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Experience with Zeiss 15/2.8 Distagon

I’ve been working with the new Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 Distagon for about a week now. Regrettably not every day, because it arrived just after my Death Valley trip and I had a lot of work to do from that, and still do. And the incessant California rain has decided to make up for the winter drought.

See the official announcement as well as some examples. My initial review is already up in my Guide to Zeiss ZF / ZE Lenses.

While it is a large lens, when mounted on a camera, the new 15/2.8 Distagon is remarkably comfortable. With a generous focusing ring and proportions that fit naturally into my medium-size hands, it is a pleasure to shoot on a large or medium size DSLR. I was actually surprised at just how well it felt in use.

Yesterday I shot for about 3 hours in the rain, and had to clean the front element only once— the built-in lens hood does a very good job at keeping off any rain that is coming straight down. I think it would have been impossible to keep the Nikon 14-24 free of raindrops in these conditions, because the Nikon’s bulbous front element is less recessed under the lens shade that the Zeiss 15/2.8 front element (and the Zeiss can take 95mm filters).

But shooting in the rain is NOT recommended by Zeiss:

Our lenses are not water resistant and this gives your readers an impression the lens can be used under these conditions. This is how fungus gets started in lenses, they must be kept dry!

Me bad. Here in California, the humidity is low most of the time (but not this week). I had dried it off after shooting and had some nice dry warm air on it in my car for 45 minutes on the way home. Today, feeling chastised, I put the lens into a 1-gallon Ziploc along with some fresh silica gel desiccant. Well, lenses are tools, so one does what one must.

Zeiss generally will not service a lens with fungus because opening such a lens will release fungal spores.

Nikon D3x + Zeiss ZF.2 15mm f/2.8 Distagon — rain protection by built-in lens hood

Color saturation and color purity impress every time, made even more impressive by the very lens contrast on coarse and fine structures. One has to look hard to find any color errors (e.g. color fringing), which further enhances the effect. Even into strongly backlit scenes, one can be confident the colors will remain unadulterated.

Nikon D3x + Zeiss ZF.2 15mm f/2.8 Distagon

Flare control is excellent. While this shot does not include the orb of the sun, I tested with the sun in the frame and just out of the frame, and I was very impressed. This is a lens I will be able to shoot with the sun in the frame in the mountains.

Nikon D3x + Zeiss ZF.2 15mm f/2.8 Distagon

A 15mm lens demands careful composition because it gathers in a very wide view of the world. One has to work hard to get just the right camera position, keep the camera angled in a desirable way, etc.

Nikon D3x + Zeiss ZF.2 15mm f/2.8 Distagon

Steep perspective with a very strong sense of space make it a terrific complement to the Zeiss 21mm f/2.8 Distagon. Yet if one positions the camera appropriately, it is hardly evident that the image was taken with a lens as wide as 15mm! Certainly the very low 2% barrel distortion contributes to a very natural look.

Purissima Creek
Nikon D3x + Zeiss ZF.2 15mm f/2.8 Distagon @ f/11
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