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Lenses: Carl Zeiss vs. Nikkor

Cing-Dao Kan , Jul 31, 1996; 12:38 p.m.

I am think about getting a system of Contax/Yashica body and Carl Zeiss lenses? I take travel and nature photo and try to learn taking portrait. I have been using Nikon MF body for some time and was not very happy with the overall quality of their new AF lenses. It seems that the quality of Nikon lenses, in term of the materials they use, the lens construction, and optical performance, have gone down since the introduction of their AF technology.

Can someone comment on the overall quality of Zeiss MM lenses and recommend some in particular? Since the Zeiss MM lenses are mostly make in Japan, are they better made and do they perform superior compared to Nikkors? I don't know if it is worth to switching from Nikon to Zeiss, giving that fact that Nikkor has a wider selection? Seveal lenses that I am considering are 21mm f2.8, 50mm f1.4, 135mm f2.8, 100mm f? macro, and maybe a zoom from 80-200mm f4. I also perfer the MF body to AF body. I have heard a lots of good things about the Contax G1 with Zeiss G lenses, but very little about Zeiss MM lenses. Or perhaps the Contax G1 system is better choice than the Contax SLR system.

Thanks in advance for the help!

C.D. Kan


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Philip Greenspun , Aug 02, 1996; 04:51 p.m.

I'm sure that the optical quality of Nikon lenses has gone up quite a bit with many of their AF lenses. Of course, you might question the mechanical quality if you look at their consumer zooms, but nothing is wrong with the pro-type lenses. Nikon lenses are going to be a lot cheaper than Contax because they are mass-produced for the world's professionals whereas Contax is only used by a handful of serious amateurs.

If you are interested in a macro lens and an 80-200 zoom then I don't think you are a very good candidate for a rangefinder camera like the G1. Speaking of the 80-200, the Nikon 80-200/2.8 D is probably one of the best in the world.

Federico Genoese Zerbi , Aug 22, 1996; 10:08 a.m.

Think again about Nikon sharpness.

If you're considering macro, you really can't do any better in terms of sharpness than the Nikon AF 60 mm Micro. It's actually better than the old Nikkor AI 55mm Micro. The AF 105 Micro is also very good but not as sharp, IMHO. But being longer, allows you to take pictures of skittish things better.

Don't waste time or money on a macro/zoon for serious macro work.

Just my opinion.


Suhaimi Bari , Sep 14, 1996; 12:24 p.m.

I have used a wide range of NIKKOR lenses with NIKON MF and AF bodies, then I swicthed to the LEICA system and presently using CONTAX with ZEISS T* lenses. I personally find that German lenses gives superior colour contrast than the NIKKOR. ZEISS T * lenses are comparable to the LEICAs but less costly. I am very happy with my CONTAX system.

Suhaimi Bari , Sep 14, 1996; 12:27 p.m.

You may want to add the ZEISS T* 85 mm f1.4 to your list. This lens is great for potraits, especially in low light.

Nes Suno , Sep 16, 1996; 12:58 a.m.

I personally deliberated a few months before making my 35mm SLR camera purchase decision and selected a Contax over a Nikon, hopefully fully aware of the ramifications of this decision. (Well, nothing irrevocable, simply thousands of dollars).

By selecting the Zeiss route, you will restrict your selection of lenses, reduce the availability of rentable lenses, and spend a lot of money. However, if having Zeiss optics is important to you, then perhaps you should do it.

With that said, I selected the Contax/Zeiss solution mostly because of the excellent performance of my Yashica T4 Super (equipped with the Carl Zeiss T* Tessar lenses). I evaluated features, priced lenses and other options, and, like C.D., toyed with the idea of getting a G1 rangefinder but decided that for my photography interests (landscape, architecture, and portraiture) that my needs would be best served by an SLR.

I have seen nice photos taken with both Zeiss and Nikkor lenses. In comparing the two brands, I see parallels between photography, and oh, for the sake of argument, wine.

Now, will someone tell me whether the US$850 Zeiss 80-200/f4 zoom is a better portrait lenses than the US$450 Zeiss 135/f2.8 telephoto?


Louis Lam , Nov 12, 1996; 10:28 p.m.

Hi, I want to say a few word about the topic Nikkor vs Zeiss. I am a Nikon user and also side by side compare with some Zeiss and Leica lenses. Every camera system have their "Star" lenses. Of course price is another consideration for me. Here are some of my experience with the lenses I have tried: For 135 mm range:

Carl Zeiss 135/F2 planar(W.Germany) : Very beautiful out of focus highlights. Good colour contrast. Preforms better in far range than near. Very good balance and smooth Focusing. Extreamly expensive.

