Carl Zeiss 50mm f1.4 ZE

Carl Zeiss

★ ★ ★ ★ ½
2 Reviews
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Zeiss 50mm f1.4 ZE real world travel and landscape image samples

Edge to edge sharpness for landscape images.
Good microcontrast.

Back in 2009 i bought in to the hype surrounding the Zeiss lenses and purchased the Zeiss 50mm f1.4 ZE lens. This little lens easily exceeded my expectations with its image quality, color rendition and sharpness across the field that it quickly replaced the Canon 24-105 f4L as my primary travel and walk around lens.

At first i was a bit circumspect about getting a fully manual focus lens, but over time i've actually grown to enjoy it more and i find that i get better focus and more keepers with my manual focus lenses than my auto focus (AF) lenses. Ofcourse, for moving subjects i still prefer to use the AF lenses but in all other scenarios (probably 90% of my photography subjects) the manual focus works just fine for me.

The most impressive aspect of this lens is its sharpness across the frame (from apertures f2.8 and above). I've been consistently blown away by how sharp my images are, even in the handheld images. Instead of just talking about it, i want to show you a few sample images from my travels which exemplify how good this lens really is.

All the below pictures are shot using the Canon 5D mark ii camera. The 21 megapixel full frame images demand a lot of resolution from the lenses and any flaw in the lens will be easily apparent. The Zeiss 50mm passes the full frame 21MP test with flying colors.

Note : Most of these images were shot RAW, imported to Lightroom, had some level adjustments done and then exported back as JPEGs. No special processing has been done to improve their sharpness.

1. Ganges River, Uttarkashi : f5, 1/250s, ISO 250, Handheld.

This image does not look sharp when viewed in its normal (screen size). For long time i ignored this image in my library thinking that its not sharp. And one day i happened to view it full size and i was blown away by the details in the image. The houses, the fields, the bridge, the river, rocks and pebbles are all there in stunning 21MP clarity. Even the foliage in the foreground is captured with stunning detail.

This image was shot handheld while hiking up the hills.The RAW file has been exported to JPEG using the 'sharpen for web' setting in Lightroom.

2. Siror Bridge, Uttarkashi : f14, 3.2s, ISO 100, Camera placed on a roof.

I had to use f14 here to get some motion blur in the water. As a result, diffraction played its part here reducing the overall sharpness of the image. Sill im pretty happy with its clarity especially at the edges.

The image was slightly processed in Lightroom (balanced levels and adjusted white balance).

3. Temple of Heaven, Beijing : f9, 20s, ISO 50, Tripod

Once again the sharpness and clarity is amazing. Just look at the 100% crop of the mesh covering the monument at the extreme left corner. I also love the color rendition in the image. No special post processing done on this image. The RAW file was converted to JPEG using Lightroom.

4.Hong Kong Harbor : f8, 1/500s, ISO 400, Handheld.

Another handheld image. I never expected it to come out so sharp with all the details intact. I wonder how much difference a tripod would make this this scenario. Probably none.

5. Ladakh Festival : f11, 1/640s, ISO 500, Handheld

Amazing amount of detail captured here even while handheld. I can easily pick out every single face in the crowd. This picture is a jpeg image straight out of the camera.

6. Thujke, Ladakh : f11, 1/125s, ISO 320, Handheld

While the sharpness is good as usual. Im happy with the colors and the DOF range at f11. Starting from the rocks close to the camera and going all the way upto the mountains far back, everything seems to be in good focus.

7. Netala Village, Uttarkashi : f6.3, 1/320s, ISO 200, Handheld

This is a fairly closeup short (about 2m from the subject) so the DOF is pretty narrow. And the sharpness within the DOF range is astounding and the colors are equally impressive as well.

8. Hong Kong : f2, 1/160s, ISO 2000, Handheld (near wide-open)

Lastly a (near) wide open short showing that the Zeiss 50mm f1.4 ZE is no slouch at wider apertures. I know that this lens is weak at apertures below f2.8, so i always try to shoot above that range. But sometimes in low light conditions you need to go a bit wider and i'am extremely happy with these results.

There is a bit of noise here (its ISO 2000 afterall) but once you look past it, you can see the edge to edge detail captured by this lens at f2.