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Sony FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA Zeiss Sonnar T*

Screen_Shot_2013-11-13_at_11_47_32_AM_copy
Review Date: Jun 21, 2014 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

 
Pros: IQ of the first magnitude. Build quality. Low weight and compact size.
Cons:
Who wouldn't want this lens to be one stop faster (f:2.0), or to be just as sharp wide open as it is stopepd down?

This lens is a sleeper. Because it is not spectacular, in-your-face, either by what it looks like, how much it costs, or what images it produces, it is easily underrated.
Not so IMHO. IQ is top-notch. Colours, contrast, detail are best-in-class. Sharpness is very high, though not the sort that amazes, because it leans more towards a painterly presentation than towards a macro-type rendering.
Because you get all of this in a small and light package, with autofocus, and at a price which, for anything that has the Zeiss name on it, is not overly expensive (though it is basically a Sony design overseen by their partners Zeiss), it is a great lens.
In my case, with its 35mm focal length, it is my go-everywhere-shoot-anything lens. Except of course for its f:2.8 max. aperture, which excludes certain uses. But,if it were faster, it would also be larger, heavier and more expensive, so...
While not as spectacular, I rate it higher than its longer brother the FE 55.
Highly recommended!


 
Canon EOS 5D Mark III

5DIIIs
Review Date: Oct 13, 2012 Recommend? no | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 7 

 
Pros: Everything that was wrong or weak with the 6D MkII got fixed or improved.
Cons:
Only that which was wrong or weak with the MK II got fixed or improved. For 3 1/2 years of "evolution", that is not enough. That plus the heavy price tag make it much less competitive than the original 5D and the MKII II were

Having happily owned a 40D and two 5D Mk IIs, I looked forward to the MK III for a long time before it finally came out. My dealer only got his first copies two days before a major trip to Patagonia, so I bought mine sight unseen, else I would not have done it.
Yes, Canon fixed or improved whatever wasn't right or good enough with the MK II. Starting with the grat new AF, the body construction, etc... MK III has dual card slots and other goodies, which is great.
The problem is the IQ. It is essentially the same as the MK II, which was outstanding 3 1/2 years ago. But, whereas Canon have remained static during that very long time, Sony have not, hence the newer Sony sensors handily outperfom the Canon, as can be seen in DxO tests, with, for exemple, the Nikon D800 twins.
When first shooting the MK III, I felt that the IQ would be better, because that is the way it looked on the rear LCD. But when I looked at the RAW on my screen, no dice! The improvement comes from the JPEG engine, not the RAW IQ.
So, in a nutshell, if you are not upgrading from the MK II, or if you are after a pro camera that shouldnt' fail, or if it doesn't bother you that Nikon have better IQ for less money, you could be very happy with the MK III. Otherwise, buy a MK II. Same IQ for a lot less money, or the newer 6D. I sold my Mk III, and Canon lost me as a customer. And I am not alone...


 
Zeiss 35mm F/1.4 Distagon T*

35f14
Review Date: Oct 12, 2012 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 9 

 
Pros: Colours, detail, spatial placement, bokeh, build quality
Cons:
Size, weight, cost. Some field curvature. Slight loss of contrast wide open

The 35 f:1.4 is a lens for the determined. First because of its weight, size and cost. Then because the images it creates are not immediately as spectacular as those of its lesser sibling, the ZE 35 f:2.0.
But on direct comparison, the faster lens has much more detail, better and more subtle colours, impeccable spatial placement including in the OOF areas. And the bokeh is a cream dream.
A couple of issues prevent it from being perfect. It suffers from field curvature, so the corners and centre may not be sharp at the same time if you are shooting wide open. While this matters, it has not lost me a single shot, so it sould not be made into a major issue at all. Then, wide open, there is a slight loss of contrast, which can be mistaken for loss of sharpness, which it isn't.
What is fantastic about this lens is its almost total lack of visual signature. Its rendering can stretch from the austere to the lush, from neutral to spectacular. That is something very few lenses can do (the newer 25 f:2.0 does it as well, showing that this pair is a new generation for Zeiss).
Overall, probably the best lens to date in the ZE/ZF.2 line, with the exception of the more recent ZE 15. In a direct comparison, even the formidable ZE 21 shows its age.


