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Author Topic: In Praise of Specialized Lenses  (Read 13783 times)

Michael Erlewine

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In Praise of Specialized Lenses
« on: March 13, 2015, 08:38:24 am »

I am a Nikon user, which was just the luck of the draw. Of course I have the requisite lenses, like the triumvirate, Nikon 14-24mm, 24-70mm, and 70-200mm lenses, but I seldom use them. Why is not hard to explain. While they are remarkable lenses in their own way, none of them are highly corrected. Somewhere along my journey of photography, I began to see the difference in lenses and ceased to find satisfaction in the ordinary degree of lens correction. Too bad for my pocketbook!

In the process of searching for what I originally called ultimate “sharpness” in lenses, which of course I initially assumed (falsely) was a just matter of better resolution, I gradually realized that resolution alone was not the answer. So I then fell into deciding that acutance (micro-contrast) made all the difference in what I was searching for. That held my attention for a while. Micro-contrast is very satisfying (and important) indeed.

But then, very gradually, like the sun coming up, it dawned on me that the icing on the cake, the tip of the top, so to speak, was not just resolution and not just acutance, but lens correction, you know, all the hideous fringing we try to ignore or do away with. Somehow, perhaps almost subliminally, I could see the difference just by looking at photographs taken with highly-corrected (APO) lenses.

And that discovery started me on my journey of finding highly-corrected lenses. I have written extensively about the virtues of apochromatic (APO) lenses, those lenses that have been corrected for the various aberrations, etc.

Unfortunately, Nikon does not have many highly-corrected lenses in their current offerings. So I found myself wandering off-campus into other brands, lenses from Leica, Voigtlander, Zeiss, and so on. Of course, many of these lenses did not fit the Nikon mount, so in my search for APO lenses I found myself (with help from experts) rigging various mounts, searching for helicoids, and converting lenses to the Nikon F-mount standard.

To recapitulate, I first gravitated to higher-resolution cameras (Nikon D3x), and then to those without AA (low-pass) filters (Nikon D800E, D810), D7100) which improved micro-contrast, and finally to apochromatic (highly-corrected) lenses. These three steps together brought me what I was looking for in my original quest for “sharpness,” in particular that last step, APO lenses.

Pretty soon I wasn’t using Nikon lenses for much of anything other than family photos and a few other things. Instead I was using highly-corrected lenses like the Coastal Optics APO 60mm f/4 macro (forensic lens), the Leica Elmarit-R 100mm f/2.8 APO macro, and most of all the Voigtlander 125mm f/2.5 APO-Lanthar lens. This last lens, the Voigtlander 125mm was, for my work, the perfect macro lens. It was fast, had a focus throw (lens barrel) of a whopping 630 degrees or so, went to 1:1, and was highly corrected.

At that time I knew of no other lens that had all those qualities. Of course I had a pile of Nikon macro lenses (200mm Micro-Nikkor, 70-180mm Zoom Micro-Nikkor, many Micro-Nikkor 105s, etc.), but they all were not well corrected. Then, with the help of a few lens experts, I fell down the rabbit-hole into the world of exotic industrial lenses. Now here Nikon shines!

This group includes lenses specially made to view computer monitors (CRT-Nikkor-O), transfer Hollywood films (Printing Nikkors), reproduce whatever (Repro Nikkor), and grace photo-enlargers (El Nikkors). And it was not just Nikon, but incredible industrial lenses can be found from Zeiss and many others. In fact, the world of fine enlarger lenses has barely been touched so far. Much research remains to be done, with incredible bargains available to those who do it.

And these industrial lenses really are exotic. Some are very fast, like the Repro-Nikkor, with a wide f/stop of f/1.0 and no focusing mechanism. Another is the 55mm CRT Nikkor-O (oscilloscope) at f/1.2. And the enlarger lens El Nikkor 105mm APO lens f/5.6, with its marvelous almost 3D qualities. I could go on, pointing out lenses like the classic four lenses for the Nikon Multiphot machine (19mm f/2.8, 35mm f/4.5, 65mm f/4.5, and 120mm f/6.s) or the Zeiss Luminars, the Leitz Photars, etc.

