Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 Lens Announced

We’ve known that Zeiss was working on a special lens for a while now and finally the super-prime Distagon 55mm f/1.4 has been officially announced. Looking at the two basic parameters – focal length and aperture – there isn’t really anything all that special about it, just another normal prime with slightly more reach than usual. Yet there are several hints that point out neither focal length nor aperture tell the whole story. This lens is big, heavy and complex. It is also manual focus only. But the most shocking aspect is the price of $4000.

Zeiss Otus 55mm f1.4 Lens ZF.2

Overview and Specifications

I mentioned that this is a special lens, so let me talk you through it. The first thing you are bound to notice just how huge this is for a normal prime lens with such specifications. Even the already large and heavy Sigma 50mm f/1.4 lens is dwarfed by this one, because the Zeiss weighs 970 grams. If you’ve tried handling Canon’s spectacular 85mm f/1.2 L II lens, you will know the feeling of lifting something so dense. Having said that, the Zeiss is actually bigger than Canon’s super-fast portrait prime (although you would hardly guess by comparing the parameters alone). It has the diameter of 92mm and is a whopping 141mm long. Here is an approximate comparison between the Zeiss (Canon EF mount) and Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G lens:

Zeiss Otus 55mm f1.4 vs Nikkor 50mm f1.4 Size Comparison

Again, this is not a perfectly accurate size comparison, but should give you a decent idea about the size of this lens. The main reason for such impressive dimensions is the complexity of optical formula. Zeiss Otus consists of no less than 12 glass elements in 10 groups, while your regular run-of-the-mill fifty contains around 8 elements. Legendary lens manufacturer pulled all its stops on this one trying very hard to correct all optical aberrations and make this lens as good as it possibly can be, no compromise. We, of course, can’t wait to get our hands on one and test it for ourselves, but already it is pretty safe to assume this lens will be one of the (or, possibly, the) sharpest out there wide-open at f/1.4. Because it is a true apochromatic lens (very rare and expensive type of lenses), expect complete lack of chromatic aberrations, too. Impressive.

The price, obviously, makes it somewhat out of reach for most DSLR owners, but then Zeiss makes no claims this lens is for everyone. To quote, “the new ZEISS lens is especially suited for advertising, fashion and studio photography, and professional photographers working in these fields will not need to make any compromises in terms of performance and quality.” It is manual focus, after all, and you can have all the sharpness in the world, if you miss the focus it is not going to help. For many, the regular 50mm f/1.4 lenses with autofocus is a much better choice even if money is no object.

You can read more about the new lens on Zeiss blog.

Official Press Release

Here is the official press release by Zeiss. Unusually, it is actually an interesting read:

No-compromises image quality with the new ZEISS camera lens

Zeiss Otus 55mm f1.4 Lens Diagram

The ZEISS Otus 1.4/55 stands out with technical features ideal for all-around professional photography with 35mm DSLR cameras

OBERKOCHEN/Germany, October 7, 2013: With an imaging performance that has hitherto only been seen with medium format systems, the new ZEISS Otus 1.4/55 offers ambitious photographers who do not accept any compromises in image quality the possibility for a more compact gear. DSLR cameras with high resolution 35mm sensors put enormous demands on lenses. The Otus1.4/55 can deal with these demands thanks to its outstanding sharpness, high image contrast and no visible chromatic aberrations. It creates the highest-possible image quality, even with an open aperture. The new ZEISS lens is especially suited for advertising, fashion and studio photography, and professional photographers working in these fields will not need to make any compromises in terms of performance and quality. The Otus 1.4/55 is the first lens in a family of uncompromising professional lenses from ZEISS. Additional focal lengths will follow. Otus is the Latin name for a type of owl known for its excellent vision in darkness — just like this new high-speed lens from ZEISS.

