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Reader Asks: Zeiss 135mm f/2 APO-Sonnar or Nikon 135mm f/2 DC?

Thomas H writes:

Although the newly announced Zeiss 135mm f/2 APO-Sonnar is VERY tempting, the price makes me pause. I am very happy with my Nikon 50 and 85 1.8 G's and am looking to get a little longer.

For landscape photography at f8, would any of Nikon's older manual focusing offerings at 135mm do justice to the D800 sensor? Or should I start saving now!

DIGLLOYD: Well, the price of just over $2000 should make anyone pause, but it appears to be a very good value and is only slightly more expensive than the 100/2 Makro-Planar.

From what I see, the Zeiss 135mm f/2 APO-Sonnar is one of the highest performance lenses ever produced for a DSLR, excluding perhaps certain super-telephoto designs, but even including them I am not so sure.

I expect the Zeiss 135/2 APO-Sonnar to exhibit not only exceptional contrast, but a unusually clean color rendition on out of focus areas. These two factors cannot be underestimated in their synergy; they will contribute to a visual impact which I suspect will be second to none.

As far as f/8, you’ll be damaging the peak performance by stopping down past the f/4 - f/5.6 range (diffraction, already visible at f/5.6 on the Zeiss 100/2 Makro-Planar sibling), so if the intent is the f/8 - f/11 range, then the Nikon 135mm f/2 DC might serve fairly well, though I think distinctions will still remain and it will not maintain the level of micro contrast for fine detail that I savor.

As with all high performance lenses, one has to pay a lot more for the extra performance, and that gain is largely in the first few apertures (f/2 - f/4). But I see lenses as a long-term investment, and the APO-Sonnar 135/2 falls into my “world class must-have” category, especially for Nikon shooters, since it can be used on Nikon or Canon (with an adapter for Canon use).

The Nikon 135mm f/2 DC is a very fine lens with other unique capabilities (the defocus control of spherical aberration), but in my experience its autofocus is a marginally useless feature in terms of reliable critical focus for wider (brighter) apertures. Hence I consider it a manual focus lens for many situations anyway, and in that regard its twitchy focusing ring is quite inferior to the silky smooth Zeiss focusing helicoid.

Zeiss 135mm f/2 APO-Sonnar for Nikon
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