 
Zeiss 25mm f/2 Distagon T*

zeiss25f2
Review Date: Aug 5, 2012 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 9 

 
Pros: Tremendous IQ, build quality, f:2.0, nice balance on a Canon 5D
Cons:
A few extreme corner pixels are not quite sharp

For those with exposure to Zeiss' recent Distagon z* 35 f:1.4, Z* 25 f:2.0 will be familiar territory. It exhibits the same formidable performance and rendering as its elder, larger, longer-focal-length, faster brother. Temendous detail, fantastic colours and colour differentiation. Spatial placement is awesome, even in OOF areas.
Is it a perfect lens? No. A few extreme corner pixels are not sharp. This, of course, has been magnified by the Internet turning molehills into mountains. How bad is it? It hasn't lost me a single shot, and is totally invisible unless you know what to look for in a 100% crop, and those few pics can always be cropped out if it matters that much.
Also, compared to the 35, which has set a new standard for bokeh smoothness in its class, the 25 has great bokeh, but maybe not quite as remarkable.
Otherwise, it is just pure bliss. I did a shootout with the Distagon 21 f:2.8, regarded as maybe the world's best wide-angle lens, and the 35 f:1.4. The 25 showed that Zeiss do not release a lens unless it is better than its predecessors, and the 21 started to show its age. So I sold it and kept the 25. Enough said?


 
Zeiss 28mm f/2 Distagon T*

28mm
Review Date: Aug 2, 2010 Recommend? no | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 6 

 
Pros: Usual Zeiss build, balances nicely on my 5D II, sharp close up as well as at infinity, good 3D.
Cons:
Colour fringing is more than it ought to be or any other Zeiss lens I have. It is for me a difficult lens to get good results from. If no foreground is included, shots tend to be flat and dull, which rules it out for landscape, not a good feature for a 28mm FL.

I bought this lens after my ZE35 was stolen, hoping it to be either a "wider 35", or a "narrower 21", both these lenses being, despite their differences, extremely pleasing to me. Well, the 28 is neither. Unless I work seriously hard at it, results tend to be "flat" and "boring" by comparison with other Zeiss lenses. It comes into its own when mixing foreground and some mid-distance background, which is good for cityscape, but not for landscape, a severe limitation for a 28mm lens IMHO.
From a more technical point of view, it is sharp from MFD (which is very close up) to infinity, so that is not an issue. Colours tend to be more "neutral" than from any of my other Zeiss, requiring more push in post. It also suffers from more colour fringing than one would like from a lens of this caliber.
In summary, while I have gotten nice shots form mine, I have yet to get a single "Wow!" shot, which I get/got lots of from my 21 and 35. If this had been my first Zeiss lens, I doubt that I would have converted all my lenses to Zeiss.


 
Zeiss 21mm f/2.8 Distagon T*

21mm
Review Date: Apr 2, 2010 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

 
Pros: A lens that fully justifies its legendary reputation. It produces an exceptionally high percentage of "Wow!" shots. Great build quality. Very easy to use, turns my 5D MkII into a point-and-shoot.
Cons:
Well-known "mustache" distortion

The Distagon 21 never fails to amaze even its owners, that's how good it is. It has a way of making shots dramatic and spectacular, due to its rendition of colour and contrast and to its almost preternaturally deep DOF. I set it at f:5.6 and can shoot anything from 8' on without even bothering to focus. It is also wickedly sharp right from minimum focusing distance all the way to infinity. All this makes it the undisputed king of landscape lenses.
For architecture, it has a well documented "mustache" distortion that can spook some potential users. I find such damnation overstated, plus it can easily be cured in post with PTLens.
This lens makes it frustrating that a picture cannot be added to a review, because that would be worth more than a thousand words...


 
Zeiss 35mm f/2 Distagon T*

35mm
Review Date: Apr 2, 2010 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

 
Pros: Tremendously sharp all the way from minimum focusing distance to infinity. Great colour and contrast. Considered the most consistently "3D" of all Zeiss lenses. Great build. Balances very well on a 5D MkII
Cons:
Still looking hard for any

The only lens I have owned, out of maybe 25, where I cannot find any even half-serious flaw. That, combined with its focal length, makes it a devastatingly effective walk-about lens, whether on FF or on crop. It is razor-sharp very close up and maintains this throughout, its rendition of colour has very strong contrast. Its "3D" prowess is unmatched. Only the comparison with its "big brother", the legendary 21 Distagon shows it to be very slightly on the clinical side of neutrality.