Zeiss 135/2.8 sonnar(Japan) : Extreamly good skin tone reproduction. Colour contrast is very good. High resolution. Performs well both near and far. Compact and light weight. Reasonable priced.

Zeiss Jena 135/3.5 sonnar(E.Germany). M42 screw mounts. Extreamly good contrast. Good optical performance. (135 version of 250/5.6 sonnar for Hassblad!). Slightly Cool colour. Flare free. Best at F5.6 Compact size (M49 filter). Extreamly CHEAP, at the cost of a 72mm L37C Nikon filter. Note : Stop down metering and adapter required !!!

Nikkor 135/2 AIS: Extreamly sharp at wide open. Good colour contrast. Perform better in near to far range but fair in the near at full open. Narrow focus ring. Compact but quiet heavy. One third price of the Zeiss planar.

85 to 105 mm range:

Zeiss 100mm/F2 planar( W.Germany): Extreamly Good colour contrast and skin tone. Very low distorsion(nearly none). One ofthe best optics for portaits I have ever used. Perform best in near but good at far. Good balance and sooth focusing. Very Good out of focus Highlights. Very easy to get focused. Quiet expensive.

Nikkor 105/2.5 AIS : Very compact. Good sharpness when stopped to f/5.6. Vignetting at f/2.5. Clean optical design. Smooth focus ring. Good out of focus highlights. Colour and Skin tone not up to Zeiss's. Very keenly priced.

Leica 90/2.8 R : Very compact. Well damped focusing ring. Extreamly sharp at fully open. Brilliance contrast even under strong back lit. Neutral colour fidelity. Skin tone same as Zeiss. Perform best both near and far. One of the best mid-tele. Reasonable priced for Leica optics.

20mm to 25 mm Range :

Leica 21/4 R Super Angulon : Very short and compact lens. Extreamly low distorsion. Low flare even strong back lit. Good sharpness and even illumination. Smooth focusing ring. Good colour contrast and pin sharp defination. An extreamly expensive optics.

Zeiss 21/2.8 Distagon (Japan) : Very good colour espically red colour. Good sharpness within entire picture. Noticable barrel distorsion. Large diameter filter. Smooth focusing ring. Quiet expensive.

Zeiss 20/2.8 Flektogon (E.Germany) : Compact optics. Very low distorsion. M42 Mount. High contrast and medium resolution. Neutral colour. Extreamly cheap!!!.

Nikkor 24/2.8 AIS : Extreamly compact. Excellent optics. Low distorsion. Smooth focusing ring. Low price.

In my opinion, buy the smallest aperture lens of the system as they are optically superior as well as low price.

Tim Dodge , Dec 22, 1996; 08:28 a.m.

I have owned both Nikon and Contax systems. The range of lenses manufactured by Zeiss is limited. But every lense in the lineup is a winner. My personal favorite lense is the 85mm f1.4 lense. Quite pricey for a near normal lense (around $800 used) but I found it to be the brightest sharpest lense I've every owned. Great for portraiture when you don't mind moving in closer. The 24mm and 200 mm lenses were also good. And sorry Nikon but the optics all around are superior.

Nes Suno , Jan 27, 1997; 01:53 a.m.

Being a Contax user for several months now, I can revise my recommendations. I currently have a Distagon 28/2.8, a Planar 50/1.4, and a Sonnar 135/2.8. All three are very good lenses.

However, I should have gone wider on the wide-angle lens. The Distagon 21/2.8 is probably the one I should have purchased. It's a big, heavy piece of glass (15 elements, one of which is floating).

Similarly, I might have purchased the Planar 100/2, heavier and bulkier than the longer 135/2.8. Apart from the Planar 50/1.4, the _really_ good stuff is over a thousand bucks.

Popular Photography in their recent review of the Contax AX said that the 28-85 Vario-Sonnar and the Planar 50/1.4 are the best lenses of their respective classes. Believe them if you want (I always remind myself that they are in the business of selling lots of issues of their magazine).

Being new to "serious" photography, I opted to save a couple of bucks. That's okay, it was my decision. It did get a decent tripod, good lenses, an Arca Swiss B1 monoball, and most of all, a relatively sane attitude toward the research and purchase of quality photography equipment.

Andrew Kim , Jan 29, 1997; 12:20 p.m.

No one has mentioned the 85mm f1.8 in the 85-105mm discussion. It is a very light, compact, and superbly sharp lens. The 9 blade aperture makes for nicer out of focus highlights than the 105mm f2.8 micro.

Everyone I know who owns one gushes about it. Only two complaints: minimum aperture of f16 (I've never found this to be a problem) and the curved blades of the 85mm f1.4 give better out of focus highlights (although it also costs 3x as much!).

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