No Carl Zeiss Autofocus Lenses - Why?

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by whoz_the_man_huh, May 21, 2009.

  1. Just curious. Does anyone know the reason(s) why Zeiss does not manufacture AF lenses for Nikon?
    Is Zeiss tied up in an exclusivity contract with Sony?
    Or does Nikon simply not want direct competition from a formidable lens crafter? In which case one could deduce that Sigma, Tamron, Tokina, etc. are not feared competitors.
  2. Cal,
    The F-mount has long been out of patent and I think the AF for the F-mount is probably in the same state.
    And so,I do not think Sigma and the like colloborated with Nikon for permission to design their AF lenses for the F-mount. Much of the design is probably done thru reverse engineering. That's why the 30mm/1.4 DC needed a firmware upgrade when the D3 came out.
    I think Zeiss is unwilling to commit to the resources to do that since there're also the K-mount, Canon mounts, etc.
  3. >formidable lens crafter
    I think Zeiss is a formidable competitor for Sigma and the like but for Nikon, I doubt so. There's nothing which Zeiss can do that Nikon cannot do. The reverse is probably not true. Nikon can manufacture high quality lenses, like the 35mm/1.8 DX at a ridiculously low cost. I do not think Zeiss knows how to do that.
    I also do not see Zeiss being capable of implementing modern technologies, such as aspherical elements, Close Range Correction (CRC) or Floating Element technologies at a reasonable cost.
  4. It's just that without Nikon's support it will never work properly. There are so many reports of inaccurate autofocus when using third party lenses that the whole point of making high quality lenses is thrown out of the window if the camera doesn't recognize the lens and apply corrections depending on the optical formula. Only if Nikon collaborates with Zeiss would it work well. And of course since Nikon wants to sell their own lenses, they won't agree to it. I recall a Leica interview in which someone asked Leica why they don't make third party AF lenses for Nikon, Canon etc. and they said they would, but the camera makers response to such negotiations is "absolutely not" or something like that.
    When the primary sensor data based "live view" autofocus becomes faster, then all 3rd party lenses can autofocus correctly since no correction to the "live view" data is needed for any lens.
    Since Zeiss lenses are made in Japan with basically shared infrastructure, there is no reason why they couldn't make cheap lenses if they wanted to. In fact the current ZF lenses are fairly inexpensive considering the build and consistency (for an idea of how much they'd cost if made in Germany, see the price of the 85/2 ZM for the Leica mount; it's made in Germany). Nikon nowadays basically makes lenses to last a finite time so that they can resell a newer model, along with a new generation of DSLRs. If you just look at the build of most modern Nikkors, it becomes obvious that they were never intended to last for generations. For example the shift lock of my 24mm PC-E stopped working in less than half a year of use. High mechanical quality costs a lot of money. And often it is practically impossible to implement together with autofocus. E.g. the 21 ZF is said to have 5 independently moving (floating) groups that follow their own trajectories when focus is adjusted. How do you do that with a focusing mechanism that has to operate with essentially zero force?
  5. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Arthur, there is one major item that Zeiss can do while Nikon cannot: putting the Zeiss logo on the lenses, and that means extra profit.
    Calvin, if you really want to get an answer to your original question, I suggest write to Zeiss and see how they respond. The reasons you mentioned in your original post are the same (in my opinion) falty reasoning/myth that is posted over and over. If Nikon were able to prevent other parties from producing Nikon F mount lenses, they would have blocked Sigma, Tokina, Tamron, etc. a long long time ago.
  6. Arthur, you must be kidding about floating elements (or CRC) and aspherical elements.
  7. they would have blocked
    They do. The original AF Nikon SLRs (e.g. my old F-601) had the text in the box which said that only by using Nikon lenses would the user get the full performance of the autofocus system. This is true today just as much as it ever was.
  8. >Arthur, there is one major item that Zeiss can do while Nikon cannot: putting the Zeiss logo on the lenses, and that means extra profit.
