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.
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:
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
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