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Otus 55 f 1.4

By Dan Macdonald

My Otus with its funny yellow markings came this week. Unfortunately, the weather is really cold and windy. I have a new gallery up which will feature images from this lens, but it will take some time to get a good variety.

Here's the gallery links:

http://danmacdonald.zenfolio.com/carlzeiss55otus

Direct Link to slideshow:

http://danmacdonald.zenfolio.com/carlzeiss55otus/slideshow

For now there's just a couple of test shots and an aperture series on a 1902 Cadillac, all of them made in our Voices of the Land permanent gallery at the E.Tenn Historical Society.

The weekend promises weather 30 degrees warmer. There are several events which should provide good material for the Otus.

--Dan

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Replies

Reply from Wolf Rainer Schmalfuss on 02-16-14 7:29 AM

It has a good reason, why the OTUS is a full manual lens! Every good lens is a big collection of many faults, and it is up to the lens designer, to minimize these optical and mechanical faults to a minimum. Furthermore, the man with the red pencil, stands always behind the optic design engineers, to make sure, that the lens gets not too expensive! The mechanical part of a lens can be figured up to 50% of a good lens design. The mechanics for the autofocus drive must be operating very smooth, fast and easy, and should last for a longer period of time. There is the big compromize, compared to a solid mechanic drive of a manual lens, like the high precisely made OTUS, and its price level.
Reply from Pete on 02-16-14 6:02 AM

Dan, I hope I am not intruding here - but I am anxious to know your feedback on what it is like to manual focus the Otus on a D800E. I am in wait for this lens and would be using the 800E too and I read a post where people are having problems focusing this lens (?).
I have used Zeiss lenses on my 800E and have found focusing not a problem at all. Thanks
Reply from Wojciech Zielinski on 01-2-14 8:42 AM

Hi Dan,
I am very grateful that You wrote me why You made Your decision within Your photographic swordsmanship
and Your equipment. I am happy to hear that Your heath problem resulted to be benign and I hope You will be recovering quickly. I don't want to share only words of compassion but I spent many months through my life in hospital with my chronicle heath problems. But I was operated with general anesthesia few times already and I think I still remember how I felt last time after getting conscious. One of major value of the life, aside a healthiness, is the luck. I believe that You are familiar with some kind of luck already because Your have probably good prediction to live in pretty stabilized medical state for years.
With my last sentences I wanted to make some afterthought to last Rainer's statement. Maybe a little ironically way but I tried to find my best way to put the light in our discussion from different place. I hope to see more of images to be published with ZeissImages :) Best regards, WZ.
Reply from Dan Macdonald on 01-2-14 6:16 AM

[quote]aquilan wrote:
How :) I believe those needle sharp images are matter of author's affliction, good luck and influence of supernatural forces :) Today Leica users are quite sophisticated people, I believe they may posses some supernatural abilities. Especially those with sharp photos... best regards, WZ.[/quote]

You have exposed me, WZ. I made all this up, I confess....

D
Reply from Wojciech Zielinski on 01-2-14 5:53 AM

How :) I believe those needle sharp images are matter of author's affliction, good luck and influence of supernatural forces :) Today Leica users are quite sophisticated people, I believe they may posses some supernatural abilities. Especially those with sharp photos... best regards, WZ.
Reply from Dan Macdonald on 01-2-14 5:33 AM

[quote]z-enthusiast wrote:
I am wondering, how the "old fashion school", incl. todays Leica-users, has come to their needle sharp images, without using any autofocus and stabilization functions.

Please don't get me wrong, I am really not against AF at all! [/quote]

Very simple. Their needle sharp images, of which I have seen thousands, are not the kind of candid phtography I am talking about. And again, I'm talking images in focus from a given amout of available time in an event, with people who aren't posing. And I'm not against Manual Focus! All I'm saying is that it cannot replace AF in some circumstances. Especially today's AF.

DM
Reply from Wolf Rainer Schmalfuss on 01-2-14 4:50 AM

I am wondering, how the "old fashion school", incl. todays Leica-users, has come to their needle sharp images, without using any autofocus and stabilization functions.

