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