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Carl Zeiss Apo-Sonnar T* 135mm f/2 Review

Carl Zeiss Apo-Sonnar T* 135mm f/2 Review - Gary Wolstenholme reviews this bright telephoto prime lens from Carl Zeiss, the Apo-Sonnar T* 135mm f/2.

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Category : Interchangeable Lenses
Product : Carl Zeiss Apo-Sonnar T* 135mm f/2
Price : £1,725
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Handling and Features
Performance
Verdict
Specification

Carl Zeiss 135mm F2 Tstar Lens (4)

Although this telephoto lens sports fairly basic specification, the promise of the extremely high optical quality Carl Zeiss lenses are known for should be enough on its own to tempt some photographers, despite costing over £1700. This ZF2 lens is manual focus, but it has electronic contacts to communicate metering and aperture control with the camera. A ZE version of the same lens is also available to fit Canon EF mount cameras.

Carl Zeiss Apo-Sonnar T* 135mm f/2 Handling and Features

Carl Zeiss 135mm F2 Tstar Lens (11)
As is the case with other Carl Zeiss ZF lenses, the lens barrel is hewn from metal and feels of the utmost quality as a result. The lens is quite large although if the high quality materials used are considered, it's not all that heavy at around 930g and it balances well with the Nikon D600 used for testing, with or without the MB-D14 battery grip attached.

Carl Zeiss 135mm F2 Tstar Lens (5)

Manual focusing is buttery smooth and there is three quarters of a turn between infinity focus and the closest focusing distance of 80cm. This is either a blessing or a curse, as it makes applying fine adjustments for accurate focusing at fast apertures a pleasure, but this also makes it makes it more difficult to make large changes in focus distance. A metering chip with electronic contacts is included so matrix metering is supported on all Nikon cameras. Hyperfocal distances for apertures between f/11 and f/22 are marked on the barrel, as is a mark for infra-red focus.

Carl Zeiss 135mm F2 Tstar Lens (7)

The lens extends by approximately one inch at closest focus, although the 77mm filter thread does not rotate as a result, which should make this lens ideal for use with graduated or polarising filters. A deep aluminium circular hood is also supplied with the lens, which clicks firmly into the metal bayonet on the front.

Carl Zeiss Apo-Sonnar T* 135mm f/2 Performance

Sharpness is already outstanding in the centre of the frame at maximum aperture, and approaching excellent levels of clarity towards the edges of the frame. Stopping down improves sharpness further across the frame, reaching excellent levels towards the edges of the frame by f/2.8 and outstanding levels of sharpness between f/5.6 and f/8. You couldn't really ask for more as far as sharpness is concerned.

MTF
MTF at 135mm

How to read our charts

The blue column represents readings from the centre of the picture frame at the various apertures and the green is from the edges. Averaging them out gives the red weighted column.

The scale on the left side is an indication of actual image resolution. The taller the column, the better the lens performance. Simple.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Nikon D600 using Imatest.

Chromatic aberrations are virtually non-existent across the frame at all apertures. Imatest was able to detect fringing covering 0.21 pixel widths towards the edges of the frame at f/2, but you will be hard pressed to notice this yourself.

CA
CA at 135mm

How to read our charts

Chromatic aberration is the lens' inability to focus on the sensor or film all colours of visible light at the same point. Severe chromatic aberration gives a noticeable fringing or a halo effect around sharp edges within the picture. It can be cured in software.

Apochromatic lenses have special lens elements (aspheric, extra-low dispersion etc) to minimize the problem, hence they usually cost more.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Nikon D600 using Imatest.

Falloff of illumination towards the corners of the frame is reasonably well controlled for a lens with such a fast maximum aperture. At f/2 the corners of the frame are 1.96 stops darker than the image centre and visually uniform illumination is achieved with the aperture stopped down to f/4 or beyond.

Distortion is so mild that you'll struggle to spot any, even in images with straight lines parallel to the edge of the frame. Imatest did manage to detect 0.21% barrel distortion, which is an incredibly small amount.

Contrast is high and flare is rarely an issue, even when shooting into the light. The deep circular hood does an excellent job of shading the lens, and protecting the front element from impact.

Carl Zeiss Apo-Sonnar T* 135mm f/2 Sample Photos


Value For Money

The old saying that you get what you pay for certainly applies with this lens. To get optics of such high quality, the £1725 asking price seems justified.

