Zeiss Lenses For Nikon DSLR's

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by brad_vautrinot, Sep 10, 2010.

  1. I've recently seen a couple of photos taken with a D3X using a Zeiss Distagon T* 21mm f/2.8 ZF.2 Lens and am duly impressed. Disregarding the hefty price tag are Zeiss lenses worth it even though they are not able to use auto focusing & focusing must be done manually?
    Brad
     
  2. Brad, you ask is it worth it? Only you can answer that. I had purchased a Zeiss Distacon 35mm f2 for my D90. I already had a Nikon 35mm f2 lens. I did some test photos to compare both of these lenses. All were on a tripod. One of the test photos I printed at 13 X 19. The others I printed at 8.5 X 11 which is the size I normally print.
    When comparing the performance of both lenses, I found the colors to be virtually an exact match. The Zeiss was only slightly more sharp...and I do mean slightly. Where it made the biggest difference was in the details on very small print that appeared in the photos. My estimate would be a 5% increase in sharpness. Also I found that there was ever so slightly more detail in certain objects in the Zeiss...but only in certain objects. I'd say maybe a 2% increase in detail, because on some objects, I saw no difference.
    Let me say that when I had done some tests previously with the Nikon 18-70mm lens and the Nikon 17-55mm lens, I was quite impressed with the sharpness and the extra detail with the 17-55. But with my new tests, I did not see enough of a difference to warrant the huge price difference for the Zeiss, in addition to the fact that it's a manual focus lens that would be used on a D90.
    Were you able to look at photos taken by the D3X with other lenses? The D3X is an awesome camera! Perhaps you can attribute the quality of the photos to the camera.
    Perhaps you can purchase the Zeiss and test it for yourself. Good luck!
     
  3. Brad, If you're interested in Zeiss lenses for the D3X, I can heartily recommend Lloyd Chambers' ZF lenses reviews. They are not free but contain a wealth of information that will help you choose the right lenses for your needs.
     
  4. D90 does not do justice for Zeiss glass... On a D700 a comparison between Nikon 35/2 and Zeiss 35/2 makes Zeiss a clear winner. I suppose that on D3X 24Mpx sensor, the differences are even more obvious. Not many lenses are doing OK with the resolving power of this camera.
    If money are not a problem, go for it! You can't be wrong with this lens.
     
  5. If you need AF then go for an AF lens.
    If you need AF then chances are you also need to shoot handheld.
    If you shoot handheld chances are that the resolving power of a lens is not the limiting factor but camera chake and camera movement like panning.
    -> A well focused image taken with a Nikkor 20mm AFD lens without camera shake is better than a defocused shaken image take with a Zeiss (or any other brand) image :p That is "better" of course unless you are going for a strong artistic "environmental shot from the hip effect".
    If you print small, chances are that your ability in post processing, sharpening and size reduction are more important than the resolving power of a lens you use.
    A lot of reasons not to get the 21mm Zeiss? Indeed but if you want one of the best lenses near 20mm that money can buy go for it ^^. Excellent resolving power and rendition together with little distortion is what you can expect. You just need to know how to use it.
     
  6. I've been using a 135mm f3.5 Carl Zeiss (Jena) lens from the 1970s for macro shots (with a bellows or extension tubes) recently on a D80. It's all entirely manual but the results are very sharp. Used without the extension stuff it's a damned good lens too although it won't focus to infinity without a special adaptor. Cost me all of £43 ($66) on eBay.
     
  7. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    I've recently seen a couple of photos taken with a D3X using a Zeiss Distagon T* 21mm f/2.8 ZF.2 Lens and am duly impressed.​
    I hope you realize that those photos are impressive neither because the camera was a D3X nor the lens was a Zeiss.
    I tested the D3X for photo.net. There is no doubt that it is an excellent camera, but there is only a small gain in terms of resolution from the 12MP D3/D700 to the 24MP D3X, and you also lose a bit in terms of high ISO results. Zeiss makes excellent lenses; so are many higher-end Nikon lenses. I have two fairly recent Zeiss lenses (bought in 2001) and I don't find them all that special.
     
  8. I've owned both the Nikon and Zeiss 20/21 lenses. I unloaded my Nikon 20/2.8 Ais after having acquired the ZF 21. The big difference between the Nikon 20/2.8(AF or Ais) and the ZF 21/2.8 is that the ZF 21 gives amazingly sharp-looking images across the frame(on a Nikon D3) at f/2.8; the Nikon requires stopping down to at least f/5.6, and maybe f/8, to give it's best performance.
     
