Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Planar T* Lens Review
The first manual lens I owned was a Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Planar T* ZE Lens I remember it because I bought it from another photographer who was very annoyed with the lens and thereby he got my attention so it was with great anticipation that I received my first ZE lens. I had never before owned an only manual focus lens it was quite exciting that for sure.
Note: The Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Planar T* Lens has been replaced by the Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Milvus Lens.
I remember that the ZE Lenses were the first available Carl Zeiss lens built specifically for the Canon EOS mount. Prior to the ZE lenses, Zeiss lenses required a special adapter to be used on Canon EOS bodies. Most people took the extra effort to EOS-mount Zeiss lenses because the image quality they obtained from these lenses was worth it. On the other hand a lot of people with very high expectations got an huge disappointment as they were not able to get used to the lack of autofocus.
I knew this was a high grade lens, the entirely metal lens was extremely solidly built. It is a very high grade work of metal art that feels like it would perform flawlessly forever.
Knowing the lack of autofocus is one thing to be aware of it is quite another thing, this lens is built to maximize the manual focus experience. The 270°-rotating manual focus ring is wide (covering most of the lens barrel), very smooth and very precise… very, very precise this means there is no room for play.
I have to admit that I was not very good at manual focusing without one of the typical focusing screens you found in old manual 35 mm SLR cameras. The only little problem was that Canon stopped to produce focussing screens for the Mark III… yeahh…
To aid in manual focusing, Canon DSLRs will indicate when focus is achieved by the familiar beep (if enabled) and red in-focus light in the viewfinder – including with the Zeiss 85 mounted. However, I don’t find this to be a very good indication of accurate focusing. There is a certain amount of focus ring rotation that will keep this in-focus indicator light on, and if you take a picture at either end of this rotation, the image will be very blurry. As mentioned, there are third party focus screens available that make this job easier – and Live View works good enough.
The Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Planar T* ZE Lens has really nice, smooth bokeh and produces a healthy amount of background blur due to its wide aperture and short telephoto focal length. Portraits are one of the best subjects for the ZE 85. Portrait subjects are generally not in action (which becomes much more challenging for a manual focus-only lens). Short distance, wide aperture portraits will need to compensate for the focus shift, but mid-distance portraits work well. Wide apertures allow nice separation of the subject from the background.
Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Planar T* ZE Lens wide open
Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Planar T* ZE Lens Stopped Down
It’s definitely a joy to use a lens this well built. Image quality is not as top-of-the-line as build quality but it is not bad – I shot now everything with manual lenses even when most DSLR viewfinders weren’t designed to make manual focus easy, like older film cameras were. So whichever you use, start practicing and don’t be scared to try some manual focus lenses.
Its quite fun…