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Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Planar T*

85mm
Review Date: Sep 2, 2010 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 9 

 
Pros: colors, contrasts, bokeh, excellent at medium to long distances
Cons:
SA, LoCA, not very good for close ups

I would not recommend this as a first Zeiss lens to anyone as it is not good for every task. If you want a Zeiss tele that is excellent at all apertures and distances then the Zeiss 100/2 MP is a much better choice.

The 85/1.4 is a special purpose lens. It has been designed to be a portrait lens that produces flattering images with nice smooth bokeh. Heavy spherical aberration smooths out the skin of your subjects and produces forgiving portraits. That same trait makes it completely unsuitable for closeups as it loses a lot of apparent sharpness and contrast at that distance. It is far from impossible to get a good close up but you have to carefully engineer the scene. It's not what it has been designed for.

At medium distances it becomes a very interesting landscape/city lens. It is sharp wide open and you get a really nice separation of subject and background even at pretty large distances. You have to be careful though of LoCA which if you are not careful in the selection of your background and the distance to it can create a very nasty busy bokeh. Done right, the background blur is very very good.

Stopped down it becomes razor sharp. It is a great landscape lens due to its subtle color rendering and the spatial qualities of the image (i.e. 3D).

This is definitely not a lens for everyone and you really need to spend time with it and get to know its strengths and weaknesses. It is very rewarding to do so as when used in the right context it can produce really fantastic images.

I would like to stress though that this is neither a suitable first Zeiss lens nor a suitable general purpose lens. Its uses are limited but where it shines, it really shines.


 
Zeiss 35mm f/2 Distagon T*

35mm
Review Date: Jun 14, 2010 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

 
Pros: remarkable rendering, colors, sharpness
Cons:
barrel distortion, slight CA at the edges

Those that think the Zeiss "3D" is a myth should take a look at the images that this lens produces. No other lens that I've used or seen produces such images where you really get a feeling of real depth in the image. Not even any of my other Zeiss lenses (currently 21/2.8, 50MP & 100 MP) come close to this type of rendering style. My guess is that it has something to do with the way sharpness-to-blur gradient changes.

It doesn't extract the fine detail in a scene like the Distagon 21 does and it does not have the raw sharpness and optical performance of the Makro Planars. Its unique rendering style on the other hand makes it excellent in its own right. Colors and contrast are fabulous and shared across the whole Z* line.


 
Zeiss 21mm f/2.8 Distagon T*

21mm
Review Date: Jun 14, 2010 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

 
Pros: the ultimate UWA. sharpness, colors and contrast
Cons:
wave distortion

The 21/2.8 is the master of fine detail. It is amazing how much this lens picks up. Coming from a Canon 16-35 UWA zoom, this was a massive improvement. Sharpness across the frame wide open both in terms of resolution and micro contrast. The colors and overall rendering style is in line with the rest of the Zeiss Z* line.

The only optical drawback is that it has a wave distortion which may affect architectural photography. I have personally never had any problems with it and it is difficult to find examples where it is apparent.

Up close it can produce some very cool painterly bokeh that basically look like van Gogh on drugs. I absolutely love it, but that's a personal preference.

The bottom line is that it's a first class UWA prime that has no equal when it comes to superb performance at all apertures. Its ability to pick up fine detail is just remarkable.


 
Zeiss 100mm f/2 Makro-Planar T*

100mm
Review Date: Jun 14, 2010 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

 
Pros: sharpness, bokeh, colors
Cons:
CA, LoCA

Probably the best lens I've ever used. It's optical performance is amazing - ultra sharp across the frame at all apertures with nearly zero distortion. The bokeh is out of this world as are the colors and the clarity of the images it produces.

It has two optical flaws - one is CA in very high contrast areas when shooting wide open (doesn't happen often). The other one, more common is LoCA which appears in the OOF regions at some combinations of aperture and subject/background distances.

These are minor issues compared to its otherwise superlative performance. The individual aspects only tell part of the story. It is the coming together of sharpness, colors, DOF falloff, bokeh and so on that make this lens one of a kind. It is rightly regarded as one of the finest prime lenses ever built.


