Why Zeiss Does Not Make Autofocus DSLR Lenses

One of the frequently asked questions by our readers when we post information on Zeiss lenses (which are often optically stellar), is why Zeiss does not make autofocus lenses for DSLR cameras from Nikon and Canon. As you may already known, Zeiss is currently making autofocus lenses only for two specific mounts – Sony E (for NEX / Alpha series mirrorless cameras) and Fuji X. This line of autofocus lenses labeled as “Touit” is limited to a few lenses at the moment, with full autofocus capability and compatibility with both Sony and Fuji mirrorless cameras. So one might naturally ask why Zeiss has finally started making autofocus lenses and wonder if it has plans to start developing autofocus lenses for Nikon and Canon mounts. Although I have known the reason behind this for a while now, I decided to ask the question again from the Zeiss team at the Photo Plus show in NY last year. Specifically, I wanted to find out if Zeiss is planning to change their strategy in the future in regards to DSLR lenses.

Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 Lens ZF.2

With the release of the Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4, which is just a stellar performer (one of the highest performing lenses I have measured using Imatest), the biggest issue for many of us is lack of autofocus. Modern DSLRs, even with large full-frame pentaprisms make it hard to focus with manual focus lenses. Some people have recommended to install third party focusing screens, but even those can make it difficult to focus with large aperture standard to telephoto lenses. When dealing with extremely shallow depth of field, focusing with an 85mm f/1.4 lens is a real challenge. Because of that, I rarely recommend manual focus portrait lenses to our beginner-level readers. Experienced photographers might not have issues with such lenses, but most people would find it rather difficult to get consistently good results, especially on important commercial jobs. A budget-friendly lens like the Samyang 85mm f/1.4 might sound appealing, but it is only a good option if you are able to focus with it. Personally, I would rather use a more expensive Nikon 85mm f/1.8G and have working and reliable autofocus instead.

So why is Zeiss not making autofocus lenses for DSLR cameras from Nikon and Canon? If you ask folks from Zeiss, they will tell you that it is a licensing issue. Specifically, the standard public response that Zeiss issues is the following: “Due to international licences, it is not possible at the moment for companies outside Japan to offer AF lenses with EF or F mounts” – the same thing that the Zeiss team told me at the Photo Plus expo. But that’s only part of the real reason. Zeiss is a very reputable company and they would never state the exact reasons on why designing AF lenses for Canon EF or Nikon F is an extremely difficult task. The main reason is lack of openness, support and collaboration from Nikon and Canon. You see, neither company has interest in working with third party lens makers, when they have a large array of lenses of their own. Why help promote a third party lens manufacturers and potentially lose sales?

You might immediate ask “what about Sigma?”. True, Sigma does make autofocus lenses for both Nikon and Canon, but if you read the above quote from Zeiss, the key words are “international” and “outside Japan”. Sigma is a Japanese company and they make all lenses in Japan. That’s why they do not technically violate the licensing limitations. But it does not mean that they get full cooperation from the big two. Sigma’s strategy for designing autofocus lenses has been the good old method of reverse engineering. Unfortunately, Sigma’s engineers spend quite a bit of time trying to make autofocus work properly and reliably on Nikon F and Canon EF cameras. While they certainly do succeed with making autofocus work, the reliability part is certainly an issue.

After reviewing the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art lens, I highly praised it for its optical performance. Indeed, the lens is a stellar performer and a real value when compared to anything else on the market. However, after I posted the review, many of our readers have been contacting me about their bad experience with autofocus reliability. Some have left negative comments on the comments page, pointing out their frustrations with the autofocus system. While I personally did not witness the troubles that people have reported about and had no AF chip failure issues, I can see that it is a pretty widespread issue. And the worst part is, Sigma has no way to design lenses that will be future-proof. If Nikon or Canon decide to alter their lens firmware on new cameras, existing Sigma lenses might potentially lose AF capabilities on their lenses. Remember what happened when Nikon released the D5300? The camera had different AF tweaks that killed image stabilization and Live View autofocus capabilities, forcing Sigma to issue firmware updates. Gladly, this particular issue was not a problem, but what if Nikon or Canon make a firmware tweak that disables AF completely if it detects a third party lens? That would be a nasty situation for Sigma and they might not be able to deal with it.

