Our apologies if the price has given you a sticker shock; but yes you have read it correctly and there is no printing error either! Th is lens is the second in the Otus series of ultra-premium grade lenses, the fi rst one being the 55mm f/1.4 Otus APO Distagon. Feedback from photographers, who used the latter, was a resounding “encore” and Zeiss has responded with this lens. Th is particular model is available in Canon and Nikon mounts.
Design & Build Quality
As with most German lenses, this one has a name, a mouthful in fact, – “Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Otus APO Planar T*”, where APO stands for an apochromatic design. The word “Otus” refers to the name of a sub-species of owls which have excellent night vision!
It is common to say, that a camera or a lens is built like a tank. That however, may not be suffi cient to describe this lens – this one is built like a battleship! It has all metal construction (except for the rubber covered aperture and focussing rings) and looks beautiful in satin black. The lens flares out in the front with the result that the front diameter is huge, necessitating large 86mm filters. The supplied metal lens hood too is solid (you can stand on it) with good flocking. This is a manual focus only lens but with electronic contacts. So, apart from the need to focus manually (and as you will see, carefully) it is compatible with all exposure modes and meter patterns.
It is unusually large and heavy for a lens of this class. Compared to Zeiss’ own Planar 85mm f/1.4 it is almost 40% heavier. It is wider and surprisingly shorter but bears a strong resemblance in looks to its sibling, the 55mm Otus.
The lens is packaged very nicely in a white box made of thick cardboard, with the lens internal layout printed on the cover. In the box, the lens and the hood are kept in custom cutouts made out of blue coloured foam. The entire box is kept in a sleeve. All in all, we admired the excellent presentation that befits a lens of this class.
The Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Otus is a complex design with no less than 11 elements in 9 groups. Of these, one element is aspheric and six elements are made of special anomalous partial dispersion glass to suppress chromatic aberrations. It also uses Zeiss’ famed T* multi-coating to reduce reflections.
As with the earlier Otus, Zeiss says this lens has been designed and made to make the presentgeneration high-pixel count D-SLRs achieve medium format performance at a fraction of the cost. Zeiss has specifically stated that this lens has been built with finest of (optical and mechanical) materials and is for all practical purposes free of chromatic aberration. They also claim that the lens resolves consistently with excellent contrast over the entire frame without any aberrations or distortion, fully open. In fact, it is optimized to be used wide open!
The aperture has 9 curved blades and has a very circular opening to aid the smoothness of bokeh. All numbers and markings are engraved (not screen printed) in very legible bright yellow colour. However, both meters and feet on the distance scale are marked in the same yellow colour and this may sometimes confuse the user.
The lens supplied to us came with a Nikon mount and we tested it on Nikon D600 and Nikon D4S bodies. While it was a bit front heavy with a bare D600, the balance was much better after adding a battery pack to the D600. With the heavier D4S, the balance was perfect. As it employs an internal focussing system the length of the lens does not change when you focus and so the balance does not shift either. The front element does not rotate thus making it easy to use graduated and polarizing filters. Both the focussing and aperture rings are rubber covered. There is no pattern on this rubber cover but it is made of very soft material and hence prone to scratches. However, it provides a very good non-slippery grip. Manual focussing was a delight due to the very wide and easily graspable focus ring. The damping was excellent and the focussing ring just glides indicating tight manufacturing tolerances. You need to turn the focussing ring as much as 261º to focus from closest focussing point to infinity. This large turn greatly helps in precise focussing which is essential for this lens. The aperture ring (only for Nikon mount) engages at half stop intervals with very positive clicks and is marked from f/1.4 to f/16.
As you would expect, this lens is a superlative performer. There was no chromatic aberration visible. Nor could we observe any noticeable distortion. The contrast was excellent and the colours were very vibrant straight off the camera. All this was maintained throughout the frame. The most important aspect was that the lens was absolutely amazing when used fully open. It was sharp corner to corner even at f/1.4 with only very slight degradation in the corners.
It resolves exquisite details and the micro contrast is outstanding. Vignetting was minimal and vanished by f/2.8. To get most of this lens you need to focus it very very carefully (at f/1.4 DOF is wafer thin) in live-view with zoom in (magnification). We did not get consistently good results using focus confirmation. A tripod is a must to get the best of this lens. The bokeh is buttery smooth with a beautiful fall off – the sharpness simply melts away! This is so good that perhaps it alone justifies the very high price.
Value for Money
This lens is priced at an astronomical Rs. 2,99,950/- (MRP). In fact it costs more than three times the price of Zeiss’ own Planar 85mm f/1.4, an exceptional lens in its own right. Whether it is worth or not largely depends on what you are looking for. If you are a meticulous studio/landscape photographer (or someone else who just wants the highest quality money can give) then this may even be considered as an “economical” alternative to a medium format system. Remember that a lot of care in focussing and a tripod are needed to extract the best out of the Otus.
• Simply the best portrait lens for DSLRs
• Highest optical quality you can get with practically no aberrations or distortions
• Extremely smooth focussing with large focus ring rotation angle for precise focussing
• Will get the best of present high resolution D-SLRs
• Tack sharp even wide open with great micro-contrast
• Superb build quality
• Super expensive
• No AF or VR/IS
• Huge and heavy for a lens of this focal length and speed
FINAL SCORE 82%
Design and Build Quality 19/20
Key Features 15/20
Distortion Control 5/5
Darkening of corners 5/5
Extra Features 3/5
Value for Money 6/10
This is a lens that perhaps a seasoned photographer (with perhaps deep pockets) will “acquire” (rather than just buy) fully knowing what it can do what it cannot. It is simply not a lens for techies as it lacks features like AF and VR. However, for a learned photographer who works unhurridly and methodically in a studio, it is a tool that can give results which were earlier possible only with medium format. From that angle you can even say that it will save lakhs of rupees! It is a lens that delivers exemplary performance. Those who want the “best in the world” short telephoto lens, end your search with this lens.