Years ago I learned about many of the lenses from the brilliant lensman Bjørn Rørslett at this site:


http://www.naturfotograf.com/lens_spec.html


Most of these industrial lenses are a major PITA when it comes to mounts. Most are none-standard, so I have a whole box of adaptors, helicoids, and several bellows to help them out. And they are not walk-around lenses either; most don’t go to infinity, some only work at one distance, like 1:1, and so on. Why bother?

“Bother,” because within their limited range, they offer some incredible opportunities for photographers. At least I think so. And in the midst of all of these exotic lenses, along comes Zeiss with their Otus line of APO lenses, which opens up another vast doorway to photographers.

I had a number of Zeiss lenses prior to the Otus series, lenses like the Zeiss Macro-Planar macros, the 100mm and 50mm, and others. While the Makro-Planar macros were very sharp, they also were very not color-corrected, so their resulting photos were too “contrasty” and color-fringy for my work.

However, the new Zeiss Otus APO line (55mm, 85mm, and 135mm) are just of incredible quality when it comes to correction. Although they are not made for close-up, I am making them work close because the results are worth it. I use small amounts of extension to bring them close, although as a rule I never use extension.

Anyway, those are some thoughts about the value and beauty of specialized lenses. I would love to hear about some of the special lenses readers use, if you have time.

I have many free articles, books, videos on lenses and close-up photography for those who want to learn more or see examples. You kind of have to dig around a bit on the site. Look under Macro-Stop, but also “Free e-books” and Articles:

MacroStop.com

This image, taken yesterday, was taken with the Nikon D810, a bellows, and the El Nikkor APO 105mm f/5.6 enlarger lens, one of the Nikkor exotic industrials.
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hiepphotog

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Re: In Praise of Specialized Lenses
« Reply #1 on: March 13, 2015, 09:57:59 am »

Michael,

I have actually looked at  your e-book before on FM. Quite a nice summary of what these lenses can do, especially for macro work. I'm just curious about the performance difference between the CV 125 (Had one and sold it) and the APO 135 (both in term of infinity and macro). I'm looking for an all-rounder in this range and they seem to hover about the same price bracket (a tad more for the CV). Any input would be appreciated.
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Conner999

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Re: In Praise of Specialized Lenses
« Reply #2 on: March 13, 2015, 10:29:55 am »

Having owned the entire CV APO line, 100 Leica & 90 AA, 100 & 50 Zeiss macros, and the Zeiss 135 I agree with the OP's assessment.  At least one Otus is on the wish list. There are great lenses and while folks can fixate on sharpness, there is a clarity and transparency to images on high-res bodies using well corrected lenses.

From my experience and IMHO only:

CV APO line  - loved the 90 and 180, not so much the 125 - focus throw too slow for non-macro work (which I was using for)
100 Leica  - fantastic, but grew tired of adapters, so culled my adapted lenses down to 1-2. The CV90 APO matched the Leica 90AA at same apertures.
100 & 50 Zeiss macros  - sharp, great bokeh,  but like OP, too contrasty and not at all as well corrected as I thought should be given prices.
Zeiss 135 - utterly fantastic. Sharp, very well corrected and less SOOC contrast than prior Zeiss units. Sold it for needed AF glass and will buy again.

One lens, adapted, I held onto with my 800e was the Mamiya M645 120 macro - recommend giving a try.  

If my work right now didn't make AF a requirement some 99.0% of the time, I'd still own more of these and other great lenses.

