Zeiss Otus 55mm and 85mm Lenses on 35mm Emulsions – Owls on Film – By Bent_Brent

After posting 5-Frames with a Zeiss Otus 55mm sometime ago, a few people asked whether I’d mind sharing the results on other emulsions – so I thought ‘great idea!’, then got totally side tracked for a few years and forgot all about it. Thing is, good lenses have been able to out-resolve film for decades, so there’s really not that much point to this, except that it’s fun and it gives me an excuse to shoot film. So, here are some shots with the Zeiss Otus 55mm and Otus 85mm on several 35mm film emulsions.

Camera-wise, everything was shot on a Canon EOS 1V with EC-S screen for manual focus, and lens-wise it’s either the Otus 55mm or 85mm, noted under each shot.

I haven’t had much actual shooting time, so my subject matter has been limited to my family, city, and some random stuff around the house (flowers, anyone?), but it’s still been enjoyable. Images are mostly unprocessed, apart from a slight s-curve on the levels. I shot everything wide open, since virtually every 50mm and 85mm ever made gives great results stopped down.

I’ve made notes under each image, but here are some general thoughts:

  • Film bokeh is really nice. It’s not just out of focus like digital – it’s blown-out and fuzzy like an over-cranked amp.
  • A super-sharp lens on a super grainy film isn’t a complete waste of resolution. The results can be pretty cool.
  • The bright, crisp, saturated nature of the Otus lenses made all the colour film stocks look more similar than expected.
  • Not sure if anyone could tell that these were shot on good quality lenses if you didn’t tell them first, but I personally think that these images have a unique quality to them. Different even from my other Zeiss lenses.

If you’d like to know anything about a specific image, feel free to ask in the comments.

And if you’re wondering about the reference to owls in the title, the current Zeiss lineup of Batis, Milvus, Loxia, Touit and Otus lenses are all named after birds. Otus are named after owls, presumably for their brilliant eyesight, and the teeny tiny brain required to pay these prices for manual focus lenses.

Otus 55mm, Fuji Velvia 50. Developed at Michaels Camera, Scanned on Flextight by the formatscan.com.au
Otus 55mm, Fuji Velvia 50. Princes Pier, Port Melbourne. There’s detail for days in the full-size scan – I’m astounded at just how much Velvia 50 can resolve. Not all that different from my 5DIII.
Otus 55mm, Fuji Velvia 50. The legendary Velvia greens. I’m going to miss it if it ever goes the way of 400X.
Otus 55mm, Fuji Velvia 50. Centre Place, Melbourne. On inspection, absolutely nothing is sharp in this hand held photo, but I still kinda like it.
Otus 85mm, Fuji Natura 1600. Developed and scanned by filmneverdie.com.au
Otus 55mm, Fuji Natura 1600. Melbourne city across the Bay from Williamstown.
Otus 85mm, Fuji Natura 1600.
Otus 85mm, Kodak Tri-X. Home developed in D76 1+1 and scanned on an Epson V700.
Otus 85mm, Kodak Tri-X.
Otus 85mm, Kodak Tri-X.
Otus 85mm, Fuji Pro400H. Developed and scanned by hillvale.com.au
Otus 85mm, Fuji Pro400H.


Otus 55mm, Kodak Portra 400. Brighton Seabaths, Melbourne.
Otus 55mm, Kodak Portra 400. Yet another plant. I need to get out more.
Otus 85mm, Cinestill 50D. Developed and scanned by halidesupply.com. There were many more shots on 50D, but they’re first-day-at-school shots and belong in the family album, not shared on the web. They’re really sharp and smooth – it’s a brilliant emulsion.
Otus 55mm, Kodak Portra 160.
Otus 55mm, Kodak Portra 160.


Otus 55mm, Kodak Portra 160. My family will always be my favourite thing to shoot, even if it means that every shot is basically just a snapshot. At least they’re snapshots that make me happy.

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18 thoughts on “Zeiss Otus 55mm and 85mm Lenses on 35mm Emulsions – Owls on Film – By Bent_Brent”

  1. Lovely shots. I have to admit Zeiss glass is beautiful and produces nice images.
    I used to have a Zeiss 1.4/50mm classic and I never could get a singe sharp frame out of it. It was frustrating and depressing. I have upgraded to Milvus 2/50mm and it was much better. I could not focus correctly because of high CA the classic exhibits.

  2. Some truly lovely shots of Mum and kiddies. And the bokeh on the flower and dock images is very smooth. Never seen any pictures before made with these Otus lenses – thank you for the post. Now can someone explain why that name “Otus”?