Please don't get me wrong, I am really not against AF at all!
Reply from Dan Macdonald on 01-1-14 5:11 PM

[quote]aquilan wrote:
I believe they was, are and would be always two opposite sides, republicans and democrats. One would be devoted to old school, other to new one :) I fully support Your proposition, let's don't fight each other over theory of making photos. Let's just be happy with results of our work and work of our Friends. Best wishes to You Dan in New 2014 :) Let make it better than previous one together,
best regards, WZ.
---

Thanks, WZ. All this may be a bit academic for me, as my photography ability for some of my core work for hire appears to be hopelessly compromised by the after effects of serious neurosurgery last year. Benign tumor, but the surgery trauma still affects everything I do. Imagine doing a photo session with a heavy wine hangover. All my sessions are like that now. I've tried to battle it, but have finally realized my photography range of jobs and topics just won't be the same.

Happy New Year to you, as well.



Reply from Wojciech Zielinski on 01-1-14 4:49 PM

I believe they was, are and would be always two opposite sides, republicans and democrats. One would be devoted to old school, other to new one :) I fully support Your proposition, let's don't fight each other over theory of making photos. Let's just be happy with results of our work and work of our Friends. Best wishes to You Dan in New 2014 :) Let make it better than previous one together,
best regards, WZ.
---
Here is one lens.
It is stamped on the body with "Carl Zeiss".

There is an enormous accumulation of time behind it.
Reply from Dan Macdonald on 01-1-14 4:21 PM

[ I always set focus manually because when I misfocus something I know I do my best and I need to make it better. I don't like to be angry to my gear that something went wrong and it doesn't looks like as I wanted because AF algorithms do not improves that quick as my personal learning skills.
Best regards, WZ.

PS. I want support Rainer. I also believe that old school of photography brings more conventional and reliable effects. I don't like to use AF systems too, they change way of thinking about composition of images. Even if Riverguy refers us with minimal focus adjustment by AF system but most people are spoiled with AF and they starting to reverse order creation of new images. Main problem is to pull trigger first, because it is very unique moment and then they start to think what could have been done better with that image. It results with lot of unsatisfactory images. I don't want to move to dark side so I keep the old school regime. [/quote]

Then wouldn't it be nice if when you pulled the trigger, the danged thing was in focus. AF in the right hands helps that decision; it doesn't hinder it. AF would let you devote MORE time to composition, not less, in most situations. Most people behind a camera are tourists and people who just want a snapshot, so whether AF spoils them shouldn't really matter here. I don't buy into the school that difficulty always aids creativity, especially for candid photography of subjects who aren't trying to help you get the shot.

If you got angry at your gear because something in AF went wrong, at any real percentage of the time, then you must be working with very, very old or cheap AF gear. Or broken gear....To compare that failure rate with the failure rate of MF in the kind of situations I referred to is pretty silly in the real world.

Again, for the record, I would choose a perfectly focused ZF 135/2 image over a perfectly focused Nikon 85 G or 70-200VRII image every single time. The 200VR, well, that's another story, but it's VERY big and cumbersome.

It's just a stretch into an unreal world to make the "angry at my gear" argument. My 70-200VRII does "fail" on me: On some of my shots of dogs in mid air, cyclists at top speed, objects being juggled, etc.. For regular people moving at normal speeds, the success rate is nearly perfect. For casual portraits, the near eye is almost always in focus, even if I only had a half second to find it. Again, all the creativity arguments fall flat when the opportunity window is 1/3 to 1/2 second, or even a full second. The more likely thing is you made a good creative decision to be in position for the shot, then, when the moment came, you missed it with MF, either because the moment was too short, or at the last second the subject moved relative to you. With fast AF you aren't obsessed with keeping a very specific part of your subject in the plane. Now, any wide angle or normal lens depth of field makes using MF in narrow time windows easier, and the Otus focus action coupled with the 55mm makes it much easier, which was my original point. Or I think it was my point. Maybe I was talking about the price of bananas.....

The old school does bring better results for me, off a tripod or for handheld shots of subjects that don't move. If I sense a composition challenge, it is more with MF on moving subjects than with AF on moving subjects. With moving subjects there's more time to devote to compostion and creativity with AF, plain and simple. What creativity I have (way less than my son does) is not shut off by the ease of AF.