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Michael Erlewine

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Re: In Praise of Specialized Lenses
« Reply #3 on: March 13, 2015, 12:03:52 pm »

Reply to previous posters:

The beauty of the CV-125 is that it is an all-around workhorse. It is fast, sharp, well-enough corrected, goes to 1:1, and has a long focus throw. It is well-made, but not quite as sturdy a build as I would like. And it is reasonably light compared to the new Zeiss APOs.

The term “APO” is not a standard, so there are many lenses that claim to be apochromatic, but the question is: to what degree? Unfortunately, I can’t name another macro lens that can be adapted to Nikon that has all of the attributes of the CV-125, can you? If you know of one, I would like to hear about it.

The new Zeiss 135mm APO is very, very sharp, perhaps the sharpest of the three new Zeiss APOs in my experience, although few say that.

I had and used the Mamiya 140mm macro, but it did not measure up to the new Zeiss lenses IMO.

Mamiya M645 120 macro: What kind of adapter did you end up using for this on the D800E?

What I need is a macro and wide-angle lens in the Zeiss Otus series. Until then I find that I can add a little bit of extension (which I hate to do), like 8mm (PK-11a) or 14mm (PK-12)  and get very much closer. Put the two extensions together and I am 1:1. This is something I plan to do more often, use small extension.

Here is a photo taken with  Zeiss Otuss 55mm APO f/1.4 with 22mm of Extension (PK-11a + PK-12). I can even add more to get closer yet. The result is about as close as I generally care to get. I am not much into true macro-range. This is not color finished, but just to give you an idea of closeness-with-extension with the 55mm APO Zeiss.
« Last Edit: March 14, 2015, 03:19:26 am by Michael Erlewine »
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LKaven

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Re: In Praise of Specialized Lenses
« Reply #4 on: March 13, 2015, 01:13:22 pm »

Your flower images are definitely a cut above, Michael.  The extra effort you put into them certainly shows in the results.

FranciscoDisilvestro

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Re: In Praise of Specialized Lenses
« Reply #5 on: March 13, 2015, 08:20:23 pm »

Your flower images are definitely a cut above, Michael.  The extra effort you put into them certainly shows in the results.

+1

John Koerner

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Re: In Praise of Specialized Lenses
« Reply #6 on: March 13, 2015, 09:22:55 pm »

What an interesting and well-written article; thanks for sharing. Fascinating and definitely worth being bookmarked.
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Garry Sarre

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Re: In Praise of Specialized Lenses
« Reply #7 on: March 14, 2015, 03:09:21 am »

Yes, great article Michael. How did you get all that lovely DOF?
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Michael Erlewine

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Re: In Praise of Specialized Lenses
« Reply #8 on: March 14, 2015, 03:21:26 am »

The DOF is thanks to Zerene Stacker.
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jrp

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Re: In Praise of Specialized Lenses
« Reply #9 on: March 14, 2015, 06:54:49 am »

Although it won't help you for macro, compare the APO 50mm Summicron-M with a regular 50mm Summicron.  Although you won't see a great difference at web resolution, it has the clarity / transparency that you are describing.  Some don't like it, as it makes regular images "boring" compared to the more characterful (ie, less well corrected Leica lenses).  The ASPH Summilux 50mm is also an APO lens, although it is not designated as such because at the time Leica thought that it would sound pretentious to have a standard (as opposed to telephoto) lens designated APO.

http://www.imx.nl/photo/leica/apo-summicron-m-250-mm-asph.html compares the APO Summicron with a Zeiss Distagon, which is even better corrected.  It explains that some of the older lenses were not corrected in the blue range because in the 50s and 60s because they were used with b&w and so didn't need to be.  So the answer to your question is that colour matters, although many prefer a more "artistic" rendering and try shooting in B&W (although here your options are limited to an expensive Leica body, or the probably more expensive one that it about to be announced, unless you get an appropriate filter).
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Michael Erlewine

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Re: In Praise of Specialized Lenses
« Reply #10 on: March 14, 2015, 07:40:50 am »

Those of us who wander off-campus into exotic lenses well know that aside from the regular advice that “a good photographer can use any lens,” in reality these special lenses not only have character, but they make our job a lot easier. The Nikon APO El Nikkor f/5.6 enlarger lens, a rare lens and very different from the more common El Nikkors, is one of those lenses.