It is pretty clear that Nikon in particular does not like third party lens manufacturers, especially Sigma. The company sued Sigma back in 2011 for violating its Vibration Reduction patent and was recently awarded 1.5 billion Japanese Yen (around 14.5 million dollars) by the Tokyo District Court, which was a pretty big blow for Sigma. So Sigma engineers have to be real careful when they reverse engineer their lenses for both mounts, because they could be violating some of the patents. Sadly, it is a really tricky situation for Sigma to deal with.

Now you can imagine the trouble Zeiss would go through if they decided to make autofocus lenses for DSLR cameras. Based on the above, you can assume that we won’t be seeing DSLR Zeiss autofocus lenses in the near future, unless Nikon and Canon change their game (which they most likely won’t). In contrast, both Sony and Fuji were glad to work with Zeiss on autofocus lenses, and they did it with full collaboration, because they wanted to have more lens choices for their new mounts…

One of our readers, David Kilpatrick, pointed out on our Facebook page another reason for lack of Zeiss AF DSLR lenses, which is the accuracy problems of phase detection AF systems. Due to the fact that phase-detection systems use a secondary mirror for focusing and are limited to f/2.8 aperture at the widest, there are potential issues with focus alignment as well, which introduces a slew of issues. Not only would Zeiss have to offer service to calibrate autofocus on lenses, but there are also other problems with phase-detection such as focus shift, which is often a problem with most lenses. Mirrorless Sony and Fuji cameras use contrast detection autofocus and can focus at a set aperture, which results in far more accurate focus.

Comments

  1. Avatar of Rob Olson
    1
    ) Rob Olson
    April 21, 2014 at 3:23 pm

    No auto Zeiss for Canon or Nikon…so we used manual focus
    before auto focus. Maybe we need to slow down a bit?

    • April 21, 2014 at 3:40 pm

      Rob, I know where you are going with this. While I do agree that slowing down could be the answer for some people and some lenses, shooting in a fast-paced environment like weddings can be difficult with fast aperture MF lenses. I would rather focus with other important things like lighting and composition instead of constantly worrying about not having a shot in focus. Now if I were shooting landscapes or architecture, this would not be a concern at all! I like shooting at f/1.4 – with such a shallow DoF, I just cannot be constantly firing up Live View to get good focus, or shoot dozens of pictures at different focus points to get one sharp image. Focusing these lenses with something like the D800 is extremely difficult…

      • Avatar of Rob Olson
        23
        ) Rob Olson
        April 21, 2014 at 6:56 pm

        I appreciate your comment. Having auto focus would make a lot of people very happy
        for not having to worry about getting a sharp image. But since it is not available we
        have to adapt. Those who wear glasses, manual focusing does present its challenges
        that auto focus overcomes. I agree that focusing these manual focus lenses with a D800
        is very difficult. So if auto focus is not available, adapt.

        Thank you for all you comments and review. They are most appreciated.

    • Avatar of Brian Gaschler
      8
      ) Brian Gaschler
      April 21, 2014 at 4:11 pm

      I’m all for slowing things down in my photography, Rob. I think it’s a lost art anymore, or rather, that many photographs taken today are snapshots versus a more thought-out composition. I wish it were easier to focus without AF on DSLRs, though.

      As Nasim already pointed out, the focusing screens on DSLRs are pretty terrible for AF compared to, say, that of an FM2. I’ve got a few of Nikon’s old, pre-AI-s lenses that are manual focus only. I love using them because of the ‘atmosphere’ each creates (especially the 50mm), but focus is really hit or miss on either my D300 or Df. My D300 has a 3rd-party focus screen bought from KatxEye Optics, but as of now, only a few options exist for the Df (or D3/4/800; from focusingscreen.com). In any event, they are pretty expensive and very limited. I chatted with Nikon Customer Service a few weeks back, asking if they planned on offering a different focus screen for the Df, one capable of accurate manual focusing, you know, since it’s so ‘retro’ and all (I love that camera, BTW). Their answer: “not as of now, no.” I highly doubt Nikon has any interest in manufacturing such ‘old’ technology when all their energy is going into G-lenses and advanced AF technologies. Those 3rd-party screens aren’t all that great anyway: one pain I’ve experienced on the D300 is not being able to see the full metre information at the bottom of the viewfinder, and the focus screen is really, really dark compared to the D300′s stock screen.