“Our goal was to bring the best standard lens for SLR cameras onto the market. The Otus 1.4/55 delivers outstanding sharpness and contrast rendition all the way into the corners of the image. The only way we could achieve this was through the complex Distagon optical design, which until now has only been found on wide-angle lenses,” explains Christophe Casenave, product manager for ZEISS Camera Lenses. “Thanks to the low level of longitudinal chromatic aberration, there are no visible aberrations. So an illuminated harbor scene by night with many light sources in front of and behind the actual focal plane appears close to reality, without displaying complementary, color contrast edges. The excellent performance delivered by Otus is constant for all shooting distances. Its high performance with an open aperture also makes this lens a good choice for close-ups or portraits. For architectural and landscape photography, the Otus 1.4/55 takes full advantage of modern high-resolution camera sensors, resulting in impressive resolution in the images, even for the smallest detail.”

Other unique features of the Otus 1.4/55 are its high image contrast all the way to the edges (even for low f-numbers) and the consistent high-resolution performance across the entire image field. The lens has a completely new optical and mechanical design, which was developed taking into account the special and increasing requirements of high-resolution DSLR cameras. The Otus 1.4/55 is equipped with a floating elements design with 12 lens elements in 10 groups, including a double-sided aspheric lens and six lenses made of special glass with anomalous partial dispersion. These sophisticated features create image results without color fringing or distortion. Cameras with a lower number of pixels will also benefit from the lens’s unique features.

The performance delivered by the Otus 1.4/55 is especially obvious with night shots. When taking pictures with many image-dominant, open light sources, it is common for correction defects to show up. Because the Otus 1.4/55 is an apochromatic lens, longitudinal chromatic aberrations are corrected by its lens elements of special glass with anomalous partial dispersion. The color defects are therefore significantly lower than the defined limits. Bright/dark transitions in the image, and especially highlights, are rendered with no colorful artifacts. Although it is not a traditional focal length for architectural and landscape photography, here, too, the lens can deliver very good results. The edges of the image can be used for all apertures, giving full rein to the photographer’s creativity. For portraiture, the Otus 1.4/55 render the finest details precisely, and thanks to the maximum aperture of f/1.4, the photographer can consciously play with the depth of field and create a smooth bokeh. The Otus 1.4/55 stands out not only for its highly detailed pictures with no bothersome artifacts, but also for its mechanical quality. The smooth focus operation with the large angle of rotation allows for the finest variations when focusing — qualities that are only possible in a metal barrel. Its design as a manual focus lens allowed the engineers to work with much smaller tolerances during the construction. The lens’s robust metal barrel with the easy to grip focus ring makes it perfect for the demanding everyday situations of professional photographers, and guarantees a long product life. The yellow labels on the scales, which are borrowed from the professional ZEISS cinema lenses, contribute to better visibility. For its innovative product design, the Otus 1.4/55 already won the iF product design award 2013.

The Otus 1.4/55 will be available with F bayonet (ZF.2) and EF bayonet (ZE) starting at the end of October in all global markets. The recommended retail price will be €2,940 or US$3,999 (excl. VAT)*.

More information can be found on www.zeiss.com/photo.

*Status 7 October 2013

Pre-Order Links


Avatar of Romanas Naryškin About Romanas Naryškin

A student and a wedding photographer with a passion for cinematography and writing. You'll see me buying film even when there's no food in the fridge. Follow me on Google+, Facebook or visit my wedding photography website to see some of my work.

Comments

  1. 1
    ) ertan

    Basically, this is a 50mm f1.4 lens on steroids. Close to Nikon 14-24 in dimensions and mass. Funny…

    • Ertan,

      I would not jump to conclusions so quickly. When compared to Leica glass, it is not that expensive. As for the size, Zeiss would not have done it if it were not worth it in terms of performance. I am pretty sure that wide-open it will monster any other comparable lens. I’d expect it to be as good wide open as some primes are at f/4. Very much worth it for professional studios, especially on a high-res camera like the D800E.

