Field Review: Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 35mm F/1.4 ZE (Day 2 – Getting to Know the Lens)

Canon 5D with Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 - Shot at ISO 100, f/2.0, 1/8000 sec

When I’m testing a product for The Phoblographer, I like to take at least a day or two to familiarize myself with the product before I really start shooting. I guess you could equate it to test driving a car. You want to make sure you know how everything works before you make any decisions. In this post I’ll be sharing some photos and my thoughts after using the Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 35mm F/1.4 ZE for a few days.

Note: As always, images in this post have not been edited with the exception of white balance and or exposure corrections.

Lens Quirks

Canon 5D with Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 - shot at ISO 100, f/1.4, 1/2500 sec


Besides the omission of auto focus, the biggest thing you will have to get used to with this lens is the weight. When I put it in my Think Thank Photo Retrospective 5, it feels like I have my Canon 5D along with 3 other lenses in the bag. At over 3lbs., the Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 35mm F/1.4 ZE is a bit of a fatty. For some reason I have yet to remember, I opted not to use my Black Rapid RS-7 while shooting with the Zeiss 35mm. Instead, I threw my Camdapter hand strap on my 5D. This may have been a mistake because after a few hours the Zeiss 35mm started to feel a bit heavy. It wasn’t uncomfortable…I would say it was more fatiguing.

Image Quality

Again, I’ve only taken 30-40 shots with this lens so these are only my initial findings.

Canon 5D with Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 - shot at ISO 100, f/2.0, 1/6400 sec


Overall, I really enjoy the Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 35mm F/1.4 ZE; images produced when using this lens definitely have a unique look to them. Also, the look of your images will change as you stop down the lens. At F/1.4, the Zeiss 35mm F/1.4 is a bit soft and vignetting is VERY apparent but I really do not mind the results. Are the images super sharp? No, but the softer image along with the smooth and creamy bokeh produce a very pleasing image to me. Like with most lenses, as you stop down the sharpness goes up. Around F/2.8 things are looking very good and at F/3.5 or so this lens is tack sharp.

I find the colors and the saturation of colors to be very good with the Zeiss 35mm F/1.4. I rarely had the urge to tweak colors or saturation after uploading images shot with this lens. Chromatic Aberration is another story. When shooting at wider aperture, CA is evident in high contrast areas but it seems to blend in nicely with the bokeh. The CA with bother some, for me, it’s not a big deal.

Canon 5D with Zeiss 35mm f/4.0 - shot at ISO 100, f/2.0, 1/1250 sec

Another thing I’ve noticed is most of my images are coming out slightly over exposed if I’m shooting with an aperture smaller (bigger f-number) than f/2.8. It’s nothing major at all, probably only a third of a stop, but it is something that seems to be consistent when using this lens with my 5D. On the other end, when I’m shooting at f/1.4, the vignetting is so prevalent that it makes some images look slightly underexposed if your subject is not smack in the middle of the frame. Again, I’m not complaining or faulting the lens for either of these traits, it’s simply something I’ve noticed after taking several shots with the Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 35mm F/1.4 ZE.

There is something that is hard to quantify or summarize in regards to this lens. Call me crazy but some images seem to have almost a 3D affect which is something I’ve never really seen from another lens. Take the image below of my sister-in-law for example, she really pops out of the image in a 3D sort of way. I notice the same type of effect with the photo of the fence (see above).

Canon 5D with Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 - shot at ISO 100, f/2.0, 1/6400 sec


If you’ve read any of my other lens reviews you will know that I’m more of a 50mm guy. I’ve used my 50mm so much that I pretty much see in 50mm so using a 35mm lens feels almost wide angle to me. One reason I love 50mm and 85mm lenses is the lack of distortion. This is why most photographers use 50mm-135mm lenses for portraits. This range covers everything from full body (or just about) to tight head shots with little to no distortion. Distortion + the human face or body = bad news. The Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 35mm F/1.4 ZE is supposed to have little to no distortion which is impressive for a 35mm lens. So far, I have yet to really notice any distortion in any of my images. I’ll try doing something a little more scientific in a later post to see just how distortion the Zeiss 35mm F/1.4 produces.

Manual Focus

Canon 5D with Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 - shot at ISO 100, f/2.0, 1/2000 sec

So far, manual focus has not been an issue for me but I will say that I would probably be singing a different tune if this lens didn’t have focus confirmation. There are times when it’s tough to tell if you are truly focused in on your subject. If I were to purchase a Zeiss lens, or any other manual focus lens, you better believe my next purchase would be a new focusing screen for my Canon 5D. They are harder to find for the old Canon 5D, but they are readily available for most newer cameras. Focusing screens help a TON when using a manual focus lens; I can’t recommend one enough if you are going to use a manual focus lens. B&H carries focusing screens for all types of cameras.

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