      As for the Df, I know it has the confirmation dots to help achieve focus, but in my experience, there’s a bit of play there, where it tells me things are in focus, but they most certainly are not always perfectly in focus–a small flick of the focus ring still gives a positive focus dot at times. Shooting at f/1.2 or f/1.4 is hard enough for me to nail focus with AF, especially if the lens isn’t dead-on with front/back focus issues. Even a subject moving a breath forward or back will shift the incredibly narrow DOF outside of the eyes. Relying on the focus dot to manually focus my old pre-AI-s lenses is almost sure to result in me missing critical focus. I’m sure it’s less of an ordeal when shooting landscapes or street (with zone focusing).

      I am fond of looking back at photographs taken from some of my favourite photographers-of-old: shots taken in the 1950s through the 1970s. I’ve noticed for some time just how ‘unsharp’ so many of those excellent photos are by today’s standards, and I suspect it was due in part from non-AF lenses being used, combined with lenses that were optically inferior by today’s standards, and a photography ethic that didn’t care as much about resolution and ‘sharpness’ as the modern photographic era does.

      • Avatar of Brian Gaschler
        9
        ) Brian Gaschler
        April 21, 2014 at 4:15 pm

        Sorry for the redundancy in my post, Nasim. You posted your reply while I was composing mine ;)

      • April 21, 2014 at 4:22 pm

        Brian, no problem! I fully agree with everything you’ve said. I tried to use the excellent 55mm f/1.2 Ai-S with my Df and the green dot certainly has too much “play”. I wish there was a better way to manually focus on modern DSLRs…

        • Avatar of Brian Gaschler
          14
          ) Brian Gaschler
          April 21, 2014 at 4:28 pm

          Me too!

        • April 22, 2014 at 12:18 am

          I would be fine if I could find a reliable person to put a katz-eye in my D800 as I don’t mind one bit to focus manually, though autofocus is pretty useful.

          • 51
            ) anon
            April 22, 2014 at 11:43 pm

            Well, it’s not that simple. Old time focusing screen would make your VF look very dark compared to the standard one. Sometimes the darkness is unbearable. This is because old time FM2 camera reflects all incoming light to the focusing screen. Modern DSLR reflects only about 70%. The other 30% goes to focusing sensor down below.

            • 53
              ) John Richardson
              April 23, 2014 at 12:06 am

              Now, I did not consider that! Thank you!!!

            • 55
              ) Mark
              April 23, 2014 at 12:04 pm

              I have asked elsewhere but have never gotten an answer: why don’t high-end DLSR’s have a good focussing screen? Does it have anything to do with the amount of space taken up by the pop-up flash? I would gladly give up the pop-up flash in exchange for a focussing screen, if that is the case.

            • 63
              ) anon
              April 27, 2014 at 8:38 pm

              Hi Mark,

              Because they have a very good AF module. It “robs” away bright incoming light the FS deserves. Nothing to do with the pop-up flash(maybe a bit, because it limits prism size). Focusing screen is located under the prism, while pop-up flash is located over the prism.

      • 18
        ) Scott Verge
        April 21, 2014 at 5:31 pm

        Yep totally agree, when I bought my D5100 I borrowed a bunch of older manual focus lenses off a friend who was’t using them and learned to use them effectively using what I like to call focus bracketing and live view but as soon as I was able to purchase AF lenses I’ve moved away from manual focus.

        I have an older split prism focusing screen I cut down to size to fit in the crop sensor camera but I never took the time to put it in and fine tune it once I had AF lenses.

        Similar to Brian I never found the AF indicator accurate, just close and no indication as to which directly you were out of focus didn’t help focusing speed either!

        I was really hoping that the DF was going to be setup right from the get go for manual focus. They were hyping it up so much and at one point said something about hybrid, that I thought they might even add some sort of electronic overlay with focus peaking. Could you imagine!

        • Avatar of Brian Gaschler
          19
          ) Brian Gaschler
          April 21, 2014 at 5:43 pm

          Scott, I, too, had high hopes for the Df that never came to fruition in production. However, I knew its limitations well before I bought it, and despite those limitations, I have more fun shooting it than any previous DSLR I’ve owned. I cannot help but smile regarding the Df, having inspired thousands of “If I had my way, the Df would have…” reviews regarding focusing and other bits. This is hardly the forum to rant or rave (yet more) about the Df. I only know a lot of people had high hopes for a different focusing means on the camera (focus screens or otherwise). Maybe in the next (if there is one) iteration, the Df2? Or maybe, as Nasim pointed out, even a better focus screen will pale compared to EVF focus technologies existing today in mirrorless cameras.

