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Author Topic: The Zeiss 135mm APO: Close-Up and Macro Use  (Read 2747 times)
Michael Erlewine
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« on: June 25, 2013, 06:17:49 AM »
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This is not technical review, so don't remind me of that please. There are all kinds of MTF charts and technical details out there. This post is more about falling in love with a lens, which I have not done for a long time.

I am the mentor for the close-up and macro forum on NikonGear.com, but not a professional photographer by my own choice. I shoot nature subjects. I want to say something about this new APO Zeiss lens.

How do I know I have found what is (for me at least) a great lens? Of course there are the photos, but that is not the whole of it. It is when once I have the lens in my hand and am learning to use it that (without thinking) I just find myself daydreaming about it. The new Zeiss 135mm f/2 APO is such a lens.

Its promise teases me, leads me on, and gets me up earlier in the morning. If one can have a love affair with a lens, I am having one with this new Zeiss. And even though Zeiss is made in the same factory as my beloved Voigtlander 125mm f/2.5 APO-Lanthar was, up to now, try as I might, I could not get into the Zeiss IQ, except for some of their industrial and scanner lenses, which I like.

I have read countless reviews of the Zeiss Makro-Planars of which I have the 100mm and 50mm macro lenses. A really good Zeiss review finds me digging out my two Makro-Planars and having another go at them, but within a day or so they are back in storage. As sharp as they are, and they are sharp enough for me, the lack of lens correction somehow makes them (in my eyes) a little too ordinary, especially when I have the CV-125 APO and a couple of Leica macros sitting around. Why not just use the Voigtlander 125mm or a Leica every time? Mostly I do.

When I first heard about this new Zeiss 135mm APO, I did not think much of it since it's not a macro lens and has a reproduction ration of 1:4, not what I am generally looking for. I did note how fast the lens is and f/2 is very good on the eyes, plus a 77mm filter is a good sign. I like large diameter lenses.

But when I saw a couple of posts suggesting that the new Zeiss might be a CV-125mm APO killer, I had my doubts. Not likely, I thought. And at $2200 a copy, I was not about to run out and buy one.

But time tells all, and by increments I kind of pieced together a plausible story that I could sell myself on about why I might just have to try one out. For one, $2200 is less that folks pay for a CV-125mm in good condition. But close-focus at 2.62 feet (.80 m)? That's not very close and I have all kinds of lenses that are not quite close enough, like the Voigtlander 180mm APO, and so on. Yet, 2.62 feet is kind of close for a telephoto, although it is a short telephoto lens.

And so it went, with the evidence gradually piling up to the point that I could no longer ignore it. But what really turned the tide for me is my intuition. I woke up one morning with the hunch that this really could be a great lens.

And then there is how I go about buying an expensive lens. I certainly don't ask my wife. First I read all about it, and tell myself I can't afford it. Then I read some more. And again. And there comes the day when I am looking at a review of it for the umpteenth time, and I just buy it. I have no excuse other than that if not now, when? Should I wait until I am old? Hey, I am already getting old. Can my budget digest such expenditure? Well, not well, but screw it. Somehow I will limp by. And I can always sell some equipment. That's what I tell myself.

Anyway, suddenly I am looking at a screen message "Thank you for your order," and that little rascal inside me is once again in hog heaven. And then I wait. I usually can hear the UPS truck coming down our street, and for sure I hear that big truck door slam and race to the door. I know I have to sign for something like this.

And the box is soon open and the lens is in my hands. I have bought a lot of expensive lenses over the years. I have maybe two lenses that are not top quality in my whole collection, and I just happened on them. The rest all are very distinguished.

So this new Zeiss APO lens has gotten my full attention. I can' wait to get up in the morning and read more about it. I get up in the middle of the night, so there is no light to go outside, so I either go to my little studio, read more about it, or write about it, as I am now. When dawn comes, I go outside and fight the Michigan wind.

