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Mini Review: Zeiss ZF/ZE 35mm f/2 Distagon

Last updated January 13, 2010 - Send Feedback
Mini review of Zeiss 21mm f/2.8 Distagon

The Zeiss 35mm f/2 Distagon offers bitingly-sharp image rendition, coupled with gorgeous bokeh, extremely low flare and outstanding image quality across the field. With excellent control of aberrations, performance is very satisfying when used wide-open at f/2, improving significantly at f/2.8, then a bit more until f/5.6. Your main challenge as with any top lens will be focusing perfectly so as to extract that performance on today’s high-resolution digital cameras.

When the exquisite sharpness of the 35/2 Distagon is combined with its graceful blurring away from the focal plane, image rendition is simultaneously sharp and smooth, producing vividly three-dimensional images. I’ve been shooting the 35/2 Distagon since mid 2007, and it has been a stalwart performer.

Mounted on the Canon 1.3X crop sensor like the EOS 1D Mark IV, it makes a formidable “normal” lens, equivalent in field of view to about 45mm on a full-frame camera. The shade for the Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 may be used in lieu of the standard lens shade on such cameras, and for increased shading for the smaller sensor.

On a full frame camera it serves its intended purpose as an all-around “normal” lens with a slightly wide field of view, a fine choice in lieu of a 50m lens for those who want a slightly wider field of view.

As with all ZF and ZE lenses, focusing is manual with the 35/2 Distagon.

Flare resistance is excellent, and one could almost dispense with the lens shade, but a lens shade also affords some “bump” protection, so its use is advised.

With high resolution digital cameras, the 35/2 Distagon can exhibit traces of color fringing on high contrast edges, varying by camera/sensor. Alternatives do not fare better however.

Specifications

For ZF/ZF.2/ZE. Weights vary slightly by mount. Versions for Canon and Nikon and Pentax are optically identical.

Specifications for Zeiss 35mm f/2 Distagon
Focal length: 35.0mm
Aperture scale: f/ 2 – f/22 (1/2 stop clicks for ZF/ZF.2)
Focusing range: 0.3m – infinity
Angular field, diag./horiz. 63° / 54°
Coverage at close range: 196 X 129mm
Image ratio at close range:            1:5.44
Number of elements/groups: 9 / 7
Filter thread: M 58 X 0.75
Weight: 534g (ZF), as weighed
Dimensions (with caps): 65mm, 73mm long
List price: $1004 street price

Zeiss 35/2 Distagon distortion

Distortion is more than I would prefer, but about what one expects from a 35mm lens. It is easily corrected with various tools, because it is a consistent barrel distortion.

Zeiss 35mm f/2 Distagon distortion graph
Distortion — Zeiss 35/2 Distagon

Examples

Close-ups

While not a macro lens, the 35mm Distagon offers excellent close-up capabilityto a pseudo-macro 1.54, with very pleasing delineation between the plane of focus and both the background and foreground.

Zeiss 35mm f/2 Distagon flower closeup
f/2, handheld
Zeiss 35mm f/2 Distagon vegetables closeup
f/2, handheld

Astrophotography

The 32/2 Distagon is a terrific lens for low-light shooting because it delivers pinpoint sharpness over most of the frame, minimizing the common aberrations (like coma) that plague most lenses, even the very expensive Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L. Accordingly, it makes an excellent choice for starry skies, or any subject with fine points of light. That is not to say it’s perfect at f/2 (no 35mm lens is), but it yields very high quality results. Stopping down to f/2.8 helps clean things up significantly, as even the finest lenses benefit from doing so.

Zeiss 35mm f/2 Distagon night photography starry sky
Stars and meteor (the faint streak at center)
35/2 Distagon @ f/2

Black and white

Black and white reveals the pleasing smoothness possible with the 35mm Distagon, background blur (bokeh) is very pleasing in every situation.

Zeiss 35mm f/2 Distagon black and white rendition
35/2 Distagon @ f/2, handheld

Night shooting

The high degree of correction lends itself to sparkling and detailed night scenes.

Zeiss 35mm f/2 Distagon black and white rendition
35/2 Distagon @ f/4, handheld

Conclusions

The Zeiss 35mm f/2 Distagon ZF offers outstanding imaging qualities that go well beyond high sharpness and contrast to other more subtle and pleasing effect simply not available with most lenses. Over the course of nearly 2 1/2 years of shooting, I’ve come to appreciate it as a standout lens.

You can get the 35/2 Distagon at B&H Photo for Canon or Nikon.

Learn more

Guide to Zeiss ZF/ZE lensesFor in-depth coverage to these Zeiss lenses for Nikon and Canon, please subscribe to our Guide to Zeiss ZF/ZE Lenses.

The Guide has numerous examples at much higher resolution, along with actual-pixels crops for each and every lens, in most cases several pages of examples per lens.

New material is constantly being added to the Guide, so don't wait, subscribe now!

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