Review: Zeiss 35mm f2 (Canon EF)

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Zeiss 35mm f2 review product images (2 of 6)ISO 8001-50 sec at f - 2.0

Zeiss has always been known for their quality, precision, and craftsmanship since before their rangefinder days. And while going through our Reviews index, we found that we skipped over this one. Sure, it’s been out for a while, but the Zeiss 35mm f2 delivers a look that many will fall in love with. In today’s world of lens technology progressing super fast, does Zeiss really need to update this lens? Or can it still find a home with a niche crowd?

Pros and Cons

Pros

– Great Zeiss build with a metal body

– Pretty decent image quality considering how old the lens is

– Fairly low distortion

– Smooth focusing ring

– Small size

Cons

– Expensive

– While the image quality is good, modern lens technology has advanced very far ahead.

Gear Used

For this review, we tested the Zeiss 35mm f2 on the Canon 5D Mk II.

Tech Specs

Specs taken from the Adorama listing

Filter Size 58mm
f/Stop Range 2-22 (1/2 steps)
Minimum Focus Distance 11.8″ (0.3 m)
Angle of View 62/53/37° (diag./horiz./vert.) Based on 35mm format
Groups/Elements 7/9
Length 3.8″ (97mm)
Maximum Diameter 2.5″ (65mm)
Weight 1.25 lbs (570 g)
Warranty Zeiss Warranty

Ergonomics

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Zeiss 35mm f2 review product images (6 of 6)ISO 8001-50 sec at f - 3.9

Zeiss customers and those familiar with their products have come to expect a number of things from the company. And with this, we start at the front element. It has Zeiss gracefully emblazoned on the front along with a metallic silver ring to reassure you that you’ve an all metal lens.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Zeiss 35mm f2 review product images (1 of 6)ISO 8001-15 sec at f - 3.5

But this is only a part of the lens. When you look at it as a whole, you see now switches and really just a giant focusing ring. You’ll be using this to focus the lens.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Zeiss 35mm f2 review product images (5 of 6)ISO 8001-50 sec at f - 3.9

Behind this ring is a depth of field scale behind the distance scale. If you’re a street photographer, you’ll want to use this a lot. Otherwise, this lens has no other controls and is very different from modern autofocus lenses.

Build Quality

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Zeiss 35mm f2 review product images (3 of 6)ISO 8001-50 sec at f - 3.5

This is a Zeiss lens–and so only the finest and best should be expected from them. Now, there is no weather sealing involved but every time that we’ve picked the lens up, we fell in love all over again. The 35mm f2 feels great, look great, and operates like a beautiful piece of crafted glass and metal that you’d expect from a company like this. Indeed, the build quality will appeal to those that appreciate this lifestyle–and it may be best suited for street photographers and landscape shooters.

We still can’t complain about the build quality at all, though we don’t think that it would be too much at all to ask for weather sealing at this price point.

Focusing

To focus this lens, what you need to do is simply turn the focusing ring. It is a manual focus lens, so you won’t be autofocusing at all. What’s great though is that there are AF communication contacts, so when you half press your shutter button and focus you’ll see the point light up when a subject is confirmed to be in focus.

Alternatively, you could use the depth of field scale and zone focusing–which lots of street shooters are bound to do.

Image Quality

AS ALWAYS, EXIF DATA IS IN TACT AND IN THE IMAGE FILE NAME. SIMPLY CLICK THE IMAGE AND YOU’LL FIND IT IN THE URL.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Zeiss 35mm f2 review images extras (5 of 9)ISO 1601-80 sec at f - 4.0

When it comes to working with Zeiss lenses, it isn’t unusual to want to expect a very high level of image quality. And for the most part you do indeed get that–but when you consider the fact that lens technology now moves at an incredibly faster pace and it ever has in photography history, then you start to want to give the Zeiss 35mm f2 some doubts. For the price point, we would expect excellent performance from the image quality. And to be honest, while it isn’t the sharpest 35mm that we’ve tested, it still has a very beautiful Zeiss look to it that we love and that reminds of us beautiful film images.

In fact, we should have used this lens on a film camera.

However, we’re going to say right off the bat that if you’re the type that looks at charts and doesn’t care about the image as a while, then this may not be the review for you.

