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Zeiss Otus 28mm f/1.4 APO Distagon T* Review

John Riley reviews the wide-angle Zeiss Otus 28mm f/1.4 lens, designed to be the ultimate wide-angle lens.


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Handling and Features
Performance
Verdict
Specification

Zeiss Otus 28mm F1,4 Front Oblique ViewThe Zeiss Otus lens range is presented as the very pinnacle of lens development, with results to challenge the look of medium format. With such brave claims in mind, here we have the 28mm f/1.4 to expose to scrutiny and we look forward to seeing if the results will match our high expectations.

Zeiss Otus 28mm f/1.4 Handling and Features

Zeiss Otus 28mm F1,4 Front Element View

The first impression of this lens is that it is large, heavy and gorgeous. The finish is exemplary, the controls silky smooth and the lens hood clips into place with utter precision. The impression that lingers is that feeling of beautiful engineering, but the price is a very large and heavy optic, weighing in at 1350g in Nikon mount. This version is in ZF.2 mount for Nikon and was tested using the Nikon D810 body. It is also available in ZE mount for Canon cameras.

The lens is as minimalistic as the instruction manual, the latter telling us very little as regards specification and just the bare bones of handling. It is a design though that clearly has class, a solid and satisfying sense that conveys quality in manufacture.

Lens controls are sparse, the aperture ring having a locking stop at f/16 for auto functions, depending on the camera, or offering the usual aperture options with click stops at half stop intervals, with the exception of between f/11 and f/16 which is a full stop only. This aperture ring is very nicely engineered, firm but easy to use and just light enough in action.

Zeiss Otus 28mm F1,4 On Nikon D810

We are offered manual focusing only and this is adjusted with a comfortable and reasonably wide rubberised ring that is silent in operation. There is no lens extension as we focus closer as the lens employs internal focusing. There is a cut out for the distance scale, boldly marked in feet and metres. There is also a depth of field scale and an infrared focusing mark, all very traditional for a manual focus lens. Focusing is down to 0.30m, or 11.81 inches from the sensor plane. This gives a comfortable minimum focus distance of around 4 inches from the front element. It must be said though that manually focusing a 28mm lens accurately does take some attention. There is enough depth of field to make the sharpest point hard to locate and because we have such high resolution being only slightly out makes a big difference. The higher the quality  the more we have to stretch our own abilities to take full advantage of it.

The optical formula is 16 elements in 13 groups. There is one aspheric element and several elements are made with “anomalous partial dispersion glass”. The construction is completed by floating elements, used to maintain quality at closer focusing distances. All of this results in an apochromatic lens based upon the Distagon wide angle design. Apochromatic should mean very low CA values as there is full correction for three colours of light - red, green and blue.

Zeiss Otus 28mm F1,4 Rear Oblique View

Zeiss Otus 28mm f/1.4 Performance

Lenses have many different qualities, some technical and some artistic. First, the technical. The actual lens tests yield a very uniform picture, right across the frame. Central sharpness is already high at the outset, making f/1.4 fully usable. Indeed, why have such a fast lens if we could not use it wide open. Sharpness gradually improves, becoming an excellent standard by f/4 and maintaining this to f/11. Having said that, f/16 also remains perfectly usable and is only a slight drop away from the best apertures. The lens peaks at f/5.6 to f/11. The edges follow the centre quite closely, albeit it slightly behind in sharpness terms. However, this is at a high level anyway and the visual impression is of edge to edge sharpness. The peak of performance for the edges lies between f/5.6 and f/11. Again, it drops away very little even at f/16.


 

 
MTF
MTF

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. 

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

For this review, the lens was tested on a Nikon D810 using Imatest.


CA (Chromatic Aberration) is also incredibly even across the frame, being in the region of half a pixel and being virtually non-existent visually, even with bare branches against bright sky. It will not be a problem. 


 

 
CA
CA

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 D810 using Imatest.

 

We might expect some barrel distortion in a wide angle lens and, indeed, it measures at -1.3%. This is a very tolerable figure that can be corrected easily in software if desired.

Even with low winter sun shining directly into the lens, there seems almost perfect flare resistance. It bodes well for any situation where bright lights are in frame or just out of frame. Contrast is well maintained in these situations.

The artistic aspect of lens quality is much more subjective. What we can say is that the out of focus highlights, or bokeh, are a slightly busy affair. Particularly out of focus backgrounds such as branches are not rendered quite smoothly and have a definitely “busy” look to them. However, this might well be a small price to pay and may be a consequence of the high resolving power of the lens.

