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50mm f/1.4 ZF Zeiss Planar T*
General purpose, low light photography.
FX and DX
Focal length: 50mm
Maximum aperture: 1.4
Minimum aperture: 16
Angle of View: 38°
Focus Throw: ?
Maximum reproduction ratio: 1:6.7
Lens Elements: 7
Lens Groups: 6
Diaphragm Blades: 9
ED Glass Elements: n/a
Minimum Focus Distance: 0.45m
Filter Size: 58mmØ
Filter Type: front screw in
Dimensions: 66mmØ by 45mm
Accessories: lens hood supplied
Bjørn's Rørslett's Overview:
Sometimes big companies also produces big surprises, such as Zeiss of Germany starting to deliver ZF lenses for the "F" mount. Now, these lenses are not really German as such since they obviously are made in Japan by Cosina, but the engraving on the ZF 50 follows European style in using "1,4" instead of "1.4", just to take one example. And you can't eliminate the possibility than German engineers have been present somewhere, or sometime, along the production line.
The ZF 50 /1.4 is very nicely made and its aperture ring turns smoother than on most Nikkors. It uses a non-standard (in the Nikon line) 58mm filter thread and the curved aperture blades form a smooth circle. Thus you would expect it to deliver a pleasant bokeh.
Direct side-by-side shooting with the ZF 50 and the Nikkor 50/1.4 AFD demonstrated the following: For distant motifs, the ZF was sharper and distinctly showed more contrast than the Nikkor at f/1.4 and f/2. From f/2.8 the difference started to decline and from f/4 onwards differences, if any, were negligible. Same trend occurred for close subjects, but here the quality difference was much smaller and the ZF had occasionally more CA issues than the Nikkor as well.
The biggest surprise occurred when I tried to evaluate the bokeh of the ZF lens. Let me summarise this by stating that at f/1.4, the Zeiss exhibited a weird or downright ugly bokeh with pronounced double lines and harsh edges. The transition from sharp to unsharp is abrupt. The Nikkor on the other hand delivered pleasantly soft-looking backgrounds without any harshness to them. Stopping further down the picture tended to change, thus the Nikkor gets harder and harsher and the ZF availed itself of its very circular aperturte to give less harsh backgrounds than the Nikkor. But having heard a lot of hype regarding the alleged superiority of the ZF line in terms of bokeh, I have to admit that the Zeiss lens was a clear disappointment. The reason for having a superfast lens is amongst others to use it set more or less wide open. I quickly stopped using the ZF 50 in that fashion and decided not to keep the lens for myself. I give the ZF 50 due credit for its sharpness qualities, but be warned that its bokeh can give nasty surprises if you shot the lens wide open. At the very least, do try out the lens before you commit to purchasing it.
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