 
Zeiss 50mm f/2 Makro-Planar T*

50macro
Review Date: Jun 2, 2010 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

 
Pros: Sharpness, contrast, colors, build quality
Cons:
Focusing near infinity can be difficult as the focus ring is primarily designed for macro shots. Bokeh can be so-so in some situations.

Fantastic lens. It's the 'little brother' of the remarkable 100mm Makro Planar and shares many of its traits. Before I got this lens I had never found a 50mm lens that I liked - including Canon's 50L. I thought I simply did not like the focal length.

Not so apparently. The 50 MP is a great to use and the images it produces are fabulous. Sharpness, colors and contrast are all superb. It really brings out the fine detail in images. It also has a very graceful DOF falloff where the in-focus parts just melt away out of focus. The result is a feeling of depth in the images.

On the negative side is that it can be difficult to focus near infinity - slight movements of the focus ring result in large changes in focus distance. You learn it soon enough though and the excellent focus ring helps a lot.

Bokeh can range from truly amazing to mediocre depending on distance to subject, background and aperture.

There is no such thing as a perfect lens and that holds for this one as well. It is however excellent and probably the best 50mm you can get today.


 
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM

ef70-200lisiiu_586x225
Review Date: Mar 12, 2010 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $3,600.00 | Rating: 10 

 
Pros: IQ, sharpness, speed IS
Cons:
price, size, weight, glare

This lens is an impressive piece of engineering. It's really sharp. Prime lens sharp, wide open and at both focal length ends. At 2.8 and 135 mm it is almost indistinguishable from the 135mm f/2.0L @2.8. The sharpness would be considered excellent for a prime lens but for a zoom it's nothing short of amazing. It's a big improvement over the MkI version of the lens - especially at 200mm.

The IS is very good but it's a less dramatic improvement over the previous version.

The auto focus is the fastest that I've ever seen.

Optical distortions, CA etc are virtually non-existent. It does have problems with glare - it's not a lens you want to point in the general direction of the sun.

The bokeh is very good, but not as good as on the 135mm f/2.0L.

The only significant problems with this lens have nothing to do with the images it produces. It's the price, size and weight that are arguments against buying it.

Price: I paid $3600 (in Sweden) which hurts. At $2500, (which is the US price at the time of writing this review) it's still pricey. $2000 would have been a reasonable price.

Weight & Size: It's big and heavy which makes it in every respect a bit more difficult to use than smaller lenses. You need to find new ways of holding the camera while carrying it and you must adapt your shooting technique - not to mention re-organize your camera bag. I was surprised however that it was easier to handle than I thought - at least walking around and shooting with it for a few hours was no problem. The build quality is excellent bordering on the absurd. The thing is built to survive a nuclear blast. This is not all positive - the focus ring is a bit too stiff for my liking and I'd gladly trade some of that build quality for lighter weight.

The size is primarily problematic because it is an extremely conspicuous lens. The MkII is even larger than the MkI and you can be sure that everyone within a radius of a mile will know you are taking photos. Because of this it's not very useful for street photography. If you think that the 200mm tele will save you, think again. People notice the lens from a very large distance.

Overall if you can handle the price, size and weight then it's a fantastic piece of glass. It is simply put a zoom lens with image quality comparable to high-end prime lenses.

For some real world example shots see:
http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/read.asp?forum=1029&message=34781207

And here is a comparison with the 135L and an el cheapo super zoom lens:
http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/read.asp?forum=1029&message=34776029


 
Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM

ef135mmf_2l_1_
Review Date: Feb 26, 2010 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,960.00 | Rating: 10 

 
Pros: it's magical, image quality, bokeh, speed
Cons:
not weather sealed, odd focal length on a crop body, lens hood, auto-focus in low-light conditions, price

This is a magical lens. I'm not kidding - there is no other way I can describe it. There is some je ne se quois about it. A combination of focal length, aperture, sharpness, contrast and color reproduction that produces images like no other lens. If you look at the features individually, you don't see it. There are other prime lenses that are just as sharp. The bokeh certainly isn't the 'creamiest' (compared to say a 85/f1.2) etc Yet it still produces uniquely beautiful images. As much as I would like to, I can't quantify it - it's a combination of the different attributes of the lens.