The second aspect of the artistic qualities is the overall “look” of the images. There is no doubt that sometimes we can prefer a lens for some indefinable quality that is a result of all the optical decisions and even compromises made by the designers. These are the lenses we think of as keepers and no doubt we have our favourites in all marques.

Does the Zeiss lens have this elusive quality? Well I think it does. It has a certain fluidity to the sharp areas of the image, a well rounded sense of precision. I can see this in the tree branches in the images, even in the flagpole in the image of the house. This may well be what Zeiss are saying when they describe a “medium format” quality.


Zeiss OTUS 28mm f/1.4 Sample Photos

Value For Money

Value for money is a judgement call for anyone thinking seriously about this lens. What price do we put on the highest standards? The cost has been mooted at around £3630 but this remains to be confirmed. That is a very large amount of money. However, against others of its stature, the Leica 28mm f/1.4 Summilux-M is priced at £3799, so the Zeiss lens immediately starts to look par for the course.

What other alternatives do we have? Nikon users have the AF-S Nikkor 28mm f/1.8 G lens (£495), Canon users have the Canon EF 28mm f/1.8 USM (£345) and for both Nikon and Canon Zeiss offer the slower 28mm f/2 T* Distagon (£979). Both Nikon and Canon seem to have shifted their f/1.4 offerings to the 24mm focal length.

Zeiss Otus 28mm f/1.4 Verdict

Both Nikon and Canon now offer 24mm f/1.4 lenses, rather than 28mm, so it may mean that our tastes are moving wider. In 28mm optics, the Zeiss Otus is really on its own, so quite unique with its f/1.4 bright aperture. The quality is magnificent, but the bulk and weight are both very high. We would need to be very sure that we needed that f/1.4 aperture rather than the f/2 alternative that Zeiss themselves offer.

If we need the fast aperture and we can afford the price, then quality is not the obstacle. The only other consideration is the sheer weight and size as it is not a casual lens to carry.

Is it the best 28mm lens in the world as Zeiss intended? Certainly in terms of the quality of results, it is flying very high as a serious contender for the crown.

Zeiss Otus 28mm f/1.4 Pros

High and very even sharpness
Very low CA
Lovely “look” to images
Beautiful engineering
Low distortion

Zeiss Otus 28mm f/1.4 Cons

High price
Busy looking bokeh
Large and heavy
Manual focus only

FEATURES  
HANDLING  
PERFORMANCE  
VALUE FOR MONEY  
VERDICT  

The Zeiss Otus 28mm f/1.4 may be heavy and expensive, but it is superb.

 

 

View additional Zeiss Otus 28mm f/1.4 Sample Photos.

Zeiss OTUS 28mm f/1.4 Specifications

ManufacturerZeiss
General
Lens Mounts
  • Nikon F
  • Canon EF
Lens
Focal Length28mm
Angle of View75
Max Aperturef/1.4
Min Aperturef/16
Filter Size95mm
StabilisedNo
35mm equivalentNo Data
Internal focusingNo Data
Maximum magnificationNo Data
Focusing
Min Focus30cm
Construction
BladesNo Data
Elements16
Groups13
Box Contents
Box ContentsNo Data
Dimensions
Weight1390g
Height137mm

View Full Product Details


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Comments


AlanWillis 9 67 England
16 Dec 2015 2:37PM
Unlike Sony, Canon and Nikon will not allow Zeiss lenses, to auto focus on their products. This is such a shame depriving AF with a lens of so high a quality.
This can be used with a Sony 7 series camera, ( using an adaptor, but will still be manual focusing, having peaking and focus zoom the Sony works well ).For Sony users the Batis 25 F2 is an autofocus lens costing a third of the price, In my opinion optical quality is similar, except for the F1.4 against F2,

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27 Dec 2015 11:47PM
I'll never spend money for manual focus lens. 3 months ago I bought Sigma 20mm f1.4 wide angle ART with super fast AF for 900 Euro. last week also I bought Nikon 50mm F1.8G also with super fast AF for 190 Euro. both are super excellent lenses. maybe someone will use it just for Stars Manual Focus will be good enough, but it is nothing for me
26 Mar 2016 12:48PM
The manual focus aspect is nothing to worry about. With focus peaking and magnification it should be straightforward. What did people do prior to autofocus? They did it manually.
Affording this monster? Well now that's another much bigger problem. Excellence like this comes at a price!

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