And I can’t help but point out that this lens is extremely well corrected. According to the original literature, the APO 105mm El Nikkor was corrected not only for the three primary colors (R,G,B), but for the entire visible spectrum, as well as the near infrared and new UV light. They claimed that light transmission at the edge was as good as center. And these lenses are coated so that flare-free images can be produced. It has 8 blades, with .06% distortion.

The expert Ctein extensively tested 90 enlarger lenses and of them all, he wrote that the 105 APO-El Nikkor was the most perfectly-made enlarging lens available. He detected no aberrations of any type, and said it was the “one true APO on the market.”

I am a user, not a tester, but I believe him, because this little lens produced even more amazing images than the new Zeiss APOs. They have an incredible 3D quality. Here are some images I took with the Nikon D800E that show (to me at least) this quality. What do you think? To me, this lens can produce jaw-dropping images.
« Last Edit: March 14, 2015, 07:42:37 am by Michael Erlewine »
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Jack Hogan

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Re: In Praise of Specialized Lenses
« Reply #11 on: March 14, 2015, 09:30:41 am »

I had a number of Zeiss lenses prior to the Otus series, lenses like the Zeiss Macro-Planar macros, the 100mm and 50mm, and others. While the Makro-Planar macros were very sharp, they also were very not color-corrected, so their resulting photos were too “contrasty” and color-fringy for my work.

100 & 50 Zeiss macros  - sharp, great bokeh,  but like OP, too contrasty and not at all as well corrected as I thought should be given prices.
Zeiss 135 - utterly fantastic. Sharp, very well corrected and less SOOC contrast than prior Zeiss units. Sold it for needed AF glass and will buy again.

Interesting thread, beautiful pictures.  May I ask what it is exactly that you call contrast and why having less of it would be better?

Jack
« Last Edit: March 14, 2015, 09:37:38 am by Jack Hogan »
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Michael Erlewine

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Re: In Praise of Specialized Lenses
« Reply #12 on: March 14, 2015, 09:57:32 am »

To my eyes, the two Makro-Planars were sharp enough, but I felt that they were a little harsh with the contrast, but the real problem IMO is that they just were not corrected well enough. Beautifully made, I still own them, but keep meaning to sell them. I don’t use them. If you try the new Zeiss APOs, it is easy to see the difference.
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ErikKaffehr

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Re: In Praise of Specialized Lenses
« Reply #13 on: March 14, 2015, 10:00:43 am »

Hi,

Sorry to ask, but the correction you are not happy with is, is it longitudional chromatic aberration? Very few lenses are really well corrected for it. What apertures are you using?

Best regards
Erik


To my eyes, the two Makro-Planars were sharp enough, but I felt that they were a little harsh with the contrast, but the real problem IMO is that they just were not corrected well enough. Beautifully made, I still own them, but keep meaning to sell them. I don’t use them. If you try the new Zeiss APOs, it is easy to see the difference.
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Michael Erlewine

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Re: In Praise of Specialized Lenses
« Reply #14 on: March 14, 2015, 11:16:08 am »

Unfortunately the term APO (apochromatic) does not have a standard definition. It means different things to different folks and especially, so it seems, to camera companies. So it is useful to ask which aberrations/distortions are corrected.

The correction you refer to is what you called longitudinal chromatic aberration, which I call axial chromatic aberration as distinguished from lateral or transverse chromatic aberration. Transverse chromatic aberration is easier to remedy than axial. And there is spherical aberration, etc. As mentioned, it is one thing to correct for axial chromatic aberration in red, green, and blue, but another to correct a lens for all colors, not to mention in the near infrared or near ultraviolet part of the spectrum.