          No manufacture could ever build the perfect camera or lens for the masses: ‘perfect’ is too subjective in this regard. But somewhere in there, I hope they can still find time to add options

          • April 21, 2014 at 11:39 pm

            Brian, a MF-friendly Df2 would be a dream come true!

      • 59
        ) chris
        April 24, 2014 at 7:44 am

        Agreed. I was recently convinced by an individual on this board to go back and look at the early Nikkormat bodies regarding a discussion about Leica M’s. It actually got me thinking and I ended up buying an FE a few days ago. I had a beat up M3 with 35 f2 summicron which, was an amazing lens. However, my hit and miss ratios were so poor due to a fogged viewfinder. Most shots were nice in every way except for sharpness. The few that were sharp, were very sharp. Some images were soft because of other variables. Regarding Nikon; I never had any pre-autofocus lenses. My lenses were all modern and all very sharp, excellent performing lenses. The only bad Nikon lens I ever had was my first variable 35-105 zoom. It was awful. But that’s it. My 50 1.4, 105 micro, 28 2, 300 4, 85 1.4, 16 fish and 300 4 were all excellent performers. Like most glass, there were some inferior f stops for contrast and extreme sharpness but within their pockets, absolutely amazing. Now, Ive been going back and looking at ai-s lenses in order to pick a few winners to use with the FE and I’m blown away. Not only by the build quality but the fact that people are shooting these lenses with d800′s and the results are technically mind boggling. Yes, modern lens design has improved upon lots, however there are some lenses from the seventies and eighties that look to perform as well as todays best. Albeit, no autofocus. However, the fact that you can buy a lens built like a tank, that is technically amazing; examples being the numerous 28′s,35′s,50′s,85′s, 105′s that fit that bill for very little money, is one bonus of the demise of film and autofocus technology.
        However, back to the point. Some technology is just so good its worth using. That would be autofocus. If I wasn’t looking to go back in time and hone my craft, get back to a love for film or sharpen a skill set that’s been neglected, I wouldn’t consider a manual focus lens. It would have to be so much better technically that I would forgo something as great as modern day autofocus technology. And I don’t think any of these Zeiss lenses do that. At least for me and I’m picky. However, I care what the results look like in front of me, not in a lab.
        Keep talking about the Df though, dreams can become reality. If I have enough fun with the FE I might just go back to Nikon and buy a Df. Ive been considering going with Fuji and have decided to wait and see what they do with with the x-pro 2. The xt-1 is an incredible camera but I’m in no rush and look forward to shooting some film for a while. Maybe Nikon will blow my mind within the next year.
        Nasim, great site! I’m having a lot of fun reading the various posts!

  2. 2
    ) Manny
    April 21, 2014 at 3:37 pm

    Hi Nasim,

    I’ve read where you use the term ‘Imatest’ in some of your articles. What is this? Is this something that would improve my digital photography skills? If so, I would like to obtain it.

    Regards,

    Manny

    • April 21, 2014 at 3:50 pm

      Manny, I apologize if the term was used without proper reference to what it is. In short, Imatest is extremely complex software that is used to measure optical performance of lenses. You can see more details on their website: http://www.imatest.com

      Don’t think about getting this for yourself. It took me months to understand the basics and I am still not fully versed with the software. It is extremely expensive and just does not make sense to use for regular users. I spent over $10K on my lab setup, in order to accurate measure lens performance :)

      • Avatar of Brian Gaschler
        10
        ) Brian Gaschler
        April 21, 2014 at 4:21 pm

        And we all appreciate that, Nasim. Thank you for your consistently great reviews!

        • April 21, 2014 at 4:23 pm

          And thank you for your feedback – it is very valuable and important :)

      • 52
        ) anon
        April 22, 2014 at 11:45 pm

        You actually own an Imatest? That’s cool man!

  3. 4
    ) Keith R. Starkey
    April 21, 2014 at 3:49 pm

    Anybody out there using one of these 1.4 Zeiss lenses? Would love to hear how the manual focus aspect does or does not bother your shooting.

    Thanks much, Nasim, for another informative article.

    • April 21, 2014 at 3:53 pm

      Keith, if you do not mind using Live View, you can get very accurate results with any MF lens. The problem is using MF lenses with just the optical viewfinder – makes it extremely difficult. Now if you own any of the new mirrorless cameras from Sony and other manufacturers that can take this lens with an adapter, you can actually use MF pretty well using the electronic viewfinder (EVF). EVF technology is really cool for MF lenses, because you can zoom in and use focus peaking.

