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John, thanks for sharing this really interesting read! Regarding the performance-differences at close vs far away distances: that's an under-rated, maybe unknown to many photographers, phenomenon.
Some excellent optics (the Leica Apo-Telyt-R 180/3.4 and the Zeiss Planar 100/3.5 for Hasselblad to name just two legendary lenses) were especially designed for long-distance work and are not made for close-range-photography. The Zeiss-lenses you've tested obviously belong to the opposite camp.
That's why I take all "test-chart-tests" with a some grains of salt. Distortion btw is in almost all cases depending on the reproduction-scale too.
That said: I really like my 135/2 Ais and the...Show more →
Yes, I've found several of my lenses that do better near than far or vice versa:
180/3.4 APO Telyt - Tack sharp at infinity, but gets noticeably softer at close distances
70-200/4 VR - 200mm is very very sharp at infinity, but gets softer the closer in you focus while 70-150mm are the opposite
400/5.6 ED AI & 400/5.6 ED-IF AIS - Both are noticeably sharper at several meters than they are at infinity (where they are still quite good)
My 135/2 AIS seems to be the same at any distance as well as my 135/3.5 AIS, 16/3.5AI, and 45/2.8P.