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Author Topic: Testing the Zeiss 18mm f/3.5 on the D800E  (Read 2074 times)
madshutter
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« on: December 19, 2013, 07:59:33 AM »
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Hello everyone,

Always looking for the best equipment for Landscape & Fine Art photography, in my recent D800E VS SD1 MERRILL PART II: THE WIDE ANGLE BATTLE article I compared the classic, legendary Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 AF-S on the Nikon D800E against the Sigma 8-16mm f/4.5-5.6 HSM on the Sigma SD1 Merrill. I come to the conclusion that if you intend to take full advantage of the Nikon D800E's high resolution, then the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 AF-S isn't quite up to the task; this camera & lens combination offered results comparable (minus lens speed, of course) with those obtainable with the Sigma 8-16mm f/4.5-5.6 HSM on the SD1 Merrill, a smaller & lighter kit costing far less. Since for my FINE ART PHOTOGRAPHY business I have to print very big, while the SD1 Merrill's files are good enough if you prepare them for print carefully, the Nikon D800E's 36 Mp and its file quality are something I am not ready to give up just yet - so I decided to keep looking for that elusive perfect super-wide angle lens that seems so difficult to find: enter the Zeiss 18mm f/3.5 Distagon T* ZF.2.



You can read the whole story on my blog HERE, but in short my conclusions are that overall, on full-frame cameras I find the Zeiss 18mm f/3.5 an impressive lens at what it does best (sharpness, contrast and Zeiss-colours, to mention a few); but one with some serious technical flaws (vignetting and distortion) that might be show stoppers for some. On APS-C cameras, on the other hand, things change: on the smaller sensor you get rid of pretty much all the distortion, of all the un-sharp corners, and of quite a bit of the vignetting as well, and you are left with a 27mm f/3.5 that performs pretty well. Sadly, an expensive one at $1.395 US, and even more so if you consider that for a little less money at $1.256,95 US (both are B&H prices as of December 15, 2013) you can get the Nikon 16-35mm f/4G ED VR II AF-S.

Full review, with images and comparison with the 14-24mm is on my blog HERE: enjoy!

Best,

Vieri
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allegretto
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« Reply #1 on: December 19, 2013, 09:22:55 AM »
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The Zeiss 21mm f-2,0 is a notably better lens. Some vignetting wide open but just a touch that draws you centrally. Pretty much gone at 2.8
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mcbroomf
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« Reply #2 on: December 19, 2013, 09:48:07 AM »
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The Zeiss 21mm f-2,0 is a notably better lens. Some vignetting wide open but just a touch that draws you centrally. Pretty much gone at 2.8

The 21mm Zeiss is a 2.8 lens not 2.0  did you mean the 25mm?
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Mike Broomfield
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joneil
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« Reply #3 on: December 19, 2013, 10:03:59 AM »
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I agree the 21mm is better, but I do love the 18mm Zeiss on my D700 (full frame).      However I knew what I was getting into when I bought it.   Getting below 20mm (ish) on 35mm film or full frame digital cameras, I personally have never found the "perfect" lens, be it fixed prime of zoom.    You always seem to give up something.  

Years ago I talked to a profession optician, and not the eyeglass kind,  who worked designing lenses, and if memory servers me correctly, the "magic line" or whatever you want to call it is around the 19 to 21mm range on 35mm cameras ( and by default, full frame today).   Beyond that point, the difficulties in making a lens where everything performs "perfectly" does not just double in difficulty, it jumps up on a exponential scale in difficulty, or in plain language, a factor of ten or more.

So to get a "perfect" 15 to 18mm range lens - however you want to define that - you would be looking at a lens that costs far beyond the $1,300.oo range, no matter who makes it.   How many full frame lenses below 18mm for Nikon or Canon are there out there right now?  Or better yet, how many of them are NOT fisheyes and NOT for APC format sensors only?  I haven't seen or used it, but I know Zeiss has a 15mm for Nikon and Canon, but that lens is about $3,000 if memory serves me correctly.

So the way I see, using one myself, the 18mm is a specialty lens.   If you want sharp, low distortion, etc, go the 21mm Zeiss (which is about $,900 I think?)

but otherwise, in 18mm, it si  a stand alone product, and I enjoy mine for what it is

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NancyP
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« Reply #4 on: December 19, 2013, 10:29:50 AM »
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You are in the perfect location for ultra wide photography - all that wonderful light from the water.  I find that 21mm is pretty darn wide on FF in many situations, but nothing beats it for a subtle "blue hour" rendition. I happened to get lucky and find a good used copy of the ZE 21mm f/2.8 when I bought my full frame camera (Canon 6D), it is an impressive lens. (Who needs a standard zoom? The lens was slightly cheaper than the Tamron 24-70 f/2.8 IS I had planned to get that day, before I saw the 21mm on the used lens shelf - instant change of plan!)
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allegretto
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« Reply #5 on: December 19, 2013, 10:41:17 AM »
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The 21mm Zeiss is a 2.8 lens not 2.0  did you mean the 25mm?

no, I made a bad keystroke. f2.8, you're quite correct!
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Paul2660
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« Reply #6 on: December 19, 2013, 11:16:23 AM »
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My results with the 21mm F2.8 Zeiss surprised me on the D800 family.  I shot it for about 1 week against my 14-24, hoping that I could replace the  heavier 14-24 in some instances.  However I found that with 2 different Zeiss 21mm lenses my corners were not sharp until F11. At F11 an excellent lens, but I also had hoped to use it closer to wide open.  The 14-24 at 21mm (my lens) was able to do much better in that it was showing good strong corners at around F7.1.    I also found a bit of coma when wide open in the one night test I did with the 21mm.    

I next tried the 18mm F 3.5 and I found it to be a better lens all round.  For most landscapes I shoot, the distortion is not an issue.  It's smaller and lighter than the 21mm and of course the 14-24.  The Zeiss 18mm and 14-24 were much closer in overall image sharpness.    At the time I did not yet have a filter solution that worked for me on the 14-24 that allowed at CL-PL, I since I made one.  

I have dropped back to the 14-24 most of the time as it's pretty much coma free for night work at F2.8, has AF, which come in handy at times and it just seems to get the job done for me.  Long hikes (which seem to happen less these days) I will take the 18mm simply due to weight and less bulk.  

Thanks for the review.

Paul Caldwell
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Paul Caldwell
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Photography > http://photosofarkansas.com
Blog> http://paulcaldwellphotography.com
JohnBrew
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« Reply #7 on: December 19, 2013, 11:37:44 AM »
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I use the Zeiss 21 on a D800. I find the corners are good by f8, on my example. One little trick you can use for sharper corners on the D800 is to shoot 5/4 image ratio, which may preclude the reason for a super wide, but I thought I'd toss it out there.
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madshutter
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« Reply #8 on: December 22, 2013, 11:17:50 AM »
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I just added sharpness tests for distortion-corrected images. PS CS6 profile works very well, it seems to me that there isn't any significant loss in sharpness applying the profile Smiley Of course, I also updated the zip file containing all the test images for download, which now includes the corrected files as well.
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