About one year ago, ZEISS set a new standard for SLR lenses with its first peer of the Otus family (see my review here). Now the line-up is expanded with an even more impressive member, the Otus Apo Planar T* 1.4/85. As pictures speak louder than words,- I decided to start right into a first impression with a few samples of people taking the center stage before we come to a more in-depth analysis and a little comparison to some other portrait lenses.
The following examples were all shot at F1.4, they are available in higher (some in full) resolution, when you click on the images:
Some factual statements
The Otus line was designed with full-frame DSLRs in mind and so you can get them in two versions: ZE model for Canon EF-mount and ZF.2 model for Nikon F-mount. Thinking of all the features supporting precise and comfortable manual focusing on Sony’s mirror less A7R with its exceptional 36 MP sensor, great EVF magnification, focus peaking etc., for me this combination makes even more sense. This is, how the 1.2 kg masterpiece appears adapted to the Sony A7R (with a highly recommended vertical battery grip attached as well):
The Otus comes in a fine box with lens hood, user manual, test certificate and lens caps. In this review the ZF.2 version was tested which comes with an additional aperture ring. The barrel feels very solid, the focus ring gives you good grip and can be operated very smoothly. The optical design consists of 11 elements in 9 groups with complex apochromatic corrections. The filter thread has a diameter of 86mm but if you have already some 82mm filters, they might be usable with a step down ring on the Otus as well.
If you own a Nikon D800 or D810, this combo looks well balanced. Later in this article you find a comparison with two Nikon 85mm G lenses as well.
When I wrote this article I was undetermined if I should write about sharpness or bokeh first. I was even more unsure, if this should be discussed in separate paragraphs or merged into one as this lens combines both faculties in a degree I have never seen before. Already the Otus 1.4/55 did not show any compromise but the 1.4/85 ups the ante in every aspect. It delivers very high resolution and contrast right from open aperture, so stopping down mainly increases depth-of-field only.
Studio shot with Zeiss Otus 1.4/85 @ F8.0 (full resolution available when you click on the image) and a 100% crop (actual pixels) from that shot:
Shooting at open aperture adds creamy bokeh and subject separation (“3D pop”) without paying a price for sharpness (if you nail the focus…):
A lens like this allows you to draw the maximum attention to the important things, separating them from a smooth and creamy background. The Otus 1.4/85 draws a very neutral bokeh without any irritating structures and due to its apochromatic correction there is no bokeh fringing at all. If you shoot that lens in the evening, it can produce very nice out-of-focus light balls. All shots at f/1.4:
Chromatic aberrations, flares, distortion
Sorry, I tried my best but there is nothing to show… :)
Side by side comparison to some other portrait lenses
The only lens that I still kept from my excursion to Nikon DSLRs was the new 2012 model of the AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 G. It was very persuasive on the D800E and I decided to continue using it adapted on the Sony A7R until I find a better option. Additionally I loaned the AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 G to get an even closer match to the Otus's aperture. See them side by side:
Although these lenses used manually on a 36 MP sensor are not the best choice to shoot sports, I was lucky enough to get some hits on a cycle race. Again, F1.4 gives you a nice subject separation and 3D pop (with both lenses) and allows you to shoot at 1/8000s with basis ISO...
Vattenfall Cyclassics - shot with Nikon AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 G @ F1.4 on Sony A7R
Vattenfall Cyclassics - shot with Zeiss Otus 1.4/85 @ F1.4 on Sony A7R
...but if you look at crops (100% actual pixels), you see the unadorned difference:
100% crop (actual pixels) from AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 G - purple fringing, bokeh fringing...
100% crop (actual pixels, no correction) from Zeiss Otus 1.4/85 @ F1.4
The Nikkor suffers from strong color and bokeh fringing whereas the Otus is completely free from fringing due to its perfect apochromatic correction and coating.
The next series compares all three lenses at open aperture:
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 85/1.8 G (2012 model) vs. Nikon AF-S Nikkor 85/1.4 G vs. Zeiss Otus 1.4/85
Now let us take a look at 100% crops (actual pixels) from the center:
Center crop from the AF-S Nikkor 85/1.8 G @ F1.8
Center crop from the AF-S Nikkor 85/1.4 G @ F1.4
Center crop from the Zeiss Otus 1.4/85 @ F1.4
This comparison demonstrates that the Nikkor 85/1.8 G can keep up with the Otus fairly good with center sharpness (of course about half a stop slower) but it produces significant color fringing and a harsher bokeh. The Otus again shows a perfect result in every aspect.
In order to achieve best edge sharpness on the A7R, you should make sure that you use an adapter that comes with its own tripod mount as otherwise you may have side effects by torsion of the camera body.
In internet forums I saw several posts that claimed, some of the shortcomings of other 85mm lenses like chromatic aberrations (CA) can be easily fixed in post processing. This may be true for some types of chromatic aberrations but there are many effects you can not or at least not easily fix in post processing. As an example look at these three images:
If you open the images in larger sizes, you will see that the bokeh of the Nikkor 85/1.8 is not only less blurry - it is also "harsher". This can not be corrected in post processing.
Let us take a look at 100% crops (actual pixels):
(100% crop from the image taken with the AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 @ F1.8)
(100% crop from image taken with the AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 @ F1.4)
(100% crop from image taken with Zeiss Otus 1.4/85 @ F1.4)
Obvious in these crops is the better contrast and sharpness of the Otus in the focused foreground part. But please also note the out-of-focus blur of the grey stone in the background behind the flower. Both Nikkors show quite significant "bokeh fringing" here in purple and cyan across large areas of the grey stone. In conflict with purple fringing at sharp contrast borders, these can NOT be easily corrected in post processing and it disturbes the smoothness of the bokeh.
If you followed me through all the examples, you may understand my enthusiasm for this lens. It is not an “always on” lens for every day but if you are addicted to optical perfection in every aspect and without any compromises, see manual focusing as a challenge giving you maximum control, this is the perfect match and simply the best lens you can currently get in this focal length range. For those craving for a flexible, lightweight and compact AF solution, this is obviously not the best choice. I saw several posts complaining about the price tag (about 4000 EUR including VAT), but if you compare it to a Leica Apo Summicron 50/2 ASPH or medium format lenses – and this is the league where it compares best – it looks like a bargain. I am sure, it will be still a good choice when 50 or even 100 MP full frame sensors enter the market.
Finally some more pics, most of them available in full size, when you click on the image... :)
You can find the whole set of my Otus images in a Flickr-album as well here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/hhackbarth/sets/72157647410856791/
...and as slide show here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/hhackbarth/sets/72157647410856791/show
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