I got an offer to buy a Carl Zeiss Distagon T* F2/35 ZF lens and so I took it for a test spin for a couple of days just to decide whether to buy it or not. As always, this is not going to be any scientific lab test. You’ll find plenty of such elsewhere on the Internet. This is simply my thoughts on this lens.
Build & handling
It’s a Zeiss and like all Zeiss lenses this lens is like a tank! The all metal casing and hood is admirable. All the mechanical parts operates really smooth, and you really get the feeling that this is a high quality lens, and let’s face it; it is!
While the build quality is very solid, it does come at a price. All the metal makes this a heavy lens. Weighing in at over 530g this is no lightweight. It’s also quite big. Especially considering it’s a manual focus lens at just F 2.0. Compared to Nikon 35mm F/2.0 AF D the Zeiss is over twice the weight and size.
Like any Zeiss this lens offers a very smooth focus ring. It focuses from 0,3 meters and it handles very nicely. There’s almost no focus breathing, meaning the angle of view does not change when focusing. The lack of focus breathings is a very important feature for videographers. Making this lens a good candidate for those shooting video on their DSLRs.
If I were to say anything negative about the focus on this lens it is that I would prefer a longer focus pull and that I found the focus somewhat temperamental. It was quite hard to focus on my D800. I tried just focusing visually and by using the camera’s focus confirmation, but it always seemed slightly off. This could just be my lens (it was a second-hand lens), it could be my camera or it could be me. All I know is I missed focus on this lens way more than on any other manual focus lens I use.
Well, just like the build quality the image quality of this lens is very good. It produces fully usable images even at f/2, but performance increase greatly if stopped down. If you hit focus this lens is sharp as a knife, comparable to Nikon 28mm 1:2.8 AiS, one of the sharpest lenses I own. In addition it renders beautiful colors and gives you a very nice bookeh.
There is very little to complain about when talking about the performance of this lens. It does have a bit of vignetting wide open, but improves when stopped down. At f/4 or 5.6 this it’s a great performer. Distortion is very low in general even at f/2, and I consider neither the distortion nor vignetting of this lens a problem in general photography or landscape, and I would not hesitate to use this lens wide open at f/2.
Since it’s usable at f/2 it’s able to shoot in low light conditions, but it also handles difficult conditions with lots of light well. While I did notice some purple fringing in very difficult highlights, I would not say this lens suffers a lot from CA in general. In real life conditions CA will not cause a lot of problems unless you’re pixel peeping. As for flare, I did a couple of shots with this lens with the sun in the frame and the results was extremely little flare! It was a worst kind scenario and it surprised me it didn’t produce more flares and reflexes. Of course it was not without flare, but what flare it produced was a couple of good-looking nice and round rings.
This Zeiss is a great lens, and many regards it as one of the greatest. In the field it produces images of very high quality; it’s solid, very sharp, renders nice colors and there is little to complain about when it comes to image quality and build.
This lens is a safe bet, so am I buying it? Well, actually no. Despite I really love the focal length and lack a proper 35mm prime I’m not going with this particular Zeiss. One of the main reasons is the size and weight. It’s big and heavy to haul around. Second it’s the focus. I never got the feel for this one and missed focus on way to many shots. Whether it’s the lens (it is second-hand after all), my camera or me I don’t know, but apparently we just don’t go well together. Third it’s the price. Okay, so it’s mainly about the budget. Unfortunately, I don’t have the budget to buy a lens I’m not 100% sure about at the moment, and I do already have an excellent wide-angle lens that focuses perfectly. However, should I come across another one I would definitely consider it!
Below is a selection of images taken with this lens. The images may have been edited and/or cropped.
This lens produces a very nice bookeh. Shot with Nikon D800 and Carl Zeiss Distagon *T 2/35mm @ , 1/80 sec, f/2.0, ISO 400
In the highlight in the trees you can see a bad case of CA. This image is edited, but I did not remove the fringing in order to use this as an example. Shot with Nikon D800 and Carl Zeiss Distagon *T 2/35mm @ , 1/100 sec, f/5.6, ISO 400
Shot with Nikon D800 and Carl Zeiss Distagon *T 2/35mm @ , 1/160 sec, f/2.8, ISO 400
The level of details this lens produces is incredible. Shot with Nikon D800 and Carl Zeiss Distagon *T 2/35mm @ , 1/200 sec, f/5.6, ISO 400
Shot with Nikon D800 and Carl Zeiss Distagon *T 2/35mm @ , 1/500 sec, f/5.6, ISO 400
– PhotoZone.de has a good review of this lens
– LensTip.com has a good summary
– Photography Life also has an in-depth review of this lens