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The Zeiss 135mm APO: A Verdict

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#1 Michael Erlewine

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Posted 25 June 2013 - 09:45

This is not technical review, so don't remind me of that please. It is more about falling in love with a lens, which I have not done for a long time.

How do I know I have found what is (for me at least) a great lens? Of course there are the photos, but that is not the whole of it. It is when without thinking I just know it, and find myself daydreaming about it. The new Zeiss 135mm f/2 APO is such a lens.

Its promise teases me, leads me on, and gets me up earlier in the morning. If one can have a love affair with a lens, I am having one with this new Zeiss. And even though Zeiss is made in the same factory as my beloved Voigtlander 125mm f/2.5 APO-Lanthar was, up to now, try as I might, I could not get into the Zeiss IQ, putting aside their industrial lenses, which I like.

I have read countless reviews of the Zeiss Makro-Planars of which I have the 100mm and 50mm macro lenses. A really good Zeiss review finds me digging out my two Makro-Planars and having another go at them, but within a day or so they are back in storage. As sharp as they are, and they are sharp enough for me, the lack of lens correction somehow makes them (in my eyes) a little too ordinary, especially when I have the CV-125 APO and a couple of Leica macros sitting around. Why not just use the Voigtlander 125mm every time? Mostly I do.

When I first heard about this new Zeiss 135mm APO, I did not think much of it since it not a macro lens and has a reproduction ration of 1:4, not what I am looking for. I did note how fast the lens is and f/2 is very good on the eyes, plus a 77mm filter is a good sign. I like large diameter lenses.

But when I saw a couple of posts suggesting that the new Zeiss might be a CV-125mm killer, I was put off. Not likely, thought I. And at $2200 a copy, I was not about to run out and buy one.

But time tells all, and by increments I kind of pieced together a plausible story that I could tell myself about why I might just try one out. For one, $2200 is less that folks pay for a CV-125mm in good condition. But close-focus at 2.62 feet (.80 m)? That's not very close and I have all kinds of lenses that are not quite close enough, like the Voigtlander 180mm, and so on. Yet, 2.62 feet is kind of close for a telephoto, although it is a short telephoto lens.

And so it went, with the evidence gradually piling up to the point that I could no longer ignore it. But what really turned the tide for me is my intuition. I woke up one morning with the hunch that this really could be a great lens.

And then there is how I buy an expensive lens. First I read all about it, but I know I can't afford it. Then I read some more. And then again. And then comes the day when I am looking at a review of it for the umpteenth time, and I just buy it. I have no excuse other than that if not now, when? Should I wait until I am old? Hey, I am already getting old. Can my budget digest such an expenditure? Well, not well, but screw it. Somehow I will limp by. And I can always sell some equipment. That's what I tell myself.

Anyway, suddenly I am looking at a screen message "Thank you for your order," and that little rascal inside me is once again in hog heaven. And then I wait. I usually can hear the UPS truck coming down our street, and for sure I hear that big truck door slam and race to the door. I know I have to sign for something like this.

And the box is soon open and there it is in my hands. I have bought a lot of expensive lenses over the years. I have maybe two lenses that are not top quality in the whole lot, and I just happened on them. The rest all are very distinguished.

So this new Zeiss APO lens has got my full attention. I can' wait to get up in the morning and read more about it. I get up in the middle of the night, so there is no light to go outside, so I either go to my little studio or read more about it or write about it, as I am now. When dawn comes, I go outside and fight the Michigan wind.

As for this APO Zeiss, all the signs are good. The nay-sayers that I have read don't even have a copy of this lens, so what do they know. Those that have it, seem to love it. And who cares? My lens needs are kind of specialized, and with the Zeiss I am pushing it beyond what it was designed for and toward my close-up requirements, and it works. Like my CV-125mm APO, the Zeiss just works and works.

It works at a distance, and it works close-up. It even works well enough with extension, even with a lot of extension, and I hate extension. When I zoom in to the finest detail on my D800E, the Zeiss is right there. If I had to guess, I would say it outperforms any camera I have. I am not a techspert, so I can't say with authority, but if I had to bet money, that's how it would go down.

And here is the clincher: aside from the fact that I cannot get to 1:1 with this lens, I have to honestly say it outperforms my treasured Voigtlander 125mm f/2.5 APO-Lanthar in every way. Certainly it is sharper. As for color correction I can't say, but because I can't say, they must be about equal. Color correction is THE key element for me in lenses. Apparently I can see the difference.

And the last (and most telling) word is that when I find myself thinking of shooting, I am thinking of that Zeiss APO, not the CV-125. And that was at first shocking!

I have corresponded with Zeiss, and while they won't discuss unannounced products, they are fully aware of our need for an APO Macro Zeiss.

I am done testing this lens and will begin shooting with it, heavy and cumbersome as it is.

No photos yet, because I have just been in testing mode. They will come soon.

Anyone else like it?

Edited by Michael Erlewine, 25 June 2013 - 09:45 .

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#2 yunfat


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Posted 25 June 2013 - 13:24

I don't think its a question of "like" as much as whether this lens fits ones shooting style.

There is very little to not "like" about this lens, and I love your enthusiasm, it is great to have a new way to see the world. That said, the money, size, and weight would be a problem for for many mirrorless bodies.

I appreciate you taking the time to evaluate the lens for us and share your thoughts. I am certain you will produce a lot of keepers with your new Zeiss.

#3 Michael Erlewine

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Posted 25 June 2013 - 13:37

Of course, that is right. I am mostly commenting on the use of this lens for close-up nature photography which at first I thought it would not be that great at. I was wrong and I am now going to start to photograph as I have time.

Edited by Michael Erlewine, 25 June 2013 - 13:48 .

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