mechanical and optical quality are good enough. What's nice about is is that manual focusing is easy and that
    even at wide apertures, the in-focus area is very crisp compared to the rest of the image. With Nikon 50mm lenses
    the in-focus parts get fuzzy as you approach wide open. It gives a different look to the images. Which you prefer
    - is just personal taste. I happen to think it's a great lens for low light use - the first 50 which I can use
    wider than f/2.5 without concerns about image sharpness. I use it with the 28/2 Ai-S and 85/1.4 AF-D as my indoor
    available light kit.
  5. I have to agree with Shun totally. ..It all comes down to how and what you shoot, whether you will realize any increase in resolution, and whether that will end up being visible in your images. For instance, unless you are shooting on a tripod and objects that don't change position relative to the camera, I have found more improvement in the technical quality of my images using AF [VR or a faster] lens. Any tangible increase in resolution just from using "sharper" glass, is lost by either subject movement, not compensated for manually or noticeable in viewfinder. It is the difference between shooting things in a controlled environment and maximizing resolution or using other tools better suited for a particular task. For just walking around pics, an AF Nikor can be better then the BEST Zeiss or Leica glass, and VR is a definite help when a tripod is not to be used.
    That said I own a Voigtlander SL 40mm original model that I have shot on both my old 5D and D300, and it, under controlled shooting conditions is sharper then my 35mmL and my AFD 50mm lenses. But if the subject or I are moving, I get more predictable sharper images with either of the others or a VR zoom lens. Also I question the common wisdom heard often in forums that primes are better then zooms, in the end I feel the zoom allowing a tighter crop of the image, ends up creating a better image file for large prints then a prime lens you have to crop....JMHO....YMMV
  6. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Ilkka, you might recall that I borrowed a 50mm/f1.4 ZF for a few hours when it first came out two years ago.
    I tried it on my D2X and found it to be very hard to focus accurately even outdoors during the day with plenty of light.
    I ended up with a bunch of slightly out-of-focus images that I could not post as test results since that would do this lens great injustice. Actually quite a number of ZF owners have the same experience as mine, and most of them use the KatzEye splite image focusing screen (or something similar) to resolve this problem.
  7. If you were happy with the results with your old 50mm Manual Focus lens, then purchase another. There are many available from reputable used camera dealers like KEH:

    Or you could purchase either the current 50mm f/1.4D new, for almost the same price as a used f/1.4, or 50mm f/1.8D lenses new, for considerably less, if you need a lens immediately. If you can wait, and want to spend more money, there is the new Nikon 50mm f/1.4 AFS or the Sigma.

    Since you will use this lens on a digital camera as well as your F3, I would suggest the either of the two "D" lenses or the SFS rather than the manual focus. You can always focus any of the auto focus lenses manually.
  8. Apparently one can buy the ZF 50/1.4 used for around what the new Nikon 50/1.4 will cost new. If you can wait until
    December or January, you'd be able to compare the two. My bet is that IF you favor the handling qualities of conventional
    manual-focus lenses, the Zeiss will be most pleasing to you.
  9. I rarely have issue with focus accuracy. I do shoot the 50 ZF at f/2.8 when I can to optimize image quality and
    get a reasonable depth of field. At f/1.4 and close range things can be difficult because it's hard to hand hold
    the camera so steady as to get the eyes in focus at the moment of exposure - and sometimes our eyes can't see
    well enough in the dark. But I have obtained good results at f/1.4 also - in candle light. I focus bracket if it
    is so dark that I have uncertainty about the result. I have an autofocus 50mm also, but I rarely use it, the
    image wobbles a bit when I touch the MF ring and that's highly annoying.

    But I use FX cameras mostly. On my D200 I used a Katz Eye screen. On the D700, the built-in screen is good
    enough. I think manual focusing becomes easier as one practices it regularly. If you have doubts about being able
    to do it, test before purchasing.

    Personally I would be concerned if I could not use manual focus. It's like writing with a pen as opposed to a
    keyboard - a vanishing skill, it seems. But it's necessary, I feel, for work at wide apertures and short lenses
    since 1) the autofocus points are rarely where you want them, and jiggling with the pad is time consuming, 2) the
    depth of field is so shallow that "focus and recompose" doesn't work well enough, and 3) in many cameras,
    including the D200, the focus sensor area is larger than the area you want to focus on, so the focus accuracy is
    not even near adequate to get the closer eye in focus. At least that was my experience autofocusing with the
    D200. With the FX cameras, the AF sensors are smaller relative to the frame size, so it's a bit easier but I'd
    rather trust manual focus and bracket if necessary than have the focus in the wrong place using autofocus. And
    especially if the autofocus lens doesn't even have the capability to produce a sharp image at a wide aperture
    even when put on a tripod.