I mentioned above how well corrected the El Nikkor APO 105mm enlarger lens is, but many lenses are not that well corrected that bear the name “APO.”

As for me, I tend to do focus stacking with fast lenses, wide-open, which means correcting for axial chromatic aberration is more difficult than if I were using high (small) apertures. However, I AM exploring high apertures with the new Zeiss Otus APOs, because they are so well corrected that the effects of diffraction is not AS apparent as it is (at least to my eyes) compared with other lenses that I own.

I have tired of the endless discussion of the Zeiss lenses by folks who have never tried them, usually complaining about the price or explaining the reasons why they particularly don’t want them. I finally have to just dismiss these comments. The cure for this is to actually use the Zeiss APOs, rent or buy. I am interested in those who have tried and use the Zeiss APOs, to compare notes.

I am a little jaded when it comes to listening to what I call the “techsperts.” They are the same ones who warned me endlessly that taking off the low-pass filter would have very bad results. It didn’t. It improved my work. And worse, most of them denied that color correction (as we are discussing here) had anything whatsoever to do with sharpness, but I found out for myself that it had everything to do with what passes for “sharpness.” This is why I suggest that folks go and see for themselves if these highly-corrected APO lenses (not just from Zeiss) are useful for them.

I find highly-corrected lenses are what I have been looking for all of my photographic life. Your thoughts anyone?
« Last Edit: March 14, 2015, 11:31:47 am by Michael Erlewine »
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ErikKaffehr

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Re: In Praise of Specialized Lenses
« Reply #15 on: March 14, 2015, 12:27:51 pm »

Hi,

The reason I used longitudional instead of axial is mainly that it seems that it is more often used now days. So I prefer talking about axial 'chroma' but it is my understanding that LoCA is more often used these days.

Personally, I have eight lenses wearing Zeiss labels (six Hasselblad and two Sony), but that doesn't turn them into apochromats.

There were a couple of good reasons for me asking that question:

  • It is not very clear that there would be a lot of difference between lenses when stopped down to say f/8
  • From what I have seen, almost any lens has visible LoCa at large apertures. I am aware of a few exceptions, namely the Coastal Optics Macro, at least one of the Apo Lanthars, the two Otuses and probably the 135/2 Apo Sonnar.
  • I am clearly interested on acquiring either the 85/1.4 Otus or the 135/2 APO Macro in the relevant future.

One of my interests is to have a lens that performs well at large apertures and is free of axial chroma, it would be used for short DoF work, but not macro. Of the Hasselblad lenses I had, I found that the Sonnars were sharpest but all four samples I owned had some axial chroma, even when stopped down to f/8. The Otus 85/1.4 fills the bill, but it is a bit on the large size and it is also quite expensive. The 135/2 APO is more affordable, but a bit long for my taste. Sony has an 85/1.4, which is different from the normal Zeiss Planar 85/1.4 better corrected at full aperture but still having axial chroma.

One point is that axial chroma would be very visible in flower shots, specially if the flowers were white with dark background. I have not seen axial chroma (or radial chroma) on my Planar 100/3.5, but that lens is not intended for close up work. It may be interesting to discuss the 120/4 Macro Planar, but I have not done a lot of close up work with that lens.

Best regards
Erik



Unfortunately the term APO (apochromatic) does not have a standard definition. It means different things to different folks and especially, so it seems, to camera companies. So it is useful to ask which aberrations/distortions are corrected.

The correction you refer to is what you called longitudinal chromatic aberration, which I call axial chromatic aberration as distinguished from lateral or transverse chromatic aberration. Transverse chromatic aberration is easier to remedy than axial. And there is spherical aberration, etc. As mentioned, it is one thing to correct for axial chromatic aberration in red, green, and blue, but another to correct a lens for all colors, not to mention in the near infrared or near ultraviolet part of the spectrum.

