[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.
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