Lens of the Century
Zeiss Otus 55/1.4 APO Distagon T* 55 f1.4 1.4/55 55mm
It is no doubt the Zeiss Otus 55/1.4 APO Distagon is the lens of the century, at least for now. Never before, has Zeiss removes the restriction of size and other optical design considerations for the design team of Otus, and deploys one ashperical lens element, 6 lens elements of special glass with anomalous partial dispersion and a complicated optical formula of 12 lens elements in 10 groups for a lens of standard focal length. The end product is a gigantic and beefy modern looking standard lens of Distagon design, a lens with an optical performance that is a class of its own, very well corrected for optically, and with a resolving power that can over match the latest 36 megapix full frame sensors!
As for price, I still believe Zeiss puts some consideration on the final cost of the lens. Although no where consider cheap, but with the type of optical performance, Zeiss still cap the price of this lens to a reasonable level (compared to Leica for example) and for obvious reason the lens is made in Japan rather than Germany to keep the price to an affordable level at least for the professionals.
As a result of the elaborate design, the distortion is kept to very low.
The MTF is very impressive, supercedes all the Zeiss super stars like Makro-Planar 100/2.8, Planar 100/2, Planar 85/1.2, Planar 55/1.2 and Superachromat 300/2.8. The 40 cycles/mm line at f1.4 is already exceeding 60% almost across the field. Stopped down to f4 will further improve the performance but at f1.4 the MTF is already very impressive and setting new standards in lens design. Zeiss has been very stingy in crowning their lenses with APO designation. The previous few are Tele-ApoTessar 300/2.8, ApoSonnar 200/2, ApoSonnar 135/2, Apo-Makro-Planar 120/4 and etc. All of these APOs come with killer performance. Now the APO goes with 55mm focal length, we can expect killer performance from the latest Zeiss flagship.
The size of Otus 55/1.4 is rediculously huge, with a filter diameter of 77mm and a weight close to 1kg. It dwarfs the Rollei QBM 50/1.4 Planar, which is probably the smallest 50/1.4 Zeiss has made in the history with a filter size of only 49mm. But to me despite the weight and size, the lens is very comfortable to hold and use on a SONY Alpha 7R with vertical grip. But I have to admit the lens is heavy to carry around in the camera bag, but certainly not so when in use.
Otus 55/1.4 with Voigtlander Nikon F to Sony E adaptor.
On the right is Rollei HFT 50/1.4 Planar with Heliopan metal hood and Rolleiflex SL35E SLR.
The lens optical formula is a Distagon wide angle design to allow more possibilities of optical corrections as compared to the well proven and copied Planar design which more or less has reached the limit of technical possibilities. Focusing throw is very large and smooth, which allows very accurate focusing at f1.4 coupled with full frame mirrorless focusing magnifier function. For this lens Zeiss has moved away from the conventional complete lens group focusing method and using internal focusing. The focusing grip is an adequate ring somewhere in the middle of the lens, and the rest of the lens are just not moving while focusing is done.
The lens comes with a lens cap of design following the present trend. The lens hood provided is felted. I was considering using a CONTAX 86-77 adaptor ring and a hood 4 for the lens. But I finally settle with the orignal hood. The orignal hood looks plastic to me on photos, but the actual hood is actually made of solid metal and fits nicely to the lens and feel nicely holding it so I forget about the CONTAX metal hood.
Optical perfrmance of the lens in real life is of very high resolution and very sharp, even at f1.4. And I would say the Otus 55/1.4 is designed to be used at f1.4. The centre sharpness at f1.4 is incredible, and the high resolution allows you to do very large magnification. I tested the lens hand held but with a minimum shutter speed of 1/125. And with the high resolution of the lens at 1/125 hand held I can comfortably take sharply focused photos with Alpha 7R focus magnifier. I remember in those film days where I first encountered the very fine grain Kodak Ektar 25, I do get pictures that were not sharp due to low shutter speed as a result of the high resolution of the negatives.
