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Zeiss 85mm - will it give me what I'm missing?

Started Jul 14, 2014 | Discussions thread
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Zeiss 85mm - will it give me what I'm missing?
Jul 14, 2014


In short, I think that I'm not getting the 85mm look I want and wonder if using a Zeiss 85mm/f1.4 will be the solution.  I expect that this post/question may generate some strong reactions, but would really welcome all comments and insights.  Let me see if I can explain this in words.

I am relatively new to digital photography.  I grew up on Contax with Zeiss lenses, where the P85/1.4 was a favourite.  When I switched to AF, I used the Minolta 85mm/1.4 G which is also highly regarded.  I currently have the superb Nikon D800 and know that its capabilities far exceed mine.  I am also lucky enough to have the AF-S 85mm f1.4 G lens.  I regard 85mm as giving me the POV and FOV by which I mostly see the world, so it's an important focal length for me.

I bought the 1.4G in preference to the 1.8G based on many comments here and elsewhere, because I wanted the resistance to flare, the added contrast and image separation.  I really appreciate its ability to resolve fine detail on the D800 (and, interestingly, it is the lens that showed me that moving from the D700 to the D800 was the right decision in terms of resolution).  When I do my part, I get excellent images from the lens.

However, I also find that the images are somehow flat and lacking in character.  The bokeh is good in the sense of melting the background if the subject to background spacing is right and the point of focus is sharp, but I'm missing something I long for in the result.  I can't identify the technical issues (eg. something like the roll off from sharp to unsharp) but I can say that the images look almost too perfect.  It is risky to compare to other photographs (too many variables for a sensible result) but I've seen photographs taken with other lenses that I like more, including some of my old film shots with the P85/1.4 and some of the Leica work I've been looking at recently (Summicron 75mm and 90mm).  I've also been paging my way through the ZF lens thread on FM forums which has fabulous images from all sorts of Zeiss lenses and have read the various reviews of the ZF85/1.4.

So, at the cost and risk of manually focusing accurately and with the "flaws" of the ZF lens's wide open performance, is this lens going to give me something that I'm currently missing?  Since I'm lucky enough that I could keep the Nikkor, but not lucky enough to double up focal lengths without good reason, is it stupid to think that this lens will give me some "magic"?  Lastly, what could I be doing when processing the images that is losing that magic - i.e. is this something about the digital medium that I don't understand (and which is being corrected in all those gorgeous photos I see on the net)?



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