Like the Carl Zeiss 85mm portrait lens, the Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 1,4/35 ZF2 lens is a beautiful, high quality lens. This 35mm F1.4 semi-wide angle lens is very heavy, made of solid aluminum and brass, and is armed with pure leaded glass (no plastic lens elements). The lens is beautifully made in every way.
Here are the specs:
- Focal Length: 35mm
- Aperture Range: F1.4 – F16
- 9 rounded blade aperture
- Filter Thread: M72 x 0.75 (standard 72mm filters)
- Weight (ZF2 version): 830g / 1 lb 13.3 oz
- Lens Throw: 144 degrees (focus ring rotation from minimum focus to infinity)
- and a bunch of other stuff that doesn’t help…
The Zeiss 35mm is a large heavy lens that seems basic. There are no external switches, no vibration reduction, no focus indicator windows, no other gimmicks. It was designed from the ground up to be optical perfection surrounded by precision machining. As a totally manual focus lens, there is no internal focus drive motor. Users will enjoy the manual focus ring which is precise and silky smooth, and the long lens throw on the Zeiss 35mm is a design feature of all classic manual focus lenses that allows for precise manual focusing. There is absolutely no backlash or slop in the focus ring – it’s just more perfection. Like the Zeiss 85mm lens, the 35mm does not make clunking sounds when shaken. All of the lens’s markings are engraved and paint filled. The lens accepts standard 72mm filters, and the manual focus ring is metal (no rubber to fail with time!).
While not designed as a portrait lens, it can perform this function with its huge F1.4 aperture. Like the Zeiss 85mm, it isolates subjects easily and produces very pleasing background (bokeh).
The lens in this review is the ZF2 version which has the manually adjustable aperture ring found on Nikon D type lenses. While the rest of the lens is metal, the aperture ring is plastic, and to be totally honest, it looks like an afterthought (see picture below right). The ZF2 also has CPU contacts, so the lens communicates with the camera for metering and focus assist. (Zeiss also made a ZF1 version with the so called “rabbit ears” on the aperture ring that mated with the earlier style Nikon cameras.) When used on an autofocus Nikon body, the manual aperture ring should be locked at F16 so the camera can adjust the aperture.
The lens does extend very slightly when focused. I mean 3/16″ slight over the entire focus range. You would be hard pressed to see the lens barrel extend if you weren’t looking for it.
The included petal style lens hood is nothing short of exquisite. It mates with the bright aluminum front lens ring. There are index marks on both the hood and the ring. The hood itself is metal with internal flocking to prevent light reflection. It has a metal spring loaded ring to lock the hood in place. It fits precisely and clicks when fully engaged.
The Zeiss 35mm has the typical mid-wide angle field of view like all other 35mm lenses. However, the Zeiss’s close focusing ability matched with the very shallow F1.4 depth of field can produce some really interesting pictures. The shot below was taken hand held at F1.4 from a distance of approximately six inches. The picture was taken in the shade on a sunny day.
I never noticed the tiny spider until a zoomed in on the image. Not bad for hand held.
So what is my take on this lens? First the good:
- Like the Zeiss 85mm, the Zeiss 35mm F1.4 is an exquisitely made lens. If superb fit and finish turns your crank, this lens was designed for you.
- It’s an all metal professional build that’s relatively big and heavy. If someone tries to mug you, you can beat them to death with this lens and then use it to take crime scene pictures for the police who haven’t arrived yet.
- You’ve got F1.4 in a wide 35mm. Not many lenses can do that, let alone with incredible sharpness.
- Like other Zeiss lenses, the color rendering is stunning, especially skin tones. This is something particular to Zeiss lenses.
- There are no autofocus motors to fail because there are none.
- The hood is rugged and will last a lifetime.
- This classic style lens is a piece of art that stands out on today’s plastic cameras. This big lens looks like it means business and is built like it should be shot into space.
- Unfortunately, this lens is manual focus only. Since most modern cameras don’t have a split focusing screen in the viewfinder, you will have to zoom in on live view and manual focus that way. That doesn’t sound very hand held does it?
- At $1,800.00 USD, this lens had better pay for itself quickly. I bought mine used and so should you.
- At F1.4, you’re going to need a tripod because the lens is manual focus. The depth of field is very thin, so you’re going to have to use a tripod anyway.
- This lens is large and heavy. It’s all metal and all glass, but you pay a penalty for rugged, precision construction. Be ready to build some muscles.
- It’s not German made. It’s made by Cosina in Japan, so at least that doesn’t sting quite as bad. (Cosina makes Voigtlander lenses also.)
- It’s an FX lens, so there will be a magnifying effect on DX cameras. It would equate to approximately 53mm on a DX sensor, so it would not be really wide which sort of defeats the purpose.
- There is very, very mild barrel distortion visible in the upper corners of the picture below. Casual observers won’t notice it, but you might if you over-analyze your pictures.
- At maximum aperture (F1.4) in high contrast situations, like bright white against black, the lens can produce purple fringing (a purple halo around the white areas – AKA “chromatic aberration”). You can see this in the focusing target below. Before the “0” on the left, there is magenta/purple hazing, and behind the “0” on the left is green hazing. You have to really look for it, so it’s not a significant issue, but be aware of it when composing your pictures.
- The included lens cap sucks. Zeiss should be ashamed. Replace it with a Nikon cap.
- Cosina announced in December 2017 that they will be discontinuing Zeiss Classic Lens production. As of this post, there are still lenses on the store shelves, but they won’t last long.
- Is there an ugly? It’s a little bulky looking, but a wide angle F1.4 is going to be bulky. Otherwise, it’s a classic lens style that looks very professional.
So there you have it. The good. The bad. The ugly. Is the lens worth having? You are buying this lens for the wide aperture and superior optics, so it depends on how often you need to isolate the subject from the background in a wide angle shot and how sharp that image needs to be. Huge apertures like F1.4 are great for subject isolation, but there are cheaper and lighter weight options if you don’t need that capability. However, the Zeiss 35mm F1.4 provides unrivalled sharpness, contrast, and color across its aperture range which cannot be said for other 35mm wide lenses. As a wide portrait lens or semi-wide landscape lens, it outperforms all of my other lenses at 35mm. That means it’s a keeper in my book.
Equipment Used for this Post
- Zeiss 35mm F1.4 Distagon lens (sample pictures, sidewalk pavers, focus target)
- Nikon D750 with RRS plate
- Nikon 60mm F2.8 D Micro Nikkor lens (all pictures with red background)
- Really Right Stuff BH-55 ballhead
- Gitzo GT3530S tripod
Software Used for this Post
- Adobe DNG Converter
- Adobe Photoshop CS2