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Warm and Sunny Follows Cold Snow: Zeiss ZE 21mm f/2.8 Distagon on Canon 5DS R in Lundy Canyon

Get Canon 5DS R and Zeiss ZE 21mm f/2.8 Distagon at B&H Photo.

Amazing—after the previous days chilly snowstorm where my water bottle was freezing on me by 6:00 PM (albeit at 11,000' elevation), a day later a high pressure system warmed things up dramatically. It’s too darn warm (57°F) for sleeping where I’m staying at 7700' elevation, which is still not exactly low elevation.

Today (Halloween Oct 31) was a beautiful idyllic late October day, with the gift of that late October sun that stays low in the sky—I shot all day. October is by far my favorite month for shooting in the mountains because of the light, which is fantastic all day, at least in canyons. And so I stood high upon a slope late in the afternoon, and counted my blessings, in sheer gratitude for being there, and being alive and healthy to enjoy it. Little things are big things. Such things are best conjured up just before some class 4 climbing with one free hand (while holding a tripod with a camera in it), followed by a steep talus slope. Being alone, I move slowly and deliberately, as I prefer my ankle bones just the way they are. Sure as heck beats a computer screen at home, on all counts.

However, that computer screen is in the cards, and these images will be shown at 24MP size in Guide to Zeiss after I return home in a few days.

The Zeiss ZE 21mm f/2.8 Distagon can deliver impressive results on the 50-megapixel Canon 5DS R, as shown below. Somehow it seems even better than on the Nikon D810. The Canon 5DS R did quite well on dynamic range with careful attention to ETTR exposure, but it took real diligence.

Old Beaver Pond, Lundy Canyon
f8 @ 1/25 sec, ISO 100; 2015-10-31 07:56:48
Canon EOS 5DS R + Zeiss Distagon T* 2.8/21 ZE

[low-res image for bot]

One thing makes me cranky though: flare with the sun. I’m looking forward to seeing the Zeiss Milvus 21mm f/2.8 Distagon, which has the same optical formula but improved flare performance due to improved lens coatings on strongly curved surfaces. I am hoping it resolves this kind of purple ghost.

Trailhead up Lundy Canyon, Near Start
f8 @ 1/250 sec, ISO 100; 2015-10-30 15:35:30
Canon EOS 5DS R + Zeiss Distagon T* 2.8/21 ZE

[low-res image for bot]

Drat full sun on aspen trunks: I used contrast control here to tame the contrast; the Canon 5DS R captured the full range, but it’s still hard to process well.

Walk Through the Aspen
f11 @ 1/50 sec, ISO 100; 2015-10-30 15:49:09
Canon EOS 5DS R + Zeiss Distagon T* 2.8/21 ZE

[low-res image for bot]

At dusk

For my money (or at any price), the Zeiss 21/2.8 Distagon is unbeatable at f/2.8 at dusk (total visual impact and rendering style). The next three images support that idea—a delicious combination of sharpness and contrast and vignetting. There isn’t much depth of field, but observe how so many things come together that this is not what is seen at first.

Dense Stand of Aspen at Dusk
f2.8 @ 0.4 sec, ISO 100; 2015-10-30 18:06:35
Canon EOS 5DS R + Zeiss Distagon T* 2.8/21 ZE

[low-res image for bot]

The 21/2.8 Distagon seems very happy on the Canon 5DS R. Here at f/2.8 it elicits pronounced color aliasing on the bark (a sign of very high lens contrast) [not visible here at reduced size but obvious in the full-res version]. An 80+-megapixel DSLR is sorely needed to avoid such artifacts of a Bayer sensor.

Black Bark on Defunct Aspen
f2.8 @ 1/6 sec, ISO 100; 2015-10-30 18:01:02
Canon EOS 5DS R + Zeiss Distagon T* 2.8/21 ZE

[low-res image for bot]

Classic rendering from the 21/2.8 Distagon. Wait! It sucks—look at that vignetting! OMG! Take its rating down 20 points on one of those by-the-numbers lens test sites.

Sunset Down Lundy Canyon
f2.8 @ 1/15 sec, ISO 100; 2015-10-30 18:09:49
Canon EOS 5DS R + Zeiss Distagon T* 2.8/21 ZE

[low-res image for bot]

Human interest

The day before, I was informed by a fellow photographer sporting a D810 and Really Right Stuff pano head setup (to make big prints he said) that there was “nothing up there”. Funny, I guess it’s just a lack of imagination if one has to have huge masses of yellow leaves to make the area worthwhile. Otherwise it isn’t postcard-clichéd enough? I’d lay money on him shooting the D810 at f/16 or f/22 with a 24-120 zoom or something. My Otus 85/1.4 was right there on the Canon 5DS R and drew a vacant look when I said “best lens there is”. I didn’t pursue the matter, though I tend to be voluble when someone shows interest.

Then this morning there were the The Photographer and The Wife at this very spot (Old Beaver Pond, Lundy Canyon). The Wife gets out with a Canon something and what looks like a 24-70, squats down to get some good angles for reflections, working the scene. The Photographer husband by now has reached trunk of car. Two packing cases are in it (he parked quite close in front of my car, I had just returned): one chock full of Leica S lenses still with those red tags on them as shipped, the other with what looked liked special edition M gear. Probably $80K of gear, maybe $100K. No tripod (note shutter speed on my image, it was not bright). Husband eventually pulls out two showroom quality silver M240s complete with EVFs and seems to think he might now wander over to the beaver pond. Light by now has changed and is no longer as good. Who got the shot?

Jeff S writes:

I have to say I'm very impressed with the 5DSR Images you took with the Zeiss 21. I definitely see a difference in that sensor compared to the D800 or the A7RII. Smoother less chalky sharpness-more medium format looking from what I see. Of course I don't have the high res files but they look beautiful.

Honestly I'm envious! Even though the dynamic range of Canon Sucks -you sure pull off some lovely shots here.

I can't wait for Nikon to get there size wise-I think will be truly great. I do commercial product shooting in a large studio in the Midwest and I know well over a year ago one of the freelance shooters I work with told me his friend was beta testing a 50+ Nikon camera. I'm hoping something like the D900 etc. will fulfill that soon!

DIGLLOYD: The Zeiss lenses render beautifully, and I meant what I said about the 21/2.8 Distagon: unbeatable at f/2.8 for shooting at dusk and similar. Still, I was actually a bit surprised at how well the ZF 21/2.8 did—the images look fantastic. Somehow the 21/2.8 just sings on the 5DS R.

Aside from dynamic range, I like the 5DS R sensor a lot. And there’s that extra 14 megapixels over the D810. But I have to examine my results when home and on my NEC PA302W to nitpick the images and see if they look as darn good as they are looking on my MacBook Pro Retina. The Canon 5DS R dynamic range doesn’t suck, but its about 1.5 -2 stop short of D810 and has no special hardware base ISO 64 as with D810. So I have to be very careful in exposing with the 5DS R for an optimal ETTR exposure.

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