    That blue dot is beautiful! :)
  9. Right, Arthur. If I were Zeiss I guess I'd insist on proper cooperation too.
    However I'm not sure I entirely understand why Zeiss is perfectly capable of producing manual focus lenses for Nikon.
  10. Arthur, I think there are many who'd disagree with you on the issue of Zeiss quality. Zeiss seems to have picked up a legendary reputation from somewhere.
  11. "t's just that without Nikon's support it will never work properly. There are so many reports of inaccurate autofocus when using third party lenses that the whole point of making high quality lenses is thrown out of the window if the camera doesn't recognize the lens and apply corrections depending on the optical formula."
    This does not really sound like a difficult engineering challenge. Zeiss should be able to make very nice AF lenses that work on Nikon bodies, even without Nikon's cooperation.
  12. Arthur Yeo "There's nothing which Zeiss can do that Nikon cannot do."
    You might want to look at the history of Zeiss, and the inventions made by their employees. Then you might revise your thinking.
    The reason for Zeiss not having AF Nikon lenses might simply be that reverse engineering the comms protocol is pretty much impossible to do as they cannot ensure forward compatibility. After all, they have no idea what signalling Nikon might introduce at a future date. And Nikon would not want to licence the mount.
  13. Nikon is not giving the complete specs and info on how to make lenses to fit their electronics and AF, so Zeiss doesn't want to produce a half-baked effort. There are numerous little glitches with 3rd party lenses on Nikon, glitches that are not present on Nikon lenses. The mentality of German lens makers has been not to create mediocre to low quality wares, which explains a bit.
    Talking about capability, Zeiss lost to Fuji in the competition to make the lenses for the Hasselblad H-series, but it later turned out that Fuji wasn't able to produce the lenses to spec at the price originally proposed and the final price was similar to the Zeiss offering (quite possibly higher). Also, those cellphone cams with Zeiss lenses are not too expensive. Furthermore, looking at many new Zeiss lenses, they are not that expensive considering what you get. When looking at higher caliber Nikkors the price is not all so low anymore.
    I also do not see Zeiss being capable of implementing modern technologies, such as aspherical elements, Close Range Correction (CRC) or Floating Element technologies at a reasonable cost.​
    These technologies are pretty routine to Zeiss, e.g. the 50 with CRC for Hasselblad was introduced already in the seventies. Zeiss has also produced many interesting specialty lenses during the years (Hologn, different version of Biogon, 50/0.7, Superachromats...), which Nikon doesn't have any equivalent to.
  14. Thanks for the informed thoughts, Ilkka.
  15. One other thing, camera lenses are just a tiny part of Zeiss. Browse thru their website sometime.
    One of their bleeding edge microscope lenses will set you back close to $15,000, and you can hide it in your hand.
  16. Zeiss makes AF lenses for Sony, Sony probably made sure they wouldn't be doing the same with other mounts.
  17. This does not really sound like a difficult engineering challenge. Zeiss should be able to make very nice AF lenses that work on Nikon bodies, even without Nikon's cooperation.
    The autofocus sensor doesn't see exactly the same light as seen by the main image sensor. It sees something that is a substitute of it and by using lens-specific corrections that take place in the camera, Nikon is able to focus their own lenses pretty accurately. It is not a coincidence that Nikon put chips into the first AF Nikkors while all previous Nikkors didn't have them. It is because without the lens identification, AF wouldn't work. The cameras only identify Nikon's own lenses. There are still problems with some samples - e.g. Ken Rockwell claims his F100 didn't autofocus his 180 correctly (I've never had such a problem with mine though)) and my D200 wasn't able to autofocus the 105 DC correctly enough to be useful at wide apertures (<f/3.5; this seems to be a common problem with DC Nikkors though I seem to have been lucky with my other bodies). Nowadays Nikon lets the user set an AF fine tune parameter but the problem is that the correction may depend on focal length, distance, and aperture! So the lens specific correction table would be a function of three scalar parameters.
