Zeiss Otus 85mm: first impressions

Categoria: English Pubblicato: Sabato, 20 Settembre 2014 Scritto da Max Angeloni

Zeiss Otus lenses were born under the idea of having lenses without any compromise with regards to optical quality, and construction. Weight, size, price are all considered of secondary importance in the design process.
Long story short...the Otus line is all about perfection and, to be perfect there's no acceptable compromise .
And Zeiss clearly shows the will to stick with this approach.
Another thing to consider is that lenses like this are not for everyone. Some just don't need them to get the result they want. Others may not see the added value coming from these lenses, or they just are not able to get the most out of these lenses...it all depends on the way you approach photography, the way you see photography. the way you go out and shoot.
The Zeiss Otus line as I said before, are all about perfection for what concerns sharpness, bokeh, geometric correction...and this is true throughout the entire aperture range. Especially at the widest apertures, where many other bright lenses show their weak side, these lenses are capable of give their best.
Ok...we're done with this introduction, let's move to something more interesting.


Nikon D800, Zeis Otus 85mm f/1.4, 1/640, f/1.6, Iso 800

Nikon D810, Zeis Otus 85mm f/1.4, 1/500, f/1.4, Iso 200


In my field test about the Zeiss Otus 55mm I compared its size with the Nikon AF-S 24-70 f/2.8 G, but with this 85mm the first it comes in my mind is a big pot where to put all the red roses the groom buys when he's ready to ask: "Will you marry me?".

All jokes aside, as I wrote before, the containment of the overall dimensions it's something that has never been compatible with the maximum quality, and for this reason I'm not going to deepen this anymore.
Anyway it's clear that due to its size (12cm, almost 5 inches long) and weight (1.14Kg, slightly more than 2.5 lbs) this lens is better coupled with big and heavy cameras. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying it can't be used with a D600/D610 or a DF, but the size and the weight of cameras like the D800/D810 or the D4 are more appropriate to have a better weight distribution, a better balance.
Did you notice that the shots used for my field test of the Otus 55mm were taken mostly with the Nikon DF? There's a simple reason behind this: the 55mm is an almost "standard" focal lenght,  the focal lenght you would usually use for street photography, for reportages. In situation like those, when you have to be able to shoot under the bright sun and the moment after in the dark of a cellar, the verstility of the Niokn DF sensor was the best choice for me.
With the 85mm though, I decided to use the D800/D810 and its insane resolution in order to get all the details I could from a lens with a focal lens that is perfect for portraits.
Different situations, different gear.

Nikon D800, Zeis Otus 85mm f/1.4, 1/100, f/2, Iso 320

On the Field.

The Zeiss Otus 55mm surprised me so much that I felt comfortable saying it was the best lens ever made for a Reflex camera.
Now it's not alone, there are two of them deserving that title. It's always difficult to talk about "the best lenses" especially because, in the future, we will probably be forced to talk about the best lense lineup ever produced, not just the best lenses.
The most attractive feature of the Otus lenses is the fact that they are Apochromatic lenses. It's not worth going deep into technicism but it would be sufficient to say that an Apochromatic lens allows to better face chromatic aberrations and at the same time get rid of those artifacts especially in the light-shadow transitions.
At the end of the day this means the lens produces an incredibly balanced picture that it's really above what we are used to.
You may find the "Apo" label even on cheap lenses but trust me...forget about it. The few lenses that are really Apochromatic are mostly produced by Leica and Zeiss...and it's clearly not a cheap technical choice.

Nikon D810, Zeis Otus 85mm f/1.4, 1/350, f/1.4, Iso 3200

Nikon D810, Zeis Otus 85mm f/1.4, 6", f/16, Iso 100

The last two pictures clearly show what an Apochromatic lens is. In high contrast situations like the two above, lenses like this are capable of  results that are impossible to imagine even with the best "traditional" lenses.

Ok, it's time to shoot!
As specified above, the 85mm Otus was tested on the 36MP sensor of the Nikon D800/D810.
This is what I use for my "heavy duty" assignments.
Few street photography, almost no reportage.
85mm is The focal length for Portraits, and this is what I focused on!

Given the "slow" pace a portrait shooting allows it would be possible to think about manual focusing but on the other side with your aperture set at F1.4 the depth of field is so shallow that it's not so easy to do it.
If your subject is, per say, at around 1mt from you even the best AF system may mistake by focusing on the eyebrow rather than on the iris.
Portrait photographers are aware of this and can understand me easily, and they would probably agree with me when I say that sometimes it's safer to use your manual focus and stop-down to F2 in order to have a slightly wider depth of field that also allows to better define a human face.
Of course you can further stop down and shoot a portrait at F8 or more but...Hey you have a lens that it's perfect even wide open, so perfect that it almost forces you to shoot with wide aperture settings.


Nikon D800, Zeis Otus 85mm f/1.4, 1/320, f/1.4, Iso 1000

Nikon D800, Zeis Otus 85mm f/1.4, 1/800, f/1.4, Iso 100

Nikon D800, Zeis Otus 85mm f/1.4, 1/100, f/1.8, Iso 320

Needless to say, this lens is perfect as far as geometric distortion is concerned. With regards to the bokeh...well, even at a casual glance you can easily see how good it is.
As we usually say, pictures are better than words to explain the qualities of your gear.

I can say whatever I want, I can tell you the bokeh it's perfect, the  threedimensional feel is incredible, that it's razor sharp...but if pictures don't show this, my words are useless.
This is how we work at Riflessifotografici.com.
We don't use snapshots, we plan what to shoot and when to shoot it in order to get the best out of the shooting session and let pictures talk for us.

Nikon D810, Zeis Otus 85mm f/1.4, 1/180, f/2, Iso 200

Nikon D800, Zeis Otus 85mm f/1.4, 1/640, f/2, Iso 1000


These are just first impressions and therefore I want to stop it here.
A couple of weeks are the bare minimum to start your relationship with a lens.
They're not enough though to master it, to make it your lens. Our envy goes to those who after just few shots feel ready to write reviews and judge a lens.
Also it's difficult to add more to what we already said, the risk is to become repetitive...the Otus lenses are just perfect.
They're heavy and expensive, this is for sure, and they're also manual focus only, but still...they're perfect.
As I already wrote in the 55mm field test, if you love a specific kind of lenses but you cannot afford an Otus, believe me...do not try one!
Everything else may become disappointing compared to these lenses.

A special thank goes to: Gilles Rocca, Pamela Camassa, Francesco Monte, Cecilia Rodriguez, Federica Sburgy, Elisa Spina, Michele Buonanni, Cesare Veneziani.


Nikon D810, Zeis Otus 85mm f/1.4, 1/125, f/1.4 Iso 1600

Nikon D800, Zeis Otus 85mm f/1.4, 1/2500, f/1.4, Iso 320

Nikon D810, Zeis Otus 85mm f/1.4, 1/1500 f/2.8, Iso 800


Nikon D800, Zeis Otus 85mm f/1.4, 1/320, f/1.8, Iso 1000

Nikon D800, Zeis Otus 85mm f/1.4, 1/1000, f/1.4 Iso 100

Nikon D800, Zeis Otus 85mm f/1.4, 1/250, f/1.6, Iso 400

Nikon D800, Zeis Otus 85mm f/1.4, 1/320, f/1.4, Iso 1000

Nikon D800, Zeis Otus 85mm f/1.4, 1/125, f/1.8, Iso 200

Nikon D800, Zeis Otus 85mm f/1.4, 1/200, f/1.8, Iso 200


Nikon D800, Zeis Otus 85mm f/1.4, 1/1000, f/3.5, Iso 100