Field Review: Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 35mm F/1.4 ZE (Day 4 – At a Birthday Party)

This past week my mom celebrated her 55th birthday and her friend decided to throw a small surprise party (happy birthday mom!). The party started at 7pm so I figured what better lens to bring than the light devouring Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 35mm F/1.4 ZE.

Equipment

Handling (And Weight Issues)

The Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 35mm F/1.4 ZE has been a consistent performer over the past week of shooting. Each time I shoot, I get better at using this lens and I find the results to be very good. The one thing that has continued to bother me, more than I thought it would, is the weight of this lens. I knew there would be kids at this party so I opted to leave the Black Rapid RS-7 at home and instead I used my Camdapter hand strap; I don’t like leaving my camera within grabbing distance of their little arms. After a few hours of shooting, this rig started to get pretty heavy. I found myself putting the camera down to rest my wrist for a bit and we all know you can’t grab a shot if the camera isn’t in your hand. I love the build quality of this lens, but I think the weight (and the price) is going to deter some people from buying.

Overall, the lens performed very well. With it’s fast max aperture of F/1.4, the Zeiss 35mm was able to gobble up plenty of available light. I was taking photos well after the sun had set and my only light was a small light on the back of the garage. While the lens was technically able to keep up in low light, the 5D struggled a bit. As the light went down, the outer focus points failed to provide focus confirmation so I had to resort to using the center point. I’m not a huge fan of focus and recompose, but I’ll do it when it’s my only option.

Looks?

I never thought I would have a section dedicated to the looks of a lens, but here we are. I was surprised to hear people commenting on the lens; they wanted to know all about it. Everyone commented on how beautiful it was and how it looked “very professional”…whatever that means. I have to admit, it is a very pretty lens. The black metal with the aluminum ring just looks plain awesome. OK, enough about the looks.

Limitations

Dang, just missed my focus point. Why do kids have to move so quickly?

So, I have found the Achilles’s heel of the Zeiss 35mm F/1.4: kids and drunk people.

Well, to be honest it’s really any sporadically moving object. Trying to keep focus on a young child is an impossible feat, especially at wider apertures. I was able to nail a few shots, but I missed many more than I captured. This gets frustrating quickly. So, I did what I could and kept shooting. If you have kids or plan on shooting kids or fast moving objects, you may want to borrow or rent a Zeiss lens to see if you can manage any better than I did with tracking and locking focus on your little ones.

This is a rather strange limitation that I never really thought of until it came up at the party. Pretty much everyone in my family, excluding my dad, has no idea how to operate a camera on anything other than the fully automatic settings. I tried handing off the camera so I could get in a shot but the user (who shall remain anonymous) couldn’t figure out how to focus the lens and get focus confirm. This is a real issue. I’ve been thinking about picking up a Ziess 50mm for travel but I’m not sure I could hand this off to a stranger to get a shot of me and my wife. Also, I’m sure my wife wouldn’t want to use the camera with a manual focus lens. If I do get the Zeiss 50mm, I may have to bring the nifty fifty as a back up.

About halfway through the night, I was shooting and when all of a sudden my 5D locked up on me and displayed a message on the top LCD, “Error”. Yeahhhhhh, not good. I quickly switched the 5D off and back on, nothing. So I switched the 5D off, removed the battery, removed the lens, put everything back and flipped the power back on. Luckily, everything came back to life. It’s well known that some 3rd party lenses can throw errors on Canon cameras and this has happened to me in the past with the Sigma 10-20mm on a Canon 50D. Is it a big deal? Probably not but I thought it was worth mentioning.

Other Thoughts

So, you’re probably thinking that with all of these “limitations” I’ve probably written off this lens. Actually, I can tell you that is far from the truth. Even with these limitations, I still enjoyed shooting with this lens. Now if i had the Canon 35mm F/1.4 L sitting right next to the Zeiss at the party it would have been a tough decision. I think the L would have been on the 5D when the kids were around, but the Zeiss probably would have been on for the rest of the night. I really do enjoy shooting with this lens and I personally love the results. This lens is not for everyone or every shooting situation, but it is a joy to use in the right setting.

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