  4. April 21, 2014 at 3:51 pm

    I currently use a D3200 Nikon, and Before a D3000. I could focus great manually on the D3000 but not so well the D3200 I could see focus marks even in low light, even en high light they are almost impossible to see. (I have two different D32o0′s so its not a question of a defect in the camera.) And the diopter adjustment is much harder to set.
    So even if I could afford a Zeiss lens ( which there is not chance of doing so.), they would be out of question for me.

    • April 21, 2014 at 4:25 pm

      Phillip, and there are many more like you that have the same problem. These small optical viewfinders on DX cameras can be extremely challenging for manual focusing. That’s why the mirrorless cameras are the future! I could focus with any lens on the Fuji X-T1 – the ability to look at a zoomed in image inside the viewfinder is just amazing!

  5. Avatar of shawn
    15
    ) shawn
    April 21, 2014 at 4:46 pm

    The “international” licensing excuse is a great big steaming pile of manure.

    Any corporate lawyer worth his salt could set up a contractual relationship between Zeiss and Cosina so that the lenses were made by the Japanese legal entity Cosina.

    If Nikon and Canon are just refusing to play nice, Zeiss should simply call a spade a spade.

    • April 21, 2014 at 4:57 pm

      Shawn, and you know Zeiss wouldn’t do it :) Reputation is a big thing for Zeiss and they would avoid blaming Nikon and Canon for it…

  6. 17
    ) kg
    April 21, 2014 at 5:23 pm

    thank god i’m one of those lucky few who manage to capture sharp photos with MF lenses. ;)

  7. 20
    ) Carol
    April 21, 2014 at 5:54 pm

    No Zeiss AF for Canon or Nikon? Well, boo hoo! I guess Nikonians are going to have to make do with the 85mm 1.4D, 85mm 1.8D, 85mm 1.4G, and 85 mm 1.8G and their equivalents for Canonites. What a darn shame!

    • April 21, 2014 at 11:04 pm

      Carol, the subject here is Zeiss lenses :)

      • 42
        ) Carol
        April 22, 2014 at 6:57 am

        Well, Nasim, if ‘beginners’ that write to you complain about this and that don’t have Zeiss lenses to use on Canon and Nikon AF cameras, I guess they’re going to have make do with what they have, aren’t they?

        Can someone kindly pass me the Kleenex box?

  8. 21
    ) John
    April 21, 2014 at 5:57 pm

    Couldn’t Zeiss make an AF-D type lens for Nikon? I didn’t think those lenses had any electronics for the autofocus, they simply use that focusing screw built into the mid level+ bodies to focus. As opposed to the SWM type which obviously use electronics and software

    • April 21, 2014 at 11:05 pm

      John, whether you use AF-S or AF-D, both need to know if the subject is in focus or not, which requires communication with the camera’s phase detection system.

  9. 22
    ) Brad
    April 21, 2014 at 6:25 pm

    I want autofocus and I want it to be fast, Fast, FAST, F-A-S-T!!! No … I want it to be lightning fast. I want it to be so fast that I don’t see it happening.

    I don’t want to slow down, especially doing something like focusing. Of course, it all depends on what type of photography one does. For slow, meditative photography, slowing down is fine, even welcome. But for photography that is about moments, slowing down is not good at all.

    • 64
      ) Mark
      April 28, 2014 at 8:32 am

      OK, but what AF mode do you use? If you are in single-point AF mode and you need to move your focus point in the process of getting a shot, I’ll be I can be in focus using MF just as fast as you can.

  10. 24
    ) R. Moreno
    April 21, 2014 at 8:20 pm

    “Some people have recommended to install third party focusing screens, but even those can make it difficult to focus with large aperture standard to telephoto lenses. When dealing with extremely shallow depth of field, focusing with an 85mm f/1.4 lens is a real challenge. Because of that, I rarely recommend manual focus portrait lenses to our readers. Experienced photographers might not have issues with such lenses, but most people would find it rather difficult to get consistently good results, especially on important commercial jobs. A budget-friendly lens like the Samyang 85mm f/1.4 might sound appealing, but it is only a good option if you are able to focus with it.”

    This made me laugh. I’ve come along in the digital age, and even I think this is silly.
    You’re doing important high value commercial work and can’t manually focus with a better screen?
    Experienced photographers might not have issues? How telling is this, and how sad is that statement that people with little experience in theanual use of their tool are being considered and calling themselves professionals. How else will you ever learn? You do it!

