After a thorough Spring Cleaning or “frühjahrsputz” in which I cleaned some entries from this blog I will tell you why Zeiss does not make autofocus lenses for DSLR cameras for Canon and Nikon. I think that Zeiss is currently making autofocus lenses only for two specific mounts for Fuji and Sony… right?
With the release of the Zeiss Otus lenses, from which I get tears in the eyes and some strange feelings in my fingers not only because this lenses are said to be one of the highest performing lenses the price also add some controversy feelings… but the biggest issue for many is the lack of autofocus. Even with Modern full-frame live-view DSLRs its hard to focus with manual lenses.
Some people have recommended me to install third party focusing screens, but even those can interfere with the light metering…. So dealing with extremely shallow depth of field, focusing with an 85mm f/1.4 lens is a real challenge. Experienced photographers might not have issues with such lenses, but most people would find it rather difficult to get consistently good results, especially on important jobs.
So why not use a more cheaper Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM and have a working and reliable autofocus instead. So why is Zeiss not making autofocus lenses for Canon or Nikon DSLR cameras? It´s because the lack of support from Canon and Nikon so none of the two companies has interest in working with third party lens makers, when they have a large array of own lenses. Why help a third party lens manufacturer even a very reputable company like Zeiss and potentially lose lens sales?
A friend of mine tested three Sigma 85mm f1.4 lenses and he had a bad experience with autofocus reliability so what happens when Canon or Nikon decide to alter their lens firmware on new cameras, existing Sigma lenses might potentially lose AF and liveview capabilities on their lenses. I don´t thing that Canon nor Nikon would make a firmware that disables funtionality completely if it detects a third party lens. That would be a nasty situation for third party lens manufacturers.
Another reason for lack of Zeiss AF DSLR lenses is the accuracy problems of phase detection AF systems. There is an overwhelming amount of negative feedback on autofocus issues on such fine tools as the Canon 5D Mark III, due to the fact that phase-detection systems use a secondary mirror for focusing and are limited to f/2.8 aperture at the widest, there are potential issues with focus alignment as well, which introduces a slew of issues. Not only would Zeiss have to offer service to calibrate autofocus on lenses, but there are also other problems with phase-detection such as focus shift, which is often a problem with most lenses.
Mirrorless Sony and Fuji cameras use contrast detection autofocus and can focus at a set aperture, which results in far more accurate focus. (If you search on the Internet, you will find thousands of autofocus reports on all kinds of DSLRs dating back a lot of years. Hence, the front focus and back focus issues we see in modern cameras are not anything new – they have been there ever since the first DSLR with a phase detect sensor was created.) It´s a fact that AF lenses make your workflow more easier and faster but me personally I need something more spicy.
But the 85mm from Zeiss exceeded all my expectations. It’s optical performance is good and even with the Lack of IS and manual focus that make It difficult to handle in different situations. It´s a love/hate relationship.
When I first read about Zeiss’ ZE lenses and their lack of AF I was pretty reluctant to shoot with them. Even after seeing a lot of reviews and the type of photography they shot with the lenses doesn´t really convinced me. I’ve become so accustomed to using AF lenses that I was sure I wouldn’t be able to shoot effectively without AF. Then, I read that all ZE lenses have AF confirmation. I thought “hey great! Now I’ll be able to nail focus.” It’s nice to have that little electronic “beep” to reassure you that you truly are in focus. But, after using this lens at the beginning, I realized that my images weren’t exactly what I would call sharp. After I did the comparison against the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM and the Canon 50mm f/1.8 II, I knew something had to be wrong.
When it came to sharpness, the Zeiss was getting beated by both of these lenses…yes, yes even by the $100 lens.
After some test I started to doubt the accuracy of Zeiss’ AF confirmation. I decided to ditch the AF confirmation and go with my eye… What I found works best for me is to use a combination of the live view and my eye.
After using this method, I took another look at my images and I was positively surprised at the difference in sharpness. Images where extremely sharp and crisp… it was very surprising. While this focusing method took a bit of getting used to, I was focusing pretty quickly after a few weeks of shooting and the results speak for themselves.
Here some Making Off from a photoshoot I decided to use the VSCO presets and lightroom to develop this kind off Images since they are for the whole involved team and their social media needs.