As reported here a few days ago, Carl Zeiss has introduced new ZF.2 versions of its outstanding ZF optics. The ZF, ZF.2 and ZE (Canon) lenses are all optically identical, varying only in physical build (ZE lenses for Canon EOS focus in the opposite direction of ZF/ZF.2 and are slightly heavier and bulkier).
Briefly noted in the Zeiss press release is an all-new 25mm Distagon, coming next year. If Zeiss can make it perform like the 21/2.8 Distagon, then it will be high on my acquisition list. Though I do like very much the existing ZF 25/2.8 Distagon for its unusual rendering qualities at close range, and it might become a “cult” lens, sought-after once Zeiss stops manufacturing it.
On loan from Zeiss and in my hands are the new ZF.2 18mm and 21mm lenses. The revised versions are at first glance identical to the ZF models. I have briefly put them through their paces, and here is my report—
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). 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 the ZF.2 lenses are now “CPU” lenses, the camera knows that the ZF 21.2 is a 21mm lens, and that information is recorded in the EXIF data within the image. No more need for the “Non CPU lens data” setting in the camera; it’s ignored for CPU lenses.
One side effect is that you’ll get an “FEE” error until you lock the aperture ring at the minimum aperture eg f/22 (sames 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.
But Zeiss has done this the right way, as Voigtlander did with its lenses (see reviews): although the aperture is now controlled electronically, use of a lens adapter still allows use on Canon EOS, because the aperture ring still regulates the lens diaphragm. This attention to detail increases the versatility of the ZF/ZF.2 line, in contrast to Nikon’s “G” lenses, which have no aperture ring. Kudos to Zeiss for recognizing this: I shoot Zeiss ZF on Canon EOS frequently using a lens adapter. 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.
Cosmetically, there are three physical differences that distinguish ZF.2 from ZF:
- On the front of the lens, the engraving reads ZF.2 instead of ZF;
- 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;
- There are electronic contacts on the rear of the lens; these and other electronic parts are what make ZF.2 “CPU” lenses.
The new ZF.2 line will be priced significantly higher (23%), but how this falls out in terms of street pricing remains to be seen.
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 this: 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 would 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.
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.