    Zeiss is able to make manual focus lenses for Nikon since the Ai interface is mechanical and involves very little information transfer. Superfast Nikkors like the 50/1.2 reportedly have some mechanical tabs which deliver information that allow some bodies that read this info to correct for exposure issues that arise with the meter reading a subset of the light wide open but I believe the behaviour of these linkages is well documented (I think the FA and F4 read them, if I recall correctly). What is interesting is that the off-center spot meter doesn't work with non-CPU lenses. There is a good physical explanation for this, and it's similar to the AF sensor case. The light that is seen by the meter is not exactly the same as seen by the main imaging sensor. The light going to off-center meter cells is not detected with the same sensitivity as the light that is seen by the center spot meter. What's more, since the off-center areas are affected by the vignetting of the lens (metering normally takes place wide open), the meter reading without correction would be off for all shooting apertures except wide open! These things are corrected by the lens delivering the necessary data for the body so that appropriate "coupling coefficients" can be applied. This I believe is the main reason why Nikon was so reluctant to allow matrix metering to be used with non-CPU lenses. It was present in the FA and F4, and then disappeared. It was not because they wanted us to stop using MF glass. Rather it was a question of how well Nikon thought it must work to be acceptable. Later in the D2/F6 generation it came back, but Nikon notes that the accuracy is not the same as with CPU lenses. With a lens without CPU, if you move the active AF area, the spot meter stays at the center, since that's the only area which can work accurately without a correction table. Some people have made it into a bit of a hobby to scavenge CPUs from lenses and put them into others. There are some cases reported where the meter and even post-processing by Nikon Capture doesn't work correctly when the wrong CPU has been used. I have no personal experience with chipping lenses but these anecdotes just illustrate how complicated the electrical lens-body interface is.
    Anyway, I don't think there is too much brand specific extra cost in Zeiss products. The cost is what it is and has more to do with precision mechanics, assembly, tolerances than riding with a brand name. Cosina, in addition to Zeiss ZF lenses, also makes the current Voigtländer lineup of lenses. Oskar and I compared the 18mm ZF against the 20mm Voigtländer which is less than half the price of the Zeiss. While the Voigtländer did well and I think it's amazing for such a little lens, the results didn't really leave any doubt about where the extra money that the Zeiss cost, went. As with the 200/2 Nikkor which I think is 10% better than the 180/2.8 costs 300% more, the ZF 18 is maybe 10-15% better than the Voigtländer at 100% greater cost. There is no room for adding to the price just because it's a Zeiss, or a high end Nikkor. The price is what it is, and it has everything to do with how many are made and how difficult they are to make to the quality standard that they're made to. Zeiss knows very well that if they could make the 21mm ZF at $500 a piece, they'd really take the wide angle world by a storm. But they can't - nobody can. It costs what it costs and those who can afford it and want one, buy it. If you're after making money first and foremost, making stuff really well isn't an effective way of achieving your goal!
  18. I'll let everyone know when I hear back from Zeiss, Shun.
  19. >You might want to look at the history of Zeiss, and the inventions made by their employees. Then you might revise your thinking.
    Please understand that I am a fan of Zeiss' and Leica's historical achievements as well. And, I still love their products.
    But, in terms of innovative refinement and cost management of manufacturing processes, no country in this world can match the Japanese ... yet. That's what I was referring to.
  20. I bet that Zeiss has the same problem as BMW. They are both German companies and the problem they share is that the Germans make outstanding mechanical products but bad electronics. The BMW is world famous for their engines which are mostly mechanical. Only until lately has the BMW electronics started to approach the Japan electronic quality. The Japanese have had the title for the best of best micro-electronics. Zeiss probably cannot match the Nikon, Sony or Canon electronics in their lens. They know this an don’t try. Another German product that was designed in Germany but manufactured in Mexico was the new (already) several years old VW bug automobile. I read horror stories about the electronics of these vehicles and it was not a production problem but a design problem. So, again my belief is that Zeiss does not have or cannot afford the expertise to build autofocus lens to compete against Nikon. At least not quality autofocus lens. And, they don’t try because their reputation would suffer.
