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ZF.2 vs ZF

This page discusses the differences between the ZF.2 line announced in November 2009, and the original ZF line. The two lines are optically identical, so there is absolutely no image quality issue involved. You can read the ZF.2 press release here.

ZF.2 improvements

Electronic contacts on ZF.2

At first glance, you won’t see any difference between a ZF and ZF.2 lens. The lens barrel is all but identical to the ZF line, and the optics are unchanged. In short, there is absolutely no reason to upgrade for any build or image quality issue.

Nikon AI-P standard

According to Zeiss—

The ZF.2 lenses adhere to the Nikon AI-P standard and deliver the same functionality. According to Nikon, AI-P NIKKOR lenses provide all functions supported except auto-focus and 3D Color Matrix Metering II.

Perhaps this means that the ZF.2 versions can support somewhat more accurate metering, though I haven’t personally concluded that based on my own usage.

Aperture control

Aperture control behaves just like it does with any modern Nikon lens: the camera controls the lens aperture electronically in 1/2 stop or 1/3 stop increments (depending on how you configure the camera).

There is no more need for the “Non CPU lens data” setting in the camera; it’s ignored for CPU lenses. The benefit is that when you mount the lens, the camera automatically knows the maximum aperture, so it can be displayed correctly.

Since the camera can electronically control the aperture, shutter priority exposure mode is now available, as well as all all program modes that control the shutter speed. Since I use only manual mode or aperture priority, this is of no value to me— a nice to have perhaps.

One side effect is that you’ll get an “FEE” error until you lock the aperture ring at the minimum aperture eg f/22 (same as with Nikon lenses). You must comply; the aperture is no longer controlled by the aperture ring on modern Nikon bodies. A small release button releases the ring for use on older Nikon bodies and/or when used on Canon with an adapter.

EXIF data

Stored in each image is technical information (EXIF data). Since the ZF.2 lenses are now “CPU” lenses, the camera knows that the ZF 21.2 is a 21mm lens, and it knows the maximum aperture and a few other tidbits. That information is recorded in the EXIF data within the image.

OK with Canon EOS lens adapters

Unlike Nikon, Zeiss has done it the right way: an aperture ring remains, and it can be used to control the lens aperture with non-electronic cameras eg Canon EOS with a mechanical lens adapter. Voigtlander did so with its lenses (see reviews).

This is a Big Deal, because it means a ZF.2 (or ZF) lens can be used on Canon EOS, a great way to leverage your investment. While lens adapters aren’t suitable for fast shooting (manual stop-down), they work great for landscape and any shooting that allows a little time. I have used Zeiss ZF lenses this way for years on Canon EOS.

Regarding Nikon’s electronic “G” lenses: there is at least one electronic adapter, but I am not prepared to recommend it, as I have not used it.

Cosmetic differences

There are three physical differences that distinguish ZF.2 from ZF:

  1. On the front of the lens, the engraving reads ZF.2 instead of ZF;
  2. The engraved aperture numbers on the aperture ring remain the same, except that the minimum aperture (eg f/22) is now orange, in traditional Nikon style;
  3. There are electronic contacts on the rear of the lens; these and other electronic parts are what make ZF.2 “CPU” lenses.


In the USA, the new ZF.2 line will be priced significantly higher (about 20-23%), but how this falls out in terms of street pricing remains to be seen over time.

This price increase probably has only a little to do with the improvements, and far more to do with the crash of the US dollar in real buying power.

User reaction

Some readers have written to express their displeasure that Zeiss has devalued their existing ZF lenses by making improved versions (“why didn’t they wait until they could do it right the first time”).

I disagree with that view: legal issues can be thorny, and Zeiss is not a deep pockets company, just being sued (and winning) can still be very costly. The ZF line appeared in June 2007, and I’m glad they weren’t delayed until now! I don’t fault Zeiss for improving its products, though I do wish they would consider an upgrade program.

The bottom line is that there is little practical difference between ZF and ZF.2 for making images; the aperture ring works well, always has, and always will. Yes, I do prefer electronic control on my Nikons, and I do like the auto-EXIF information recorded in the file with no setting required, but those are not issues that would make me rush out and upgrade.

Final thoughts on ZF.2 vs ZF

While the ZF.2 line is a nice step forward, most shooters need have little concern, no more than anyone would have with the millions of older Nikon AI-S lenses that still shoot as well as they ever did.

In fact, the ~21% price increase might be a solid reason for some buyers to look to the original ZF line, while they last. For example, the ZF 35/2 is about $826, and the ZF.2 35/2 is about $1004. Check prices.

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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