Zeiss Otus 28mm f1.4 review
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The Zeiss 28mm f1.4 Otus is a unique lens. It is the only current f1.4 28mm lens for full-frame bodies and it delivers beautiful-looking images and superb quality across the board, even with the aperture opened to f1.4. This performance coupled with the tank-like build-quality and new design support Zeiss’ claim to have developed and manufactured the best wide-angle lens for DSLRs. Indeed I was very impressed to see this lens easily surpass the performance of all wide-angle f1.4 lenses I’ve tested in almost all respects.

But an eye-watering price-tag of 5000 USD / 4500 EUR means it’s not simply a case of awarding it our “Highly Recommended” rating without additional consideration and justification. And apart from the high price there are other negative aspects of this lens too. Let me go through them step-by-step:

Size/Weight: This is by far the largest and heaviest wide-angle prime ever! Put it on a full-frame DSLR with the lens-hood mounted and you’re talking about schlepping over 2 kg around with a total length of around 23 cm. But to put this in perspective: Mount the Nikon AF-S 24-70/2.8E VR on a D810 and you get a package of almost the same weight that is even 3 cm longer. So yes, the Zeiss Otus is far from unobtrusive, but all being told it is well in the range of other professional lenses that you might carry around. That said, if you’re thinking of mounting it on a Sony A7 / A7r via an adapter, you should be prepared for an extremely front-heavy combination.

Manual focus: I’m less inclined to see this as the big problem as I was when using the Otus 55/1.4 or 85/1.4. First, you have a greater inherent depth of field with a wider lens. Second, you can get better at manual focus with a little training. Third, even auto-focus lenses can miss a bit on optimal focus at f1.4 – and when they do I often find it hard to get the correct focus because the focus-ring on AF-lenses normally is much too sensitive to make small corrections. The Otus lenses have the best focus-ring to make small corrections. But there is no denying it: If you’re as good/bad as me in manually focusing you have to cope with the risk of having around 50% of your f1.4 shots with less than optimal focus/sharpness. This certainly is a killer for many photographers who need to nail their shot with only one try – and fast. They should absolutely avoid this lens and look for an alternative with autofocus. But if you work from a tripod using magnified live-view, have the chance to swap the focusing screen for one better-suited to manual focusing, or simply have the time to take a second or third shot if necessary, then you should definitely not shy away from considering this lens: its optical performance might well be worth the trouble. Plus if you mount it on a modern mirrorless camera, you can exploit technologies like focus peaking to further ease manual focusing.

Let’s see how the new lens compares to the competition.



Compared to Sigma 24mm f1.4 Art and Sigma 35mm f1.4 Art

Both Sigma primes are winners in Sigma’s line-up of wide-angle “Art” lenses. Their performance earned them our Highly Recommended rating (see my Sigma 24/1.4 Art review and my Sigma 35/1.4 Art review). Each prime is shorter, much lighter and costs less than a fifth of the Otus. And their auto focus is a big plus. The 24/1.4 Art is especially sharp in the center where it could top the Otus in the long distance shot. But it drops visibly in performance towards the APS-C/DX-corner and cannot compete with the Otus outside the APS-C/DX image circle. So for ultimate corner-to-corner performance the Otus is hard to beat, while the Sigma 24/1.4 Art is much more convenient to use and has certainly the price-performance advantage.

Compared to Nikon AF-S 24 f1.4G ED and Nikon AF-S 35 f1.4G ED

Similar things can be said regarding Nikon’s wide-angle f1.4 primes. In comparison to the Sigmas they lack a bit bite in the center but have the better APS-C/DX-corner. But they’re no match for the Otus’ performance. See my Nikon 24/1.4G review and my Nikon 35/1.4G review. The Nikons are also roughly double the price of the Sigmas.

Compared to Nikon AF-S 28mm f1.8G ED

Nikon’s 28mm f1.8 prime offers a good optical performance which earned it a recommendation in my Nikon 28/1.8G review. It is much smaller, lighter, and cheaper than the Otus and offers auto focus but also has a 2/3 stop smaller focal ratio. It has weather sealing on the lens-mount but otherwise cannot touch the build-quality of the Otus. Optically the Nikon 28/1.8G is softer than the Otus especially at the DX-corner but otherwise is a fine performer.

Compared to Zeiss 28mm f2.0 Distagon

The smaller sibling to the Otus, the 28/2.0 Distagon from Zeiss, offers a very solid all-metal build (at least on the outside) and is also manual focus only. It is by far the smallest in this comparison but its build quality makes it still a 500g lens. But it lacks in ergonomics compared to the Otus: The focus-ring is less easy to grip and movement is pretty stiff. And although both lenses offer the same 120 degrees focus throw on the 28/2.0 the distance from infinity to 2m is just 5mm while on the Otus its 8mm due to the larger diameter of the focus ring. Optically the 28/2.0 suffers from lower contrast wide open and a hefty field curvature in the FF/FX-corner at closer distances and mushy FF/FX corners from strong coma at long distances. At less than a quarter of the price of the Otus it’s not a bad alternative especially considering its small size and its build quality. See my selection of shots with this lens in full resolution here.

Compared to Sigma 24-35mm f2.0 Art

The Sigma 24-35/2.0 DG HSM Art has the benefit of covering three customary focal lengths (24/28/35mm) in one bright f2.0 zoom that performs as you would expect from a member of Sigma’s highly acclaimed “Art” series: It’s sharp at all focal lengths, has relatively little vignetting for such a wide-angle lens and shows only little longitudinal CAs and moderate coma. The build-quality supports Sigma’s claim to have developed and manufactured a lens to professional standards although there’s no weather sealing at the lens-mount. Compared to the Otus it lacks 1 stop in focal ratio, is behind in sharpness and contrast and is not on the same level of build quality. But it offers auto focus and the ability to go 14% wider or 1.25x closer. With a price that’s less than a quarter of the Otus the Sigma 24-35mm f2.0 DG HSM Art plays on a very high level and as such earned our Highly Recommended rating in my Sigma 24-35/2.0 Art review.

Zeiss 28mm f1.4 Otus final verdict

Optical performance plus build quality: The Zeiss 28mm f1.4 Otus delivers sharpness, contrast, resistance against contra light, coma, loCA, purple fringing, Bokeh on a very high to exceptional level even at f1.4 and puts this in a package that exudes quality in every aspect of its physical presence. This is really the lens that you can use wide open with little to no compromise in optical performance and in that it is the best wide-angle lens I’ve tested. But you have to focus manually. So I’d say: This is not a lens for everybody – even if you forget (if you can) the steep price. You should clearly understand what this lens can and cannot do for you before considering getting one. With regard to the price: yes, the Otus is clearly an expensive lens, but take a look at Leica’s lenses and you understand that top-notch optical performance has its price. Compared to Leica Summilux-M f1.4 ASPH lenses the Zeiss Otus looks fairly priced.

Summing it all up I think the Zeiss 28mm f1.4 Otus has well earned a Highly Recommended.

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Good points:

  • Excellent image quality across the full-frame area.
  • It’s the only 28mm f1.4 lens for full-frame bodies available.

Bad points:

  • No autofocus.
  • Extremely high price.
  • Large and heavy.
  • No weather sealing at the lens mount.
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