I mentioned above how well corrected the El Nikkor APO 105mm enlarger lens is, but many lenses are not that well corrected that bear the name “APO.”

As for me, I tend to do focus stacking with fast lenses, wide-open, which means correcting for axial chromatic aberration is more difficult than if I were using high (small) apertures. However, I AM exploring high apertures with the new Zeiss Otus APOs, because they are so well corrected that the effects of diffraction is not AS apparent as it is (at least to my eyes) compared with other lenses that I own.

I have tired of the endless discussion of the Zeiss lenses by folks who have never tried them, usually complaining about the price or explaining the reasons why they particularly don’t want them. I finally have to just dismiss these comments. The cure for this is to actually use the Zeiss APOs, rent or buy. I am interested in those who have tried and use the Zeiss APOs, to compare notes.

I am a little jaded when it comes to listening to what I call the “techsperts.” They are the same ones who warned me endlessly that taking off the low-pass filter would have very bad results. It didn’t. It improved my work. And worse, most of them denied that color correction (as we are discussing here) had anything whatsoever to do with sharpness, but I found out for myself that it had everything to do with what passes for “sharpness.” This is why I suggest that folks go and see for themselves if these highly-corrected APO lenses (not just from Zeiss) are useful for them.

I find highly-corrected lenses are what I have been looking for all of my photographic life. Your thoughts anyone?

« Last Edit: March 15, 2015, 02:31:39 am by ErikKaffehr »
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Michael Erlewine

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Re: In Praise of Specialized Lenses
« Reply #16 on: March 14, 2015, 02:17:55 pm »

I had the Coastal Optics 60mm APO for years, but finally sold it. It is well corrected, but has some very disappointing features, like a focus throw of 210-degrees. What were they thinking with a 60mm lens? It almost has to be used on a rail because of that ulta-short focus throw. And it has a horrid hot-spot at 1:3, does not respond well to variable light, etc.

 As for the APO Lanthars, the CV-125 is the one to have, and I have all of them. It is the best walk-around macro lens I know of that is APO, fast, goes 1:1, and has a long focus throw. But even that lens does not hold a candle to the new Zeiss three lenses. As to which of those is better? They are all great. The Otus 55mm can take a small amount of extension, as well. I would probably get that one, if I had to have only one.
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BradSmith

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Re: In Praise of Specialized Lenses
« Reply #17 on: March 15, 2015, 03:21:08 pm »

Michael,
This is a very interesting thread.  The images are wonderful!   Something that would help me, in assessing this would be a comparison pair of images of the exact same subject.  One with an exceptionally well corrected lens such as you are describing, and one with a more commonly used lens with "average" degrees of correction.  Do you have any such comparison you could share?
thanks for your efforts
Brad Smith
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Michael Erlewine

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Re: In Praise of Specialized Lenses
« Reply #18 on: March 15, 2015, 03:27:59 pm »

Sorry,but I don't have an comparison images available, but hopefully seeing the images posted here might encourage some to rent these lenses and see for themselves.
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BernardLanguillier

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Re: In Praise of Specialized Lenses
« Reply #19 on: March 15, 2015, 06:29:36 pm »

Fully agree with you about the merits of the recent Zeiss glass and the importance of color correction.

I own the Otus 55 and the 135 APO and the only other lens that compares among those I have tried is the new Nikon 400mm f2.8 FL E.

Each time I use another lens, some even a bit sharper such as the legendary Leica 180mm f2.8 APO or MF lenses from Hassy, I feel that the images are lacking something, that total clarity and transparency that is hard to define with words but obvious when you see it. I used to think that the lack thereof was the result of AA filters, then the influence of the "small sensors",... but I share your view that the level of color correction is responsible for this "3D look", "transparency", "magic",...

The 135mm f2.0 works pretty well as a portrait lens as well.



Cheers,
Bernard
« Last Edit: March 16, 2015, 07:11:07 pm by BernardLanguillier »
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