    But if you can't use manual focus consistently, then an autofocus lens is the way to go, of course.
  10. I have no idea how anyone can be certain where the exact focus point is when using a manual focus lens at around f2. I'm sure you are aware that the new 50mm f/1.4 had been announced many months ahead of its release. Nikon doesn't do that sort of thing unless it is going to be a killer lens. But I hear that the Zeiss has some serious MTF figures to demand the high price.
  11. "With Nikon 50mm lenses the in-focus parts get fuzzy as you approach wide open" - never noticed that with my Nikkor. I guess that must be because I do not drink alcohol.
  12. "I guess that must be because I do not drink alcohol."

    Bit rude?
  13. Well, they may just try to give a message "we will make short AF-S primes, just be patient" by introducing the 50mm a bit in advance. In any case I think it's quite common for a camera or a lens to be announced months before it actually hits the shelves. I have no doubt the 50mm f/1.4 AF-S will be a very nice lens, and have seen some images which would suggest so. But without the wide angle primes with AF-S, I have no intention of purchasing the 50 AF-S. Why? Because my two 50mm lenses are optically already really good, whereas the wide angle autofocus primes are more in need of an optical update.

    In as far as being certain about where the exact focus point is - I guess it depends on what you mean by "exact". It's the overall quality of the image that matters most. Since the D3 was announced I started selling my autofocus Nikon lenses and replacing them with manual focus Nikon and Zeiss lenses. Now I am 50%/50 % AF/MF in terms of lenses. I don't want to think about how much it cost - but I can tell you that it is working for me - I am more comfortable shooting, and happy with the results. All but one of my teles is autofocus, though. This is because the picture angle with teles is narrow, and AF+recompose works better than with a fast wide angle autofocus lens - so I usually use autofocus with longer glass.

    For virtually all of my tripod based work, which is of still subjects, I use live view + zoom to focus. There are some lenses, such as the 24mm PC-E Nikkor, which can be difficult to focus by eye - I think it's because it's a very short focal length and f/3.5 maximum aperture. I noticed the same with the 18/3.5; which I didn't purchase since I felt uncertain about the focus. But with the fast f/1.4-f/2.8 ZF glass, the crispness of the image at the focusing aperture helps with ascertaining focus manually.

    For situations like night club concerts I use mostly autofocus - the movement of the performers exceeds my ability to follow focus in the dark.
  14. Well I'll just say I have owned 2 Nikon manual 50mm and I love them. But my Zeiss 50mm 1.4 wipes the floor with them as far as I'm concerned.

    The new ZF are very different to the older Zeiss lens, though my experience. I do own older Zeiss as well.

    For me it was money very well spent. I'm not just saying that, because it cost me an arm and a leg. The clarity is phenomenal. Real depth compared to anything I've seen on a Nikon or Canon.
  15. I belong to the group of unable-to-focus-on-current-screens people. It`s funny to use MF lenses on DSLRs but IMHO
    it is not worth it a huge expense for other then a true MF camera (with a "real" groundglass).

    Wait for the new AFS 50/1.4 as I do. If you need a lens right now buy a second-hand 50/1.8 and sell it when the AFS
    arrive. With the updated lens you will have full performance with current and future DSLR cameras, focusing speed
    and accuracy and, I wish, better IQ (hmmmm, I`m a bit skeptical about this, thought).

    I wonder why this modern Zeiss lenses are usually called "German", they have the same inscription than my
    Nikkors... "Made in Japan"... (It reminds me the Ford Sierra Sport Coupe I owned many years ago, 100% made in
    Germany, all German parts and nobody considered it German... otherwise, Spanish made Volkswagens are
    German cars... it`s odd...)
  16. Of course, I don`t subtract any merit for that reason; in the opposite, Japan manufacturing is usually a guarantee.
  17. (... althought I have already reminded that Japanese lenses doesn`t enjoy "glare" and "three-dimensionality", thought) ;) (Just sparking... )
  18. The ZF lenses are designed in Germany and made in Japan. Similar to the D300, which was designed in Japan and
    made in Thailand. None of this matters at all, of course.