 
Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Planar T*

85mm
Review Date: Apr 2, 2010 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 8 

 
Pros: World-class rendition of detail, colour, contrast and volume. Great "3D". Exceptional build quality
Cons:
Not perfectly sharp up close and wide open, some focus shift at less than 8', some CA. Not exactly a light lens, nor a cheap one.

The Zeiss Planar 85 is not for the faint-hearted. It is not light, not cheap, and not always easy to use. Its 85 mm means that depth-of-field wide open or close will be razor-thin, making manual focus a demanding exercise, with focus shift adding a little spice.
It is basically not optimized for close up-wide open-maximum background blur.
On the other hand if you stop down to f:2.0, it picks up unbelievable detail, and its rendition of colour is second to none. That makes it a world-class mid-distance portrait lens, as well as a phenomenal landscape short tele.


 
Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 Planar T*

50mm
Review Date: Apr 1, 2010 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 9 

 
Pros: Fantastic IQ with one exception, light, compact, affordable (for a Zeiss), build quality
Cons:
Not so great wide open at minimum focusing distance, some focus shift, some CA.

This is the mother of all alt lenses, at least of the current ones. It is by far the least expensive Zeiss, the smallest, the lightest, and its 50mm focal length makes it the ideal walk-about on a FF camera. Its only weakness is up close and wide open, so if one wants to do primarily portraits with blurred background, and paper-thin depth-of-field, it is not such a good idea. There is also some focus shift, if you want to pick its, but not so much as to give me grief, and, in the absolute, there is more CA than ideal.
Come f:2.0, it is wickedly sharp, all the way to infinity. Its rendition of colours, contrast and volumes is world-class, but more as understated elegance than in an in-your-face style. I use it for landscape, cityscape, some portraits, though not close up, and it never fails to give me great results.
Considering its price, unless you need AF, need a zoom, or are primarily into portraits, nobody should be without one IMHO.
Other very competent prime shooters prefer the übersharpness of the Zeiss 50 MP. Except close up, of course, I have to date seen no reason to pay more money and carry more weight for a lens that may be a tad sharper but does not have the supremely elegant rendition of the f:1.4


 
Canon EF 200mm f/2.8L II USM

1ef200mmf_28_1_1_
Review Date: Nov 12, 2008 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 9 

 
Pros: Fantastic value for money, good build, light weight relative to build quality and focal length.
Cons:
No IS, f2:8 max aperture

I already owned a 135L f:2.0 and a 1.4TC, giving me a FL of almost 200mm with a max F:2.8. So when my dealer suggested I try a 200mm f:2.8, I thought this was a strange idea. Actually, the 2 lenses have a very different character. The 135L acts almost like a magnifying glass, emphasizing each and every minute detail amost painfully, whether used alone or with the 1.4x converter.
By comparison, the 200mm is less "agressive". It is not less sharp, does not offer less detail, but it blends them smoothly into the overall photo.
Another way to put it is that the 200 gives me more keepers, as it is so easy and smooth, nothing looks "bad " with it.
The 135L give me less keepers, but those shots that are good are spectacular.
So if you are looking for a not-terribly-expensive, not-terribly-heavy telephoto, the 200mm f:2.8 is a terrific choice. It is an all-purpose lens with L quality IQ. Just, you have to remember, it does not have IS, so it is not like James Bond's Vodka Martini. Don't shake it...


 
Nikon D60

Nikon_D60
Review Date: Aug 11, 2008 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 8 

 
Pros: Excellent IQ. Generally simple, hassle-and-fuss-free. Compact size, light weight, lots of features that make it easy for the first-time DSLR owner to get up and running. D-Lighting, on-board image processing.
Cons:
Too small for my taste. Small, rather dark viewfinder. Limited autofocus (3 points only). It feels like Nikon didn't wan't the D60 to cast a shadow over older, more up-market camera bodies. Only AF-S lenses allow autofocus, giving limited choice.