Comparison courtesy of DxOMark

Comparison courtesy of DxOMark

If you must totally look at charts and comparisons though, DxOMark states that it is behind both Canon’s 35mm f2 IS and Sigma’s 35mm f1.4–which could be the closest competitors. Both of the competing lenses are more affordable; but they deliver a much different look valued by the more modern photographers that somehow or another get tight in the pants when looking at charts. Instead, while Zeiss indeed does use MTF charts in their marketing, we don’t think that this should be the strength of their marketing.

Sharpness

f5.6

f5.6

This lens is a bit older, so you can’t really expect it to perform so great when shot wide open. But when the lens was stopped down, we had absolutely no issues with the sharpness and we’re positive that most folks wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between this lens and many others when trying to compare sharpness stopped down.

Bokeh

f2

f2

Where this lens really shines is with the bokeh. For a wide angle lens at f2, the bokeh is really, really beautiful and helps to add to the overall look that it was designed to deliver. However, Zeiss didn’t seem to add a lot of micro-contrast in this lens that helps to separate the subject in focus from the bokeh.

Color Rendition

Chris Gampat the Phoblographer Zeiss 35mm f2 review images (4 of 5)ISO 4001-250 sec at f - 5.6

Zeiss’s color rendition has always been top notch and we have very little to have problems about with the color rendering from the Zeiss 35mm f2. Zeiss isn’t as saturated as Rokinon and not as contrasty as Sigma, but that could help you if you’re looking for the film-like look that we’re talking about.

Color Fringing

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Zeiss 35mm f2 review images extras (2 of 9)ISO 1601-60 sec at f - 6.3

For those of you that are sticklers for this, we did indeed see color fringing in the images that we shot. However, they were easily removed in Adobe Lightroom with no big workflow at all but the pushing and pulling of a couple of sliders.

Extra Image Samples

Here are some extra image samples

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Zeiss 35mm f2 review images extras (9 of 9)ISO 1601-125 sec at f - 5.6

 

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Zeiss 35mm f2 review images extras (8 of 9)ISO 1601-250 sec at f - 2.0

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Zeiss 35mm f2 review images extras (7 of 9)ISO 1601-100 sec at f - 2.8

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Zeiss 35mm f2 review images extras (6 of 9)ISO 1601-160 sec at f - 2.8

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Zeiss 35mm f2 review images extras (4 of 9)ISO 1601-80 sec at f - 8.0

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Zeiss 35mm f2 review images extras (1 of 9)ISO 4001-50 sec at f - 2.0

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Zeiss 35mm f2 review images extras (3 of 9)ISO 1601-500 sec at f - 3.2


Chris Gampat the Phoblographer Zeiss 35mm f2 review images (2 of 5)ISO 4001-800 sec at f - 5.6

Chris Gampat the Phoblographer Zeiss 35mm f2 review images (3 of 5)ISO 4001-800 sec at f - 2.0

Conclusions

Likes

– Nice and nostalgic image quality and feel

– Beautiful build quality

– Fairly small

Dislikes

– Wish it were sharper

– Wish we saw more micro contrast

three-Phoblographer-Star-rating

Zeiss could use an update to their 35mm f2 lens to put it against more modern optics, but at the same time we’d be totally wrong if we said that there aren’t those around us that still love the old school lens look–and not the clinical precision looks engineered into modern optics. If you want that old school look and feel without having to apply loads of filters in post-production, then you’ll really digg this lens. However, you’re still paying quite the price for it.

When stopped down, the lens has great sharpness that it indistinguishable from other modern lenses. And when it is wide open, you’ve got some really beautiful bokeh that looks like something that you’d find from medium format cameras. But again, filters are more affordable.

The Zeiss 35mm f2 gets three stars out of five. You can pick it up at Adorama, Amazon and B&H Photo for $1,117.

Recommended Cameras and Accessories

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Zeiss 35mm f2 review product images (4 of 6)ISO 8001-50 sec at f - 3.5

Canon 5D Mk III: the current most popular Canon DSLR is what you’d want to use this lens on due to how brilliant and bright the viewfinder it. Even if you have vision problems like me, you’ll have no issues focusing this lens. Check out our review.

Nikon Df: What better camera to use this retro focussed manual focus lens than with the retro styled Nikon Df? Again, the viewfinder really helps in this case. Check out our review.