Mind you, it's far from flawless. The build quality good, but nowhere near some other L series lenses. It's for instance not weather sealed. The auto focus isn't great in low light conditions. The lens hood is ridiculously oversized and made of cheap glossy plastic that mostly acts as a fingerprint magnet. It's expensive (I paid 14,000 SEK = $1,960 here in Sweden, the difference from the US price being taxes and import duties). The 135mm focal length is an odd duck on FF but especially on crop sensors.

For any other lens I would have deducted these things from the overall rating. If it hadn't had that special quality I would have probably rated it 8/10. Given the images it produces I rate it at 12/10.

I bought this lens more or less on an impulse. I was at my local photo store to see if they knew when the new 70-200/2.8 IS mark II was expected to be in stock. And there I saw the 135/f2 on a shelf. I was not unfamiliar with it - I had previously been surprised how often this lens was used in photos that I liked. As I'm intending to buy the new 70-200 I've carefully looked through the flickr photo pool for the current version of the 70-200 lens and I've compared it to the 135mm flickr pool. I consistently liked the 135mm photos better, but I really couldn't justify buying it when I was going to buy an excellent lens that includes the focal length in question. Paying almost $2000 extra to gain one stop (2.0 vs 2.8) seemed excessive. So there I was in the store and decided: *no impulse buying*. I went out, came back five minutes later and bought it. The time after that I had some serious doubts about my own sanity.

After taking a few hundred photos I concluded that perhaps I wasn't nuts after all. I was left speechless by the images. It really is an amazing lens. Unless Canon has managed to incorporate the same special characteristics into the new 70-200 - which I seriously doubt - I'll consider this to have been an excellent purchase. (I'll still get the 70-200 as the 135mm can't be considered an alternative to the zoom).

When you read about the "legendary 135" etc, it isn't just hype, it's really a remarkable piece of glass. And while I have scoffed at people's vague praise of this lens, I find myself in the same position. My advice can only be: try it and see for yourself.


 
Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM

ef85mmf_18usm_1_
Review Date: Feb 17, 2010 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $700.00 | Rating: 10 

 
Pros: sharp, nice bokeh, fast
Cons:
CA

This is my favorite prime lens. Exceptionally sharp, excellent in low light and it produces a great creamy bokeh. It's probably the best value lens you can buy. Build quality is OK - not up to 'L' standard but better than for instance the 50/1.4. The auto focus is very fast.

The only negative aspect is the purple fringing that you get in high contrast areas.

Overall a fantastic lens with probably the best value for money that you can get from Canon.


 
Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM

ef50mmf_14usm_1_
Review Date: Feb 11, 2010 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 7 

 
Pros: fast, sharp when stopped down, neutral bokeh
Cons:
awkward focal length for crop sensor, neutral bokeh

This is not a bad lens, but it is my least favorite prime lens. The problem is that the focal length isn't very useful on a 7D with a 1.6x crop. On the wide end I have a more useful 30 mm/1.4 and on the tele end the I have the much better 85mm/1.8.

It's not very sharp wide open, but I don't personally mind that too much. It gets sharp at f2. There is no denying that it's fast wide open.

The bokeh is neutral which is both a good and a bad thing. It allows you more controlled backgrounds but at the same time it's rather boring.

Build quality is what you expect from a mid-range Canon lens - not all that brilliant.

I don't regret buying it and I do use it on occasion, but as I said, not my favorite lens.


 
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM

ef_100_28_1_
Review Date: Feb 11, 2010 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 9 

 
Pros: Sharp, excellent macro, reasonably fast
Cons:
Temperamental auto focus, no IS

Great macro lens. It's sharp already at 2.8 which allows you to take shots with ridiculously small DOF. The image quality is fantastic.

With the kind of images that this lens can deliver you could forgive any other shortcomings it might have. Fortunately they aren't many. The only negative thing about it is the focus. The auto focus can be super-fast sometimes while it can be painfully slow on other occasions. Manual focus works fine for macro shots but it is way too sensitive when you are focusing on objects that are further away than ~1 m.