  2. 3
    ) John

    This lens doesn’t make that much sense for Canon with their current 5d at 23 megapixels. Will anyone other than photography purists be able to tell the difference vs the 50 1.2l? Who could justify the price without a d800 (e)?

    • Such lenses are an investment, John. A much higher resolution Canon is bound to come out sooner or later, and in a few years there will be plenty of DSLRs with higher resolution than that of Nikon D800E. With this lens, whoever is buying it, one thing he can be sure of – it will perform as well as those high resolution sensors for years to come, longer than your average 50mm lens will.

      For the rest of us, it is a great achievement in optical design and could potentially influence cheaper lenses in the future, which is also good.

      • I already don’t need and don’t want 36 MPix, I sure as hell hope this MPix madness will end someday.
        Not so many people *need* 36 MPix.

        • Eric,

          I remember people saying that 6 megapixels is all you need when 12 megapixel sensors arrived :) The truth is resolution will go up. Whether this will happen slowly or quickly is a different matter. Another simple fact is – there are plenty of people who either want a 36 megapixel sensor, need it, or both. Those cameras are obviously not for everyone, but neither is this lens. I myself use the now-old D700 with its 12 megapixels and am happy. Would I upgrade to a D800/E? Sure! Would I use all those 36 million pixels? Yes. Would I find use for this particular lens? Probably not. But a pro fashion/beauty/ad photographer would. To each his own. All is good here, I think. :)

          • Thanks for your reply.
            Not all is good here I think.
            I value DR, speed and High ISO more than MPix.
            The best Nikon camera is still the D3S in my opinion.
            The D700 was (and still is) a great camera because it “only” has 12 MPix, but is pretty flawless otherwise. I whish Nikon would continue this trend, and leave the stupid 24 MPix out of DX sensors.
            One great feature would be to offer sRAW (similar to Canon) for the D800. *This* would make the D800 a perfect camera.

            • Eric,

              increasing sensor resolution has no negative effect on DR and, as we’ve made sure ourselves, with its 36 megapixel sensor D800 is now basically the best camera in high ISO performance currently made with D3s and D4 being as good. The only real downside to those 36 megapixels is the amount of computer resources needed to process them quickly, but that’s it!

              Even if you don’t think D800′s resolution is justifiable, there’s always lower-res options, too. :) I was hoping for a D4 in D700 body just as many did, but current D800 is no worse for it.

          • I understand your arguments, but I still see 2 problems :
            * the D800 pixels have less information than the D700 pixels (see DXO Screen comparison). What’s the point of having more if they’re not as good? The D800 only becomes better when you resize your pix to 12MPix.
            * The lowest-res option in Nikon cameras is 24 MPix. There’s no choice anymore.

            • Don’t be so stuck on what each camera native resolution is. Instead compare the image quality of each camera at whatever output you prefer. That output may be 12, 16, 24, 36mp or any size prints. I guaranteed the D800 is be better than any DSLR currently on the market.

  3. 5
    ) abhay

    since it is a very good company in making lense , is there any change in the quality among other company lenses like tamron and nikon lenses??

  4. I would think that professional photographers would do better with the Sony 50mm f1.4 ZA SSM Zeiss Planar on an A99, it would be great to see them compared in some way. In fact you could get two Zeiss for Sony A lenses for the price of this and still have change, and get AF into the deal as well!:) It’s good that they make these things though, we all gain in the end?

  5. 13
    ) Jane

    The Sony Planar T* 50mm f/1.4 ZA SSM is a simple double-gauss design, like the current f/1.4 50mm primes from Nikon, Canon and Sigma, and its performance is on the same level (worse than Nikon and Sigma, better than Canon). It’s anyone’s guess why Sony decided to ask $1500 instead of $400-$500 like Nikon/Canon/Sigma. Obviously, for the Otus, expectations are significantly higher. Check out MTFs.

Leave a Comment

*