Zeiss Planar T* 50mm f/1.4 ZF - Review / Lab Test Report
Lens Reviews - Nikon / Nikkor (APS-C)
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Review by Klaus Schroiff, published March 2007

Lens kindly provided for testing purposes by Peter-Cornelius Spaeth!


Carl-Zeiss is one of the legendary brands in the business thanks to a history dating back to the very beginnings of the optical industry. Regarding the number the key designs it can almost be described as its cradle (established in 1846). The company was a major player in the photography market till the late 1970s when the well-known Japanese competition started to introduce AF SLRs and Contax (run by Kyocera) didn´t follow. Zeiss remained active and successful in other optical markets (inc. medium format lenses) but fell asleep regarding its consumer (35mm) photography business till a new prince (Sony) kissed snow-white (Zeiss). Thereafter it made Boooom and we´re now seeing several new products from Zeiss for Sony (ZA) but some of the all-time classics were made available Nikon (ZF) and, a bit weird, M42 (ZS) users. These classic lenses are designed in Germany but made by Cosina in Japan under Zeiss quality control.

In the scope of this review we will have a look at the Zeiss Planar T* 50mm f/1.4 ZF, a manual focus standard lens compatible to the Nikon F(Ai-S)-mount (therefore ZF). The original symmetrical Planar design was invented in 1896(!) but its various incarnations survived the storms of time. In fact it is the most successful and most copied design in the business. "Planar" originates in the German word plan ("plane" in English) and refers to the flat reproduction characteristic (minimal field curvature).

By today´s standards the Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 ZF is a bit of weirdo - it is a brand new lens yet it doesn´t feature AF nor an electronically controlled aperture. Reads: the lens has an automatic aperture but you have to stop down via the aperture ring on the lens (1/2 stop steps) which means that it is not compatible to the consumer-grade Nikon DSLRs a la D40 or D70. However, it works just fine e.g. in aperture-priority mode on the D200. As mentioned above the lens is actually manufactured by Cosina and Cosina has Nikon-compatible AF lenses in their line-up so it remains a bit of mystery why Zeiss didn´t take advantage of their expertise here. It would have broadened their customer base substantially.

The build quality of the full-metal Zeiss (brass with chromium-plated brass front bayonet) just screams quality. The fluted focus ring feels exceptionally well damped. The lens does extend when focusing towards close distances. The front element does not rotate.

Equiv. focal length75 mm (full format equivalent)
Equiv. aperturef/2.1 (full format equivalent, in terms of depth-of-field)
Optical construction7 elements in 6 groups
Number of aperture blades9
min. focus distance0.45 m (max. magnification ratio 1:6.7)
Dimensions66 mm x 45 mm
Weight330 g
Filter size58 mm (non-rotating)
Hoodbarrel shaped, metal, bayonet mount (supplied)
Other features-

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