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Lens review & comparison: Zeiss 50mm f1.4, 85mm f1.4 and 35mm f2

Left to right (with prices for comparison lenses):
-Zeiss 50mm f1.4 - $550 (Nikkor AF 50mm 1.4 - $330)
-Zeiss 85mm f1.4 - $1033 (Nikkor AF 85mm 1.4 - $1144 *not tested)
-Zeiss 35mm f2 - $826 (Nikkor AF 35mm f2 - $342 *not tested)
*All prices from and current only as of 10.15.08
* *All tests preformed on a Nikon D3.

Zeiss has long since been known as a company that produces much higher end glass than the general brand names like Nikon, Canon etc. However, with all of the improvements in manufacturing over the last 10 and even 20 years, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to test this myth out.

First impressions/handling:

Wow! Put it on your camera, put it in your hands and you feel like a Jedi. That's how good the build quality is on all of the Zeiss lenses tested. They're like a light sabre of lenses. However, read on about image quality.


One of the first things you have to get used to with these lenses is the focusing since there's no AF on any of them!
Focusing with "long throw" focusing, which just means you need to spin the focusing ring around a lot more than with a "short throw" focusing ring, allows you to be very precise like with the knob for focusing a radio. Don't we all wish those where bigger so we could tune the stations more accurately!

They are also made fully out of metal and their functionality is smooth and even which is reminiscent of classic lenses such as your old Hasselblads etc.

Low light:

All three of these lenses are fast/low light lenses made to shoot in very dimply lit conditions and they do it really well! They produce great colour tonality when used in conjunction with correct white balancing techniques and the results look very true to life.

Image quality:
The one element you can't ignore about lenses is image quality. Manual focus or auto focus, doesn't matter, if a lens can't produce sharp images, it's not worth a penny!
In the case of all of the Zeiss lenses vs the Nikon lens equivalents the Nikons won each time albeit only slightly for detail and sharpness.

For tonality and colour the Zeiss lenses seem to keep a bit more depth in their highlights which almost makes the photos look underexposed in comparison to the Nikon lenses but only slightly so.

Major chromatic aberrations:
Zeiss 85mm at f1.4 and f8 (animated)

Nikon 50mm 1.4 @ f8 (100% crop)


Zeiss 50mm 1.4 @ f8 (100% crop)

Other general observations:

Zeiss 50mm f1.4
-Soft even going up to f2.8
-Chromatic aberration visible in lower apertures
-Bokeh it produces is so milky it looks like Vaseline on the lens a la 1980's

Zeiss 85mm f1.4
-Chromatic aberration very visible at 1.4 and disappears quickly, gone by f8
-Light falloff at 1.4 disappears quickly

Zeiss 35mm f2
-Soft even at f22 in comparison to Nikon


-Build quality superior to the more popular brands such as Canon and Nikon
-"Long throw" focusing can be more accurate with manual focusing
-Cause quite a stir and a lot of attention from anyone passing by who knows anything about photography: "Is that a Hasselblad lens?"

-No auto focus
-"Long throw" focusing can cause missed shots
-Lenses are more expensive (other than the 85mm) than the 1st party lenses but also do not have AF
-The lens caps, although better than Canons are weak in their design (Nikon still makes the best working lens caps on the market)

What these lenses come down to is your personal shooting workflow. If you always shoot fast and run around switching from one zoom to another, these lenses are not for you! However, if you have or ever find shooting occasions where you are shooting slower such as with macro work, shooting the getting ready shots at weddings or even landscape work, these lenses are for you!

Sample images:

Zeiss 50mm 1.4

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Zeiss 35mm f2
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Zeiss 35mm f2

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Special thanks to Zeiss Canada and Don's Photo for the use of all of the Zeiss lenses for testing purposes.

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