Zeiss Otus 1.4/28 First Impressions

Today’s arrival of the Otus 1.4/28 completes the last large piece of the 5DS R induced lens kit revamping puzzle. And it’s large is several ways…

My new core kit consists of the following lenses: Zeiss Distagon T* 2.8/15, Otus 1.4/28, Otus 1.4/55, Apo Sonnar T* 2/135 and Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM as well as Canon’s 1.4x III extender.

But back to the 28mm. This may be one of the first production lenses available, which I bought for my own use. I mention this because I’m increasingly getting tired of photo equipment reviews where the reviewer gets a lens or camera from the manufacturer for a short period of time to form conclusions that should (in theory) drive sales. Sorry, but I don’t believe people who tell me to buy a lens that they haven’t purchased for themselves. It’s a bit stinky for me. Buying an expensive instrument is almost always a revelation: “I spent a lot on this item because I trust the manufacturer, the instrument is that good and it’s definitely worth it.”

So, the 28mm Otus is that good and it’s worth every (euro)cent I spent on it. If you know me, you know that these are from someone who’s picky to the extreme. No, it’s not perfect, but it’s the best wide angle lens I’ve ever used. That is, there’s no point in doing pixel peeping. If you are curious, I’d recommend to subscribe to Lloyd Chambers’ site for detailed aperture series and tons of sample images. I’m a long time subscriber and Lloyd’s site is one of the few I trust these days. Another review I’d recommend is a veteran Otus user Ming Thein’s.

Given my tight schedule, I only had a few hours today to do initial checks. Light was totally lousy, so no images made with the lens today. But here’s one of the lens, with which I’m going to jump right in the middle.

The Otus 28 with LEE's push-on filter holder

The Otus 28 with LEE’s push-on filter holder

And this is about using filters on the 28. I’ve switched to LEE’s 100mm square filter system a few years ago – and never looked back. The 28 has a 95mm filter thread, for which LEE has a normal adapter ring (no wide angle option is available). Unfortunately, my two-slot filter holder vignettes at the corners when rotated to 45 degrees using the normal ring. I was really disappointed by this, but for who knows what reason, I’ve tried to fit LEE’s 100mm push-on holder on the lens. To my greatest surprise, it was a perfect fit. My jaws literally dropped when I took a closer look on the front of the lens. There’s a small recess in front of the hood bayonet for the push-on holder. Absolutely marvelous. To the marketing guys at Zeiss: you should advertise this. It’s a huge plus.

You get a tiny bit of corner darkening even with the two-slot push-on holder, but you can either remove one of the slots or get rid of the vignetting in post.

Side view showing the holder's fit and how large the Otus 28 is

Side view showing the holder’s fit and how large the Otus 28 is

The 28mm is on the larger and heavier side of optics. Some would say that it’s extremely large and heavy, but to anyone accustomed to carrying and using super telephoto lenses, its manageable. But you need to watch out for the weight. There’s no tripod collar, so you’ll need to hang the lens off the camera’s mount. Which will put more than usual stress on both the lens mount and on the tripod screw. Since my 1D Mark II’s tripod screw socket suddenly separated from the L-plate, and the rig hit the ground with the 24-70 mounted, I’m giving suspicious looks to mounting screws. Fortunately the 5DS R has a strengthened base place, and I’m using a Kirk L-plate that is secured to the camera in two places (with the tripod screw and fastened to the strap lug). Ball head sag could also be a problem (but it’s not with the geared heads like the Arca-Swiss d4 I’m using).

Focusing experience is great, images pop to sharp when using Kuuvik Capture‘s live view. A word of caution though (this is omnipresent with all high performance lenses and the huge 50 megapixel resolution of the 5DS R). You can’t focus 100% perfectly using the minified live view image. Not even in 6x magnification (16x is just 6x blown up in software, so forget about that). It may show that you nailed focus perfectly, which could fall rather unfortunate planes on the final image. Even at f/5.6. So it is advisable to check images at 100% magnification after they were taken. I’m doing this in Kuuvik Capture after each capture, and for shots I think would be final, I also do a check in Capture One. Yes, you need a notebook for this, but heck, the 11″ MacBook Air weighs about 2/3 of the Otus and fits in the pocket of my trusty Domke photo vest…

Speaking of f/5.6. It seems that I will definitely need focus stacking if I need front-to-back sharpness. It would be a cardinal sin to kill the lens’ resolution and wonderful micro-contrast with diffraction, and at f/5.6 depth of field is definitely not enough for making everything sharp on the image. Or look for another composition where there’s no front-to-back sharpness needed. This isn’t new with the 5DS R, just be prepared to do some extra work to extract every last ounce of quality from this beast.

I did a quick comparison of the other wide lenses I have now: with the Canon 24/2.8 IS and 35/2 IS. The tiny 24 was known to blow even the TS-E 24mm away for center sharpness. Well, the Otus is better in the corners than the 24 in the center. Even at f/5.6. While the 35mm has more uniform image across the frame, it’s simply not in the same leagues with the Otus. I found that basically there’s no point in comparing the lens with anything except another Otus. Although I had no time (nor intention) to do side by side comparisons, the 28mm shows the same clean, transparent, airy images that the 55mm and the Apo Sonnar 135 are known for.

That’s all for now, after the first half day with the lens (this is a first impressions post after all). More when I will have chance to use it for actual work. But just like with every other lens in my current kit, it’s love at first use. I’m completely confident that they’ll bring home tons of great images during the coming decades (yes, decades).