  9. Not sure that comparing newer lenses such as current Zeiss to 20+ year old Nikons is a valid comparision.
    Kent in SD
     
  10. Both Zeiss and Nikon are top notch optics. Whether you would see any benefit of Zeiss over Nikkor would be dependent on a lot of factors, not the least of which is enlargement. If you plan on hand holding your camera the majority of the time, especially in lower light levels, you will most likely never see any difference. As has already been stated, camera shake with the sharpest lens in the solar system will negate any tangible benefit. Autofocus cameras make focusing errors just like people do, believe it or not. The fact that you can only focus in manual can actually be a benefit, though admittedly most DSLR focusing screens pretty much suck out loud for manual focusing because they are not discriminating enough. They don’t have to be if the camera or lens is doing the focusing.
    And of course, there is the substantial difference in price.
     
  11. Thanks for all the responses and all of you have given me some important things to think about. I have two camera bodies - the D3 and the D3x. I have planned to use the D3x for landscape and HDR. As such, the D3x will be on a tripod, mirror up, cable release, use of native ISO (100) and anything else to minimize or remove movement. The D3 is used for everything else especially low light situations and/or high ISO settings. The 3x is new to me and I have to experiment more with it to determine its capabilities and liabilities. Some of the lenses I'll be using are the 14-24mm, 24-70mm, and the 70-200mm, all Nikkor lenses. I'll rent a Zeiss to use as a comparison and go from there. Thanks again for your input.
    Brad in Quincy, MA
     
  12. >>> I'll rent a Zeiss to use as a comparison and go from there.

    That's a great course of action. Earlier this year I rented (from lensrentals.com, a great place) a 35mm f/2
    ZE for my 5DII for 10 days. Over that period of time shooting out on the street everyday and comparing
    with other lenses I own, the decision was clear to purchase the lens. Since then it's the only lens I use
    when out shooting. Am thinking about the 21 now...
     
  13. If you plan on hand holding your camera the majority of the time, especially in lower light levels, you will most likely never see any difference.
    What you say is exactly the opposite of the truth. At the widest apertures, which is what you would normally use when hand-holding in low light, the Zeiss lenses typically display a notably higher detail contrast than Nikkors and no matter how you hold the camera the pictures will look very different. As you stop down things start to even out and Nikkors pick up contrast, but then you're not using the lens hand-held in low light at f/5.6 are you.
    And of course, there is the substantial difference in price.
    Comparable
    Nikkors are often not at all less expensive in price.
     
  14. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Comparable Nikkors are often not at all less expensive in price.​
    That is true. Even though you compare the now old version of Nikon's 85mm/f1.4 AF-D, a lot of people feel that it is better than the ZF 85mm/f1.4, and the two are similar in price. The newer 85mm/f1.4 AF-S is more expensive both both. Typically people find noticeable difference in quality when they compare against old Nikon designs such as the 20mm/f2.8 AF-D and 24mm/f2.8 AF-D, but those lenses are clearly inferior to modern Nikon zooms to begin with.
    If you are going to use ZF or any other manual-focus lenses (e.g. the 24mm/f3.5 PC-E) on DSLRs, I would put them on a tripod and use live view to carefully tune focus. Otherwise, any slight focusing error will easily wipe out all the quality in those lenses.
     
  15. Although I do think that lens tests should be done on tripod and with careful live view manual focusing, since it was claimed that in hand-held low light situations there might not be a difference, I'll show the results of a quick test between 35mm and 28mm f/2 Nikon and Zeiss lenses. I shot them hand-held with 1/160s-1/200s shutter speeds under a fluorescent lamp (sorry about the slight variations in tone and colour). The magnification is perhaps 1:10 or so, and the aperture was f/2 in all shots. I will show only 100% crops (Nikon Capture NX2, Neutral PC, +1 contrast, sharpness=3) from each lens. I repeated the test several times and the results are representative of each lens. The only lens which showed significant variation was the 35mm f/2D due to its fast focusing ring I got a few out of focus shots with that lens. Tthe point of focus was outside of the AF area cluster so I could not use AF. Very little variation image-to-image with the others. I used the matte area of the Katz Eye screen of my D700 to focus.
    00XGzt-280047584.jpg
     
  16. Zeiss 28/2.
    00XGzw-280049584.jpg
     
  17. Nikon 35mm f/2D AF.
    00XGzx-280051584.jpg
     
  18. And finally, the 35mm ZF.
    00XGzy-280053584.jpg
     
  19. The 35mm and 28mm Zeiss primes can be safely shot wide open and are easy to focus manually with the Katz Eye screen on the D700. I should add that I used to own the 18mm ZF and 25mm ZF, neither of which is in my opinion as good as Nikon's best lenses in their respective focal length ranges (14-24 or 24/1.4) so I eventually sold those.
    The camera used was the 12 MP D700; with a D3X no doubt the differences would be amplified.The Nikon 28mm and 35mm lenses do improve stopped down and I use them from time to time because they give a gentler contrast which I sometimes for people images in high contrast available light if I can not use fill flash for some reason.
     