Alpha 7R, f1.4 1/125 ISO 250
Below is an example of very good centre sharpness and resolution at f1.4, and at the same time well corrected at the edges of the photo.
Alpha 7R, f1.4 1/125 ISO 500.
Depth of field is of course narrow at f1.4. But a half body portrait with the subject facing fairly direct to the camera both eyes can be adequately sharp like the shot below.
Alpha 7R, f1.4 1/125 ISO 500.
Some other shots taking at f1.4.
Alpha 7R, f1.4 1/500-1/1000 ISO 100.
Alpha 7R, f1.4 1/500-1/1000 ISO 100.
Alpha 7R, f1.4 1/250 ISO 320.
As for macro close up shots, it is really very difficult to take at f1.4 at hand held condition. So I settled with f2.8 for the shot below.
Alpha 7R, f2.8 1/80 ISO 100, Manfrotto monopod 134B/234RC.
The Star Vista Singapore, Alpha 7R2, f2 1/125, ISO 400, 6 Aug 2016.
My Digital Era …….. SONY Alpha 7R
Sony Alpha 7R, with vertical grip, and the not so compatible ZM 15/2.8 Distagon T*
(Shot by Pentax DL, CY 100/2.8 Makro-Planar T*)
Never really in this stage of my life (LOL, at age 49) I will believe myself converting to digital photography. Had been a hard core film photographer for a long long time, since around 1985/1986. A few reasons I stayed with film, specifically Kodak negatives: those equipment I used were all very dead ( Praktica, Rolleiflex, Contax ) and none of them were able to come up with a digital body. Yes Contax did have a Contax N1 full frame digital, but used a different lens mount. And also somehow I wanted a full frame digital. I do not really have a very valid reason why a full frame is a must, and I have seen enough fantastic photos from non-full frame cameras. Anyway, in December 2013, SONY launched the Alpha 7R, a full frame 36 MP digital mirrorless body, and by instinct I told myself this is the digital camera I wanted, and I placed a deposit and pre-ordered the Alpha 7R and there it goes, I am into digital photography!
I am probably using Alpha 7R in not really the way it was designed for, in a way : ). Before I collected the body, I ordered a few adaptors: Praktica to SONY E mount, Rollei QBM to E mount, Contax CY to E mount, Leica M to E mount, and Nikon F to E mount (no Nikon mount lenses I have at the moment, but wating for the ZF.2 Zeiss Otus). All of a sudden, I have a full frame digital body that is usable with all my Zeiss lenses, and in full frame mode!
Alpha 7R is using EVF electronic view finder. So every composition I see clearly the final effect in the correct exposure. There is no need to fully open and stop down the lens aperture like the conventional way of using manual lenses with lens adaptors. Interestingly my photos have been sharper than before, thanks to the SONY mirrorless focus magnifier, where a selected small portion of the composition can be enlarged for critical focusing.
There are actually two manual focusing aids provided by Alpha 7R: one is peak focusing indication, and one is focus magnifier. For peak focusing, areas in sharp focus will be indicated by some kind of shaded colour. However after using for a while I find this method not very full proof especially for wide angle lenses, and thus I stick to focus magnifier all the time now. The only other accessory I used with the Alpha 7R is the grip which I feel makes the camera much comfortable to hold, especially with heavier lenses.
The biggest disappointment I have with the Alpha 7R is that for Leica M mount lenses with focal length less than 35mm they are not totally usable with the 7R full frame sensor. For some photographic situations the corners suffer from obvious vignetting, colour shift and loss of image resolution. But some time it is a hit and miss thing where in certain situation the lens produces images that are very usable, like this one shooting using the ZM 25/2.8 Biogon below:
P Ubin Singapore, f5.6 1/125 ZM 25/2.8 Biogon T*, ISO 100, 1 Dec 2013.
