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Zeiss 135mm f2 Apo Sonnar Review

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Zeiss 135mm f2 Apo Sonnar Review

Category: Zeiss Reviews

Posted: 02-28-13 9:32 PM - Views: 49079

By: Zeiss Images

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[size=14]I hate posting this statement. But, some readers expectation leave me no other choice.

This is unscientific,unbiased and purely a personal review. Don't expect pixel peeping, tripod mounted cameras, brick walls (yea, those look really good in your portfolio) , charts or scientific Mumbo Jumbo. This review is simply from a users point of view and from a picture viewers point of view. If you want to see the other type of reviews, I am sure you can find them.

Quick Update

I had to upload all the previous images again because I noticed that my Light Room exports were set to 60% Image quality.

This morning, I received the new Zeiss 135mm f2 Apo Sonnar from Zeiss for review. As always, unboxing is an exciting event as you look forward to what is in the box. Needless to say, I was not surprised when I opened the box and pulled out the lens. As in the past nothing has changed. Zeiss delivered another lens with the same quality, feel and looks of their other high end lenses. This lens is as solid as they come and when you hold it you feel like you are getting what you paid for. No plastic barrel, or cheesy hollow feel that we are seeing more and more of these days from other manufacturers. It is nice to see that some companies still value quality over cost in order to produce a product worthy of praise.



The 135 Apo Sonnar is very similar in appearance with the 100 f2 Makro Planar with the exception of size. The 135 has a much wider girth than the 100 and coupled with the lens hood, it’s appearance takes on a hefty bold look that would throw a small camera off balance. However, the guts of this lens are a completely different story. This lens is apochromatic and is made of special glass with anomalous partial dispersion.

Wait. What did I just say? Did you understand that? Let’s try it this way. Have you ever seen a picture of tree branches up close or power with a bright background like a nice sunny sky? If you look closely, you will see the edges of the branches or power lines with a very nasty ring around them. Almost as if someone took a purple marker and outlined the edges. Well, this lens is made with that funky name special glass that is designed to eliminate those nasty colorful edges. And guess what. It does. Simply put, this lens is designed to deliver the best image possible.

Here is an example from today in poor lighting conditions.

The full frame shot:


The 100% crop


Below is an example of a bad lens.
This is NOT from the Zeiss lens ! This is just to show what the bad CA looks like.



[size=16]Again, the above sample with purple fringe is NOT from the Zeiss lens[/size]


See the MTF charts here



Enough with the tech stuff. Let’s look at this from a user’s point of view. First things first. Since this lens is on loan to me, I stuck a Heliopan UV filter on the front to protect it. It just so happened I had a 77mm filter handy. What are the odds of that? Also, my short disclaimer. I am without a doubt a genuine Zeiss Fan Boy. However, don’t be fooled. Although I love the Zeiss brand, I am not married to it and do have other preferences. For example, my 50mm prime is a manual focus Nikon AIS which is a wonderful lens and has been reliable and loyal since the 1980’s. So with that out of the way let move on.


This lens feels wonderful in my hands. I am 6’2” and have large hands and the size of this lens fits my hands perfectly. It is solid and heavy but not too heavy. With the lens set at infinity, it measures approximately 4 inches from the camera to the front. Add the lens hood and you lens grows like Pinocchio’s nose by another 2 ¾ “. Although not huge, definitely is large and chances are that if it’s not sunny I won’t be using the hood. Lucky for me, I live in one of the most miserable parts of the country where we get 9 months of rain, 1 month of full overcast and 2 months of Sun. I knew eventually there would be a payoff to this God forsaken miserable weather of the Pacific Northwest. You see, now I don’t need the lens hood.

Earlier, I mentioned that this lens is not cheesy nor does it feel hollow like those new plastic lenses we see more of these days. Well, there is something to be said about those cheaper lenses. The Zeiss 135 is cold and takes a while to acclimate to the current environment. Furthermore, the knurled like grip of the focusing ring is not as easy to handle as something with a rubber grip. But in the end, this is just cosmetic and has no effect on the images.

Focus is tight and smooth. It feels s just like the 100 Macro and lets you focus with confidence. When the lens first arrived it was a little stiff due to the cold. But, once it acclimated the focusing was a joy to work with. You do give your hand a workout when going from minimum focus distance to infinity with a very long almost 270 degree turn to get from one extreme to the other. But, you do get the benefit of close focus down to 2.62 feet which is quite nice considering this not a macro lens.
Considering I am getting older and my sight is getting worse every day, I was amazed at how easy I was able to focus this lens. The big front element lets a lot of light in, which really helps with the focusing. Granted it’s not auto focus but for a manual focus lens it makes my old eyes work less at focusing.