    Many modern Nikon lenses have mechanical design issues. For example, in many lenses the lens barrel wobbles, the
    focusing system is noisy, the manual focusing ring may have some play so that when you reverse direction the
    focus doesn't actually start changing immediately in response to the turning of the ring. Many of them
    do not support extension tubes or bellows, and can't be operated when reversed. My 300mm f/4 had a weak tripod
    collar which needed to be replaced with 3rd party products to obtain good stability. In some cases, the focal
    length changes as you focus closer, with the result of lost working distance. The shift lock of the 24mm PC-E is
    wimpy and on my sample, it stopped working entirely about 1 month ago. I was abroad on a photo trip where I took
    80% of my shots with this lens, when it broke. It was replaced under warranty - so they didn't fix the actual
    mechanics of the lock, just gave me a new lens, which may equally stop working in normal use. After warranty
    expires, I will have to re-machine the rear end of the lens so that a solid lock can be implemented. How
    expensive do you think _that_ is? Many Nikon lenses do
    not have bayonet hoods and therefore they can be annoying to use with filters as you have to screw the hood off
    to mount/unmount a filter (though the latest Nikon lenses do have bayonet hoods). Zeiss lenses have no manual
    focus wobble, the barrel is solidly mounted, they all have bayonet hoods which come with the purchase of the lens
    in all cases, and have the aperture ring so you can use additional extension with them (and in the case of the
    Makro Planars, they can take it and retain good performance). Many modern Nikon wide
    angle lenses have significant field curvature, causing corners to be blurry, and the old wide angle primes have
    CA and corner issues, with no modern replacement announced. I haven't found any of these problems with my
    four ZF lenses. To me, a manual focus lens is sometimes an advantage, sometimes a disadvantage. When autofocus is
    needed, I use a lens that supports it.

    The cost of finding which are the good Nikkors has been very expensive for
    me. The cost of my Zeiss lenses is small compared to that.

    I take most of my pictures with Nikon lenses though. But there are situations where I run into some of the
    weak points of my Nikkors, and in some cases I may be able to solve them with a Zeiss lens. That's the good thing
    about the current situation - you have a choice.
  19. Ilkka, I may be heading the same direction as you with respect to MF lenses. Do you have anything shot with the Zeiss to take a look at?
  20. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Ilkka, you are making it sound like most Nikon lenses are poorly built so that those way overpriced and
    technologically challenged ZF lenses were the only way to go. That certainly has not been my experience with
    Nikkor lenses in over 3 decades. Otherwise, I would have switched from Nikon a long long times ago before any ZF
    lens was ever made.

    For those who would like to see samples, check out Bill Acito's thread from 2006 when the 50mm/f1.4 ZF was first
    introduced. He posted images from the ZF and from several 50mm Nikkors without initially disclosing which was which, and of course nobody could tell the difference, although small JPEGs posted to the web is certainly not the best way to judge lenses:

    Ultimately, it is your money and spend it whatever way you like.
  21. Mike:

    I have used Zeiss glass on my Hasselblad for over twenty years with fantastic results. That said, I can tell you that the
    Nikkor 50 mm f/1.4 that I purchased for my d300 is the sharpest lens I have ever owned. It is an AF lens to be sure but it
    is at a reasonable price at the moment and will probably even go down further when the new glass becomes available. You all may
    get tired of me singing the praises of this glass but it is incredible.

  22. Before you plunk down the cash, look into the Nikon 50mm f1.2 MF. Probably not as good as the Zeiss, but it blows the 1.4 away and has great Bokeh. Runs around $600 new. In many ways my best lens.
  23. Shun, I didn't say or imply Zeiss lenses were the "only way to go". I said "I take most of my pictures with Nikon lenses" which should put things in perspective.
    In the thread you linked to, I immediately recognized the 50/1.4 ZF as image A from the full image. The contrast and depth of field are giveaways.
    Calling the Zeiss lenses "technologically challenged" is like calling a formula 1 car technologically challenged because it doesn't have air conditioning, a cruise mode or a dvd player.
    Sp..., I don't have anything online from the 50 ZF. Here is one shot of a friend of mine at the office, I think it's typical for what I use the lens for.
  24. Focus on the eye, manually, as hard as it might be to believe.
  25. "I guess it depends on what you mean by "exact". It's the overall quality of the image that matters most."

    Is that why you focused on the eye?

    And since I know you are very fussy about dotting the '"i"s and crossing the "t"s, how about you try to shoot the
    same image with focus on the right eye - wide open - with the Zeiss, making sure that the center of the image is
    on the left eye.