As for this APO Zeiss, all the signs are good. The nay-sayers that I have read don't even have a copy of this lens, so what do they know. Those that have it seem to love it. And who cares? My lens needs are kind of specialized, and with the Zeiss I am pushing it beyond what it was designed for and toward my close-up requirements, and it works. Like my CV-125mm APO, the Zeiss just works and works.

It works at a distance, and it works close-up. It even works well enough with extension, even with a lot of extension, and I hate extension. When I zoom in to the finest detail on my D800E or D7100 (no AA filter), the Zeiss is right there. If I had to guess, I would say it outperforms any camera I have. I am not a techspert, so I can't say with authority, but if I had to bet money, that's how it would go down.

And here is the clincher: aside from the fact that I cannot get to 1:1 with this lens, I have to honestly say it outperforms my treasured Voigtlander 125mm f/2.5 APO-Lanthar in every way. Certainly it is sharper. As for color correction I can't say for certain, but because don't so those kind of tests, but they must be about equal. Color correction is IMO the key element for me in lenses. Apparently I can see the difference every time.

And the last (and most telling) word is that when I find myself thinking of shooting, I am now thinking of that Zeiss APO, not the CV-125. And that was at first shocking!

I have corresponded with Zeiss, and while they won't discuss unannounced products, they are fully aware of our need for an APO Macro Zeiss. IMO this is a landmark lens, and I have some of the best-corrected lenses ever made, including three of the Printing-Nikkors, the El-Nikkor APO 105mm, the Coastal Optics 60mm APO, Leica APO lenses, and so on.

I am done testing this lens and will begin shooting with it, heavy and cumbersome as it is.

Anyone else like it?


Included here a couple of test shots, the second a crop at 100% with focus on the two anthers at the top. You can see how sharp it is... Nikon D800E
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Michael Erlewine
Founder: MacroStop.com, AMG - All-Movie Guide, All-Music Guide, All-Game Guide, Matrix Software, Classic Posters, ClassicPosters.com, SpiritGrooves.net, and other sites.
michael
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« Reply #1 on: June 25, 2013, 11:55:43 AM »
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I bought myself one for my birthday. Only a few test shots so far, but what I'm seeing is astonishing.

I hope to have more to say in a few weeks.

Michael
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Michael Erlewine
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« Reply #2 on: June 25, 2013, 02:37:14 PM »
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Nikon D800E and Zeiss APO 135mm

http://www.flickr.com/photos/98006906@N05/

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Michael Erlewine
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« Reply #3 on: June 26, 2013, 03:19:20 AM »
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My birthday is coming up soon. Perhaps I should get one too.

I love my 100mm f2 Makro Planner. Wide open this 135mm APO seems to be in another league.
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Michael Erlewine
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« Reply #4 on: June 26, 2013, 05:01:27 AM »
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The new APO 135mm Zeiss is outstanding because of the degree of correction (APO) that it has, and because it is fast wide open, and very sharp.

My two Makro Planar Zeiss macros sit on the shelf because of the lack of correction.
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Michael Erlewine
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Jim Kasson
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« Reply #5 on: June 26, 2013, 10:05:54 AM »
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I agree that it's a pretty special lens. I see people talking about using it wide open. It has quite a bit of light falloff towards the corners used at f/2. It's fixable in post, but I find that I almost never use it wider than f/2.8. The great central contrast wide open does make it much easier to focus than the 100, even with finder screens not intended for manual focusing.

Jim
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Michael Erlewine
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« Reply #6 on: June 26, 2013, 12:05:03 PM »
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More photos from the Zeiss 135mm APO with Nikon D800E and Zerene Stacker.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/98006906@N05/
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Michael Erlewine
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Rajan Parrikar
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« Reply #7 on: June 26, 2013, 12:22:46 PM »
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My two Makro Planar Zeiss macros sit on the shelf because of the lack of correction.

