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Using the Carl Zeiss 25mm f2 with Kodak Portra 160 Film

by Chris Gampat on 12/09/2011

When I finished the review of the Zeiss 25mm f2 for Canon EF mount, I decided that before I send the lens back to the company that I’d do something a bit out of the ordinary with it. The lens is a newly announced optic, and it quickly squeezed itself into a soft spot in my heart. So I decided to put two loves of mine together: this lens and film.

With a couple rolls of Kodak Portra left, I stuck a roll of Kodak Portra 160 into loyal reader Nathan Blaney’s (who is a far better photographer than I am) Canon 1N and attached the Zeiss 25mm f2 onto the camera before work started. And then I did something that we only did back in the film days: take a chance.

Manual Focusing on an Autofocus Film Camera

The Zeiss 25mm f2 has focus confirmation with old Canon EOS film cameras; which will be such a joyous delight to old school film users that have stuck with the system for years.

Before we go on, note that all of these photos were shot wide open due to low lighting in my office.

In some ways, I believe the focusing to be even better on the Canon 1N vs the Canon 5D Mk II. With the Mk II, I usually needed to use the center focusing point to get the best results. However, the 1N has 5 points, and the camera focused well with each of them most of the time.

I say most of the time because the camera did tend to misfocus, as you see in the photo above of Matt. I tried focusing on his eyes, not shoulders. However, I experienced this with Zeiss lenses all across the bar. Most of the time, they’re spot on. But there can be points in time where they are not. That’s all focusing systems though.

For the manual focus maven that loves the old school feel of film cameras and quality lenses, you won’t be disappointed. You’ll love the fact that there is focus confirmation with this lens.

Color Rendering of Kodak Porta 160

I was extremely interested to see the way that the colors rendered from Kodak Portra 160 for many reasons:

- Zeiss lenses offer their own interesting color rendering that I can’t even really describe. If I had to, I’d say that it gives digital photos the look of a direct positive in large format film.

- Kodak Porta has always given me warmer toned results. However, that’s the ISO 400 version. This time around, the colors were accurate and more true to life.

- My office is a lighting technicians nightmare with fluorescent lighting and other mixed lights and skin tones all over the place.

However, the master processors at CRC NYC did an excellent job color correcting the film. We indeed are so spoiled by white balance. The film has excellent color latitude, and I feel it is better than Kodak Portra 400. The film does seem to negate the direct positive look of the Zeiss lens though, and on film I can’t really tell the difference between this lens and any other.

Scanning and Image Quality

The above statement is not to mean that the lens and film combo cannot capture great colors. First off, the lens vignetting significantly less than on a full frame digital camera. SIGNIFICANTLY!

While it vignettes less, it also can still capture very nice colors. Notice the color of Isaac’s shirt. It’s a gorgeous shade of green.

The film also retains lots of detail in the highlights and even keeps that great color going. Josh, in the photo above, wasn’t too far away from a ceiling light when I shot this. Lots of detail is still retained as are the skin tonality renderings.

Conclusion

So should the Zeiss 25mm f2 and film be used together? Surely! Not only does the lens vignette significantly less when shooting wide open, but it also still retains excellent color, great sharpness, and barely distorts your images.

Now, you wouldn’t usually shoot portraits with a focal length this wide because of distortion. However, there are factors that work for the Zeiss lens in this case:

- Portra’s excellent color rendering

- The Zeiss’s sharpness

- Excellent distortion control

- Portra’s sharpness when scanned in well and professionally developed.

In the end, taking the chance is what mattered. I had no idea how these images would come out, but the combo delivered results that absolutely floored me and that I can’t help but once again recommend.

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