The out of focus areas rendered by the 135 Apo are simply gorgeous. The transition from in and out of focus is smooth and dreamy. When shooting wide open with a varied color background, your subject is surrounded with wonderful colors, shapes and blurs that really paint a backdrop for your main subject. I can’t decide what I like more, the subject or the background. You really need to see for yourself on a large monitor or print to really appreciate it. Furthermore, the 9 blade aperture is a blessing for me. I personally hate those octagon blurry lights in dark scenes. The 9 blades generate beautiful spheres which are pleasing to the eye.





Holy Cow! This lens is sharp and sharp wide open. Contrast and edge detail are mind blowing. The samples posted are all hand held and mainly shot between f2 and f 4. The amount of detail rendered on my 16mp D4 sensor is amazing. It’s not just sharpness, it’s how it’s sharp. Contrast is so good that the focused area come to life. It’s hard to explain but when pulling up images in Light Room, I could not believe what I was seeing at 100%. Yes most telephotos lenses in this range produce very good images and deserve praise. However, the Apo 135 produces amazing images and deserves worshiping. I kid you not, if you are going to shoot portraits, close focus subjects or anything you can be creative with a 135mm lens, and are looking to buy one. Don’t waste your time. Look no further. Sell your neighbors kidney if you have to but this is the 135 to have.

I like photographing people in Downtown Portland and I did so today at lunch time in the rain. The 135 Apo was surprisingly easy to keep focus on moving objects or in situations where you want to just snap and go. Also, the lens lets you keep a distance which makes your subjects feel more comfortable. Like I said earlier, most of the time the sun does not show it’s face and it’s raining or overcast. This makes for great diffused light.







All images I have shot with my D4 were done so in raw. Using Light Room, they were either profiled with Adobe Standard or Camera Standard. Needless to say, the colors are exactly what you would expect from Zeiss. The colors are beautiful, snappy and vivid. They bring everything to life in the picture. Contrast is hard at work for you here to give you the best it can.





I remember reading how people just loved the old Nikon 85mm 1.4 D. So much so that I had to buy one and try it for myself. To this date, I can’t see what others saw in it. I tried 4 different copies of that lens and they all rendered flat lifeless images. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good lens and some people actually like that look. But if they had a Zeiss lens to compare to at the time it would have shown them a totally new world and the definition of contrast. The formulas, glass and coating on Zeiss glass bring your pictures into a different dimension. And the Zeiss 135 is a perfect example.




These days, you probably won’t find anything better than the Zeiss 135 Apo Sonnar. I have seen images from the Canon 135 f2 L, Nikon 135 f2, Zeiss 135 f1.8 ZA and others. Needless to say, all those lenses are great until you look at what the Zeiss delivers. The Zeiss 135 Apo is at the top of the food chain. It eats everything below it and around it. Not only that, it spits I out too. You may say, well, let’s see some comparisons to prove it. I won’t waste my time doing comparison shots between one and the other at this point. This is not a scientific test; this is simply a matter of personal observations and many years of experience shooting with different gear. Everything is based on what I see and not some test chart. If your mechanic told you that the performance of a Porsche 911 was better than that of a Ford Pinto or Mustang or Dodge Colt would you ask him to prove it to you? Some things are just plain obvious when you see them and that is what I am reporting. Been there, done that, seen that enough times to say I found the Holy Grail of the 135.

I will have an ongoing collection of Images captured with the Zeiss 135mm f2 Apo Sonnar. You can see larger images and more of them here: http://zeissimages.com/showcollection.php?cid=1201

As users start posting images online you can see them here: http://www.zeissimages.com/standardgallery.php?lenstype=557&showall


Replies ...

Reply Nr.19 from Thomas on 04-11-13 8:29 PM

What will this lens look like on my 175MP camera? Sorry I am still not using Xperimantal digits. The 175MP full frame 35mm sensor is free of problems such as poor micro-contrast, wriong ISO, wrong light Temp, poor saturation, and needs no PP.

Digits don't even comeclose to this great invention.

The result from this 35mm sensor can be projected onto a commercoial cinema screen! The sensor is Velvia 50.
Reply Nr.18 from Thomas on 04-11-13 6:23 AM

I wish somebody would post photos shot with their 175MP camera, so we can see what this CZ can really do. It surely out-resolves these Canons,which also, dumb down its magical colors, fine details and contrasts etc. I look forward to it on my 175MP camera, on which I now only use the CZ 70-200N. BTW my 175MP is a Contax, 35mm, FF, sensor is .....Velvia 50 film.
Reply Nr.17 from Dan Macdonald on 04-10-13 1:49 AM

I've set up a gallery on my website for images from my copy of the ZF 135, which just arrived yesterday. I only had time to shoot a few flowers in our botanical garden late in the day on the 9th, but I'll be adding a variety of images in the next days and weeks. All are shot on the Nikon D800E.

Here are a few images from my ZF 135 which just arrived on the 9th. All taken with a D800E. I'll be adding images all this week and for the next few weeks. What I've seen so far reinforces what Lloyd Chambers has said about the lens. Sorry, there probably won't ever be heavily backlit shots. I just don't do those. Within the next few weeks I'm sure there will be plenty enough images online from which to make a judgement.