    • 25
      ) R. Moreno
      April 21, 2014 at 8:21 pm

      the manual use*

    • April 21, 2014 at 11:12 pm

      Have you actually used a third party focusing screen? People claim that focusing MF lenses with those is easy, but that’s not necessarily true. Try to shoot with an 85mm f/1.4 @ f/1.4 with a modern DSLR (even with a focusing screen installed) and I would love to see you nail every shot with something like a D800. I know a lot of professionals working in the wedding / portraiture industry that avoid manual focus lenses like a plague because of this.

      Personally, I do not mind using MF lenses, especially when I can utilize Live View. They are a real joy to use and force me to slow down. However, if I were given choice to shoot a wedding with an AF vs MF lens, I would pick the former…

    • 44
      ) Thomas
      April 22, 2014 at 7:24 am

      I’ve been shooting manual focus since my Nikon F. Nasim is absolutely right about manual focus with today’s DSLRs. I shoot a lot of macro and still heavily rely on manual focus. Even using live view, my D800E is not even remotely close to as good as my F for repeatable, accurate manual focus. I’ve thought about a third party screen, but my understanding is that it will screw up metering, and will void the warranty (unlike the good old days with drop in screens). So I live with the problem, because overall, the D800E with macro lenses like the 105 f/2.8 AIS and the 200 F/4 produces stunning results. If Zeiss offers an Otus macro, that may be my undoing…

  11. 26
    ) Arash
    April 21, 2014 at 9:10 pm

    Hello Nasim,
    If there was an issue “Due to international licenses” it would not be possible for Zeiss to work with Sony and Fujifilm as both companies are Japanese.
    Did you know that Nasim in persian means “Breeze”?
    All the best,
    Arash

    • April 21, 2014 at 11:17 pm

      Arash, licensing is not set by Japan – it is Nikon and Canon that do not want to license to international companies. Sony and Fuji, on the other hand, are very open to the idea.

      As for the name, yes, I am aware of the meaning. It means the same in Arabic too :)

  12. Avatar of Rick Keller
    27
    ) Rick Keller
    April 21, 2014 at 9:51 pm

    A very interesting discussion and commentary. I don’t have much to add, other than next to the artistic vision and the lighting, the skill of the photographer reigns supreme, which should be good enough and all that matters to get the shot. Skilled photographers got their shots well before autofocus came off the assembly line in 1977, and they continue to get the shot regardless of what they’re holding in their hands. Gear does not matter. :- )

    Cheers!

    Rick

    • 28
      ) Ms. Jen
      April 21, 2014 at 10:59 pm

      +1.

      I have rented Zeiss lenses and shot them on my Nikon D800 and my FM3a to great results, much better than my G class Nikon AF lenses.

      When shooting landscape and astrophotography, I frequently turn off the AF on my Nikon lenses to use the manual focus, as I find I can get a more accurate and sharp image in manual.

      My next lens purchase is the Zeiss ZF.2 21mm Distagon.

      • April 21, 2014 at 11:37 pm

        Ms. Jen, I too switch to MF when shooting landscapes and architecture. That’s not where the problem is at all! Try shooting a moving subject with something like Samyang 85mm f/1.4 @ f/1.4 and you will see how frustrating focusing can get…

        P.S. The Zeiss 21mm Distagon is amazing!

    • April 21, 2014 at 11:36 pm

      Rick, perhaps my article was a little misunderstood by some people. The point of the article was not to state that Zeiss lenses are inferior due to lack of AF. Those that shoot with Zeiss glass know exactly what they want and what they will get using MF lenses. Zeiss optics are stellar and I am in awe of the Otus 55mm f/1.4 – a truly remarkable lens. However, for most people out there, shooting with MF lenses is often difficult. Imagine a beginner trying to use a MF lens, or someone who has problems with vision trying to get accurate results with a fast aperture telephoto lens and a high resolution camera body. It can get quickly frustrating. Yes, it is not all about sharpness, but that’s not what the clients think when you deliver images to them. Modern brides and grooms know very well the difference between a sharp and a blurry image – that’s just the reality of photography today. If a company is paying you to photograph their executives for a magazine, I do not think they would be psyched to see a bunch of out of focus images. They would care less if you shot with Zeiss or Nikon/Canon.

