Zeiss lenses are known for quality and clarity, so any new release from this prestigious company is always met with high levels of expectation. How does the latest – the Carl Zeiss 135mm f/2 – stack up?
When we first heard about the Carl Zeiss 135mm f/2, we simply had to get our hands on it. With an expected price-tag of around £1500, it’s not within everyone’s budget, but it’s hard not to be curious about how good this little beauty really is. We tested it against Canon’s highly acclaimed 135mm f/2.
Weighing in at 929g, the Zeiss is significantly heavier than the 710g Canon and has a street price of more than twice the amount. The build quality is outstanding, right down to the silky-smooth action of the focus ring and the sonorous clack of the metal lens hood attachment. There’s no denying that it looks, and feels, incredible. Despite its price, the Zeiss 135mm has no autofocus, so at wider apertures focusing is very tricky. To help combat that, Zeiss has given the focus ring a rotation angle of 268° for more accurate focusing. This makes it a useful lens for video, but impractical for photographing fast-moving subjects. The lack of autofocus along with the manual aperture ring (Nikon-fit only) makes the lens feel really retro, bolstered by the fact that the lens exterior is made entirely of metal and glass – no plastic or rubber in sight.
As both the Canon and Zeiss are clearly exceptional lenses, we cut straight to the chase to find out how they perform wide-open at f/2. In the centre of the image, there isn’t that much to choose between them, although the Zeiss does have very slightly better contrast and sharpness. In the corners of the frame, the Zeiss suffers from more severe vignetting, but the Canon is the clear loser when it comes to loss of sharpness and chromatic aberration. The Zeiss does display very slight purple fringing and softness in the corners, but it’s only noticeable under very close scrutiny.
The Zeiss 135mm is a superb piece of engineering that optically outperforms one of the most revered lenses in Canon’s range. Even wide-open, it’s amazingly sharp across the whole image, with excellent contrast and very little aberration at all. The bokeh is pleasing, with the nine diaphragm elements leaving out-of-focus highlights looking almost perfectly circular. As glass goes, this is about as good as it gets. That said, in the real world, the practical difference between the Canon and the Zeiss is pretty miniscule, so you might feel that the lighter weight, the autofocus and the realistic price-tag of lenses like the Canon makes them a more attractive option.
- Street price: £1599 (As of July 2016)
- Maximum aperture: f/2
- Focal length: 135mm
- Visit: www.zeiss.com
This review was first published in the May 2013 issue of Practical Photography - download back issues here.