First Impressions of Carl Zeiss ZF.2 50/2 T* Makro-Planar

I've got a serious virus called ZAS (Zeiss acquisition syndrome) well, after having used the Zeiss 100/2 T* Makro-Planar lens for more than six months I just had to have its little sister, the standard macro lens; Carl Zeiss ZF.2 50/2 T* Makro-Planar.


Introduction
I have owned a lot of standard lenses over the past 20 years: Olympus Zuiko 50mm 1,4, Canon EF 50mm 1,8, two Nikon AFD 50mm 1,4 lenses, Nikon AFD 50mm 1,8 and finally a Nikon PC-E 45mm 2,8 micro, but sold all of them without using them much!

Now I´ve found the perfect one, the Zeiss 50mm Makro-Planar is the most flexible standard lens I have ever used. The lens feels as solid as a rock with its long lasting all metal design, there are simply no sign of plastic in this gem of a lens - a very rare thing today. Another unusual thing is the large aperture combined with close focus capability, altogether with outstanding image quality on all distances on a FX camera; what else can you ask for besides a lower price but then again you get what you pay for!

When I first heard of the new line of Zeiss lenses a few years back, I was introduced to a new term “micro-contrast” I had no clue what it meant, but now I've found out! After having used the Zeiss 100mm 2,0 Makro-Planar for more than six months I have noticed something I have never seen with any Nikkor lens. When shooting landscapes or cityscapes both the 100mm and the 50mm Makro lenses show more detail especially in foliage and brick walls at a distance - for example landscapes where trees in the distance have each branch and leaf sharply defined even when viewed at 1:1 magnification. I just can´t describe it; sharpness of the lenses are very high but the contrast is something very special to the Carl Zeiss family and it must be the German way of making optical glass - a craft made in Japan but with a magic German touch.

Build Quality
This is not a lens for everybody; it´s big and heavy as a standard lens and because of the long focus throw it is slow to focus and therefore not made for action, but video and macro photographers will love it. Zeiss has paid a lot of attention to detail and all text and numbers on the lens barrel are engraved like in the good old days and I really like that instead of modern lenses where everything is printed and might peel off after years of intensive use. The Zeiss lenses does not have weather sealing, but the lens is not as fragile as modern lenses equipped with Image Stabilization and an autofocus motor, so I think the Zeiss lenses are very durable in the long run; I have used my Zeiss lenses in the rain, blizzards and sandstorms without any mechanical problems!

Side by side comparison with the Zeiss ZF.2 50mm and 100mm Makro-Planar lenses, at full extension!

Performance
This standard lens is as good as it gets, but it can´t really match its sister lens in a number of areas! The 50mm has very mild barrel distortion not really field-relevant but the 100mm is really flat and can carry its Planar name with respect. Overall the sharpness of the 50mm is great but the general sharpness of the 100mm lens is absolutely exceptional and it is sharp even in the extreme corners at big apertures on FX cameras, unlike its little sister. I had expected better sharpness in the extreme corners with the 50mm lens, but you have to stop down to around f/5,6 to get results which is on pair with its longer sister used at larger apertures. Flare and ghosting are absolutely minimal with the 100mm lens, but with its sister lens it is another story am afraid, the famous T* coating does not help here and you get flare and some ghosting in extreme cases, it might be the price to pay for the large aperture! The “bokeh” subject isolation is creamy and beautiful with the 50mm, the best I've ever seen from a standard lens. Chromatic aberrations (lateral CA) are extremely low on both lenses the 50mm might be the better one in this case.

The 50mm lens combined with a Nikon PN-11 extension tube (52,5mm) you get Double life-size (2:1) magnification

Summary
In the end the two lenses are a perfect dream-team for nature and landscape photography they share the same filter size and the handling are the same, the 50mm are perfect for landscapes and 2D macro shots while the 100mm are better for 3D objects where subject isolation is a must. I think the Zeiss 50mm 2,0 Makro-Planar is the ultimate standard lens. Final words: replace the flimsy Zeiss front lens-cap with the much better Nikon lens-cap!

Rating: Build Quality: 10/10 - Handling: 10/10 - Optical: 9/10

Conclusion - Pros:

+ Almost distortion free
+ Great optical performance
+ Lateral Chromatic Aberrations are extremely well controlled
+ Great bokeh! (Out of focus image rendition)
+ Manual focusing with a smooth feeling of high precision
+ Old school design gives long-life - All metal with precision mechanics
+ Durable and compact design

Conclusion - Cons:

- Magnification of only 1:2
- Vignetting is quite high at f/2 on FX
- Stop down to f/5,6 to get optimal sharpness in the outermost corners!
- Flare and ghosting is evident in extreme cases!
- Manual focus only! - I don't use autofocus for landscape and macro work anyway!
- Out-of-focus highlights is not perfectly circular but has the "cat's eyes" effect
- The "flimsy" front lens cap - replace it with a Nikon cap!





3 comments:

  1. First impression itself speaks the truth of real photography. Beautifully photographed.

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  2. February 24, 2012 - Updated with new images and layout!

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