      My main point is, it is sad that the big two are so closed with their mounts. Zeiss would sell a lot more lenses if they had AF capabilities, because they are optically superb and built like tanks. I love Zeiss lenses and I would love them even more if they had AF capabilities. Or if AF was not an option, I would love a DSLR with an EVF or a properly working focusing screen that would make MF lenses much easier to use. And this does not just apply to Zeiss lenses – the same goes for old Nikon MF lenses (which I own a bunch of). If Nikon made a manual focus friendly camera, I would be all over it!

      • Avatar of Rick Keller
        41
        ) Rick Keller
        April 22, 2014 at 6:52 am

        Thanks, Nasim. :-)

        Actually, Nikon has made manual focus friendly cameras for decades. Have you heard of the FM3a? The FE? They’re outstanding manual focus cameras and deliver comparable (and often better) images than today’s Nikon’s AF cameras. I own three of Nikon’s AF cameras.

        The photographer, Steve McCurry, for example, used a Nikon FM2 with a 105mm f/2.5 Ais manual focus lens to capture in perfect focus the “Afhgan Girl”, one of the greatest photos *ever* taken by any photographer, in my humble opinion of course.

        You should try these cameras. They are very manual focus friendly and have been for *years*. :-)

        Cheers!

        Rick

        • Avatar of Rick Keller
          43
          ) Rick Keller
          April 22, 2014 at 7:11 am

          I meant to type , “I own three of Nikon’s MF cameras. ” :-) All excellent.

          Of course, as you elqouently and wisely stated above, Nasim, manual focus systems are not the best for capturing fast action. Otherwise, Nikon’s manual focus systems are outstanding.

  13. 33
    ) Biswajit
    April 21, 2014 at 11:30 pm

    Even Tamron came up with this Adaptall series lenses and the T-mount adapter, but I don’t think it supports AF for Nikon F and Canon EF either.

    Maybe Sigma, Zeiss, Tamron should start investing more in their own DSLR ranges. Bring in more competition to the two contemporaries, and spoil the us with more options. :)

    • April 21, 2014 at 11:38 pm

      That would be awesome! Sigma has been trying hard, but their camera line just never took off…

  14. 38
    ) max
    April 22, 2014 at 12:09 am

    It is common to read that sigma use a reverse engineering for hacking the protocol between the lens and the body. Obviously they are not getting it as a license from nikon as camera manufacturers getting android from Google

    • 45
      ) Max
      April 22, 2014 at 7:37 am

      i meant phone manufacturers

  15. 40
    ) Hugh
    April 22, 2014 at 6:43 am

    The essence of this would seem to be if you want to use the best lenses for whatever type of photography you do don`t buy a Cannon or Nikon body

    • April 22, 2014 at 1:23 pm

      Truth is, Hugh, that in the digital age, both lenses and camera bodies are very similarly important. Both need to deliver. Any investment you make is an investment into a whole system, not just some part of it – which means one must consider the strengths and weaknesses not just of cameras, lenses and accessories of that system, but everything together. And in any case, there might not be any AF Zeiss lenses for Canon and Nikon, but there are plenty of great AF lenses from these manufacturers themselves. And Zeiss is still there if you fancy something a little bit more interesting and different, which I like.

  16. 46
    ) Doug
    April 22, 2014 at 9:22 am

    Nasim, if we can’t use Zeiss AF lenses on Nikon (or Canon) cameras, then what the heck are we going to do? Will digital photography live on for Nikon shooters? What will become of us?

  17. 49
    ) Luci CJ
    April 22, 2014 at 4:05 pm

    It is really odd that while Japanese companies restrict the use of patents to their co-nationals, they are allowed to outsource production as long as they keep the label on their respective products. I have 7 Nikon lenses, of which only one, the older 60 mm f/2.8 AF-D, is made in Japan, the others are made either in Thailand (5 lenses) or in China (the 50 mm f/1.8 AF-D). I believe the situation is roughly the same with Canon (I have a compact A1100is, made in China). If they want to pretend observing so high quality standards, they should also restrict manufacturing, not just patents, to Japan. But guess we live in a mercantile world, so it is more profitable the other way around: outsource as much as possible and make a gain solely of intellectual property rights…

    • April 22, 2014 at 9:53 pm

      They are Nikon Factories, not Joe Wang’s House of Lens Makers. The production facility is built and run to their specifications, the quality control is under Nikon’s or Canon’s control.

      Apple on the other hand uses Foxcom in China to build many of their items, but no one is complaining about the quality of Apple hardware now are they? The factories were built to Apple’s specifications and strictly controlled by Apple’s quality control standards.

      Ford and Chevy factories build Fords and Chevys in Russia…. list is endless.
      There is noting odd going on at all.

