If you’re serious about portraiture, an 85mm should definitely be on your wishlist. Put down those zooms and take a look at the Carl Zeiss Planar T 85mm f/1.4 (ZF.2)...
The Carl Zeiss Planar T 85mm f/1.4 is at the premium end of the 85mm lenses, at £1099, and is undoubtedly a thing of beauty, but can image quality and handling live up to the premium price-tag? The CZ (as it will be known for the rest of the test) is made up of just six elements in five groups, and has nine aperture blades. It’s available in both a Canon and Nikon fit, but the Canon fit is slightly larger and heavier. We’ve listed the Nikon specs because this is the version we looked at (the ZF.2), and apart from size and weight specs are identical.
Handling & image quality
The CZ weighs a not insubstantial 570g, although this is still a reasonable weight for this type of lens. The CZ is an absolute dream to use, with a smooth focus ring and a much more refined aperture ring than the Samyang. Personally we think it’s a shame there isn’t autofocus, but the purists among you will probably feel the manual focus is exactly how it should be. The lens provides an incredibly bright viewfinder image that’s great for standard shooting. However, when focusing using Live View this brightness causes distortion. The thing is, for our testing we sometimes have to shoot this way, but in a real-life situation it’s rare to focus an 85mm lens using Live View.
When it comes to image quality the CZ was the sharpest in the test when shooting a studio portrait. It is marginally, although noticeably, sharper than the Nikon lens. There is a small amount of chromatic aberration present at wider apertures that reduces as you stop down. There’s also a small amount of vignetting at f/1.4, but this disappears as quickly as f/2. Overall this is a beautifully crafted lens with great handling and image quality. It’s a shame there’s no autofocus, but it does have fantastic manual focus. This is a superb lens, but like most truly great things it comes at a price.
- Price: £989 (As of July 2016)
- Mount availability: Canon & Nikon
- Max. aperture: f/1.4
- Min. aperture: f/16
- Min. focus distance: 1m
- Construction: 6 elements in 5 groups
- Diaphragm: 9 blades
- Filter thread: 72mm
- Image stabilisation: No
- Dimensions (dxl): 62x77mm
- Weight: 570g
- Visit: www.zeiss.com
This review was first published in the April 2013 issue of Practical Photography - download back issues here.