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Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 APO-Distagon: Sets a New Metric for Lens Performance to Rival the Best of Medium Format

See also the Ordering the 55/1.4 and Cross-Platform notes and the mini review of the Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 Distagon (free).

Zeiss ZF.2 Otus 55m f/1.4 Distagon

This early discussion of the 55/1.4 APO-Distagon is by special arrangement with Zeiss.

Availability will be very limited, so pre-ordering is essential*. Clicking through these links gives this site credit:

Buy Zeiss ZF.2 Otus 55m f/1.4 Distagon for Nikon
Buy Zeiss ZE Otus 55mm f/1.4 Distagon for Canon

* The ultra high performance design requires that production tolerances be held to rigorous levels, and this is likely to restrict initial availability.


The deep coverage in Guide to Zeiss is based on extended usage and deep familiarity with the 55/1.4 by virtue of using a prototype lens over a period of many months (a big thank-you to Zeiss for this opportunity). I’ll be posting more over the next few days also.

In terms of data, Zeiss was rather coy about the 55/1.4, I sense that the team is particularly proud of the resulting lens, the reasons being legion as I soon discovered. Due to the high performance design, production standards are being held to very high levels, and this is likely to restrict supply initially.

I had no hard data on the 55/1.4 from Zeiss until very recently, but I applied my usual diligence, and I think I have documented or shown every strength and every weakness, if a plural meaning can even be applied to the latter. Those in-the-field findings are cross-coupled to some MTF data in certain pages of my review.

Anyone looking to own this alpha-dog-on-steroids lens will find the extensive review coverage of the Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 APO-Distagon in Guide to Zeiss very helpful. My work was time consuming and extensive, so I hope that readers out there contemplating this lens will become subscribers. Thank you.

Nearly all images from the 55/1.4 are presented in both HD and Ultra-HD sizes, along with the usual generously sized crops and aperture series.

Never has it been such a challenge to restrain my excitement over a lens that advances optical excellence more than any lens I have ever used: I felt like a puppy on a leash watching a stick being thrown! But the wait is over, and the 55/1.4 Distagon makes images like no other lens can make.

At a time where dubious tradeoffs of true excellence and cost are invariably skewed towards lower cost and against excellence, Zeiss has kept the cost very reasonable in the context of what the 55/1.4 does: it offers a full-throated challenge to medium format cameras with the Nikon D800E, even ignoring future higher resolution DSLRs. Not just resolution but that “medium format look”, every bit the part.

I’ve gone over every detail of the performance of the 55/1.4 APO-Distagon from ergonomics and build quality and focusing to flare and distortion and vignetting, using it beyond its intended focusing range (using an extension tube) to extensive field shooting, to field curvature. And bokeh and apochromatic color correction and rendering quality and focus shift and so on.

I worked hard to find faults with the 55/1.4 APO-Distagon, and I’m pleased to report that I failed (in a way): the 55/1.4 APO-Distagon is the best lens ever made for a DSLR or even for a rangefinder. There is only one other (rangefinder) lens I would put in the same league, and that lens has flare issues.

Which gets me to medium format: this kind of build quality and optical performance is not only as good as the best medium format lenses, it is better than the vast majority. On the 36-megapixel Nikon D800E, it performs beautifully. For future higher resolution DSLRs, the 55/1.4 has optical reserves sure to bring new satisfaction.

I’ve prepared a mini review of the Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 APO-Distagon (free).

Black Cat Contemplating a Gopher Dinner
Nikon D800E + Zeiss Otus 55m f/1.4 APO-Distagon @ f/1.4
Zeiss ZF.2 Otus 55m f/1.4 APO-Distagon
Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 APO-Distagon T* Specifications
Focal length 54.5mm
Aperture range f/1.4 - f/16
Number of lens elements/groups 12 elements in 10 groups
- floating element design*.
- Double-sided aspherical rear element.
- 2 elements with very low index and dispersion and large positive partial dispersion ratio deviation** +
4 elements of special glass having negative partial dispersion ratio deviation which together help to improve chromatic correction***.
Focusing range: 0.5 m / 19.68 in - infinity
Free working distance at MOD: 330 mm / 13.2 in (300 mm with hood)
Angular field (diag./horiz./vert.) 43.7°/36.7°/24.9°
Diameter of image field 43.2 mm
Flange focal offset ZF.2: 46,50 mm (1.83′′)
ZE: 44,00 mm (1.73′′)
Coverage at close range (MOD). 36 X 24mm frame 246 x 163 mm = 9.69 x 6.42 in
Image ratio at close range 1:6.8
Filter thread 77mm
Length with caps 142 mm (ZF.2) / 144 mm (ZE)
Diameter max 92.4 mm (lens only), 98.5 mm (hood)
Weight (nominal), ZF.2: ZF.2: 970g / 2.2 lb, 1040g with hood
ZE: 1030g / 2.43 lb, 1120 g with hood
Mounts ZF.2 (F bayonet), ZE (EF bayonet)

* The space between the basic double Gauss and the four-element front group is varied with distance, visible by looking into the lens from the front while turning the focusing ring.

review pages for Zeiss ZF.2 Otus 55m f/1.4 APO-Distagon
Zeiss ZF.2 Otus 55m f/1.4 APO-Distagon @ f/2.8

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