You are actually comparing focus algorithm speed to your change rate in learning skills? So you think your learning additional focus, planning and compostion skills will compensate for what you think is a high rate of failure in AF algorithms at any given point in recent camera/lens development. You should have been on Star Trek. I don't need to wait for the 200VRII, the 70-200VRII or the 85G algorithms or the camera focus algorithm to improve. It nails the shot now. It's a race you will never win.

Most portraits I see done with the 100/2, for example, appear very, very posed, as if the subject hadn't moved at all in the three seconds prior to the shot. Some don't appear posed, but then we don't see the throwaways. I see a lot of people leaning against something in the frame; I see a lot of soft, not in focus eyes. But the 100/2 has been a fundamental lens for me. On a tripod.

The feel of a true spontaneous shot is completely different than a posed shot, to me. It is much more "alive." Within a half second, a smile becomes more frozen, the face muscles change. I want my subject to command the shot, not my lens. Slides 61 through 67 of my History Fair from this past summer could never have been made with a manual lens in that time frame:

http://danmacdonald.zenfolio.com/ethshistoryfair2013/slideshow

Every image in that sequence is made the very split second the little girl had the expression she has, and there are all sorts of depth of field challenges that shifted throughout the sequence. A new distance to her eyes with every single image, and no more than a third of a second to get her eyes in focus each time.

We aren't going to agree on this. I wouldn't have devoted this much time to it, were it not for the possibility of relative newcomers thnking it's possible to do all these things in all these situations with manual as good as with AF. Let's walk away with our different opinions, happy....

Dan

P.S. The MF line of reasoning here makes very good sense when comparing typical shoot-and-see-what-comes-out AF amateur techniques for non moving subjects being shot by the millions all over the planet every day. In thoses cases, MF does indeed slow the photographer down and help him compose and be more creative than is the case in those millions of snapshots. It certainly does for me. It's with an effort to do serious candid work that I see great limitations for these manual lenses. The Otus, ah well, it closes that gap down quite a bit. But not all the way.
Reply from Wojciech Zielinski on 01-1-14 1:56 PM

Greetings Riverguy and Rainer,
I don't want to interfere with Your discussion or to argue who is closer to one truth or another, especially about Otus lens :) I believe that best solution to keep fast moving subject in focus, it is to wider deep of field with f/stops. It may do some problems with low-light situation but I learnt that those time I like more photos when they are taken with more wider aperture and slight misfocused subject. At low-light condition I always try to keep mood of low light scene and it makes this photo underexposed in terms of full bright scene. I found out that more natural for me is to use wide angle lenses while shooting in low-light situation than telephoto lens. WA lenses promote more DoF at the same f/stop than telephoto lenses. I found out that most brilliant in those situation is use of Distagon 1.4/35mm. But even with Planar 1.4/85mm at low light situation, I need to know what I want to shot, where and how. The I may use f/1.4 and preset focus to planed area. Or I need to step it down a little to be more tolerant to unexpected changes of situation :) Maybe it is more conventional and old-school way but I believe it is still my way of taking photos. I always set focus manually because when I misfocus something I know I do my best and I need to make it better. I don't like to be angry to my gear that something went wrong and it doesn't looks like as I wanted because AF algorithms do not improves that quick as my personal learning skills.
Best regards, WZ.

PS. I want support Rainer. I also believe that old school of photography brings more conventional and reliable effects. I don't like to use AF systems too, they change way of thinking about composition of images. Even if Riverguy refers us with minimal focus adjustment by AF system but most people are spoiled with AF and they starting to reverse order creation of new images. Main problem is to pull trigger first, because it is very unique moment and then they start to think what could have been done better with that image. It results with lot of unsatisfactory images. I don't want to move to dark side so I keep the old school regime.
Reply from Dan Macdonald on 01-1-14 10:16 AM

[quote]z-enthusiast wrote:
Dan, you mean, shooting with an machine gun, one of the bullets will always hit the target!

