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Mini Review: Zeiss ZF/ZE 85mm f/1.4 Planar

The Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Planar is considered a portrait lens by many. Yet its high brilliance, ultra-low distortion, delicious color rendition, and slight telephoto compression effect make it an outstanding lens for landscape shooting. The 85mm focal length is one I have found to be eminently useful for landscape use over the years.

The 85/1.4 is not optimized for close-up shooting, having been designed for a soft-focus look at close range for portraiture (uncorrected spherical aberration). This effect should be understood for the misnomer focus shift it can bring when focusing at f/1.4 but exposing at another aperture. Focus shift is explored in more detail in DAP.

At f/1.4, careful focus results in amazingly sharp images, albeit with the “halo” effect typical of all f/1.4 lenses (spherical aberration). Outstanding images result from f/2 onwards, and by f/2.8 contrast is outstanding, with superb veiling flare control.

The 85mm f/1.4 Planar is moderate in size but relatively heavy, yet has very nice balance and ergonomics on medium and large cameras.

Manual focus is not so great for fast-moving children—use an autofocus lens!

Bokeh with the 85/1.4 Planar is beautiful, and wide open through f/2 it offers a unique embossed look that is quite different from other lenses. This can yield a lively feel to an image, giving it a depth and richness lost with lenses that simply flatten and blur the background.

Elegantly constructed of metal and glass, it is a handsome example of beauty with utilitarianism, as are its siblings lenses. Unlike most lenses made of plastic these days, it feels like quality of old.

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Canon and Nikon and Pentax versions are optically identical.

Specifications for Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Planar
Focal length: 84.8mm
Aperture scale: f/1.4 - f/16
Focusing range: 1m - infinity
Angular field, diag./horiz. 28.6° / 24°
Coverage at close range: 24 X 36cm
Image ratio at close range:            1:10
Number of elements/groups: 6/5
Filter thread: M 72 X 0.75


Dimensions (with caps): 77m in diameter, 62mm long
List price: $1283 street price

Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Planar distortion

The distortion is about as low as it gets. This lens is effectively distortion-free, rendering exceptionally natural-looking images, though not quite as low as the 100mm f/2 Makro-Planar.

Distortion — Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Planar


Much larger and more numerous examples are found in the full review.

Click to see larger versions.

Row Houses— Zeiss 85/1.4 Planar

Background blur (bokeh) is extremely pleasing with the 85/1.4. The next two images are examples of that. Also, wide open, there is an unusual almost embossed look to the images that the 85/1.4 Planar produces; this is more easily seen on artificial subjects for what it is, but on regular subjects it contributes to the overall effect in subtle ways.

California Buckeye— Zeiss 85/1.4 Planar
Leaves close-up— Zeiss 85/1.4 Planar
Floating leaves — Zeiss 85/1.4 Planar


The 85/1.4 Planar is a lens of more talents than it might appear. High brilliance and delicious color rendition along with no distortion make it a fantastic landscape lens, in addition to being a classic portrait focal length with a pleasingly soft rendition at very close range.

You can get the 85/1.4 Planar at B&H Photo for Canon or Nikon.

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For 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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