    Then repeat the exercise with the AF 50mm f/1.4 and tell us which is quicker and easier.

    I seriously doubt that IQ wise we will see any difference. However, there should be some differences between the
    exactness of sharpness between the left and right eye.

    Obviously this is just academic, but it doesn't make much sense to me that with cameras having
    extraordinary AF systems, that some people are still choosing to use manual focus lenses for portraits.

    And pay a premium to boot! Maybe that's the point.
  26. I like the Zeiss 50mm very much and don't have much problem focussing it on a D3 or D700 although it can be a bit tricky from time to time. Where I really love it is using it on my F6 which Nikon makes a slit-image/microprism for and there it is a real joy. I did do a rough test of it against the 50mm AFD a while ago and found the Zeiss to be slightly sharper stopped down but the Nikon is nevertheless excellent. My only criticism of the ZF is that it produces a bit of barrel distortion which you might not expect on a prime of this focal length.

    I love 50mm lenses and am looking forward to the AFS version coming out next month. It is likely to be stellar (no excuse if it isn't) so perhaps you could wait for that if the ZF doesn't appeal?
  27. Andy, I'm not sure about IIkka, but I am mainly interested in the lens not for its performance but as an aesthetic choice in how I interface with the camera. I certainly wouldn't argue that it was faster or more accurate in all instances, or maybe even any for that matter.
  28. Thanks everyone, lots to consider. I don't make a living through photography, so a used lens would be the most cost
    effective approach. However, I'd like to use this as an opportunity to upgrade from my current 50mm, which is an F2.
    Finding used equipment is pretty much hit and miss, and I've heard some good things about the Zeiss, but the cost
    compared to used is quite high (no surprise there). So do I want to spend more on a new lens (I've never bought a
    new lens before) or do I want to wait until I find a good used lens. My 50mm is still useable, so there isn't a real rush.

    I'm not interested in AF. I had an AF fail me shooting in a light snowfall once, and haven't considered AF since.
    Guess I know how to hold a grudge! I find manually focusing an AF lens to be less than ideal, too.
  29. Focusing manually is more convenient for me when working with shallow depth of field, as I can just turn the ring
    and watch the image change and pick the
    setting that works best for the whole image without altering the composition in the process. Playing with the
    touchpad to select a focus point is annoying and cumbersome (to me). To me, using autofocus in these situations
    is like have to step into a car to get into the next room. If that's convenient for you, I don't object to that.
    I will stick to
    methods that work well for me. To me, autofocusing on the face, even when carefully done, often results in slight
    front focus, unless I am really close to the subject, too close for a nice looking portrait with a 50. To me,
    neither method is universally superior and having the option to choose is a good thing - MF glass often saves me
    stress and aggravation and I get images that I like, which is just as important.
    In as far as the difference in image quality goes, the Zeiss lenses have a different look and it is easy to see.
    The look of the in-focus areas at wide apertures with the 50/1.4 ZF look totally different from how they look
    taken with a Nikon 50mm - this is not some minute difference that is hard to see. Perhaps it is hard to see for
    someone who is determined to hate Zeiss or who can't see well enough to be able to focus manually.
    I've done blind tests of prints made from close-up photos taken of the same subject with the same effective
    aperture (f/8) with the 105 VR vs. the 100mm ZF recently, so far, everyone who knows photography has guessed
    correctly, which lens is which. Moreover, every one of the non-photographers has identified the Zeiss image as
    better. Personally I think the Nikon image looks "gentler" whereas the wider DOF and robust sharpness of the
    Zeiss is easy to see. I wouldn't go and claim that one is always superior to the other - although it seems that
    others have done that based on my images. The image is at 1:2.5 magnification, which is where the Nikkor is in my
    opinion at its best, and
    was taken with studio flashes. At wide apertures and higher magnifications the difference is greater.
    Mike, the 50/1.4 Ai-S is a good, gentle lens but I preferred the f/1.8 to it when I had both. At f/2 the 1.4 is
    better than the 1.8, of course, just as at f/1.4 the Nikon 50/1.2 is better than the 50/1.4. But at smaller
    apertures the slower 50mm Nikkors are superior to the fast ones. The Zeiss IMO works well from f/2 to f/11 and
    matches or beats the Nikkors in this range of apertures, retaining high contrast and sharpness. At f/1.4 the
    Nikon 1.2 is sharper but I rarely use f/1.4 and the 1.2 seemed to be a lot harder to focus than the Zeiss 50/1.4.
    Which choice is right for you - I don't know.
  30. I have above maintained that the difference is easy to see. To me, this is so, and others have also seen it in
    my prints. However, it is important to consider the aesthetics of an image as a whole. For example, some might
    find the sharp transition of in-focus sharpness to blur unattractive. Many Nikkors have a very subtle transition
    from in- to out-of-focus appearance. Whereas with the Zeiss the in-focus areas retain sharpness a bit further
    from the focused plane than with the Nikon lenses, which is one of the things which make the images easy to
    identify, but this doesn't necessarily work for every viewer and every subject. Portraits are an example, where
    you may not want to use a lens which brings out the image details with high contrast. In my example image the
    high contrast works, but on another subject it might not. This is why I think it's important to have choices -
    and not have to resort to extensive Photoshop work to fix things that could be done optically.