No, z, I mean that candid photography is candid photography, and I've yet to have a subject realize I'm shooting with a manual lens and slow down for me to account for it. Machine gun has nothing to do with my point, in fact, it's an evasion of my point. You either get the focus in the third of a second the child flashes the smile, or you don't. Magnified all the more if the child just moved forward or backward to you when she flashed that smile she won't give you again on that day. I take as many shots doing an event with Manual as I do with AF, in fact, I take more because of the inability to absolutely nail focus in those split second time slots. Go ahead, tell us that you can move to focus on the nearest eye of a child dancing around, moving toward you and away from you in an arc of maybe a third to a half a meter, and you can do it in a third to half of a second with a 100/2 or 135/2. Wait, let me pour my wine first.

Your argument sounds wonderful, pure. Until a listener picked up a big ol 200VR or a 70-200VRII and first pressed that focus on a moving target. It doesn't do away with your work or your results, but it's a lesson in reality. Within minutes of moving from, say, the 135/2 or the 35s or 100/2 to a 70-200VRII, any user would know the problem with your argument, and that no amount of skill can make up that difference.

I think you're working very hard to avoid my points. A totally missed shot is a totally missed shot. No sweat? You would miss that difficult, narrow time span, variation in depth shot, z. And the person who might be paying you wouldn't be happy and hire you again. You don't miss AF because you are comparing your work to your work. You cannot get many of those shots, but it's OK not to get them and be happy with a selection of high quality Zeiss shots. That's not the same thing as recording all of the moments of the event with good high quality AF. There is absolutely nothing wrong with what you do, or with you using manual exclusively.

I have always had trouble comparing my work to shots I didn't take.

The delusion sets in when you begin to tell yourself you're nailing every focused shot that someone carrying a modern fast AF lens with focus tracking would at the same event, in the same time span, given the exact same opportunities. It's the event, Z, the event. It's what actually happened in that time period. Working an event with a ZF or ZE 135/2 is never the same as working it with a 70-200 VRII with focus tracking, even in your highly skilled hands, although I'm absolutely certain you will say otherwise....I have all these lenses, manual and AF. I see the comparison every week, in my hands, in the hands of full time pros I know well.

Seventy to eighty percent of the time invested in a difficult depth of field plus narrow time span manual focus shot is eliminated in about a 20th of a second when you press the focus on a fast, state of the art AF lens. The AF guy is already there, and you're still hunting. Not only is he there, he's ready to click the shutter with the focus precisely where he wants it, such that even a heavy crop would reveal the dead-on focus. He's thinking compostion, smile, angle, etc, while his focus tracking happily keeps the nearest eye dead center in the focus plane, without him doing a thing. You're thinking focus; you're still working on getting the kid's whole head in the plane. You can't compensate for that disadvantage shot to shot over an event; neither can I.

I shoot some events exclusively manual, but the difference is night and day, and I only do that when I'm not held responsible to someone else for recording the event.

Let's just keep our views and move on. But thanks for the discussion, nevertheless. We agree to disagree.

Dan
Reply from Wolf Rainer Schmalfuss on 01-1-14 8:34 AM

Dan, you mean, shooting with an machine gun, one of the bullets will always hit the target!

Sorry, but this was never my understanding of good photography! Today, it is very easy and does not costs anything, to load the SD cards etc. with mass production of digital images, and select lateron the best out of many on the PC at night.

I am old fashion, I don't shoot with any AF lenses, but I know very well how to shoot handheld, even with long telephoto lenses. No sweat! I agree, over 200mm, and with zoom lenses, AF is very helpful! But under this range, I personally don't need or miss AF.

Unfortunately, I don't own the OTUS, but I was one of the first guys at the last Photokina, holding it in my hands, and I've seen from an Zeiss expert the test images on prints, proving the superb quality wide open at f/1.4 of this fantastic glass.