  20. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Ilkka, as we were comparing prices earlier. You picked the Nikon 28mm/f2 AI-S and 35mm/f2 AF-D for comparison; both Nikon lenses are very old designs. The 35mm/f2 AF-D is still in production; its current price is $360: http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/92011-USA/Nikon_1923_Wide_Angle_AF_Nikkor.html
    The ZF 35mm/f2 version 2 is just over $1000: http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/662716-REG/Zeiss_1767_824_Distagon_T_35mm_F_2_0.html, and you get no AF.
    I would never compare sharpness hand holding. With the shallow depth of field at f2, some slight camera movement will cause focusing issues that leads to unsharp images. As I said earlier, I would only use a tripod and use live view to fine tune focus. I consider any test without going through that procedure invalid. Moreover, a lot of lenses are not designed for such close focusing. Unless I am testing macro lenses, the subject should be at least several meters away.
     
  21. I think that if you have a boat load of money and plan to shoot test shots as a hobby that you should get the Zeiss. I don't see any pros using them at any of the events I work. Nikon is famous for its glass and the best Nikon lenses are a match for anything out there.
    There are SO many other things that you can do to improve your photography for free that I think the acquision of Zeiss manual focus lenses for autofocus Nikon cameras is the height of folly. In 99.5% of your shots you will never see the difference.
    I wear a Rolex watch. It does not tell time better than a Timex watch. Only a few people can tell it is a real one. The Zeiss on Nikon is the same thing, If you appreciate the jewelry and history behind your toy go for it. To get better pictures? Not so much.
     
  22. >>> I wear a Rolex watch. It does not tell time better than a Timex watch. Only a few people can tell it is
    a real one. The Zeiss on Nikon is the same thing, If you appreciate the jewelry and history behind your toy
    go for it. To get better pictures? Not so much.

    Why would you care if others recognize your lens? I wear a Timex for superb timekeeping;
    and similarly shoot with a Zeiss 35 for superb image making. Money well-spent in both cases. Have you actually tried a Zeiss lens for any amount of time?
     
  23. if you shoot wide open then you may find the german glass better, but at slower apertures, f2.8 and smalller, then i doubt there is going to be much difference. i don't see much point in using manual focus lenses on modern slr's, they are designed to work best with autofocus, and they do a great job of that, but manual focusing is not as accurate as with the older slr's (you can get special split screens i think, that would help a lot). if you really want to shoot manual focus lenses, then you may want to look at a rangefinder. They use better lenses again, and are far more precise when focusing, the downside is the price.
     
  24. i don't see much point in using manual focus lenses on modern slr's, they are designed to work best with autofocus, and they do a great job of that, but manual focusing is not as accurate as with the older slr's....​
    If you're using a tripod and mirror lockup for landscape pictures, then there is no advantage at all to an autofocus lens. In these situations, you're likely to manually focus it anyway, using liveview to get focus exactly where you want it. And for HDR, you have the comfort of knowing that the camera can't change the focus between frames.
    I would never compare sharpness hand holding. ... I consider any test without going through that procedure invalid​
    And yet, people do use these lenses handheld, at wide apertures. And if you can consistently see a difference among lenses when used that way, that is also useful information. This seems to be the information that's useful to Ilkka and Brad -.
    For the original poster, your intended use seems to be exactly the sort for which Lloyde Chambers' detailed reviews will be helpful. I expect that you'll enjoy your time with a rented ZF lens.
     
  25. Sure John, tripod, manual focus lens, infinity focus, lens size about 4mm, can't go wrong. but if you're going to be using a tripod, for 1/2rd of the price of a c.z. lens you may as well shoot something like a 6x7 and get even better results. i guess my thoughts are that small format photography is for hand held photography, to me that's the whole point of it.
     
  26. Ty, I do understand what you mean about using larger formats. I love big film.
    But if you intend to shoot digital, it's no longer less expensive. And people are
    doing serious work with cameras like the D3X, so it's nice that there are
    excellent lenses available for that format.