    Anyway, I didn't intend to sound as offensive as I seem to have towards people who criticized the manual focus
    only characteristics of the Zeiss lenses. I know autofocus is an important feature. I was working very late last
    night and was tired. But I managed to get a p-value of 0.017 for my study, so something good came out of it. ;-)
  31. "...autofocusing on the face, even when carefully done, often results in slight front focus..."
    My experience as well. BTW thanks for posting that image and sharing your personal experience with all the lenses.
  32. I like 50 mm. I find myself using mainly the 55/3.5 micro, then the 50/1.2 AI-S, then the 50/1.4 AF-D. The micro is versatile when I need to shoot both close and farther and produces excellent quality when stopped down. the 50/1.2 has excellent mechanical quality and good resolution. The 50/1.4 AF-D has the highest contrast, but the resolution is not as satisfactory as on the 50/1.2, so it gets used less. I've tried the Zeiss 50/1.4, it's a very good lens. For really large apertures, the 50/1.2 would probably be the best choice, provided that you can focus it. The Zeiss 50/1.4 would probably be the best overall, use anywhere -choice.

    My feeling is that the 50/1.2 is mot like the formula one car; finely made, can perform but challenging to use. The Zeiss is easier, the contrast is higher and it snaps more easily into focus. I'm not that interested in Nikon's 50/1.8 and 50/1.4 anymore, unless the new AF-S manages to really improve resolution and flare. I kind of want a Zeiss 50/2, but can't justify the price right now.

    Ilkka, your upload seems to have a serious contrast problem,the highlights seem clipped. The print certainly looks much better.
  33. I own the Zeiss 50mm 1.4, waited for a used one to come along and bought it (about $350). My other SLR lenses
    are Nikons.

    I am happy with the Zeiss. I love what it does to the color of my images. I can see a difference between photos
    of the same thing in the same light, same exposure, with different lenses. It makes the light and the colors
    less harsh, less flat, more translucent somehow. There's a certain subtle quality about it that is noticeably
    different. My Nikon lenses are great - don't get me wrong - but they are different than the Zeiss, IMHO.

    I have had no trouble focusing it with my F100 or my D200, though it gets a little harder for me at very close
    range (I think it's my eyesight). However, I confess that it just feels good to focus the thing. There is a
    certain smoothness to the way the barrel feels and how flawlessly it seems to spin - I could focus that thing all
    day. It feels... expensive. Sorta like driving a Porsche or something.

    If I could afford it, I would buy their macro lens as well. I keep thinking about it.
  34. By far the best Nikon mount glass I have ever used. My F6 kit is rounded out with a 28mm/2.0 and 105mm/2.5.
    I had a portrait shoot (pro bono) developed at Walmart and it blew their socks off. The fotos would not be released because they said it was "professional work protected by copyright laws and I wasn't a professional."
  35. I picked up a copy for $400 bucks. I do not think this expensive for fast quality glass. Then, of course, I ponied up $2400 (US) for my pre-owned Leica 50mm/1.4 ASPH glass.
  36. Went to the local camera shop today and found a used Nikon 50mm F1.4 in very good shape for a decent price. I picked it up and have about 2 weeks to play with it. It feels alot nicer than my old 50mm F2 (before it was wrecked)... focus ring has a smoother feel to it. Thing I find about used lenses is that if you find one you like, get it before it's gone.

    The thought of a Zeiss 50mm still makes me salivate, but this route is more cost effective. I'm also not entirely sure that it's wise in this economy to spend that much on a lens when it really is an unpaying hobby.

Share This Page