5 Frames with a Zeiss Otus 55mm and Canon EOS 1V – By Bent_Brent

A lot has already been written about the technical wotnots of the Zeiss Otus primes, and I have little to add – except to say that they’re big, heavy, and forged in the heart of a dying star by wizards out of magic glass that was stolen from a dragon. According to Zeiss, they’re created without compromise, and reviewers who shoot brick walls then compare notes all seem to agree that they’re excellent. Love or hate the design, there’s no denying that they’re sharp, contrasty, largely distortion and aberration free, and can out-resolve any of today’s full-frame digital sensors.

Which got me wondering, what would the Otus 55mm be like on film?

I bought the 55mm and 85mm f/1.4 for digital and after a year or so of use, I can tell you that they’re no more cumbersome than a good 24-70. Manual focus is only an issue if you have issues with manual focus (it’s an easily-learned skill if you stick with it, but I still fudge it sometimes wide open). I wouldn’t personally use them for fast-moving subjects, but they’re terrific lenses and when everything aligns the results can be beautiful.

My wife and I recently welcomed a new addition to the family, so I had the perfect excuse to haul the camera around without too much of the usual eye rolling. My apologies for making you all sit through a family slide show.

All shot wide open on Portra 160 – which I usually don’t get along with due to the weird browny undertones and unpredictability when underexposed. Un-retouched except for a slight S on the tone curve, and while I don’t really buy into the whole ‘Zeiss 3D pop’ thing, I was quite happy with the results.

Then again, it’s my family and I’m biased.

Notice the vignetting wide open, which largely disappears by f/2.8 – easily fixed but I kind of like it in these shots.

Developed and scanned by FilmNeverDie, who along with the great team at Hillvale Photo make shooting film in Melbourne an absolute pleasure.

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16 thoughts on “5 Frames with a Zeiss Otus 55mm and Canon EOS 1V – By Bent_Brent”

  1. Hi:
    RE: “According to Zeiss, they’re created without compromise, and reviewers who shoot brick walls then compare notes all seem to agree that they’re excellent.”
    Talk is cheap……my Sony/Zeiss 35mm.F2.8 shows “real” 3D, even at 72dpi resolution. Click on photo for enlargement

  2. Wow absolutely stunning – beautiful images.

    would love to shoot the nikon version on my FM3A ???? – you’re living the film dream!

  3. I think the problem with the current Zeiss (and Sigma Art, Canon, Nikon and basically every new lens) is the very thing they are trying (and in most cases succeeding) to achieve….and that’s perfection.

    They’re all just too perfect. They’re all wickedly sharp, all have bags of contrast, all designed on state of the art computers and manufactured to the tightest tolerances.

    And yet the one thing that’s been lost in this quest for perfect numbers is the one thing I value most in a lens..character.

    I have a fairly recent Zeiss lens, the ZM 35/2 Biogon. I use it on my Leica M2 and very occasionally on a Fuji x-thingy. Is it a sharp lens…very, does it have contrast…too much, does it have any barrel distortion…non at all.

    Is the Zeiss better than a Canon screw mount 35mm from 50 years ago…damn straight it is. But one thing the modern Zeiss lacks that the much cheaper, less sharp, low contrast old Canon lens has in spades is character.

    This character I talk about is difficult to quantify in numbers, the same numbers all these modern lenses are designed by, but yet the look of the images from these older less perfect lenses feels more natural, more organic…they have feeling.

    Not all new lenses suffer from this. I recently picked up a Voigtlander VM Heliar 50/3.5 for the aforementioned M2. Is it sharp, incredibly so, but yet it seems to have been designed by someone who’s interest wasn’t making a perfect lens but rather one with character.

    1. A good point, but I did test the Otus 55 next to an Art 50 for a month before purchase and while they’re both clear and sharp they’re pretty different in character (wide open, that is). I reckon if I showed you a few shots with each as reference, you’d easily be able to sort the Sigmas from the Zeiss’ in my lightroom catalogue. (Course by F8, tragically, it’s hard to tell the $100 Canon 50 f/1.8 from the Zeiss from the Sigma).

      I hear you though – the reason I hardly shoot my Canon L’s much anymore is that they somehow feel clinical. Which is a bit weird really because what’s a lens’s job other than to be as true and transparent as possible?

      It’s a bit like hifi. With the same source through the same set of speakers, the high end amps all sound exactly the same, because they do their job so well. They may as well stop making new ones, because they’re all just so damn near perfect these days. Whereas a good valve amp adds bucketloads of character because it’s so inherently flawed. Yet somehow, many prefer the valve amp.

      Guess it just comes down to what makes you happy.

  4. Dear Bent Brent, thank you very much for your pictures and for sharing your experience. I couldn’t find anyone around on the internet shooting otus on film. (It seems that the fact that those lenses would outperform the actual detail capacity of 35mm films prevented people even from trying what you have simply attempt). Btw, I’d love to see your zeiss lenses at work on black and white films, like tri-x or t-max. I’m super-curious to see the legendary micro-contrast there…

    1. That’s a great idea, and it would be my pleasure Scioc. The moment I’m not holding a bottle of warm milk in one hand and a poo nappy in the other, I will do exactly that – I’ve got a fresh roll of FP4+ and a box of Perceptol ready to go.

  5. Pingback: Zeiss Otus 55mm and 85mm lenses on 35mm emulsions - Owls on Film - By Bent_Brent - 35mmc

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