Every once in a while I run across a piece of photography equipment that makes me go wow. A while ago I tested the Zeiss Makro-Planar T* 100mm f/2 ZF.2 and I was in awe. The Zeiss 55mm f/1.4 Distagon made me go wow x 2. The lens was designed to take advantage of the high end and high megapixel sensor found in the Nikon D800 and D800E; though the company will also make the lens for Canon EF mount as well. I got to look through it with the D700. While I am not allowed to show the few images I got with the lens due to it being a pre-production model, I was extremely impressed with how it performed.
The design of this lens is a bit different than the few other Zeiss lenses I have had the privilege of testing. The Zeiss 55mm f/1.4 Distagon had a fair amount of weight to it. There is no aperture ring on this lens. It actually felt like an expensive lens (which is is at a few thousand dollars.) The lens we held though may not look like the final production lens; in fact, it may be much different than this. The Zeiss 55mm f/1.4 Distagon feels like it is made with, mostly, metal and glass.
Ergonomics and Focus
The lens is a manual focus only optic. But it also has a focus confirmation chip. The focusing ring is a fantastic size and easy to grip no matter what your hand size may be. My hands differ very much from Editor in Chief Chris Gampat’s and Contributor Erik Fuller’s; but the lens was comfortable for all of us. Focusing with it was extremely smooth. At f1.4 this lens is extremely sharp; and the lens was designed to be that way.
From what I can tell on the back of the camera’s LCD, the colors were crisp. The contrast was also brilliant. The bokeh of the Zeiss 55mm f/1.4 Distagon was ludicrously smooth. It is also crazy sharp at f16; perhaps sharper than any other lens out there. This lens is a brilliant portrait lens. I would love to see what it could do on a Camera like the Nikon D800.
Rich Schleuning told us about the design of this lens. A lens like this was designed to deliver comparable sharpness and color performance of the 50mm f1.4 set to f5.6 but while the 55mm f1.4 is wide open. And from the sample images that we saw, it is very much so nearly there.
Who is This Lens For?
It is not practical for most people. The Zeiss 55mm f/1.4 Distagon is for those who can afford it; and the lens is targeted at users who left the medium format industry for full frame cameras. With that said, most photographers won’t be able to own this lens. My heart beats sadly because to justify this lens I would have to be making a hell of a lot of money in photography. However, if you are a Nikon user thinking about moving up to medium format, you might think about buying this along with the D800. It may bring you to Medium format quality with our medium format cost.
I asked the representative why 55mm instead of 50: roughly, it was actually the most cost effective thing to do. When all the glass was designed and put together, 55mm was the way it had to be.
I really adore this lens. I am pretty confident that was the finest portrait lenses I have ever tested. I love to manual focus. I love the sharpness, and everything else about it. The Distagon 55mm f/1.4 lens Nikon mount be available in the second half of 2013.
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