  21. Again thanks for letting me and others pick your big brain, Ilkka.
  22. Don't be silly. If Sigma, Tokina and Tamron can all make compatible autofocus systems there's no reason at all why Cosina can't. The real reason that there are no AF versions is Cosina's target market, which is niche and elitist. Why do you think that Sony and Cosina have appropriated the Zeiss and Voigtlander names? To compete with Sigma, Tamron, Nikon or Canon on their own terms? No! Cosina want the mystique and marketing pull of a product that's slightly old fashioned and "traditional", and when Leitz finally pulls out of the photographic market, then Cosina will probably buy up the Leica marque as well. It's not technical incompetence, it's sheer marketing genius.
  23. I think the reason Zeiss is in the fast manual lens F mount market is because Nikon neglected it, especially at the wide end. They saw a niche and are filling it. Its a low volume opportunity, so they keep the prices high to support the quality expectation and the value of the name. They are nice lenses all the same. I also think that people who shell out for Zeiss F mount lenses have a use in mind that does not really require AF. I also like the fact that I can mount a new Zeiss on my 30 year old FM as well as my D300. I think thats what they had in mind too.
  24. I think there is one solid business justification for not making autofocus lenses.
    These Zeiss lenses are made as premium products, and are only manufactured in relatively small numbers compared with consumer products. Engineering autofocus in the lens body would create additional expenses and challenges. The additional costs would drive the price further up, and the volume down, making it harder to provide the quality they want. Also, lightweight and plastic parts necessary for making a helical move under a small motor would have to be developed. An in-lens motor would have to be adapted for all mounts. A screwdrive would work only with certain cameras and not others. This is more risk than I think they wanted to take.
    In their current marketing model, they can provide top optical performance in a stunning jewel-like package that will work (with minor modifications) on all mounts for all customers, with a reasonable expectation of some profit.
  25. Jose, keep in mind Zeiss has no problems producing usable AF lenses for Sony. I don't think it's a technical issue that prevents the German lens maker from working with Nikon.
  26. But, in terms of innovative refinement and cost management of manufacturing processes, no country in this world can match the Japanese ... yet. Ever heard of a little company called Intel? :)
  27. Zeiss delivered the first 35mm camera lenses with floating elements(which Nikon dubbed 'CRC' for their own products ) in 1967 in their 35/1.4 lens for the Contarex/flex in its dying days. I think Zeiss makes both a business and aesthetic decision not to build AF. I acknowledge that AF is a necessity for those with poor eyesight, optically poor SLR viewing systems, and those(in the press, for example) that have to work extremely fast. But then again, zone-focusing a Leica with a 21mm on it worked at about the same speed. Also, there are many current photographers, probably not a majority, that consider AF as currently presented by the majors to be a optical compromise-creating, mechanically questionable feature of dubious long-term reliability. The ZF lenses I have will still be operating smoothly 20 or 40 years from now...for whomever happens to possess them at the time. Cheers!
  28. 1) A lot of the things Nikon can do is because Nikon used optical designs developed by Zeiss long time ago.
    2) There are lenses that Nikon might be able to produce but so far has not proven to succeed. One example is the Zeiss 100mm f2.0 macro lens.
    3) The F-mount is widely used for scientific and technical applications. There most of the camera bodies are dedicated bodies and not made by Nikon. I suppose Zeiss is more tergeting this market than the Nikon consumer market.
    4) Sample variation: Zeiss has proven many times that their optics keep the specs no matter what.
  29. Germans make outstanding mechanical products but bad electronics. The BMW is world famous for their engines which are mostly mechanical.
    Car engines haven't been "mostly mechanical" in over 30 years. Electronic controls have transformed automobiles, and you don't sell high-performance luxury vehicles like BMWs without doing electronics extremely well.