    As for handheld photography, if someone gets better results with a given
    lens, then that's the one to use.
     
  27. There are excellent lenses for the D3X. Lenses made by Nikon. What good is an opinion that expresses something like "if you are shooting low light, butterfly wing veins, in a vault, on a steel pier"? This guy asked for advice. Somethimes the difference between lenses is a mere quibble. This is one of those cases.
    The OP said he was "Duly impressed". Impressed with what? A side-by-side laboratory comparison that bears little resemblence to any real-world situation or a couple of good photographs made using good technique by a good photographer? I have no water to carry for Nikon though I have been using their lenses professionally for a very long time. Nor am I opposed to someone paying a boat load of money for boutique equipment. Why would I care? But I don't like people forwarding the notion that a photographer can buy a game. I have seen photographers (amateur and professional) spend money they could not afford on the misguided notion that they will get much better photos when this was just not the case. I am trying to be kind to the OP. He is free to spend his money as he pleases. Gear-heads make this site go around to some extent. The Zeiss lens is a nice one. But unless he gets into a very rare situation frequently, he will not see the difference in his final product. Then if he comes away with the impression that Zeiss lenses are better than Nikon across the board he will have drawn a false conclusion.
     
  28. I would never compare sharpness hand holding. With the shallow depth of field at f2, some slight camera movement will cause focusing issues that leads to unsharp images. As I said earlier, I would only use a tripod and use live view to fine tune focus. I consider any test without going through that procedure invalid. Moreover, a lot of lenses are not designed for such close focusing. Unless I am testing macro lenses, the subject should be at least several meters away.

    Shun, my main point was not to compare these lenses against each other. I already knew how they perform relative to each other from real-world use. I made the test to respond to two claims presented above in this thread: one is that in hand-held shots in low light there is no discernible difference between the sharpness between the lenses. This is utterly false. The second was that there is only "2% difference in detail" between the 35/2 Nikon and the 35/2 Zeiss, which is also quite misleading though I'm not sure what the expression means quantitatively. While you might not be convinced by the images posted since they're just individual images hand-held, they do reflect my experience.
    As for the reproducibility of the hand-held results and the focusing in the experiment - I shot each image 3-5 times for each lens. For the three manual focus lenses, within each set taken by the same lens the images look essentially same apart from slight variations in framing; focus was correct on the text and the sharpness was similar within each set. For the 35/2D AF Nikkor, I got erratic results due to focusing errors, and for this lens I posted the best image out of five exposures made, giving it an advantage over the others since I merely selected one at random for the others (as they were sufficiently similar that it would have been difficult to make the selection). Since I was trying to demonstrate that optical differences between these lenses show clearly also in hand-held shooting, and not just in an optical test bench, hand-holding was mandatory to prove my point. Of course, if you shoot at 1/30s hand-held, then you'll get erratic and mostly soft results with any lens, usually due to a combination of subject movement and hand shake.
    I would not show the results of an experiment which doesn't reflect results that I find to be typical in real world use; it would be dishonest and completely undermine my credibility both in photography as well as an optics instrumentalist and experimental physicist. I can say that clear optical differences in favour of the Zeiss lenses are seen also at longer distances (i.e. at 2m) at f/2 though of course the characteristics do change as a function of distance. I've done these kind of tests in the past, using a tripod and live view focusing but I haven't kept the files. I used this close range for yesterday's test merely so that I would not have to clear a large area of my apartment for testing. Incidentally, consistency across focusing distances is one of the nice characteristics of the Zeiss lenses that is absent in some Nikkors. Since all the lenses were used without extension tubes they were used within their operating parameters.
    As for using new Zeiss lenses vs. "old" Nikkors, there are no newer 28mm or 35mm Nikkors that are capable of the f/2 aperture used, with the sole exception of the difficult to find and expensive 2nd hand 28/1.4D AF Nikkor. The 24/1.4 Nikkor is of course excellent, would do well in such a comparison but it's not a 28mm or 35mm. Again, comparison between lenses was not the main point but rather that proper hand-holding doesn't cloud the sometimes very large optical differences that are seen when lenses are shot wide open.
     
