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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.


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.

Learn more

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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