  30. Calvin Nguyen [​IMG] , May 21, 2009; 10:08 p.m. (edit | delete )
    Jose, keep in mind Zeiss has no problems producing usable AF lenses for Sony. I don't think it's a technical issue that prevents the German lens maker from working with Nikon.​
    Sony and Zeiss have an established partnership. Zeiss does not have such a partnership with other manufacturers, who otherwise closely guard their trade secrets.
  31. Hey all.
    Here's the official, and surprisingly swift, word from Zeiss:

    "Hi Cal,

    Carl Zeiss has a lot of experience designing auto focus lenses for the Contax and Sony systems. This requires a close working relationship with the camera company and permission to interface with their electronics and AF systems. To date, we have not had permission to offer this feature with our ZF lens series.

    Richard Schleuning
    Carl Zeiss MicroImaging, Inc. - Photo Division

    Richard Schleuning - National Sales Manager, International Sales Americas
    PO Box 112, Roseland, NJ 07068 USA
    Phone/Fax: 973.226.7387 - Mobile: 973.809.3896 -"

    Take from that what you will. My personal interpretation is: "We don't do Nikon AF because of Nikkor protectionism, Cal".

    Case closed, yeah?
  32. I don't know that I'd interpret that as "protectionism" in any pejorative sense. It's in the best interest of any camera manufacturer to ensure that the best possible quality lenses are available for their bodies, otherwise the cameras are of little use.
    Historically, all of the major players in the camera industry - Canon, Contax, Leica, Minolta, Nikon, Olympus, Pentax, etc. (trying hard to be objective here - pardon the pun - by listing in alphabetical order) - have provided top quality lenses for their own bodies. With a relatively small handful of dogs from each maker, they've generally succeeded at this.
    And, historically, the usual role of third party manufacturers has been to offer good value: good optics at a lower price than the OEMs. With the exception of a small handful of excellent lenses that surpassed the OEMs, they've generally succeeded in this niche.
    There have been a handful of camera makers who have relied extensively on other parties to provide lenses. With the exception of large format cameras, these partnerships have generally been an economic failure, altho' fans of those cameras would dispute this characterization. But this isn't the first time a German marque has partnered with another camera manufacturer in an effort to both stay relevant as an optical designer/manufacturer and to bolster the reputation of a camera maker. During the 1990s Samsung partnered with Schneider to provide lenses for their upper tier P&S compacts. So far the only genuine success has been through the efforts of Cosina, which bought the rights to the Voigtlander marque and produces both good quality camera bodies and lenses under that name.
    So I wouldn't interpret "protectionism" in any negative sense of the word. There's little evidence to show that it's in the best interests of any major camera manufacturer to risk their trade secrets in a partnership with another optical manufacturer when the camera manufacturers themselves have a proven history of doing very well for themselves in optical design an manufacturing.
  33. But while it may be in the best (perceived) interest of the camera manufacturer to restrict usage of their interfaces, this is usually not in the best interest of the customer, who would like to see more niches filled and possibly a bit stiffer competition in some areas (Nikon AF wide angles anyone?). Now the camera manufacturer's economy is most likely not threatened, simply because it is practically impossible to compete with the bread-and-butter lenses that people buy with their cameras and because new digital bodies are better moneymakers anyway.
    Sony probably realized that they are going to make most money from the bodies themselves, some accessories and a select few lenses and would be well-served by letting Zeiss design a couple of outstanding lenses for their system that Sony would not have designed now, if ever.
  34. It's debatable whether this policy is in the best interest of the customer. Buyers tend to vote with their wallets. If I was in marketing or research for Nikon or any manufacturer I'd more far more concerned about actual buying trends than with web forum discussions. Web discussions about these issues tend to emphasize the negatives and dissatisfaction, usually out of proportion to any statistically significant sampling group of actual buyers.
    Consider, for example, web forum discussions about the D300, D700, 50/1.4 AFS and 35/1.8 AFS. Initial discussions were heavily optimistic and enthusiastic. But it didn't take long for the "It's never good enough" factor to settle in. With the D300 and D700, at first buyers were thrilled with the low noise performance at high ISOs. Within a few months there were complaints from a vocal few about it not being good enough.
