A few months with the ZF2 3.5/18mm on FF

Started Jan 7, 2014 | User reviews thread
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Dodi73 Senior Member • Posts: 2,056
A few months with the ZF2 3.5/18mm on FF

Hello everyone. This review has nothing to do with common mtf / specs / comparison reviews you often find here or other dedicated websites. I haven't any measurement gear nor I even want to shoot bricks just for the sake of it. It's a more "field review" of what I like and what I like less of this lens. I have it since the end of September 2013, it was my anniversary present.

The following shot was taken not with my lens but with a sample on display at a reseller. I had only the 25 at the time and wanted to know how larger the 18 was on the field. This is probably the most useful and practical indication you might want to know. Keep in mind it was the 18 ZF (not chipped) and the clerk was about 10 ft away from me.
Although not extreme, this lens however adds a lot of "room" in your pictures. Besides, it's not a "close up" lens, which may be good or not depending on your intended purposes. Even at the mfd, there's plenty of space around your focused point.

This is like it looks on my little FM3A. The hood makes it even bigger to the eyes than it really is. De facto, I can fit the D600 + 18 in my sling pouch as I can with the 50/2 (but the trick doesnt work with the D600 + 35/2, because it's longer)

What I like

Just to mention a few: build quality - sturdy and apparently made to last for many years -and image rendition. While it's not perfect (read below, "second less"), with the right light it renders a very 3D effect, especially if you're close to your subject; plus it works very well in confined spaces as a 10 sq ft lift (my son on display there, I didn't even look through the viewfinder, simply raised the camera a bit and shot)

Here's another relative close up

Or another one on our way back from Venice. A candid (the weird color of my son's skin has always been my fault - I still have to figure a way to (under)expose correctly for it without revealing too much yellow or other cast there - another proof I don't use photoshop lol)

It may also useful for whole room environments ( I willingly kept this shot anonymous because of the people involved. The large angle of view allowed me to take all the people in a 250 sq ft large room)

Probably where it works best is very close to close distances, where I found the focusing to be more accurate, i.e. within 5/6 ft from the camera. Everything beyond that limit, enables the green dot too much easily regardless of the effective distance from it (i.e. a subject being only 6-7 ft away from you may be considered in focus also beyond 10 ft and viceversa something beyond 10 ft may be sensed in focus around 6-7 ft - read below)

Another "pro" of this lens is that looks somehow polarized itself and has a vivid color rendition just like the 25/2 and the 35/2 - in this respect, the 50 is a tad less and the 100 is the more neutral of them all. Look for yourself this shot taken in St Marco Square in Venice - No polarizer used.

About distortion I found I'm much more prone to tilt the camera myself than seeing any real distortion in vertical lines. Sure, you'll find it if you look carefully, yet to my eye isn't as relevant as much as I thought (or was worried of)

What I like less

Well, more than a "like less", I'd say something you have to be careful of. While I think my copy is perfectly aligned, centered, everything bla bla bla, I found the D600 a bit too few accurate in lighting the green focusing dot in the lower left corner. Actually, despite the lens has marks up to 3 m then straight to infinity, the green dot remains lit more or less for a very large gap, from 1-1.5m to 3m and more. Sure, theoretically (or at least on more forgiving film cameras / less mp cameras) depth of field should compensate (we can debate on the amount of compensation, yet that's it), however the D600 is SO acute in viewing and has so many MP that the littlest misfocusing is clearly showed - if not on LCD at the moment, for sure on screen later when it's now "late" to retake the shot. Sure, focusing an ultrawide is for sure more a guesstimate than say a 50 or a 100mm lens that have a longer and more accurate turn, however a better interaction with the camera would have been adviceable.

The second "less" is for recent high density DX cameras (D7000 and up). First, such lens results much less useful in terms of angle of view ( I had to take shots indoor for a christening with that lens only and it was a nightmare, to "fit all in" lol), besides, it's clear the 16 MP DX = 36 MP FX is simply too much for the lens, and focusing errors are magnified even more than on my D600, plus you have some kind of detail lost. If I'd have to use on a modern DX camera, I'd honestly sell it and get something more appropriate. This is probably the only "grant" I do to those trusting MTF's only. Although a casual user might not see it, a simple enlargement more than the HD TV will reveal it immediately. Actually I even found it more difficult if any, to focus with the D7000.

What I DON'T (!) like

Lens cap, definitely. It broke the same day the lens arrived and the only way I could fix it was using an 82mm pol cir plus the sturdy lens hood in normal position to protect the front lens.


Let's be clear, this lens isn't up to the resolution rendered by more performing lenses, and is clearly suffering high mp cameras: it's probably the weakest in this respect among mine, however for PJ, architecture and crowded spaces it works very well. A bit less so - but this is my opinion, since I don't use photoshop at all, just some level correction with Aperture - for landscapes where extremely fine details might be somehow lost in the distance. Probably a newly computed lens in the Otus line - if ever - or the 15/2.8 would score much more here. Again: also everyone able to work with any image editing software (at least MORE able THAN me) will be able to recover and improve the image accordingly, however I think this is more a PJ / architecture lens than a landscape, where the polarized optics give you vivid images as much as they aren't too far from you and extremely fine detail is required.

See for yourself

While I do have lot of pictures to upload from this winter holidays I can't do right now - yet I will within one week - you can give a look to what this (and the other ZF2 lenses) can do here: http://italy74.zeissimages.com or simply http://zeissimages.com where a lens selector exists, browsing lots of pictures taken with this and the other lenses.

Here is my last vacation near the Garda Lake, all the lenses were used, 18 included - enjoy Venice, shot without polarizer !!! > http://italy74.smugmug.com/SmugPreview/Lago-di-Garda-Ottobre-2013/32375623_4GsMXq (disclaimer: the first pics were taken with the tablet of a friend, you will note it... I hope !)

to be continued... sorry !

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All the best from northern Italy, Dino.
I'm on the NIK side of photography.

Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 3,5/18
Wideangle prime lens • Canon EF, Nikon F (FX), Pentax KAF
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Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 3,5/18 Nikon D600 Nikon D7000
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