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First look — Zeiss ZE 85mm 1/4 Planar For Canon EOS

Zeiss recently loaned me the brand-new ZE 85mm f/1.4 Planar for evaluation (it’s the Canon mount version of the outstanding ZF 85mm f/1.4 Planar for Nikon).

The ZE 85/1.4 Planar looks like just a Canon EF lens at rear—but the build quality is a much higher grade than the standard (non-L) Canon EF offerings, consisting of metal and glass—no plastics, with engraved (not printed) numerals. It’s a beefy lens, solidly built and very attractive.

Canon’s L glass is also superbly built, but uses high grade plastics, whether these are better or worse for impact and wear is unclear, but the all-metal ZE build is esthetically more pleasing to me, something that will always look and feel like quality. But in the end, all that matters is the optics, and whether they arrive and stay in tune.


Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Planar: ZE for Canon (left), ZF for Nikon (right)

Unlike the ZF model, the ZE model has no aperture ring, and is controlled fully electronically in 1/3 aperture stops. Perhaps we’ll see Zeiss move in this direction with “chipped” Nikon lenses soon too, and that would be an improvement, so long as an aperture ring remains, so that a lens adapter allows shooting on Canon as well as Nikon.

According to Zeiss, the ZE 85/1.4 Planar is optically identical to the ZF model, the latter being reviewed in detail in Zeiss ZF Lenses (on both Nikon and Canon with an adapter!).

As with Nikon’s in-viewfinder focus assist mechanism, Canon’s focus assist is just as useless for precise focus; I did better by eye on the Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III. So the practical usefulness of the ZE model is automatic aperture control, along with no need for a lens adapter.

The following differences were noted with the Nikon-mount ZF model:

  • no aperture ring on the ZE line; aperture is controlled electronically in 1/3 stop increments, and there are gold-plated contacts at the rear of the ZE lens.
  • A 16% greater weight: the ZE 85/1.4 Planar is 100g heavier than the ZF 85/1.4 Planar, 721 grams vs 620 grams with hood (and without caps);
  • The ZE model is bulkier and has a more evenly cylindrical lens barrel, along with a wider focusing ring (the latter is slightly better in my view);
  • Focusing in the opposite direction from the ZF lens, as per Canon standard;
  • No AI-S Nikon prong (of course) as on the ZF model.

All in all, the ZE 85/1.4 Planar is both bulkier and heavier than the ZF model, it feels like a different lens, but not much different. The focus “throw” and feel are very similar, so it really boils down to automatic aperture control via the camera.

Image quality so far appears entirely consistent with the ZF model, which is to say excellent.


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