SHG/HG VS Zeiss ?

Started Mar 8, 2013 | Questions thread
Chris Mak Senior Member • Posts: 2,005
Re: SHG/HG VS Zeiss ?

philosomatographer wrote:

Your question is not easy to answer at all, primarily because Zeiss makes lenses for full-format 35mm that allow you to shoow images with very shallow depth-of-field, great for creative use. There are simply no Olympus equivalents to:

  • 24/25mm f/2.0
  • 35mm f/1.4
  • 50mm f/1.4
  • 85mm f/1.4
  • 100mm f/2.0 Makro Planar
  • 135mm f/1.8 or f/2.0

With that being said, at "equivalent" apertures (i.e. say f/2.8 on the Olympus SHG lenses, f/5.6 on the Zeiss lenses) the SHG lenses are in most cases superior to the Zeiss lenses in terms of resolution, and freedom from light falloff. The Olympus SHG lenses are literally as technically-perfect as the come, a feat only equalled now by Zeiss with the new Distagon 55mm f/1.4 (which is huge, just like the SHG lenses - i.e. Zeiss also applying the principle of telecentricity at the cost of size).

If you take the creative possibilities of really shallow DOF out of the picture, the Olympus SHG lenses are, in my experience, superior - not only from an imaging perspective, but also build quality / weather sealing / autofocus speed (some Zeiss lenses, like the Sony 85 1.4, is truly dismal in that regard, and others are manual-focus only). No current Zeiss lenses are weather-sealed, the Olympus SHG lenses don't fear even complete immersion in water (for short periods!) or severe dust and mud. Simply a class above.

There's a lot more about the creative possibilities of the latest Zeiss MF lenses, than just shallow DOF on full frame. The lenses were designed with a specific rendering at specific distances in mind. If you use the lenses for what they were designed for, the results can be unique and outstanding. The close focus 25/2.8 for example, can blur medium distance backgrounds beautifully like the 14-35/2 could not at f2. There is a very specific rendering that is in itself a result of very good designing. There's also a color rendition, that makes many "mainstream" lenses look a bit boring once you are used to it. Which means people often revert to over-post processing to get a certain "pop" and nice color, but the out of the box Zeiss results are often much more natural, especially when you use a good raw converter. And on top of that, some of the Zeiss lenses have terrific light transmission, which gives very natural colors in dimmer light. I have the Zeiss 85/1.4 and could not possibly deduct from that lenses' outstanding build quality and superb manual focus ring, how it should qualify as "dismal". Sure, its AF is rather none existent and it is not weather sealed, but I assume you weren't expecting that.

The zuiko SHG lenses (the ones I had: 14-35/2, 35-100/2, 150/2) are simply better all round lenses, with a higher degree of technical perfection (for what that is worth by the way). But they also lack some of the qualities of the Zeiss lenses, and although that will in part be, because there is no Olympus body with the sensor qualities of the Pentax k5IIs yet, they are simply much more neutral in many ways, rendering and color. That can be a quality, but also lacks the unique highs of Zeiss rendering. Once Olympus releases a body with a truly high quality sensor, you can really rate the difference, but for the Zeiss lenses there is the upgrade possibility to full frame.

The Zeiss manual-focus lenses have a very typical "Cosina" look and feel, very much like the cheap off-brand 1970s manual focus lenses (made by the same manufacturer) - and distinctly inferior to the manual-focus Nikkor lenses (I use both the Zeiss and Nikon lenses on my Nikon F). They sure impress people only used to wobbly zoom lenses though.

They impressed mé (that was used to three SHG lenses), and still do. There is certainly nothing cheap about them, neither about the build, nor about the image quality.

My biggest disappointment in the new Zeiss lenses came when trying the Distagon 35 1.4. It's not only gargantuan, but its optical performance is distinctly weak for the size and cost (it's much larger than it's autofocus competitors, or even a 24-70mm zoom). A thoroughly B-grade optical design that only really makes sense on film, where you are not counting pixels (something I do all the time, though). I feel that many of the Zeiss lenses suffer from a similar fate - nice, solid, but nothing special optically.

Goodness, B-grade, nothing special optically... Have you tried the Zeiss 50/2 makro planar, or the Zeiss 100/2 makro planar? I unfortunately will not be able to get the 100/2, as it is not made in pentax mount anymore, and the ones that have it, refuse to sell it, so it does not turn up second hand. But I did manage to get the 50/2, and if that lens is B-grade, I'll never want anything else than B-grade again (including the SHG zuikos!). It is spectacularly sharp, refined in rendering, and with beautiful color and bokeh. Different from the 14-35/2 at 35(70)mm, but in no way less, I would say even better actually, certainly color wise.

What makes the zuiko SHG's so special, is the fact that they are AF, weather sealed zoom lenses (in part) with prime like IQ. Your estimation of the Zeiss primes' build quality and IQ, well... that's not to be taken seriously.

That's just the opinion of somebody who's used them and settled on the Olympus SHG optics in the end. Your mileage may vary.

 Chris Mak's gear list:Chris Mak's gear list
Sony Alpha a7R II Pentax KP Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 2/25 Pentax HD DA 560mm F5.6 ED AW HD Pentax DA AF 1.4X AW Rear Converter +1 more
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