Zeiss Otus 28mm f/1.4-English

07 Jan

Zeiss Otus 28mm f/1.4

A week ago, following stars workshop I taught in the desert, I had the opportunity to try this lens for several hours. The first thing I noticed when I held it was its size and weight and at first I said to myself: "what is this thing?" It appears that Zeiss engineers decided to manufacture a lens that its optic quality is above all and thus enable the consumer to receive exactly what he wants. And this is the best that the market has to offer these days.
I shoot stars and sky objects for some years now, and for this purpose I always used the best lenses in the market. At the beginning of the 90's, when I just started shooting sky objects, I worked with Nikon's best available lenses and later on I shifted to their golden series and worked with the famous 14-24 and 20/1.8. These are good lenses and it seems that an effort had been made to create optical quality. Though they both have optic problems, eventually, these are of the best lenses in the market which many professionals use.
At the moment, I am working with Zeiss 35/2 and 135/2 (which also serves me in sky objects shooting), and I must say that there is a significant and clear difference in favor of Zeiss regarding the optical level, and though I try not to be biased, I cannot help admitting that these are better lenses indeed. In stars shooting, the optical quality tremendously affects the photography and the flaws of the lens are easily detected. Since we are dealing with small dots of light, the structure and clarity of the dot is emphasized in the lenses, especially at the edges of the frame (e.g. at the outer parts of the sensor at extreme). In many cases, students participating in these workshops do not have the best lenses since many of them are beginners; and basic lenses create significantly less sharpened photos.
In starts shooting, due to the small amount of light reaching us, light sensitivity affects the final outcome, and therefore, the sensor size, quality of the camera, and of course the lens, all affect the final outcome. The results we get from shooting stars with Zeiss lenses, and mainly with the 28/1.4, are very surprising. In lenses, the relation between sharpness and contrast surely affects the final outcome, and since there is no perfect lens, when using high contrast/resolution lenses, the differences are very apparent.
Focus length: 28 mm
Aperture of 1.4- 16
Full-Frame body
Sight angle: 75 degrees
Minimal concentration: 30 cm
Weight: 1350 gr.
Length: 203 mm
Filter diameter: 95 mm


Just like all Zeiss lenses, this is aluminum casting and it also feels and appears especially resilient. In addition, the lens is extremely resilient to dust and light rain. The focus ring is wrapped with soft and pleasant to work with rubber, as opposed to all other market lenses that have rough rubber. The lens feels just like a tank; it seems that nothing can happen to it.
Just like all other Zeiss lenses, it has no focus engine, and the focus is manual. However, the lens has electronic contacts and there is also focus confirmation through the body. Yet, it requires experience with manual focus and it does not suit everybody. The focus is easy to control and thanks to gradual focus option, accuracy is easily achieved. Here's the explanation to this: in normal lenses, the range between near and far is small and every slight movement brings to focus or the lack of it. In this lens, the range between near and far is greater and not every slightest movement will take the camera out of focus. Thanks to this and thanks to the soft movement of the focus ring, the lens is excellent also for video utilities, where the softness in the shift to focus point with open shutters is important.

Nikon D610. Zeiss Otus 28mm f/1.4 @ ISO-640 @10 sec @f/1.4


The lens has flares but only in extreme conditions, such as shooting directly into a fire. Surprisingly, the flares are also well controlled and they are relatively few compared with other lenses I took photos with into fire, which happened more than once before. I do not have an understanding regarding the type and order of elements inside the lens that enable this. But there is no doubt that this is a beast when it comes to flares. It is important to note that the below example was shot with aperture of f/1.4 completely open! No other lens that I worked with could achieve these results with wide open aperture.

Nikon D610. Zeiss Otus 28mm f/1.4 @ ISO-640 @10 sec @f/1.4

Since all photos of that session were taken with completely open aperture at f/1.4, it was clear that I will find vignetting because this is always the case, especially in sky objects shooting where vignetting occur very easily. But, in this case too, vignettings were hardly notable. The ones that did occur were gone with "just a touch of Lightroom". The big advantage of this is that there is hardly any need to lighten the edges, and thus the resolution of the stars shooting is not compromised.


I searched. And I searched well. Because there is no lens that in aperture f/1.4 has no CA's. It was obvious that it's there and I don't see it. So I enlarged the photo to maximum and it wasn't there. No blue or any other CA's. So I said to myself, OK, they resolved the corners but clearly not all the frame. I ran down the photo across and back to the center of the photo and still couldn't find it. I don't even know what to say about this because I never came across this situation with aperture wide open.


Sharpness with open shutter – where it always fail
Well, with aperture f/1.4, all lenses fail. There is no lens that with such wide open aperture will not fail, even slightly, let alone in the corners. It is impossible to manufacture such perfect lenses for these conditions. in shooting stars, that's where it is most notable because instead of getting a round star, a straight and stretched line is created and at best case, it is not very stretched.

Yet here, an extreme effort had been made to create sharpness and it seems that with all the weight and size of the lens, many benefits are to be found and this is one of them. Apparently, there's a price to be paid in order to achieve corners sharpness in aperture f/1.4, and the price is in the size… at the very corners, the circle begins to lose its shape and receives the shape of a small star, and yet remains sharp. It is important to note that this happens only at the edge and that the rest of the photo is sharpened to the maximum.

Corners enlargement of Nikon and Zeiss

Nikon D610. Zeiss Otus 28mm f/1.4 @ ISO-640 @10 sec @f/1.4


AF-S Nikon 20mm f/1.8G ED. @ ISO-1000 @20 sec @f/2.2


Grade: 4.9 out of 5.
The lens is amazing at aperture of f/1.4. I did not have the chance to test it with closed aperture because of where I was. But I saw typical behavior to aperture f/3.2 at the best lenses you can find, and not with aperture of  f/1.4. to those of you who understand photography, you know exactly what I mean and it has great significance. There are no vignetting, no CA's or absent light, no sharpness falls at the edges and only in the extreme there is little to barely loss of stars shape. In addition to this, there was no need to handle the color of the photography since it resulted in maximal quality as it comes from the body. I did not add any color! Moreover, the open aperture enabled me to shoot at only 500 ISO. The amazing amount of stars appearing in the photos is thanks to the remarkable contrast/resolution of the lens.

So, why 4.9 grade and not a 5? The answer to this comes from one of my university professors that never gave me a 100 grade and always 99. When I asked him why I only got 99 if all my answers were correct, he replied: "nobody's perfect and the fact that I didn't see something wrong, doesn't mean it is not there. So I automatically took one point because I must have missed something when I checked your exam". Several years later I realized that he was right and I never provide a perfect grade to anybody.


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