    Then came the new AFS short primes. Nikon owners had been demanding these for years. And how long did it take for the nitpickers to find fault with every minor shortcoming? Even tho' the differences between the various 50mm lenses compared from all sources were insignificant overall.
    Frankly, it would be insane for any manufacturer to place too much emphasis on specific complaints in web forum discussions. They'd constantly be chasing their own tales, trying to figure out how to please the customer, when, in reality, the *real* customers are buyers, not forum warriors.
    And if I was in Nikon marketing I'd be a lot more concerned at the moment about the new manual focus 85mm f/1.4 being marketed by Vivitar and others than I would be about anything wearing the Zeiss label. In fact, I suspect Zeiss is worried about this new entry.
  35. I'm about 80% certain that Zeiss has a contractual arrangement with Sony that the only Zeiss auto-focus lenses for '35mm'-style SLR's and DSLR's will be Alpha-mount.
  36. Hi guys, Well this is an interesting thread. Some folks wrote stuff here that is, well... not quite accurate.
    First, having used Nikkor, Rokkor, Canon, Leitz and Zeiss optics, it is my experience that the design of Leitz and Zeiss is superior to Japanese optics; in manual lenses, but at a price. Today, these differences are negated in a digital, auto-everything world: you will not see a difference in a 12mp image on a screen.
    Second, Zeiss can make auto focus lenses. I still use a Contax G sysem, all AF lenses, many were rated the best of any 35mm for years. Also, Zeiss did make AF lenses for the Contax cameras as well as Sony. That they don't make it for Nikon or Canon is that in the world of DSLRs, Nik/Con have the lead and don't need or want any manufacturer to userp their market share: People can save money and buy a third party lens, but the Nik/Con lenses will still be considered the best possible quality for that brand. If Zeiss came into this picture, N/C would no longer be the "best" for their only cameras. Remember: DSLR's become obsolete in months, but AF lenses stay current for many years
    Third, At first Sony needed Zeiss, but now as an option: Zeiss lenses made for Sony say Zeiss, but the new run of Sony AF lenses are really Minolta (and that is a good thing!) as Sony aquired Minolta 35 and digital cameras, hence the Alpha mount which is the same as the Maxxum mount. The Zeiss lenses are premium in quality and price, but I think the Sony (nee Minolta) AF lenses are excellent and more affordable.
    Zeiss has and will always be a lens designer first, camera maker second. The Zeiss-Ikon name is now in token use on a Cosina made body, along with Rollei (who used Zeiss lenses for 75 years) and Voigtlanger. Zeiss will continue to make lenses, but now even the newest Rollei MF cameras only use Schneider and Hassleblad 645 are Fuji lensed. I think a camera maker can only improve the image of ther brand if they contract with Zeiss to make lenses, whole or in limited numbers, e.g Sony...except if you are a leader is DSLRs like Nikon/Canon...then you don't need to lift your image with a Zeiss optic.
  37. Nikon has every right to protect the business it developed. However, as Oskar pointed out, few among us would mind having the option to choose from the Zeiss arsenal in addition to Nikkor lenses.
  38. So how well are the ZF lenses selling? I've been on the fence as to picking up the 35mm f2 for my F2 but am somewhat put off by the $825 price since I can get a second hand Nikkor for a little over $200. Am I REALLY going to notice a huge difference with black and white film? When I was looking at the ZF in Samys in LA recently I asked if they were selling much of these. They replied they weren't and guessed that it was because they are manual focus lenses and most people prefer auto focus.
  39. I think the nail has already been hit on the head by Luke. AF systems require lightweight and low friction components, which are very difficult to achieve in a traditional aluminium and brass mount. It's no coincidence that composite lens barrels became commonplace with the introduction of AF cameras.
    Of course the use of plastics would undermine the quality appeal of these "Zeiss" lenses and put them on a par with everything else on the market. As well as compromising the tight mechanical tolerances necessary for the highest optical quality. Personally I'm not at all convinced that a design turned out by a German-programmed computer and then manufactured in Japan by a previously derided low-end lens maker can truly be called a Zeiss lens. In fact I think that Zeiss lost most of it's historic heritage when it split between Jena and Oberkochen.
