Zeiss Otus 100mm f/1.4
› Prices £3999 › In the box Metal lens hood, rear lens cap, lens cap › Format 35mm full-frame › Mount Nikon F (tested), Canon EF › Autofocus No › Construction 14 elements in 11 groups › Special lens elements 8 ED extra-low dispersion elements, 1 aspherical element › Coatings T* multicoating › Filter size 86mm front fitting › Aperture range F/1.4-16 › Diaphragm Nine blades › Internal focus Yes › Manual focus Yes › Minimum focus 100cm › Focus limiter No › Maximummagnification 1:3.7 at 150mm › Distance scale Yes › Depth-of-field scale Yes › Image stabiliser No › Tripod collar No › Lens hood Supplied › Weather sealed No › Dimensions 101x129mm (Canon), 101x127mm (Nikon) › Weight 1405g (Canon), 1336g (Nikon)
This high-end manual focus lens might be a tempting choice for those who are prepared to break the bank
THE ZEISS OTUS 100mm f/1.4 is a premium, manual focus lens available in Canon EF or Nikon F-mounts, and obviously it can also be used on those manufacturers’ mirrorless bodies via an adapter. Zeiss bills it as a lens without compromise, and that it is. Whether most photographers can keep up with its standards is debatable. It’s large, heavy, and almost impossible to focus with any assurance when working wide open. But it’s also beautifully made, a pleasure to use and about as sharp as you can get. I tested the ZF.2 (Nikon) version on my D850. Let’s start with the price. At nearly £4000, this is a serious investment, and anyone apart from your local oligarch is going to have to think very carefully
about that level of spend. You could pick up the equivalent Nikon 105mm f/1.4E for £1800 or the Sigma 105mm f/1.4 for £1400, and those lenses have decent AF, too. At 1336g, it’s heavy but that comes from the quality of the glass and its metal body. It feels a little front heavy, even when fitted on the D850 with MD-D18 grip, but it’s not unbalanced. The lens rests nicely in your hand, and the large manual focus ring falls right under your fingers and thumb. Due to the lens’s weight a tripod collar might have been handy. The ZF.2 version has an aperture ring (the Canon shown right does not), which you can use manually if you set up the camera to so, but it’s easier to
set it to f/16 where it locks and takes command from the camera. The body has lovely paint-filled, engraved distance markings in feet and metres, but these aren’t differentiated by colour, and there are no other controls, like functions buttons. The filter size is 86mm, and you’ll probably want to invest in an ND filter to use the lens wide open in the brightest light. Manual focusing isn’t as hard as it used to be, and there are ways of using your camera to assist you. For instance, the focus indicator on the Nikon D850 shows a dot within the viewfinder to tell you focus has been achieved, or left or right arrows telling you to turn the ring in one direction or another. Or you can use live-view focus peaking. The lens helps out by having very long focus throw of something around 270º, which for me was four twists of the ring. The advantage is adjustments to focus can be slight if required, and that helps with accuracy. What it doesn’t help with is speed, and going from near infinity back the closest 100cm takes precious seconds. Despite all this, it’s very difficult to achieve a decent success rate in terms of critical focus when working at the widest apertures. Focusing at 100cm and f/1.4, depth-of-field is well under 1cm, and all it takes is minor movement from the subject or you to
throw focus off. I spent a lot of time saying, “don’t move while I focus,” which is fine in a way, but also anachronistic. Stop down a little and of course it gets easier, but people will want to use this lens at its maximum. On the plus side, image quality is amazing. Zeiss says that 'the quality of the lens gives the look of using medium-format cameras', and though that sounds like marketing fluff, you can get some brilliant subject separation, thanks to the combination of fast aperture, excellent sharpness and smooth out-of-focus areas. Shoot subjects full length at f/1.4 or f/1.6 and they really pop, while focusing further off helps with the critical sharpness. In terms of sharpness, I’m not sure I’ve ever used a lens as good as this. The previously mentioned Nikon and Sigma 105mm lenses both have excellent sharpness, but this is usually found by stopping down slightly; the
Zeiss Otus 100mm f/1.4 is very sharp wide open at the centre and almost as good at the edges, and things improve only slightly as you get to f/1.8 and beyond, because there’s not much more sharpness to wring out of a scene. It really is pretty amazing. There is some quite heavy vignetting wide open, which disappears when you get to about f/4, and I also noticed some very minor fringing in very high contrast areas, but because there’s no automatic profile in Camera Raw you have to correct this manually. KS
Test images were shot using a Nikon D850 mounted on a Gitzo tripod and shutter fired with the camera exposure delay mode. Raws were processed in Lightroom and examined on screen at 100%.
Despite the frustrations of manual focus, I really enjoyed using the Otus 100mm f/1.4, and even though I got lots of misses, the hits were well worth it. Image quality is stellar. Zeiss alsomakes the focus ring turn the ‘right’way on Nikon cameras, which is a bonus. I also enjoyed using it in DX cropmode as a 150mm f/1.4. There’s no doubting that the Otus 100mm f/1.4 is an amazing lens, but you’d need an amazing level of disposable income to buy it. Rent it for a thrill.
PROS Image quality, build and handling CONS Price, size, weight, and no autofocus
58 Photography News | Issue 70
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