Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Otus Reviewed


As expected, Zeiss is following up their very well received 55mm f/1.4 Otus lens with a much anticipated 85mm f/1.4. The new Otus continues with Zeiss’ quest for absolute, superior optical performance with a price tag to reflect. In this article, I’ll go over some of the features of the new 85mm Otus and who this lens is designed for, providing some sample photos (that hardly do the lens justice). Read on for all the crisp, drool inducing details. 

I’ll start by getting the downsides out of the way. Normally, I would consider the price the biggest hurdle at about $4,500. But this is the type of lens that lends itself to those with the means to obtain such. By that, I mean that if you just picked up a new DSLR and you want a good portrait lens, this isn’t going to be a good option for you. It’s not going to make life easier. It’s not going to afford you better photos. It’s not going to enhance your workflow. The price of this lens reflects those that have earned, deserve, and appreciate such a technological achievement.

The other major downside for a lot of users is going to be the size and weight. If you plan on mounting this to a DSLR for portrait work or to a VDSLR for hand-held cinematography, you’re likely going to regret it as it’s fairly hefty at about 2.5 lbs.. It’s no heavier than your standard cinema prime lens. I spent a good amount of time with the new 85mm Otus firmly mounted to a shiny new Nikon D610. Most of my shooting was tripod based, but when not, my arms quickly reminded me that I should replace the rig atop it’s tripod.

With that out of the way, I’ll get to the good stuff – who this lens is designed for and how it will benefit you. The new 85mm Otus is an unrelenting brute that cares not of you’re inadequacies as a photographer or cinematographer. As a result of it’s superb optical performance and shallow depth of field, when fired wide open, there’s no grey area,  no prisoners, no questions… You either nailed your focus or you didn’t. One might consider this a handicap – however, I observe this as an achievement considering it’s probably the closest you’ll get to the quality and usability previously reserved for cinema primes with a price tag five times larger.

This brings me to the next bit… The price. Yes it’s more than your L series zooms. Yes, it’s more than a Sigma Art lens with auto focus. Yes, it’s more than most pre-1999 used cars. And yes, it’s worth it. After Sigma released their 50mm Art lens to compete with the original Otus, the 55mm f/1.4, there were countless blog reviews and articles comparing the two which left a lot of folks wondering “Why so much more, Zeiss?”. Is it the name? Is it the clever blue badge on the side of the lens? No… It’s the optical-mechanical design that affords the absolute tack sharp focus with little to no flaws to speak of. I explained a bit about cinema lens pricing in an article a while back which can easily apply to the Otus line as well. Give it a read here for more on this topic.

Back to the optical performance. I’ll give you all the MTF readings and the resolving line pairs, but there’s nothing one wouldn’t expect from this lens in terms of resolution and micro contrast – superb! Where it really shines is it’s control of aberrations, distortion, and flaring. Let’s review some stress tests and traps that really show the difference between this lens and a range of rivals. This particular comparison is between the now classic Zeiss ZF.2 85mm, a great lens by all accounts. But as you’ll see, it simply can’t stand up to the Otus 85mm when it comes to fringe suppression. Keep in mind, this is an unrealistic lighting scenario that I wouldn’t expect a photographer or cinematographer to attempt to pass off as professional…

ZF.2-trap Otus-Trap

There were a handful of lenses used in this quick comparison which was intended to exhibit axial chromatic aberrations (and resolution to a degree) and show how well the Otus fares against the competition. The lenses used were as follows:

  • Rokinon Cine 85mm f/1.4
  • Zeiss ZF.2 85mm f/1.4
  • Zeiss Otus 85mm f/1.4
  • Canon CN-E 85mm T1.3

Click on each sample to view larger. Keep an eye on the gold chain and the stray hairs. They’re intended to stress the lens and bring out flaws such as aberrations and axial error. To sum up best, the Otus stands well above the others in the simple test just as expected. It’s as if the spirit of Gandalf resides within every Otus lens, obstructing undesired aberrations, spherical and axial, distortion, and other bad news, demanding “you shall not pass”, allowing only pure, corrected light to fall crisply onto your tiny pixels.IMG_7230

 Rokinon-Cropped  ZF.2-Cropped  Otus-Cropped  Canon-Cropped

These samples also give a decent idea of overall resolution but should be taken with a grain of salt since there is always room for user error. Considering these are all shot wide open at f/1.4, if I focused slightly forward or rear of the subject, the “resolution” would appear low because of the shallow depth of field. Enjoy a few more examples below.

 Rokinon-Res  ZF2-Res  Otus-Res  CNE-res

MTFResolution is great and all, and there’s no shortage of that here, but these other aspects in terms of image quality are where the 85mm Otus really shines well above the rest. If you’re the type that enjoys MTF charts, have at it. Looking at the samples above, I came across a few other details which I feel would interest most readers. The 85mm Canon CN-E, even when stopped down to f/1.4 (according to the Canon 5D I was using) the image appears to be significantly brighter in terms of overall illumination. Another quick note is the overall resolution of the 85mm ZF.2 which is quite a bit lower than the rest of the lineup, but really rather pleasing as a portrait lens – something to remember when you want to keep your model happy. The Otus does a superb job at maintaining resolution and controlling aberrations and optical flaws even when shot wide-open. Distortion is practically non existent especially when compared to something like the Rokinon which resolves fairly well, but exhibits enough distortion to bend faces even in the center of the image. The accuracy and rotation of the focus scale on the Otus is rivaled only by that of the Canon CN-E 85mm, a purpose built cinema lens in this particular line up. Duclos Lenses will certainly be offering the 85mm Otus with the Complete Cine-Mod which will add a 32-pitch focus gear, standardized front ring, and a smooth, de-clicked aperture movement.

Now time for some quick motion samples. The following was shot in Super 35 format (so cropped in from the 35mm Full-Frame image circle). Everything was shot at a common f/1.4. Another quick note – don’t mind the image shift you see on a few of the samples, I was using a variety of adapters in order to get all the lenses onto the same camera to maintain consistency. What you’ll want to observe here is the character of the bokeh and the focus fall-off. Take a look:

I’ll have some more quickie test footage shot by Phil Holland on his Red Dragon shortly as well. Here are a few other random shots taken with the 85mm Otus on a Nikon D610 (35mm full-frame) at full resolution. Click to view larger.

IMG_0002 IMG_0001 IMG_7229

 So is the new 85mm Otus right for you? Yes. Sell whatever organs you have left after purchasing the 55mm Otus and enjoy every high-res moment of the 85mm.

Available for Pre-Order from Duclos Lenses in ZE and ZF.2 mount with and without the complete Cine-Mod.

Here’s a spec sheet and a brochure provided by Zeiss.

Otus_1.4_85_Technical Data

85 Otus Brochure

One thought on “Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Otus Reviewed

  1. Some photographers reproach the Zeiss Otus to produce flat image (iron face lol) because it content to much glass, like the sigma “art”. That’s why they prefer the Zeiss ZF 2, more depth & 3D pop. I haven’t shot with these lenses, I can’t confirm it, but watching flickr I understand what they mean.

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