Reply Nr.16 from Zeiss Images on 03-14-13 2:26 PM

[quote]Zeissing wrote:
That's a sweet lens JT. Amazing f2 performance. Are you sleeping with it under your pillow? I would, at least for awhile. Question? Does the front element move significantly in or out through the focus range? A lens like the Zeiss 100mm macro is essentially unusable for follow focus work because of this. The 135 f2 might be a different story. Cheers[/quote]

I wish! I just sent it back to Zeiss :(

The frot element does extend but nothing like the 100 .
Reply Nr.15 from David Edwards on 03-4-13 7:24 AM

That's a sweet lens JT. Amazing f2 performance. Are you sleeping with it under your pillow? I would, at least for awhile. Question? Does the front element move significantly in or out through the focus range? A lens like the Zeiss 100mm macro is essentially unusable for follow focus work because of this. The 135 f2 might be a different story. Cheers
Reply Nr.14 from Zeiss Images on 03-3-13 3:15 PM

I looked for an image on line taken with the Canon wide open to show the difference. It just so happens that I had the same subject Ken Rockwell did to show fringing. The only difference is that Ken writes [quote]"The Canon 135/2 L behaves as usual, with slight green fringes on background highlights, and slight magenta fringes on foreground highlights."[/quote]

Here is Ken's image of what he considers 5 star out of 5 for optics with the Canon.



And here is the same image from the Zeiss. taken by me on a very similar subject with the lens wide open.


I think the images speak for themselves.
Reply Nr.13 from Sikko Hoekstra on 03-3-13 11:24 AM

Thanks JT for the review of this very nice lens. The pictures are very sharp with very nice colours.
My neighbour didn't want to donate her kidney for this nice lens, so i must save a little bit longer to buy this baby.
But first i want to buy the (100mm f/2.0 ZE macro planar) lens.

thanks again for this review.

mvg Sikko
Reply Nr.12 from James on 03-2-13 4:37 AM

i uploaded some shots here , not familiar with the place yet , so sorry , I hope I did it properly ;-)
Reply Nr.11 from Wolf Rainer Schmalfuss on 03-2-13 3:57 AM

Not the new Zeiss APO Sonnar 2/135mm only, is for sure designed for the expected digital future of sensor upgrades and improvements, and should have an better capacity, as the present 36 MP sensor of the Nikon D800/E! I BET, that behind the curtains, the future prototype XYZ cameras and Zeiss lenses, have been already shown at the last Cologne Photokina, secretly to some selected experts! After the Photokina, is before the Photokina!
Reply Nr.10 from Steve Nelson on 03-1-13 2:27 PM

Yet another superb product from Zeiss. I think I'll need to crowdsource my Zeiss fund if this keeps up!
Reply Nr.9 from Donat Nussbaumer on 03-1-13 9:28 AM

Thank you JT for this great image with this lens and for this report.
Reply Nr.8 from Dalton Hobbs on 03-1-13 9:21 AM

Thanks for the reviews and comments - now I am even more anxious to get mine!! Just got word from B&H its still backordered however!!! UGH you are making me jealous!!
Reply Nr.7 from Wolf Rainer Schmalfuss on 03-1-13 6:48 AM

This new Apo 135mm, and the coming Apo 1,4/55mm, they are the two first Apo lenses, of a new series of further Apo glasses from Zeiss! After the Photokina, is before the Photokina!
Reply Nr.6 from Wojciech Zielinski on 03-1-13 5:28 AM

I am also devoted to manual focusing (like Wolf) but I feel that I will remain with my Sonnar 1.8/135 ZA, which may be a little less APO but it is still great lens. I remember times when I upgraded my previous Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 3.5/135 M42 to Carl Zeiss Sonnar 1.8/135 ZA, it was great improvment (in the way of quality and portability for minus too). Best regards, WZ.
Reply Nr.5 from Steve Mark on 03-1-13 3:49 AM

JT.....Your Killing Me Bro! I Gotta Have It! Outrageous IQ! Thanks For Letting Us Take A First Glance At This Amazing Lens! steve ;-)
Reply Nr.4 from Antonio on 03-1-13 1:31 AM

Great lens , thanks a lot for your first evaluation well accepted.
Reply Nr.3 from Wolf Rainer Schmalfuss on 03-1-13 12:50 AM

With AF, Zeiss would have to make many compromises, mechanical and optical, but some people might don't like the approx. 270 degree of this super glass, of manual focusing. But this is the only and perfect way for an highly precise focusing, as known for many years.

I personally prefer the old fashion way of precise manual focusing, I don't care about AF!
Reply Nr.2 from James on 03-1-13 12:37 AM

It is an excellent lens , probably the "best " I have had ever .
Reply Nr.1 from Dave Curtis on 02-28-13 10:45 PM

The images quality is stunning. Amazing at f2.

I just wish Zeiss could add AF as well!
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