Even so, when the price is compared to similar lenses from Canon and Nikon, then the extra cost becomes harder to justify, Nikon's AF-D 135mm f/2 DC costs around £1000 and sports defocus control, which allows you to control the amount of spherical aberrations and ultimately the character of blur in out of focus areas. Canon's EF 135mm f/2L USM sports an ultrasonic focusing motor, which allows manual focus adjustments to be applied at any time for around £860, which is around half what the Zeiss optic costs.

Carl Zeiss Apo-Sonnar T* 135mm f/2 Verdict

There is very little that could be improved with the performance of the optics, or the build quality, or handling of this lens. It is undoubtedly a very, very sharp lens, but then it is also very expensive, especially as it doesn't sport autofocus.

Those who want, or need the absolute best quality glass for their SLR will find this lens appealing, so long as their photography is suited to focusing manually. It's not a lens for everyone, so for the few it does suit, they will struggle to find fault with its performance.

Carl Zeiss Apo-Sonnar T* 135mm f/2 Pros

Incredible optical performance
Metal build quality
Smooth, accurate manual focusing
Virtually no distortion or CA

Carl Zeiss Apo-Sonnar T* 135mm f/2 Cons

Expensive
Long distance on focusing ring between infinity and closest focus

FEATURES  
HANDLING  
PERFORMANCE  
VALUE FOR MONEY  
OVERALL  

Carl Zeiss lenses are available from Carl Zeiss dealers listed here.

Carl Zeiss Apo-Sonnar T* 135mm f/2 Specifications

General
Lens Mounts
  • Nikon F
  • Canon EF
Lens
Focal Length135mm
Angle of View64
Max Aperturef/2
Min Aperturef/22
Filter Size77mm
35mm equivalentNo Data
Internal focusingNo
Focusing
Min Focus80cm
StabilisedNo
Construction
Blades9
Elements11
Groups8
Box Contents
Box ContentsFront and rear caps, lens hood.
Dimensions
Weight920g
Height105mm

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Comments


senn e2
3 4 1 Belgium
15 May 2013 1:08PM
pretty unbalanced global rating !..

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joshwa e2
4 603 United Kingdom
16 May 2013 8:43AM

Quote: Pretty unbalanced global rating !..

Can you expand on why you think this, and how you feel we can improve?
ElSid 6 5 United Kingdom
16 May 2013 12:16PM
Those are some of the most bitingly sharp test pictures I can recall seeing in any of your reviews - clearly this is some lens...

The Canon and Nikon equvalents may be significantly cheaper but can they equal the performance? I suspect not, especially wide open. Value for money is always a matter a matter of opinion and purpose and I suggest that if you want a top quality, solidly built lens that performs superbly wide open then this lens is VFM.

I'd also have to disagree that the long focus travel is a downside, it's the stupidly short throw focus of AF lenses thats a pain if you are trying to manually focus. Anyone who wants/need to focus in a fraction of a second would buy an AF lens. The 'togs who would buy this lens aren't looking for speed, they're looking for accuracy.
theorderingone 10 2.4k United Kingdom
23 May 2013 1:57PM

Quote: I'd also have to disagree that the long focus travel is a downside, it's the stupidly short throw focus of AF lenses thats a pain if you are trying to manually focus. Anyone who wants/need to focus in a fraction of a second would buy an AF lens. The 'togs who would buy this lens aren't looking for speed, they're looking for accuracy.

Again this is a matter of opinion. Somewhere in between a very long throw as found on this lens and a shorter distance would've been a better compromise in my opinion.
theorderingone 10 2.4k United Kingdom
23 May 2013 2:03PM

Quote: The Canon and Nikon equvalents may be significantly cheaper but can they equal the performance? I suspect not, especially wide open. Value for money is always a matter a matter of opinion and purpose and I suggest that if you want a top quality, solidly built lens that performs superbly wide open then this lens is VFM.

Yes, in the same way that Bentley or Caterham Seven is great value for money. They're niche products though, which are beyond the means of the average driver. Still, if you want a walnut dashboard, or to be able to hoon around a race track, they'll be great value for you.
senn e2
3 4 1 Belgium
30 May 2013 7:05PM

Quote: Pretty unbalanced global rating !..

Can you expand on why you think this, and how you feel we can improve?

Here you go ..
_______________

Carl Zeiss Apo-Sonnar T* 135mm f/2 Pros
Incredible optical performance
Metal build quality
Smooth, accurate manual focusing
Virtually no distortion or CA

Carl Zeiss Apo-Sonnar T* 135mm f/2 Cons
Expensive
Long distance on focusing ring between infinity and closest focus
_______________

EPZ Verdict 7/10 !