YES, I agree that the OTUS is perfect for all kinds of handheld shots, if you know how to handle it!
Reply from Dan Macdonald on 12-30-13 6:03 AM

[quote]z-enthusiast wrote:
Oh, sorry, I might misunderstand, but handholding was never for me an issue with an manual standard 50/55mm lens! I have being always a good sniper![/quote]

Z: I hear this all the time. Understand, I am a huge Zeiss and manual focus enthusiast. In fact, I hear the very phrase "never an issue" with regard to problems (or not) with manual focusing for shooting. If your subject is cooperative and knows you and participating in the session, I would agree. But I own the Nikon 200VR, the 70-200VRII, and the 85G. Even for subjects who are fully cooperating, a Zeiss lens cannot begin to match the keeper rate of these lenses. The image quality isn't an issue if you missed the shot entirely. But if the event is candid, random, and the subjects don't know you, aren't coorperating and are moving in and out of the plane of focus at all angles, there is "an issue" for any photographer, whether he or she wants to admit it or not. It isn't whether you got some nice images in a candid, fast moving event; it's whether you got anywhere near as many as you would have accomplished with top AF lenses. I submit you would not have, no matter how experienced you are or what technical aids you might employ. Anyone who has moved back and forth from the best AF lenses of the past 5-7 years to the best and most recent manual lenses, Zeiss included, knows this. It's never an issue unless the guy next to you shot the same event with a 70-200VRII or 85G and has four times the keepers you have. Now, they won't have the same image quality as the few great ones you got, but he still got many more images with the focus nailed where it should have been.

The percentage of the shots you took in a given session that turn out to be in perfect or near perfect in focus isn't the question. It's what the other guy (or you, had you used a top AF lens) would have been doing in the same time frame at the same event. It's keepers out of the event that matter, not keeper ratio out of your camera, which is controlled by your time you chose to invest in each shot. None of us, or blessedly few of us, choose to post out of focus images. Now, if you simply want to achieve a relatively low percentage of keepers, but at much nicer IQ than the other guy with the good AF lens, and that's your calculated choice, then there's no issue.
Reply from Wolf Rainer Schmalfuss on 12-30-13 5:22 AM

Oh, sorry, I might misunderstand, but handholding was never for me an issue with an manual standard 50/55mm lens! I have being always a good sniper!
Reply from Dan Macdonald on 12-30-13 4:25 AM

[quote]z-enthusiast wrote:
Hi Dan, I don't want to discuss about the superb quality of the OTUS lens at all! But, you should not compare any AF-lens with the mechanical high tech mechanism of the OTUS lens, and other highly precisely made mechanical lenses. These are two pair of shoes! The AF mechanism must be function fast and easy, and is made mechanical compared fairly simple, and is often supported by light weight plastics! The AF system lives generally from the f/stops, and the corresponding DOF of the mostly three dimentional objects.
If you talk about the highest possible quality with the OTUS lens, you should include also the diopter setting, and the focusing screen of your camera! Just to put an focusing screen into your camera, is for the perfect use of the OTUS, absolutely and far not good enough! The Diopter Setting and focusing screen should be precisely adjusted! This can be performed for any pro DSLR at Oberkochen from Zeiss! Unfortunately, I've no information about this adjustment costs. I've dicussed this subject already with an Zeiss expert, and he mentioned to me, that the actual LiveView functions of modern DSLR's is presently te most acurate focussing method available. A perfect 100% precise focusing will not be possible. But, we're talking here about an very very high level, which are not required for most of the three dimentional photographs.[/quote]

Z: Your comments here don't address what I was talking about in any fashion. The original question was how the Otus "was while handholding." Well, it's significantly better than previous Zeiss, and it actually approaches, but doesn't match, the handheld ability of some AF lenses in candid situations. Focusing screens, etc, don't really play into that comparison at all. I broke the discussion down into handheld for non moving subjects, and handheld for moving subjects. Trying to be helpful, you know.....

Your diopter discussion just doesn't figure into what I was saying. Screens can be added with any lens, so that variable doesn't address how the Otus compares to other Zeiss lenses and, regardless of any of the issues you mention, it still doesn't have the keeper rate that most good AF lenses do, and since I don't have time to investigate Armalite's experience, I thought I'd throw that factor into the mix. The "highest quality" or quality of the Otus image was never in the discussion. The IQ of the Otus is well known by now. The focus ring action was my major point. I think I answered the question that Armalite actually presented to me, that is, how it does handheld. I'm well aware of the technical difference between my Otus and my AF lenses, thank you.