This is another shot using the ZM 28/2.8 Biogon at a toy stall in a rest point along Malaysia KL north-south highway. The photograph is usable with very good centre details.
f4 1/125 ZM 28/2.8 Biogon T*, ISO 400, 10 Dec 2013.
The ZM 15/2.8 Distagon, despite a Distagon design, the rear of the lens is still too close to the full frame digital sensor and thus the corner light rays attack angle is still too steep. However, in certain situation the photographs taken were totally usable, like the shop display below. In fact a close up examination of the lights at the corners there are little colour fringing and image issues.
f4 1/60 ZM 15/2.8 Distagon T*, ISO 800, 24 Dec 2013.
The ZM 50/2 Planar and the 85/2 Sonnar work perfectly well with the Alpha 7R. High resolution apparent, nice bokeh. The 85 Sonnar is kind of special. The photos taken on film already different from the rests of the Zeiss, and with a very high resolution it is well suited for the 36 MP Alpha 7R.
f2/2.8 1/125 ZM 50/2 Planar T*, ISO 800, 1 Dec 2013
Zeiss always shines under low light condition : )
P Ubin Singapore, f2.8 1/500-1/1000 ZM 85/2 Sonnar T*, ISO 100, 1 Dec 2013.
Using medium and long tele lenses on Alpha 7R is really an enjoyment. I am getting much sharper pictures than before, partly thanks to the wonderful focus magnifier with mirrorless camera, and partly my deteriorating eye sight that cannot focus that well with optical finder anymore. I used a very old Schneider Tele-Xenar 135/3.5 taking a statue at Malaysia Batu Cave below.
f4/5.6 1/500 135/3.5 Tele-Xenar, ISO 100, Manfrotto 190B/410 Gear, 12 Dec 2013.
Old lens with a new life ........
A few shots with Zeiss Contax 300 f4 Tele-Tessar. I have never taken such well focused shots with this lens before, partly also thanks to the easily adjustable ISO setting with digital camera that I can now use higher shutter speed as far as possible.
River Safari Singapore, f4 1/500 300/4 Tele-Tessar T*, ISO 100,
Manfrotto 190XPROB/410 Gear, 25 Feb 2014.
Singaore Zoo, f4 1/250 300/4 Tele-Tessar T*,
ISO 400, Manfrotto 190XPROB/410 Gear, 23 Mar 2014.
I jumped into Contax system with the reason wanting to try out Zeiss zooms. But after a while I go back to primes and not really working a lot with the zoom lenses. But I was quite please with the recent results with the Zeiss 80-200 f4 Vario-Sonnar tele zoom at the zoo of Singapore. Below is a shot of an iguana and I am impress with the high resolution apparent of the lens.
Singapore Zoo, f4 1/125-1/250 80-200/4 Vario Sonnar T*, Manfrotto 190B/410 Gear, 30 Dec 2013.
For the first time I am able to take some photos with the 180 f2.8 Sonnar at the night safari of Singapore with very high ISO setting at 6400. Direct JPG, noise is visible but no choice for such shooting condition.
Night Safari Singapore, f2.8 1/60 180/2.8 Sonnar T*, ISO 6400, 22 Dec 2013.
I am a lazy photographer where post-processing is never my cup of tea. I am very please with the Alpha 7R in-camera JPG outputs. Like the one below shooting with ZM 21/2.8 Biogon T*, not only the photo is usable despite it is a M mount super wide angle, the photo attached here is pushed by one stop due to the original one being under-exposed. And I did the exposure adjustment on the original JPG file, not the RAW file.
Bubble Shrimp Restaurant, f4 1/60 ZM 21/2.8 Biogon T*, ISO 1600, 12 Dec 2013.
Now I am waiting for an expensive and heavy Zeiss 55/1.4 Otus. But at present this lens is out of stock, despite its high price. Hope the lens can create some magic and sparks with the Alpha 7R.