Your rating is quite before what this lens merits, .. even after your own tests conclusions. If an excellent lens is too expensive for my budget I don't buy it or buy it later. And that's all. It stays an excellent lens after all. As for "focusing ring distance" (FRD) .. I think this is a "pseudo problem", .. I've got three CZ fixed lenses (100mm Macro Planar, 35mm Distagon and 21mm Distagon) and with large FRD on each. I never feel long FRD as a "problem" when I shoot. I think rather that's welcome, it makes MF more "accurate" IMHO Blush Smile. Therefore I think -3/10 rating is excessive, .. anyway nothing justifies it in your test outcomes.

Regards, Smile
theorderingone 10 2.4k United Kingdom
5 Jun 2013 3:36PM
Senn, the overall score takes into account value for money, and features, which this lens scores poorly on. It is an expensive, luxury item, just like a Bentley car.

For most people, the extra expense just isn't worth it. They can happily tootle to the shops and pick the kids up from school in comfort in a Ford Fiesta (or any other mass market car), otherwise, the roads would be chock full of Bentleys. Just as not many people own a Learjet... it's much better value for most people to book on a regular airline, even if they do have to put up with a screaming kid in the next aisle.

Transferring this analogy to lenses... the quality delivered by Canon and Nikon equivalents will be more than adequate for most people, and hey, those lenses even have autofocus and cost quite a bit less.
senn e2
3 4 1 Belgium
8 Jun 2013 11:08PM

Quote: Senn, the overall score takes into account value for money, and features, which this lens scores poorly on. It is an expensive, luxury item, just like a Bentley car.

For most people, the extra expense just isn't worth it. They can happily tootle to the shops and pick the kids up from school in comfort in a Ford Fiesta (or any other mass market car), otherwise, the roads would be chock full of Bentleys. Just as not many people own a Learjet... it's much better value for most people to book on a regular airline, even if they do have to put up with a screaming kid in the next aisle.

Transferring this analogy to lenses... the quality delivered by Canon and Nikon equivalents will be more than adequate for most people, and hey, those lenses even have autofocus and cost quite a bit less.

mmm .. I think you could be credible as car reviewer Wink GrinGrinGrin
23 Jun 2013 4:52PM
this is not even unbalanced review - this is also very unbalanced lens test. Tongue

the picture no1 comment - that sounds like a joke;

if you want to judge corner-to-corner performance, please do try take a picture of a flat subject and also get all 4 corners in the focus - i.e. that stone on the grave is all right but not from that angle of view

you're saying that the lens is sharp in the center at f/2 but i am pretty sure that the lens is sharp from corner to corner at f/2 - and that is a MASSIVE difference between my statement and yours

please have a look at this website - there is a pic taken at f2 at infinity
http://www.cameraegg.org/zeiss-135mm-f2-apo-sonnar-t-sample-images/

or

or you can test corner-2-corner performance on LENS CHART - that's best way how you can judge corner-2-corner at any f-stops

regarding the portrait - how can you take an head-and-shoulder portrait with that BLACK BACKGROUND - that is a nonsense - you need shoot a person with harsh/strong backlight to see what may happen

i am ready to come over to you to help with any tests or even re-do this one

regards
23 Jun 2013 6:11PM
look at this site and take some ideas from these guys;

http://lcap.tistory.com/entry/APO-Sonnar-135mm-f2-Review

regards
merlewine 4 1
26 Jun 2013 1:35PM
The longer focus throw is what those of us who will try to use this APO lens for close-up work or to stack with want.

The APO corrections is what sets this lens apart from the competition. This is a highly corrected lens, fast, and sharp wide open.
It seems that every time some one reviews Zeiss lenses, the first thing they complain about is the lack of autofocus. I just don't understand this logic. These lenses are never advertised as being AF, nor is it ever implied. That's like reviewing an electric car and complaining that it doesn't have a gasoline (petrol) engine. Personally, I don't like autofocus lenses. I dislike the way they feel- they feel like they're made of cheap plastic, and, generally are not as good as Zeiss lenses. I also don't like the fact that AF makes one lazy. People don't want to think any more. They want machines to do as much for them as possible. Manual focus in my opinion, makes you think more making the image and not simply recording a scene.

As far as they are not worth the extra money because you can buy cheaper stuff that performs almost as well-I don't buy that, either. That is purely a subjective comment without any basis in fact.

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