DM
Reply from Wolf Rainer Schmalfuss on 12-29-13 11:00 PM

Hi Dan, I don't want to discuss about the superb quality of the OTUS lens at all! But, you should not compare any AF-lens with the mechanical high tech mechanism of the OTUS lens, and other highly precisely made mechanical lenses. These are two pair of shoes! The AF mechanism must be function fast and easy, and is made mechanical compared fairly simple, and is often supported by light weight plastics! The AF system lives generally from the f/stops, and the corresponding DOF of the mostly three dimentional objects.
If you talk about the highest possible quality with the OTUS lens, you should include also the diopter setting, and the focusing screen of your camera! Just to put an focusing screen into your camera, is for the perfect use of the OTUS, absolutely and far not good enough! The Diopter Setting and focusing screen should be precisely adjusted! This can be performed for any pro DSLR at Oberkochen from Zeiss! Unfortunately, I've no information about this adjustment costs. I've dicussed this subject already with an Zeiss expert, and he mentioned to me, that the actual LiveView functions of modern DSLR's is presently te most acurate focussing method available. A perfect 100% precise focusing will not be possible. But, we're talking here about an very very high level, which are not required for most of the three dimentional photographs.
Reply from Dan Macdonald on 12-27-13 6:34 AM

Armalite,

Your question runs the risk of provoking one of my sermons, and my wife, son and others discourage me from my long winded spiels.

The sermon in a nutshell is that many Zeiss enthusiasts on the web, in my opinion, grossly exaggerate what can be done in handheld candid event and portrait photography with the previous Zeiss lineup. I suspect their keeper rates are far below what they claim. I say this as a photographer who loves Zeiss, especially the three lenses you have, plus the 135/2. But the 100/2 and 135/2, especially, have very viscous focus throw actions which--in hurried situations-- make the photographer pull the lens slightly to one side. And the depth of field at those lengths is very thin and jumps in and out as your subject moves. The result: soft eyes, nose in mush, etc....

No problem on a tripod or on a handheld shot with a subject that doesn't move, but a problem with candid stuff where the shutter click is almost fused to the last split second of focus action.

No one in their right mind would shoot candid, fast moving events and split second portraits with the Nikon 85G or 70-200VRII, then switch and shoot the Zeiss 100, 50,135 and claim a similar keeper rate, or even close.... And I've had these lenses for years, the 135/2 for almost a year. So when forum posters claim this kind of stuff, it does a disservice to newcomers. I suspect you know all this. Sermon ended....

The Otus is a different animal. The feel of the focus ring is completely different; the lens is wider at the focus ring. Focusing is extremely precise and much easier to do "on the fly" than with any other ZF or ZE lens. If you get your focus set to start, say, a series of portrait shots, keeping it there is much easier with a 55 mm lens than the 135. And keeping it there with a 55 that has this new focus throw feel is WAY easier. (Understand I love all the previous lenses, just not for candid work.) It is so easy to move the focus collar ring with my left hand that I can also provide the bulk of the support of the camera with the palm of that hand toward the wrist and still move the ring, which even with my very big hands I can't do with regular Zeiss models. You have to be able to move the ring with total control just using your fingertips in a way that doesn't pull the whole rig to one side. Very tough with the 100/2, maybe even a bit harder with the 135/2, another world easier with the Otus.

The bottom line: To me, out there in the real world and not in the delusional world of some thread posters, the Otus 55 1.4 is the first Zeiss that begins to compete with AF in similar events. It can't match the keeper rate of good AF like the Nikon 85G or 70-200VRII, but it's close enough that, coupled with the incredible image quality, it's worth it. Certainly hand held photography of stationary objects, landscapes, etc is no problem at all. Portrait photography for slower moving subjects who are willing to work with you is no problem and far, far easier than with, say, the 100/2 or the 135/2, both of which I love and routinely use for a variety of work. I never use the 100/2 for portraits or candids, but I do use the 135 for that kind of work, especially if I've already shot the same material with AF, as a back up or in a previous session.

So yes, you will find the Otus is in another league when it comes to handheld work.

--Dan
Reply from Jt on 11-15-13 7:45 AM

Congratulations. Try posting some in the gallery here.
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