    I notice that the response from Zeiss makes no mention of whether Nikon or Canon have actually been approached with a view to licensing their AF technology. It would be interesting to know if the other 3rd party lens makers have licensed or simply reverse-engineered their products. Anyhow, it can't be that expensive or technically challenging since there's a tiny company making Eos lens control interface electronics for cine and specialist scientific applications.
  40. Zeiss got into the Nikon lens market because of the F mount. When Nikon announced they were no longer going to make manual focus lenses a number of industrial clients contacted Zeiss. Zeiss saw the opportunity and took it. It doesn't hurt that in Japan there is also a photographic market for the manual focus lenses.
    Of course Zeiss has autofocus capability. As for the prices, they charge what the market will bare.
    When and if the communications protocols become available I wouldn't be surprised to see Zeiss make autofocus lenses for Canon or Nikon, but like previously mentioned it would make sense that their deal with Sony excludes this option at least for a number of years.
    Bit, if you want Zeiss and shoot film, you can go Minolta (used).
  41. Joe, I read the response as implying that permission was asked of Nikon and not granted.
  42. It used to be that Carl Zeiss was a non proffit company and still may be "Carl Zeiss Foundation" and not concerned about Nikon or making a buck on selling to other mfg. companies.
    Not sure how Sony pulled it off.
    It may have to be third party effort to before you see one. I did see that they have a modified Zeiss 85 1.4 with f-mount but not sure if its an AF system or not.
    The factory took over the Jena Opton faclity (east germany) when it was united once again and have had many changes, who knows whats next.
    To think I traded my Contax equipment for Nikon, well I am not disappointed.
  43. Ray, your point about Contax G lenses and Contax 645 lenses in no way negates my belief that Sony and Zeiss have an exclusive deal for 35mm-style SLR's and DSLR's. The Contax G is a (quasi-) rangefinder, not an SLR, and the Contax 645 is of course a 645, not a 35mm-format camera.
  44. If a small company like can convert Contax N mount Zeiss lenses to a Canon mount then I am sure that the protocal for Nikon could be figured out as well. Perhaps Zeiss is trying to create a small niche for itself by not competing with Nikon an Canon on the AF lenses but by offering manual focus lenses which, I believe, Nikon and Canon do not.
    Sorry for using the word Canon in this Nikon form.
  45. "If a small company like can convert Contax N mount Zeiss lenses to a Canon mount then I am sure that the protocal for Nikon could be figured out as well."
    I agree. It's more likely that, as Luke said, that the financial investment does not nake sense. Zeiss would be unlikely to say that in an email response.
  46. I think Stephen Asprey is right. Zeiss aren't into making long tele lenses required for sport or the like and therefore autofocus on their wide to normal lenses would probably only appeal to beginners. I guess Zeiss aren't targetting that market. There is no shortage of AF lenses for this segment. Nikon's zoom lens image quality is approaching or has passed, in some cases, their prime lens offerings which indicates that their focus on prime lenses is not where it once was. We can see examples of this with the new 1.4/50mm AF-S lens which is clearly outclasses by the new Sigma. Nikon's build quality is not what it once was either, such as 'g' lenses with no apeture ring and of course the autofocus lenses which most people want but don't need. Zeiss are simply offering a premium lens to cater for the hole left by Nikon.
  47. I scanned many of the answers. I have used Zeiss, Nikon, and Leica. Zeiss is comparable to Leica. Zeiss out classes Nikon. I prefer a Zeiss manual focus lens to Nikon on my Nikon (can't say that I can afford all their lenses, though) but then, again, I prefer fixed focus lenses so I am prejudiced.
  48. A Contax N1 retrofit to accomodate a 24MP sensor would be the perfect camera.
  49. “This requires a close working relationship with the camera company and permission to interface with their electronics and AF systems.”