Both the 100MP and 50MP are exceptional lenses and I have not found their non-APO status to be an impediment in any way. They are also outstanding at f/4, f/5.6 and f/8.
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Michael Erlewine
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« Reply #8 on: June 26, 2013, 12:29:46 PM »
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That why we are all created different. To me the lack of correction is clear as day, while APO corrected lenses are also clear to me. People are sensitive to different things IMO, and lenses are one of them.

Be that as it may, this new Zeiss APO should please both of us.
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Michael Erlewine
Founder: MacroStop.com, AMG - All-Movie Guide, All-Music Guide, All-Game Guide, Matrix Software, Classic Posters, ClassicPosters.com, SpiritGrooves.net, and other sites.
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« Reply #9 on: June 26, 2013, 12:56:04 PM »
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That why we are all created different. To me the lack of correction is clear as day, while APO corrected lenses are also clear to me. People are sensitive to different things IMO, and lenses are one of them.

Be that as it may, this new Zeiss APO should please both of us.

Michael,

Unless I am shooting a high contrast area against a white background, f/2 has never been an issue with either the 100MP or the 50MP. And longitudanal CA can now be corrected much more effectively in the latest versions of ACR.

The new 135 looks very compelling. I hesitate only because of the lack of AF at that focal length and because the 70-200 f/2.8 II is so damn good (but of course, no f/2 there).
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Michael Erlewine
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« Reply #10 on: June 26, 2013, 01:24:40 PM »
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IMO, the Zeiss APO 135mm lens is not for everyone, but the Nikon 70-200 II does not compare to it, and I like the 70-200, but the Zeiss is a very special lens to my mind.
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Michael Erlewine
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« Reply #11 on: June 26, 2013, 01:50:45 PM »
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IMO, the Zeiss APO 135mm lens is not for everyone, but the Nikon 70-200 II does not compare to it, and I like the 70-200, but the Zeiss is a very special lens to my mind.

I meant the Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8 L IS II lens, a magnificent optic.
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Michael Erlewine
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« Reply #12 on: June 26, 2013, 01:59:20 PM »
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I don't have Canon lenses, but I have heard great things about the Canon 70-200. Perhaps it is highly corrected.
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Michael Erlewine
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« Reply #13 on: July 06, 2013, 03:58:05 AM »
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More examples of the Zeiss APO

http://www.flickr.com/photos/98006906@N05/
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Michael Erlewine
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orchidblooms
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« Reply #14 on: July 11, 2013, 09:01:06 PM »
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i have had my 135 apo  since march 29....  i love it...  it stays on the d800e 90% of the time...

it did fail - chip went while in my hand, in use at jazzfest - it is in for replacement - should be quick turnaround

i have taken nice fireworks shots with this lens - as well as great flower photos - i bought if for nature / flowers

http://www.flickr.com/photos/iggyweb/

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Michael Erlewine
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« Reply #15 on: July 12, 2013, 02:04:59 AM »
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orchidblooms:

Interesting: The chip in my Zeiss 135mm APO also went out and an "Err" message appeared on my Nikon D800E, making it unusable. I am getting a new copy and sending the old one back to B&H, since it is still in RETURN limits.

But this appears to be a weak spot for this lens.

I agree, I keep this lens on most of the the time now.
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Michael Erlewine
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orchidblooms
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« Reply #16 on: July 13, 2013, 10:24:34 AM »
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when the chip fails - you would not get an err message....  nothing but non functioning 'wheel' and a display that did not reflect anything of value until you set this to custom lens...   are you sure you had the aperture ring locked at f22?
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Michael Erlewine
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« Reply #17 on: July 14, 2013, 08:40:30 AM »
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It was locked to f/22. It is a failure. The new one works perfectly.
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Michael Erlewine
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« Reply #18 on: July 31, 2013, 02:51:52 PM »
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the err message only shows when the ring is not locked...  for me...

seems odd...

when mine died - simply was not communicating - did not show any true info in window.... 

my new one blipped out a bit,,,,  showed f22  regardless of setting - i cleaned mount - seems better...

i am beginning to wonder if there is something with the mount that is tweeking on these lenses...
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