Friday, 18 April 2014

Zeiss Otus - If you shoot on a 50mm lens on a regular basis you should look at this.


I was extolling the virtues of the new Carl Zeiss OTUS 55mm lens to a highly respected photographer friend.

'Stop right there I don't want to know about it' he said

'It's another expensive piece of equipment that I'm never going to own' was his justification.

In a way I know where he's coming from 

I'm a fan of BBC's Top Gear programme.

For all its laddish behaviour and sometimes boorish comments it is still highly entertaining.

Yet when I find them reviewing some highly highly expensive car like the special super super carbon fibre version of some Lamborghini or some other daft sounding Italian high-performance car I find myself glazing over and somewhat tuning out mentally, not because I don't like fast cars, indeed I love fast cars, it’s I knowing that it's irrelevant to me, I’m not going to own an £800,000 car anytime soon.

On the face of it a £3000+ standard lens is, well, rather extreme.

Unjustifiable perhaps?

Almost certainly.

Until you use one.

If you do you will see detail that simply does not exist on lenses made by Canon or Nikon.

Make no mistake the advantage the Otus possess compared to the camera manufacturers lenses is simply crushing.

Use the lens back to back and its like one of the lens is a lens and the other is doing an impression of a lens.

The advantage is most marked from F1.4 to F5.6 and wide open it is remarkable.

I did consider using a lens chart but I decided to leave that to the guys at DXO, who describe it as a ‘peerless prime’

I instead took it out on some real world shoots, working mostly at full aperture.

I compared the lens to  a Canon 50mm F1.4 and the bargain basement 50mm F1.8.

Why not the Canon 'L' series 50mm F1.2? 

Simply because I do not own one.

I wanted one, then tried one and thought better of it, not being entirely convinced of its performance compared to its more affordable brothers.

All comparison images were shot on Canon 6d mounted on Gitzo 5 Series tripod with a Manfrotto 405 head, focused using live view to focus as precisely as possible, the Raw images were processed with the identical base settings in Capture One 7 and were treated identically.

Firstly full frame on the Otus at F1.4

Zeiss Otus 55mm F1.4@F1.4

Canon 50mm F1.4@F1.4
Zeiss Otus 55mm F1.4 @ F1.4 100 percent, of note is the bokeh which is very smooth, particularly when
you compare it to the Canon. 


Canon 50mm F1.4 @ F1.4 100 percent

Canon 50mm F1.8 @ F1.8 

Zeiss Otus 55mm F1.4 @F1.4






Canon 50mm F1.8 @F1.8


Zeiss Otus 55mmF1.4@F1.8



Canon 50mm F1.4@F1.4

















                                                    Zeiss 55mm Otus F1.4@F1.4, note the excellent control of flare compared to the Canon

                                                                                 

Canon 50mm F1.4@F1.4(note purple fringing on highlights)

Zeiss 55mm Otus F1.4@F1.4



For me this is perhaps the most impressive of all of the tests, a nice clean image shot at F1.6 on the Zeiss Otus.




And then you see the detail which in my view is truly remarkable.




And Finally the portrait session with Tony Benn


Just wonderful detail.


The images are far from a full test of the Otus, I would like to add some comparative images at other F-Stops, but as I said before, wide open is where the gulf is biggest.

The advantage is most marked from F1.4 to F5.6 and wide open it is remarkable.

I did consider using a lens chart but I decided to leave that to the guys at DXO, who describe it as a ‘peerless prime’

Quite a lot has been written about the Otus in terms of its optical performance, but little has been written about its form factor.

If you are used to manufacturer 50mm prime lenses by the likes of Canon and Nikon you will be struck by its size and weight, which is reminiscent of a medium format prime lens.

Initially this could be seen as a disadvantage but in regular use I have found that the slightly longer barrel length and it's tapered shape brings ergonomic means it fits your hand perfectly, I reckon I can hold a slightly longer prime more steadily too(I wrote about this a couple of years ago)

If you have not used a Zeiss lens before the chances are that you will be struck by its build, fit and finish too, which shades camera manufacturer lenses.

