Friday, 9 August 2013

Zeiss Lenses: A Legend Destroyed

For those of us brought up from the cradle to believe that Zeiss lenses are the ultimate in optical design and quality, the review of a very wide range of f/1.4 50 mm lenses in Amateur Photographer (20 July 2013) destroyed that belief as a myth. At full aperture and even at two stops down, the resolution of the Zeiss Planar T* and the Makro-Planar T* (for Canon and Nikon bodies) was truly awful. Only at f/11 (yes f/11) was the resolution excellent. But who is going to buy an f/1.4 lens to obtain excellence at f/11? The lenses from Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Sigma and Sony were, overall, much better and (with the exception of the Sony Zeiss Planar) much cheaper than the very well-built Zeiss Planars.

No more shall I look at my Nikon lenses and think that Zeiss equivalents are probably even better. But, come to think of it, the evidence has been there for years. Nikon took off in the West because photojournalists covering the Vietnam war found Nikon lenses were incredibly sharp in the centre.

The German camera industry is not faring well in AP reviews this year. First the brickbats for the new Leica M and now quantitative evidence on the poor performance of Zeiss 50 mm lenses. Zeiss, of course, lost their leading position in the binocular/telescope market to Leica and, later, Swarovski.

AP, in giving its verdict, stated: …it is clearly an old optical design that has now been bettered. But then, curiously, that statement is hedged: However, the build quality is great, and for those who shoot street pictures, and manually focus, they are nice lenses. Even more curiously, AP gave these lenses 4 out of 5 stars (no lens scored lower than a 4). By my reckoning, they were 1-star. Judging by the quantitative data, being excellent at f/11 with a high price does not make up for the fact that they were poor lenses compared with all the others. My Nikkors can rest easy.