    My interpretation of this is that Zeiss is using Sony electronics or Sony designed electronics in their lenses for AF. ie “close working relationship.” I don’t buy the “permission to interface with their electronics and AF systems” statement. Why would Nikon give permission to Tokina, Sigma and Tamron but not Zeiss? Also, do you think a dozen companies that make electronic flashes got permission from Canon and Nikon? My belief is that Zeiss is using Sony designed AF electronics and have some form of restrictions on manufacturing Nikon and Canon AF lenses in their contracts with Sony. Sony probably wanted to make sure they did not do a take off of their Sony AF electronics on lenses made for Canon and Nikon.
  50. Lex, it's a fair point that forum discussions do not necessarily reflect the grand trends of photography equipment buying, but the analogy to the D300, D700, 50/1.4 AF-S and 35/1.8 AF-S doesn't seem to have any connection to the issues talked here. We're talking about niche high-quality lenses anyway, something that creates value for the brand rather than a big cash flow. Some commentators said that some people chose Canon because they had a full set of tilt/shift lenses. True or not, Nikon chose to introduce these lenses, despite that they can never compete with the likes of the 70-200/2.8 in terms of sales. So either Nikon does products to keep some of its customers happy, or then these niche products bring in some perceived brand value and people are swayed to buy into the system because they can get the specialty lenses. Also, I do actually buy more niche lenses instead of just talking about them.
  51. I don't think there's any big mystery here. I remember reading that Kyocera handled the lens barrel and electronics of the Contax AF lenses, and I imagine the situation, as Jose suggests, is similar with Sony. I think Zeiss has always partnered directly with camera companies rather than 3rd party suppliers, and perhaps don't want to get in a position where they'd be reliant on Cosina's reverse engineering to provide AF with Nikon, Pentax and Canon mount lenses. It's 'easy' to make lenses in 3 different manual focus bayonets (plus M42), but a much more complicated and expensive proposition to support 3 different AF systems via a third party partner. This approach also lets them re-cycle older manual focus designs like the 50 Planar with only a few 21st century tweaks. And these lenses are, after all, intended for some relatively small niches - technical photographers, fans of the Zeiss tradition, hardcore manual camera users, and the sort of people who were already adapting Contax lenses to their dSLRs (for whom even open aperture metering is a luxury!). Of course, I'm not saying I wouldn't like to see, say, the 28/2 in AF! I also wouldn't knock Cosina's optical expertise, by the way - in the rangefinder world, they've been making first rate Voigtlaender-branded lenses competitive with Leica's own for over a decade.
  52. Read this:
  53. "This approach also lets them re-cycle older manual focus designs like the 50 Planar with only a few 21st century tweaks."
    Exactly. The kind of people who will buy a Zeiss 100mm macro lens are the kind who don't care about AF. So Zeiss can sell to a niche market with minimal development investment.In the case of Sony, it is a new system (ignoring legacy Minolta lenses) and Sony probably welcome a partner who is willing to help them create a large system more quickly than otherwise would be the case.
    "Why would Nikon give permission to Tokina, Sigma and Tamron but not Zeiss?"
    They don't. Which is why for example Sigma lenses do not always AF correctly with Nikon bodies.
  54. Dave Redmann,
    Not sure what your issue is, but I didn't negate the fact Sony and Zeiss have a contract, all I said that Zeiss can make AF lenses and that Sony now can offer a quality, less expensive line of DSLR lenses under the Sony brand for those who want to save over the cost of a Zeiss lens. That Hassleblad and Rollei no longer use Zeiss for their MF gear and that Contax is out of business indicates a need for Zeiss, a lens and not a camera maker these last 20 years, to establish themselves for other camera companies as a provider of premium lenses. I think Sony is wise to have 2 different lens offerings to stay competative with Nikon and Canon. As good as a Sony (nee Minolta) lens can be, the Zeiss offering is a key weapon as many still see their optics as as good if not better than anything Canon and Nikon offers, lens for lens.

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