  3. brian nicholls

    This is a compelling body of work in every way (photographically) Bent. It matters not what camera or lenses you used because the dynamic would have been identical. What you refer to as…”basically just a snapshot”… will gain added value over the decades and in the eyes of your subjects, such ‘snapshots’ will be priceless. In my view, it’s the photographer that takes/makes the picture, not the camera.

  4. Very beautiful pics.. Wondering how did you manage to focus so accurately especially on a film SLR.

    1. Hey Kelvin – the EOS 1V (and various other pro bodies) has focus screens specifically for manual focus, which makes things far, far easier. That said, out of all the photos I shot, you’re obviously only seeing the sharp ones… There were more than a few duds, lemme tell you.

  5. That was actually really fun to see what some of the best modern lenses can do on film. As a B&W shooter, I was especially drawn to how well these performed on those few shots, but was equally impressed with the portraits shot with the 85mm. Wonderful and I really different from what old Nikkor lenses from the 60’s and 70’s produce. I don’t yet have any children, but photographing one’s family is always an important thing to do.

  6. Very nice images and great article. To my eye, there is indeed a unique quality to these images. I would think that the physics of how a lens renders subjects / light does influence its representation on film stock as it does on digital sensors, and that it’s not just a matter of resolution. But I’m not a physicist 😉 I have heard other photographers talk about using modern (and very sharp) lenses on film and how this can create a special look (analogous to using vintage glass on digital bodies, obviously for different effect). I just sold my set of Milvus 1.4 Nikon F mount lenses, and never tried them on my Nikon film cameras … now I regret that!


  7. Really very good photos with very surprising results (at least for me). I thought that this modern lens is way too sharp for film and I never expected such pleasant and beautiful results. In fact this lens really harmonizes very well with film. The bokeh looks so good and the sharpness merges so nice to the blurred areas. Look at the photo with your daughter on Cinestill 50D. There you see what I mean. But a killer argument for me (separate from the price) is the size of this lens. If you use this lens every day there is no need to visit a fitness studio

  8. Thanks for sharing Brent, these are fantastic. Always nice to see a fellow Melbournian. The 50D shot of your daughter is stellar, as is how nice the tones are on those Tri-X shots. I did a similar project when the Sigma Art lenses came out, and shot them on my Canon 1N to see how some of the fastest lenses in the world paired with Kodak’s ‘sharpest’ film (T-Max) turned out. I need to go revisit those shots now!

  9. Love that second photo and love how the eye lashes get rendered

    The Pro400H photos look a tad yellow? Is that from the scanning or were you in a field of yellow flowers or something?

    1. Possibly from scanning – these were all taken on fresh film over time and processed at different indy labs, so calibration could well have been out or just different (I like to support all of Melbourne’s awesome little film labs, but lately Halide Supply has become my firm favourite).

  10. Nice to see a different take on Princes Pier! The typical wide angle shot from the middle is getting very boring to be honest, every time I go there (which is quite often) there are always photographers standing in the middle at the end

  11. Fantastic images, I’m really blown bei the results of Fuji Velvia 50 und Kodak Tri-X. These seem to be on a level with actual digital shots. Wow ! The Porta 160 shot of the little girl with the leaves (the other Potra 160 shots are much to yellow for my taste) and the Cinestill portrait are also awesome.
    The scanning is really a critical part of the process, especially on the qualitiy level you are showing here. I also go to labs for scanning and it’s always a gamble. I had two rolls of Portra 160 (which easely has enough resolution for my Minolta MD lenses) shot with the same camera and lenses, scanned in the same lab within 4 weeks and have very different results. One is stellar, one just okay-ish

    Thanks for sharing.

  12. “Otus are named after owls, presumably for their brilliant eyesight, and the teeny tiny brain required to pay these prices for manual focus lenses.” This sentence has made my day, B(r)ent! :-)) By the way, nobody knows that Summilux is named after a mammalian animal with a 100mm effective base length rangefinder and a puny brain required to pay through the nose for manual-focus brass and glass out of Wetzlar 🙂

  13. Simply Great !
    Yeah, Velvia 50 … the gem. Nothing does better than Velvia well exposed and focus precisely with great scans.
    Tri-X, whaouuuuuu, such a greatest BW.
    These Zeiss lens are razor sharp and family is very nice with those films rendering

  14. It’s so nice to see great shots taken on film. Sadly, many of the other posts on here feature photos that, to me at least, are uninspiring. Yours, however, are lovely. I do hope you post again.

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