I’ve been on a bit of a Zeiss kick here lately, partly because I genuinely appreciate their products, but mostly because they continue to innovate and provide new glass for their customers. Earlier this week we took delivery of the Zeiss 135mm T2.1 CP.2 which marked the first time Zeiss released a lens as a CP.2 before releasing it as a ZF.2 or ZE. I’ll be sure to put some tests of the 135mm up soon, it’s an impressive tele-prime to say the least. This brings me to todays topic. The ZF.2 lenses that the CP.2 primes are based on are still being produced in quantity and Zeiss continues to add focal lengths and updates older designs on a regular basis. There’s certainly no sign of them slowing down. However, if you pay attention to the inter-webs, you’d have noticed rumors and results of their new 55mm Distagon floating around. A few pictures surfaced a couple months ago that showed a very sleek, relatively large 55mm f/1,4 prime lens. It looks like a Zeiss ZE and and Zeiss Digi Prime had a love child and this new 55mm is the result (in terms of appearance). Optically, based on information released by Zeiss, the lens will outperform all previous versions of the nifty-fifty. That’s not saying much when compared to Zeiss’ current 50mm f/1.4 which is the weakest link in the current line-up of ZF.2 primes, compensated with the outstanding 50mm f/2,0 Macro. From what I’ve seen in write-ups and a video released by Zeiss, the optical performance is massively improved in the new 55mm f/1,4. Contrast and resolution appear to be the goal that Zeiss met with very high resolution cameras on their plate. The Nikon D800 sports a 36MP sensor and new Sony DSLRs, which Zeiss is closely collaborating with, are soon to offer sensors upwards of 20MP which will benefit greatly from high-performance lenses such as this. The new 55mm has a few telling signs if you look close enough: the front engraved ring tells us that it’s filter thread will be 82mm which is the largest front filter applied to the current line of ZF.2 primes (excluding the Ø95mm of the 15mm ZF.2). It also indicates that this will be part of the ZF.2 family. Meaning it’s the first model of a new breed of updated ZF.2 lenses. This particular 55mm has been shown in both ZF.2 (Nikon F mount) and ZE (Canon EF mount) flavors in various photos and on display at Fotokina. From what I can tell, the ZF.2 flavor still retains a manual aperture ring just like the current ZF.2 line, and the ZE does not provide a manual aperture ring just like the current ZE. Personally, if I were Zeiss I would have called these the ZF.3 lenses to avoid confusion. But hey… They’re the ones that own an entire city of employees in Germany. The lens has a nice flat rubber grip that will be excellent for applying a focus gear to. The manual aperture of the ZF.2 should still be de-click-able (new word I just made up). Obviously my primary interest in these lenses is for cinema use and I really don’t think they will disappoint anyone. The size and weight is a huge improvement in my opinion. Maybe not so much for folks walking around with camera in-hand shooting street photos…
For cinema use, the larger size and weight means two things; easier setup and ergonomics for compact camera rigs, and nice solid build quality. This should be a healthy departure from the ZF.2/ZE of years past that were repurposed still photo lenses that were at one time on the verge of extinction, to a new high-performance line of optics designed from the ground up. What does this mean for the Zeiss CP.2 lenses? I’m not sure. The CP.2 lenses are based on the same optical formulas as the ZF.2/ZE lenses. Does this mean that there will be revised versions of the CP.2s as well? If so, I wouldn’t hold my breath. This single 55mm prime lens, quite possibly one of the simplest designs, isn’t set to release until the end of 2013. Not only would Zeiss still need to design the rest of the prime lenses, they would then have to port the designs over to bigger, better housings which could mean years before we see any CP.2 versions or even a complete set of these new ZF.2s, if any at all. Still… I’m quite excited about this new line of ZF.2 primes. The Zeiss ZF.2 primes are, in my opinion, still the best bang-for-your-buck you can get these days. They offer a very nice price:performance ratio when it comes to cinema lens application. It shows once again that Zeiss is paying attention to it’s customers and the needs of the industry. Keep it up you beautiful German engineers. Here’s a quick video released by Zeiss featuring Dr. Hubert Nasse discussing the technical achievements of the new 55mm.
6 thoughts on “The Future of Zeiss DSLR Lenses”
I think its worth mentioning that this lens is rumored to be around $4k which kind of puts it in a class of its own, especially considering you already have the 50mm 2.0 which is a nice lens
It’s supposed to be a Photo lens? With the yellow font it reminds me the Ultra primes or the Cooke 😀
“The Zeiss ZF.2 primes are, in my opinion, still the best bang-for-your-buck you can get these days”
What do you think of Contax Zeiss lenses? Those seem like a much bigger bargain.
I know you want Matt to answer but my 2 cents is that you would be better off with zf2’s. The contax lenses have gone way up in price on the used market, even beyond what I think they may be worth. I would spend the money on new lenses with warranties.
The Contax primes are a gear option but I don’t consider them to be in the same category. Contax primes can only be purchased used and their performance is greatly reliant on their condition which can range anywhere from “mint” to “garbage”. The ZF.2 primes are the best bang-for-the-buck you can get as a new lens.