I used one for 2 weeks on a trip to Asia, with a 16-85mm VR, a 70-300mm VR and a 60mm f:2.8 macro.
On the plus side, the D60 consistently produced high IQ (but note that I was using it with much better lenses than the kit lenses it is commonly sold with). The very fact that differences between lenses were very clear shows its resolving ability.
Also on the plus side, the D60 is a good "point-and-shoot" camera for first-time users. They will find preset settings for most common types of shots, and D-Lighting is a big help to get useable results in tricky, high-contrast situations. Beyond that, the D60 offers on-camera software to optimize shots, which can be a bonus for users who have no intention to use photoshop-type post processing.
Also as a positive, while the camera body is small, I found ergonomics to be intuitive and easy, and it felt light, plasticky, but well-engineered and reliable.
On the minus side, the D60 is small, even for my average-sized hands. Some might say very small. That makes it less easy to handle than one would like, and less stable than one would like.
Also as a minus, and for me a big one, the viewfinder is small and rather dark. It compares poorly to its direct competitor the Canon Xsi/450D. Within this viewfinder, the autofocus only has 3 points, compared to the Canon's 9 points. Similarly, its LCD screen is 2.5", Vs 3" to the Canon. A function again of Nikon's choice to make it so compact as to be almost small.
In other areas as well, Nikon's reluctance to let the D60 eat into the sales of its larger breathren is palpable. As such, only AF-S lenses get autofocus, which means, for example, that the D60 cannot autofocus with the excellent 50mm f:1.4 and 50mm f:1.8 lenses, which would otherwise have been no-brainers for owners wanting to go one step further than standard zooms.
Overall, the D60 is IMHO a good camera, which, with the right lenses, can produce very good pictures. I recommend it if the compact size appeals to you, if you like the idea of owning a Nikon, or if you want a "point-and-shoot" DSLR. But when you look at the list of what competitors offer, it is by no means the only choice.


 
Canon EOS 40D

40d
Review Date: Aug 8, 2008 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

 
Pros: Very good IQ in simple P&S auto mode for beginners, as well as RAW for experts. Very good ergonomics, grip. Good viewfinder, autofocus. High frame rate. Reliable, solid feel. Access to the vast range of Canon lenses.
Cons:
On/off switch needlessly finicky. Depth of field tester is awkward. Light measuring can sometimes be wrong-footed by high contrast situations.

I have owned my 40D almost a year, with a variety of lenses, zooms as well as primes. To me, it is exactly what a prosumer DSLR should be: very easy to use and producing fine pictures in full auto mode, which is fine for beginners, as well as allowing its many possibilities to deliver great IQ for experts.
It may not outshine competitors on a paper list of features, such as pixel count, but to start to use one is a very satisfying experience. It just "feels right", starting with the grip, the the viewfinder, the autofocus, the 2 wheels and joystick. There is a reliable, solid feel to this camera.
Another indirect benefit is the access to an unparalleled line of Canon lenses.
Even though there are more recent models from all the competitors, I would buy it again in a heartbeat.


 
Canon Extender EF 1.4x II

exef14_1_
Review Date: Jul 16, 2008 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

 
Pros: maintains lens IQ, solid build, works without fuss
Cons:
Nothing at all

I use it mainly with my 135L, giving me an equivalent just short of 200mm, f:2.8. I just love it. For modest price and weight increases, I own another L lens, same fabulous IQ. It also goes well with my 300mm f:4, which it stretches to 420mm f:5.6. What's not to love?

 
Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM

ef_35_14_1_
Review Date: Jun 22, 2008 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

 
Pros: Perfect portrait lens on my 40D. Great rendition of even very subtle color shadings and contrasts.
Cons:
Nothing

Out of my 6 Canon primes, this one is second best only to my 135L 2.0. Compared to it, its ability to record color is equivalent, and outstanding, but it lacks just a little edge. When reality is rough, the 35L softens it ever so slightly IMHO. But it is very slight, and goes to making the shots more beautiful than real. So who's complaining?
Highly recommended.


 
Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM

ef135mmf_2l_1_
Review Date: Jun 22, 2008 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

 
Pros: sharpness, ability to record micro-details, volumes and subtle shadings
Cons:
No stabilized version



 
Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM

ef85mmf_18usm_1_
Review Date: May 25, 2008 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

 
Pros: Great IQ. Low price for such great IQ. Did I mention IQ?
Cons:
Slightly bulkier than I would like. The existence of an even better 85mm prime (but much more expensive)

My second prime after the wonderful 50mm 1.4. These 2 lenses produce much better pictures than my hideously expensive 24-70 2.8L zoom. So they now get most of the use. Even my shop was shocked at the difference in picture quality on casual shots taken right from the shop floor. So good that I ordered a 24mm 2.8, and am thinking of getting the 135mm 2.0. Then it may be bye-bye time for my zoom lenses.

 

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