Focusing with any fast prime wide open is problematic, with auto focus or not, and the Zeiss is manual focus only.

I was initially apprehensive about this but the longer throw on the focusing ring does make make manual focusing easier than you might imagine, the situation was further improved when I retro fitted the Canon EG-S focusing screen which is optimised for fast lenses making the images snap into focus much more easily than with the standard screen(I have written about this previously)

Is this a lens for everyone?

Clearly not, but it is a lens for the shooter who does not want to compromise on quality.


If the 50mm focal length is one you use regularly, and you want the very best imaginable quality then I suggest you try one out back to back with your existing lens, you may well be surprised.


37 comments:

gdanov said...

Hi,
I think 50/1.4 is of such poor quality fame that it makes justice to almost any other normal prime out there. That's personal and friends' experience - the 50/1.4 is consistently horrible quality lens both optically and mechanically.

I am writing this because I am always interested in comparisons like yours, so the more relevant it is, the better (for me). Plus I always had my interests about the unmeasurable hence highly subjective differences in bokeh and co. between the different brands.

Cheers

Drew Gardner said...

Hi gdanov

The Canon 50mm conundrum is a tricky one.

The 50mm F1.8 Mk2 is often criticised for its budget bargain basement build quality.

The 50mm L Series F1.2 has had more than its fair share of criticism with focusing issues.

Which left me with the Canon 50mm F1.4, the 50mm lens that most shooters have and I wanted to show the image quality gap.

Drew

Charles Mackenzie-Hill said...

Hello Drew
I have never owned a 50mm and was contemplating the purchase of my first and last. Coincidently was on the fence with the thought of this amount of investment. Ironically wasted far more on the not so clever purchase of a new car. Very glad you wrote this piece as its makes perfect sense, now to go for it.

Looks like I will be taking the bus for a while

Drew Gardner said...

Hi Charles

It really is a lens 'for life'

You will Love it.

My Otus is never far away from me.

As for taking the bus, perhaps Carl Zeiss should do some kind of public transport incentive?

Oyster card with every Otus purchased? :)

Happy Easter

Drew

Iden Pierce Ford said...

My friend, the more relevant test would be with the new Sigma Art 1.4
That would be a better comparison when looking at $$$$.
Since I am now a new Phase One iQ160 user, u now have a hard time convincing me of spending any more $$ on slr lenses.. But.... The Otis is a kick ass lens in the hands of a great photog like yourself.... Show me the Sigma :)

Drew Gardner said...

Hi Iden

I love my Phase One IQ280

But I am a believer in 'horses for courses' and sometimes the photographic challenge in hand calls for a DSLR (or perhaps mirrorless?) camera.

With that in mind I want the very best quality possible form that set up.

Some years ago I bought couple of Sigma lenses - a 15mm and some sort of Zoom I cannot recall the focal length of, I no longer have them, nor can I remember quite what happened to them, only that they are lost in the mists of my photographic career and their passing was not lamented.

From the various test I have seen of the sSigma lens there does seem to be some variation between the tested samples.

Image quality is about optical performance but the sheer build quality of the Otus means it will in all probability out live me.

Drew

Iden Pierce Ford said...

Good response, I'm still building my lens kit for the phase system. Truth is,I'd love to have this Otis for my 5d .Maybe I will down the road. My personal philosophy is that I need to invest In the equipment that I use for work and for artistic expression. So I look harder now at where I put my loonies...looking forward to seeing more results from your 280 :) and happy Easter to u

Simon Stanmore said...

Manually focussed 45mm & 50mm are my go-to's for environmental portraiture. Those samples make this Zeiss tempting. Using 5D's and 6D's, but can't help mulling on a D800 with one of these.

pixelkeeda said...

Hi Drew,
I am trying to buy the BTS video of three of the photographs from blog,
(http://drewgardner.com/blog/shop/)

But i am not able to get the payment gateway, its say vendor account closed. There is no way to get in touch with you on the blog, so posting here as a comment. How can i download these videos ?

Cheers
Hrish

PS : I need the following ones,
Nelson Falls
The Queen’s Speech
Bridge Of Doom

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