Manual focus lenses went obsolete 20 years ago. This is a lens for the gear hobbyist or collector, or someone shooting manual focus 35mm film cameras. This lens can’t autofocus and makes no sense to use on for any digital… this are some arguments I tend to hear about the Zeiss lenses. And since I don´t know what to write right now… I will talk about a lens.
Let me start from the beginning the reason I replaced my old 5D Mark I with the new 5D Mark III was because the Mark III automatically can correct many lens flaws, especially lateral color fringes.
The 5D Mark III was Canon’s first full-frame camera to correct lens color fringes. So long as I have an appropriate lens profile loaded.
Back to the lens, most people tend to use lenses that are made by the same manufacturer as their body. When I first started shooting, I looked like a walking advertisement for Canon…(Well actually I look like being sponsored by many other brands) they could pay me.
Over the past year or so, I’ve developed a curiosity with Zeiss optics (Perhaps the german part in me is getting stronger) so the Zeiss 50mm f/1.4, like most of Zeiss’ products, is not weather sealed which means it is more susceptible to dust getting into its elements so you have to be more carefully with it. A few specs of dust within the lens should not affect the performance however this may get worser over time.
Along the barrel you will see something that is not very common in photography anymore, a distance scale! Because this lens does not have auto focus, may photographers (myself included), opt to zone focus at times. Pre-visualize/anticipate your shots. After using this lens for I found myself observing my surroundings and turning the focusing ring accordingly. If I started to observe things closer to me, I would turn the focusing ring to the right and I would do the opposite for things that were farther away. Doing this allows you to setup or prep your camera so when you bring the camera up to your eye, you are only making fine focus adjustments instead of spinning the ring like a madman. This may take some practice, but you will get it down.
Using the focus ring on the 50mm, or any other ZE lens, is a pleasure. The ring is perfectly weighted. Let’s be honest here, most people are going to avoid this lens for one reason, the lack of auto focus. Now, for some like sports photographers, AF may be an absolute requirement but you may be surprised at how quickly you learn manually focus once that is your only option. I’ll admit, when I first started using Zeiss lenses, I got slightly frustrated because I found myself missing shots. I probably wouldn’t have missed had I been using a lens with AF. But, after some solid use, I was feeling pretty comfortable with this manual focus lens… thanks King for your patience.
Overall, I was quite impressed with the images I captured while using this lens. While this lens does have a maximum aperture of f/1.4, I would not recommend shooting wide open unless completely necessary. When shooting wider than f/1.8, the images are soft (even in the center of the frame), contrast is lacking, and chromatic aberration/color fringing is clearly visible. It looks like the images have a dreamy feel to them. This is slightly disheartening as most people that buy a fast lens are most likely going to want to shoot it wide open on occasion.
As you would image, the more you stop down, the better your results will be. Once you hit f/2 or so, this lens really comes to life. Sharpness across the frame is excellent and color accuracy and saturation are very good as well. I shoot most of my images between f/2 and f/5.6 which is right in the Zeiss’ wheelhouse. If you are some that has loves to shoot wide open often, this may not be the lens for you. The images may be too soft and manually focusing any type of moving object at f/1.4 is quite challenging.
f/1.4: Soft focus effect. Spherical aberration puts a soft, low contrast veil over a sharp underlying image. This is typical of 50 mm f/1.4 lenses. It has high resolution, but low contrast, which results in a soft image.
f/2.8: Brilliantly sharp. Only the slightest traces of secondary lateral chromatic aberration.
f/4: Brilliantly sharp.
f/8: A little less sharp. This isn’t cause by the optics; it’s the limits of physics and diffraction.
f/16: Less sharp due to diffraction.
Distortion: Minor Barrel.
When paying this type of money for a fast prime lens, you’d expect to have nice to have smooth and creamy bokeh. I enjoy the bokeh from the Zeiss, but it does have a unique look. It’s different than the bokeh produced by another lens, say the Sigma’s 50mm f/1.4…I would say it doesn’t blend in the same smooth manner. I always say bokeh is a very subjective thing and there is no right or wrong answer so take a look at the photographs and you can make the call for yourself.
When using the included lens hood, flare is not an issue. I actually had to work hard to get this lens to flare which I was able to do on this assignment. .
As I stated before, CA Chromatic Aberration is apparent when shooting at wider apertures, but it is not as bad as some reviewers have stated. Make sure you are using the lens hood and you should see minimal CA. Also, any CA that you may encounter with this lens will be minimal and can easily be cleaned up in post processing. When compared to the the Sigma, the Zeiss actually controls CA quite well. The Sigma has quite a bit of CA when shooting at wider apertures.
For you images to be sharp, you need to make sure your images are in focus. That may be the most obvious statement I’ve ever written, but it’s true. Most of us never really think about this because we let AF figure things out for us. Yes, you may tell your camera where to focus, but you aren’t nailing the focus down by hand. With this lens, it’s all on you.
In general, colors from this lens are very pleasing. When shot wide open, colors are a bit less saturated and contrast is a bit lacking. Like I said before, stop down a bit and this lens really shines.
Well, you really need to ask yourself one important question. Is auto focus a must for you? If so, then this probably isn’t the lens for you. If you can live without AF or if you already have a 50mm lens (or something that covers this focal length) that has AF and you are looking for something different, then I would highly recommend you put the Zeiss on your list.
I always say that Zeiss lenses are sort of like a specialty lens (handcrafted look) in that they aren’t for everyone or all situations. I genuinely enjoy shooting with these lenses but I can see why some may shy away from Zeiss’ offerings as they aren’t what I would call “easy” products. If you can live without AF (it’s no that hard, trust me) and you want a lens with excellent IQ and outstanding build quality, the Carl Zeiss Planar 50mm f/1.4 ZE may be the lens for you.
And I was able to use the Pentagon six again… and before someone say it yes, yes I am aware that the Zeiss lenses are produced in Japan…