  18. 54
    ) Marco
    April 23, 2014 at 7:33 am
  19. 56
    ) Mark
    April 23, 2014 at 12:13 pm

    Count me among those who doesn’t dislike manual focus. In fact, I like the direct control that it affords me, even considering the high number of focus misses I get with my D90 and D600.

    I have the Zeiss 35/2 and am very tempted by the 135/2 APO. Nasim, do you have any plans to review this lens? Would it be a waste of money considering I already have a Nikkor 70-200? The Zeiss 135 is universally praised, but I have to wonder if sharpness and color rendition are significantly better than the 70-200.

    • Avatar of Brian Gaschler
      58
      ) Brian Gaschler
      April 23, 2014 at 3:58 pm

      Hi Mark,

      I know your question is directed at Nasim, but I thought I’d weigh in for a moment because I am a huge fan of the 135mm focal length; because I also have the 70-200mm f/2.8; and because I also considered the 135/2 APO for a while.

      The 135/2 APO is certainly an extraordinary lens by most estimates. DXOMark already has your tests covered for you if you’re wondering about resolution: http://www.dxomark.com/Lenses/Carl-Zeiss/Zeiss-Carl-Zeiss-Apo-Sonnar-T-Star-F2-135-ZF2-Nikon-mounted-on-Nikon-D800__792

      But my question is, what do you intend to shoot with it? If you intend to shoot portraits, you already know the 70-200mm is fantastic at isolating your subject, even at f/3.5. If you’re looking for an even faster lens, that is sharp at f/2.o and that renders skin tones especially well, have you considered Nikon’s own (and in my mind optically stellar) AF-DC Nikkor f/2.0? Even without using the DC function to control for background/foreground spherical aberration, the lens is extraordinarily gifted for taking portraits or any other time you need a med-length tele. It’s pin-sharp even at f/2.o, and you get the benefit of AF if you’re shooting moving subjects. It’s also about $1000 less expensive than the 135/2 APO.

      Nikon’s 135mm: http://www.nikonusa.com/en/Nikon-Products/Product/Camera-Lenses/AF-DC-Nikkor-135mm-f%252F2D.html

      Just a thought…

      • 60
        ) Mark
        April 24, 2014 at 5:14 pm

        Thank you for your input, Brian. I’ve been shooting for a little under two years with the 70-200 and I absolutely agree that it is an outstanding lens. Objectively it is hard to make any kind of case that I need the Zeiss 135/2. It may be a case of lens lust more than anything. Yet, I have the Zeiss 35/2 and I have managed to capture some images that do in fact have the elusive “Zeiss look”, so it is hard to shake my interest in the 135. I don’t specialize in any one kind of photography; I think I’d find many occasions to use it as long as the subject wasn’t moving too fast, but probably nature and outdoor people shots more than anything. I have made some other inquiries on the Internet and have heard back from several people who own both lenses and state that the Zeiss has perceptibly better rendering. I will probably rent the lens during some travel this summer to see for myself what it’s like.

  20. 57
    ) Ditcho
    April 23, 2014 at 1:05 pm

    Where is Tamron in the context of this article? They make lenses for Nikon/Canon with excellent autofocus, don’t have or at least I haven’t heard about “grey” type of reverse engineering and firmware issue that break it? And they are not Nikon/Canon.

    • 62
      ) Tapo
      April 27, 2014 at 9:05 am

      I would like to differ about the statement “with excellent auto-focus”. Tamron lenses have always had a big problem with auto focus, slow and hunting in dim light. Sometimes, the auto-focus does not work at all, I have experienced it on 2 different Tamron lenses.

  21. 61
    ) Rashkae
    April 25, 2014 at 6:43 am

    The ZA line of lenses are AF lenses for the Sony and Minolta A-mount DSLR/DSLT.

  22. 65
    ) Ditcho
    April 28, 2014 at 1:09 pm

    The performance of particular lens’ autofocus was not the topic of my question. The articles seems to imply, that even Japanese manufacturers are not being properly licensed by Nikon/Canon, and goes in depth about the issues of one particular manufacturer – Sigma. How about the other two elephants in the room – Tamron and Tokina? I am not aware of them having Sigma’s type of patent issues with Nikon.
    I was also very intrigued to find out about the officially pointed out “licensing limitations for non-Japanese companies”. It is really unusual to see such international restrictions in a very globalized international economy. Is it even for real? Any official sources?

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