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Conclusions and Where to Buy
The “family genetics” of the Zeiss ZF/ZF.2/ZE line are highly consistent, with outstanding natural and pleasing color rendition, exceptional contrast and flare control, and beautiful bokeh. All lenses are exquisitely-built, and sturdy enough to last a lifetime.
Some models of the line are true “artist’s lenses” and offer image rendition you’ll be hard-pressed to match with any other brand. All offer superb performance, but not necessarily conventional performance (eg the “by the numbers” testers just won’t understand some of these lenses). Build quality is first rate in every respect.
Availability of the focal lengths
The 100/2 Makro-Planar is due for arrival in ZF.2 and ZE mount in Feb 2010.
Note that the 25/2.8 Distagon is being redesigned and optimized, and won’t appear until spring 2010. But if it performs anything like the 21/2.8 Distagon, the wait will be worth it. The original 25/2.8 might well become a cult classic, because of its unique close-focusing properties, so get one while you can.
There are nine focal lengths, so plan ahead. Most users will find the standout combination of the 21/2.8, 50/2 and 100/2 a great choice.
But a 28/2, 50/2, 100/2 or 21/2.8, 35/2, 100/2 would work well also in covering the range. Fill in later with other focal lengths.
For macro shooters the choice is clear: the 100/2 Makro-Planar has few peers at any focal length, and offers stunning and unique bokeh and a very nice working distance. The 50/2 is also lovely, and users with cropped-sensors (not full frame), might find the 50/2 Makro-Planar appealing as a portrait lens.
For wide angle work outdoors, the 25/2.8 Distagon is a good choice, with the 28/2 Distagon an excellent alternative for low light shooting. Both offer strong artistic possibilities (see the full review for details). But the 21/2.8 should be at the absolute top of anyone’s list if not too wide angle for the intended usage.
The 18/3.5 Distagon is a very fine lens, but best used as a supplement to the 21/2.8.
For all-around shooting, the 35/2 Distagon is hard to beat; on full-frame it offers moderate wide angle coverage, and on smaller DX sensors it becomes an excellent “normal” lens.
For a normal lens, the 50/1.4 is the most compact lens of the line, but unless f/1.4 is a requirement, the 50/2 Makro-Planar might appeal for its versatility, offering both macro focusing (1/2 life size) and superb performance at infinity. Both make great portrait lenses on smaller sensor cameras.
The 85/1.4 Planar is close enough to the 100/2 Makro-Planar in focal length that the added versatility of the 100/2 might be preferable for many users. But its f/1.4 aperture and slightly shorter focal length will appeal to shooters who find 100mm a bit too long for some applications. The 85/1.4 Planar works great as an all around telephoto, and should not be thought of as just a portrait lens! However, it is perhaps the most challenging lens to shoot well, because of focus shift, typical of Planar designs in that range.
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.
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