  29. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    As for using new Zeiss lenses vs. "old" Nikkors, there are no newer 28mm or 35mm Nikkors that are capable of the f/2 aperture used, with the sole exception of the difficult to find and expensive 2nd hand 28/1.4D AF Nikkor. The 24/1.4 Nikkor is of course excellent, would do well in such a comparison but it's not a 28mm or 35mm.​
    Ilkka, I am afraid that you are overlooking some lenses.
    Again, I have no doubt the the Zeiss lenses are excellent, but when you shoot some old Nikon primes from macro distances, that is not the right test. I have used my 35mm/f1.4 AI-S from a couple of feet away. It has major barrel distortion and is just not sharp @ f1.4. From a more normal distance, it looks much better but still has serious chromatic aberration, which is absent from newer zooms.
     
  30. Ilkka, I am afraid that you are overlooking some lenses.
    I don't think so.
    To illustrate that the distance is not the problem (1:10 is not that close), here are 100% crops of the 35mm lens pair with subjects at about 2.5 m and the 28mm lens pair at 2m distance to subject, again wide open, 100% crops. This time tripod & live view MF were used and the shot corresponding to best of three focus attempts were chosen for each lens.
    00XHOf-280447584.jpg
     
  31. And 28mm.
    00XHOj-280449584.jpg
     
  32. Focus in the 28mm images was set on the text in the lower part of the Burzynski collar. Note how the whole ring is not defined well with the Nikkor. Again, it was the best of three exposures each focused separately with live view at 100% as carefully as I could make it. Distances were 2-3 m in these, which are typical for my people photographs with these lenses.
     
  33. For tripod work, a high quality manual focus lens is preferable to AF simply because it's easier to focus accurately. AF is not always accurate and it doesn't read your mind on where to focus. The old screw driver AF lenses have some play in their AF mechanisms, not good if you want to get everything out of a D3X on a tripod.
    The Zeiss 21/2.8 should be the best in that focal length and for work where MF is preferable, it would be the best choice. If AF is preferable, then the 14-24 would be a good choice.
    Since I got myself a Zeiss 50/2, I usually always have it with me. At larger apertures it's better than any Nikon 50. Sometimes it's worth to buy outside the Nikon lineup to get the best lens for one's needs.
     
  34. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    For tripod work, a high quality manual focus lens is preferable to AF simply because it's easier to focus accurately.​
    That was probably true 20 years ago during the early days of AF. Today's high-end AF-S lenses are very easy to manual focus.
    Since I was under Nikon NDA about the new 35mm/f1.4 AF-S, I wasn't able to discuss that a couple of days ago. Concerning fast f1.4 AF-S lenses, Nikon added the 50mm 2 years ago. This year they added:
    So in merely a few months, Nikon has gone from no f1.4 AF-S wide and tele to having a fairly complete set of them. All of them are expensive around $2000, but their big advantage over Zeiss is having auto focus AF-S.
    And who says Nikon is done introducing high-end primes?
    If you want a high-quality wide-angle lens for slow architecture or landscape work, I would get a Nikon 24mm/f3.5 PC-E. A tilt/shift lens has a huge image circle so that in its "normal" position, it gives you much better corner-to-corner sharpness, and you can control your plane of focus to maximize sharpness. However, using such lenses requires skills and work. It is a lot easier to buy some lenses with German brand names and think you can get better images out of them.
    Today, given the right price, any optical company can design and manufacture very high-end lenses. I have pointed out several times that when Hasselblad introduced their modern H series cameras, they also switched to Fujinon to make new lenses for those very expensive cameras, quite to the dismay of Zeiss fans. Cosina is a brand that we typically associate with low-end products such as the Nikon FM-10, but it is Cosina that manufactures the ZF and ZE lenses as well as some high-quality lenses that are sold under the Voigtländer brand name. Of course if those same high-quality lenses were in the Cosina brand name, nobody would buy them. In these days I am also checking out a Tamron 70-300 lens that is very good optically, possibly better than the Nikon equivalent.
    A few years before I bought my first Nikon camera and lens back in 1977, I already had a Leica rangefinder and two Leica lenses; I still own that Leica today. Several years ago I bought a Contax 645 medium-format with two of their Zeiss lenses, so I have my share of experience with German-brand lenses. And I think Lee Ricks says it very well above:
    But I don't like people forwarding the notion that a photographer can buy a game. I have seen photographers (amateur and professional) spend money they could not afford on the misguided notion that they will get much better photos when this was just not the case. I am trying to be kind to the OP. He is free to spend his money as he pleases. Gear-heads make this site go around to some extent. The Zeiss lens is a nice one. But unless he gets into a very rare situation frequently, he will not see the difference in his final product. Then if he comes away with the impression that Zeiss lenses are better than Nikon across the board he will have drawn a false conclusion.​
     

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